Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Flannel Shirt Kind of Day

This morning I was getting ready to take the dog out and pondered what to wear during this cold snap. My eyes lit on an old flannel shirt. Yes, this was a flannel shirt kind of day.

As I pulled on the shirt, I thought about the history of this shirt. The frayed collar and the ripped shirttail were indications of a well-worn shirt. That’s not too odd considering the shirt had aged a quarter of a century, or more.

Jim and I both wore his flannel shirts on cool spring days when we were building our house. In fact, I believe the tear in this shirt came from catching the shirttail on a nail.   

On a day like today, Jim might have put on a flannel shirt, grabbed up his fishing pole, and headed to the lake. The fish always tasted better when the water was cold.

Fishing brought Jim a lot of enjoyment. I remember one time after he first started showing signs of dementia, he decided to go to Truman to fish. I went off to work, happy that he was going to enjoy the day.

I wrote about that day in my journal, and here is an excerpt from Indelible:

My co-worker Tammy thought I was out of the office, but when she called my cell phone, Jim answered.

She came into my office. “I think there’s something wrong with him,” she said. “He just didn’t sound right.” Jim’s plans for the day had been a trip to Truman Dam to fish.

I called his cell phone. “Where are you,” I asked him.

“Right here,” he said.

“Can you tell me where you are? What highway are you on?”               

“I’m on I-70,” he said, “and I have a friend with me.” I-70 was the opposite direction from Truman.

“What are you doing on I-70?” I asked.

“I’m taking my friend to Higginsville,” he said.

“Who is your friend?”

“I don’t know his name. He needed a ride home.”          

Jim was easily distracted and I was afraid to keep him talking while he was driving on the Interstate. I told him to call me as soon as he got home. Jim’s assurance that he knew this guy didn’t mean anything. If someone started a conversation with him, Jim thought that meant he knew the person.

Why I kept this flannel shirt out of all Jim’s shirts is a mystery. Apparently, when I sorted through his clothing to donate to Open Door, I didn’t consider this shirt worthy of charity.

I hadn’t worn the shirt in a long time and my dog was curious. She sniffed the sleeves as I fastened her leash to the harness. I thought maybe the shirt smelled funny from being in a drawer, but it smelled fine to me. It smelled of memories and younger days. If I used my imagination, it might have smelled of campfires and Colorado mornings.

So today, I am wrapped up in memories of flannel shirt days, wearing a shirt that should have been tossed in the ragbag twenty years ago. Minimalists warn us about this kind of hoarding.

I have a new ladies’ flannel shirt that isn’t threadbare or torn. So wouldn’t the logical thing be to toss this shirt? When I take it off tonight, it will be decision time. Do I throw it away or put it in the laundry? Trash or treasure? My mind says trash, but my heart says treasure. When in doubt, I follow my heart.

Copyright © April 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Monday, April 2, 2018

April? You Could Have Fooled Me

Well, Mother Nature pulled quite an April Fools’ joke on us. Here we were all celebrating spring when the weather did a complete about face.

I wanted to wear a dress to Easter services and even tried to psych myself up for a pedicure in case I decided to wear my sandals. Instead, I wore my boots and my winter coat. Sunday dawned with below freezing temperatures with wind chills thrown in for good measure.

That’s what happens when Easter Sunday falls on April Fools Day. Ma Nature thinks she’s a jokester. Just to make a point, we had that good old thunder snow, wintery mixture falling all over the place during the afternoon.

For some reason, Sunday seemed so long that I kind of thought we’d moved right into Tuesday. As I pulled myself out of a sound sleep Monday morning, I couldn’t seem to lift my body out of bed. I propped myself up on pillows, glanced at my cell phone, and then  pulled the blanket up over me and thought about the month ahead.

April has always been the month of taxes, conferences, and enjoying the signs of nature’s rejuvenation. It is also a month that catches me off guard at one time or another. Today was that day. I lay in bed thinking about the memories I can’t let go.

April 5, 1970, was the day Jim came home from Vietnam. We celebrated his “homecoming” by making it a special day for him. I know one year we forgot our wedding anniversary, but we never forgot his homecoming. It was a happy day when he came back to the “world.” Happy days make sad memories. Homecoming day never passes that I don’t think of him.

April 18, 2005, he left the world for a better place. That didn’t make it any easier for the people who loved him. Just thinking about that day, makes my heart hurt.

If I’m going to make it through April without letting it get me down, I’m going to have to accentuate the positive. I know sunshine will eventually chase away the gloomy skies and cold weather. Mother Nature will get back on her meds and show us some sunshine, blue skies, and cotton-candy clouds. Of course, we might have a few random thunderstorms and tornadoes thrown in the mix for excitement.

It is springtime—time for daffodils, tulips, irises, and lilacs to bloom. The birds will be tweet-tweedle-tweeting every morning.

In the meantime, I’d really like to take the dog out without bundling up like it’s a cold January day. Hey, Mother Nature, I’m calling you out. This is April 2 and the weather is still miserable. I remember a rhyme from school when someone played a joke a day late. “April Fools is already past, and you’re the biggest fool at last!”  It’s not nice when Mother Nature acts like a fool.

Copyright © April 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Chopped Onion Rumination

A few days ago, I was chopping an onion. While working on the mundane task, I began to ponder various subjects.

During times of contemplation, I tend to be a deep thinker and it takes me to a different place. The first thing I thought about was how careless we can be in our conversations with our loved ones. I saw two family feuds play out online for everyone to see. Hurtful words, accusations, misunderstandings, and throwing zingers out there for everyone to see.

Why would someone do that? The onions made my eyes sting as I thought about how sad it was that words could cause such a rift.

Knowing there was nothing I could do about that, I turned a mental page and opened a new chapter of thought. I thought about death and illness. Why did dementia find Jim? Try as I might during my rumination, I found no answers. It’s not as if there was something off with his thinking. Jim was a logical, deep thinker and talented in so many ways.

Without answers, I continued to chop the onion into bits and traveled to a different time and place. My hate-affair with illness goes back to childhood. I never could understand why people had to be sick or feel pain. It was a puzzle with too many pieces for a child to put together. Even now as an adult, I still don’t comprehend why a human body can have so much go wrong with it.

On the other hand, when you think about the complexity of human anatomy, how can so many body parts work in harmony? Every individual is different. Some are happy and healthy, while others are plagued with misfortune.

My memories from a half-century ago were as choppy and incomplete as the pieces of onion on the cutting board in front of me. When I looked at old photos of myself, I felt like it was a different life. I’ve changed and my whole way of life has changed.

Now, we take photos of everything, but when I was a kid, photos were rare. My favorite two photos were taken when I was about five years old. I wore a cute dress and posed on the hood of our car.

Somehow, those pictures wound up in Jim’s billfold, and he carried them around from the time we were dating until a few years after his memory problems began. For some reason, those photos disappeared from his wallet, and I have no idea what happened to them. I imagine they will turn up some day, but for now, it’s just another mystery to think about when I chop onions.

The way people weave in and out of our lives is another mystery to contemplate. It seems that people who are so important at one stage of our lives vanish into the mist of time. Some leave, others appear. No one ever replaces the loved ones who left us behind when they moved on, or passed away. Yet, at the same time, new friendships are formed and births allow our hearts to love again.

I chopped the onion into tiny little pieces and thought about how it would never be a whole onion again. It would be silly to think that it could be. The onion was forever changed, but it was still an onion.

Chopping an onion gave me time to ruminate about the mysteries that have perplexed me throughout my lifetime. As I finished my task, I wiped away the tears the onion brought to my eyes, pushed away the troubling thoughts, and snapped back into the present.

Copyright © March 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Sunday, March 18, 2018

No Use Crying Over Spilt Coffee

I don’t even like to talk before I have my first cup of coffee in the mornings. I like it hot with creamer in it and usually drink a half cup at a time. My husband, on the other hand, only drinks black coffee from his 16-ounce Mr. Coffee mug.

A few days ago, we started breakfast before I’d had time to finish my first cup of coffee, so I wasn’t functioning at my best. I had to be in town, and figured with luck, I could squeeze in time to eat.

We routinely divvy up the job of preparing breakfast, and my part is to pour the juice, milk, and coffee. I was pouring juice when Harold said, “My cup doesn’t have much coffee in it.” He handed it to me, and I grabbed the pot and poured it full. As I headed back with the mug, it slipped out of my hand crashing to the floor. Coffee splattered onto the refrigerator, my shirt, and puddled all over the kitchen linoleum. Sixteen ounces of black coffee turned into a river snaking in all directions.

Instead of crying over the spilt coffee, I said a few choice words, wiped off the refrigerator, grabbed a mop, and went to work cleaning up the mess.

This wasn’t my first time to clean up spilt coffee. Jim usually made the morning coffee, even after dementia made every small task harder. One morning several years ago, I walked into the kitchen to pour my first cup. A full pot of coffee was all over the counter and had spilled onto the kitchen carpet. Jim had forgotten the step of setting the carafe on the warmer to catch the brewed coffee.

I don’t think I cried that time, but I probably felt like it. It was unbearably sad that Jim, the person who always made the perfect pot of coffee, forgot how to do something he had done his entire adult life.

Jim’s morning routine was to drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, and play his guitar. He quit smoking a few months before I noticed he was having memory problems. That was certainly a blessing, not just that he’d finally quit smoking, but that we didn’t have to deal with the danger of him lighting a cigarette and forgetting to use the ashtray.

Jim struggled to play the guitar as his dementia progressed. After he went in the nursing home, it wasn’t long before he quit drinking coffee.

It is only human to cry over our circumstances when we know we can’t change them. Standing there mourning over the past isn’t going to help or change anything. We have to grab our mops and do what we can to put things right and move on.

I do not condone or even understand people who deliberately hurt others. Certain people demean others to give themselves the appearance of superiority. They may give more credence to our mistakes than they deserve thinking it diminishes theirs. Avoid these people when possible; otherwise, don’t let them disparage your self-esteem.

Dwelling on the wrongs we’ve done won’t improve our situation. No one expects perfection. We err. We make stupid mistakes. We drop the metaphorical mug and make a mess. If we learn from our mistakes and make atonement, we can walk in the sunshine and avoid the shadows.

Copyright © March 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Thursday, March 15, 2018

2018 Memory Day: Call to Action!

Last week advocates from across the state of Missouri visited the state capitol. Jessica and I traveled from Sedalia to meet with Senator Sandy Crawford, Representatives Dean Dohrman, and Nathan Beard. We would also lend support as needed with our fellow advocates.

It was a brisk day and the security line was long. We worked our way through the line in time to be recognized on the House of Representatives floor.

Our first appointment was with our senator, Sandy Crawford. We waited in the hallway for our fellow advocates, Crista, Jennifer, and Mindy to join us. After the introductions, Jessica explained the importance of the Alzheimer’s grants for respite. She explained that 110,000 Missourians have Alzheimer’s and that their 314,000 unpaid caregivers need an occasional break from the daunting task of taking care of a loved one at home. The $450,000 grant is in the budget for the Department of Health and Senior Services.

A survey of caregivers show that 99% state that respite helped them to care for their loved one at home longer. Sixty percent of nursing home residents in Missouri is paid for by Medicaid. Respite helps 500 families, and if those families could keep their loved ones home two months longer, it could save the state of Missouri $2 million in Medicaid nursing home payments.

Two months is a conservative estimate. I know that having home health care for Jim made it possible to keep him at home about six months longer. I received a small reimbursement through respite funds that helped me pay for his care. This was the only financial help we received, because Jim was too young for the programs in place to help seniors.

I explained the Structured Family Caregiver Act. This Act is designed to provide a new level of support for Medicaid qualified care recipients. The caregiver must provide the personal care needs and live full-time with the person who needs the services. An in-home agency administers the program. They provide professional support with care planning, training, monthly visits, and remote consultations.

This pilot program will be limited to 300 care recipients. It would provide a cost effective alternative to nursing home care. How exciting this will be if it passes! Family caregivers often have no experience providing twenty-four/seven care for another person. They often don’t know what to expect or how to handle difficult behavior.

The Structured Family Caregiver Act needs support! We opened the door and now we want our fellow Missourians to keep it from slamming shut. The bill sponsor, Kurt Bahr, is about to term limit out. If this bill doesn’t pass this session, it may never be proposed again. If this pilot program proves successful, it could well be a new model for keeping loved ones at home much longer.

I had a lot of family support with Jim, and I was much younger than many family caregivers. I often wondered how older caregivers could manage, especially without family support.

Caregiving is hard and often life threatening. The stress of being solely responsible for a person with dementia leads to health problems for the caregiver.

If you live in Missouri, please write, email, or call your state representative and senator today. It just takes a few moments. Ask them to fund the Alzheimer’s grants for respite and to move forward with the Structured Family Caregiver Act and then vote to pass it. If you live in another state check with your Alzheimer’s Association public policy staff to see how you can become an advocate.

Alzheimer’s is an equal opportunity disease. It affects Republicans and Democrats. Alzheimer’s knows no racial or economic limits. Anyone can get Alzheimer’s and people like you and me wind up being caregivers or being cared for by our spouses, daughters, sons, or even grandchildren.

Until we find a cure, we must provide extraordinary support for family caregivers and quality of life care for those who have Alzheimer’s.

Copyright © March 2018 by L.S. Fisher

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Autocorrect and Senior Moments

Lately, I’ve been having issues with autocorrect, especially on my phone. The first problem with the phone is the small keyboard makes it easy to type a word incorrectly, and when autocorrect fixes that, I’m happy. But too often autocorrect will take a word that makes perfect sense and replace it with one that changes the entire meaning of what I intended to say.

Autocorrect problems aren’t limited to my phone; it can create havoc on my PC. A few days ago, I was going to a luncheon in Warsaw and I wanted to know just exactly how long it would take me to get there. That’s usually a simple task—just plug in my home address and in the destination plug in Warsaw, MO. Except that autocorrect in its infinite wisdom kept changing it to Warszawa, Mazowieckie, Poland. As if I could drive to Warszawa, Poland—AND get there in time for lunch! Then, since the program was so helpful, it wanted me to install something before I could actually get those driving directions.

I wasted precious travel time trying to change the destination to Warsaw, Missouri, USA only to have it changed to Warszawa time-after-time. After autocorrect won the battle, I kissed my husband goodbye and said, “I’m leaving right now. I’ll use OnStar to find the restaurant.”

“Set it before you leave,” he said. Well, I’ve been down that road, so to speak, many times before. I didn’t want the OnStar voice to direct me across town using weird streets, so I waited until I was on the open road. The OnStar advisor plugged in helpful directions, and I never had to leave the state, much less the country.

It’s not only electronic devices that autocorrect, my brain does it too. Preoccupation results in senior moments where I go to one of my usual destinations rather than where I’m actually headed.

Considering how complicated our brains are, with 100 billion nerve cells connected by 100 trillion synapses, it doesn’t take too much imagination to believe my brain might do its own type of autocorrect, jumping the rails, so to speak. I shouldn’t complain, though, because I believe my senior moments are simply a slight slowing down and not the catastrophic confusion of Alzheimer’s.

Here’s how the Alzheimer’s Association explains the difference between normal aging and Alzheimer’s: Poor judgment and decision making can be a sign of Alzheimer’s, but occasionally making a bad decision is a sign of normal aging. If you cannot manage a budget, it could be Alzheimer’s, but missing one payment is a typical sign of aging. Having difficulty conversing with others could be a sign of Alzheimer’s, but sometimes forgetting a word is normal aging.
I believe autocorrect should be renamed “auto-incorrect” especially when it refers to my thinking. As far as electronics, it’s a battle of me against machine to see which one of us is the most stubborn. It irritates me to have to click on a checkmark to let autocorrect know that yes, I did mean to type “address” not “espresso” as in “I need your address,” not “I need your espresso.”

Moment of truth—sometimes I blame autocorrect when I slip a cog and actually type something I didn’t intend to. You know, like one of those Freudian slips. Sometimes I might actually need espresso just to stay alert. It seems to me that when I’m alert, I don’t auto-incorrect nearly as often.

Copyright © March 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Different Kind of Memory Day

A request went out a few weeks ago for a video for the upcoming March 7 Memory Day. I started out this morning to make a video for it, but ran into a snag right away.

I wanted to use photos and the music from the video I have of Jim and his brother, Bill, singing “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” Of course, I had no idea how to make a new video with the music from the other one. Harold decided to help, but it wasn’t long before we discovered my program did not have the option to separate sound from the video, but Harold’s did.

Anyway, by the time we got to rolling on the project, we were working on Harold’s pc and he had a limited amount of photos to use. To make a long story shorter, the project took a new turn and instead of being a video of Memory Day, it became a memory day as we selected photos to add to the project.

We organized the photos to begin with the ones of Jim in Vietnam, followed by the one of Jim and me in Hawaii. Of course, we had to have Jim with his guitar. I loved that we had the photo my mom took of Jim on the beach in Oregon. That is one of the photos on the cover of Alzheimer’s Anthology of Unconditional Love.

One of the important things to me was to have the photo of Whitney when Jim began to sing about “silver girl.” This photo was taken of Whitney’s performance during the Miss Pettis County contest. She said that she felt her Grandpa Jim’s presence with her while she played her ukulele and sang an Elvis song.

The video ends with some photos at the Veteran’s Cemetery in Higginsville. The inscription on Jim’s stone says “Rest High on That Mountain.” We scattered some of Jim’s ashes in a spot he designated in his beloved Rocky Mountains. The photo we chose was one of Jim’s favorite spots in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Like Whitney, sometimes I feel Jim’s presence. It makes my heart happy to watch the old videos and to hear his voice. Jim spent a lot of time treading troubled waters during his lifetime. Vietnam changed his life when he was young and dementia struck when he should have had many more years for his dreams to come true. All he really dreamed of was spending time with family and traveling across country to visit the mountains and commune with nature. He used to talk to the crows in Moraine Park, but now he flies with the eagles.

So today was an early “memory day” for me. The video is different from what it started out to be, but it turned out exactly as it should have. 

Copyright © February 2018 by L.S. Fisher


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 © February 2018 by L.S. Fisher