Beauty blooms in January

“Beauty is so quietly woven through our ordinary days that we hardly notice it. Everywhere there is tenderness, care and kindness there is beauty.”

-John O’Donohue
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Perhaps it was a little crazy to take on a hospice cat over the holidays, or was it?

I was asking that potentially depressing question to a friend earlier this week since my husband passed away in hospice right after Christmas a few years ago.

On this gloomy bitter cold Sunday I’ve been watching Mr. Bojangles curl up on a cozy cat bed right beside me.

And I’ve actually been finding myself smiling.

Mr. Bojangles is holding his head up high, but not quite as high as he did when he first joined me.

Still he does so with grace.

Sure the fellow’s estimated to have only 2-5 months left at this point, but who really knows when our time is up anyway.

Three days ago Mr. Bojangles had stopped eating and didn’t seem to be drinking water. Yet by the next evening, I discovered he was back in the game.

However, it’s clear his appetite isn’t what it once was no matter the type of food given.

I’ve also noticed Mr. Bojangles is moving a bit slower, still every step he takes is deliberate. Though I no longer find him climbing the stairs to join the dogs up in the kitchen for breakfast.

Instead he prefers I join him in his private room and hold him as he tenderly takes in every flake of his tuna meals.

It seems Mr. Bojangles likes this extra one on one time.

I do know that I love providing him the extra attention he deserves along with some extra warm blankets.

Mid January can be especially cruel here in the upper midwest and this week has been no different.

Sub zero temperatures, icy roads with 20 car pile ups, and what looked like the loss of my hospice cat 3 days ago was beginning to play havoc with my soul.

Yet as I smell my beef stew now simmering in the crock pot while watching fresh snowflakes dance out the window to the sounds of that hospice cat still purring softly, I know it still is a beautiful world.

Yes, even in January.

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Sweet Passage: Part One

“…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.

Blooming in a storm

Sometimes it’s easier to do nothing.

Sometimes you realize you must.

In a four year period my father died from Alzheimer’s, my mother was diagnosed with dementia, and also my husband Richard.

Life wasn’t pretty back then.

And my coping skills were more than spent.

Since Alzheimer’s and dementia are ultimately fatal diseases, Mom and Richard also soon joined Dad in the after life.

It’s been three years now since Richard, the last of the three, passed away.

I wanted to stay far, far away from the battles of anger, frustration, and pain I often felt while caregiving.

Yet after watching a recent PBS special that spoke of the “tsunami” of Alzheimer’s, I was drawn back into the war. http://www.pbs.org/tpt/alzheimers-every-minute-counts/about/the-film/

With the numbers of those afflicted woth Alzheimer’s increasing dramatically, it’s no wonder the show refered to the disease as both a “human tragedy and an economic one as well” for our country.

Last week I was asked to facilitate an Alzheimer’s support group for caregivers.

I admit I stalled some in making my decision and went for a long walk around the lake to mull it over.

Was I emotionally ready? Did I have the right skill set? Did I have the time?

Then I thought again of all those caregivers. Warriors who are battling the biggest storm of their life, or at least of their loved ones.

As I finished my trek, I stood and looked at the beautiful vista unfolding before me.

Maybe I could help some caregivers find a patch of blue sky and even bloom just a little on the darkest days.

I went home and immediately sent a note of acceptance for this great opportunity to serve.

How could I not?

Oh, the places you’ll go

“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.

Commited to Love

“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.

Mine either.

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.

Simple Words of Strength

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My husband Richard passed away three years ago tonight, but I find myself celebrating in a way.

Sure his life was cut too short, and his early onset dementia was cruel, yet most of his days were good ones.

It seems Richard knew how to live well.

His life was never a rich one monetarily, but it was in experiences, accomplishments, and in his work with the arts community.

Richard also knew how to laugh.

A lot.

And mostly, at himself.

The first time I met Richard at a dinner party, he was already making the others guests hysterical while describing a crazy New Year’s Eve just spent with an elderly aunt in Boston.

And Richard would always be the first to chuckle at the graduate school pictures of himself from the 70’s with his long brown hair, skinny torso, and Barnaby Street bell bottom suits.

By the time I met him a decade later at the party, he was sporting instead a marine cut, balding white hair, and a slight Santa pot belly masked under preppy flannels.

I believe I admired most Richard’s ability to share his loving heart with others.

And often to those with the greatest need.

Richard was the first to mention the idea of adopting a very special 12 year old girl from Russia. And did he ever LOVE to spoil this girl after our adoption was finalized and we all came back together to the U.S.

That special girl grew to become one very special lady. She, along with her young family, came over today for a belated Christmas celebration.

We had a joyful time dancing in our family room and I hadn’t thought about today’s anniversary until she pulled out one of Richard’s old graduate school photos from her purse. I then glanced briefly at some later photos of Richard on the book shelves behind her and smiled.

Perhaps in this last week of 2016, I should now be thinking about jotting down my resolutions for the new year.

Like lose that extra ten pounds or find the best job ever.

But I don’t really need too.

I’ve just realized my resolutions have been right here behind me in my family room, and in bold, ever since I down sized into my new home.

Just three short words can say it all, and I will practice them every day.

“Live, laugh, love.”

Sounds like a whole lot more fun than going on a diet.

And after all, life is just too short.