Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Music Therapy

I saw a video that showed a young girl playing a guitar and singing “You Are My Sunshine” to her baby brother who has Down syndrome. Through music, he now has a twelve-word vocabulary. According to his mother, “Every word he has learned has been through music and singing.”

Music has always been a big part of my life. My mom came from a musical family and Saturdays were often spent at Grandma and Grandpa’s house for impromptu picking and grinning. I guess I thought everyone was raised like that.

Then, I married Jim and it was more of the same. He often invited all his guitar-picking, honky-tonk singing friends to our house for jam sessions. If we weren’t at our house, we were at his mom and dad’s or uncles. We seldom traveled without Jim’s guitar. His family was like my family.

None of us had much in the way of worldly possessions, but there’s a richness born from hearing a heartfelt song. Some of the best stories are told in the words of a three-chord country song.

Music can lift your spirit, give you a way to express your innermost worries or thoughts, and warm your heart. Music is therapy.

My family—91 year old mother, brothers, sister, sister-in-law, and niece—has a band that plays at area nursing homes one week each month. The residents really enjoy the old songs and look forward to the music fest on the appointed day. My brother Jimmy selects the songs each month to make sure the ones they choose are the songs the residents appreciate hearing. The songs my family sings strike a chord in the hearts and minds of their audience.

John Carpenter, founder of the Rebecca Center for Music Therapy in New York believes that live music “empowers clients to emerge from the isolation imposed by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.” He believes that listening to music helps with memory recall, positive moods, helps manage pain, and helps people with dementia interact socially with others.

Jim played his guitar every day, even during the early days of dementia. He learned to play the mandolin at an early age so he had that long-term memory to help him maintain his musical talent long after he had forgotten other skills. The time eventually came when he played the same tune repeatedly and he forgot the words to songs he had known for years.

He still listened to music. He had a Walkman with headphones that he carried with him everywhere. He listened to the songs he used to play and sing. He still tapped his foot and kept time, but he didn’t sing along. He listened in occupied silence.

Jim’s mom said he cut his teeth on his dad’s guitar. He came into this world to be surrounded by music. A big part of his life was music. He left this world to the sounds of his favorite tunes. Music was his therapy.

Copyright © January 2018 by L.S. Fisher



Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Ice is for Buckets

“I hate ice,” I told a friend this morning. I guess that isn’t exactly true...  I like ice in my tea and other cold drinks. I like an bucket of ice when I’m staying in a hotel room. What I should have said is, “I hate to walk or drive on ice.”

Over the past few days, ice on the highways led to multi-car/truck pileups, cars abandoned on roads, and slide-offs into ditches. Short drives turned into nightmarish hours-long journeys.. Last night, ice-covered I-70 was closed down in several places due to accidents and people waited in traffic jams for hours.

In other words, it’s time for retired folks like me to not take a chance on an accident. I always say that at my age, if I break a hip, they will put me down.

Ice has never been my friend. Several years back I fell on the ice and smacked the back of my head. “I broke my head,” I told my sister-in-law when I made it to her door. I have never had such pain in my head before or since.

I’ve always been petrified to drive on ice. Jim was always protective of me, and when bad weather struck while I was away from home, he would call to find out if I wanted him to come and get me.

When Jim was in the early stages of dementia, I trusted him to drive me to work on icy days. After slipping and sliding my way to the car, I’d hand him the keys.

In time, the progression of the disease made Jim turn inward, and he no longer noticed bad weather or worried about how I was going to drive on ice. This forced me to become more independent about driving during inclement weather.

I learned to navigate icy roads to go to work. Some mornings, just as I was about to feel halfway comfortable, I’d round the corner, getting ready to head down the hill, and I’d see cars in the median, in the ditch, and flashing lights of highway patrol and tow trucks.

Now, I can just cancel most appointments and avoid the roads…and ditches. I can spend the day being cozy and warm and not taking any chances on breaking my head.

Copyright © January 2018 by L.S. Fisher


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Looking to the Heavens

This morning a special celestial event took place in the early morning hours. The super-moon, was also a blue moon, and a total eclipse, or blood moon, added to its natural charm.

Last night, I laid out my sherpa lined sweatpants, a warm sweater, then crawled into bed wearing my thermal underwear. I set my alarm for the unseemly hour of five a.m. Oh, yes, I used to wake up at five on every work day, but with a few years of retirement under my belt, my eyelids do not want to open at that time of day.

With such a photo op possible, I leaped out of bed and into warm outer clothing, threw on a coat, hat, scarf, and gloves. My dog was excited that I was up so early, and she thought it was all about her. My first trip out the door was to scope out the moon. I took a few preliminary photos, came back inside,  put the coffee on, leashed the dog and headed back out the door.

The next time I went outside, I brought my cell phone, both cameras, a banana, and a cup of coffee. Luckily, I had a great view of the moon from the deck. I pulled a wicker chair up to the table and got comfortable. As I looked at the sky, I thought about the wonders of nature and the power of God. I thought about heaven and about the people who wait there.

A calm, peaceful feeling surrounded me as I sat alone in the still of the night, watching the moon and the clouds drifting along. I thought about Jim and all the loved ones who no longer reside on this earth that we call home.

This morning was reminiscent of the cool mountain mornings when Jim and I camped at Moraine Park in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Many of my most vivid memories are of our trips to Colorado. We first went in 1983 and continued with the annual trips until they became too difficult. In Indelible, I recall one of the trips where Jim’s dementia changed what had always been a time of relaxation into a stressful situation.

Excerpt from Indelible:

In retrospect, I could measure the progression of Jim’s dementia by our annual trips to Colorado. In 1995, putting up the tent was a fiasco.

“This is the way it goes together,” Jim said picking up a pole from the pile of different length rods. We tried slipping the rods into the canvas only to find our final creation was not a tent.

“Okay, now are you ready for me to dig out the instructions?” I asked with as much patience as I could muster.

“I guess so,” he said grudgingly. Between the two of us, we managed to slide out the rods. Even with directions, it was hard to figure out what went where.

“That’s not right,” Jim insisted.

“Humor me.” I huffed and puffed in the thin mountain air as I struggled with the poles.

After a lot of stress, strain, and cuss words, our home away from home looked like it was supposed to.

As I wrapped myself in the warmth of my memories, a sudden cold wind roared across the deck rattling the chairs and sending a shiver through my body.

Well, that was odd, I thought. The clouds cleared, and the moon shone through. I snapped a few photos and set my camera on the table. I took a sip of coffee, looked at the heavens, and thought about the people who wait for us beyond the moon.

Copyright © January 2018 by L.S. Fisher


Monday, January 22, 2018

Sweet Memories

The first thing I saw on my phone this morning was a video in my “memories.” That simply means that I had posted the video in the past. The video of Jim and his brother Billy singing “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” was posted in 2015.

When these memories pop up, you are given an option to share. I hadn’t even gotten out of bed this morning when I shared the video. At night, I turn the sound off on my phone so I didn’t listen to the video before I shared it. Besides, I had to get up and around to have breakfast and go to line dancing exercise class.

After a good workout this morning at line dancing, I chatted with a few of my friends as I made my way to my car. I took my phone out of my purse to check for text messages. I was expecting a list of items to get at Walmart since we tend to make every trip to town count.

While I had my phone in hand, I decided to listen to the video. Soon Jim’s voice filled my heart as memories flooded back. I thought about all the jam sessions. I smiled at the memory of the house bursting with company and the sound of guitars and harmony. Happy memories and sad longings flitted through my mind. Happy won out as the video finished. I was glad to have this reminder of our younger days, before we knew our future held the unimaginable.

I fastened my seatbelt and headed to Walmart. I called Harold on my hands-free phone to see if we needed anything besides milk and eggs. Somehow, I knew there had to be other items to add to the list.

After he thought for a few minutes, Harold started naming off item after item. “I’m driving and you know how my memory is,” I said. “I’ll forget half of what you told me.”

“Just go down every aisle and that will remind you.” Thank goodness, he couldn’t see me roll my eyes. I avoid all the aisles I can.  As soon as I parked my car, I found an old sales receipt and started listing everything I could remember.

I picked up the eggs and was headed for the dairy section, when a Walmart employee paused in unpacking a box to say, “Excuse me. May I ask you a question.”

“Sure,” I said. I pushed my cart out of the way of the other shoppers.

“Is your last name Fisher?”

“Yes, it is.”

She smiled. “I took care of your husband!” She went on to ask me what I was doing now, and I told her I was remarried and retired.

“Jim was one of the first people I took care of at the nursing home,” she said. “You know, I still remember how you were there every evening to feed him.”

I told her I was working on a memoir about Jim. “I turned on a tape recorder on my way home each night and talked about how things went.” She and I said our goodbyes. “I’m really glad you told me who you were,” I said.

As I headed to the checkout, I couldn’t help but smile as I thought about all the people who touched our lives. Jim passed away more than twelve years ago, and people stop me from time to time to let me know they still remember him.

It is understandable that Jim’s indelible memory will forever be in his family’s minds and hearts, but amazing how many others his life touched. In the end, instead of erasing Jim, dementia ensured he would never be forgotten.

Copyright © January 2018 by L.S. Fisher


Monday, January 15, 2018

The Best We Can

I went to sleep around midnight and woke up at 4:00 a.m. I tossed, turned, read, tossed, turned, and read some more. Finally more than two hours later, I went back to sleep. The phone woke me up around 8:00. I talked to my mom for a few minutes and went back to sleep for another hour.

From there on, my day started in a hole. I still didn’t feel rested and the snow overnight made it an easy decision to cut line-dancing class. The bad thing is that after the holiday weight gain and total lack of exercise, I really needed it.

I have a love/hate relationship with sleep. I usually sleep well about every other night. Maybe “well” is an exaggeration and “better” would be more accurate. As I lay awake, I can’t help but think about all the studies connecting poor sleep to increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Recently, I read about an Alzheimer’s sleep study that showed interrupted sleep can have immediate consequences. Even one night of sleep disturbance can increase the levels of amyloid in the brain. Tau levels change after several nights of disturbance. This is bad news for my fellow insomniacs and me.

Even with these protein changes, the study does not conclude that sleeping well will decrease your chances of developing Alzheimer’s, but a good night’s sleep improves overall health.

Back to the early morning phone call… My mom called to tell me that my sister-in-law’s father had passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. Her dad was in the same nursing home with my brother so I saw him from time-to-time before my brother passed away. The thing I always remember about him was the big smile.

Maybe the smiles made it a little easier for the family, but it didn’t eliminate the heartbreak of losing shared memories, companionship, or sharing ideas and experiences. The disease takes a toll on an entire family.

I once started reading a best-selling Alzheimer’s book by a woman who scoffed at people who were saddened or depressed when a loved one was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Her attitude that it wasn’t a big deal set my teeth on edge.

Another super-wealthy caregiver advised not putting a loved one in a nursing home. Keeping a loved one at home is much easier when you can hire a team to provide 24/7 care.

I could see where in-home care would be an attractive option, but not practical for most of us. Most of us can’t manage without the support of family, friends, and professionals. Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America and can last for a decade or more.

When the journey ends, we can take comfort in knowing we did the best we could with the resources available to us. I believe the most valuable gifts we have to offer are time and unconditional love.

Love doesn’t end at the nursing home door or, for that matter, death’s door.

Copyright © January 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Monday, January 8, 2018

Back in the Groove

For the past two months, my excuse for hibernating is “so busy with the holidays, you know.” So what if I’m busy binge re-reading my Tony Hillerman Leaphorn and Chee books. 

There isn’t a better reason for sticking close to home than hearing everyone you know has the flu, or some other mysterious virus. I’ve limited my social interaction to avoid giving or receiving unwanted gifts of disease.

Now, the New Year is here and the “holidays, you know” are so last year. Last weekend was busy from start to finish. By today, I was totally exhausted. It didn’t help that I got four hours sleep for two days in a row followed by one thirteen-hour night to make a healthy seven-hour a night average.

I blame my four-hour nights on years of caregiving. Jim never seemed to need more than four hours of sleep, so that meant if I wanted to keep track of him, I couldn’t sleep while he was up wandering around. In the story “Gone in the Night” I re-live every caregiver’s nightmare of waking up alone in bed, alone in the house, and thinking I might be alone in the world.

Excerpt from Indelible:

Although I had a sense of urgency, I drove cautiously because I didn’t want to hit him with the car. I had no idea how long he’d been gone, and the farther I traveled without seeing him, the more I panicked.

I reached the crossroads and without hesitation, turned left, choosing Jim’s normal route. I pressed onward, fear and worry jockeying for position in my mind. I rounded the next corner, headlights slicing through the darkness. There he was! The tension drained from my body, replaced with elation and relief.

Jim was fully dressed wearing jacket, jeans, his “Vietnam Veteran and Proud of It” cap, and his sunglasses. He seemed to be unaware of the car and continued his measured tortoise pace, cane grasped in his left hand. I pulled over and stopped behind him, climbed out of the car, speed walking to catch up with him. I reached out and wrapped my fingers around his bicep, and he stopped as if he had applied his brakes.

To be honest, when Jim first went into the nursing home, I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep alone in the house. It turned out that I was so exhausted that it took me months to catch up on my rest. Once I did, though, I was back to my four-hour sleep nights. I still struggle to get anything like a normal night’s sleep. It concerns me because I know chronic lack of sleep is a health hazard.

I need to get back in the groove. I took down the three Christmas trees and removed ornaments from the two trees that are lit year round. I need to finish taking down and putting away my huge collection of nutcrackers. For the first days of January, the twelve days of Christmas hadn’t finished, but that excuse won’t work now. “Maybe I’ll just leave everything up and won’t have to decorate next year,” I told Harold.

“You would have to dust them,” he pointed out. He knows how much I detest dusting whatnots.

“Guess I’d rather put them away than dust them,” I said.

I’ve grown fond of putting off until tomorrow that which I do not want to do today. Getting back into the groove isn’t all that easy. I think I’ll start…tomorrow.

Copyright © January 2018 by L.S. Fisher


Sunday, December 31, 2017

Cold is for the Bold

As 2017 winds down, winter has barely started, and I’m ready for spring.

With the cold weather and sub-zero wind chills lately, I’ve had to psych myself up every time I head out the door to walk the dog. When my husband asked, “What do you want for Christmas?” the only thing I could think of was an N-Ferno hood like he bought for himself last year.

Now, I dress as if I’m going on a polar expedition every time I walk out the door. As with everything, it seems, there is an upside and downside to the new hood. The cold doesn’t make my face hurt anymore, but my glasses fog up and I have to remove them. As nearsighted as I am, that means I can’t see much. Still, the hood makes me feel like a Ninja warrior battling the cold.

The best defense against the cold is layering. I bought a pair of fleece-lined sweatpants, but they didn’t stop the cold until I wore my Cuddle Duds beneath them.

This New Year’s Eve, not only our bodies are layered against the cold, our souls and hearts are layered to shield us from hurt and disappointments. In order to overcome the challenges we face on a daily basis, we have to pile on layers of accomplishment. To defeat sadness, we need to find joy. To defend ourselves against the darkness, we need to seek out light.

As we reflect on the dying year, we can focus on the bad or sad times, or we can laser our thoughts on the good times. The same could be said for the past years. A lifetime of years.

For some reason this morning, I found myself dwelling on my failures and missteps. As I thought about the times I made stupid mistakes, I found myself sinking into a place I didn’t want to be. Then, I went on with my day—breakfast, laundry, walking the dog—those little daily obligations that are there to be done again and again. There’s nothing permanent to be gained or lost.

As I worked on Jim’s memoir Indelible, I found myself laughing and crying as I relived that period of my life. The thing is that life is cyclical. Maybe, roller coaster might be a better description. High highs, low lows, sudden drops, heart-stopping curves, and the moment of quiet and relief when one ride ends and before the next one begins.

Tomorrow begins a new year. I’ve never been much of one for making resolutions because I never saw a resolution that I couldn’t break within a few days. Instead, I’m looking at more of an overview.

Over the past several months, I’ve been paring down my outside obligations. This is a real effort on my part to free up more of my time to tend to matters important to me.

One thing for sure, 2018 is going to have a cold, cold start. So tomorrow when I don my Ninja hood, I’ll battle the cold and face the new year with boldness and optimism. After all, the hood keeps the wind from hurting my face, and spring will be only 77 days away.

Copyright © December 2017 by L.S. Fisher


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas at the Home

I saw a post this morning, “Please, if you have loved ones in a nursing home try to spend some time with them.” This reminder made me think of the five Christmas holidays Jim spent in a nursing home.

One of the disturbing trends I noticed at the nursing home was the lack of family support, especially in the special care unit. Excuses ranged from “he doesn’t know me” to “I can’t stand to see her that way.”

The family who never visited missed the smiles and bright eyes when a loved one walked through the door. When I visited Jim, some of the other residents felt that I was there to see them too. I greeted them by name, commented on how pretty someone’s dress was, or offered to get the attention of an aide when they pleaded, “Will you help me?”

“They won’t let me help you, but I can get someone who will,” I told them.

Christmas time seemed a particularly lonesome time at the nursing home while families celebrated at home. I was looking through some of my Christmas memories in Indelible (memoir in progress). Here are some of the Christmas memories:

Home for Christmas:

Around Christmas time, we drove around town after dark to see the lights. The state school had an outstanding display with Christmas scenes set up in small buildings. Christmas music played on loudspeakers throughout the drive. Eric, Shawna, and the grandkids enjoyed riding through the light display too.

I brought Jim home for Whitney’s birthday party and our annual Christmas Eve get-together. After our Christmas Eve celebration, we drove Jim through the Christmas lights before returning him to the nursing home.

On Christmas day, I picked him up to have dinner at his mom’s house. We made it through our first Christmas with Jim living in a nursing home by making it as close as possible to our normal celebration.

Home for another Christmas:

I brought Jim home and helped him out of the van and down the walkway. He took his usual seat on the reclining section of the couch.

Rob and Colby were playing video games on the TV. Before long, he yelled, “Hey!” and jumped up and started going toward them.

“I wonder if he wants to play,” I said. At one time, Jim loved video games, and he played Mario Karts long after he was in the nursing home.

Rob ejected the game they were playing, and inserted Mario Karts into the Play Station. “Here, Dad,” he said as he handed Jim a control. Jim didn’t seem to remember how to use it, so Rob passed the other control to Colby and helped his dad maneuver the one he held.

After a few races, Jim remembered how to run the car around the track, but the master of the game was not competitive.

Christmas at the Home:

I wanted to bring Jim home for Christmas Eve, but it was snowing, so I decided it wasn’t a good idea. Christmas Day, I brought Jim a bowl of the chili Rob made for Christmas Eve. He ate the chili and the ham that came on his plate.

While Jim was in the nursing home, the staff and I did everything we could to make the holiday special. They decorated for Christmas and provided Christmas cards that they taped to the doors. I brought a tree and decorated his room.

The staff drew names and gave Christmas presents to the residents. Jim was wearing his gift, a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. shirt.

I had planned to take down his Christmas tree, but the box was still in the car where I had forgotten it. The rain pelted against Jim’s windows, and I dreaded going back outside. As I spooned his food, I talked to him. “Well, I’m not going back out in that crap to get the box for the Christmas tree.” Jim’s eyes moved toward the tree. “I guess you’ll get to enjoy it one more day.”

We spent fifteen minutes together Christmas Day 1969 before Jim returned to Vietnam and I flew home. From then until Jim passed away, we were together every Christmas Day. I cherish the memories of our Christmases regardless of the setting.  

Copyright © December 2017 by L.S. Fisher