Saturday, January 24, 2009

Will Work for Food

Several years ago during another economic downturn, Jim and I had just left Wal-Mart. We didn’t have a lot of money, so we had carefully selected enough groceries for the week. We stopped in a line of traffic waiting to pull onto Highway 50. A scruffy looking man carried a sign that said “Will Work for Food.” Several cars in front of us rolled down windows and handed the man money.

Jim said, “Roll down your window, Honey.”

Jim was a generous sort of man so I thought he was going to give the guy some money. We knew what hard times were firsthand. I began to rummage through my purse looking for a few dollars. Jim beckoned the man to come over, and the man leaned into my window.

Jim said, “Hey, I have a lot of work that needs to be done at my house. I can keep you busy for several days.” It was true that we could use help. Jim and I were building our house with sweat equity, and we had worked on it for months, and had many more to go.

I thought maybe Jim had lost his mind. No way did I want this man at my home with my family. Besides I watch a lot of TV and was pretty sure this guy looked like serial killer material.

The man got a strange look on his face and no longer seemed the humble job seeker of a few moments before. He looked to the right. He swept his gaze to the left. “I have to go,” he said. “Those people in the next car want to talk to me.”

I rolled my window up and slammed down the button to lock the door in case that Charles Manson looking character changed his mind. “Are you crazy?” I asked Jim. “I wouldn’t want that man to even know where we live, much less hang around for days!” I was huffy.

Jim just laughed. “Hell, there’s no way that guy wants to work. He only wants a handout.”

I always hated it when Jim was right. It would have suited my personality to hand the guy some money, but Jim was a man with quick judgment who could spot a scam artist a mile away.

We pulled onto the highway. “You still took a chance,” I said. “I would have been scared to death if that guy had climbed in the van with us.”

“Wasn’t going to happen,” Jim said. “You don’t look for a job standing out on the street holding a sign.”

I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the man back at the corner with his “Will Work for Food” sign held high as another car rolled to a stop and the window came down. Sometimes it’s easier to hand over money than to judge character. In hard economic times, scam artists work hard to take your money and steal donations that could go to people who really need it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Airplane Crash Survivors

I’m not a frequent flyer, but I fly often. When I clicked on the headlines of the US Airways crash, it was one of the strangest sights I had ever seen. The jet rested on top of the water with survivors standing on the wings waiting for their turn to be rescued. I immediately Googled the crash to see what else I could learn. The miracle story just seemed to get better and better. Then I saw a YouTube of an Airbus Crash. Wow! That was quick.

I clicked on the video and watched a plane getting lower to the ground. I was disappointed as the plane went out of sight because I wanted to see the water landing. When I thought the video would end, the jet exploded and a plume of smoke and flames shot skyward. Wrong video.

It did give me pause. Why did one jet crash and burn and the other land in water and float long enough for all passengers and crew to be rescued? What separates victims from survivors?

Why are so many people terrified of flying while others, like me, get no more excited than stepping on an elevator? It has nothing to do with bad experiences, but seems more to be something hard-wired in our brains.

I’ve had a few harrowing experience aboard aircraft, but it hasn’t interfered with my love of travel. When I was eighteen, I flew to Hawaii where Jim and I planned to marry while he was on R&R from Vietnam. My first flight was a non-stop out of Kansas City to San Francisco. After a breakfast of eggs benedict, the flight attendants (called stewardesses back then) picked up our trash and made sure everyone’s seats were in an upright position and seatbelts securely fastened. The plane began a sharp descent and we came in for a landing.

As the plane barreled down a runway seemingly in the middle of nowhere, police cars, taxis, fire trucks and ambulances followed us. As soon as the plane stopped, an announcement came over the speakers, “Exit from the nearest exit and get into the taxis.” We were herded into a building and stood beside our luggage as it was searched. Our emergency landing in Denver was a precaution because someone (“do any of you know someone who would have done such a thing?”) phoned-in a bomb threat specifying our flight and destination. In 1986, about two weeks after the Challenger explosion, I flew back to Hawaii. That time a TWA plane came so close to us that my sister swears she saw the shocked look on the pilot’s face.

It is not so much experiences as our personalities that determine how we feel about life’s challenges. Some of us are survivors and expect to continue moving forward with our lives. Others feel like victims and expect more catastrophes in their future.

Those of us who have loved ones with Alzheimer’s, or lost loved ones to the disease, know the only survivors are the caregivers. We are the pilots who land the plane on the water and wait patiently on the wings with knowledge in our hearts that we will endure, overcome, and continue forward with our lives.

My next scheduled flight is to the Alzheimer’s Association Public Policy Forum. During these hard economic times, we need to ask for continued fast-track research to find a cure for the 5.2 million Americans with Alzheimer’s. It is unthinkable that all my friends with dementia are on a plane that will crash and burn. We need to adopt a survivor mentality for those with Alzheimer’s, and not lose hope that science can bring them in for a safe and miraculous landing.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I am an Ambassador!

Yesterday was an exasperating day at work—one of those days when Murphy’s Law was king and lord of my office. Phone interruptions broke my concentration and had begun to really annoy me. It seems everybody has a problem and dog-gone-it I had enough of my own!

When one more call came in, I forced my voice to a calmness I no longer felt. This call, instead of adding to my angst, lifted my spirits. Ashley Burden from the Mid-Missouri Chapter called to ask me if I would be an Alzheimer’s Association Ambassador for Pettis County.

“Sure,” I said. “What will I be doing? Do I need to know a foreign language?”

“No foreign language required. And you will pretty much be doing what you already do,” she said. “As ambassador, you will speak to civic organizations—you know, give the fifteen minute spiel on the services provided by the Chapter.”

“I know a lot of fifteen minute spiels,” I admitted. I learned the fifteen minute spiels years ago when I was Memory Walk Coordinator and I haven’t shut up since.

During the course of our conversation, Ashley also told me about a new program called LEARN to address early stage problems. This exciting program funded by a Missouri Grant will provide additional guidance for a family when their loved one is first diagnosed. Additional respite funds are available through this program. I know from personal experience how important respite is for the primary caregiver.

Then, we shifted gears to the March 23-25 Public Policy Forum. This year marks my ninth consecutive Forum! I’m still as excited about going as I was the first time. My sister is going with me this year and we plan to spend some quality time in our nation’s capitol. The Chapter wants to send a person in the early stages and his or her caregiver to Washington, DC. I promised Ashley that I would think about possible candidates from our area.

Ashley got another phone call and had to hang up. I looked at the pile of papers on my desk: month end/year end reports with issues. Numbers buzzed through my brain relentlessly working on this brain-teasing puzzle. A one page report that should have taken less than ten minutes to verify had turned into a full day quest for answers. Our conversation had been short—less than five minutes, but it brightened my day and reminded me that the most important things in my life were not on my desk. I had let work problems fill my mind with anxiety.

More important that comparing spreadsheets to printouts are Girl Scout cookies, basketball games, math club, and baby smiles. Important things are editing my book and submitting it to an agent. Now, an important thing is taking my Alzheimer’s volunteerism to the Ambassador level.

My Oxford American Dictionary shows one definition of ambassador as “an official messenger.” I have been a messenger for the Alzheimer’s Association since my first contact with them before we had a diagnosis for Jim. Soon, I will be “official” but that won’t make me stodgy. Being an Alzheimer’s Volunteer for me is not something I do just because I want to; it’s something I am compelled to do.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Un-Deck the Halls

Well, here it is, the first Saturday in January and I haven’t taken down my Christmas decorations. The worse thing about putting it off, we have been blessed with sunshine and 70 degree weather today.

One thing I’ve learned after living my whole life in Missouri is how unpredictable the weather can be. I walked outside earlier to check my mail and wore a short sleeved tee-shirt. Two weeks ago, we had an artic blast that left our water frozen and I went outside wearing my insulated coveralls, a heavy coat, and a stocking cap pulled low on my forehead. I looked and felt like the little boy in Christmas Story who couldn’t bend his arms or legs once he donned his snowsuit.

Thawing frozen pipes used to be Jim’s job. Then, after dementia limited Jim’s abilities the responsibility shifted to my shoulders. Several years ago on a cold winter night his mom called me to tell me our water had frozen. We shared a well and it was behind her house next door. Jim sat in front of the TV watching Walker Texas Ranger and didn’t even look at me when I told him the news. I put on a pair of Jim’s coveralls and called my son, Eric, and brother-in-law. By the time I got decked out in my warm clothes, the two of them were assessing the situation.

“Your dad didn’t even care that the water was frozen,” I told my son. “He’s still at home watching TV.”

“I bet he would have cared if the electricity went out and he couldn’t watch Walker,” Eric said.

There is no such thing as typical weather in Missouri. You just take it as it comes and deal with it.

For some reason, I thought that once the holidays were over, I could relax for a while. Ha! The next few months seem to be busier than ever. Today, I need to un-deck the halls and have two meetings—one tomorrow and one on Thursday—that I need to work on. So, I’ve just been flitting back and forth between reports, emails, laundry, taking down decorations, and thinking that I would really like to go out on the deck, put my feet up and watch the birds.

It’s foolish to waste a spring day in the dead of winter, and I do need to take the Christmas lights off the deck railing. After all, by next Saturday the lights may be covered with a coat of ice and subzero wind chills might make me want to burrow into a blanket and watch an NCIS marathon.

My granddaughter will be here soon and if I don’t get the halls un-decked, she will no doubt tell me, “Grandma Linda, Christmas is OVER.” I have the Christmas tree put away, but still have a few hours work ahead of me. I can’t decide if the chirping birds outside my window are urging me to hurry up and finish, or just put it off until another day.