Sunday, February 28, 2016

Who Am I?

Lake Honor, College of the Ozarks
When I was at the College of the Ozarks, students would drop out of school to “find” themselves. It’s not as if they were lost physically, they just couldn’t seem to decide what they really wanted to be when they grew up—if they grew up. We’ve all known someone with a big ego and a strong sense of self. We’ve met people who seemed self confident one day and uncertain the next. Then,others who never trusted their own judgment, or believed they were worthless. They couldn’t find their own value and wondered, Who am I?

Fragile egos aside, no matter how much my friends questioned who they were, they always knew their names and backgrounds—real and embellished. They knew their brothers, sisters, friends, boyfriend or girlfriend. The only thing they were unsure of was why they were on this earth and what their purpose in life was.

I dropped out of college to pursue my own destiny. My imagination has always been darned active, but for my life to have been any different is unimaginable. My life certainly didn’t follow the plans my youthful self made for my future, but I wouldn’t change any of it. The road I followed brought me to Jim and the family I cherish and the experiences that made me who I am today.

Don’t get me wrong, everything wasn’t peachy pie perfect. We hit some bumps, big and small, along the way. We made mistakes. Vietnam changed Jim, dementia changed him even more. But I don’t think Jim lost track of who he was, or who he loved, and who loved him. Even when he couldn’t say the words, his eyes would light up from time to time, and you knew he was there. Inside.

As the present slipped from his memory, he remembered the past. Jim grew up in a large itinerant family. They would pile into a car and head across the state, or country, depending on where they could find work. Home was where they were at the time—it might be a rental house, a camper trailer, a tent, under a tree, or with relatives. That kind of life might not be for everyone, but Jim saw it as a series of adventures. He loved reminiscing about the people he knew, the places he went to school, and the sites he’d seen.

So, when his short-term memory faded, he spent quality time in the glory days of his youth. He never had to find himself, because his heart was the same. A lot of things changed as Jim became more dependent on others to provide his personal care.

People often asked me if Jim knew who I was. He rarely spoke, so he didn’t call me by the wrong name. I do know that one time when I was at the Alzheimer’s Forum, someone at the long-term care facility tried to shave him, and Jim pushed the razor away. “Linda,” he said. His mom got a kick out of that. She said he didn’t want anyone else to shave him because he knew I’d be back to do it.

Jim may not have known who I was all the time, but I always knew him. I learned to love who he was through each stage of the disease. When he became more childlike, I knew his roots from the stories he had shared with me.

For those of us who have our short- and long-term memories intact, we shouldn’t question who we were. We should not just be determined to be the best person we can become when we grow up—if we grow up. Knowing just exactly who we are, our faults and our strong points, could be key to being the best person we can be today.    

Copyright © February 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Heart Remembers

An Arkansas man with Alzheimer’s, eighty-three-year-old Melvyn Amrine, disappeared. His wife, worried that he was lost, called the police. When the police found him, Melvyn told them he had always bought his wife flowers for Mother’s Day, and he was on his way to the store. The officers made a stop on the way home for Melvyn to make his purchase. He came up a little short, but the officers made up the difference. His wife, Doris, said it almost broke her heart to know that he still loved her. She said, “It’s special, because even though the mind doesn’t remember everything, the heart remembers.”

Although this event happened on Mother’s Day, it epitomizes the love we all dream of for Valentine’s Day. There is nothing like having true love to warm your heart any day, but especially on the day dedicated to matters of the heart.

What is love anyway? Merriam-Webster’s first definition is “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person.”

Your ability to love is personal. Early in life, you love a lot of people: parents, children, siblings, cousins, and friends, but most of all, you love yourself. As a child, you may think you are the center of the universe and everybody revolves around you. When you don’t get your way, “I hate you,” may pop out of your mouth with no regard to how hurtful it may be.

As you grow older, you become more interested in the second definition of love, that is, “attraction that includes sexual desire: the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship.” Crushes are often mistaken for love. When love is unrequited, there is a fine line between pursuing your heart and becoming a stalker.

Love hurts when you lose a person you love. Regardless of how that loss comes about, you can either harden your heart or fill it to the brim with more love.  

The real love prize goes to soul mates, or two people who love each other. Most of us know the Biblical definition of love: “Love is patient, love is kind.” A lot of wisdom follows with the verse that says, “It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

When  you are married to someone with Alzheimer’s you have a special relationship and a different kind of love. What had been reciprocal becomes unconditional. Shared memories become individual.

Much is lost, yet much remains. Love is shown in non-traditional ways. Possibilities abound for showing love for a spouse with dementia. My friend Jane said that her heart overflowed with love for her husband when she combed his hair.

When you truly love someone, you realize that you are not the center of the universe—your loved one is. Yes, the mind forgets when Alzheimer’s attacks the brain. But never underestimate the power of the heart. Romance becomes less important, but love is victorious when you place someone else’s needs before your own.

Happy Valentine’s Day, caregivers. Yours is the most remarkable love.

Copyright © February 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Monday, February 8, 2016

Keep On Moving

Recently, I  joined a line dancing exercise class. I’ve pretty much caught on to the electric slide, but have been having a little more trouble with the suds-in-the-bucket dance. We’ve practiced the dance a few times in a straight line, but last Friday we danced across from a partner.

“Look at the person beside you, and not the one opposite you,” our instructor, Ruth, cautioned us.

I kept getting step-step and step-slide mixed up. “Just keep moving,” Ruth said. Soon I discovered that even when I missed a step (or two, or three), it wasn’t too bad as long as I kept moving. Eventually, I was where I was supposed to be—when I was supposed to be there. Sweet success, in a manner of speaking.

So far, I haven’t found an area of life where I can’t make a mistake. Sometimes they are doozies.
I’ve always considered myself to be lucky I wasn’t a brain surgeon. At least none of my errors resulted in someone dying.

Since I’ve retired, most of my mistakes haven’t been in the public eye. I made several missteps in the last week—locked myself out of my car with my purse, cell phone, and keys inside it, drove off and forgot to shut the garage door, let the dog wrap his leash around the cat’s neck…you get the drift? Mistakes. We all make them.

Too often, Alzheimer’s caregivers believe they shouldn’t make mistakes, but caregiving involves unchartered waters. Whether a professional or a family caregiver, we need to remember every person is different and every day is a new day. Just because something worked yesterday does not mean it will work today.

Every one of us makes mistakes, but a person with dementia is ultimately the most forgiving person we will ever encounter. When I lost patience with Jim or didn’t make the best decisions, I would remember what I’d  done, or failed to do, much longer than he ever did. It seemed I was one of those people who had to learn everything the hard way. Trial and error was my favorite learning tool.

It would have been easier to give up than it was to keep on keeping on, as I liked to think of it. If we let our mistakes paralyze us, we miss out on so much. As in dance, when we miss a step in life, we just need to keep moving.

Copyright © February 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Mechanical Groundhog? The Shadow Knows

I saw a news article that PETA wants to replace Punxsutawney Phil with a mechanical groundhog. Call me a traditionalist, but I can’t picture a mechanical groundhog heralding the onset of spring.

With Groundhog Day coming up soon, my thoughts have turned to shadows. Shadows are personal, individual and attached to us for life. A shadow is mysterious and much more than a patch of shade. Sometimes a shadow seems to have a life of its own.

I conducted my own un-scientific experiment when I was a child. I really thought if I moved fast enough, my shadow might not make the same motion.

It does no good to run from your shadow. It’s always right behind you, touching you, taunting you.

We can cast a shadow or have a shadow cast over us. The biggest shadow in my life was when Jim developed dementia. Sometimes I felt like burrowing into a hole and hiding from the shadow.

Just like the groundhog, we have to face our real and metaphorical shadows. When I was younger, I was always confused about how the whole shadow thing worked on Groundhog Day. Doesn’t it seem more logical that if the sun shines it is an indication of better weather? That’s not how it works though. If the groundhog doesn’t see his shadow, spring is right around the corner.

I’ll have to admit that I disagree with PETA on a lot of issues, but this one is just over the top. Let’s face it—the job market is limited for groundhogs, and Punxsutawney Phil has the best one of all. If I were Phil, I’d be mad as blazes that PETA wanted to ruin the cushiest gig known to groundhogs worldwide.

Life might be tough for a lot of groundhogs, but Phil is an exception. He lives in a heated burrow and only has to show up for work one day a year. Almost makes you wish you were a groundhog, doesn’t it?

All the regular groundhog’s hearts must be filled with envy for Phil’s so-called unethical treatment. Maybe PETA should ask the official representative of the Groundhog Club to interview a few of the lowly groundhogs. Since the groundhog guy understands “groundhogese” he might be able to convey their true opinion of Phil’s unethical treatment.

Groundhog Day is steeped in tradition and folklore, and Phil is the groundhog on the most watched list. Come on, PETA, don’t you know the whole country is on edge waiting for Phil’s prediction?

Did you know that 90% of the time, the groundhog sees his shadow? I sure hope Phil doesn’t see his shadow this year. It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if ice storms, blizzards, and frozen water pipes are shoved forward to next winter.

There are a few things you don’t do in life. At the top of the list is “Don’t mess with groundhogs”. OK, so maybe it isn’t at the top of the list, but on February 2, it should be.

Jim used to give a crazy laugh and in a deep voice proclaim: “The Shadow Knows!” One day when I asked him what the heck that was supposed to mean, he explained that “The Shadow Knows” was a radio show he listened to when he was a kid. Well, just like the old radio program, the shadow knows what the weather will be. The imposter’s shadow would not be the same as Phil’s, and Mother Nature would not be amused.

Original Post January  2010
Groundhog Clipart: Copyrighted by Bobbie Peachey 

Copyright © February 2016 by L.S. Fisher