Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Milestones in Life's Journey

My day begins with music when my radio comes on a few minutes before the alarm tells me it is time to jump out of bed. Last week, I heard a song by Hometown News called “Minivan.” The song tells a story about the milestones in a man’s life through the vehicles he owns. Dad trades in his Corvair for a butt ugly station wagon. The trade was so traumatic for a young boy that he hid beneath the dashboard when they drove through town. Then as he grows up, another milestone, he buys his own car…a four by four…and cruises for chicks. Of course, life doesn’t stand still so eventually, when he has kids of his own, it is time to trade in his pride and joy for a minivan.

As we travel through life’s journey, our trip is marked with milestones. From our first breath to our last one, we meet milestones with anticipation, or perhaps regret.

While day-to-day humdrum events fade into memory, milestones are set apart with their own set of reminiscences fraught with feelings. Our entire lives we move along looking forward to the next milestone. Do you remember how you wanted to be an adult so your parents couldn’t tell you what to do? Since being an adult took too long, you may have settled for getting your driver’s license—another milestone. Graduation, marriage, becoming a parent…more milestones.

The “Minivan” song struck a chord with me. It stayed on my mind, and I asked my son if he had heard the song.

“No,” Rob said, “but I’ve heard about it. One of the guys at work was talking about it.”

The song reminded me about a conversation at work last week. One of my co-workers mentioned how she and her family were ready to go out to eat and her oldest son, a teenager at the time, refused to go to town with them because they weren’t wearing designer jeans.

“He says he can’t believe he acted like that,” she said. “I was so upset at the time.” Now she laughs about it.

“That’s our job as parents,” I said. “We’re supposed to embarrass our kids.”

Looking back on those times that once mortified us can be some of our best memories. Distance can take away the anger and hurtful words and replace it with the powerful love we feel for family.

Sometimes family members talk about how embarrassing people with dementia can be. Especially those with frontotemporal dementia can be outspoken, or even rude, as they struggle with out-of-control emotions and verbal communication.

Each personality change is a milestone we dread. Jim, who had smoked from the time he was a young teenager until he was nearly fifty years old became completely intolerant of cigarette smoke. He constantly told his sisters, “You should quit smoking those damn cigarettes.” They merely laughed and agreed with him. Not satisfied with telling his sisters, Jim became focused on telling everyone he saw they should quit smoking. We walked out of Walmart one day and three or four people were sitting outside on a bench smoking. Jim walked over to them, pointed his finger to emphasize his words, and said, “You better quit smoking those damn cigarettes.” I hustled him toward the car before any of them had time to react.

As the disease progressed, Jim’s behavior became more erratic. On one trip to Eddie’s Drive-In, Jim picked up tip money off a table, and I made him put it back. We walked outside, and as I fastened his seatbelt, I discovered he had the salt and pepper shakers clutched tightly in his hands. When I took the shakers back inside, the waitress laughed and said, “Just when you thought you had him figured out he did something different.”  

I finally reached a milestone when I knew the disease was to blame, not Jim, and I was no longer embarrassed. In fact, I’ve found with age, I’m not easily embarrassed. When I was younger, I might have found myself beneath the dashboard just like the boy in the song. Now that I’ve traveled many miles along life’s journey, my philosophy is that it’s more important to see the view.

Copyright © June 2012


JR said...

Many don't realize coping with dementia is a journey and you have to learn and adapt along the way. Very thoughtful article.

L S Fisher said...

Thanks for your comment, JR. Yes, Alzheimer's is a journey.

Unknown said...

Nice posting..

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