Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Treasure Trove of Memories

Yesterday I dove into the treasure trove of memories stored in the basement of the house that Jim built. One large box had been water damaged from a drippy faucet, and I’d never had the heart to go through the hodgepodge inside that pitiful box until yesterday.

I tossed old Memory Walk memos, agendas, brochures, and various papers from the years I coordinated the Sedalia Walk. I found two warped notebooks and sifted through the memories. One had photos front and back in the notebook’s protective cover sleeve. The photo on the front was ruined, but when I flipped the book over, I saw a perfectly preserved photo from a “Night to Remember Dance.”

My eyes blurred as I looked at a photo of Ted Distler and me dancing. Ted and I were friendly rivals. He coordinated the Jefferson City walk, and we always tried to out-do each other. The rivalry only spurred each of us to do our best. I attended his chicken dinner and auction, and he supported our dance and auction. It seemed there was always a gooseberry pie at both events and the winner was either him or me. Those pies were never cheap!

Another role Ted and I shared was that of caregiver. His lovely wife Norma was the center of his world and, is often the case, the disease took a terrible toll on both of them.

To say that Ted was my friend is an understatement. He was more like family. We would lose touch for a few months, but he’d call me or I would call him. Then, one day I received a call from the Alzheimer’s Association letting me know that Ted had passed away. Norma soon joined him.

Next, I pulled out a box of thank you notes. I opened the box and discovered a stack of photos. The one on top was a smiling Jim wearing a “Colby’s Grandpa” hat and holding our oldest grandson. I leafed through the photos—Jim in Estes Park and at an early Memory Walk.

I carried items upstairs, and when I went back down, I saw a red crate filled with photos that never made it to the photo albums. I opened an envelope and the first photo I saw was Jim playing his guitar. Easter photos taken two decades ago brought an avalanche of memories.

I found memories scattered in places they shouldn’t be. Why had I thrown this batch of pictures in a crate instead of putting them away in photo boxes or albums? My guess is that since most of these were taken around the time that life made a left turn, more pressing matters took priority.

This morning, I began the long organizational process by throwing away the extra envelopes and negatives. Next, I will try to put the envelopes in chronological order. I plan to throw away the out-of-focus photos and pictures of people I don’t know, or care to know, including people on stage in Branson.

Finding the old photos felt like finding a hidden treasure. I saw the innocent faces of children who are now adults with kids of their own. I saw the smiles of beloved family members who are long gone and felt the warm breath of their spirits. The real treasure trove, I realized, was the reminder that I’ve always been a link in a huge circle of love.
Copyright © January 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Grace Under Fire

I had such a busy week that when Saturday rolled around, I plopped on the couch and turned on the TV. I began to watch the twenty hours or so of the European Figure Skating championships recorded on the DVR. This gluttonous devouring reiterated my opinion that a figure skating competition is the epitome of grace under fire.

Countries sent only their top skaters to the competition, but most knew they were not in medal contention. Some found victory by participating in the competition, while others were only satisfied with one of the top three slots.

Some of the performances were so nearly perfect that a small bobble made the difference between earning a coveted medal, or going home empty handed. It was easy to show grace when everything went according to plan, but those that truly showed their spirit were the ones who fell, jumped back up, and continued doing their very best.

The expert commentators knew immediately when someone faltered. The skater’s foot touched too soon, they didn’t quite complete a rotation, or pairs were not in unison. Skaters made “silly mistakes” when they completed difficult jumps and then stumbled on an easy element.

It made me think about being a caregiver. I could often handle the messy and difficult parts of caregiving, but might fall apart over a broken nail. Why was that? I believe that I forced myself to meet the tough challenges with acceptance and a sense of loving duty. Oh, but when it came to the simple setbacks, I stumbled.

I can’t think of many things that rival the beauty of figure skating. Each move is choreographed to carefully selected music. Music helps set the tone whether figure skating or drudging through a day that seems almost too much to tolerate.

During the years of caregiving, I remember days when I was up before daylight to work ten hours and then went by the nursing home in the evening to feed and bathe Jim. It was unusual for me to make it to bed before midnight.

In the journal I kept while Jim was in the nursing home, I would tell about my day and often say, “I am so tired.” Thinking back, that’s what I remember the most—being tired. Exhausted. Like I was running on empty.

Being chronically tired often means that grace goes by the wayside. To this day, being tired makes me cranky and more than a bit whiney.

Caregiving, like figure skating, greatly improves with practice. When we put ourselves out there, so to speak, we open ourselves up to criticism or derision. Caregiving is like figure skating in that sense. The critics will sit back and watch someone else struggle and pontify how it could have been done better or more efficiently. When a caregiver provides caregiving with love and grace, it just doesn’t get any better.

Taking care of a loved one is much like walking through fire. It hurts like hell, but unless you keep on moving, you’re going to be charred beyond recognition.

None of us makes it through life without faltering. The best we can hope for is to demonstrate grace under fire. No one gets a medal for being the best caregiver in the world. Our reward comes from being the best caregiver we can be.     

Copyright © January 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Fierce Urgency of Now

Yesterday, I watched the Kansas City Chiefs play the Steelers in a playoff game. Any year the Chiefs made the playoffs, we fans were hopeful that the Chiefs would make it to the Superbowl. We always hoped we wouldn’t be disappointed—again.

During commercial breaks, I watched other fans’ reactions online. About the time I realized the Chiefs were going to fall to the curse of their playoff games, a photo of a youthful Jim popped up on my Facebook newsfeed.

Jim was the sole reason that I became a Chief’s fan. Through winning seasons and losing seasons, he was steadfast in his loyalty. During the early years of our marriage, Monday night football was opposite the movie of the week. With one TV set, I never watched a single movie during football season.

Although, it seemed magical that Jim’s photo appeared on my phone just as I was thinking of him, I scrolled past other old family photos. Jim’s cousin Debbie had decided to make an online album of old family photos, and I assumed she had posted the photo. I downloaded the photo and added it to my own online album of Jim’s pictures.

“Can I steal this for the Fisher album?” she asked.

“I just stole it myself. That’s where I thought it was,” I replied.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that my nephew John had posted it.

Seeing Jim’s photo put a lot of perspective in my outlook, and reminded me of the real urgency of now. When he was diagnosed with dementia of the Alzheimer’s type, my goal became to do anything possible to change the outcome.

The urgency to do something, rather than patiently wait for the inevitable, was part of my nature. I trolled the internet looking for anything to stave off a degenerative, fatal disease. I tried to get Jim enrolled in drug trials. He was turned down for one trial because he was too young and for another because he had lost the ability to communicate.

I began to go to the Alzheimer’s forum to advocate for more research dollars. I saw the urgency to find a cure in the eyes of caregivers, and my heart hurt for them. I felt their pain and knew the disappointment of hearing a doctor say, “Even if they find a cure, the disease is so far advanced that it’s too late for him.”   

As the years went by and the disease won, I continued my advocacy, as have many others who lost loved ones. We all share the same hopes and dreams—a cure for Alzheimer’s.

I recently read the “I Have a Dream” speech Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Although his speech was loaded with quotable sentences, one phrase caught and held my attention. King spoke of “the fierce urgency of now.”

Many of us won’t step out of our comfort zone to fight for our cause with the conviction of Martin Luther King, Jr. Most of us anonymously fight our fight. Some of the rich and famous meet the challenge as they or their loved ones discover Alzheimer’s when it strikes close to home.

Just this week, I learned that the former head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs Marty Schottenheimer has Alzheimer’s. This too, helps me put the Chief’s loss into its proper perspective. Next season, the Chief’s have a new start and a chance to redeem themselves.

As far as Alzheimer’s, there are no second chances. With more people dying each day that passes without a cure, we have the “fierce urgency of now” to end Alzheimer’s.

Copyright © January 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Choices, Chance, and Monopoly

A few weeks ago, my grandson went to the closet where we keep our games and came out with a vintage Monopoly game. I hadn’t played the game since I was a kid and sure didn’t remember anything about it or the rules. My grandson gave “money” to Harold and me and the game began. It turned out to be a game of choices and chance. The roll of the dice could give you a chance to purchase properties, pay rent or taxes, draw a “chance” or “community chest” card, or maybe “go to jail.” It didn’t take long for me to find out what the expression, “do not pass go,” meant.

My son, who was watching us play, noticed something rather peculiar. “Mom, you are being so cautious about what you spend, and Harold is buying without a second thought. That’s totally the opposite of how you are in real life.” I had to agree.  

Spending habits aside, the game made me think about how each of us has a monopoly on our own destiny. Have you ever stopped to think how much your life would be affected if you had made one major choice differently than you did? Or what if that lucky break hadn’t come your way?

Chance can put us in dangerous situations. Decisions can lessen the danger or increase it. How often have you heard someone say, “If that had happened to me, I would have… (blah, blah, blah).” One thing I’ve learned in life, no person will ever know what he would do in someone else’s situation. I don’t have a clue why they react the way they do, because I have not lived the same life.

In my own life, I met Jim by chance, chose to marry him, and chose to work at it. Dementia cut his life short by chance, and I chose to become an Alzheimer’s volunteer, which brought about a major change in my life. I’ve gone places I would have never gone, had experiences I would not have had, and found friends I would have never met.

Who we are and what we’ve become is a conglomeration of choice and chance. Sometimes, we might not even distinguish the difference. Have you ever noticed how many of us go to college and never work in the field we studied? Sometimes, that’s choice and sometimes it’s chance. Maybe we couldn’t find that special job we wanted. The winds of chance did not blow in our direction. Sometimes, we just grow older and decide that wasn’t the career path for us.

At one time, I wanted to be a teacher. Then, I wanted to be a journalist. What really happened was I became a mom and stayed home with the kids while they were little. My first real job after returning to college was in subscriptions at a coonhound magazine. Believe me, I never saw that coming!

After that company moved out of town, I, by chance, was selected to interview for a job on a computer. You have to realize that I had never seen a computer, much less used one. I chose to believe that it was something I always wanted to experience. That choice changed our family’s economic situation. Up until then, we had spent several years living frugally and still barely getting by.

Nine years after Jim passed away, I chose to remarry. So, here I am, in this house, in this room, at this table, working on this PC because of a lifetime of choices and by chance. It’s a scary thought that my destiny would have changed if I had made one different decision along the way. Yes, I have a monopoly on my life. No one else will ever have the exact experiences or make the same decisions I have made.

On the other hand, I’ve always had a feeling that the choices and chances I took were meant to be. I seriously doubt that I’ve always made the wisest or even the most logical choice. My decisions have been good, bad, and ugly, and yet somehow, in the end, it worked out.

I believe I’ve often been “nudged” along the right path. My path.

Copyright © January 2017 by L.S. Fisher