Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks for My Brother

This morning I woke up with a sense that the world had changed—and as soon as I cleared my mind, I knew it had. I woke up with grief on my heart, but joy in my soul. After spending two days and a night with my brother Donnie, I had come home to rest and prepare to stay Thanksgiving night, if it was needed. It wasn’t. I hadn’t been asleep long last night when my sister Terri called to let me know that at 11:30 Donnie had gotten his wish for a peaceful transition from this world to the next.

Often, Donnie expressed his wishes to just “go ahead and die.” And he came close many times, but for some reason his body betrayed him and kept on living.

Each time, as he groused around about not dying, I could always coax a smile out of him when I would say, “You don’t get to pick your time, and it just isn’t your time, Virginia Fisher.” Donnie often told the story of coming to the hospital with my mom to visit my mother-in-law when she was gravely ill. Virginia said her good-byes to everyone and then was fighting mad because she didn’t die once she was ready.

Mom always let Donnie know when I was coming to visit. The last time I visited him, he had refused his pain medication so he would be awake when I got there. After a few minutes, he pushed his buzzer to let them know, in no uncertain terms, he was ready for his pain medication. “It’s your fault,” he said, but I knew he was just teasing me. On a more serious note, he said,  “I’m either asleep or in pain.”

When I visited Donnie, he was usually in a bad mood and had a lot of complaints. I would let him rage on and then steer him into reminiscing. He seemed to come to life when I brought up some of our shenanigans.

Although it seems that the “three little boys,” as we called Donnie, Marshall, and Mitchell, spent most of their time playing together, Donnie and I seemed to have this experimental flair for food. If I needed someone to share a lemon with, Donnie was always willing to eat the other half. One time we ate all Dad’s Tums without regard for how he was going to treat his heartburn. Another time, it seemed that toothpaste sandwiches had to be good. That was probably our worst idea.

In September, close to his birthday, Donnie went through a bad spell and wasn’t expected to make it through the weekend. He had not responded to staff or hospice. When I walked into his room, I said, “I didn’t bring you a lemon.” He quickly responded with “What kind of sister are you?”

Our conversations weren’t always just banter. Once he told me I had no idea what it was like for him. I agreed that I didn’t know what it was like. Sometimes I felt downright guilty that I have been so blessed and his life has been one of illness and disappointments.

Tuesday when I walked into Donnie’s room, it was the first time he had not responded to my voice. He seemed to be sleeping soundly and comfortably, pain free. Mom told us that last week Donnie told her he had a miracle happen. He said he walked to the nurse’s station and talked to them. He said when he got back, his bed was turned in the wrong direction.

Maybe it was this story that prompted the talk about haunting. In our family, there are no “sacred cows” and we’ve always been open with each other. My sister Terri made it plain to Donnie that she didn’t want him to haunt her. Tommy, on the other hand, told him he could come to see him anytime. I held Donnie’s hand and didn’t voice my opinion on the subject.

At one time, everyone left the room and I had a few moments alone with Donnie. I sang “Amazing Grace” to him. Okay, so he wasn’t in any position to complain about my lack of singing talent, and I think his roommate is hard of hearing. I whispered a few messages for him to pass along.

Yesterday afternoon, I said good-bye to Donnie and came home to rest and pack supplies to stay with him tonight. I was rambling around the house and decided to take a shower. I always do a lot of heavy thinking in the shower and my thoughts turned to Donnie and his “miracle.”

I stepped out of the shower and as soon as I wrapped the towel around me, I knew Donnie was there. I didn’t see him, and I think that was on purpose because he wouldn’t want to totally freak me out anymore than he would Terri. I could feel his presence and an image popped into my mind. He was smiling and walking. I knew he was saying good-bye and that he wanted me to know he was okay and could walk again. Then he was gone.

We always consider that the soul leaves the body at the time of death, but now I believe it may leave even sooner. It was another five hours before he stopped breathing.

Donnie was his own person, and danced to the beat of a different drum. He was often troubled, and in a perfect world, he would not have lived the past half dozen years. We all know this world is far from perfect, and there must have been a reason Donnie lived through out-of-control diabetes and multiple strokes. I don’t claim to know that reason and can’t even hazard a guess. Maybe Donnie knows now, and someday maybe I’ll know. In the meantime, earthly life goes on for the rest of his family and friends, but we are thankful that Donnie is experiencing the joy of reunion and new beginnings.

Copyright © November by L.S. Fisher

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving: The Overlooked Holiday

I always thought Thanksgiving got shortchanged when compared to some of the other holidays. In fact, it seems that most people spend much more preparation for Halloween than for Thanksgiving. Just think about it—people buy candy, costumes and plan elaborate parties or “trunk or treat” events. I heard on the news that Americans spent $370 million on pet costumes this year. In fact, nationwide we spend a staggering $8 billion on Halloween.

Before the trick-or-treaters change out of their costumes, the stores are arranging elaborate displays of Christmas items. There’s hardly a pilgrim or turkey to be seen.

Thanksgiving is not considered so much a holiday in its own right as it is a kickoff to the Christmas season. Most people spend their Thanksgiving putting up the Christmas tree, stringing lights, and this year, it seems that many retailers are getting a jump on black Friday by beginning Thursday evening. Seriously? What are they thinking?

It seems that we can’t spend a complete twenty-four hours being thankful. We have to rush right past being thankful to the shopping frenzy. I can tell you right now, there is absolutely zero chance of me shopping on Thursday evening, or Black Friday either, for that matter. Nope, I plan to spend my Thanksgiving Day doing exactly what a person is supposed to do on Thanksgiving—watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, eat myself into a stupor, and maybe do something really exciting and unusual—take a nap.

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays since the days when I used the outline of my hand to draw turkeys and color them with bright crayons. Our classrooms at school were decorated with autumn leaves, pilgrims, and Native Americans that we blissfully and without malice referred to as Indians
For years, our family used Thanksgiving as a reunion time. I loved the holiday—getting together with my brothers and sisters, Mom and Dad. When I close my eyes, I can see our family circled, holding hands as my brother Tommy asked the blessing before we lined up to fill plates from a table groaning beneath the weight of food, food, and more food. Thanksgivings from years past form a tapestry of fall flavors and fragrances in my memories. There was always that nagging feeling that beloved family members might be missing at the next gathering.

After Dad died and Mom moved out of the family home, for several years, we converged on my brother who lived there. Eventually, we rotated the holiday among us “kids” and decided to have it earlier in the year. So, in essence, we celebrated Thanksgiving at my sister’s house in October this year.

Jim is one of those missing from those family holidays now, but still I am thankful that we had almost thirty-four years together. I’m thankful that I learned unconditional love when I was Jim’s caregiver, but that I also received unconditional love from him before the disease took him away.

I still observe the day and it is special to me, although the meal has completely changed from the traditional turkey, dressing, and dinner for few an intimate group of fifty or so. It doesn’t matter how we celebrate, as long as we can take one day of the year to be thankful and reflect on life, family, and the blessings that come into our lives.

There is nothing in this world as precious as family. All other holidays seem to get lost in the process of celebrating, but Thanksgiving is more laid back. Mentally, we can still go “over the river and through the woods” to a more peaceful frame of mind.

Copyright © November 2012 by L.S. Fisher

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hectic Days and Sleepless Nights

My five-year-old grandson spent the night with me recently, and he just wasn’t interested in going to sleep. He wanted me to read The Cat in the Hat which he said he hadn’t heard before. He was so impressed that he asked me to read it again. I’ll have to admit the Cat has been a favorite in this house since my kids were little.

Finally, exhaustion took over—for grandma—and we both headed off to bed. I cannot sleep unless I read. That’s just the way it is for me. Usually, by the time I get to bed, I’m so tired, that I can only read for five or ten minutes. So I picked up The Courtship of Nellie Fisher, a book I’ve been reading on for months. In my defense, it is three books in one, and I’m nearing the end.  

My grandson rolled over onto his stomach and propped his DSI on the pillow. After putting a racing game into motion, he put his elbows on the bed, stuck his hands beneath his chin and watched the cars race around the track.

After reading a few minutes, I put my book down. “Time to turn off your game and go to sleep,” I said. No response. “Come on,” I said, “it’s bedtime.” I leaned closer, and saw his eyes were shut tight. I turned off the game and rolled my sound asleep grandson into a more comfortable position.

I was wide awake at four in the morning. My mind was spinning with all the things I had to do. The more desperately I need sleep, the more elusive it is. After tossing and turning for an hour with no signs of sleepiness taking over, I turned on the light to read for a while.

I looked over at my grandson who was lying crosswise in the bed. I could see his body, but not his head since it was hanging over the edge. Once again, I got him situated.

My sleep problems began with Jim’s dementia. It has been a decade since Jim’s sleep pattern changed so much that it affected both of us. Jim got to the point where he just didn’t seem to need sleep anymore. When he didn’t sleep, I usually didn’t either. Sometimes, I was so exhausted that I didn’t wake up when he crawled out of bed to wander through the house—or out the door.

I remember the night I woke up from a sound sleep and he was gone. I jumped in the car and went looking for him. I was frantic until I found him meandering down the road as if it was perfectly normal to be walking in the middle of the night wearing sunglasses.

For someone who didn’t want to sleep at night, Jim always seemed to take a nap, or two, during the day. Then, by evening, he would become restless. This is a common problem known as sundowning.

We were getting about four hours sleep on a good night. Chronic lack of sleep becomes a habit and just being tired isn’t reason enough to go to bed. It’s usually when my eyes start burning or I nod off watching TV that I know it is time to give it up.

Since I have to get up early to go to work, I try to get to bed at a decent hour. When I make a real effort to go to bed early, then I’m wide awake at three or four in the morning and can’t go back to sleep. It really seems like a preference as to whether I want to stay up late, or wake up in the middle of the night.

My sleep, or lack thereof, goes hand in hand with how hectic my days are. From time to time, I’d just like to sit down and do nothing for an hour without feeling guilty. Between hectic days at work, volunteering, writing, and my publishing business, I’m no longer just burning the candle at both ends, I’ve torched the middle as well. I guess if the candle burns out, maybe the darkness will help me sleep as soundly as my grandson.

Copyright © November 2012

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

To Love a Veteran

Now, the election is over and, once again, the airwaves are returning to normal. It seems that in every political contest this year, whether the office of dogcatcher, or that of President of the United States, it was a sparring contest to see who could be viewed as the most patriotic. Flags came out in abundance and even the states turned red and blue on the political map
In their fervor to be elected, it would seem that politicians seemed to forget that we are all players on the same team. Soldiers fight for freedom for all of us without regard to which political party we support, or what church (if any) we attend, whether we are millionaires or living paycheck to paycheck, or even if we have no paycheck at all.

We are American’s every day and enjoy the freedom that was purchased with the lives of sons and daughters who fought to keep us that way. Yes, we should celebrate our freedom every day, but instead we honor our veterans twice a year—Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.

Two days. Think about that. Shouldn’t it be more like honoring veterans 363 days and maybe allowing ourselves to be totally selfish and forgetting them two days a year?

Memorial Day is a day to remember those who died in the service of our country, but Veteran’s Day is a day to show respect and honor all veterans. Originally known as Armistice Day, the eleventh hour  of the eleventh day of the eleventh month was to mark the end of World War I, the “war to end all wars.”

As we all know, the First World War was, unfortunately, not the end of all wars. In 1954, the holiday was changed to honor veterans of all wars. Then after a brief time when it was changed to coincide with a three-day weekend, it was returned to November 11 without regard to the day of the week.
Today is a time to turn our thoughts and gratitude toward those veterans who put their lives on the line and count our blessings for living in a country where our individual rights have been guaranteed by our veterans.

I don’t have to look far to see veterans to honor. I have nephews who previously and currently serve in the military. My dad fought in World War II, my brother Tommy was wounded in Vietnam, my brother Jimmy sailed into danger zones throughout his career in the Navy, and Jim’s tour of duty in Vietnam left him wounded in body and spirit.

During the World Wars and following the wars, veterans were hailed as heroes for offering up the ultimate sacrifice to protect our country. When the war was over, thousands of soldiers returned to parades and crowds of grateful Americans.

Things were pretty clear-cut until Vietnam. That war stirred up emotions during the turbulent Sixties that threatened to destroy the unity of our people. Veterans returning from the “conflict” were jubilantly greeted by their loved ones, but the nature of the war brought veterans home one-by-one. When Jim returned home from Vietnam, he was greeted by three people—his mom and dad, and me. That seems like a small reception for someone who just spent a year in the jungles of Vietnam experiencing atrocities that would haunt him even through the throes of dementia.

It takes a lot out of a country boy to have to kill other human beings. I thought the war was over for Jim when he came home. Instead, like many others who love a veteran, I eventually learned that the war would never be over for him. No one knew the pain in Jim’s heart the way I did.

On this eleventh day of the eleventh month, I would like to wish a happy Veteran’s Day to all who have served our country and to those who are serving our country now. Although today marks a special day for veterans, they deserve credit for every day of the year that we wake up in the United States of America.

Copyright © November 2012 by L. S. Fisher

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Weighty Problem

Those of us who struggle with weight know that carrying around additional pounds increases our chances of diabetes and heart conditions. I always figured that weight is so hard to manage because, as humans, we have to eat. It’s not like some optional thing we can just quit cold turkey. Nope. It’s always there no matter what.

I made the mistake of stepping on the scales after Business Women’s Week when we seem to eat our way through the entire seven days. We had lunches and dinners every day. Then to top it all off, we had meals catered in at work during training for our new computer software. As if I hadn’t consumed enough calories, the week ended with our Sedalia Business Women’s annual chicken dinner.

I know that a few extra pounds adversely affects my blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and triglycerides. We are considered to have metabolic disorder when we have high readings in two or more of those numbers…and in my case, it is “more.”

Each year, I dread the health survey our insurance company insists that we complete. “It’s depressing,” said one of my co-workers. I have to agree with that assessment. Often, I go into the survey feeling pretty good, especially for a woman of my age. I may have the occasional ache or pain, but in general, I’m rarely sick. Then, I take the health survey and it indicates that I’m just a heart attack waiting to happen. The survey says I’m at high risk for this and for that until I just want to throw my hands up and say, “Lord, take me now.” The only good news I ever receive from the health survey is high marks on the substance abuse, mental health, and safety sections. Otherwise, I think I’d flat line on the health survey.

Of course, all my problems are from weight, and it’s not as if I haven’t tried every diet that promises to melt away the pounds. The bad thing about diets is that sometimes they work so well that I wonder how I ever let my weight get out of hand. Usually, a diet requires me to eat a certain food and avoid others. Once in a while, I’ll see a diet that says “and you can eat dessert!” The aforementioned dessert might taste a lot like sweet cardboard, but hey, if I’m hungry enough that might be just what I need. It seems that no matter what the diet, as soon as I revert to anything like normal eating habits, the pounds pack back on until I’ve reached, or exceeded, the same weight that drove me to diet in the first place.

As if being overweight isn’t enough of a problem on its own, now obesity has been linked to cognitive decline. Being obese and having metabolic disorder accelerated decline in the study group. It isn’t really just a slight increase either—the increased risk is 22.5%. I guess the only good news coming out of this study is that by losing weight and lowering the biomarkers, you can cut your risk of obesity related cognitive decline.

This study just underscores the validity of the Alzheimer’s Association’s healthy brain imitative. The Alzheimer’s association recommends a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranian diet, which limits red meats, but includes vegetables and whole grains. Along with the healthy diet, exercise will increase blood flow and oxygen in the brain. Isn’t this what our health survey says is good for us? Oh, well, maybe there’s a reason for it after all.

The good news from all the studies on Alzheimer’s disease is that sometimes food has beneficial qualities that help fight dementia. I love it when I see that coffee helps ward off dementia, or even better is a new study that found dark chocolate helps keep the brain sharp. I’m not making this up either! Okay, so the study was conducted by Mars (the candy bar people) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Cocoa has flavanols like those found in red wine, grapes, apples, and tea.

In theory, it sounds simple and easy, but putting healthy habits into action is difficult. Maybe if I’d pay more attention to diet and exercise, my problems wouldn’t be so weighty. At least not so very, very weighty.

Copyright © November 2012 by L.S. Fisher