Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thirty Days of Thankfulness – Not Your Usual List

November is a time for self-examination and giving thought to our many blessings and giving thanks where thanks are due. Many of my Facebook friends have been posting one thing they are thankful for each day this month.

I’ve never participated in this delightful idea, but felt compelled to complete my monthly list in one fell swoop. I made the list and entered it into One Note on a sleepless night. After reviewing the list, I realized that I don’t remember seeing any of these items on their lists. I always suspected my thought processes might not be the same as the average person, but until now, I’ve kept some of the weirdness under wraps.

I am thankful for...

1.      Mice. It’s easy to think of mice as pesky rodents with no purpose in life other than leaving droppings behind furniture and chewing up important papers. But mice are extremely important when it comes to medical research in general and Alzheimer’s research in particular.
2.      Sleepless nights. On sleepless nights, my brain goes into creative overdrive. My best ideas come to me in the middle of the night.
3.      Wishes that didn’t come true. Throughout my lifetime, I’ve made a lot of goofy wishes, and I’m so thankful that they didn’t come true. I don’t think the life of a fairy princess, a rock star, superhero or being married to Paul McCartney is what God had in mind for me.
4.      People who hurt my feelings when I was young. Yep, all those cruel kids made me into a rhino-hide adult. It is almost impossible to hurt my feelings, because frankly I don’t give a poop about what insensitive, rude people say to me.
5.       Failure. I’ve learned more from my failures than I ever learned from my successes. Let’s face it, when I make really bad mistakes, I try hard to not do it again.
6.      Not being beautiful. Being beautiful is a burden I wouldn’t want to carry. Besides, I had to work a lot harder on my personality.
7.      Hard times. There have been times in my life when it was a challenge to figure out how to pay the bills, feed the kids, and not have too much month left at the end of the money. Because of  hard times, I’ve never had that fear of being poor that some people have. Been there, survived, and know that happiness isn’t based on the size of my bank account.
8.      Hard work. Without years of hard work, I wouldn’t have done as well in my job as I did and wouldn’t be looking forward to retirement.
9.      Having my heart broken. If a few boys hadn’t broken my heart when I was younger, my life would have turned out differently. I’m happy with the way it turned out, so thank you for breaking my heart and forcing me to move on.
10.  Rainy, gloomy days. When the rain falls and the sun is elusive, it is a perfect time to sleep in and laze around reading a book.
11.  Boredom. My life is so hectic that if I find time to be bored, I can relax...or think of something totally fun to do.
12.  Hunger. When I’m hungry, I know I haven’t overeaten.
13.  Paying bills. When I pay bills, it means I have another month of electricity, internet, phone service, and a zero balance on my credit cards.
14.  Not winning the lottery. I’ve always known that winning the lottery would screw up my life, and I like it the way it is.
15.  Flies and spiders. When I’m in a murderous rage, I can squash a spider or swat a fly and not suffer an ounce of guilt.
16.  Clear packing tape and plastic wrap. The way these two stick to themselves and trying to figure out how to get a roll started teaches me patience.
17.  Old age. Without old age, I’d have to pay to get into ballgames and wouldn’t get senior discounts.
18.  People who don’t like me. They teach me to stand up for myself.
19.  People who take advantage of me. They keep me on my toes and help me say “no.”
20.  Running late. It’s amazing how much time I’d waste waiting if I got to everything early. Besides, I’ve avoided traffic tickets and dangerous driving when I decided it was better late than never.
21.  Anger. If an injustice makes me angry, it means I am passionate enough to care.
22.  Fear. I might not be alive today if I didn’t have sense enough to be afraid from time to time.
23.  Ignorance. Since I clearly don’t know everything, ignorance means I always have something to learn.
24.  Grumpy old men. Without them, grumpy old women wouldn’t have anyone to argue with.
25.  Lousy TV shows. When a lousy show is on TV, it is much easier for me to turn it off and do something productive.
26.  Bratty kids. I’m so thankful that none of those bratty kids belong to me.
27.  Runny nose. Without a runny nose, I’m sure my head would explode from the inside out when I have a head cold and infected sinuses.
28.  Thunderstorms and lightning. We need the rain to replenish the earth and the lightning keeps me honest since I don’t want to be struck down for telling a lie.
29.  Bad lab results. Without bad lab results, I wouldn’t have incentive to work toward being healthier. I would have continued the same bad dietary habits with the same results.
30.  Uncertainty. I don’t know everything that is going to happen in my future! Uncertainty keeps me optimistic that the best is going to happen and not the worst.

One of the great things about making a list like this is that it made me realize the thing I am most grateful for is living the life I want and wanting the life I live. I am happy to be me and I don’t envy anybody else’s life or want to be somebody I’m not.

Copyright © November 2013 & 2018 by L.S. Fisher


Monday, November 19, 2018

I'm Telling You, Friend

After Jim developed dementia, he forgot the lyrics to most songs and had difficulty playing his guitar. Eventually, he sang the same cowboy song repeatedly. This song is so obscure I can’t find the lyrics online, but I think the title is “I’m Telling You, Friend, I Ain’t Had a Good Day.”

Maybe the reason this song stuck in Jim’s brain was because of all the bad days he had. The song is a warning even to friends about what a person feels like doing on a bad day.

I felt this song a lot when I was a caregiver, and I’ve been feeling it lately. I don’t want to take my anger and frustration out on anyone, but especially not on my friends and family. Instead, I just internalize and feel sad and depressed.

Too many bad days are beyond our control. When you receive a one-two punch in the face, the third one can be the knockout blow.

So, I binge on Hallmark feel-good, predictable movies. I play games on my Kindle where I win some and lose some, just like real life.

Playing my ukulele makes me happy. My granddaughter says it is a happy instrument, and I agree with that assessment. I regret that I never learned to play an instrument while Jim was living. I could have learned so much from him. Maybe he could have taught me that song about a bad day. Playing it on a happy instrument would have surely pointed out the absurdity of how we let things we can’t control ruin a perfectly good day.

I sometimes have to remind myself of two yardsticks I used to get myself through the days of caregiving. One measure was “so what.” When Jim did something he shouldn’t have done, I would ask myself “so what?” The day he stripped his clothes off in the front yard, my mother-in-law called me at work. She couldn’t get him to come in or put his clothes back on. So what? We lived in the country, there wasn’t much traffic, and the weather was mild. It took me fifteen minutes to drive home and solve the problem.

The other measure is “What difference will it make a hundred years from now?” So far, I can’t think of anything.

Someone pointed out that without bad days we wouldn’t appreciate the good ones. I am thankful that I have a core trait of optimism. I know that I’ll come out on the other side with inward peace and outward calm. In my lifetime, a few bad days are, ultimately, followed by a hundred good ones.

Copyright © November 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Forgotten

I went to Walmart on November 1. The Halloween decorations were down, and the Christmas decorations were on full display. After searching the store, I came across a small display of Thanksgiving d├ęcor.

Unfortunately, one of the important celebrations for our country has been mainly forgotten. It seems that the only important thing about Thanksgiving weekend is Black Friday. Wouldn’t you know that my Google calendar has Black Friday on its list of holidays with the exact same emphasis as Thanksgiving?

It seems that not only has Thanksgiving been demoted, our seasons have as well. We thought when we went from winter to summer without any sign of spring, that was a once-in-a-lifetime fluke. Now, we’ve gone from summer to winter without more than a whisper of autumn. We were sweating one week and dashing through the snow the next.

As I thought about the forgotten, I thought about people with dementia. We think of those afflicted with dementia as being forgetful, but sometimes, their family and friends are the forgetful ones.

It’s sad during this time of thanksgiving that thankless people abandon loves ones because “he won’t remember me,” or “I don’t know what to say to her,” or “grandpa keeps asking the same questions.” Oh yes, it might be a little awkward at times, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort. These people were the first to be critical of families who remained a constant presence in their loved one’s life.

It irritated me when someone asked why I provided personal care that the nursing home was “paid” to do. I wanted Jim to have excellent care and as much time as I spent with him, there is no way that aides could spend that much time with one resident.

When I visited Jim in the nursing home, other residents thought I was there to see them. I took time to talk to them, accept their hugs when offered, and to compliment them on a pretty blouse, or a new hairstyle. I entered into their world and felt the anger they couldn’t for the way their families had forgotten them.

At Christmas, an influx of visitors showed up with inappropriate gifts and criticisms of their loved ones care, surroundings, or the other residents they found to be annoying. These visitors never came alone. They missed the one-on-one time so important to the residents and replaced it with confusion.

When we think about the forgotten holiday, it is a time to remember the forgotten, forgetting people. Be thankful that you can spend time with your loved one, you can hug them, and touch their warm, living hand. The sad thing about Alzheimer’s and other dementias is that the time will come when they are gone, and you will rue the time you threw away. Time that could have been spent relishing that moment of clarity, the recognition that comes and goes, and the opportunity to go for a drive or a walk in the park.

I miss the times when Jim showed a glint of humor or understanding, the communication without words. I miss holding his hand, giving him a shower, coaxing a smile, and stopping by Dairy Queen to get him a milkshake. I miss the friends I made with resident’s family members and the staff. I miss the quirks of the residents.

Thanksgiving isn’t so much a holiday as a way of life. When we are thankful for the blessings we have, we don’t let setbacks get us down—at least not for long. A little bit of thankfulness goes a long way toward coping with the unfortunate circumstances that life generously sends our way.

Copyright © November 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Saturday, November 10, 2018

November: Alzheimer's awareness and Caregiver Month

November is designated as the month to raise Alzheimer’s awareness and to honor caregivers. I am going to focus on Alzheimer’s caregivers.

Taking care of a person with Alzheimer’s or other dementias is an all-consuming undertaking. In the US, more than 16 million family members and friends provide unpaid care for their loved ones with dementia. They provide 18.4 billion hours of unpaid care at a value of $232 billion. About half of the unpaid caregivers provide care for four or more years. Alzheimer’s disease is called the “long goodbye” for a reason.

The average life expectancy after diagnosis is between eight and ten years, but some people live twenty years or more with the disease. Diagnosis takes an average of 2.8 years. Jim’s diagnosis of an Alzheimer’s type of dementia was the result of the process of elimination. Especially at his age (49) an entire battery of test results were examined for a different cause for his confusion. It was critical that we ruled out treatable conditions: drug interactions, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, depression, and low blood sugar.

The emotional stress of caregiving is pretty much off the charts for 60 percent of the caregivers. This emotion is followed closely by depression. The entire process of caregiving was a ten-year rollercoaster for me. We had good times, keeping our lives as close to normal as possible, followed by crisis after crisis, completing the downward spiral from end stages to the inevitable conclusion.

The object of this article is not to sugarcoat caregiving, but to bring awareness to how difficult it is to care for another person. I had an exceptional amount of family and friends supporting Jim and me. I was in my mid-forties, and that made me wonder—how could an elderly person provide care for a spouse without that support and without the resilience of a younger caregiver?

The long-term commitment of an Alzheimer’s caregiver causes medical problems for the caregiver. I was one of the caregivers guilty of not taking as good of care of myself as I should have. My company required annual health fairs and my test results fell within the heart-attack-waiting-to-happen category. I don’t know if I would have made it through if I hadn’t changed my ways about my own health.

If you are a caregiver, I urge you to take care of yourself from the beginning to the end. Contact the  Alzheimer’s Association and join a support group to learn from the experiences of others, to have an opportunity to vent, and increase your circle of friends. Visit for vital information about strategies to help yourself and your loved one.

If you know a caregiver, don’t abandon them. Provide emotional support, include them in fun activities, and let them know that you love them. Help them to the best of your ability to do so.

Caregiving is a marathon, not a sprint. I urge family caregivers to never give up on life and happiness. Find hobbies and social engagements that make you happy, and rid yourself of obligations that add to your stress. Draw on your inner strength and spirituality to help you live life to the fullest.

Copyright © November 2018 by L.S. Fisher