Monday, April 21, 2014

The Easter Butterfly

This Easter seemed to be a bit of a letdown as I drove to church. Of course, maybe that was to be expected since Good Friday marked the ninth anniversary of Jim’s death.

I was bummed because I was going to Easter at the Matthewson alone. I love the years when my kids and grandkids go with me, but this year everyone had other plans. My sister-in-law had planned to go with me, but she called Sunday morning to let me know that she couldn’t go either.

Once I realized I’d be going by myself, I thought about not going. But since I had already taken my shower and had my clothes laid out, I decided to go solo.

Driving time is thinking time for me. So driving to the Fairgrounds, I found my mind wandering to the ghosts of Easter’s past. I thought about Dorothy’s famous Easter cake that she always sent to the employees at the Coop. It was a fluffy white cake topped with coconut “grass” beautifully decorated. I thought about my mother-in-law, Virginia, fixing a huge Easter feast and inviting everyone in the family. Easter was a big deal with Easter dresses, Dinah wearing her Easter hat, laughter, music, and dozens of little ones filling baskets with eggs.

I thought about Jim and when our kids were little, ready for church in western shirts I had made for them, complete with pearl snaps. It seems like a different world, a different me. I can’t believe I had the patience, or time, to sew those little shirts. I thought of school plays, baskets, family, spring flowers, butterflies, the days when April was a time of rebirth and not a time of sorrow and death. All these thoughts left me teary eyed as I suddenly found myself longing for the happy Easters of the past.

I pulled myself together, and parked my car as directed by the people assigned to the parking lot. Our church puts a lot of effort into Easter at the Matthewson. Normally, our church has different services at two different locations, but on Easter everyone comes together and invites the community to join us. It is always an uplifting, spirited service.

A giant cross was rolled inside and kids with butterfly wings swirled and swooped on the stage and down the aisle. Pastor Jim asked us to turn on our cell phones and hold them up in remembrance of loved ones. He said to send the message that “God is alive.” We sang songs, celebrated the rebirth of our Savior.

During the message, Pastor Jim said a few words that really touched me. Not relying on my memory, I typed his thoughts on butterflies into Quick Office on my phone. You can’t put wings on your back and pretend to be a butterfly, and you can’t have wings and continue to crawl.

When you think about it, butterflies begin life as a lowly caterpillar, crawling around searching for food. Their lives are totally boring, mundane, as they eke out their very livelihood by eating the leaves beneath their feed. They mature through stages called instars all the while filling themselves with toxic substances that stick with them and protect them from predators once they become adults. Through metamorphosis, the homely caterpillar emerges as a stunning butterfly and begins life anew. Butterflies don’t crawl anymore, they flit around showing off their colorful regalia while they feed on sweet flower nectar.

Butterflies symbolize rebirth. In ancient Greek, the word for “butterfly” means “soul” or “mind.” In other cultures, butterflies symbolize love, long life, transformation, animal spirits, celebration, good luck, spiritual evolution, or a sign of God’s favor.

To me, the butterfly symbolizes hope. I believe that no matter how low I might be at times, or when I think about what might have been, the butterfly promises that the days ahead will unfurl moments of breathtaking beauty. No pretending necessary—just spread those butterfly wings and fly.

copyright© April 2014 by L. S. Fisher   

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Voices for Alzheimer’s—Nine Hundred Purple Sashes

I just returned from my fourteenth annual journey to Washington, D.C., for the Alzheimer’s Advocacy Forum. My sister, Roberta, made the trip with me this year—for her third trip to our nation’s capitol to be a voice for Alzheimer’s.

We went to D.C. early in order to take a look around. As I browse the photos I snapped along the way, images emerge showcasing a city of stunning architecture, monuments, cherry blossoms, reflecting pools, fountains, gnarled trees, gawking tourists, honking taxis, a Sponge Bob Mailbox, a street musician playing a soulful saxophone…

My camera captured images of the past and future statues in front of the National Archives, and I read the words beneath: “Study the Past,” and “What Is Past Is Prologue.” As I pondered those two statements, I had turned and snapped a photo of the building across the street. Then, in the corner of the frame, I saw him. He was sleeping on a park bench, covered with a tattered green plastic tarp. This thin shelter was expected to ward off the chill of the night.

As we walked past him, we could hear his snores and see the blanket rise and fall. He was one of the unsheltered homeless. Out of D.C.’s 6800 homeless, more than 500 are unsheltered. They sleep in parks, in doorways, cubbyholes throughout the city. We saw a homeless man in Subway counting coins to buy a breakfast sandwich. Others beg for coins, or wander the streets pushing a cart overflowing with their treasures, hollow-eyed and defeated. I couldn’t help but wonder how many were confused and suffering from dementia.

It bothered me to know that statistically the odds were high that at least some of the homeless must have Alzheimer’s. After all, the focus of this journey  was  Alzheimer’s and a strategy to keep Alzheimer’s research funding in the budget.

Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America and drains Medicare and Medicaid of $150 billion annually. Yet to fight this monster disease that gulps our economy, we wield a plastic sword.

Testifying on Alzheimer’s research before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, said, “We are not, at the moment, limited by ideas. We are not limited by scientific opportunities. We are not limited by talent. We are, unfortunately, limited by resources to be able to move this enterprise forward at the pace that it could take.”

 Our mission, as advocates, was to storm Capitol Hill to bring attention to the serious underfunding of Alzheimer’s research. Nearly 900 of us showed up in our purple sashes to tell our stories and to ask our legislators to increase Alzheimer’s research funding by $200 million. If we receive this increase, our funding will be $766 million—the most ever invested in Alzheimer’s research.

To put it in perspective—Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death with one-third of seniors dying with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Approximately a half million people die each year because they have Alzheimer’s. This deadly disease cannot be prevented, cured, or even slowed. Yet, our nation is taking a pass on investing enough resources to take advantage of the talent, opportunities, and ideas generated by the brightest scientific minds in America. 

Help us make Alzheimer’s a disease of the past. Tell your legislators that we need to invest in America’s future by finding a cure for Alzheimer’s. It can be done; it will be done if we care enough.

We can’t win a war with a plastic sword. One of the health aides gave us a hint. She said that to get funds increased, we had to be visible and audible all year. Don’t let them forget about Alzheimer’s! Nine hundred purple sashes make a statement, but if you want to end Alzheimer’s and couldn’t go to the forum, please make a phone call, shoot off an email, or visit a district office. If we become a big enough pest, Congress will listen.

copyright © April 2014 by L. S. Fisher

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Morning Sunlight Diet—Free and Easy

Maine Sunrise
Sleep was elusive as a severe thunderstorm chose midnight to crash, boom, and pelt the windows with hail. About the time exhaustion won the tug-of-war, a ka-boom rattled the windows and the sky lit with the violent flash of nearby lightning.

Not to be outdone, my new phone shrieked an alarm. I’m still learning about the bells and whistles, but a siren in the middle of a storm didn’t seem like a good thing. It was a flash flood warning. I think I’d just been warned by the deluge on the heels of the hail.

I finally fell into a uneasy sleep with equally disturbed dreams. I woke up to distant rumbling thunder, gray skies, and an alarm clock flashing 5:25 a.m. My phone said it was seven o’clock, so I took a look at Google news. National news covered the shooting at Fort Hood; state news concentrated on the weather.

Health News was the real eye-opener of the morning.  Okay, I already knew that sleep helped with weight loss. Of course, after the night I’d just experienced, that was down the tubes for today. This study by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine concentrated on sunlight without regard to sleep, caloric intake, or exercise. The sun affects our circadian rhythm and synchronizes our internal clock.

Maybe I’m a little on the ignorant side, but I had never heard of circadian rhythm. According to the article, “Circadian rhythm is the body’s physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle.” How could I have not known this term when apparently circadian rhythm is what makes us tick?  

The super good news brought to light by this study was that body mass index (BMI) can be greatly reduced with twenty to thirty minutes exposure to morning sunlight. In fact, exposure to light can account for 20 percent of BMI! Think of all the pills, strict diets, powdery drinks, nasty tasting chocolate bars, and invasive surgery that people undergo to lose weight and, more importantly, bring their BMI to a healthy level. Think of Americans saving $60 billion spent on weight loss programs each year!

Many of us suspected that our lifestyle contributed to an alarming increase in obesity. We spend the majority of our lives indoors, whether at home or work. Some of us (this is where I raise my hand) are night owls. We stay up late regardless of the time we have to get up in the mornings. I spent most of my working years with too little sleep and almost zero exposure to sunlight. That’s a health double whammy. And when you work, thanks partially to daylight savings time, your exposure is to afternoon light, which does not have the same benefit as morning sunlight.

Maybe I’m being a little optimistic, but since morning light affects mood and behavior, as well as BMI, couldn’t morning light therapy be helpful for people with Alzheimer’s? We know sun-downing is brought on by waning light and that a well-lit room can help behavior. Maybe an early morning walk, or even quiet time outdoors would provide an uplifting start to the day.  

Without sunlight between 8:00 a.m. and noon, our internal clock is altered and becomes as worthless as my flashing alarm clock was this morning. Our body’s timepiece becomes “uncoordinated” which leads to altered metabolism and weight gain.

 After reading the article, I was hyped about soaking up the rays to shrink my waistline while energy transferred from that brilliant celestial orb to my earthbound, over-weight body. This fantastic health advice comes on a day when all a person could be exposed to this morning is doom and gloom, rain, low hanging clouds, with a possibility of hail and high winds. Not a single ray of sunlight can be found.

I’m hoping for a bright sunshiny day tomorrow so I can put my new knowledge into action. I can’t think of a better diet than pulling up a lawn chair, sipping a cup of coffee, and relaxing in the morning sun. It beats the heck out of the treadmill or exercise bike.  

copyright © April 2014 by L. S. Fisher

sources: Northwestern University press release: “Morning rays keep off pounds.” Research funded by National Institutes of Health. “The Heavy Price of  Losing Weight.”