Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Looking to the Heavens

This morning a special celestial event took place in the early morning hours. The super-moon, was also a blue moon, and a total eclipse, or blood moon, added to its natural charm.

Last night, I laid out my sherpa lined sweatpants, a warm sweater, then crawled into bed wearing my thermal underwear. I set my alarm for the unseemly hour of five a.m. Oh, yes, I used to wake up at five on every work day, but with a few years of retirement under my belt, my eyelids do not want to open at that time of day.

With such a photo op possible, I leaped out of bed and into warm outer clothing, threw on a coat, hat, scarf, and gloves. My dog was excited that I was up so early, and she thought it was all about her. My first trip out the door was to scope out the moon. I took a few preliminary photos, came back inside,  put the coffee on, leashed the dog and headed back out the door.

The next time I went outside, I brought my cell phone, both cameras, a banana, and a cup of coffee. Luckily, I had a great view of the moon from the deck. I pulled a wicker chair up to the table and got comfortable. As I looked at the sky, I thought about the wonders of nature and the power of God. I thought about heaven and about the people who wait there.

A calm, peaceful feeling surrounded me as I sat alone in the still of the night, watching the moon and the clouds drifting along. I thought about Jim and all the loved ones who no longer reside on this earth that we call home.

This morning was reminiscent of the cool mountain mornings when Jim and I camped at Moraine Park in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Many of my most vivid memories are of our trips to Colorado. We first went in 1983 and continued with the annual trips until they became too difficult. In Indelible, I recall one of the trips where Jim’s dementia changed what had always been a time of relaxation into a stressful situation.

Excerpt from Indelible:

In retrospect, I could measure the progression of Jim’s dementia by our annual trips to Colorado. In 1995, putting up the tent was a fiasco.

“This is the way it goes together,” Jim said picking up a pole from the pile of different length rods. We tried slipping the rods into the canvas only to find our final creation was not a tent.

“Okay, now are you ready for me to dig out the instructions?” I asked with as much patience as I could muster.

“I guess so,” he said grudgingly. Between the two of us, we managed to slide out the rods. Even with directions, it was hard to figure out what went where.

“That’s not right,” Jim insisted.

“Humor me.” I huffed and puffed in the thin mountain air as I struggled with the poles.

After a lot of stress, strain, and cuss words, our home away from home looked like it was supposed to.

As I wrapped myself in the warmth of my memories, a sudden cold wind roared across the deck rattling the chairs and sending a shiver through my body.

Well, that was odd, I thought. The clouds cleared, and the moon shone through. I snapped a few photos and set my camera on the table. I took a sip of coffee, looked at the heavens, and thought about the people who wait for us beyond the moon.

Copyright © January 2018 by L.S. Fisher


Monday, January 22, 2018

Sweet Memories

The first thing I saw on my phone this morning was a video in my “memories.” That simply means that I had posted the video in the past. The video of Jim and his brother Billy singing “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” was posted in 2015.

When these memories pop up, you are given an option to share. I hadn’t even gotten out of bed this morning when I shared the video. At night, I turn the sound off on my phone so I didn’t listen to the video before I shared it. Besides, I had to get up and around to have breakfast and go to line dancing exercise class.

After a good workout this morning at line dancing, I chatted with a few of my friends as I made my way to my car. I took my phone out of my purse to check for text messages. I was expecting a list of items to get at Walmart since we tend to make every trip to town count.

While I had my phone in hand, I decided to listen to the video. Soon Jim’s voice filled my heart as memories flooded back. I thought about all the jam sessions. I smiled at the memory of the house bursting with company and the sound of guitars and harmony. Happy memories and sad longings flitted through my mind. Happy won out as the video finished. I was glad to have this reminder of our younger days, before we knew our future held the unimaginable.

I fastened my seatbelt and headed to Walmart. I called Harold on my hands-free phone to see if we needed anything besides milk and eggs. Somehow, I knew there had to be other items to add to the list.

After he thought for a few minutes, Harold started naming off item after item. “I’m driving and you know how my memory is,” I said. “I’ll forget half of what you told me.”

“Just go down every aisle and that will remind you.” Thank goodness, he couldn’t see me roll my eyes. I avoid all the aisles I can.  As soon as I parked my car, I found an old sales receipt and started listing everything I could remember.

I picked up the eggs and was headed for the dairy section, when a Walmart employee paused in unpacking a box to say, “Excuse me. May I ask you a question.”

“Sure,” I said. I pushed my cart out of the way of the other shoppers.

“Is your last name Fisher?”

“Yes, it is.”

She smiled. “I took care of your husband!” She went on to ask me what I was doing now, and I told her I was remarried and retired.

“Jim was one of the first people I took care of at the nursing home,” she said. “You know, I still remember how you were there every evening to feed him.”

I told her I was working on a memoir about Jim. “I turned on a tape recorder on my way home each night and talked about how things went.” She and I said our goodbyes. “I’m really glad you told me who you were,” I said.

As I headed to the checkout, I couldn’t help but smile as I thought about all the people who touched our lives. Jim passed away more than twelve years ago, and people stop me from time to time to let me know they still remember him.

It is understandable that Jim’s indelible memory will forever be in his family’s minds and hearts, but amazing how many others his life touched. In the end, instead of erasing Jim, dementia ensured he would never be forgotten.

Copyright © January 2018 by L.S. Fisher


Monday, January 15, 2018

The Best We Can

I went to sleep around midnight and woke up at 4:00 a.m. I tossed, turned, read, tossed, turned, and read some more. Finally more than two hours later, I went back to sleep. The phone woke me up around 8:00. I talked to my mom for a few minutes and went back to sleep for another hour.

From there on, my day started in a hole. I still didn’t feel rested and the snow overnight made it an easy decision to cut line-dancing class. The bad thing is that after the holiday weight gain and total lack of exercise, I really needed it.

I have a love/hate relationship with sleep. I usually sleep well about every other night. Maybe “well” is an exaggeration and “better” would be more accurate. As I lay awake, I can’t help but think about all the studies connecting poor sleep to increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Recently, I read about an Alzheimer’s sleep study that showed interrupted sleep can have immediate consequences. Even one night of sleep disturbance can increase the levels of amyloid in the brain. Tau levels change after several nights of disturbance. This is bad news for my fellow insomniacs and me.

Even with these protein changes, the study does not conclude that sleeping well will decrease your chances of developing Alzheimer’s, but a good night’s sleep improves overall health.

Back to the early morning phone call… My mom called to tell me that my sister-in-law’s father had passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. Her dad was in the same nursing home with my brother so I saw him from time-to-time before my brother passed away. The thing I always remember about him was the big smile.

Maybe the smiles made it a little easier for the family, but it didn’t eliminate the heartbreak of losing shared memories, companionship, or sharing ideas and experiences. The disease takes a toll on an entire family.

I once started reading a best-selling Alzheimer’s book by a woman who scoffed at people who were saddened or depressed when a loved one was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Her attitude that it wasn’t a big deal set my teeth on edge.

Another super-wealthy caregiver advised not putting a loved one in a nursing home. Keeping a loved one at home is much easier when you can hire a team to provide 24/7 care.

I could see where in-home care would be an attractive option, but not practical for most of us. Most of us can’t manage without the support of family, friends, and professionals. Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America and can last for a decade or more.

When the journey ends, we can take comfort in knowing we did the best we could with the resources available to us. I believe the most valuable gifts we have to offer are time and unconditional love.

Love doesn’t end at the nursing home door or, for that matter, death’s door.

Copyright © January 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Monday, January 8, 2018

Back in the Groove

For the past two months, my excuse for hibernating is “so busy with the holidays, you know.” So what if I’m busy binge re-reading my Tony Hillerman Leaphorn and Chee books. 

There isn’t a better reason for sticking close to home than hearing everyone you know has the flu, or some other mysterious virus. I’ve limited my social interaction to avoid giving or receiving unwanted gifts of disease.

Now, the New Year is here and the “holidays, you know” are so last year. Last weekend was busy from start to finish. By today, I was totally exhausted. It didn’t help that I got four hours sleep for two days in a row followed by one thirteen-hour night to make a healthy seven-hour a night average.

I blame my four-hour nights on years of caregiving. Jim never seemed to need more than four hours of sleep, so that meant if I wanted to keep track of him, I couldn’t sleep while he was up wandering around. In the story “Gone in the Night” I re-live every caregiver’s nightmare of waking up alone in bed, alone in the house, and thinking I might be alone in the world.

Excerpt from Indelible:

Although I had a sense of urgency, I drove cautiously because I didn’t want to hit him with the car. I had no idea how long he’d been gone, and the farther I traveled without seeing him, the more I panicked.

I reached the crossroads and without hesitation, turned left, choosing Jim’s normal route. I pressed onward, fear and worry jockeying for position in my mind. I rounded the next corner, headlights slicing through the darkness. There he was! The tension drained from my body, replaced with elation and relief.

Jim was fully dressed wearing jacket, jeans, his “Vietnam Veteran and Proud of It” cap, and his sunglasses. He seemed to be unaware of the car and continued his measured tortoise pace, cane grasped in his left hand. I pulled over and stopped behind him, climbed out of the car, speed walking to catch up with him. I reached out and wrapped my fingers around his bicep, and he stopped as if he had applied his brakes.

To be honest, when Jim first went into the nursing home, I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep alone in the house. It turned out that I was so exhausted that it took me months to catch up on my rest. Once I did, though, I was back to my four-hour sleep nights. I still struggle to get anything like a normal night’s sleep. It concerns me because I know chronic lack of sleep is a health hazard.

I need to get back in the groove. I took down the three Christmas trees and removed ornaments from the two trees that are lit year round. I need to finish taking down and putting away my huge collection of nutcrackers. For the first days of January, the twelve days of Christmas hadn’t finished, but that excuse won’t work now. “Maybe I’ll just leave everything up and won’t have to decorate next year,” I told Harold.

“You would have to dust them,” he pointed out. He knows how much I detest dusting whatnots.

“Guess I’d rather put them away than dust them,” I said.

I’ve grown fond of putting off until tomorrow that which I do not want to do today. Getting back into the groove isn’t all that easy. I think I’ll start…tomorrow.

Copyright © January 2018 by L.S. Fisher