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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
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com
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