Saturday, February 23, 2008

Joel Osteen Unleashes Hope and Inspiration in Kansas City

Joel Osteen ministries unleashed hope and inspiration in Kansas City last night. Joel has the God-given talent to make millions believe in the premise of his books, “Live Your Best Life Now” and “Become a Better You.”

At Kansas City’s Night of Hope, a packed Kemper Arena learned the limited scope of Joel Osteen’s half-hour TV broadcast. During a longer worship service, the music is lively, uplifting, and the singers actually jump up and down while they sing. They must be young, or they would surely be out of breath.

Joel’s wife, Victoria, shares a message that is relevant for anyone dealing with Alzheimer’s. She speaks of unconditional love and how inner happiness begins with loving your own family. She says that to demonstrate your love for your family, celebrate daily moments instead of waiting for major events. Victoria drinks one cup of coffee in the morning and although he doesn’t drink coffee, Joel fixes coffee for her and sometimes brings it to her in bed. This small act of kindness shows his love for her.

I personally identify with Victoria’s coffee story. Always the early riser, Jim required a cup of coffee and no obstacle ever interfered with his morning ritual. Once he brewed a pot on our camp stove in a hospital parking lot, and another time, hiked across a busy St. Louis interstate to McDonald’s because the hotel coffee shop did not open until the ridiculously late hour of 6:00 a.m. All I had to do was snuggle beneath warm covers and he would bring me my first cup of coffee in bed, complete with creamer, just the way I liked it. It was just one of the ways Jim showed he loved me.

As dementia clouded Jim’s abilities, he became more dependent on me, and I was blessed to return some of the consideration and care he had always shown me. One time I went to the Alzheimer’s Association Public Policy Forum and was dismayed when I returned to find no one had shaved Jim during my absence. His mother told me Jim pushed away the nurses’ aide who tried to shave him and struggled through his voice-stealing aphasia to say, “No! Linda.” Shaving him was a small daily celebration of our love, and no nurses’ aide would pat Old Spice onto his smooth cheeks the same way I did.

When someone you love has Alzheimer’s you have daily opportunities to celebrate your unconditional love. If you face each breaking dawn with inner hope and a conviction that each day is too precious to waste, you will find a Joel Osteen type of inspiration to “Live Your Best Life Now.”

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Alzheimer's Advocates

On Memory Day, hundreds of Missouri advocates will converge on our state capitol to urge our senators and representatives to support legislation to help our fellow Missourians with Alzheimer’s and their families. On March 12, Missouri advocates will distribute copies of Alzheimer's Anthology of Unconditional Love: The 110,000 Missourians with Alzheimer's to our state legislators.

As a long-time advocate, I know personal stories make a greater impact on legislators than statistics. The book contains 37 true stories, but even if legislators read only the title, they will realize that 110,000 Missourians are living with dementia.

Many books have been written about Alzheimer’s, but this type of anthology gives a rare opportunity to show how the disease affects families from different points of view. This book brings to life the challenges of living with dementia and shows the courage of persons with dementia and their families as they adjust their lives to accommodate dementia.

Now, the Early Onset Book Project seeks submissions for a book devoted to young onset dementia. This is an exciting opportunity to educate our legislators that Alzheimer’s is a neurological brain disease and not a normal part of aging. This book will be formatted much like the Missouri book with slice-of-life stories, pictures of the person with dementia (if submitted), and informational articles.

Writers do not need to be professionals! In fact, stories written by the primary caregiver or the person with dementia are the most compelling. I will edit stories, if necessary, before submitting them to the judges. The deadline is June 30, but I certainly hope most stories are submitted well in advance of the deadline so proper editing will give them the best chance of being selected for the book.

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that approximately 500,000 Americans have dementia that began before age 65. My vision is that the Early Onset Dementia book will make a huge impact on legislators at every state level and in Washington, DC.

One definition of advocate is, “A person who pleads on behalf of another.” Your compelling slice-of-life stories help convince legislators of the need for increased National Institute of Health research funds to find a cure for Alzheimer’s.

Are you an Alzheimer’s advocate? If you aren’t, you should consider becoming one by sharing your story with this project.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Caregivers and Unconditional Love

Do you have happy memories of puppy love? Do you remember your classmates stuffing valentines into a decorated box placed on the corner of your desk in elementary school?

I remember a valentine from the second grade that said, “Let me be your prince and guard your castle.” It came from the cutest boy in my class. It was the prize valentine out of box of 32—the one with the most sparkle. Time stood still as I waited, heart pounding, for him to open the valentine I had given him. Just like in a TV Hallmark moment, he caught my eye across the classroom and smiled at me. Life was good, my feelings were returned.

When I was seven years old, I planned to marry my classmate when I grew up and live happily ever after. My plans changed, and I did not marry the dark-haired boy with the killer smile. It was just a case of puppy love.

After we grow up, puppy love seems, well, so puppyish. Somewhere along the way, we realize that love is much more than holding hands and valentines. The reason we love someone has more to do with character and personality and a lot less with how they look. We become less selfish and more giving.

When someone we love has dementia, we learn a new level of love that we may have not previously known. We begin to love unconditionally without expectations of reciprocation.

Alzheimer’s often brings about role reversals as we struggle to provide care for loved ones who once took care of us. Love will make a caregiver stronger than he ever thought he could be. The Bible teaches that love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. That sounds like a perfect definition of a caregiver with a heart full of unconditional love. Be sure to give your loved one the biggest glitziest valentine you can find, and wait breathlessly for that big smile.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Dementia and Grief

We each grieve in our own way. When a loved one has dementia, we often find ourselves grieving over a long period of time. We grieve as we lose our private jokes one day, and then, six months later we grieve again when we lose our quiet moments of conversation over morning coffee.

I think we grieve so much that we no longer fear the separation of death. We may mistakenly think our grieving is done, and when our loved one dies, the feeling of loss can take us by surprise. My husband died in April 2005, after ten years with dementia. Even after all this time a song, picture, dream, or fleeting thought can remind me of him and I find myself missing him and grieving his loss.

I keep busy and am involved with the Alzheimer's Association. I don't spend my time depressed or lonely, but I think it is entirely my prerogative to feel sad or cry when feelings overwhelm me. I wrote a story called "The Aftermath" for the book I compiled and edited, Alzheimer's Anthology of Unconditional Love. I almost left the story out because I thought it might be too sad, but I've received more comments on that story than any other in the book.

Grief is natural and has no timetable. Still, the greatest tribute we can pay to our loved ones is to move forward and honor their memory by living a full and happy life.