I’ve heard that some people fear public speaking more than death, but I enjoy speaking when I know my subject well. Because of Jim’s dementia, Alzheimer’s is a subject that I have become intimately acquainted with over the past fifteen years.
Some of my presentations are more lighthearted than others, but the one I was scheduled to give at 6 PM Friday night—the day that marked the beginning of Memorial Day Weekend—was Dementia Specific Training for a group of in-home service providers. When my contact, Tracy, suggested the last Friday of May, I had no plans to go out of town for the weekend so it fit nicely into my schedule.
The closer the time came for the program, I kept thinking about how I would be standing between a group of workers who had finished their workweek and a weekend of fun, sun, and getting away from it all. How restless were these hardworking individuals going to be when their holiday was delayed by a full one-hour of training? Would they pay attention, or were they going to keep checking their watches and mentally be on the way to the lake for a weekend of boating?
Before I began, I handed out note sheets with several fill-in-the-blank statements for each of the areas covered during the training: An Alzheimer’s overview, Communications and Behavior, daily activities, and helping families cope.
“This dementia specific training is important to provide good care for your clients with Alzheimer’s. You can fill in the blanks on the note sheet as we go.”
It didn’t take me long to discover the audience was attentive, asked questions, and shared some of their personal experiences. One lady was a primary caregiver for her mother who had Alzheimer’s and another expressed her concern that her husband was beginning to show signs of dementia. A young lady told me she couldn’t visit her grandmother at the same time as her mother because they looked too much alike and grandma was confused as to which one was her daughter.
It was an interactive discussion with a group that was eager to learn and took notes in addition to the fill-in-the-blank forms I had given them. I forged onward, as they interwove their personal experiences into the context of the training session. By being part of the program they took ownership of the information they needed.
I ended by reading “Honor Our Everyday Heroes” from Early Onset Blog: The Friendship Connection. As I read, I glanced up to see participants brushing away tears. My voice broke slightly on the words, “I think about how Jim told our sons they were his heroes, and how prophetic his words would become. They truly became his heroes when they cared for him with love and respect as he faded away.”
After the presentation, some left in a hurry to begin their weekend, but a few lingered for more discussion and to get some pamphlets I had left in the car. After our final goodbyes, I started my car to hear the opening bars of “Jingle Jangle.”
A rush of feelings swept over me as I instantly flashed back to Honolulu, Hawaii, 1969, and a small chapel where Jim and I exchanged the vows that marked the beginning of our life together. On our wedding day we heard “Jingle Jangle” for the first time and dubbed it “our” song.
I thought about living on Humboldt Street in Manhattan, Kansas, and how one night we were shopping and heard “Jingle Jangle” and followed the sound to a stereo system. Seeing it as a divine sign, we bought the walnut stereo cabinet once they agreed to include the “Jingle Jangle” album.
I became lost in the feelings of 1970 when we held our newborn baby in our arms and celebrated with Mama Burgers and Papa Burgers at A & W. Life lay ahead of us like a yellow brick road leading us from Kansas to a wonderful land “somewhere over the rainbow.” Hopes and dreams helped us through the hard times of too much month at the end of the money.
The song ended, and the sixties drifted to the back of my mind to rest in the area of my brain where I store my long-term memories. I put my car in drive and left the parking lot. My mind was already on the weekend ahead—a time for honoring those who served our country and remembrance of love that is never truly lost.