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Posts Tagged ‘Scout master’

pile of rocks
 As Scoutmaster for many years, Ken spent a lot of time leading boys of all ages through the ups and downs of growing pains by helping them over some of the hurdles which would eventually lead them into manhood.  There was Scout Camp, overnighters, merit badges to earn, knots to tie, awards to receive and lessons to be learned – some learned high in the mountains of California.  After years of counseling at Scout Camp, Ken and his assistant Scoutmaster and a few volunteer dads decided to put their young men through another kind of challenge: 50 miles through the high Sierras in one week.  It was so popular it became a yearly event.  The boys, however, had to qualify by participating in several overnighters where they had to hike x miles into the camp site – with full packs. 
None was more excited than Mark, just 12 years old and a new scout, but he qualified right along with everyone else.  Typical of many pre-teen boys, Mark hadn’t had a growth spurt in a month of Sundays and was still a tad small, a bit on the thin side with knobby knees and colt-like legs; yet his enthusiasm was unmatched and an eager smile made up for any physical shortcomings. Years later Mark wrote about his first backpacking experience: a few paragraphs quoted below.

“I so looked forward to being included in the 50-mile hike the troop took each year.  Everyone prepared for it with mini trips, but there is nothing like the real thing, which took us into the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir area near Yosemite.

“We hiked 10 miles the first two days which was grueling as we made our way up the mountains ascending to heights which none of us were accustomed.  The switchbacks taunted us as we made our way back and forth and up.  It seemed my backpack grew heavier with each turn of the trail.  At the top of the last set, I discovered why it became more weighted every time we rested.

A few of the older scouts felt it would be amusing to see the expressions on the faces of the two 12-year olds as they discovered they had carried a few stowaway rocks up all of those switchbacks.  I laughed, but was secretly thankful for those rocks from that time forth.  After liberating them from my pack, I found I had no problem carrying the lighter load.”

Mark learned a very profound lesson early in his life, and he continued to apply the importance of eliminating excess baggage – rocks — from his journeys through life.  As caregivers we need to remember to strive on a daily basis to do the same.

After being away from home for three months following a horrific automobile accident, I returned to the familiar, yet the unfamiliar.  My life had been drastically changed. Ben was taking care of Ken, for which I was grateful.  Not being the same as I had been I wasn’t able to get back to status quo, nor was Ken the same.  His battle with Alzheimer’s now included him having to adjust to all of the new changes in his life.  Ben was new, the routine was different, his abilities had been greatly diminished, and my late entry caused him to become more confused.

Even with his AD I wanted life to be as it had been before the crash.  I knew where he was and right where the two of us had been in living and dealing with the disease.  Now I had to start my relationship with Ken all over again while still nursing my own hurts and injuries.  Consequently, my disposition was definitely wanting.  “Are you mad at me?” he asked one day during a lucid moment.  “No,” I answered, “I’m not mad at you.  Why?”  Sadly, he looked at me and said, “Your voice sounds as if you’re mad at me.”

That caught me off guard, and I thought about our conversations – minimal though they were – I realized he was right.  Whenever I spoke to him, whether he was Ken or Mr. Hyde or Buddy (his various personalities) I could hear the irritation in my voice. So I had to ask me if I was mad at him – angry with him — if so, why?   Thus, I was back to soul searching – which I have had to do every so often. Yes.  I was angry and I was taking it out on Ken, including his lucid moments.  Moments, so few and far between were being wasted with my irritation.

However, I was feeling anger because of all the time that was gone in being badly hurt and having to take more valuable time to heal and to go through physical therapy.  Angry because I couldn’t do all that I had done before.  Angry because I still wasn’t my old self, angry because I had continued discomfort and pain.  I was angry that Ken had Alzheimer’s, and angry that there was nothing I could to about it.  If he noticed the irritation in my voice, did I have the same irritation when I spoke with others?  I knew it was time for me to begin removing the rocks in my backpack, and in so doing I would also find some peace.

Nothing is instant – except maybe potatoes and coffee – and I knew it would take time for me to bring about my goals.  The first baby step was to stop taking out my anger and frustrations on other people – especially Ken.

As a caregiver, I cannot change anything with anger, neither can I undo yesterday, nor can I cure incurable diseases even with over-the-top anger. Being angry only adds a heavy rock to my already burdened life, and as Mark said, “After liberating the rocks from my pack, it was easier to carry the lighter load.”   Little by little I have managed to remove the rocks of anger.  I also lighten my load by striving every day to find something to laugh about with Ken – maybe not with him – perhaps with Ben or Criz.  We can laugh about something Ken does because at times he and other AD patients are funny and it is okay to laugh. If you haven’t laughed all day then read a funny book or rent a funny movie, but laugh. The more I laugh, the more I can let go of anger and any other negatives which are always nearby and ready to sneak into my backpack.

This past year plus has changed Ken a lot.  He seldom has lucid moments when he can manage any sort of conversation.  Whatever he jabbers it’s without logic.  His other personalities are gone.  There is no Buddy, nor does Mr. Hyde visit, but that’s all right.  They were both rather disagreeable characters.  What’s left is a small portion of Ken who makes little sense. We are where we are in this life, and I know I must strive to be continually accepting.  In doing so, I often remember the serenity prayer, which I’ve always liked.  It’s so applicable for those of us who journey together with our Alzheimer’s loved ones:   “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”  So now, let’s begin by liberating the rocks, including the tiny pebbles of negativity, from those heavy backpacks.

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Ken was always a talker and so at ease with people.  When we met that was the first thing I liked about him.  Had he been Irish I would have guessed he kissed the Blarney Stone, but he wasn’t and so he didn’t  Ken was just blessed with the gift of gab. During our marriage I sometimes wondered if he really liked people or if he liked them because they listened?  I doubt he ever analyzed himself, and even if he did what would that prove?  Possibly that he liked to talk and he also liked people; making the question and answer come to a full circle.

For years he volunteered his spare time serving as cub master, scout master, Little League coach, manager, League president, Sunday school teacher, and the list goes on.  During that time Ken was the middle-aged man working with youth and loving every minute.  How gratifying it was to see the boys, eagerness filling their young faces asking, “Mr. Romick, did you me catch that ball?”  And to see 8-and-9-year-old Cub Scouts saluting and grinning from ear to ear as they not only received an award, but words of praise as well. Whether they were eight or 18 Ken always had some special compliment for “his” boys.

It was years later when someone called out from across the street or the mall, “Hey, Mr. Romick, how ya doing?” that we realized how quickly time had passed. Looking into the unfamiliar face of an obvious acquaintance, these typical middle-aged men with receding hairlines and mid-sections telling they were well fed and cared for, were Ken’s “boys.”  We were always amazed to acknowledge that the “boys” had grown up while we were growing older.   Meeting them once again, and watching as they grabbed Ken’s hand shaking it vigorously, I became aware of the great affection these men still had for my husband.  “It’s me, Mr. Romick, Steve from Little League,” or it could be Mark from scouts or Aaron from his old Sunday School class; all of them genuinely happy to once again meet this “mentor” from the past.

I doubt Ken ever thought of himself as anyone’s mentor.  It wasn’t just about what he did, but more who he was and what he said.  How it touches my heart even now when one of his former “boys” tells me how much Ken had impacted their life, how he had made them feel they were “somebody,” and they could do anything, meet life’s challenges and reach their best potential because Mr. Romick had faith in them and said he knew they could do it.  To many, his words were a gift.

Alzheimer’s eventually robs its victims of just about everything they ever had or held dear.  Communication with Alzheimer’s patients varies, and even conversation with the same patient differs from day to day and from night to night.

In his recent book, “Adventures Of An Incurable Optimist – Always Looking Up,” Michael J. Fox tells about his sleeping experience.   Apparently, with his Parkinson’s the tremors stop when the brain is at rest.  When I heard him speak of this during an interview, I thought about the differences with Ken when he had been asleep for a time.  

I have no doubt that the disease saps energy.  For several years, Ken went to bed well before I did (except when he is extremely agitated or disturbed).  Once he was settled I knew it was my turn to get settled.  No matter what his mood swing might have been just before bedtime, or whether he knew me or not, when I climbed into bed he turned to me, barely opening his eyes and lovingly asked, “Is that you dear?”  I assured him it was me and he followed up with something like, “I love you.  Goodnight.”  For those moments he was Ken, and in retrospect, I can’t help but wonder if his resting brain, like Michael’s resting brain, might permit the tangles to relax enough for a bit of normalcy to return allowing stored and familiar memories to emerge.   As a lay person, all I can do is observe and speculate.  For me, his asking questions during those small snippets of time, and accepting the appropriate answers were good, but brief, conversations.

However, with Alzheimer’s change is constant.  After several months, I found I was no longer able to “settle in.”  Even though he still asked, “Is that you dear?” falling back into slumber within a few minutes, I learned very quickly there was more to come.  Peace and tranquility prevailed until one night our comfortable routine developed a glitch.  Ken began talking in his sleep just about the time I was dozing off.  While it didn’t occur every night, it happened often enough to sabotage a good night’s sleep.

The interesting thing about him talking in his sleep was the articulation and sentence construction, which were clear and concise; actually better than some of what we were able to experience during the day.  I sat up in bed and listened.  At first I chuckled to myself, remembering how much he loved to talk.  So here he was deep in sleep having great conversations.  Ken would make a statement, pose a question, or wait for an answer. The timing was so on target I almost expected to hear another voice.  No doubt he was dreaming, and the person in his dream furnished the other half of the dialogue.  Because of the clarity I couldn’t help but think once again about the possibility of his resting brain allowing him to even laugh during his unlabored middle-of-the-night chats.

 Nevertheless, these outbursts of talking did nothing for my period of sleep and rest.   “Shhhh,” I would whisper.”  His talking continued.  “Be quiet,” I requested, my voice becoming louder.  “Buddy, stop talking,” I commanded in the voice of his mother.  “You stop talking,” he countered.  I tried the voice of a teacher calling him Ken, Bud, Buddy, Kenneth and Hey You, all to no avail.  He always had an answer, and the answer told me he was not going to stop talking.

As the filibuster continued, I picked up my pillow, closed the bedroom door and retired to the couch in the family room, which I didn’t mind.  The couch, a warm blanket and I had been friends for a long time dating back to hot flashes and sudden awakenings of years gone by.  The silence was golden as I adjusted the pillow, snuggled into my blanket, and smiled as I thought of the noisy convention in the bedroom.

Perhaps, I mused, Ken may have managed to play a trick on the devil disease by skirting around the pitfalls of daytime consciousness, taking refuge either in the subconscious or somewhere in his resting, relaxed brain.  I don’t have any answers, but wherever he might be during those happy hours of nocturnal conversations he’s in his best element.

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