Sunday, April 16, 2017

Memories of Lilacs and April

The lilacs are in bloom and every time I walk out onto the deck, I smell them. Lilacs and April are two reminders of Jim. He left this world on April 18, 2005.

The lilacs reminded me of a story Aunt Nita shared at Jim’s services:

“I remember a time a few years ago when Jim and I were sitting in the swing. It was in early spring; we had been talking, but not a lot. Jim got up and said, ‘Aunt Nita, do you smell that?’ He walked over to a big lilac bush and picked a handful. He brought them back to me and said, ‘Smell this, Aunt Nita. Don’t they smell good?’ Remembering Jim, I always do, for I know he is one of God’s chosen few.”

When we were planning Jim’s services, I took a yellow pad up to Virginia’s house and asked everyone to tell me stories about Jim. I wrote the stories down, and I was still typing them when Gary Richardson came to our house to go over the memorial service. 

Gary pushed the paper back to me and said, “Tell me these stories.” I told Gary the stories, and he said, “Those are wonderful stories, but if I read them, they are just stories. You lived those stories, and if you tell them, they will come alive.” 

Jim, Easter, circa 1999
Rob and Eric both agreed and said that I should tell the stories. My first thought was that I couldn’t do it, but after more thought and encouragement, I decided I could do it. That is if everyone put on his or her “happy” face.

Some of my favorite memories of Jim involved travel and music. Here are a few of the stories I shared:

Jim’s favorite place to vacation was Estes Park, Colorado, and the Rocky Mountain National Forest. We went to Colorado fourteen consecutive years. Jim was happiest when waking up on a cold Colorado morning, making a pot of coffee on the camp stove and cooking breakfast. I loved the cold mountain mornings too, but not quite as much as Jim did. I would snuggle beneath the covers in our bed in the van. Jim would bring me a cup of coffee in bed and sing the sleepy head song to me…

Music was important to the entire Fisher family. Jim was talented and could play the guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin—anything with strings. He enjoyed playing music with his dad, uncles, brothers (Bob and Billy) and a good friend, John Cook.

Sometimes music could get the Fishers in trouble and could almost cause fights. One time when Jim was playing his guitar, and Uncle Jewel was playing the fiddle, Billy sneaked up behind Uncle Jewel and goosed him. Uncle Jewel jumped, hit Jim in the head with the fiddle bow, knocked Jim to his knees, and gashed his head open. Uncle Jewel got mad, Jim had a dazed look on his face, and for some reason, Billy, who caused the ruckus, was the only one who thought it was hilarious.

Jim liked to hear Mom and me sing “I’ve Got a Mansion Just Over the Hilltops.” The words describe wanting a mansion, a harp, and a crown.” Jim wasn’t the kind of person who would want a mansion, or a crown, but he would want that harp, because it has strings.

I can just hear Jim playing “Buckaroo” on the harp. I bet Heaven never heard anything else quite like it.

Copyright © April 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Monday, April 10, 2017

Learn As You Go

Linda and Ted, Caregivers
At line dancing class recently, we danced to the song, “Life Is a Dance.” As I listened to the words, “learn as you go,” I was reminded of my years as a caregiver. During the decade of Jim’s journey, I truly learned as I went along.

I certainly wasn’t a professional caregiver, nor did I ever believe I would ever be a caregiver for my husband. His Alzheimer’s type of dementia was a progressive disease where the caregiving became incrementally more difficult.

Becoming a competent caregiver involved a lot of baby steps. I learned the basics, sought out more refined information, and eventually I became creative. One thing  I learned early on was that a solution that worked one day, might not work the next day.

The physical part of caregiving—feeding, bathing, providing personal care—can be difficult, but it was the grief and emotional despair that I found the most difficult. The biggest struggle wasn’t how to coax Jim into a bathtub; it was the heartache of remembering a time when it was “you wash my back and I’ll wash yours.”

Often it’s the small losses that are hardest to accept. I expected to grieve big losses, but chided myself mentally for missing the companionable quiet moments. One of the things I missed the most was having coffee and conversation with Jim.

We caregivers learn as we go—learn how to handle behaviors. One of the challenges for caregivers is how to handle the baffling behavior brought on by a dying brain.

A three-step approach can be used to address behavior problems:

1.      Identify and examine the behavior. Is the behavior harmful to your loved one or others? If the answer is no, consider ignoring it. Your two most helpful tools are redirect and distract. To avoid behavior problems, think about what happened before the behavior and what happened immediately after. Could something have been done differently to avoid the problem? For example, if your loved one removed all his clothing, was he too warm? Was he wet? Was his clothing uncomfortable? Become a detective!
2.      Explore potential solutions. Was your loved one’s needs being met? Could surroundings be changed to make your loved one more comfortable? How could you have changed your reaction?
3.      Try different responses. Try to respond in a calm, supportive way. Your tone of voice and body language are more important than your words. Avoid treating your loved one like a child. Be respectful. If what you are trying doesn’t work, try something different.

When dealing with behavior, remain calm, patient, and flexible. You will have better luck if you respond to the emotion and not the behavior. Don’t argue with a person who has dementia. That is an argument you won’t win! Sometimes the cause of behavior is something as simple as a side effect of medication, or an illness. Jim became combative when a new physician gave him an antipsychotic drug. He reverted to his normal demeanor once the medication was stopped.

Caregivers learn as they go. Being a caregiver is one of life’s biggest challenges, but your reward is the knowledge that you have done everything possible to improve your loved one’s quality of life.

Copyright © April 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Taking AIM at Alzheimer's

Linda Fisher and Congresswoman Hartzler
What is it that brings me back to Washington, D.C., year after year? It’s not the cherry blossoms. It’s not the Smithsonian or the monuments. It’s not the food, although after a meal with my besties—Jane, Kathy, and Sarah—at the historic Old Ebbitt Grill, I created a hashtag: #eatingourwayacrossDC.

The reason I come to D.C. every year is to join with like-minded advocates who are good and tired of the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s. We think it’s darned time to find a cure.

Each year we are joined by an influx of first-timers. The Alzheimer’s Association and those of us with the multiple stars on our badges do everything we can to make sure they are prepared for the Hill. Once they have the information and the “collateral” they put on their comfortable walking shoes and head to the Hill where many voices will share the same message.

I believe 1,300 purple sashes make quite a statement on Capitol Hill. As I went from appointment to appointment on Hill Day, we were the most visible group around.

Advocates from across the U.S. visited the offices of their senators and representative. The 23-member Missouri advocates first appointment of the day was a coffee at Senator Roy
Blunt’s office. We boarded the first bus leaving the hotel and arrived at the Hill in time for the 9:00 appointment. That is, it would have been time enough except for the long line of people trying to get through security. As we stood in a non-moving line, we were directed to a different door so that we arrived in the nick of time. After a photo with the Senator, we visited with his health aide, Desiree Mowry.

Desiree Mowry and Betty Johnson
After our visit with Senator Blunt, we split up. Some had house appointments and had to travel to the house side of the Capitol. Others of us, the “A” group (we referred to ourselves as the A-Team) moved to the Hart building where we would meet with Emma Kenyon, Senator Claire McCaskill’s legislative aide. After that visit, several of our group headed home, but I had an appointment with Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler in the afternoon.

Our “ask” this year was two-fold. First, we asked for a $414 million increase for Alzheimer’s research. This is the amount that scientists at the NIH submitted as a “Bypass Budget” proposal. Based on the Alzheimer’s Accountability Act passed in 2015, this is the amount to keep us on track to prevent or develop an effective treatment by 2025.

The second ask was for co-sponsors for PCHETA (Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act). PCHETA (SB 693, HB 1676) is so important that more than 40 groups are working toward passage. Nursing home residents who receive palliative care at the end of life are 15 times less likely to die in a hospital. Palliative care reduces emergency room visits and hospitalization. This Act would (a) increase the palliative care and hospice workforce by establishing training programs, (b) launch a national campaign to inform patients, families, and health care professionals about availability of services, (3) enhance palliative care research.

Add your voice to our voices. Email, write, call your senator and representative to support research funding and PCHETA.

For $20, you can join the Alzheimer’s Association’s sister organization AIM (Alzheimer’s Impact Movement) $20. AIM (a) advocates for legislation to advance research and enhance care and support for those affected by Alzheimer’s, (2) supports the re-election of our Congressional champions, and (3) speaks on behalf of the Alzheimer’s community when 501(c)(3) organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association must remain silent. Join AIM at the link below using my referral code.

Just a few minutes of your time can make a lifetime of difference for three of your fellow Americans who developed Alzheimer’s in the time it took you to read this article.

Copyright © April 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Headed to DC

This year marks my 17th trip to D.C. to join my voice with fellow advocates at the Alzheimer's Advocacy Forum.

Essential preparations for this annual journey began on Wednesday with laundry. It seemed that most of the clothing I planned to wear was in need of laundering. Thursday, the packing began and I felt pretty good when I went to bed at midnight. My suitcase was full. Friday morning was going to be easy-peasy. All I had to do was made a few final preparations, grab my bags, and head to the airport to spend the night at a hotel.

The first problem was I shut off my alarm and overslept. I took the dog out and then it was time to sign in to get my boarding pass. My sign in wouldn't work. I decided to ask for a new password and my security questions weren't correct. What? I was giving the only answers. After much agonizing, I realized I was entering an incorrect password and once I corrected  my error, I was in.

The few preparations turned into hours. I took my PC downstairs to hook into my color printer and it wouldn't work. I couldn't figure it out, so Harold came down and after a few manipulations, declared that I didn't have it plugged in correctly.

I hate it when that happens.

Back upstairs, I prepared to leave--about four hours after my target time.

"Just sit down and relax a minute before you leave," Harold said. "Otherwise, you'll forget something important."

"I'll go over my checklist, I said.

The checklist looked good. Then Harold started asking about this and that...he thinks of everything. Of course, he's the planner; I'm the seat-of-the-pants person. Eventually, he managed to think of something I'd forgotten.

"What would you do without me?" he asked.

"Go off half cocked all the time," I admitted.

By the time I headed out the door, it was raining, and the car clock told me that my timing was perfect to hit Kansas City right at rush hour on a Friday night. Oh brother.

By the time I reached I-70, rain was pouring and the traffic was pretty well bumper to bumper.  At one time, I looked in my rearview mirror to see a semi tailgating me. My windshield began to fog, and my wipers were working their butts off to keep the rain from interfering with my vision.

I called Harold for a weather report. "You should be running out of the rain by the time you reach Kansas City," he said.

The radio was on a country music station and I found the music to be soothing. I turned up the radio and karaoked to my heart's content. Once again, meteorologist Harold was correct. When I reached the city, the rain cleared just in time for a weird traffic jam on I-435.

Finally, I reached the hotel and everything was better. I checked into a beautiful room and although Harold had told me of all the fabulous eating places nearby, I ate at the hotel. I was famished and the turkey club with "house" made chips tasted wonderful.

After giving myself a mani-pedi, I decided to make a cup of tea. First problem, no cups. I called housekeeping and that problem was solved.

I was darned ready for a good night's sleep. After all the next day was going to be a long one.

After sleeping soundly for a few hours, I woke up at 4:30 and couldn't go back to sleep. I decided to make a cup of coffee and relax for a while until time to catch my flight. I poured water into the coffeemaker, put Coffee-mate in the cup and turned it on. The pot stopped gurgling, but when I checked, all I had was hot Coffee-mate water. I had neglected to put in the coffee. Second time, I did everything right except I forgot to turn on the pot. Finally, I sat down with a cup of coffee and decided I would get ready and head to the airport.

After such a rocky start, the rest of the trip would have to be smooth skies. By mid-afternoon, I'd be in D.C. and have a few days to see the sites and spend with my friends. So, I grabbed my purple suitcase and set off for another round of fighting to end Alzheimer's.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Fleeting Shadow

At a funeral recently, the pastor referenced a book of Psalms that referred to life as a “breath” and our days as a “fleeting shadow.” Sunday morning, I had planned to use these thoughts as inspiration for a blog post.

Before I had a chance to write my thoughts, I received the shocking news that my 46-year-old nephew had died. I pushed all thoughts of writing aside and went to be with my mom who was devastated by the news. My heart ached for his parents who were going through the loss of a child for the second time. They had lost their daughter a scant five years earlier.

We had a discussion, my brother and I, about the long, slow process of dying versus sudden death. With one, you have time to say your goodbyes and with the other, you just hope and pray that you parted on good terms. One slowly breaks your heart, and the other is a shock to your heart.

Between PTSD and clinical depression, Jim was plagued with suicidal thoughts. It was a constant worry for me, and it was many years before I realized it wasn’t my fault. It was hard to admit there wasn’t really anything I could do to change it. I encouraged him to see a psychologist and to take the medicines that helped him function.

My sister made an observation. She said if someone dies from a heart attack, you don’t blame them. If someone has something wrong inside their brain—thoughts they can’t shut off, psychological problems, chemical imbalances—then maybe their death is no more a choice than having a heart attack.

We don’t often choose how we die; it chooses us. When Jim died after ten years of dementia, I learned what the “long goodbye” meant. Although, death was a given, it didn’t mean it was well taken. It didn’t matter that I should have been ready when Jim died—I wasn’t ready to let him go. The emotion that surprised me most was anger. When the breath was gone and his days passed like a fleeting shadow, I was furious that he had to spend the last ten years of his life fading away.  

We all talk about closure, but I have to agree with my brother that closure doesn’t exist. That isn’t quite the word because some deaths just leave a big empty spot that can’t be refilled. We just keep moving and hope the pain of loss will fade to a manageable level.

Lately, when I walk out the door, I kiss my husband goodbye—every time. “All the time you hear about people being in a car wreck without saying goodbye,” I told him. I call it my “insurance.”

More than insurance, it’s a reminder that life can be snatched away in a heartbeat. We need to make those calls, write those notes, visit our loved ones, forgive, go on vacation, have fun, and make the most of each day.

We should be thankful for the time we have to love, dream, and live. Life is so precious. Each sunrise we have another chance, another day, to right a wrong, lend a helping hand, or to make a difference in some small way. A breath. A fleeting shadow. That’s all any of us have.

Copyright © March 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Monday, March 13, 2017

Lewy Body Dementia

“My mom has dementia,” the woman said. “How is that different from Alzheimer’s?”

“I think of dementia as an umbrella,” I said. “Beneath the umbrella of dementia are several diseases. Alzheimer’s is the most common kind of dementia.”

In the 2017 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, the Alzheimer’s Association lists several diseases that cause dementia and associated characteristics. They are Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, mixed dementia (more than one cause—the most common is Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia), frontotemporal dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (rare, can be genetic or caused by consuming products from cattle with mad cow disease), and normal pressure hydrocephalus.

The Alzheimer’s Association does not list the rare disease Jim had. His diagnosis was early onset Alzheimer’s disease, but his autopsy revealed the disease he actually had was corticobasal ganglionic degeneration, a disease I had never heard of. The report also mentions “incidental Lewy body,” severe frontotemporal atrophy, tau positive glial inclusions in the white matter, but no evidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

It is easy to understand with overlapping symptoms why diagnosis is so difficult. While searching for an answer to the “why” of Jim’s dementia, we received several conflicting theories, including Parkinson’s and Pick’s disease, before finally settling on Alzheimer’s.

Of course, the mention of Lewy body in Jim’s autopsy, incidental aside, had me researching Lewy Body Dementia (LBD). This disease affects around a million people in the United States.

There is no single test to diagnose LBD, and in the early stages, it may be confused with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or a mental disorder. Diagnosis is made through examination, laboratory tests, brain imaging, and testing memory and cognition.

Through my volunteer work with the Alzheimer’s Association, I’ve met fellow advocates diagnosed with LBD. I remember one man telling me that his hallucinations were disruptive and disturbing. Unfortunately, people with hallucinations or other behavior problems may be treated with anti-psychotic drugs. Haloperidol (Haldol®), olanzapine (Zyprexa®), and resperidone (Risperdal®) should be avoided because of dangerous side effects, including an increased risk of death.

Lewy bodies attack several different regions of the brain, which causes a variety of problems for the person with the disease. Short-term memory, perception difficulties, processing information, and language issues can be confused with Alzheimer’s. Movement disorders are similar to Parkinson’s with tremor and muscle stiffness. The distinction between LBD and Parkinson’s dementia is based on the timing of dementia. In LBD, dementia will quickly follow parkinsonism within a year, but people can have Parkinson’s and not develop dementia for many years.

People with LBD often have sleep disorders. The vivid dreams associated with REM disorder may cause a variety of symptoms ranging from talking while sleeping to punching a bed partner. A person with LBD may be tired all the time due to insomnia or restless leg syndrome. They may sleep excessively during the daytime.

LBD is managed in much the same way as Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to physical, speech, and occupational therapy, the Alzheimer’s drug Exelon® may be used. Other drugs may be used to help with movement, sleep disorders, and behavioral problems. The surgical procedure used to relieve the movement symptoms of Parkinson’s is not used when a person has LBD because it may adversely affect cognition.   

LBD causes a variety of behavior and mood changes running the gamut from depression and apathy to agitation, delusions, and paranoia. Managing the health care of a loved one with LBD can be quite challenging for a care partner. If you are caring for a person with LBD, it is important to enlist help from family and friends.

Taking care of yourself and taking breaks will make you a better caregiver. Do not neglect your own health! When dealing with a progressive, degenerative disease, it is crucial that you find moments of joy. Continue to enjoy activities with your loved one as much as you can for as long as you can. Convert challenges into opportunities to use your creativity to live life to the fullest.

Copyright © March 2017 by L.S. Fisher

For an informative publication about Lewy Body Dementia:

Sunday, March 5, 2017

March Madness

With Donna Hirner-Gardner at Legislative Conference
March marched onto my calendar with the purpose of seeing how sane I could remain in an insane world. The month began with a series of meetings. By Friday I was a little bedraggled and had driven to Jefferson City for the Business Women of Missouri legislative conference.

I arrived a little early and hiked from the parking garage to the capitol building to drop off an Alzheimer’s packet. Oops, I should have known everyone would leave early on a Friday, so that didn’t happen. I hiked back to my car and drove to the hotel by a circuitous route since I was coming in from another direction.

After I checked in and carried all my various bags to my room, I decided to relax with a cup of hot tea. I made the tea and opened one of those little packets with a napkin, creamer, sweetener and stir stick to get some sugar for the tea. The cup fell and the hot tea splattered all over me, but most of the tea spilled onto the floor.

I looked at the little napkin. That was not going to work. I dialed “O” and asked if they had anything I could use to clean up the tea. “Just use a towel,” he said, “and we’ll send you us a clean one.”

Relaxation? Who needs that? I spent my relaxing time cleaning up the mess. By the time I finished, it was time for my committee meeting.

Here it is the fifth of March and I’ve finally had a moment to sit down and fill out my wall calendar for the month.

Everything is on my phone, so my husband thinks this is an exercise in futility, but I like to be able to glance at the calendar and see what’s ahead instead of waiting for a “ding” that tells me I need to be somewhere else at the same exact time I hear it.

With the two-day legislative conference behind me, I filled out the remainder of the month. All I have to say is it is madness indeed. I have exactly four days in the entire month that doesn’t have one or more events or appointments. Madness! Or at least, what was I thinking?

I have several Alzheimer’s events lined up. Monday is my Alzheimer’s district meeting with Congresswoman Hartzler’s staff. Tuesday is the Alzheimer’s walk kick-off. I have two Alzheimer’s conference calls this week: Ambassador and combined work group. Later in the month is a day for corporate sponsors, but the biggie is at the end of the month when I’ll be going to the Alzheimer’s Advocacy Forum in D.C.

To see all the activities on the calendar is a reminder that when I do have free time I need to be editing, organizing my electronic files, paying bills, catching up on my to-do list, fulfilling promises…and all the other things that don’t make the calendar or the to-do list.

A lot of the events on my mad, mad, mad calendar are fun, and the ones that are business are spent with people whose company I enjoy. Often, I spend as much time laughing as working.

With March comes the promise of springtime—flowers, birds, bees, plants, greener grass. Oh, yes, grass. Mowing? I’ll think about that when the time comes.

Oh, come on. I know I’ll have time to read a book, pet the dog, and maybe take a nap from time to time. I’m going to guard those four free-and-clear days as if they were made of solid gold, because, actually, they are!

March may be madness, but April will be here before I know it. I just peeked at April’s calendar, and optimism aside, April is a popular conference month...

Copyright © March 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Blowin' in the Wind

As usual, I was running late for an appointment this morning. As I turned onto the highway, I noticed my Sedalia Democrat had been delivered to my paper box. Deciding I could be on time if I didn’t waste the couple of minutes to pick up the paper, I left it.

After my appointment, I made my usual stop at Walmart. As I pushed my cart into the parking lot, I had to battle the wind to keep the cart going forward instead of sideways. Talk about a strong wind. The wind buffeted my car on the way home, and I parked at the end of the driveway to get my paper and mail. The paper was gone. I looked around and found it lying in the ditch.

After I retrieved the paper, I grabbed a stack of mail out of the mailbox. The wind ripped a few pieces out of my hands and whimsically scattered them into the aforementioned ditch. Have you ever chased paper that a gust of wind takes out of your reach time after time?

The Bob Dylan song “Blowin’ in the Wind” came to mind. Bits and pieces of the lyrics teased my memory. I remembered unanswered questions about manhood, white doves, cannon balls, mountains washing to the sea, and pretending not to notice freedom lost.

The most haunting line in Dylan’s song is about too many people dying. Every year 700,000 people die from Alzheimer’s, and so far we haven’t been about to do one thing to stop it. Not one single thing!

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Approximately 5.4 million people are living, and dying, with the disease. Around 200,000 people younger than age 65 have Alzheimer’s. Many are much, much younger.

Each year I join other advocates nationally to advocate for more research funds. In our packets, we have information that compares research funds for Alzheimers compared to the amount allocated to fight other diseases. This dedication to fighting diseases has paid big dividends. At one time, a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS was a death sentence. Research has played a huge role in finding effective treatments for cancer and heart disease.

Lately, two promising drug therapies failed during drug trials. When these treatments failed, we were disappointed, but we haven’t given up!

Some of the brightest minds are working diligently to cure this incurable disease. In the meantime, it is important that caregivers and persons with dementia have the care and support they need to live life to the fullest. Those on the front lines need respite, home and community based support, family support, and a reason to hope. They need to know that we have their backs.

I was at the Missouri State Capitol on Memory Day advocating for respite funds. The Missouri state budget has been slashed, including a big reduction in the $450,000 service grants that our friends, neighbors, and families rely on for respite. This is a case of saving pennies and costing dollars. Respite helps keep persons with Alzheimer’s at home longer. A simple formula shows a possible cost savings of $2 million for the state. Here’s how it works:  800 respite families X $157 average NH Medicaid cost per day X 30 days delay in NH placement X 60% of NH residents on Medicaid = $2 million savings in Medicaid NH costs.

I’m going to D.C. at the end of March to visit Senator McCaskill, Senator Blunt and Congresswoman Hartzler. Although, I take the fight to Capitol Hill, each of us has the power to make a difference without leaving the comfort of home. Call, write, or email your legislators, especially when legislation is pending or advocates are visiting.

Become a voice. Answer the calls to action. By keeping up-to-date on Alzheimer’s legislation, you can learn how to be an effective advocate.

It may seem that the answer to a cure is blowing in the wind, but if we chase it hard enough, we will eventually find it.

Copyright © February 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Friday, February 17, 2017

Alzheimer’s Caregiving: A Voice of Experience

At the end of January, my friend, and mentor, Penny Braun passed away. Penny was my first contact with the Alzheimer’s Association. When Jim first developed dementia symptoms, I called the Mid-Missouri Chapter, located in Columbia. The executive director, Penny, answered the phone.

“I don’t know if I should be calling you because my husband has memory problems but has not been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” I said.

“You called the right place,” Penny assured me. “We have information that will help you, and you can call us anytime.” And I did.

Penny brought her beloved German shepherd, Victoria, with her when she came to the 1998 Sedalia Memory Walk. Penny wasn’t in any of the photos because she took them, but Victoria posed with the small group that walked that day.

In 2001, Penny asked asked me to go to the Alzheimer’s forum.

“We’re going to ask for a billion dollars,” she told me. “Maureen Reagan set that goal when she was on the national Alzheimer’s board.”

“I can do that,” I said with much more confidence than I felt. I had no concept of what a billion dollars looked like. Of course, the research funding was only a small fraction of that billion dollar goal.

Pennyand I shared a room on my first trip to Washington, D.C. We arrived late and when we tried to check in, the clerk clicked the keyboard on the computer, frowned and clicked some more.

“I don’t have a reservation for you,” he said, “and we’re booked solid.”

“We do have a reservation,” Penny said firmly, “I have the paperwork here.” Penny dug in her purse for the reservation. When she couldn’t find it, she turned on 
the charm. “We’re exhausted, and surely you can find one room we can have. Please, check with your manager and see if you can find a room for this old lady.”

When he left to check, she turned to me and said, “They always save one room in case the president or some important person needs a room. Oh, here it is!” She jubilantly pulled out the reservation, gave it a glance, and stuffed it back into her purse. “It begins tomorrow night,” she said in a stage whisper. About that time, the clerk returned all smiles, and handed us the keys to a beautiful suite. Mission accomplished.

After Penny retired from the Alzheimer’s Association to care for her husband, I saw her only occasionally. She was at the Alzheimer’s roast last spring. She, of course, gave me a big hug and asked how I was doing. “Have you read my book?” she asked.

When I admitted I hadn’t, she pulled a copy out of her purse and handed it to me. Alzheimer’s Caregiving: A Voice of Experience.
Penny knew the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s because her mother had the disease. Her family connection compelled her to open the office in Columbia, first as a volunteer. She later became the chapter’s first executive director.

Penny’s book has several examples of situations and solutions to problems that “might work.” She was smart enough to know that the same solutions don’t work for every person, nor do the same solutions always work for the same person.

I had to smile when I got to the “Three Right Answers.” She wrote, “As the disease progresses, three answers to problems seem inevitably right. The first two are music and ice cream.” The final right answer is the smile. “Use it warmly and often.”

Rest in peace, my friend. You left a legacy of hugs, smiles, and a caring heart.

Copyright © February 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Monday, February 13, 2017

Seven Types of Love

When February 14 rolls around, hearts and minds everywhere focus on love. Some look forward to the day with unbridled anticipation, while others feel only trepidation. During our lifetimes, most of us will experience both feelings depending on how life is going at that moment.

Love can be enduring, or elusive. It can be the center of our dreams, or the crux of our nightmares. Love can bring us to the mountaintop or plunge us into the deepest, darkest valley.

Valentine’s Day celebrates all kinds of love. According to the ancient Greeks, there are seven different types of love. I’m not sure that all the emotions we humans call “love” can really be narrowed down to seven categories, but I suppose it’s a start.

1.      Eros, or erotic love, represents the physical body. This type of love has all the passion and desire to fuel a romance. It is because of Eros love that Cupid wears a blindfold.
2.      Philia, or affectionate love, is the love we feel for our friends who have our backs through the bad times in our lives. These trusted friends provide the chocolate cake when our romantic love hits rock bottom.
3.      Storge is familial love. Storge is the type of love we feel for our parents and children. It can also be the fondness we have toward childhood friends where the relationship is built on familiarity and acceptance.  
4.      The playful love of ludus is found during the early stages of falling in love. That’s when just seeing the interest of our affections can set our hearts all aflutter. Ludus can also describe the relationship of friends who enjoy hanging out with each other.
5.      Pragma is enduring or practical love. This kind of love is found in married couples who have made the effort to maintain their relationship through compromise, patience, and tolerance. It can also be found in couples who stay together for political, social, or other practical reasons.
6.      Philautia is self-love. In this sense, it is a good thing! In order to truly love someone else, it is necessary to first love yourself. Philautia is unhealthy when a person places himself before others.
7.      Agape is the purest love. It is selfless love free of expectations that accepts and forgives. Agape is unconditional love.

We all understand that in a romantic relationship, we give our hearts, and we expect that love to be reciprocated. Since Cupid is blindfolded, sometimes love is blind. We focus only on the good qualities and overlook the irritating ones. Whether we survive the good, bad, and ugly that makes up every human being on earth depends on how much effort we put into keeping the love alive.

When we look at the different kinds of love, it is easy to see that agape, or unconditional love, is the type of love that caregivers have for their loved ones with dementia. When Jim developed dementia, my love for him became multidimensional and included both pragma and storge.  I often likened my love for Jim to that of a mother for her child. More importantly, I don’t believe that the love of a caregiver fits neatly into some Greek or psychologist’s category.

Each of us is a unique individual with an individual capacity for love. Not even a scientist can accurately measure the love one person has for another.

A lot of hearts given on Valentine’s Day are not worth the paper they are printed on. The real value of a Valentine’s heart is determined by how we treat the ones we love the other 364 days of the year and throughout the years of a lifetime.


Copyright © February 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Saturday, February 4, 2017

You Know What I Hate?

It seems that people are getting bolder and nastier in their communications. I’m not much of a hater, but when I thought about it, there were a few things at the top of my list.

I hate consecutive months with dates that fall on the same day of the week. This has caused me grief in the past and came close to causing me grief this week. Let me explain. My hairdresser called me at work one day wondering why I hadn’t shown up for my appointment. “I don’t have it on my calendar,” I said. Flipped the calendar and sure enough there it was—same day of the week, same date, different month. This week, I’ve been planning to go to a conference Friday and Saturday. It was on the wall calendar for February 3-4, but while setting up a conference call for next month, I saw the conference on my electronic calendar for March 3-4. Holy moly, sure glad I didn’t drive to Jefferson City an entire month early.

I hate the paint MO-Dot uses on the roads. It doesn’t take long for the lines to fade away and I don’t have confidence that I’m inside my lane. This is especially dicey driving through town in the rain with streetlights and car lights glaring off the pavement. The older I get, the harder it is to see the lines. I want glow in the dark paint on our highways like the Netherlands has. Is that too much to ask?

I hate tax time. It isn’t even so much paying the taxes as it is gathering all the papers together, bringing everything up to date in Quicken, and then putting the info on TurboTax. Everything is complicated, and it makes my head hurt. I’d so much rather be doing something else. Much, much rather, be doing just about anything else.

I hate junk mail and junk email. Try as I might, I can’t get rid of those two. I unsubscribe, report as spam, block, grit my teeth, and swear. Nothing helps. Right up there with junk email is email that requires me to complete a task when I’d rather be relaxing. It’s easy to be sucked into a project that’s taking much more of my time than is warranted.

I hate debilitating disease especially Alzheimer’s. And Cancer. And heart disease. And diabetes. And anything that makes a person suffer. I hate to watch someone dying. I wish we could live long, healthy lives, and when it was our time, we’d leap on that chariot of fire and ascend into heaven in a blaze of glory.

I hate homelessness. Every time I go to D.C. for the Alzheimer’s forum, I see dozens of the 11,623 homeless people that live in that city. No one should have to curl up on a park bench or huddle in a doorway on a cold winter’s night. One year, I was sitting in the lobby of a five-star D.C. hotel when this lady walked inside. She was dressed in a long flowing dress, but I noticed she wasn’t wearing a bra.

A hotel worker rushed out from behind the desk and confronted her. “You have to leave or I’ll call the police,”  he told her.

“Please don’t call the police. I don’t have any place to stay and it’s cold outside,” she replied in a soft voice.

“There’s a homeless shelter a couple of blocks from here,” he said. Then, he showed her the door on a cold winter’s night, and she went on her way.

I hate that we are never going to have world peace. It is impossible in a world where power means more than people, and religion means more than faith, and we focus on our differences rather than our commonalities.

I hate Cajun toast. The identical twin look of Cajun and cinnamon seasonings caused me to serve my granddaughter Cajun toast when she was little. To be sure, it had some sugar in it, but it was still nasty. Earlier this week I went to sprinkle cinnamon sugar on my toast and I reached for the Rubbermaid mini container where I keep it. Well, I also keep cinnamon creamer in an identical container, but caught myself. I reached into the cabinet and pulled out another container thinking this was surely the right one. The smell was a clue that my husband used one of the minis for something that smelled suspiciously like Cajun seasoning. Finally, third time was a charm.

Yes, there are a few things I hate in this world, but many, many more that I love.       
Copyright © February 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Treasure Trove of Memories

Yesterday I dove into the treasure trove of memories stored in the basement of the house that Jim built. One large box had been water damaged from a drippy faucet, and I’d never had the heart to go through the hodgepodge inside that pitiful box until yesterday.

I tossed old Memory Walk memos, agendas, brochures, and various papers from the years I coordinated the Sedalia Walk. I found two warped notebooks and sifted through the memories. One had photos front and back in the notebook’s protective cover sleeve. The photo on the front was ruined, but when I flipped the book over, I saw a perfectly preserved photo from a “Night to Remember Dance.”

My eyes blurred as I looked at a photo of Ted Distler and me dancing. Ted and I were friendly rivals. He coordinated the Jefferson City walk, and we always tried to out-do each other. The rivalry only spurred each of us to do our best. I attended his chicken dinner and auction, and he supported our dance and auction. It seemed there was always a gooseberry pie at both events and the winner was either him or me. Those pies were never cheap!

Another role Ted and I shared was that of caregiver. His lovely wife Norma was the center of his world and, is often the case, the disease took a terrible toll on both of them.

To say that Ted was my friend is an understatement. He was more like family. We would lose touch for a few months, but he’d call me or I would call him. Then, one day I received a call from the Alzheimer’s Association letting me know that Ted had passed away. Norma soon joined him.

Next, I pulled out a box of thank you notes. I opened the box and discovered a stack of photos. The one on top was a smiling Jim wearing a “Colby’s Grandpa” hat and holding our oldest grandson. I leafed through the photos—Jim in Estes Park and at an early Memory Walk.

I carried items upstairs, and when I went back down, I saw a red crate filled with photos that never made it to the photo albums. I opened an envelope and the first photo I saw was Jim playing his guitar. Easter photos taken two decades ago brought an avalanche of memories.

I found memories scattered in places they shouldn’t be. Why had I thrown this batch of pictures in a crate instead of putting them away in photo boxes or albums? My guess is that since most of these were taken around the time that life made a left turn, more pressing matters took priority.

This morning, I began the long organizational process by throwing away the extra envelopes and negatives. Next, I will try to put the envelopes in chronological order. I plan to throw away the out-of-focus photos and pictures of people I don’t know, or care to know, including people on stage in Branson.

Finding the old photos felt like finding a hidden treasure. I saw the innocent faces of children who are now adults with kids of their own. I saw the smiles of beloved family members who are long gone and felt the warm breath of their spirits. The real treasure trove, I realized, was the reminder that I’ve always been a link in a huge circle of love.
Copyright © January 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Grace Under Fire

I had such a busy week that when Saturday rolled around, I plopped on the couch and turned on the TV. I began to watch the twenty hours or so of the European Figure Skating championships recorded on the DVR. This gluttonous devouring reiterated my opinion that a figure skating competition is the epitome of grace under fire.

Countries sent only their top skaters to the competition, but most knew they were not in medal contention. Some found victory by participating in the competition, while others were only satisfied with one of the top three slots.

Some of the performances were so nearly perfect that a small bobble made the difference between earning a coveted medal, or going home empty handed. It was easy to show grace when everything went according to plan, but those that truly showed their spirit were the ones who fell, jumped back up, and continued doing their very best.

The expert commentators knew immediately when someone faltered. The skater’s foot touched too soon, they didn’t quite complete a rotation, or pairs were not in unison. Skaters made “silly mistakes” when they completed difficult jumps and then stumbled on an easy element.

It made me think about being a caregiver. I could often handle the messy and difficult parts of caregiving, but might fall apart over a broken nail. Why was that? I believe that I forced myself to meet the tough challenges with acceptance and a sense of loving duty. Oh, but when it came to the simple setbacks, I stumbled.

I can’t think of many things that rival the beauty of figure skating. Each move is choreographed to carefully selected music. Music helps set the tone whether figure skating or drudging through a day that seems almost too much to tolerate.

During the days of caregiving, I remember days when I was up before daylight to work ten hours and then went by the nursing home in the evening to feed and bathe Jim. It was unusual for me to make it to bed before midnight.

In the journal I kept while Jim was in the nursing home, I would tell about my day and often say, “I am so tired.” Thinking back, that’s what I remember the most—being tired. Exhausted. Like I was running on empty.

Being chronically tired often means that grace goes by the wayside. To this day, being tired makes me cranky and more than a bit whiney.

Caregiving, like figure skating, greatly improves with practice. When we put ourselves out there, so to speak, we open ourselves up for criticism or derision. Caregiving is like figure skating in that sense. The critics will sit back and watch someone else struggle and pontify how it could have been done better or more efficiently. When a caregiver provides caregiving with love and grace, it just doesn’t get any better.

Taking care of a loved one is much like walking through fire. It hurts like hell, but unless you keep on moving, you’re going to be charred beyond recognition.

None of us makes it through life without faltering. The best we can hope for is to demonstrate grace under fire. No one gets a medal for being the best caregiver in the world. Our reward comes from being the best caregiver we can be.     

Copyright © January 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Fierce Urgency of Now

Yesterday, I watched the Kansas City Chiefs play the Steelers in a playoff game. Any year the Chiefs made the playoffs, we fans were hopeful that the Chiefs would make it to the Superbowl. We always hoped we wouldn’t be disappointed—again.

During commercial breaks, I watched other fans’ reactions online. About the time I realized the Chiefs were going to fall to the curse of their playoff games, a photo of a youthful Jim popped up on my Facebook newsfeed.

Jim was the sole reason that I became a Chief’s fan. Through winning seasons and losing seasons, he was steadfast in his loyalty. During the early years of our marriage, Monday night football was opposite the movie of the week. With one TV set, I never watched a single movie during football season.

Although, it seemed magical that Jim’s photo appeared on my phone just as I was thinking of him, I scrolled past other old family photos. Jim’s cousin Debbie had decided to make an online album of old family photos, and I assumed she had posted the photo. I downloaded the photo and added it to my own online album of Jim’s pictures.

“Can I steal this for the Fisher album?” she asked.

“I just stole it myself. That’s where I thought it was,” I replied.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that my nephew John had posted it.

Seeing Jim’s photo put a lot of perspective in my outlook, and reminded me of the real urgency of now. When he was diagnosed with dementia of the Alzheimer’s type, my goal became to do anything possible to change the outcome.

The urgency to do something, rather than patiently wait for the inevitable, was part of my nature. I trolled the internet looking for anything to stave off a degenerative, fatal disease. I tried to get Jim enrolled in drug trials. He was turned down for one trial because he was too young and for another because he had lost the ability to communicate.

I began to go to the Alzheimer’s forum to advocate for more research dollars. I saw the urgency to find a cure in the eyes of caregivers, and my heart hurt for them. I felt their pain and knew the disappointment of hearing a doctor say, “Even if they find a cure, the disease is so far advanced that it’s too late for him.”   

As the years went by and the disease won, I continued my advocacy, as have many others who lost loved ones. We all share the same hopes and dreams—a cure for Alzheimer’s.

I recently read the “I Have a Dream” speech Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Although his speech was loaded with quotable sentences, one phrase caught and held my attention. King spoke of “the fierce urgency of now.”

Many of us won’t step out of our comfort zone to fight for our cause with the conviction of Martin Luther King, Jr. Most of us anonymously fight our fight. Some of the rich and famous meet the challenge as they or their loved ones discover Alzheimer’s when it strikes close to home.

Just this week, I learned that the former head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs Marty Schottenheimer has Alzheimer’s. This too, helps me put the Chief’s loss into its proper perspective. Next season, the Chief’s have a new start and a chance to redeem themselves.

As far as Alzheimer’s, there are no second chances. With more people dying each day that passes without a cure, we have the “fierce urgency of now” to end Alzheimer’s.

Copyright © January 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Choices, Chance, and Monopoly

A few weeks ago, my grandson went to the closet where we keep our games and came out with a vintage Monopoly game. I hadn’t played the game since I was a kid and sure didn’t remember anything about it or the rules. My grandson gave “money” to Harold and me and the game began. It turned out to be a game of choices and chance. The roll of the dice could give you a chance to purchase properties, pay rent or taxes, draw a “chance” or “community chest” card, or maybe “go to jail.” It didn’t take long for me to find out what the expression, “do not pass go,” meant.

My son, who was watching us play, noticed something rather peculiar. “Mom, you are being so cautious about what you spend, and Harold is buying without a second thought. That’s totally the opposite of how you are in real life.” I had to agree.  

Spending habits aside, the game made me think about how each of us has a monopoly on our own destiny. Have you ever stopped to think how much your life would be affected if you had made one major choice differently than you did? Or what if that lucky break hadn’t come your way?

Chance can put us in dangerous situations. Decisions can lessen the danger or increase it. How often have you heard someone say, “If that had happened to me, I would have… (blah, blah, blah).” One thing I’ve learned in life, no person will ever know what he would do in someone else’s situation. I don’t have a clue why they react the way they do, because I have not lived the same life.

In my own life, I met Jim by chance, chose to marry him, and chose to work at it. Dementia cut his life short by chance, and I chose to become an Alzheimer’s volunteer, which brought about a major change in my life. I’ve gone places I would have never gone, had experiences I would not have had, and found friends I would have never met.

Who we are and what we’ve become is a conglomeration of choice and chance. Sometimes, we might not even distinguish the difference. Have you ever noticed how many of us go to college and never work in the field we studied? Sometimes, that’s choice and sometimes it’s chance. Maybe we couldn’t find that special job we wanted. The winds of chance did not blow in our direction. Sometimes, we just grow older and decide that wasn’t the career path for us.

At one time, I wanted to be a teacher. Then, I wanted to be a journalist. What really happened was I became a mom and stayed home with the kids while they were little. My first real job after returning to college was in subscriptions at a coonhound magazine. Believe me, I never saw that coming!

After that company moved out of town, I, by chance, was selected to interview for a job on a computer. You have to realize that I had never seen a computer, much less used one. I chose to believe that it was something I always wanted to experience. That choice changed our family’s economic situation. Up until then, we had spent several years living frugally and still barely getting by.

Nine years after Jim passed away, I chose to remarry. So, here I am, in this house, in this room, at this table, working on this PC because of a lifetime of choices and by chance. It’s a scary thought that my destiny would have changed if I had made one different decision along the way. Yes, I have a monopoly on my life. No one else will ever have the exact experiences or make the same decisions I have made.

On the other hand, I’ve always had a feeling that the choices and chances I took were meant to be. I seriously doubt that I’ve always made the wisest or even most logical choice. My decisions have been good, bad, and ugly, yet somehow, in the end, it worked out.

I believe I’ve often been “nudged” along the right path. My path.

Copyright © January 2017 by L.S. Fisher