Transitions

“Love is the real force motivating this next chapter of my journey, Bethy…” He spoke the words softly to me as he hugged me up before I left him in his new apartment alone for the first time. We were both being brave and stoic, yet our eyes were watering. We both understood how this next transition ensured his continued care, safety, and quality of life as he lives with Alzheimer’s. The transition is simple, just not easy.

Packing and stacking of belongings, arranging and organizing of spaces, laying out and labeling everything (thank you, H!) culminated in a smooth and successful move for Daddy into assisted living. Our coast-to-coast little family answered the call and gathered together for a few days to ensure all went well for everyone involved in this next transition. Pop relished in the attention, feeling the support, encouragement, and love in making this decision and then getting him settled properly, because, you know, we have requirements. 🙂

For the second time in my life, we travel this familiar path with a parent. Dad’s journey with this relentless disease is entirely different from mom’s journey. His progression and various turning points often pass quietly, yet we find ways to negotiate the transitions as they naturally occur. While we may have doubts at times, he literally continues to walk (with his cane) into the situation like it’s a sales meeting…and yes, he still works an entire room of strangers that way (just ask the men’s group leader). Another huge blessing is Daddy continues to maintain his amazing sense of humor, and this will carry him well in his new surrounding. He’s a natural talker and if he doesn’t know you or cannot remember your name, he just fakes it, says something funny, and invites your participation and input. His gift of gab and storytelling are present no matter the setting. In fact, I’ve been warned he’ll likely be the voted in as “mayor” before we know it. 🙂

Because we’ve been straight-forward and realistic about this overwhelming situation, it has helped all of us roll up our sleeves and get messy with the details when necessary. We’ve had the tough conversations about his finances, his health expectations, his final wishes, and more. He makes it clear what he expects. As he likes to say, “I haven’t forgotten; I just can’t remember…so when I forget, thank you for remembering for me.” We have his plan and will work his plan each step of the way, just as he clearly expects of us.

Alzheimer’s may be taking away the vibrancy of Daddy’s mind, but for now, we take it a step at a time with expert assistance as a new part of his team.  Make no mistake, his heart and soul continue to hold what his mind cannot. He reminds us in unique ways how some things in life cannot be fixed, but are shouldered with love, help, and strength of others. In his unique way he teaches us how to covet each day, each memory, each opportunity as he holds on, and in turn, lets go. It’s showing up and paying attention in the moment while not being wedded to the outcome.

Our home is quiet as I wander on his side of the house today. I am weary from the buried anxiety and stress of these last few years. I’m “feeling all the feels” as my daughter says. There is also profound relief from the controlling need to serve as “benevolent overlord major general” and daily cruise director. (I did this for 34 years before “retiring”). As I told a sweet friend yesterday, I am simply excited to just be my daddy’s daughter during this next chapter of his journey…and I venture to guess, he simply is too.

Like most of life, this transition is simple, just not easy. I lean into my faith, hope, and love. And just as daddy observed, love IS the most powerful force of motivation moving us onward during each transition of his journey…it really is simple, just not easy, my friends. May you be blessed and be a blessing to others.

Showing up once again…

As I’ve shared before, when you’re traveling the path of Alzheimer’s with a parent 24/7, you can expect daily kinks in the routine.  Some days are relatively smooth and we roll along, while others, well, I can’t say it very nicely so I’ll leave it to your imagination.  Most mornings dad pops up in bed as I present him with a hot cup of coffee, a smile, and a cheerful greeting.  I remind him to shower, help lay out his clothes, and leave him to his personal rituals. Once he presents himself in the main part of our home, he grins and announces, “I’m here; let the day begin” (even though it may be pushing noon).  He chooses to “show up” and we do too.

Dad requires more and more assistance with specific daily tasks, especially those involving medications, reminders to carry his cane, wash his hands, cover that cough, and such.  He easily confuses things or chooses to just skip them.  Some days while gently reminding or assisting him through a specific task, he looks at me as though I’m bossing him into submission.  (even though I realize I’m a red-headed benevolent overlord at times).  To dad though, I’m his little girl again and by golly, no daughter of his will tell him what to do.  But the instant St. M opens his mouth to repeat exactly what I just asked, dad immediately complies.  WHAT?!?

It’s the power of what I call “show up.”  You see, St. M carries compassion in abundance and uses his super power of show up to his advantage with dad.  In his calm voice, he coaxes dad to do what’s in dad’s best interest.  I’ve learned to also appreciate this additional assistance when my patience well runs low.  In reality, it’s a grateful outcome because someone other than me took the time to show up in a needed moment.

What’s a super power of yours you use to help another?

Some dear friends frequently remind me on this journey of these powerful words:  show up…pay attention…let go…speak your truth…don’t be wedded to the outcome…”  This is my morning mantra as I show up in gratefulness for the opportunity to start another day with dad. And here’s hoping your super power(s) offers you the opportunity to start another day in gratefulness too! 🙂

The Egg Tree

On a meandering walk for some fresh spring air this past week, I came across a most surprising sight to behold…an egg tree.  These beauties were hanging in various shapes, colors, sizes, and levels as a welcome sign in these most unusual of times.  I instantly recalled the sweet story my Granny B often told about The Egg Tree.  Written and illustrated in 1950 by Katherine Milhous, this Caldecott Medal winning book revealed a story based on the author’s family with a beloved Pennsylvania Dutch Easter tradition.  I vividly remember the ONE Easter time Granny and I carefully blew out a dozen eggs (what a chore!) and then dyed them in various colors to then paint scenes, just like the two children in the book.  It was a two-day process and one where her patience with my tedious perfectionism at various levels of artistic struggle was most likely stretched beyond standard limitation.  Did I mention it was the only time we did it?  🙂

This tradition in my classroom and in our home with similar versions of an egg tree in the springtime usually involved wooden or plastic decorated eggs.  Cascarones took it up another notch as brightly-colored, confetti-filled egg treats, although patience of Job comes-to-mind when creating these beauties.   Each version visually symbolized the simple, charming reminders of rebirth, renewal, hope, and growth.

What’s a Springtime tradition you fondly recall?  

In these uncertain times of living in, as my daddy says, “that hotel where you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave” (thank you, Don Henley and Glenn Fry), may we all find subtle ways to engage in creating, cultivating, and inviting beauty into our day…just like this blossoming little egg tree.  Stay safe, stay well, and stay strong, y’all!  🙂

Fill every day with thanks and giving…

This little poem by Karl Fuchs fell out of his book today:

The table is almost brimming with good eats;
We’re surrounded by family and friends; what a treat!
The feelings that fill us simply can’t be beat;
It’s Thanksgiving Day, and it all feels complete.

But other days, sometimes, things don’t seem so fine;
Those days are not polished and don’t seem to shine.
It’s then in our minds, we forget all the good,
And think of the things we would get, if we could.

On days when our thinking causes us dread,
If we could remember, it’s all in our head,
And not let our minds take our gratitude away,
Then we’d make every day like Thanksgiving Day.

Nope; it’s not November; it’s not even officially spring at this point.  It IS an unprecedented time in our world history filled to the brim with ever-changing news, updates, instructions, guidelines, hand-washing, anxiety, cabin-fever, toilet-paper hoarding (why?), information overload, and so much more.  In a word…overwhelming.  But as dad and I sat together at the table this morning drinking coffee and talking about the book he’s “reading,” he quietly reminded me how his generation, and especially the one before him, “went off to war, fighting for the ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ we likely take for granted each day.  Why can’t everyone just keep things in perspective now?  This too, shall pass, Beth.”  It was truly a beautiful moment of pure clarity…

Dad doesn’t understand COVID-19, or why he needs to incessantly wash his hands (when he “took a shower today, didn’t I?”), or what it means to medically self-isolate and be socially-distant in our home due to his high-risk status.  He  can’t remember why he’s even high risk.  He doesn’t care about stocking up on pantry items so we have a meal each day, whether we have gas in the car, or why everyone is working remotely from home.  Instead, dad focuses on the present because it’s all he knows in that moment.  Sometimes he looks at me and clearly states, “I don’t know what I don’t know, but I’m good just not knowing.  I don’t forget things; I just can’t remember them.”  🙂

Dad has structure each day mixed with relaxed freedom.  He’s not afraid to be alone, even though he never is.  He’s teaching me yet again how it’s okay to not be rushed, to stop and just be still a while.  And without knowing it, he’s reminding me how everyday is a present, a gift of new beginnings in boundless hope and endless possibilities.  It’s important not to allow my own mind to take away my gratitude.   So in these uncertain times when anxiety and irrational thoughts begin to take hold, may we all remember to take those deep cleansing breaths, set our minds, and keep moving forward in kindness, grace, hope, and love, while finding ways to fill each day with thanks and giving…even if it’s just the middle of March.  🙂

Seeds of Promise…

“If we had no winter the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome…”  ~ Anne Bradstreet

Every year at this time (and especially because Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring this year), my hands begin to itch to dig in the dirt, sowing seeds for flowers, herbs, and veggies (and new ideas) to blossom and flourish.  While the cold and snow of winter lingers, there’s always hope of a spring that waits to be.  Even in the midst of long and dark cold days filled with uncertainty, changes, and daily transitions on a personal level, there are small seeds of promise emerging as the mind processes all that is.

As a little girl, I marveled how seeds and bulbs would surrender themselves in the ground to be used for a greater purpose.  Even today, as I find myself uncertain of the next steps in this overwhelming journey with dad, I stubbornly plant myself in order to be used for a greater purpose.  After all, Momma herself observed, “when you plant yourself to make a difference, you grow as a person whose harvest will benefit others and, in your unique way, blossom into your own greatness.”  (I still marvel when finding her pearls of wisdom jotted down in unusual places, like this little jewel written inside a book cover hidden on dad’s shelf.)

In this daily journey with dad, I’ve come to see firsthand how many days pass in semi-unawareness, a busy oblivion if you will.  Ironically, we both find value the mundane and the magical moments, especially when dad is truly present.  We both appreciate we are here together and the most important thing we can do in the situation is just show up.  Nothing about Alzheimer’s or his journey in it is a straight line…everything curves, dives, turns, and twists.  It is filled to the brim with mystery, obstacles, defeats, victories, dead ends, delays, detours, and too many questions.  The one thing I’ve come to personally realize is my immediate purpose may not be the ultimate purpose, but it serves as a catalyst to live and share in this time with him.  And just like the process all seeds and bulbs go through in order to become all they are destined to become, we each continue to go through a unique process to become and do what we are meant to do at this time and in this place.

With all that’s swirling in 2020 so far, having little seeds of promise helps to refocus my energy and hope in the days ahead.  This particular season of winter has not been so pleasant, yet the coming spring is planted in seeds of promise.  It’s time to get busy and continue sowing… 🙂

Rushing along with the rushed…

Today, in the midst of much kitchen activity, daddy walked in and suddenly quoted Robert Frost:  “You know, there’s no reason to be rushed along with the rush…”  My head snapped up and I giggled.  He sounded JUST like momma in that moment (she was always quoting Frost or Thoreau or Dickinson or Alcott or Byron or Dr. Seuss or any number of profound philosophers in her well-studied realm).  I asked daddy what caused him to comment and he answered, “Well, you’re rushing around in here you would think Thanksgiving is today…(silent pause)…it’s not, right?”  🙂

In his unexpected daily quest to just live gratefully each moment these days, he has this uncanny ability to innocently stop me in my hub-bub and simply remind me to savor the same.  And even though it was rather breezy and quite cool outside, I stopped rushing and we stepped outside onto the screened porch.  Sitting quietly for a while, we enJOYed the wind on our faces, listened to the sounds of squirrels foraging in the trees (but they better NOT be digging up and storing away the 350 bulbs we planted yesterday), and watched the leaves rustling as they created colorful blankets on the pine mulch.  We exchanged thoughts on gratefulness and how blessings overflowed all around us, sublimely just being in those precious moments with each other.

So here’s our challenge:  Find small ways each day to stop the rush and just gratefully BE in the moment.  Please know I’ll be right there with you…that is, if I’m not chasing squirrels with bulbs in their mouths.  🙂

The gift of being older…

Daddy awoke with a smile as I presented him the steaming cup of coffee.  He told a joke, chuckling out loud cracking himself up, and all before getting out of bed this morning!  Who is this person and what did he do with my father?  Such is Alzheimer’s, but I’ll gratefully take this comical start anytime.  You see, daddy blissfully lives in “his present,” almost literally moment-to-moment.  He has no worries because he can’t remember what to worry about…and he’ll tell you it’s my job now.  🙂  Money, bills, Medicare choices, appointments, correspondence…none are his concern.  He gratefully savors simple pleasures with quiet JOY.  Period.

Momma always told me, “Rich experience and understanding can only come with age, and Bethy, you’re not there yet…”  🙂  Daddy is still teaching me though how to calmly appreciate daily activities for the rich experiences they are.  He’s showing me through his daily ALZ struggle how to gracefully take each situation for what it is, even when we don’t fully understand the situation.  His age and his illness make little difference in the way he chooses to live; he’s simply allowing the gift of being older to speak for him.  Later in life and under completely bizarre circumstances, daddy simply demonstrates, “There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet JOY.”   ~Ralph Blum ~

Please take a moment to ponder:  When you hear the word “elderly,” what comes to mind?  What have you gratefully learned from an elderly person in your life recently? 

Here’s hoping we all seek and find gratefulness in the calm and quiet JOY of daily living, my friends!

Midway…day nine

Dad and I have been fighting a battle all afternoon, specifically one on the big screen.  When he noticed the promo for the new movie, Midway, he insisted on going—TODAY.  Being a well-read history buff, he had to make certain “they got it right,” so off we went into the wild blue yonder (I know; wrong branch of the service for this story).  We settled in our seats with his popcornandcoke.  It’s all one word in our house because, well, it just is when he’s watching a movie on the big screen. I gingerly reminded him why he COULD NOT share his vast wealth of information with everyone around us during the pivotal moments of the movie.  Thankfully, we were surrounded by others his age who were doing the same so I decided to let that go (yes, the teacher force remains strong in me).

As the story unfolded on the big screen, it became clear why dad was so vehement about this movie.  Unbeknownst to me prior to today, one of dad’s maternal uncles flew a Douglas “Devastator” torpedo bomber during this pivotal moment of Allied victory in the Pacific theater.  His aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, was out on maneuvers during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, so these guys were itching to reciprocate, managing to fell three Japanese carriers and a battleship during the event.  Naval code-breaking (a truly fascinating part of this victory) along with radar gave the U.S fleet a definite advantage since Japan’s Imperial Navy relied solely on human lookout before attack.  Here’s your history lesson today; you’re welcome.

So why battles?  What does this have to do with my gratefulness journey?  On this Veteran’s Day weekend, I remain humbled and beyond grateful for the countless Americans who stepped forward to defend our freedom and preserve the founding principles of our Nation.  From Valley Forge to Vietnam, from Kuwait to Kandahar, from Berlin to Baghdad, and well beyond across our planet, these patriots stood watch over America’s peace, and when necessary, carried the costs of our Nation’s wars, many giving the ultimate sacrifice in service.  Courageous men and women have cleared the seas, charged the hills, and covered the skies.  We must continue to uphold each Veteran’s legacy by teaching our younger generations about the role in securing the cost of liberty.  And as my daddy always notes, “If we do not study history, we are doomed to repeat it; in teaching others, we teach ourselves.” 

So this isn’t so much a question today but a challenge to find a way to continue the story.  Beyond the emphasis of Veteran’s Day, may we always take the unexpected opportunities to remember, reflect, and revisit the service and sacrifices of our Nation’s Veterans…and here’s hoping you stop every time and take a moment to gratefully acknowledge a Veteran’s service when one crosses your path.

Show up…day two

When you’re traveling the path of Alzheimer’s with a parent 24/7, you can expect daily kinks in the routine.  Some days are relatively smooth and fall easily into the “I got this” category while others…well, I can’t say it very nicely so I won’t say it all (but you get the idea).  For example, most mornings dad verbally grumbles about getting up even though I present him bedside with a hot cup of amazing coffee, a smile, and cheerful greeting.  I remind him to shower, help lay out his clothing (because he will choose a sweater on a hot day or a light t-shirt on a cold one), and leave him to his personal hygiene rituals. Once he presents himself in the main part of our home, he usually smiles and notes, “I’m here; I’m  ready.”  We all clap and get his day going; it’s the same each day.

Dad requires lots of assistance with specific daily tasks, especially those involving medications, inhalers, etc.  He easily confuses things or chooses to just skip them.  Some days while gently reminding or assisting him through a specific task, he looks at me as though I’m 12 once again and “bossing” him into submission.  Sidebar:  Yes, I’m a natural red-headed benevolent overlord; always have been and always will be (those of you who’ve known and loved me most of my life, including St. M, will verify this fact, huh?!).  To dad though, I’m 12 again and by golly, no daughter of his will tell him what to do.  The second St. M opens his mouth to repeat what I just said, dad immediately complies.  WHAT?!?  It’s the power of what I call “show up.”

St. M carries compassion in abundance and uses the super power of show up to his advantage with dad.  In his easy-going way, he coaxes daddy to do what’s in dad’s best interest–drink the entire glass of water with the medication, take the inhaler because of non-stop wheezing, wear the jacket because it’s cold outside, etc.  It may incense me inside at times because I failed to produce results in that moment, but in reality, it’ a grateful outcome because someone other than me took the time to show up.

So, on day two:  What’s a super power you gratefully use to help others?

Some dear friends gently remind me on this journey of these powerful words:  show up…pay attention…let go…speak your truth…don’t be wedded to the outcome…”  This is my morning mantra and sets my mind as I choose to once again show up in gratefulness for the opportunity to start another day with dad.

The longest day…

Summer Solstice…the longest day of the calendar year when there is the most light available to us. Following this Solstice, the days gradually shorten and the nights lengthen.  Did you know the word “Solstice” is derived from Latin meaning “standing still” (Sol + systere)?  Many traditions throughout time have celebrated the Solstices; likewise western civilization celebrates the first day of summer (called Midsummer–see Shakespeare) as one of the most powerful days of the year for spiritual growth and healing.

Our day started about 4:58 am with Pop standing at my bedroom door asking if he missed coffee time.  The steady rains of the last night had ceased and daylight was dawning with the sun just starting to peek into his half-open blinds on his east window (my fault for not closing the blackout curtain there last night).  Startled, I jumped down, checked the clock, and softly padded to my doorway toward him.  I assured him it was early and the coffee would not start for another hour.  I walked him across the house back to his room to settle him back into his comfy bed, sitting in his recliner nearby until I knew he was fast asleep.  Unfortunately, I was wide awake…coffee and quiet time for me…

Ironically, the first thing popping up on my social media feed a little later was an update and positive message from the Alzheimer’s Association.  The organization annually uses the longest day of the year to shed more light on ALZ in hopes of raising awareness about this terminally mind-altering, life-changing, longest goodbye. Today, a favorite Fred Rogers observation surfaced once again:  “Some days, doing the ‘best we can’ may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect–on any front–and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else…” 

As a caregiver wrestling this relentless foe, I frequently find myself unexpectedly trudging deep in the trench with daddy at times.  While it’s the primary goal each day to simple encourage him while gently assisting him, he unknowingly and gracefully spends just as much time helping me cope with this process by using his wit and wisdom, his laugh, and his smile.

So on this longest day of the year, we chose to seek a little spiritual growth, natural sustenance, and healing tonight by taking a short drive to a favorite lake spot down the road from our home. We stood outside wearing our purple Life Is Good shirts with the sun shining through the trees and the breeze lightly touching our faces as we ate ridiculously large bowls of homemade ice cream.  As written before, daddy sticks to his philosophy to “take what you’re given with grace and dignity and move on.”  It’s his profoundly simple way of dealing, growing, and healing from all of life’s challenges every single day…most especially on the longest day of the year.

Note:  If you or someone you love is in need of assistance, please check out their website @ alz.org  for more insight.