Sunday, February 21, 2021

Trash or Treasure?


I’m fighting a paper war and I think I might be losing. My furniture is back in my office after replacing the water-damaged carpet with porcelain tile. I have returned some of the pared down files to my file cabinets, but I still have tubs galore to go through.


The goal is to spend at least an hour a day going through the boxes in the family room to decide what to throw away and what to keep. I’m trying to be heartless. When I see newsletters, articles, scrapbooks (mine and others), and books upon books I try to determine what is still important enough to keep. I don’t want to waste office space with projects that have been put on hold for ten years. 


To complicate matters—my dumpster is full and has been for two weeks. It’s past time for the pickup, but they just keep putting me off, the weather, you know. Yes, I know, but tell it to the dumpster and the full trash bags waiting for a place to be stashed.


I try not to spend a lot of time on the paper war—just glance, toss, or file. I finally tackled Jim’s file. But, I couldn’t help but be sidetracked with the memories pressed within the pages. I kept everything in the bulging file—at least for now. I found his long lost original birth certificate. I could remember it had a few weird things on it. First off, his middle name was supposed to be Dee, not D. I know for certain that Jim wasn’t the first born of twins or triplets. And he had three older siblings, not two. I still didn’t find his brain autopsy report. I thought if I went through the file carefully, it would appear as mysteriously as the long-lost birth certificate.


My next stumbling block was Virginia’s file. My mother-in-law was my “other mother.” I can’t imagine how heartbreaking it was for her to watch Jim’s decline. Until her health failed, she looked after him. She cried when I told her I was going to hire caregivers so that she could take care of herself. I don’t know if she was relieved, or upset that I didn’t think she could watch after him.


Jim was getting to be a handful. He kept taking off down the road and Virginia would follow him in her car. She would call me on her “car phone” and keep track of him until I could come home from work. He just wouldn’t get in her car. Another time he took off all his clothes in the yard and she couldn’t get him to put them back on. I assured her that since he was in our yard on a country road that anyone driving by would just have to look the other way. By the time I made it home, she had him inside and dressed.


Other than my mother and sister, no one even came close to being as good with Jim as his mom was. Being Jim’s caregiver was a labor of love for her.


After Jim passed away, we had an informal service. Jim’s friend Gary was officiating and when I told him some stories for the services, he said he wanted me to tell them. I didn’t think that was appropriate, but both of my sons agreed with him.


After Jim’s services, Virginia told me that she wanted the same kind of service when she passed away. When Virginia was nearing the end of her life, I went to her house one day and asked her to tell me some stories.


In her file, I saw the document that I wrote for her services. I read through the pages and laughed at the memories of her younger days. By the time I reached the end, my tears were dripping onto the page.


My heart ached for the days when all the family gathered at Bill and Virginia’s to share a meal, play cards, or enjoy music in the yard. The laughter and love of those days are treasures firmly entrenched in my soul. Those who have left this earthly home are only a memory away.


Copyright © February 2021 by L.S. Fisher


Sunday, February 7, 2021

Super Sunday


On Super Bowl Sunday, we Missourians are super happy to have the Chiefs in the big for the second time after their long dry spell. Jim was a dedicated fan and proudly wore his Chiefs gear through the years of heartbreaking losses. He always looked forward to the next year when he was sure they would go to the Super Bowl.


For years, the Chiefs playing in the Super Bowl was on my “bucket” list. I was beginning to wonder if I would live long enough to see the big day. I would say, foolishly of course, “I don’t even care if they win. I just want them to make it!” Well, I reneged on that statement immediately after they won the Lamar Hunt Trophy.


I truly regretted that Jim didn’t get to see his beloved Chiefs go back to the Super Bowl. When Jim was a teenager, he boxed at a Boy’s Club in Kansas City where he met Lenny Dawson.


When Jim was in the early stages of dementia, he decided he wanted a Chief’s coat. One weekend, we looked everywhere in town, but he didn’t find the one he wanted. I went to work on Monday and when I got home, Jim proudly showed me the Kansas City Chiefs coat he had bought.


“Where did you get the coat?” I asked.


“Kansas City,” he replied. “They didn’t want to let me in. Said I needed a card.”


“Was it Sam’s?”


“Yeah. I told them I wanted a Chief’s coat.” He went on in his broken vocabulary to tell me that he had told them he was a Vietnam veteran and had fought for freedom. Freedom, which to him, meant they shouldn’t keep him out of a store he wanted to go into.


After more prodding, Jim finally related that someone made the decision to let him in the store, and he paid for the coat with his debit card.


“How much did it cost?” I asked


“I have no idea,” he replied.


“Well, it is a nice looking coat. I guess I’ll find out how much it was when I get the bank statement.”


Some years the Chiefs were so bad that fans were wearing bags over their heads at the games. Jim, on the other hand, sported his collection of Chief’s shirts at the nursing home, unaware of who was winning the game on his TV. He could see the Chiefs playing and that was good enough for him.


As the Chief’s go the Super Bowl today, it is on the heels of the news that former Chief’s head coach Marty Schottenheimer was moved to a hospice care facility. Schottenheimer, now seventy-seven years old, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014. I hope he gets to watch the Super Bowl today. Although he coached several different teams throughout twenty-one seasons, I’m sure he will be rooting for the team wearing the red shirts.


Super Bowl Sunday—and the Chief’s are playing. Doesn’t get much better than that.


Copyright © February 2021 by L.S. Fisher


Sunday, January 31, 2021

Upside Down

I think maybe the best way to describe how my world has been for the last twelve months is “upside down.” I’ve told people jokingly that I think my brain has turned to mush. I can’t seem to keep the days, or sometimes months, straight anymore. I routinely misplace my to-do list and wander about the house trying to remember what important tasks I needed to do.

A few days ago, Harold was talking to me, the dog was checking out the floor, and I was putting on my socks. Harold made that “ah,ah,ah” noise like you do when someone is doing something wrong. I looked at the dog fully expecting her to be trying to eat an un-eatable object.


“You are putting a sock over a sock,” he said. Sure enough, I had one bare foot and one with two socks. That’s typical for the way things have been going lately.


Upside down meant we could no longer play music at the nursing homes, but it also meant that I became brave enough, or foolhardy enough, to post videos of “Linda and her uke” online. I would never have considered such a thing before the pandemic.


We’ve had a year of living Murphy’s law…if it could go wrong, it would go wrong. Right now most of our basement, including my office, is upside down. That should start being righted when the flooring crew shows up later this week.


My body feels upside down. After a few months reprieve from the arthritic pain, I’m having a major flare up, when I need to be physically active righting my office.


It seems that every so often we have to go through these times of upheaval. I crave peace and the days when tragedy stuck only occasionally. I’m being worn slick by chaos and death. People I loved died, and I couldn’t go to their funerals, but more often services were postponed until later, meaning when the pandemic is under control.


I seldom go to town, but during the past week, I’ve gone twice. The first time I went to town was to get the Pfizer vaccine for Covid-19. I’ve never been so excited to get a shot in my life.


Saturday, I had to go to town in the pouring rain. I was amazed at the heavy traffic and the number of cars at restaurants. Life was going on, as if there were no tomorrow, or pandemic.


I’ve lived through upside down times before. For ten years I watched Jim change from an intelligent, loving husband who loved to sing and play his guitar, to a silent man who depended on others to provide the most basic care. After he passed away, when I left work and headed toward home instead of the nursing home, I felt the emptiness and loss wash over me in waves of pain. It took time, lots of time, for life to seem normal again.


The thing about upside down is it forces an entirely different perspective. My mom and I were talking about how life has so drastically changed during the pandemic. “I think people will never go back to doing all the things they did before,” she said, “but it would be nice to go into the store and buy my own groceries.”


I agree. I don’t think I’ll ever fill my life with so much outside activities again. There have been distinct advantages to spending so much time at home. I’ve already filled spaces with other work and hobbies. I’ve had time to think about what I’ve missed the most—spending time with friends and family.


The past twelve months brought a multitude of changes, and change hasn’t always been bad. In fact, creative solutions are often better than the “way we always did it.” For example, the drive-thru Cooperative Annual Meeting was a favorite of mine. We heard all the pertinent information through the car radio, voted for by-law amendments and directors, picked up our door prize (credit on the electric bill) and were done in record time.


The “walk everywhere” Walk to End Alzheimer’s had its good points. As my friend WyAnn said, “We don’t have to get up before dawn to set up.” Also, we weren’t biting our nails over the weather. The downside was not seeing other walkers, or enjoying the atmosphere and excitement of working together toward our goal. Another downside, we weren’t able to raise as much. That was partly due to people going through hard times and not being able to have normal in person visits or normal fundraisers.


The exciting news is that we may be able to have an in person Walk to End Alzheimer’s this year. It will be more work and I’m not sure how I’ll fit that into my new schedule.


Maybe by fall (or sooner!) we can be right side up again and return to some of our pre-pandemic behavior. We’ve developed new skills and habits, so we can select only those activities that are meaningful to us. Lifestyles can be adjusted to embrace the best of both worlds.


Copyright © January 2021 by L.S. Fisher


Sunday, January 17, 2021

I’m for Love

Tuesday morning, I had a strange dream, which isn’t unusual for me. I dream a lot and while I forget many of them, some dreams nag me throughout the next day.


In my dream, I was working on a word search puzzle, and a man sitting nearby looked over my shoulder. “I see an important phrase,” he said. I asked where and he pointed it out.


I opened my eyes and looked at my cell phone to see if it was time to get my first cup of coffee. I forced my aching body out of my nice warm bed and went to the kitchen. I carried my first cup back to bed to relax before walking the dog and cooking breakfast.


While I was eating breakfast, I grabbed my pen to finish the word search I had started the day before. As soon as I looked at the puzzle, I realized the phrase the man in my dream had pointed out to me was “I’m for Love.” Well, it wasn’t in the puzzle in front of me, but I knew it was the title of an old country song. I couldn’t remember much about the song but the chorus.


After breakfast, I sat in front of my computer and thought I’d check out the lyrics and chords for the song. I typed in I’m and up popped “I’m for Love lyrics and chords.” Now if I’d said it aloud or had previously searched for the song, that wouldn’t have been quite so strange.


I picked up my ukulele, played the song, and sang it. Wow, those words were uncanny for these times.


A lot of people are for love, but sometimes it’s not easy. I always called an Alzheimer’s caregiver’s love “unconditional” love. I was used to having love reciprocated, but when Jim lived in the world of dementia, he didn’t show his love anymore except during rare moments of clarity.


Our marriage wasn’t perfect, but dementia made it more imperfect than I had ever imagined. No matter whether we argued (loud talked), worked through depression (his and mine), or struggled to pay the bills, the one constant in our marriage was love.


I’m for love. Without love, life seems kind of pointless. Love comes in many forms whether it is romantic love or love for family, friends, or God. It can even be unconditional love. Sure, when you put your heart out there, you open yourself up to a world of hurt, but more importantly, you can find the secret to the puzzle of life. It’s there in plain sight.


I played my ukulele and posted “I’m for Love” to Facebook. I thought with all the oddities that led me to that song, its message might resonate with someone that needed it. Oh, sure the part about being against cats in the house might have offended cat lovers. Truthfully, I shared my house with a cat for nine years.


I promised to tell in a blog post the story behind choosing that song to sing. As if I would forget, I opened up my blog folder to write this post, and discovered the lyrics and chords of “I’m for Love.” Huh? How did that get in the blog folder? I opened my song folder where it should have been saved, and sure enough, the song wasn’t there.


A simple cut and paste fixed the error. Now if I can just cut the negativity of today and paste it to yesterday where it belongs, I’ll have much more room for love and happiness.


Copyright © January 2021 by L.S. Fisher


Sunday, January 10, 2021

Light the Dark


We started the New Year in the dark. An ice storm had hit during the sleeping hours, and when I woke up at 5:30 in the morning the lamp flashed off and on, then off. Our emergency lighting came on. I immediately called the electric cooperative to report the outage.


In that moment, I regretted that we still did not have an automatic switch on our generator. The generator shed was practically in the yard, but with a layer of ice, neither one of us was capable of traipsing across the yard to light the dark.


At daylight, we called for reinforcements, and Harold’s cousin came and flipped the switch. Our neighbor who used to tell us when the electricity came back on has a generator too. Through our conversation with the neighbor, we learned that the cooperative had an app for that.


Ice is a good example of treacherous beauty. Looking out at the glistening trees and icicles from a warm house is a feast for the eyes. Trying to drive on slick roads, or to walk on an icy sidewalk, is dicey.


I’m not ashamed to admit that I used to be petrified to drive on ice. One time when Jim was in the early stages of dementia, I had him drive me to work. I trusted his driving much more than mine. I eventually learned to navigate the car on ice-covered roads, but it made me nervous. The first hurdle was getting up enough speed to go up the grade to the east. Sometimes, the best plan was to head west and go down into the dip and up the hill.


I’ve spent my life trying to light the dark. Even during the darkest times of dementia, I sought the bright moments—when Jim’s eyes lit up when I walked in his door at the nursing home, when the shower went well and he enjoyed the Rubber Ducky song, or the rare times he spoke.


The past year was filled with personal darkness. I lost two beloved sisters-in-law and a brother-in-law. I lost friends and saw other friends cope with their own dark days. We grieved together, and we found the strength to live with the loss and walked into the light together.


Our country has fallen into dark days. We’ve watched in horror as the pandemic has swept across our nation, sowing denial and harvesting lives. Covid-19 claimed the lives of celebrities, and more painfully, our relatives, friends, and neighbors.


We are a country divided. Too many choose politics over family, extremism over reasonableness, hate over love, conspiracy over unity, and unfortunately darkness over light. Polarized social media and opinion news programs have further divided us. Each of them preaches to the choir inciting distrust and violence.

For those of us who lived through the sixties, we’ve seen this before. The Vietnam War was a huge divider in this country. It was a life, death, and patriotic struggle. The war ended and eventually, the country healed.


I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in the darkness of disease and civil unrest. The only way out of this darkness is to keep moving toward the light. 


Copyright © January 2021 by L.S. Fisher