Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Truth Is…

Living near Whiteman AFB, I see stealth bombers and fighter jets on a regular basis. I was walking my dog a few weeks ago and a pair of fighter jets flew overhead. It made me pause and think about how I had no fear of bombs raining down from the sky. The truth is I feel lucky to live in a country where we don’t worry about our enemies dropping bombs on our homes. 

Lately, I’ve seen more hate than I’ve ever seen in my life. It is true that during the Vietnam War protesters were on the news every night taking out their frustration on those drafted into fighting. The death and destruction of war invaded our homes. During that turbulent era, reporters reported the news during a thirty-minute or one-hour broadcast, then they were finished until the next day. Now, we have twenty-four hour politically biased TV pseudo-news, the Internet, and social media. Constant exposure whips some folks into a lather.

The truth is hate doesn’t solve anything; it just increases the problems. If you aren’t part of the solution, you may well be part of the problem. Do you really love your political candidate more than your own family? If you do, I find you to be a scary person with messed up loyalties. Do you really think you can change someone’s mind by throwing a hissy fit every time he disagrees with you? Tantrums might be cute in a toddler, but ridiculous in an adult.

The truth is that it’s easier to believe lies, innuendoes, and gossip than to seek the truth. Lies destroy lives. This is especially true in politics. Baseless rumors dressed up as memes on social media are shared with thousands or millions without regard to the human being targeted. Apparently, sharing this crap is more important than how offensive and reprehensible it is to family and friends.

The truth is life isn’t fair. Never has been, never will be. Bad things happen to good people and bad people prosper. Jim was a good man and, if the world had been fair, his life would have never been cut short by dementia. If life were really fair, lightning bolts would strike down truly evil people who have gone beyond redemption.

The truth is cruelty should not be tolerated. Cruel people are ugly people from the inside out. When we support cruelty, or give it a wink, we are responsible for our own actions or reactions. Selfishness damages the hearts of people who love you. Lately, I’ve witnessed feuding among family members causing pain for their mother, unkind “dramatic” actions spewing anger at a friend, and treating a person with dementia as if he is no longer human and can’t be hurt.

The truth is we are all human regardless of religion, nationality, race, sexual orientation, political party, or economic status. Each classification has good, bad, and indifferent people. There is an ultimate danger in lumping everyone with a common denominator under a single umbrella of hate or dehumanization. On the other hand, you can’t put your trust in someone for the simple reason he falls within one of those categories. Bad people do bad things without regard to your preconceived opinion. Good people come from all walks of life and diverse backgrounds.

The truth is love hurts. We like to think that love equates happiness, but just as high as the highs, the lows are not only low, they can be rock bottom. Love can be a weapon, a bargaining chip, or the most unselfish act in the world. How you use love defines you as a human being. I’ve discovered throughout my life that either you love someone or you don’t. Infatuation is not love. Lust is not love. Admiration is not love. Saying “I love you” is not love.

You don’t have to look far to see what love is: 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

At least with the people we love, each of us should strive to become less judgmental when they believe differently than we do. The truth is this would be a scary world, indeed, if we all thought alike. Thoughtful and respectful differences are a good thing. We need to become truth seekers.

Copyright © July 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Beauty Is More than Skin Deep

When we went to the Pettis County Queen Contest, we certainly hoped that contestant #3, my granddaughter Whitney, would win. I was probably more nervous than Whitney when she walked out onto the stage, sat on the barstool, and began to play her ukulele and sing, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.” Whitney had never performed in front of anyone other than immediate family.

After hearing the first few notes, I knew she was going to nail it. Tears blurred my eyes as I thought of how proud her Grandpa Jim would have been of her. I can only imagine the pride he would feel to have a granddaughter inherit his natural music ability.

After she was crowned Miss Pettis County, Whitney was interviewed for the local news. She told the Sedalia Democrat reporter that she felt Grandpa Jim’s presence throughout the competition, and especially during the talent.

I knew she was thinking of her grandpa when she answered her on- stage interview question: “If you could change or create a new law, what would it be?” Her response was “I would enact a law making access for funds for early onset dementia patients more easily accessible.” She went on to explain that dementia is an incredibly expensive disease.

Early onset dementia affects the entire family. From an early age, our grandkids knew their grandpa had a disease that affected his memory.

When Whitney was not quite two years old, she was old enough to know that grandpa couldn’t go outside by himself because he could get lost. One day when Whitney was staying with us, we went next door to visit Jim’s mom. Jim was restless and pacing, and casually worked his way toward the door. Whitney spotted him and jumped into the doorway spreading her arms and legs to barricade the door.

“No, Papa Jim!” she said with all the authority she could muster. Jim stopped in front of her, turned around, and sat down in the recliner.

Whitney has a passion to be a volunteer and advocate for Alzheimer’s. She has walked with Jim’s Team at the Memory Walk/Walk to End Alzheimer’s since she was a toddler. She has gone to the Alzheimer’s Forum in Washington, D.C., twice to advocate for Alzheimer’s research funding and legislation to help persons with Alzheimer’s and their families.

Whitney was only seven years old, when her grandpa died. If early onset dementia had not cut his life short, Grandpa Jim would have taught Whitney how to play the ukulele, and she wouldn’t have had to learn from a YouTube video. He would have loved to sing harmony with her and played along on his guitar.

We are all proud of Whitney! We know her beauty is not just skin deep. She is an accomplished young woman with a bright future. She just graduated high school and enters college in the fall as a junior.

In the meantime, she has queenly duties and appearances to make. Volunteering at Child Safe’s Color Run this weekend will be a breeze after her obligatory duties at the Smithton Fair, including wading into a mud pit to catch a pig and dress it.

Next month during the Missouri State Fair, Whitney will compete in the State Fair Queen Contest. We’ll all be there to cheer her on to victory. When Whitney walks onto the stage holding her ukulele, Grandpa Jim will be present in our hearts and minds—bursting with pride and grinning from ear to ear.

Copyright © July 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Thursday, July 7, 2016

When Things Go Wrong

Last week, I was getting ready to go to my Alzheimer’s board meeting and decided to take the dog outside before I left. As I walked past the tubs of tomato, sweet potato, and pepper plants, I noticed another of those pesky Japanese beetles crawling along the grapevine that twines across the lattice work.

We’d been trying to get rid of the beetles for weeks. They had skeletonized the grape leaves and I could swear they were eyeballing our tomato plants.

After reviewing information from the Master Gardner’s, we had tried a couple of recommended ideas to get rid of them. One of the recommendations  was to pick them off. My first reaction had been “Ewwweee” but after a couple of weeks, that didn’t seem to be a bad idea.

I never thought about the beetle squirming in my hand in a bid for survival. When I went to throw it down, I whacked the back of my hand on the handle of the dog leash. Hard! It puffed up like a bad case of rheumatoid arthritis. Well, I iced it, had it x-rayed, put in a splint, and looked at by an orthopedic doc. Verdict was that it wasn’t broken and the tendons were where they were supposed to be.

My hand was a small reminder of how difficult life can become. We never realize how great something is until things go wrong and it doesn’t work right.

When things go wrong, we can easily be persuaded to pay more attention to what is wrong than what is right. I know how true that was as a caregiver. It was a constant struggle to schedule substitute care while I was at work. Sometimes I had to remind myself that I was so lucky to have a big family and people who were willing to go the extra mile to help me keep Jim safe. But things went wrong—he wandered away, he was stubborn, he paced, he scared some of the hired help.

I can still remember Jim’s frustration when he couldn’t find the right words, or when he made a grocery list and later noticed he had transposed letters. When his mechanical brain quit functioning correctly, he remembered how to take the vacuum apart, but not how to put it together again. His musical knowledge slipped away and he couldn’t remember song lyrics or what chords to use.

In the category of things going awry, no one has ever been exempt. Even people, who seem to lead golden lives, have catastrophes. To make it worse, those who live in view of the public often have their personal disasters plastered all over the tabloids, Internet, or even mainstream news where armchair quarterbacks nationwide critique their failures.

Just recently, parents have been skewered over the flames of self-righteousness for not being watchful of their children. People expressed their outrage toward the mother of a three-year-old child who wound up in a guerilla pit at the Cincinnati zoo. Fortunately, that child lived and no charges were filed against the mother. Another child was allowed to wade in a lagoon near a Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and was attacked and killed by an alligator. The child was too young to read the “no swimming” signs, and the parents did not realize the danger in ignoring the warning.

Before we are too quick to judge, I think maybe we should consider the times when things could have went wrong, but didn’t. Our lives can be upended in a heartbeat.

People can have life changing injuries in an accident. My accident was small, but not having the use of my right hand for a couple of days created more problems than I would have thought possible. Signing a check left handed may have been the highlight. Heaven knows what the bank is going to think of those scribbles!   

More than a week after the hand-whack-gone-wrong, my hand still hurts and remains swollen. I still have two fingers that don’t always do what they should, which makes typing incredibly challenging.

Less than a month ago, I didn’t even know what a Japanese beetle looked like, much less that one would be responsible for an injury. Until things go wrong, we don’t know just how good things were! 

Copyright © July 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Alzheimer’s and Veterans

When Jim joined the army and went to Vietnam, my biggest worry was that he wouldn’t come home. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when he got off the plane in Kansas City, never expecting that part of his mind would always remain in the jungle. He had PTSD before it had a name, but even though we didn’t know what to call it, we knew its insidious nature.

Jim went through years of depression. He spent time in a stress unit, trying to deal with the dark feelings that brought him down to lower and lower levels. Jim would sometimes tell me, “You would be better off without me” trying to prepare me when suicide seemed the way out of the living nightmare brought on by PTSD.

The final insult to Jim’s quality of life was when dementia played more havoc with his brain. The odd thing about dementia is that as it robs a person of short-term memory, long-term memory seems more recent. One day in a restaurant, Jim began to sob uncontrollably as he vividly recalled an incident from Vietnam.

I always believed that Jim’s tour of duty had much more to do with his dementia than the VA would ever admit. Researchers agree that a definite link exists between PTSD and dementia.  A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense concluded that veterans with PTSD are 77% more likely to develop dementia than veterans who do not have it.

I’ve been an advocate for Alzheimer’s research for several years. Currently, I am the Alzheimer’s Ambassador for Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler. When I visit the Congresswoman or her staff, I always know they are listening. I’ve often been pleasantly surprised when she goes beyond my expectations.

Today, I read Congresswoman Hartzler’s newsletter and saw an article, “Expanding Alzheimer’s Research.” She proposed an amendment to the FY2017 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research. When proposing the amendment, Hartzler said, “Alzheimer’s is a heartbreaking disease devastating lives, crushing families, and potentially bankrupting our nation.”

In her newsletter, she said, “Studies show our soldiers are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s due to the nature of their service. Focusing research on their conditions can not only help prevent this disease from ravishing our veterans, it can also provide hope for millions of Americans at risk or suffering from the disease.”

The amendment supplements the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program of the Department of Defense Health Program by an additional $5 million, bringing the total to $20 million. The amendment to the Department of Defense appropriations bill passed on the House floor (282-138) earlier this week.

I am deeply grateful to Vicky Hartzler for looking out for our veterans and the more than five million Americans who currently have Alzheimer’s disease.      
Copyright © June 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Brains Matter

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. The Alzheimer’s Association has released a document listing truths about Alzheimer’s disease. I’m familiar with all the truths, and I’ve been sharing them on social media.

The truth I want to focus on today is that Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. Age is a risk factor and our odds of getting the disease go up as we grow older. Alzheimer’s progressively destroys the brain, relentlessly stripping away reasoning, memory, and personality.

I’ve never really worried too much about my brain as long as it clicks along doing its job efficiently and effectively. Sometimes, I get frustrated when I can’t retrieve an important fact or detail at the time I need the information. At other times, random memories, or thoughts, pop to the forefront, and in my haste to share, I start in the middle of a conversation. It takes awhile for me to realize no one else has a clue as to what I’m talking about, and I need to start at the beginning.

One thing I’ve always noticed is that when I’m stressed, I do not think clearly. While I was reading up on brains this Sunday morning, it became clear that I’m not alone with this problem. Research shows that stress, especially long-term stress or PTSD, affects the white matter of our brains and can cause damage.

Unless white matter does its job unhindered, our brains can’t retrieve all the information stored in our gray matter. The gray matter is where our memories, emotions, speech, and sensory perceptions are stored.

I found a clear example of how white and gray matter work together to make our brain the wondrous organ it is. The gray matter of our brains can be compared to a series of computers and the white matter compared to the network cables that connect the computers together. I found this much more helpful that all the scientific explanations of neurons, glia, and long words that I could never pretend to pronounce.

I’ve always suspected there was a big difference between early onset, or young onset, Alzheimer’s and the effect of the disease on older persons. WebMD had an article that talked about how early onset Alzheimer’s can damage the white matter of the brain and how this damage can be undetected. Early Onset affects several parts of the brain and can begin with reasoning, planning, and problem solving, but Alzheimer’s later in life may first be noticed as memory loss.

Research shows that a healthy diet, exercising your body and brain (puzzles, anyone?), and social interaction help keep your brain doing what brains should do. The bottom line is that our brain matter matters!

Copyright © June 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

What’s Right Is Right

I was raised to believe that it was a mark of character to treat everyone as equals and to always consider myself as an equal to anyone. Raising a family of eight children was not an easy task in the ’50s and ’60s. My mom and dad both worked hard to see that we were fed and clothed. Extras were not an option. We didn’t have much in worldly possessions, but our parents made sure that each of us kids had a sense of self-worth, and that money or social status didn't make snooty people better than we were. They also taught us to never, ever look down on the less fortunate.

When I married Jim, I married a man with the same principles. Jim strongly  believed in standing up for what was right. He came home from Vietnam with a neck injury that would not heal. After he was discharged, we went to St. Louis to get a service connection. It should have been a slam dunk—but wait—the V.A. had lost his medical records. Jim was smart enough to know he needed representation, and our DAV rep marched back into the records room and returned with Jim’s “lost” medical records in ten minutes.

Jim was tenacious when it came to what is right is right. He entered into a four-decade battle with the V.A. keeping his claim open. During that time, the V.A. Hospital left metal fragments in his neck during surgery, charged our insurance through my employer for service-connected surgery, and treated Jim with a lack of respect. Oh, do you think Jim let them get away with any of those travesties? Not a chance. What’s right is right.

No doubt, Jim learned some of his tenaciousness from his mother, my beloved mother-in-law Virginia. She was a bulldog when it came to equal and fair treatment for her children. The adjective that describes her best is feisty. Virginia, who served her husband and family with love and devotion, was often known to say, “What’s sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander.” She believed in the Golden Rule, and wouldn’t stand quietly by when it came to injustice.

I never had Jim or Virginia’s constant tenaciousness. Mine is more sporadic and, you might say, mission oriented. One of my missions involves being an Alzheimer’s advocate.

I’ve discovered going the extra distance makes a difference. As an advocate for Alzheimer’s, I’ve learned that working in the system can bring about amazing results. I’ve seen a lot of change during my 16 trips to D.C. as an Alzheimer’s advocate and ambassador. We had only small successes for the first 14 years.

However, in the past week, we advocates received two exciting pieces of news. The U.S. Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee approved our requested $400 million increase in Alzheimer’s research funding for FY2017. In addition, the Health Outcomes, Planning, and Education (HOPE) for Alzheimer’s Act (S. 857/H.R. 1559) has been included in the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services (Labor-HHS) Appropriations Committee FY2017 Funding Bill. The HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act addresses a critical gap in care and support. Both of these pieces of legislation will help rectify some of the inequities of the past when Alzheimer’s was swept under the proverbial carpet, and five million Americans and their families were left without hope.  

As an advocate, I’ve worked with good people in both major political parties. This is one reason I try to stay out of political discussions on Facebook or in the news. Sometimes I have to sit on my hands, and I’ve deleted a lot of sites from my newsfeed.

An item popped up this morning that just underscored that goose and gander sauce still isn’t the same. The big news today is how much Hillary Clinton spends on her clothes. To be completely politically unbiased, Sarah Palin went through the same scrutiny. Have you ever once seen how much a male candidate pays for his custom suits, silk ties, or shoes? Well, I haven’t. What’s right is right.

Injustice and inequalities will always exist. Sometimes we can only chip away at one small thing at a time. One of the lessons I’ve learned from people I truly admire is that what’s sauce for the goose, should be equal to the sauce for the gander.

I’m not the world’s greatest cook, but I know a little bit about making sauce. For it to be good, it takes careful preparation. It must be mixed perfectly from the right ingredients, stirred as needed, left to simmer, and then stirred again. If done perfectly, it turns out just right.

Copyright © June 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Weekend of Remembrance

Memorial weekend has always been a time to reflect on those who have gone on to a better place. “Decoration Day” originated following the Civil War to honor those who died while fighting in the war. General John A. Logan, representing northern Civil War Veterans, called for the nation to decorate the graves of those who died during the war and whose bodies were buried throughout the land. He chose the date of May 30 because it did not coincide with any major battle.

The first Decoration Day was celebrated at Arlington where 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were buried. After General James Garfield’s speech, volunteers decorated the graves of the war dead.

The holiday became known as Memorial Day and during World War I, it became a day to remember all who died in battle. In 1971, the date was changed to the last Monday in May to comply with the 1968 Uniform Monday Holiday Act.

Since 2005, I’ve always driven to Missouri Veterans Cemetery at Higginsville for the Memorial Day ceremony and to place flowers in front of Jim’s niche. This year, thinking ahead, I purchased flowers on Friday. Saturday morning, my son asked me if I wanted to go to Higginsville with him and his family. After giving it a few moments thought, I quickly made the decision that a day with family would be a better way to spend the day. Sort of an answer to the question: what would Jim do?

After our visit to the Missouri Veteran’s Cemetery, we decided to get a few stamps on my grandkid’s “Passport” to Missouri’s numerous state parks and historical sites. They already had one “stamp” and decided to pick up a couple more. The Veterans Cemetery is next to the Confederate Cemetery and only a short distance from the Battle of Lexington State Historic site. We spent a day learning more about the war that began the entire tradition of the holiday.

The weekend of remembrance continued on with church services this morning. We were encouraged to write the names of loved one who had passed away on a piece of yellow paper and place them on a wreath at the front of the sanctuary.

As I was sitting, head bowed, during a moment of prayer, an image of Jim popped into my mind. He had a big smile on his face and stood at a  split-rail fence, with one foot propped up on a rail. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a memory or a visual reassurance of the here and now. A thought crossed my mind that because dementia snatched him away, I’ll never know what he would have looked like as an old man.

Jim was a veteran, and although he didn’t lose his life in Vietnam, he certainly lost some of his spirit. I’ll never forget how devastated he was the first time we visited the Wall in Washington, D.C. Every day is Memorial Day at the Wall.

Judging from the traffic this weekend, I’d say most people are more interested in the three-day holiday than anything to do with Memorial Day itself. Picnics and celebrations abound during this holiday weekend. Isn’t it a little strange to say “Happy Memorial Day” or “have fun this weekend”? Maybe, maybe not. After all, our love of life and country are made possible because of the men and women who offered up, or made, the ultimate sacrifice. We need to appreciate the legacy they left us, and in turn, pay it forward to the next generation.

Copyright © May 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Real World

My graduation from WWU 2005
As always, May is a turning point in young lives everywhere. The caps and gowns are a visible symbol of young people leaving the comfortable nest of home and “Pomp and Circumstance” into  the “real world.”

My two oldest grandchildren both earned the all important diploma to signify their accomplishments, one for college and the other high-school and college bound. Although I’ve been with them through the years, it doesn’t seem possible they are both adults now.

I can imagine how proud their Grandpa Jim would have been! The grandkids were the center of his life, before his real world became a scary and confusing place.

I can’t help but compare the world today to what it was when I graduated high school long, long ago. When I was a teenager,  problems and failures were private family business, not shared with the world via the internet. I probably have a dozen photos of me growing up, but now kids may have a dozen photos posted online in a single day.

In my wildest imagination, I could never have predicted a time when we would carry around a device in our pockets with access to the entire world at our fingertips. I couldn’t have foreseen flipping through hundreds of channels on a television set. We had three channels and the remote control was whichever  kid was told to turn the channel, and rotate the antennae.

We still don’t have flying cars like the Jetson’s had, but some have truly amazing optional features available: Cars that warn you if someone is in your blind spot, adjustable everything, and cameras that seem to know exactly where to point.

My son told a story about his daughter sitting in an older vehicle. Looking around, she pointed at the manual window crank, and asked, “What’s that for?”

“You roll the window down with it,” my son said, demonstrating.

“Well, that’s just stupid,” she said.

My pursuit of a degree was delayed due to having children and then going through many years of trying to stretch the dollars to pay the bills. I received an associate’s degree from a community college when my kids were young, but didn’t get my bachelor’s until 2005.

School certainly changed between high school and community college. I tested out of a math class in junior college without realizing that it wasn’t considered cheating to use a calculator. Who knew?

By the time I was working on my bachelors, I had a PC and internet. I took online classes. One of my classes required us to check out websites and evaluate them for trustworthiness. In many ways, getting my degree later in life gave me skills and confidence to tap into the power of technology.

The changes I’ve seen throughout my lifetime, make me realize how mind boggling the world will be in another century. What will the world be like for my grandchildren when they are my age? What will the “real world” be like then?

Copyright © May 2016 by L.S. Fisher