Drowning? You’ll be fine.
Support’s there, most everywhere.
Open up your eyes.
(Dedicated to the caregivers among us)
“…So their work is mostly us, their families. They stay close, pay close attention, watch over us, and are always available to us.”
Book author Jon Katz wrote those words in a post last week about smaller dogs.
I smiled as I read it, and I also cried some as well.
My 14 year old corgi Maddie had just passed away last Monday.
It seemed I’d become Maddie’s purpose over the years after a brief stint as a breeder dog.
And she handled her role with grace, love and compassion always.
I often felt she’d become my own unique caregiver over the last decade as I dealt with the loss of both my parents and husband from Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
She’d calm my constant rage with the cruel disease by simply offering her belly for scratching or even a soft ear that would just listen.
Sometimes it was a just a big, wet button nose to kiss.
Maddie’s whole face wore joy so well, even in her final months.
She radiated happiness in her pet stroller as we’d navigate around the lake in the sunshine.
And Maddie looked even happier as we’d stop at the nearby bakery for free sugary smells and fresh samples.
Yet she was also very content just keeping an eye on me from her cozy dog bed in the kitchen in her final days.
After all, she still saw it as her job till the end.
Those big round eyes were so full of soul, yet often they were mixed with just a little mischief.
No wonder everyone loved Maddie, both man and beast.
The morning after Maddie passed, my Chi pup Rex was blue and refused to eat for the first time.
And my Yorkie Tucker, hid under the bed.
He’s never done that before either.
Yet this week we all seem to be moving on.
I know Maddie’s in a good place. And as I told the rest of the canine clan this morning, “Don’t worry, she’s still watching over us.”
I like to think they agreed as we looked up at the sky while walking out the door into the beautiful day before us.
“You can pick him up now. There’s nothing left to test,” I was told by the busy neurologist on the phone.
He was referring to my late husband, Richard.
And he was talking about my husband’s fading memory.
The appointment was just a year after Richard’s initial dementia diagnosis. I’d been told by the doctor they would need several hours for testing.
Yet my cell phone was ringing in less than five minutes.
It wasn’t long after the call that I started considering eventual placement in a group home at the strong encouragement of Richard’s doctor.
I was in over my head, yet needed to be convinced that the quality of his care and his existence would be improved if he was to move.
One category on my wish list for him was the opportunity to go on outings which I knew would require a van.
The home that Richard eventually moved into had both, as well as a great activity director.
On my first visit to the home, I’d noticed museums were a favored destination on their calendar including the beautiful art museum where my husband used to work as a curator.
On Richard’s first outing back to the museum as a group home resident, the man with no memory somehow managed to get out of his wheelchair and navigate purposefully down several long hallways, and through a restricted area back to his old office.
The museum guards stepped out of his way and smiled as they watched their former co-worker, as did the teary eyed staff and volunteers from the group home.
And though that magical moment never quite had a second act, that group home van would eventually take Richard on many other magical adventures that would always put a smile on his face.
Concerts, apple orchards, theaters, fishing excursions, picnics, restaurants…
Richard’s play list went on and on.
Oh, the places he went.
Thanks to a van, his magic bus.
“You could divorce your husband,” the young man on the other side of the desk told me sporting a somewhat pained expression.
I sensed it wasn’t his favorite option.
I’d made an appointment to gain advice on how to survive an approaching tsunami of expenses involved with caring for my husband’s early onset dementia.
That conversation with the professional is like many other heart wrenching memories of caring for a middle aged 200 pound man whose memory was fading fast.
Fortunately I find the toughest recollections have now faded a bit as well, stopping by for brief interludes on holidays like Valentine’s Day along with the very good ones.
I said hello to a little photograph in the red frame this morning of my late husband and me.
It was taken the night before our wedding at my parents’ home.
They’ve also since passed on from Alzheimer’s and dementia.
But I smiled as I held it.
It was a great celebration filled with love.
And today I will celebrate only my good memories.
In addition, I will honor the new ones I am making this Valentine’s Day.
I’ll be coloring bright red and pink paper hearts shortly with some little ones.
Then spreading sweet cheer later on with some very special seniors.
And finally, I will rest well this night with my loving four legged furry friends at my feet.
It seems anyway I look at it, love is still a wonderful commitment.
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.
“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.