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Posts Tagged ‘old man’

old clock

This Alzheimer's caregiver is grateful for the gift of time.

Some of the most quality thoughts and essays seem to be on a continuing ‘round-the-world track through cyberspace.  Year after year they reappear in my email inbox.  There is a lot of junk I could do without, but I am grateful for the good items that show up even though I’ve read them before.

This particular essay is titled “Thank You For Your Time.  No matter how often I read it I not only ponder, but count my blessings – again and again.  Time is something everyone has in equal abundance or want: minutes, seconds and hours.  It can be used wisely, wasted, frittered away, given away, killed, coveted, lost or found.  We can experience good times, bad times, melancholy times, glorious time and children are sent to their room for a time out.  But it’s the gift of time which is actually one of the most precious gifts, and the subject of this day’s thoughts.

The email tells the story of a young boy who had lost his father.  Next door to where Jack and his mother lived was an older man who became the boy’s mentor and friend.  Mr. Belser taught Jack carpentry and tried to fill in some of the blank spots providing the needed male influence in the youngster’s life.

In turn Jack often lingered long after their building project, rejoicing in the camaraderie of the old man who was without children. The ancient house was like a slice of yesteryear and the boy was fascinated with all that was within, especially the gold box on Mr. Belser’s desk.

“What’s in the gold box,” the boy would ask.

“It’s what I value most,” answered Mr. Belser.  Curious though Jack was, he never pressed.

The years drifted by, Jack grew up, went to school, moved away, got married, and established himself as a highly reputable building contractor in great demand.  One afternoon his phone rang.  It was his mother telling him that Mr. Belser had passed on and the funeral would be the following Wednesday.  Jack had to admit he thought the old man had passed long ago, but as they talked a flood of fond memories washed over him.  Suddenly he realized that had it not been for Mr. Belser and all of those hours spent together he probably wouldn’t have entered into the contracting business.  “I’ll be there,” he promised his mother.

Following a small funeral, mother and son wandered for the last time through the old house.  It hadn’t changed one iota since Jack was a boy except the gold box on the desk was gone.  Noticing and believing a relative had taken it, Jack lamented, “Now I’ll never know what the old man valued most.”

Back at work Jack was soon engrossed in his self-driven work schedule.  Arriving home one evening he found a notice for a missed delivery which needed his signature.  The next day on the way to his work, he dropped by the post office and found his package with the return address of Harold Belser.  Quickly he ripped open the carton.  Inside he found an envelope with instructions for delivery to Jack, a small key and the gold box.  His heart fluttered as he inserted the key and opened the secret box where he found a gold watch and a note which read, “Jack, Thanks for your time.”  Bushing a tear from his eye he called the office, “Janet,” he said, “Clear my schedule for a few days or so.  I’m going to spend some time with my son.”

The boy and the man had given one another, without a thought, that which was most valuable:  their time.

I know my life has been blessed, and I am grateful to so many for their kindnesses and time especially during this difficult period of Ken’s illness.  Offers of help are like gift cards to be used now or when needed, and I know there is no expiration date.  I have one friend who even gets a little annoyed with me because I haven’t called on him to use his gift of time.  Don’t worry, Dennis, I will.

Dennis is a wonderful example of what was once referred to as America’s melting pot:  his father was Irish, his mother Jewish, and when he mentions his home state you can hear the “o i” instead of the “e” in Jersey. He is an ordinary man with an extraordinary heart measuring bigger than the state of Montana.  Dennis has seen life in its rawness, and tasted also of its goodness.  I know him because we all go to the same church where his main concern is people.

Going the second mile with his church callings is normal for Dennis and his wife Carol, so it isn’t surprising to find his heart open to the community at large.  I was touched by his willingness to go just about anywhere he is needed.

Driving from the East Bay to San Francisco’s Children’s’ Hospital was becoming routine as Dennis and his wife Carol paid their third visit to a young friend who had been born with a hole in her heart the size of a quarter.  Consequently, the child was in and out for constant checkups and stays, and had asked if Dennis could give her a blessing of comfort and healing, to which he was more than happy to comply.

“She has this attitude that she has no limits on her activity,” recalled Dennis, “which sort of drives the doctors nuts.  Children are pretty special to me and Carol, especially when they are sick.  I want to bear their illnesses instead of them having it, and being in a hospital is pretty depressing so we try to bring in a bit of sunshine.”  Recalling a small gift shop in the lobby, Dennis decided to see what they might have to cheer the little patient.                       

“While I was there, three or four children came in with their medications attached.  They all had cancer and not one of them wore a smile on that sweet face, nor did any of them have a single hair on their heads due to the medications they were taking.  When they came in, the shop got very quiet with an air of discomfort.  People tend to forget that children have this natural sense when people feel uncomfortable around them.

“I could see their beautiful faces and those beautiful eyes taking on a look of rejecton and hurt.  To me it appeared they were ready to cry.

“I had to do something to make them smile,” Dennis explained. “I shave my head every day, so I walked over to them and asked if they went to the same barber as I did.  Smiles flashed across their faces and it was agreed, ‘Yes, they did.’  I told them I thought their hair cuts were pretty cool, and that I had been wearing the style for going on eight years.”

Dennis leaned over so the children could run their soft hands over the slick and shiny head of my friend. “There cannot be a price for the smiles on those faces at that moment,” Dennis continued.  “Holding back tears, I got a hug from each of them, and then we all got what we came for and went back to the floor.”

There were tears on the way home – all the way home.  Recalling scripture, Dennis reminded Carol that the Lord, Jesus Christ, loved the little children.  To his apostles, He said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me for such is the kingdom of Heaven.”

“We know that all children who have cancer won’t make it, but still we pray for them, hoping for a miracle.  Looking at their innocent faces they seemed like angels, especially in their hospital gowns and slippers.  The hugs and smiles — I will never forget because I was blessed by them.” 

Like the young boy and the older man, Dennis, Carol, the children, and even the uncomfortable customers in the gift shop were blessed by the experience: the gift exchange of time.  As for me, I am bursting with Thanksgiving gratitude for family and friends — many  like Dennis — who share with Ken and me their most valuable possession:  time.

 

 

 

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I have found the Internet to be filled with information that goes far and beyond email, but we all know that, so it’s usually the email we go to first.  It’s like long ago when we checked the mailbox.  Remember people writing letters?  Now, to receive a personal letter at your front door is unusual — if not downright thrilling.  Most of what the mailman delivers is junk or bills, and email is often like that as well.  No bills, some junk to delete, and at times I’m disappointed to see only forwards.  However, I have come to appreciate even most of those.  Some are LOLs (and that’s the new text jargon meaning laugh out loud, and like or or not it’s here to stay).  Some I read and delete and others are good enough to forward.  They can be funny, inspirational, nostalgic, political, informative, enlightening, spiritual, sights to see beyond description, travels that can take your breath away, and fabulous photographs from all over the world, under the sea and outer space.  Yes, even those pesty forwards can be worth the time.

A special one, which I recently watched and was drawn to immediately was simply titled “The Sparrow,” and could best be described as a Public Service Announcement (PSA).  It was, however, in a foreign language with English subtitles.  The scene was a garden where two men were sitting on a bench.  The younger man was reading a newspaper, the older man just sitting.  Peace and tranquality prevailed with only the rustle of a newspaper and the sound of a bird.  “What’s that?” asked the old man.  “A sparrow,” replied the young man, probably a son.  Again the old man listened and heard the bird.  “What’s that?” he repeated.  The answer: “A sparrow!”  The young man returned to his paper and one more time the old man asked, “What’s that?”   Rumpling the newspaper in annoyance, the younger man said again, his voice resonating with irritation.  “A sparrow.  How many times do I have to tell you?” 

The old man left the bench, went into the house and returned with a book.  Turning the tattered pages, he found a passage, handed the book to his son who read it aloud.  It had been the father’s journal from long ago when his own small son sat with him in a garden and the sound of a bird was heard.  The small boy asked his father, “What’s that?” and the father answered, “A sparrow.”  Sparrow: a new word in the boy’s vocabulary which was soon forgotten until he heard the sound again.  “What’s that?” he repeated.  And the father wrote of the experience explaining that the boy asked about the sound over and over.   “Each time,” the father wrote, “I told the boy it was a sparrow and each time I gave him a hug.”  The grown son, no longer holding the newspaper reached over and gave his demented father a hug.

With strong identification, I watched and a tear rolled down my cheek.  But years of living with Alzheimer’s has added a necessary toughness — perhaps a better word is strength — to sentiment, and by putting a hold on sentiment there might be a tendency toward cynicism.  So as a little of the cynic crept into my thoughts I had to conclude that if the old man remembered his journal entry about a sparrow, he should have remembered the word sparrow.  But I also know that cognitive loss is different in every Alzheimer’s patient, and short-term memory is the first to go.  Long-term memory comes and goes and often plays tricks so I put my cynic self to rest and appreciated the message for what it was.  It was loud and clear and didn’t have to be spelled out:  patience.   Alzheimer’s victims deserve patience.

Mike is married to my husband’s sister, Loretta (also an AD victim).  He and I have often lamented together about how difficult it is to be continually patient with the forgetfulness and constant repetition.  “That’s the hard part,” he says, “the same questions over and over.”    I couldn’t agree with him more, knowing with certainty that the two of us identify with the irritable son even though we strive our utmost to be patient.  

When the father in the PSA wrote of teaching his son about the sparrow, it was easy to be patient for the end result was knowledge for the boy and joy for the father as he watched his son grow to manhood with life stretching before him.  For the grown boy, and for all caregivers of AD patients, there is little joy and no hope for the future of the ailing victim.  However, there is compensation which comes with a good day, a good evening, a good hour, or even a good moment when the patient is lucid and a spark of memory rushes forth, a moment of tenderness or a familiar smile from the past.  Then the caregiver feels gratitude and patience is rejuvenated — at least for a while.

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