Life goes on

Grief was my constant companion for much of the last ten years.

During that time I lost both of my parents, and my spouse several times over to memory loss.

Caregivers of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s and dementia first lose their loved one as their cognitive skills disappear in several unique stages.

And then they ultimately witness that final loss, with the death of their loved one.

I was no different.

By the time my husband finally passed, there were no tears left to shed.

Yet earlier this week I caught myself crying some after the election.

My tears weren’t particularly tied to the results, but more towards the hatred and lack of civility bubbling over everywhere.

Still those tears weren’t long lived as I know there is much work to do in this country.

I decided I better start with me.

I knew I had to find some peace to feel grounded if I am to be productive in the days ahead.

Making sense of this election and defining next steps will come to me in time, but only after the rhetoric has faded.

So Saturday I chose to find comfort and community while standing in line for shrimp chowder at the local butcher shop, and a generous slice of pumpkin cake at the bakery afterwards.

The warm welcomes and sweet scents soon had everyone inside smiling again.

No phones appeared or politics were spoken in either place.

And this morning it was all about blue grass and lemon grass Thai treats at our Sunday’s Farmers Market.

Humming as I left to stop by a neighborhood church service, I found myself parking further away than needed.

But I knew it would give me a chance later to walk over the bridge of a brook sparkling in the sunshine, and check in on the garden just beyond.

After the service, upon entering I discovered fragrant and strong yellow roses were still blooming in the breeze.

And cheerful white daisies, too.

I sang softly, “…life goes on in endless song” from the closing hymn I’d just heard.

Yes, I believe it really does.

Even in November of one particularly nasty election year.

Everybody needs a muse

My knobby fingers have quit moving.

And it isn’t the arthritis.

No longer are they keying in the words I want to share.

I’m been pulling together prior posts on Alzheimer’s and dementia with other writings I’ve done on memory loss. I hope to publish a book to help other caregivers.

But I’ve hit a roadblock.

So this morning I decided to go for a long walk to find some inspiration.

And then I found it.

Right there in the bright eyes of a cat staring at me from a bookstore window.

He was perched next to an old noiseless Remington typewriter. It reminded me of my aging and silent computer keyboard back home.

The feline suddenly jumped up as if to show me something.

In the reflection of the dirty shop window, he helped me recognize some current distractions in my house:

-Auto claim paperwork needing follow up from a recent car accident.
-Unread books on my living room coffee table.
-A crazy world spinning faster and faster on my TV and in my news feed.

I thanked the cat. I can ignore all three at least for the moment.

Then the feline led me over to a stack of the store’s newest and boldest book titles. Three impressive titles in particular caught my eye. I believe the cat knew that they might.

“ILLUSIVE”-Is it really an illusive goal to finish a draft of my book I wondered? The cat looked at me and shook his head. It just takes dedication and hard work he seemed to say.

“THE DETOUR”-I’ve been taking a long route to write and re-write my way around the toughest passages. I looked up at the cat again. He seemed to be nodding as if to tell me he understood. Maybe the boy’s dealt with some rough passages in his own nine lives.

“THE FALLOUT”-There have been moments I’ve wanted to give up on my project. The cat tapped at the window as I pondered this title for a while. If the whole point of writing my book draft is to potentially help other caregivers, who am I serving if I quit?

“No one,” I mumbled out loud.

I’m sure I saw the cat nod in agreement as I turned to rush back home to my computer keyboard.

The curator

The blade is dull.

Once a shining wedding present, the 23 year old carving knife now acts as a bookmark in his office.

It sits in the middle of a coffee stained pottery book resting on an artist’s easel.

This still life is to the left of a collection of quarters, dimes and nickels meticulously rearranged into three fresh piles every morning.

I notice the jingle from the soup spoons he carries daily in his pockets has been replaced by the sweeter sound of tiny baby spoons belonging to my granddaughter.

It seems a curator’s job is never quite done.

Even when the mind appears to be.

Working dog

I could tell my chi Rex was excited for his job interview yesterday in spite of his refusal to wear his new plaid bow tie.

My boy’s going to be a working dog, volunteering for pet visits at two local care facilities.

I was feeling nervous for Rex when I felt a big burst of adrenaline race through his tiny 7 lb body as I carried him into the busy reception area for our appointment.

Yet he listened carefully to the roles and responsibilities of the job as they were described to us.

After our interview, Rex was anxious to show off his talents with puppy kisses and lap sitting as he met a few of the dog loving residents.

His performance was admirable.

With a high population of dog lovers at the facility, it sounds like Rex is going to be one busy boy.

Once home, I shared a news story with Rex regarding the the importance of animals to our aging population. http://www.dailymercury.com.au/news/francis-robot-baby-seal-japan-helps-elderly/3038304/

And particularly those afflicted with dementia.

“Hey Rex, just think how important your work and contributions will be here, and you’re the real deal!” I told him as I shared a bite of fruit pastry as a reward.

Licking raspberry jam off my fingers, Rex looked up at me and I’m sure I saw a smile on his face.

I believe my boy understands so much more than I’ll ever know.

Reinvention and resilence

“Get your ducks in a row,” the polished silver haired woman seated before me advised.

A few months after my husband Richard passed away from dementia, and a year after my Mom did the same, I thought I better see a grief counselor.

“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?” I’d asked myself one night in the mirror.

Previously I’d attended a group session for family members of those who’d passed while in hospice, but I left feeling worse then when I went in.

I no longer needed to share my tears and grief over Mom and Richard, but instead wanted to move on with my life. After a decade of caregiving responsibilities related to memory loss for both of my parents and my spouse, I was ready.

Yet I was still mourning what I saw as the loss of ten years of my life.

I felt I’d gone from middle aged to old with the snap of an arthritic finger.

So as I sat with this wise woman before me for my two sessions, I took her advice to heart.

I knew I wasn’t getting any younger, but getting my affairs in order so I could fully enjoy the rest of my days made good sense.

As I sat down by the lake this morning watching sailboats and the family of happy ducks before me, I reflected on the changes I’ve made in the last eight months.

I’ve swapped both houses and communities.

I retired early from my corporate career, and I’m now working in the non profit sector with children.

And I believe I am at peace.

Sharing a muffin with the ducks, I thought too of a former co-worker from my corporate days who experienced rough patches in her own life. She is now an accomplished and very talented poet.

I believe she’s very content and proud of a new book she just published that I finished earlier this morning.

She should be.

And I thought again of contentment as I greeted another former co-employee later at the farmers’ market, a few blocks up from the the lake.

This bright fellow’s become a farmer.

It was an unplanned lifestyle change, starkly different from his corporate life in the city, but it seems to agree with him.

Buying a bunch of red radishes from my friend, my eye caught a basket of colorful notecards with photos he’d taken on his beautiful farm.

An expression of pride immediately spread across his face as I selected the shot of a cheerful and smiling pig to send to an ailing friend.

“You know, these aren’t at all easy to capture on a pig’s face,” he told me, smiling wide as well.

After I left I was thinking how different ships come in during the course of our lives as we venture to different ports of call.

And we always encounter storms along the way.

But in the end, perhaps what provides us peaceful passage may just be those very smiles we give and receive.

Canine caregivers

While balancing 55 hour work weeks and caretaking responsibilities a few years ago I came to an important realization.

Mom and my husband Richard were both suffering from late stage dementia at the time, and I also had a teen and grandchild at home still needing support.

I was running short on sleep, and even shorter on spirit.

Then one Saturday morning I slid down to the kitchen floor to scratch my corgi Maddie’s belly. In response, she licked my hand and looked up at me with soulful eyes full of love.

Then and there I realized this sweet corgi and the rest of my canine crew were there as my own caretakers.

Specifically caretakers of one very shaky spirit and soul.

I was not alone.

As a result, along with Alzheimer’s non profits, dog related causes have been a yearly recipient of my annual donation dollars.

But this year, those dollars given to the dogs have been less than I’d like due to unpredicted expenses.

I’d been feeling a little guilty, until meeting up with two spirited grade schoolers at a neighborhood festival last weekend.

They both had a love for animals, and a vision.

The first shy brown eyed brunette sat at a table with her father collecting dollars for dogs found roaming in Costa Rica that they’d met on a recent trip. She made brightly colored candle holders out of paint and canning jars to sell for the cause.

I emptied my left pocket and added all the coins I pulled to their bucket.

A few tables down, I met another sweet girl who had a different idea to help out the dogs.

She was busily selling dog toys she and her Girl Scout group assembled to support the pound where I adopted my dog Rex in December.

After asking her to pick out a special toy for my boy, she did so proudly selecting one of deep burgundy and blue that she had made.

I emptied my right pocket this time, knowing these pups needed the donation more than I needed the grilled hot dog I was smelling from the stand behind me.

Driving home, I was happy I’d been able to help the dogs some. Yet I was still a little regretful I couldn’t do more or had the vision to help in a creative way like the two young girls I’d just met.

But then after looking at a newsletter I pulled from my mailbox after pulling into my driveway, I reconsidered.

The rescue group that I’d adopted my chi Grandma Greta from republished a post in it that I’d written in early December right after she passed. I’d talked in the piece about what this old girl meant to my spirit and that of others. https://quiltofmissingmemories.wordpress.com/2015/12/02/christmas-story/

In the same issue, the group mentioned a total of over 700 dogs that they helped last year.

If even half of those new owners donated only a dollar in honor of a second hand dog, maybe I have helped in more than a minor way.

And also in a creative one.

I thought the same as I also looked back on another post that the local pound republished of mine on Facebook in late December after I adopted my pup Rex. I wrote about what this little guy is doing for my soul and spirit today. https://quiltofmissingmemories.wordpress.com/2015/12/19/handsome-man/

The pound received over 700 likes on the piece. If even half of those readers donate as well, perhaps I’ve made more of a difference for the dogs than I’d ever realized.

Though arthritis limits what I contribute by hand, perhaps I can continue giving with my words and as many coins as I can muster.

My canine caretakers have given me so much.

I owe it to their legacy to try and do the same.

Simple gifts, and some so grand

With the gift of a breeze that’s got my back, I pick up my pace in warm sunshine.

I’m out for early for a walk, a nearby lake my destination.

To the serenade of robins, I feel light on my feet as I jog past bee friendly yards and a bird friendly coffee shop.

I fumble for any loose change in my pockets.

I’m on a budget, but I know one cup of of dark roast won’t burn too big of a hole.

I’ve grown to love exploring my new neighborhood on Sundays after downsizing last fall to a new place.

Today I’m searching for any simple gifts I might find.

Feeling optimistic, I open the first little free library I encounter across from the lake.

Inside, planted next to an old copy of The New Yorker, I see neatly labeled packages of seeds for pole beans.

I grab one for a small raised bed I’ve been preparing and put it in my back pack.

One block further west, I encounter five more free libraries all proudly standing in front of the local hardware store.

I gravitate to one painted lilac and pull out a book on Alzheimer’s.

But I pass.

I know more than I’d like after a decade of caregiving.

I try again.

This time I find a children’s book on art and another on ants inside.

Perfect for my granddaughter and little grandson I think.

I’m embarrassed by my riches as I’ve left nothing in return. Yet I smile as I think back to last fall when I gave away so much as I moved.

But did I really?

After my walk, I return home to my small cottage to place screens in the windows of my tiny porch.

At 895 square feet, some may consider my cottage to be a closet, but I find it a castle.

I soon feel the breeze again, dancing now with the white curtains teasing my shoulders as I sit on the little love seat on my porch to relax.

I’m more than content as I survey the space before me.

I’ve been longing for a sweet little porch, just like my grandmother’s, since I was six years old.

And now that I’m a grandma myself, I finally have one to call my very own.

What a gift it is, though not simple at all.

I’m calling this one mighty grand.