Monday, October 5, 2015

So You Had a Bad Day

Last week during the full-blood-super-moon eclipse, I discovered that I wasn’t my normal self. I woke up at 10:30 a.m. after an extraordinarily long night of nightmare infested slumber. To say I got up on the wrong side of the bed is an understatement—it was more like I got up on the wrong side of the house. Cranky, headachy, and on the verge of tears, it’s no wonder my husband retreated to his office for the day. His main goal of the day was to steer clear of the crazy woman in the kitchen.

There was no explanation for the way I felt, it just was, and it wasn’t going away. It all boiled down to just having a bad day.

What causes us to have a bad day? Most of the time, it is because of external problems beyond our control that make us nervous or unhappy. Too often we let the behavior of others ruin an otherwise good day. Someone makes a hurtful or disparaging remark that sinks its ugly roots into our self-esteem and the worry of its validity gnaws at our self-worth. Some bad days, like the one I had, are internal. An unsettling night can spill over into the daylight.

Anyone can have a bad day, but people with dementia have more than their share. When you take into account their daily wrestling match with confusion and the other symptoms Alzheimer’s causes, it helps you understand how bad days can be plentiful.

The unfortunate nature of a bad day is that it can be contagious. When the person with dementia has a bad day, the caregiver has a bad day too.

So what the heck can you do about that? It’s hard enough to deal with yourself, much less someone else, when emotions are out of whack, common sense is on vacation, and patience abandoned ship. It’s time to give yourself a time-out. Do something you really love to do, even if you can spare only a few minutes. Some suggestions: a half-hour comedy (I can’t possibly stay depressed watching the Golden Girls), read a magazine or a chapter in a good book, go for a walk, call your mom or a good friend, or bake cookies.

After your time-out, take a few deep breaths, and if you baked cookies, now would be a good time to have some with a glass of milk. Now you are ready to stay calm--the number one method for handling your loved one’s bad day. Hopefully, you’ve regained your ability to be patient, because you will need an abundance of it.

A good rule to remember is that what worked yesterday may not work today, so you must be flexible. Distraction is your friend. If your loved one is crying or in a really bad mood, maybe this calls for an ice cream cone—or playing fetch with the dog. One thing that always worked with Jim was taking a drive. He loved getting in the car and heading down the road. An even better trip for him was when we stopped by DQ for a milkshake.

When a person with dementia has a bad day, it shows in his behavior. Though easier said than done, your best response is to address the emotion rather than the behavior.

There is no one cause for a bad day and there isn’t one solution. I think my bad day was the result of a bad night and, of course, the full moon. Probably the real reason is that I’m human with human emotions. So, I had a bad day. It wasn’t the first, and rest assured, it won’t be the last.

Copyright © October 2015 by L.S. Fisher

Monday, September 21, 2015

Family Matters

Jimmy, Tommy, Mitchell, Roberta, Linda, Mom, Terri
On a cold February night, just as we were going to bed, I casually mentioned to Harold that this was my year to host our family get-together. We used to gather on Thanksgiving at my mom and dad’s house.

After Dad died, and Mom sold the house to my brother Mitchell, we converged on them for several years until we made a change with tradition. We decided to pass the hosting around by going from oldest to youngest and decided to meet in September when the weather was better.

“When were you going to tell me this?” he asked.

“Oh, about August,” I replied. Harold is the planner. I’m a seat-of-the-pants type person.

Well, he wasn’t having any of that. After a barrage of questions about logistics, I finally suggested we have it at the park so we wouldn’t have to find tables, chairs, etc. that he was worrying about seven months ahead of time.

By March, we had rented the shelter at the park, and worked on a list of things to do. In addition to the place, the host family provides the meat, drinks, and table service.

The reunion was Sunday, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. We were up at 6:00 a.m., and Harold was in drill-sergeant mode. Before I could get a cup of coffee, he was slicing up the pork loin we’d cooked the day before, and one of the huge hams he had bought for the occasion.

By the time we got the first ham in the roaster oven it was full. Harold was still fretting that we weren’t going to have enough meat. “That’s plenty,” I said. After all, Stacey was bringing two turkey breasts.

“This isn’t like the Fisher reunion,” I said. The Fisher reunion is for anyone with the last name, but this reunion is for our immediate family, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. “We usually have about thirty people, not a hundred.”

He finally settled on cooking an additional three-pound ham, just in case. Then we fixed gallons and gallons of tea. Thank goodness, Rob came by with his pickup to help us load everything into his truck and our Tahoe.

On the way to town, I began to feel the excitement. Until then, I’d been too busy. I love spending time with my family, and don’t see them as often as I should.

Both my sons were there and my two youngest grandchildren. My two oldest grandkids work on weekends, but Whitney would be coming by on her lunch hour.

Rob set up a PC to play a CD made from a video of a Capps family Thanksgiving from the early 1990’s. Mom was taking a turkey out of the oven, and my husband Jim was running the video camera.

After everyone found the right shelter, we decided to go ahead and start eating. My brother Mitchell had not arrived, but was on his way.  Tommy asked a short blessing. “Wow, that must be the shortest blessing you’ve ever done,” I said.

“He’s still going on the videotape,” someone said. Sure enough the CD was still rolling and Tommy was still asking the blessing. In all fairness, we used to update everyone on our family and he had the largest family.

We visited and took photos of the brothers, sisters, and our mom. Marshall wasn’t able to come this year and our brother Donnie passed away Thanksgiving eve in 2012.

The time just flew by, and before it seemed possible, people were leaving. It had been a beautiful day to spend with people I love. Of all things in life, family matters the most.

Copyright © September 2015 by L.S. Fisher

Friday, September 18, 2015

On the Inside

Our Walk to End Alzheimer’s was Saturday. Nearly a full year of preparation all came together for a flawless event. The one thing you can’t really control is the weather, but it cooperated in a big way. The day was gorgeous and for once I didn’t have butterflies worrying about whether it was going to rain…or be so hot that someone could have heatstroke.

Before the Walk, we determined the eldest walker (Uncle Johnny) and the youngest, Bella Howard, a sweet baby wearing a Fairview shirt. The best individual fundraiser, Jessica Snell, was announced. Trophies were awarded to Sylvia G. Thompson for best fundraising and largest team.

Jessie from the Greater Missouri Chapter surprised me with an award. She pulled out a photo collage that immediately brought back memories. She asked me to say a few words.

“They caught me off guard,” I said. Then, I became so choked up that I had to pause before I could continue. Normally, when I speak, I prepare myself mentally to keep the emotions on the inside. After a brief pause, I was able to thank the wonderful walkers and teams that have supported our efforts throughout the years. Then, I told everyone how important the Walk was to me personally and how it helped me through the tough times. It gave me a focus and a way to feel good about helping put an end to this awful disease.

The extra bonus for the day was that the weather was also perfect for the other two outdoors events I planned to attend. At three o’clock, my great-niece was married in the same locale where we held the walk—the Highway Gardens on the Fairgrounds.

Larry Cooper
The final event to end my day was to watch “Changed By Grace” perform at the Sedalia Rockin’ for Jesus show. Besides the spiritual implications of the evening, two of the band members happen to be my nephews Mike Munsterman and Larry Cooper.  
Mike Munsterman
I thoroughly enjoyed their uplifting performance and their testimonies. 

A song that really made me think about life was one  Larry wrote, “On the Inside.” The song is about how we work to have all the material possessions, but then fall into the trap of devoting your life to gaining even more worldly goods. Looking successful on the outside does not necessarily make a person happy or feel good about how he got to that point in life. In the song, Larry shares the importance of living life in such a way that a person feels good on the inside.   

Mike, too, has found a way to feel good on the inside. He has put his life back together after losing his wife Krystal. He has made a positive impact on the homeless though Krystal’s Dream. Mike has traveled far and wide to provide shoes and socks to those who have fallen on hard times. Through his mission, he has taken a tragedy that could have broken him, and turned it into action to help others.

To feel good on the inside you have to find that sweet spot in your soul where love, peace, and spirituality come to life. The important times in our lives are the heart moments spent doing what we love and being with those we love.

Is there anything better than living life in such a manner that it really does make us feel good on the inside? Sometimes we just need to put aside the negative thoughts and pressures that daily life brings and focus on the positive, happy times that make us smile.    

Copyright © September 2015 by L.S. Fisher

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Don’t Let the Rain Dampen Your Spirits

In “The Rainy Day” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “Into each life some rain must fall.”  At times we pray for rain, the refreshing life-essential drops that come from the heavens to end droughts. Other times, when we have an important outdoor activity we don’t want it to rain. We wonder why it can’t hold off for just a while longer. Is that too much to ask?

Labor Day is our day for our big Walk to End Alzheimer’s fundraiser for Jim’s team. This was our 17th year to do the “traffic stop.” It seems the day is usually unbearably hot, and this year looked to be more of the same. Then, the forecast called for heat and a chance of rain.

“Will you still do the stop if it rains, or will you reschedule,” my niece asked the day before.

“We can’t reschedule it. If it rains, we’ll stand in the rain. If we have a thunderstorm, we’ll wait it out in our cars,” I said. In all the previous years, we only had one rainy day. It was a blessing in disguise because the intermittent, gentle showers made for a cooler day.

As we began setting up our signs, a few gentle drops fell. Not bad, I thought. Suppose to last only a short while and move out. Soon, the rain began falling a little harder, and eventually, those of us who brought umbrellas stood beneath them. Only Shelly and Chris didn’t have umbrellas. Chris was wearing a raincoat, but Shelly just stood alongside the road with her collection can without protection against the rain that stalled over our heads.

I glanced down the street and saw a lady coming out of her house carrying a smiley-face umbrella. She talked to Shelly for a few minutes and handed her the umbrella. This woman had lived in the house for eleven years and noticed us every year and admired our tenacity to continue through the hot days in the past. She gave Shelly a donation and insisted she take the umbrella. The woman told Shelly that her sister was only in her fifties and had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

The relentless rain fell on our “parade” until the last half hour. Water was running down the ditches, and the umbrellas didn’t keep the rain from soaking us. I didn’t mind the wet shirt and capris nearly as much as sloshing around with wet socks and shoes. Hey, it was still better than one-hundred degree heat. We didn’t let the rain dampen our spirits.  

In his poem, Longfellow isn’t speaking of physical rain. He is speaking of the dark times when we cling to the past and “days are dark and dreary.” It makes me think of a conversation I had with a caregiver recently. She was battling depression and felt overwhelmed taking care of her husband who has Alzheimer’s. Yet, while we talked, I could tell she had the courage and indomitable spirit to keep on keeping on.

We all deal with our own personal rainy days. Sometimes they are gentle showers, and we can just shrug them off. We can even soldier through those steady downpours without much ado. Then there are those times when the wind is gusting, the thunder is booming, and a torrential downpour flash floods all over our last ray of optimism.

Before you let rainy, turbulent times dampen your spirits, remember the sun is still above those pesky clouds. Sunshine after a rain is glorious; rays beam down like the word of God, and the rainbow promises better days to come.

Copyright © September 2015 by L.S. Fisher

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Just Like the Good Old Days

A couple of days ago, Harold popped a big bowl of popcorn and we settled in front of the T.V. to watch the old episodes of Castle recorded on our DVR. I pushed the “on” button, and nothing happened. After pushing on/off/select numerous times, the most I could get on the T.V. was “no signal.” Harold tried to reset the satellite receiver without success so it was time to call DISH. After a half hour of trying this, selecting that, and retrying to acquire a signal, a heavily accented voice said they would be mailing us a new receiver.

After some tough negotiations, Harold convinced them they needed to send a repair person to come out and set up the new receiver. They will be here Tuesday. So without any other kind of reception, we are without a T.V.

Being without a T.V. isn’t so bad. It reminds me of the good old days when we didn’t watch T.V. in the summer because all programs were reruns. So what did we do without all the extensive programming on T.V.? Well, we read books and spent time outside. Thank goodness, I have a book on my Kindle to read and I went a little overboard at Books-A-Million while I was in Branson.

The spending time outside has worked well. Friday, I spent the day with my mom and sister. We visited, ate at Country Kitchen. I didn’t miss T.V. at all. The real acid test was Saturday. As it turned out, my major complaint with Saturday was that there wasn’t enough time to take a break. We were up early and fixed a big breakfast—different from our routine of coffee and bagel in front of the T.V.  After a day of mowing, yard work, and going to town, the day was over, and I hadn’t gotten a single thing marked off my personal task list. Determined to at least get one thing checked off, I worked until nearly midnight. T.V.? What’s that?

This morning, I dragged myself out of bed for early church services. I wore one of my purple Alzheimer’s shirts and picked up a copy of Broken Road: Navigating the Alzheimer’s Labyrinth to give to Pastor Jim for being the inspiration for some of my blog posts.

As I walked into the sanctuary, they had me choose a rock. “You’ll need it during the service,” was the explanation. I was hopeful we weren’t going to “stone” anyone for his or her transgressions.

I go to contemporary services at the Celebration Center. We have a band and the lyrics to our music is on a screen.  One of our pastors, Nick, brought a message about the traditional Methodist Hymnal and the “rules” for singing the songs. The rules included learning the tunes, singing them exactly as they are written, everyone should sing (take up your cross and bear it, if necessary), sing lustfully (not as half-dead or asleep), yet modestly without destroying the harmony, keep time and sing with the leading voices, and most of all sing spiritually.

Hymnals have the traditional hymns that we sang back in the “good old days.” After the message from 1 Samuel about a stone he called Ebenezer, we sang a traditional hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”  The women sang the melody and the men repeated a line. It was really quite beautiful and I think John Wesley would have been proud.

One of the lines in the song is, “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” As we sang the song, we came forward in the same manner as communion and placed our rocks on the altar. It was a touching moment that made me feel like I’d taken a step back to another, simpler time.

Maybe the “good old days” weren’t always good, but something about them tugs at the heart. It’s the place of our memories and the roots of our traditions. Those were days when we were young and full of hope.

Taking a step back for a few days is a welcome relief. Soon, very soon, I’ll be ready to return to watching my favorite programs, but for now—I’m doing just fine without T.V.

Copyright © August 2015 by L.S. Fisher

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Like a Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Rob popped in another video to dub. Christmas, 1991. Jim and his brother Billy began to sing “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” in their close harmony. My heart stopped to hear his voice, see him on the somewhat grainy film—standing straight, playing his classic Fender guitar. video

Watching the home videos made me laugh and made me cry. Jim narrated as he filmed everything around him for “posterity.” No event was too small or insignificant. He chose who he was making the video for and encouraged everyone to say “hi” to that person. One tape was for his brother Bob, “and Barbara, too,” he added when he remembered he hadn’t mentioned her. A thanksgiving tape at my mom’s house was specifically for my brother Jimmy who was in the Navy in California.

“Did Dad ever send these videos to the people he made them for?” Rob asked me.

“No. That’s why we still have them,” I said. One time after he became confused, Jim made an audiotape for his cousin Leroy. His mom saw him walk out to the mailbox and raise the flag. Curious, she went out to see what he was mailing. Inside the mailbox was a cassette tape with “for Leroy” written on it. No postage. No wrapping. No address.

Jim’s personality and humor uplifted the videos to an experience. Most of Jim’s family loved the camera. His uncles and cousins would ham it up in standup comedian mode. Uncle Jewel described his many personalities and mashed his face flat in one video. Jim interviewed his cousin Buddy about the lady ranger bawling him out over not coming to a complete stop at the campground’s exit. “Don’t they have stop signs in Missouri?” Jim asked.

The highlights of the old home videos are family gatherings. Houses and yards overflowed with family. Guitars, fiddles, microphones, and amplifiers were dragged out for impromptu family concerts. Everyone had their “special” songs to sing and requests rang out from the audience for their favorites.

I loved being able to see and hear Jim tell his corny jokes, tall tales, but most of all, I loved to hear him sing. I watched the tapes of him singing through blurred eyes. He and his brother Billy sang several songs, and the song “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” was almost prophetic. It told of comfort, friends, dreams, and having that person to hold you up when times are rough. More important it told the kind of man Jim was. He was always on my side. He was my husband, my friend, my bridge. He encouraged me to shine.

In addition to stealing Jim’s musical talent, dementia stole his voice. It seems like a small miracle to hear his voice after all the years of silence. When the darkness of dementia fell he was no longer able to dry my tears or be my bridge. I had to find my own way back into the light.

It was almost twenty years ago that we learned the hard truth of dementia. We made the most of the time we had until the journey ended April 18, 2005 when Jim was 59 years old. Thursday, August 27, would have been Jim’s 70th birthday. It would have been a day of celebration, but now it is a time of remembrance. And gratitude for the adventures we shared.

Jim is gone from our world, but his essence lives on the videotapes and in his children and grandchildren. Last week when Whitney pulled out her ukulele, her mother said, “Your Grandpa could have taught you so much.” Just like her grandpa, she is collecting different instruments to play. When I see Whitney’s short videos online, it makes me think that her Grandpa Jim would have been capturing every moment he could for “posterity.”

Music and family were the great loves of Jim’s life. We have those magical memories stored in our hearts and on the old videotapes.

Copyright © August 2015 by L.S. Fisher

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk

Jessica Snell, Sedalia Walk to End Alzheimer’s co-chair, and I were at the radio station Tuesday morning to talk about the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. We were armed with the names of our sponsors and teams, goals, and statistics. It’s always a pleasure to be on the air with Doug, and even better to record the program for broadcast the next day. When you are on the air live, you just have to go with it, but when the program is recorded and your tongue gets tangled you get “overs.” We all need overs from time to time.

I’ve been involved with the Walk since 1998 and during that time I’ve seen a lot of changes. The first year, I raised $400 and Jim and I walked with a handful of people. For the next five years, I was the Coordinator, or Walk Chair, of our local Memory Walk. At that time our logo was the word “Alzheimer’s” with the “H” being two people, leaning. The Alzheimer’s Association was well-known as “Someone to lean on.” The Walk began to draw hundreds of walkers.

For the next five years, Shelley Spinner coordinated our Walk and I backed off the committee to make sure everyone saw her as the leader of the group. She did a great job of keeping the Walk exciting and fresh. I was able to concentrate on being captain of Jim’s Team. Following her, Lisa Hayworth led the Walk committee for two years. Lisa had no experience or help. At that time, my sister-in-law Ginger and I went back on the committee and we’ve remained on it since then helping Sheila Ream.

Some things change and some remain the same. The Alzheimer’s Association changed the logo to the current one and “Memory Walk” to Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Some of the format has changed. The Garden of Hope ceremony has been added and it encompasses the different ways that Alzheimer’s affects us. Our local chapter has changed names from Mid-Missouri to Greater Missouri, merged with the Southwest Chapter, and became a national chapter. What does this all mean? We still have Chapter offices where they were located previously and the Alzheimer’s Association still provides the personal service that helped me throughout the years when dementia ruled our lives.

Another change I’ve seen over the years is how people have become more knowledgeable about the disease. When I first approached area businesses in 1999 for corporate sponsorship, no one seemed to know much about Alzheimer’s. Now, everyone seems to know a few basics about Alzheimer’s. A lot of credit goes to the Alzheimer’s Association for raising public awareness.

The Walk is about people. It is a time to show care and concern for those with the disease and their loved ones. It is a time when everyone puts aside their differences and embraces the opportunity to support their friends, neighbors, and relatives who are dealing with Alzheimer’s. We have teams with different names, but in essence, we are all one team. Competition is fierce, but friendly. I celebrate the teams that raise more than our team.

When I was coordinating the Sedalia Walk, I became friends with Ted Distler who coordinated the Jefferson City Walk. We “trash talked” each other all the time about which town was going to raise more money. In truth, it was all in competitive fun, and we supported each other at fundraisers. Ted would drive to Sedalia for our Dance to Remember, and I’d drive to Jefferson City for their Chicken Dinner. We had the same connection to the disease and the same passion for doing what we could to help other care partners and persons with dementia.

What people don’t understand is Walk to End Alzheimer’s is a fun event. Yes, it is sobering at times when you hear the stories of the participants, and the flower ceremony is touching, but knowing that you are doing your part is heart-lifting. Smiles, laughter, and love are the order of the day. You don’t want to miss it or you’ll have to wait another year. From babies in strollers to seniors in wheelchairs, we lend support and lean on each other to end Alzheimer’s.

Copyright © August 2015 by L.S. Fisher

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Once in a Blue Moon

Photo by L.S. Fisher, color enhanced
There’s been a lot of talk about blue moons lately.

“Why is the moon going to turn blue?” my granddaughter asked a few weeks ago when we were talking about the upcoming blue moon. Her mom explained that a “blue” moon had nothing to do with color and meant two full moons occur in one month.

We just had a blue moon—at least according to some sources, but in our time of too much information, some purists disagree with this definition. Up until 1946, a blue moon was the third full moon in an astronomical season with four full moons. The confusion came about when James Pruett, a hobby astronomer, published an article that said a second full moon in one month was a blue moon. Although the mistake was noted and refuted, the information had already spread worldwide and became the accepted definition of a blue moon.

Let’s face it. It’s much easier to notice a second moon in one month than to determine how many full moons occur in a season.  According to the original definition of a blue moon, the one we just celebrated was not, in fact, a blue moon. One that we will ignore, most likely, will occur May 21, 2016—the third full moon in an astronomical season. But we will easily notice the one January 31, 2018, the second full moon in the month.

By either definition, a blue moon doesn’t occur too often, and the expression, “once in a blue moon” means something that happens rarely. Some reasons for those “once in a blue moon” occurrences:

Something we don’t like to do and put off. In this category are chores like washing windows, cleaning the garage, and pulling weeds. Tedious, time-consuming tasks, that always seem better left for another day. Same goes for uncomfortable, routine medical tests like mammograms, colonoscopies or endoscopies. Procrastination, indeed!

We’ve gotten out of the habit. We haven’t gone to church for a while, so Sunday seems like the perfect day to sleep late. After missing two or three club or committee meetings we are out of the loop, and choose to leave it that way.

Not enough time. Life is so busy now that we don’t have time to phone a friend much less visit a loved one with Alzheimer’s in the nursing home. Busy, busy, busy. That’s how most of us live now. We’re so busy being busy that we miss out on the important things in life.

Maybe in reality, it is fine for some things to happen once in a blue moon but others shouldn’t. It’s really up to each of us to decide what goes into which category—once in a blue moon or much more frequently. Just living isn’t nearly as important as having a life.  

In my world, things that happen once in a blue moon, or rarely, could be considered somewhat common. I’m okay with that most of the time, but sometimes I have regrets that I didn’t make that phone call or visit a loved one. Maybe, at least once in a blue moon, I should just take time to lounge in a lawn chair in the shade of the oak tree, sip a mint julep, and read a trashy novel.

Copyright © August 2015 by L.S. Fisher