Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Long Drive, Deep Thoughts, and a Cup of Joe

For a short delusional period this morning, I thought I had a day to just kick back and relax. Then I remembered I was taking Mom to the hospital to see my brother. So rather than drifting back into the dream I was having about going on a trip with an empty suitcase, I staggered to the kitchen to fix a pot of coffee. I just can’t pry my eyes open until I’ve had a cup of coffee.

When Jim and I were first married, I didn’t drink coffee. I thought the stuff was a bit on the bitter side and just didn’t have any appeal for me. I blame my coffee drinking habit on Jim’s grandma. Apparently, she thought everyone drank coffee and as soon as we walked into her house, she plunked a strong cup of coffee in front of me.

The conversation always went something like this:

"Grandma, I don’t drink coffee.”

“What? You don’t drink coffee?” The look on her face was priceless. She would look at Jim and say, “She doesn’t drink coffee?”

“No Grandma, she doesn’t drink coffee.” Then Jim would look at me and grin because he knew what was coming next.

“But, I’ve already poured it!” Like that was the final say. There I would sit: cup of coffee in front of me, Grandma expecting me to drink it, and husband who thought it was funny.
So, I would take a small sip and try not to shudder. First chance I got, I poured it down the sink. When we went for the next visit, the scene played again. Eventually, I just drank the cup of coffee treating it like a dose of medicine. Get it down and get it over with, except, when she kept refilling my empty cup—then, I learned to make it last longer.

Now, I need no urging to drink coffee and feel downright deprived if I can’t have a cup of Joe in the morning. After coffee and a quick shower, I was dressed and out the door. On the long drive to my mom’s house, I roamed through the XM stations on my radio trying to find something she would like to hear. I just knew she wouldn’t appreciate the Classic Rock channel. I came across enLighten and knew the gospel music would be a hit with her.

Listening to the sweet, almost angelic, harmony, I found myself thinking deep thoughts. The kind of thoughts Jim and I used to share about life, death, and all the unexplained things that happen in between. Of course, one of the first things I question is why did Jim develop dementia and why did his life end at the age I am now. I wonder why my brother keeps having strokes. It seems that if I think things can’t get any worse, they can and sometimes do.

My brother already lives in a nursing home and can’t walk, has constant pain, endless headaches, and basically a pretty miserable existence. He is in the hospital because of more strokes. His speech is slurred and hard to understand. He has trouble swallowing and has to be on thickened liquids and mechanically softened foods.

When Mom and I walk into his room, we find Donnie twisted to one side of his bed. He asks us to straighten him up. I push and Mom tugs and we get him in a more comfortable position. After Food Service brings his lunch tray, the nurse wants to move him into a more upright position in the bed. She calls an aide to help her.

“She can help you,” Donnie tells the nurse pointing in my direction.

“Can you?” she asks.

Of course, I can. After all the time Jim spent in the nursing home, I learned how to do everything to make him more comfortable.

On the way to Mom’s house, the hospital called to tell her Donnie had been released. He has to return in about a month for surgery, but for now, he is headed home.

After I dropped Mom off, I did more deep thinking to the backdrop of gospel music. The trip home seemed faster than the trip down. When I reached Sedalia, I stopped by McDonald’s for a cup of Joe—only I got a Mocha Frappe. I can only imagine what Grandma Fisher would think of such a sissy version of coffee. I don’t think Jim would be impressed either—he liked his coffee steaming hot and black. He would appreciate the gospel music, I’m sure, and he would have enjoyed the long drive on a beautiful October day.

Copyright © October 2010 L. S. Fisher

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What is Life All About?

Sunday morning my seven-year-old granddaughter sat beside me drawing pictures. She labeled the pictures “Cartoon Network” and told me the girl with pigtails was her.

“Daddy doesn’t know what life is all about,” she told me as she put the finishing touches on the picture.

I almost choked on my coffee at her solemn tone. I finally managed a strangled, “Oh? How’s that?”

“He thinks life is about winning,” she said, “and it’s not. Life can be about losing.”

When she said that, I laughed. Rob had warned me about the trophy generation who expect trophies for participating. Kids that don’t want to win, they just want to tie. Winning might upset someone who didn’t win—or (heaven forbid) might feel like a loser.

I’ve always considered winning to be important. Not winning at all costs by any means—but winning fair and square. I never liked to play on a team with someone who didn’t put out their best effort because of an “it’s just a game” philosophy. Competitiveness is an inner urging to do our best whether we are playing a game, facing a tough challenge, or pulling our share of the weight, or more, at work. Coming out in first place is an accomplishment and cause for celebration. Sometimes, the will to win can be the difference between life and death. We have all heard stories about people who refused to die and survived against insurmountable odds because they were determined to win.

“Grandma Linda, I’m serious. If you have the prizewinning pumpkin you can’t make pumpkin pie out of it. The losers get to eat pumpkin pie.”

I had to admit there was some logic to her theory.

“Where did you learn what life is all about?” I asked, curiosity getting the best of me.

“The Berenstain Bears,” she said.

Who am I to dispute the Berenstain Bears? Since I often ponder what life is all about while driving to and fro from my various commitments, I thought about the validity of how life can be about losing.

Anyone who is a caregiver for a loved one with dementia understands losing. We lose our loved ones one skill, one memory, at a time. Day after day we grapple with this situation life has thrust upon us.

When Jim developed dementia, I learned about losing the man I had married, first to the disease and eventually to death. Up until then, life had been difficult at times, but Jim had been my strength and the person who propped me up when I was sad, or just felt like a loser.

Losing Jim made me a much stronger person. I had to make the tough decisions and with no one to pass them on to, I understood Harry Truman’s motto that the “buck stops here.”

So thinking back to a seven-year-old’s statement that life can be about losing, I have to admit that sometimes it is. Losing shapes our character and the fabric of our being in a different way than winning does. We find inner strength that makes us appreciate when life is good.

And my final thought on the matter—pumpkin pie isn’t the only thing we would miss in life if we don’t take a chance on losing.

Copyright © October 2010 by L. S. Fisher

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Changing the Rules

My granddaughter’s last home volleyball game was Thursday night. Somehow I had never seen the volleyball schedule and had missed every game so far. I looked at my calendar and sighed.

“I have an SBW meeting Thursday,” I told my son, Eric, when he called to tell me about the game. The games started at 5:30 in a nearby town, but I don’t get off work until 6:00. Still, I had intended to take some vacation to go to some of the home games.

“Well, maybe you can go to her tournament. That will be either next Saturday or the next one, I’m not sure which,” Eric said.

I didn’t have to look at my calendar to know that it didn’t matter which Saturday—both were booked solid. “I’ll just take off work early and be a little late to my meeting,” I said.

Before I left work, I gave Brenda (co-worker and SBW member) the money to pay for my dinner. She said she would save me a place. “Ask them to serve my meal and if I’m late, I’ll just eat it cold.” I figured that if necessary I could leave before the game ended and be only fifteen minutes late.

I arrived at the gymnasium just as the “B” Team was finishing up their game. I found Eric, Shawna, and Shawna’s mom and dad sitting on the bleachers. Soon the “A” Team finished their warm up and the game was on.

I played on the volleyball team when I was in school and on both a women’s recreational team and a co-ed team with Jim when I was younger. I settled in to watch the game confident that at least this was a game I understood.

A girl served the ball and it went out of bounds. The scoreboard chalked up a point for the other team. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. Then, a girl on our team served the ball and the other team returned it, our girls dropped it, so score another point for the visiting team.

“I don’t understand why they are getting points,” I said to Shawna. “Only the team serving can make points.”

“Either team can score regardless of who serves,” she said.

“Yeah, they’ve changed the rules since we were in school,” said Shawna’s mom, Wanda. “At first I was really confused.”

My granddaughter was her team’s best server. She scored five quick points just by tossing the ball in the air and slamming it over. “We couldn’t serve overhand in school,” I said.

As I watched the game, I realized the changes made it a much faster paced game. I suppose that’s much more suited to today’s faster paced world.

On my way to my meeting, I pondered on how many rules have changed over the years. When I was young and dressed up, the only question was whether to wear short or long white gloves. Shoes were generally black or white and you didn’t wear the white ones after Labor Day or before Easter. Everyone dressed up for church, and you wouldn’t have dreamed of wearing your blue jeans or shorts and sneakers. Girls wore dresses to school—it was in the rules.

Some of the rules of life have changed. I heard on the news that for the first time in America, more couples live together without tying the knot than couples who are married. How could such a thing happen? Just to mention a few reasons: people marry later in life, divorce can be financially devastating, there is little to no stigma attached to having children when the parents aren’t married. Sometimes when a loved one has a serious illness, like Alzheimer’s, couples divorce to be able to afford nursing home care.

Rule changes affect everything and everyone around us and can be either good or bad. Changes are bad when it makes things easier, but not better. Rule changes are good if they make the mundane or outdated fresh and new. They may be good if the only good reason for keeping a rule is “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

When I walked into my meeting every woman in the room faced the flag with her hand over her heart. I stopped inside the doorway and joined them to recite the same Pledge of Allegiance I had learned in elementary school. There is no doubt that some rules are better left alone.

Copyright © 2010 L. S. Fisher

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

When Counting Blessings—Count Your Friends

I walked into church Sunday and heard someone call out “Hey, girlfriend!” Looking around, I spotted a woman from last Wednesday’s “Girlfriends Guide to Christian Living” class.

Her greeting made me smile with the memory of the evening spent with a new group of girlfriends of all ages. Last Wednesday, we listed the qualities of a girlfriend. The leader, Jo Perusich, wrote them on a whiteboard. The women called out: Honesty, Loyalty, Steadfastness, Can keep a secret, and Bathroom Buddy.

“Bathroom Buddy. I love it!” Jo said.

“Yes,” said the youngest member of the group, Bethany. “When you go to the bathroom, she gets up without you asking so you don’t have to walk across the room by yourself.”

Jo asked us several thought-provoking questions and we were to write the name of a friend and the incident. When we finished, she asked what we had discovered.

“I was surprised that I thought of certain people as friends,” said one woman.

“I noticed the same name came up several time in different roles,” said another.

The homework assignment was to connect with a girlfriend and tell her that you considered her a blessing, a gift of God, and how much you value the friendship. I thought about this and had an old friend in mind.

Sunday morning, I sat beside Sheila, the Memory Walk Coordinator, and shared the news that our walk total was now more than $18,000. After the services, she and I talked all the way to the lobby where we parted. We hugged each other, and suddenly I knew who I needed to share the message with. I took her hands, looked her in the eye, and told her that she was a real blessing in my life.

She got tears in her eyes and said, “You don’t know how much that means to me.”

I am so thankful that Jo challenged us to put into words how precious friends are to us and how much our lives are enriched through giving and receiving the love of friends.

When Jim developed dementia, I lost my best friend in the world. He was the person who always had my back, was always on my side, no matter how misguided I might be. Strangely enough, it was because of Jim’s dementia that my circle of friendship grew.

First, I became closer to my other female family members as they pitched in to help me. I became close friends with women I met through my Alzheimer’s volunteer work including three women I met in Washington DC. We called ourselves the four musketeers. My connection with these women—Jane from New York, Sarah from Virginia, and Kathy from Maryland—would never have happened if I hadn’t gone to the Alzheimer’s Advocacy Forum.

The friendship circle grows through my involvement in writers groups, in my business women’s group, and through work and work-related conferences. We have limitless opportunities to grow our relationships with friends. With each new friendship we open up our hearts to the blessing of giving and receiving.

In this busy, busy world we may not have as much time for friends as we would like. It is amazing how much a lagging spirit can be rejuvenated by squeezing an hour from our schedules to spend quality time with close friends.

copyright (c) October 2010 L.S. Fisher