Flying high…

It’s no secret my dad loves flying.  He was a pilot of his own plane for many years, flying various locations to work sites on business or on adventures with family and friends.  He also proudly served in the Texas Civil Air Patrol, piloting multiple search-and-rescue missions through the years before turning in his wings (and boasts even today he can still fit into his required uniform).

Not long after his official Alzheimer’s diagnosis, he asked me one evening to take him once again to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, specifically the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport, a companion facility to the original museum on the National Mall.  These days, what daddy wants (when he remembers), daddy gets, so we headed north to visit and stay with family outside the beltway, spending an entire day at the museum.  While you were not with us to experience this day through his eyes firsthand, some others unexpectedly were…and what a treasured flying-high memory for all.

These two ginormous hangars at the Udvar-Hazy are filled to capacity with thousands of aviation and space artifacts, including a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde, and the Space Shuttle, Discovery (I know you’re impressed; I was paying attention, huh?!).  As we entered through security, Pop insisted on navigating the museum chronologically so he could share his knowledge and insight as an aviation history lesson; he was the teacher and I was his sole pupil…for about 5 minutes.

You see, as we stood in front of a Wright Brothers glider and Pop waxed eloquently on the profound contributions this team made in 1903 and beyond, I noticed a mom and her four children scooching closer to listen and absorb.  This little group continued to follow his path along all the early flight experiments and exhibits while dad talked about “how failure forces us revisit, reflect, and improve on our hunches.” 

As we entered the age of WWI and WWII (and picked up dad with a group of five elementary-age girls), the aircraft were divided among the various service organizations, their important missions, and successes.  We stopped at length in front of the Enola Gay, when the world entered into the atomic age in August of 1945.  This B-29 Superfortress bomber flew some 1,500 miles from the island of Tinian to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, thus forever changing the course of world history.  POP KNOWS ALL ABOUT THIS PLANE and he left no detail to chance!  You see, dad grew up across the street from the sister of Colonel Paul W. Tibbets (later Brigadier General), the pilot of this infamous mission.  Pop spent many childhood hours visiting, questioning, and listening to Tibbets’ stories, later talking with him at airshows around the country…but back to the museum.  It was about this time I noticed an even larger group gathered around us…a museum docent with a senior citizen group of six and then nine middle-school-age guys.  Dad continued sharing vast knowledge, answering questions presented to him on aviation, and talking like the flying expert he is.  About four hours later, Pop stopped, looked at me, and asked if we could sit down for a snack.  The docent gave him a museum hat and said, “you’re hired.”  The mom, dad, and children cheered in thanks.  The middle school guys each shook his hand and thanked him personally with one commenting, “you’re the BEST part of this trip today, and by the way, you look great to obviously be 90-something!” (Pop’s not even 80 yet 🙂 )

After so much complex medical news, decisions, changes, and more in recent weeks, this day was balm for both our souls, a truly JOYfilled experience where daddy’s older more powerful memories allowed him to share his wealth of expertise with others.  The pictures portray his passion and purpose along with his will to positively carry on in spite of deepening memory loss.

Pop miraculously understands how little things in life are to be celebrated, and for just a few hours on this random day, he bravely once again stood out among the stars.  As daddy himself often says, “eras have a way of ending all over the place.” Here’s hoping we find more ways to continue sparking his powerful memories and take what we’re given with grace and dignity “as off we go into the wild blue yonder, climbing high, into the sun…”     

 

Momisms…

My momma always told me the best sermon is a great example, thus she and daddy (for better, or worse sometimes) taught us daily by their example.  My sister and I know we “chose our parents wisely,” because in the midst of everyday life, there were daily lessons by their poignant example.

As I watch moms today in the grocery store, at the park, and everywhere else in the community, it stuns me how moms must be as wise as Solomon, as smart as Socrates, as unconditionally loving as Mother Teresa, and as disciplined as an Olympic Athlete.  My mom demonstrated daily who she was and lived by the legacy she created with southern sass, grit, humor, and backbone.  She shaped our character, expected integrity, and encouraged us to dream big for the future while finding a passion within to independently support ourselves (because we grew up in a progressive household knowing it was our sole responsibility to take care of ourselves…no matter what).  We learned to control our attitude and effort because “those two things are in our constant control.”  And just like her classroom setting, mom set the bar extremely high for us, but provided a loving cushion when we stumbled along the way.  Our mom was our first and most important teacher, advocate, and disciplinarian; she set the rules and we followed them…mostly…(sorry about riding the laundry basket down the stairs).

While mom’s physical voice is now silent, the echos of her lessons and expectations ring strong inside my soul.  I’m humbly grateful and thankful for the example of my mom.  I was so busy growing up and then raising two little women of my own, I often forgot she was growing older; mom was always smart enough to hold on, and then brave enough to let go on her journey.  Thanks, momma, for demonstrating the courage, hope, JOY, and unconditional love so I could one day be a mom to the two extraordinary miracles who shower my world in JOY!  I miss you so…and Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms!

Coloring hope in purple…

The doctor’s words resonated flat within the sparse conference room once they were spoken aloud:  “The results confirm ALZHEIMER’S.”  Pop was silent, holding my hand, staring off outside the window, and processing all we were rapidly being told.  “Probably stage 4, moving into stage 5 and definitely beyond moderate at this point.”  Alzheimer’s, this dreaded, debilitating disease we previously experienced, daily lived, and unfortunately understood too well with momma.  While not shocking in light of everything we’ve experienced these past 18 months, the immediate sting of this label is potent.

As we exited outside from this meeting, the color purple vibrantly surfaced in various ways–a poster of information, a sign of instructions, blossoming violets and phlox growing in the landscaped beds along the medical building.  A regal jewel-toned color, purple often signifies enlightenment, transformation, royalty, power, creativity, wisdom, dignity, devotion, grandeur, pride, mystery, and independence.  Purple is considered a rare occurrence in nature, symbolizing delicate, precious, and often sacred meanings (much like dad’s remaining memories and brain function).  Herbalists and horticulturalists believe lavender, orchid, lilac, and violet flowers along with plum, thistle, pomegranate, eggplant, and grapes increase imagination, calm confrontation, and re-energize the learning of new things.  How ironic is it the color purple also has come to symbolize hope and awareness for one of the longest family goodbyes in modern medical history?

Today, however, as Pop and I walked around the medical facility path from another appointment, these plastic beauties caught us off guard with their collective colors, fluttering leaves, and powerful messages written on petals gently swirling in the pre-rain breeze.  We stopped in awe to read the names, sentiments, and messages of hope, silently wondering where and how hope will emerge in the stark reality of Alzheimer’s disease.

Thankfully, even in our darkest moments, someone gratefully steps in to turn on the lights for us; today, ironically, it was daddy himself.  He announced in that particular moment he wanted to plant a purple garden.  So, yes, we’re planting a purple garden together in the next week…a place where nature, our existing imagination, and precious memories can grow even as they dim inside dad’s mind.  Somehow, daddy finds hope in growing something purple and knowing our time is limited, so we need not waste it.  Somehow, daddy finds hope in taking life day-by-day and being grateful for the little things, like a purple garden in our yard.  Somehow, daddy finds hope in talking, reflecting, sharing, and laughing as daily priorities.  And somehow, daddy finds hope in profoundly reminding me, “A secret in life is letting every situation be what it is instead of what you think it should be.  Take what you’re handed with grace and dignity and move on; let’s just make the best of this thing.” Consider it done, daddy…and here’s to coloring our hope in a glorious garden of purple.

Crossing Wires

While I’ve been accused of “crossing wires” many times, my heart literally challenged this concept for multiple hours over the past weekend.  Gratefully, this story has a positive outlook…

I’ve lived with atrial fibrillation most of my life, experiencing occasional flutters or skips at times including a stronger episode following the birth of our first child.  Each time, my heart naturally converted itself back into natural rhythm in a relatively short amount of time.  Not so, this time; it presented as a full-scale, ambulance-riding, cardiac-concierge event.  This was an excellent example in thankfully knowing my body really well and paying attention to its specific warning signs in order to seek medical assistance in a timely manner.

In spite of the trauma, the silver lining (after a full cardiac workup) is the professional affirmation my heart is a “strong, much-younger-than-my-age, remarkably boring muscle,” performing well in form, shape, size, and functionality.  My new cardiologist reports my issue “is strictly electrical, because your mechanics are impeccable.” He did note, however, “a slightly larger halo-effect surrounding your heart, but it’s simply due to the fact you were a long-time educator.”  🙂   Oh yes…I adore this man.

A-Fib is not to be taken lightly because it’s a leading cause of strokes. Losing the beloved Luke Perry to a stroke on the very day I’m laying on a cardiac table receiving a transesophageal echocardiogram and cardioversion is absolutely not lost on me. Eating less, moving more, listening, and paying attention to my miraculously aging body are lifelong goals–getting old and staying healthy continue to be a full-time job!  And ladies, as natural nurturers, we must help each other find more ways to graciously attend and give back to ourselves in the midst of giving to everyone else around us!

Longfellow observed, “the heart, like the mind, has a memory; in it are the most precious keepsakes.” Here’s hoping your heart (and mine) find natural ways to maintain the keepsake of the steady rhythm it knows so well.  Just know I’m walking in rhythm with you, my friends…

Cat conversations with Addie…

Evidently, my sweet grandma cat curses.  Who knew? While slightly embarrassed and yet absolutely amused, I’m not surprised in the least…especially in light of our life changes these past 15 months.

Addison Michelle Van Amburgh (Addie) has led a relatively peaceful, calm, pampered existence most of her nearly 14 years…well, that is, until the addition of Princess Sassypants (Poppy) to our family.  It all started the day a one-year-old sheltie ran barking at top speed into the backdoor of our new home, moving her and dad across the country to live permanently with us.   Frankly, Addie’s life has never been the same.  Never mind this particular cat has already outlived two former collies, loving them and then equally mourning each of them after their passing.  While dad was eager to no longer live alone, required daily assistance with tasks, and wanted to participate in family life once again, Poppy just naturally assumed she would continue to rule an even larger domain, just in a different home.  Hmmm…not on my watch…or, evidently, Addie’s.

So, back to the cursing… After lamenting about ways to bring more animal harmony to our family existence, my sister hooked us up with a vet acquaintance who offered to intervene as an animal communicator and talk with Addie based on questions we provided her to start the conversation.  (I know; you’re snickering.)   While I’m great at humanizing Addie and her conversations all on my own, a little help in mediating our dynamic situation completely intrigued me.  Keep in mind, this vet/communicator knew very little about either animal before her conversations (kid you not), but the perspectives were truly most enlightening:

Vet:  Addie, what do you like about where you live now and who lives with you?  Addie:  Well, let me tell you something.  I LOVED how things were going here before that —- loud mouth moved in with us!  I’d like is better if she left; can we do that?  If not, is there a way to shut her —- mouth?  —-; I’m not a spring chicken and NO, I’m not going to play with her either; I’m not a toy!  I demand respect; I’m a cat after all.  I love petting from my humans and I actually liked dogs before that loud-mouthed crazy little brown thing moved in all bossy and possessive of everything.  That thing needs to relax, listen to my humans, and leave me the —- alone.   (You can fill in the blanks…)

Vet:  Addie, what do you think about your food?  Addie:  FOOD IS AWESOME!  I love it and would like even more please!  I AM NOT overweight even if that —- dog says I am!  She’s lying!

There was other important information and ideas, and then this:

Vet:  Other than the dog leaving, which, as you know, is not an option, is there something else you need or want from your family?  Addie: Well, I sound tough but I don’t really want the dog to leave our home.  My humans rescued me and she DEFINITELY needs rescuing.  Her job is herding the oldest human and she needs to stick to her ONE JOB!  I just can’t show her I like her because I have a reputation to uphold.  Perhaps the brat will chill as she gets older, like me, but, in the meantime, she needs to get a grip (oh my stars; that is something Momma would say!).  She needs to follow our house rules.  —-, I was here first and she needs to accept who the real boss is around here!

So, my cat curses.  While I won’t take ALL the responsibility for her inappropriate language, I have to give her credit for vehemently and honestly sharing her thoughts and ideas.  She obviously has perceptions and her perceptions, after all, are her reality.

And not to be upstaged, Princess Sassypants had a few things to share as well.  Unfortunately, she’s asking for her afternoon stroll before her evening meal, so that conversation will be shared later.  Evidently, she’s too young to curse…yet…

Grace-filled living…

It’s cold and our frayed quilts and blankets are working overtime around here.  Knowing I needed to mend and wash the favorite one in dad’s favorite chair, he insisted I provide another one in its place (and I did).  The one I gave him started an unusual conversation about family quilts.  In the midst of his story, he profoundly commented, “just like the changing of these quilts comes the transitions in our lives, many with uncertainty; others with excitement and, your favorite word, Bethy, ‘JOY.’ ”  

Yes; my mouth fell open.

Combining a multi-generational family into one home during this season of our lives obviously doesn’t come with an instructional manual…at least one I can understand.  Home is still where our stories begin and continue, and with that being said, we’re a little over a full year into tenderly stitching dad and Princess Sassypants (Poppy) into our home.  While nothing is perfect (remember, I despise that word), through grace, we thankfully haven’t lost our sense of humor yet.  Laughter, teasing, and smiles are some of the greatest tension relievers on the tough days.  My mom often noted how “the shortest distance between two people is always laughter.”  Daddy subscribes to the philosophy of “a good time to laugh is when you can.”  Even with his growing health concerns and loss of memory, he is remarkably full of life, laughter, and lots of stories.  He is the proverbial rose-colored glasses guy because he whole-heartily believes there is always, always, always something to be grateful for each day.  He chooses to walk to the sunshine in order to leave the shadows behind him.

On the really long, tough days when none of us have much strength left to deal, we work to gently remind one another to reach a little deeper into our personal well of grace where more resources pour out to move us forward.  And then there’s the tiny spark in daddy’s eye before he gracefully reminds me how “flexible people never get bent out of shape.”

His brain is astounding…one minute not remembering how to tie his shoelaces, and the next minute, spouting pearls of wisdom rendering me speechless.

You‘re right daddy; families are like our old quilts…carefully crafted and pieced together in colorful memories bound tightly in love.  Although they tend to unravel at times, each can be stitched back together with kindness, understanding, patience, love, and lots and lots of grace.

If you’re on a similar journey, just know I have thread, scraps, and sewing needles…along with kindness, understanding, patience, love, and lots of grace to share, my friends…

The gift of giving…

My family knows me so well…their personal choices for bestowing gifts upon me during the holidays were overwhelming on an whole new level.  From a Gratitude Box, a unique journal, and books to luxurious self-care bathing products, stunning jewelry, and tickets for musical events in the coming year, I was well-spoiled beyond imagination. Each giver took valuable time to really think about my interests, my needs, my wants, and my dreams while thoughtfully nourishing my mind, body, spirit, and soul in extraordinary ways.

My Momma often talked about the secret to a success life:  it’s in “the giving.”  GIVE is an action word and when we give, our lives are touched and changed forever.  All around us are daily opportunities to give; money is only a small part of what is needed in the world.  While we cannot give what we do not have, we are all wealthy in magnificent ways.  Instead, GIVE support, encouragement, time, attention, advice, honor, blood (literally, y’all–give a pint some day soon), praise, respect, enthusiasm, a smile (or ten), energy, ideas…this list is endless!  Each of us are givers and are gifted in miraculous ways.  Challenge yourself and others; dig deep if you have to, and then allow your natural generosity to spring forth from your personal well in some spectacular way as a “gift of giving” every single day…after all, it’s one more positive way to keep the season alive each day of the year.