Sunday, December 30, 2018

Something Different

In college, I took an accelerated class on Office programs, and it was no surprise that our tests were computerized. As many of us know, there may be more than one way to come up with the correct answer, but we had three tries to come up with the “preferred” computer chosen method. “The test is only going to have one correct answer, so if the way you do it the first time doesn’t work, try something different!”

This could well be a life’s lesson. During the time I was a caregiver for Jim, I lived and breathed the lesson of trying something different. It became my mode of survival. It seemed that each day brought about some of the same challenges and piled on new ones. You would think it would be easier as you learned what worked with the old ones, but the solution bar kept changing for the old ones along with the new ones.

I documented these challenges and began to put them into a memoir Indelible. I had a rough draft finished  a decade ago, but put it aside.

I resumed the project in September 2016 with hopes to have it finished by the end of 2017. Instead, here it is a year later, and I still have work to do. In the book, I share some brief glimpses into everyday challenges of having a husband with dementia. These flashes of reality could be thought of as verses. These stories, some short, some longer, make up chapters. Eventually, when the words come together in a coherent manner, it will become a non-fiction book.
The book has taken a back burner to all the other distractions life has thrown at me. Many mornings I wake up with intentions to work on the book, but first, I have to tend to all those other obligations, all the immediate things that must be tended to, and the dread of what’s coming down the pike.

As we close in on the new year, most of us take a moment to reflect on the year just about to trot into the sunset of the past. As we close the chapter of 2018, I’m more than ready to open a new one in 2019.

Too often, I’ve made the mistake of trying to be a people pleaser, and that means some of them have stolen my pleasure. Worse yet, they’ve stolen my time.

I plan to move into the new year without resolutions, but with the resolution that the same old problems aren’t going to be approached in the same old way. Sure, I’ll still make mistakes and take the wrong approach, but maybe by the third try, I’ll get it right. Who knows, maybe 2019 will be an Indelible year.

Copyright © Dec 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Saturday, December 22, 2018

What Day Is It?

Jim and Linda, Hawaii, 1969
We had our family Christmas get-together the second week in December. The following Friday, we had our final practice session for the December nursing home gigs. On the way home, I stopped at Walmart to pick up a few essential items.

I walked into the store and stopped in my tracks. Why did they still have all that Christmas stuff out? After my initial shock, I realized that Christmas was still more than two weeks away.

It is no wonder I wouldn’t remember what day it was. My husband and I have been working on migrating our websites to a new server since the first of the month. The project is so fraught with problems, we’ve been working practically non-stop. “My brain is mush,” I told him.

I had been trying to write a note about the umpteenth way to approach a failure and noticed I was making letters backwards and out of place. My brain would not process how it was supposed to look. It made me think about Jim in the early stages of dementia. I wrote about it in Indelible, a memoir in progress.

Jim began to have difficulty writing. He would write letters but they wouldn’t make words. Most of the time, the combination was close enough that I knew what he meant.

I wanted him to feel useful and to “exercise his brain.” One morning, I was washing the breakfast dishes and Jim was sitting at the table. “Honey, would you make a grocery list for me?” I nodded toward the pad and pen I’d placed on the table. “We need paper towels,” I said.

He picked up the pen and wrote on the notepad. “We need milk,” I said.

He set the pen down. “I don’t want to.” He walked out of the room and I sat down to finish the list. On the paper, he had printed, “taper powels.”

Later he picked up the list and studied it carefully. “I wonder why I spelled ‘paper towels’ that way,” he said.

If not for the date displaying on my phone and PC, I would be completely lost as to day and time. Still, even those reminders aren’t enough when my mind is on overload. A few days ago, I looked at the date and noticed it was the day Jim and I married in 1969. I had a complete meltdown, then had to pull myself together to try to make it through the day. My mom called and our music was cancelled. I was torn between having more time to help with the migration project and disappointment that I wouldn’t be able to lose myself in the calmness of playing the ukulele.

I had planned to go to the funeral of our third family member to die within the last thirty days. I would have been there, except for some strange reason, I thought the funeral was Saturday. We played music Friday, and I never sat down to read the paper until late. I saw the funeral notice and my heart sank when I realized I had missed it.

Soon it will be a new year and a time of promise. I look forward to getting back on track and living the retirement dream. I look forward to a time when the outside stress and pressure subside, and the drama ends. I’ll be glad when life gets back to normal.

I think I need one of those shirts or mugs that say, “This too shall pass. It might pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.”

Copyright © Dec 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Ugly Christmas Sweater

We recently held a raffle as a fundraiser for our Walk to End Alzheimer’s. At our celebration, we had an ugly sweater contest. I have a few Christmas sweaters that would classify as ugly, but I really don’t remember where I stashed them, and I’ve been too frantically busy to find them.

I looked at a few stores where they definitely had butt ugly sweaters, but I was not inclined to spend $40 for a sweater so ugly, I’d only wear it once. I had already cancelled out of one party, and I was in such a funk that I just didn’t know if I was even going to make it to this one.

Finally, a few hours before the Alzheimer’s Walk party, I breezed into Walmart and looked at several sweaters so ugly they were kind of cute—in an odd sort of way. I chose five sweaters and took them to the dressing room. It was important that the sweater fit because I was down to the wire and certainly didn’t have time to exchange it.

I put the sweaters on a hook and one started flashing. It took me a few minutes to find the off switch. I finally got a good look at the sweater that was flashing and knew it was the one. It said, “I’m having a meltdown.” Ah, perfection.

This entire season has been one big meltdown for me. I’m to the point where I don’t want to go to bed at night, and I don’t want to get up in the mornings. I’ve decided it ’tis the season to be grumpy. I’ve felt like an ugly sweater inside and out, and this one told the story of the past six months.

Sometimes it’s hard to decide whether my knee or my head hurts more. I feel like crawling into a shell and pulling my head inside like a nervous turtle. I went an entire week without going out of the house except to walk the dog.

The season of Ho-Ho-Ho, is more like bah-humbug. There’s nothing like losing two family members to take the jolly out of the holiday season. 

On the positive side, my house is as decorated as it’s going to get for the holidays. We finally found a mutually agreeable date for our annual family get-together. Now that two of my grandchildren are all grown up, we have a lot of working adults with schedules to coordinate. We had eliminated all weekends in December, but a Christmas miracle cleared up a day this upcoming weekend.

When I turn on the trees and the fiber optic bear, it chases away the blues. Now I need a little Christmas magic to give me back my stamina, enthusiasm, and optimism. I would so much rather have a white Christmas than a blue one.

Oh, and that sweater…turns out that I kind of like it. I combined the “ugly” sweater with a Santa hat, a “rosy the riveter” scarf, fingernails painted in five bright Christmassy colors, one red and one green earring, and I found some of that good old holiday cheer. The flashing lights helped temper the “Meltdown” message.

Copyright © Dec 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Life’s Little Mysteries

I’ve always liked a good mystery, and life is always serving up new ones to give inquiring minds a workout.

I was talking to my mom and she said today had been a long day. I was thinking the same thing this morning when I thought it was afternoon and it was only 11:30 a.m. Some days seem longer than others do, although according to the clock, they are all the same. I would consider that one of the mysteries of life.

Today, the blackbirds were back again. They covered the yard and the fields. As far as I know this has happened twice. Since the snow melted, and we are supposed to get another one today, I thought maybe they were like all the people who storm Walmart when bad weather is predicted. It’s a mystery why everyone is out of bread and milk right before a storm.

I know my mother-in-law always said that deaths happen in threes. It really does seem to be true. When two other people in the family die, I start being more cautious.

When I go outside at night, I look at the heavens and think how mysterious it is. The planet, stars, moon, and UFO’s leave me breathless. Watching a meteor race across the sky leaves me wishing for more knowledge and a better understanding of how the universe works.

Another mystery to me is why some people seem to live charmed lives while others struggle every day. Why do people get life-threatening diseases like Alzheimer’s, ALS, or cancer? Why do some people have to live with autoimmune diseases, diabetes, kidney failure, and a multitude of other ailments? It would be easier to understand if good people didn’t get bad diseases.

Why do some people have talents that others totally lack? It’s a mystery to me how some people can be so artistic while another might be a math wizard but can’t draw a stick figure. I never could understand how Jim could play and sing a song he’d heard only a few times. Where does that innate ability originate? I can’t solve that one.

I think one of the biggest mysteries is dying. Why do some people have slow, lingering deaths while others die peacefully in their sleep? Why are some lives cut short while others go beyond quality of life? You often hear people say life isn’t fair, well length of life isn’t fair either.

When Jim was dying, I felt heartache and anger. I knew his death from dementia was inevitable. He would have not wanted to live once his personality changed and his memories faded. Jim had always treasured his memories, and it was sad to see them disappear into the broken links in his brain. Still, it was heartbreaking to let go. I’ve heard people often describe death as a blessing, but when it came to Jim, that is one thought that never crossed my mind.

Dementia stole a lot from us. One of the things I missed the most after dementia was our conversations. We talked about ghosts, UFO’s, love, fear, heartaches—anything about life and death. Jim was never afraid of dying. He always said that death was closing one door and opening another. Life after death was a mystery he wasn’t afraid to solve.

The mystery we should all strive to attain is how to make the most out of the time we have on earth. My goal is to live a drama-free life and not allow others to steal my joy. When I leave this world, I want to leave more than I take.

Copyright © Dec 2018 by L.S. Fisher