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.

Burying those ‘Bah Humbugs’

I was having one of those ‘Bah Humbug’ moments.

I’d just lost a mitten while shopping for my kitten.

I had been busily stocking up on emergency supplies at the store up the hill as a winter storm was coming.

Buying replacement mittens definitely was not on my shopping list.

But kitty litter, bread, milk, and lots of chocolate were. And all were fortunately within easy reach of the Santa cookie tins and one available smiling clerk humming “Let It Snow.”

I’m thinking their placement was geared towards keeping my spirits bright.

However, it didn’t.

I soon caught myself uttering another “Bah Humbug.”

Christmas fell off the top of my favorite holiday list way back when I was six.

That was the year the new doll smell and curly blonde hair of a baby doll delivered by Santa attracted the attention of our young beagle. Our dog thought she made the perfect chew toy.

The doll and my Norman Rockwell holiday were never quite the same.

It seems the annual arrival of frigid sub-zero weather with the holidays hasn’t helped my attitude either or all that crazy commercialism and greed.

Even family celebrations have grown a bit more bittersweet year by year.

It’s hard to forget the Christmas Eve when my late dementia stricken mother stared at her grandchildren across the dinner table and blurted out, “So who are you?”

Or the memories of sharing hospital meals of wilted salads and frosted Christmas cookies with my husband while he was in hospice three years ago.

But things really are beginning to look up.

Even in a year when peace and joy seem a bit hard to find.

Luckily, I just found that favorite mitten.

And I’m playing Santa for a few seniors, an animal rescue group, and the young children I work with.

I’m also hoping to share many more last minute smiles before the big day.

You see I once saw a flying Santa in the skies do the same.

It happened a few years ago.

I’d awakened at 6:00 a.m. to hysterical laughter on a holiday flight returning from Amsterdam.

The plane was packed full of travelers of all colors and nationalities. Many didn’t speak English.

It didn’t matter.

Everyone was looking up at the same movie screen smiling, sharing just a few brief moments of comfort and joy.

As well as those chuckles.

This time of year, no matter your beliefs, perhaps that’s what matters most.

Happy Birthday, Dog

I celebrated my birthday last night with a can of Chef Boyardee.

Well, sort of.

Actually I’d gotten my real celebrating done early since I heard a few weeks ago that winter would be arriving on my birthday, which it did.

It’s amazing how the weather folks can nail down their predictions, but not those political prognosticators.

Anyway after scraping ice off my car locks I drove safely back home in snow and a howling wind. I could have picked up chow mein and chocolate cake, but putting the car to bed and grabbing a can from my personal blizzard bistro seemed much more inviting.

I partied briefly with the dogs afterwards, ignoring the big mess of papers on the floor from a bag of recycling I’d forgotten to take out in the morning. My terrier Tucker had been particularly tense and had torn them all up into tiny pieces.

It seemed the screen door near Tuck’s crate in the kitchen had been banging for hours from the 50 mph wind gusts.

We all decided to try to turn in early to stay warm, even though we knew it could be a restless one.

This morning still hearing those high winds and feeling a draft in the house my spirits sank some.

I got down on my hands and knees finally picking up the tiny bits of paper I’d ignored that were now lodged into the back of Tuck’s dog crate.

Looking out the window, I was blue looking up at the gray sky and the return of a frozen white landscape.

And I was likely blue as well from missing my big brother Scott whose birthday was today.

Being just one day shy of two years apart, we typically celebrated together until he passed away unexpectedly some years ago.

Scott was experiencing a few challenges right before he left us, but I’ve been reminded by my sister that he’d begun work on making changes in his life and “he’d even gotten a dog.”

‘Dog’ had always been Scott’s nickname.

And he loved every one of them.

As I was about to finish cleaning the crate, Tucker walked over and licked my hand just as the old Bing Crosby holiday song, “Counting My Blessings” began to play on NPR.

Suddenly a picture from a stack of old photos resting on a shelf in my kitchen slid down towards the floor.

As the rest of my canine crew trotted over my way, I picked up the photo.

I saw it was a picture of Scott and myself with a big birthday cake.

And I’m thinking it’s from the last celebration we shared.

“Happy Birthday, Dog!” I said softly walking out the door into the day with my little pack of blessings on leashes.

All was calm and the sun was bright once again.

And that’s another blessing for sure I thought, as I made myself a snow angel.

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.

Dignity, with a dose of joy

Grief is a funny thing.

Or maybe not.

You think you’ve got proper protection then something bites you in the backyard.

Just like a big old mosquito.

I was outside playing with the dogs tonight when I got stung.

There laying on the freshly cut grass before me was my loving corgi Maddie. My girl’s close to 14 now and she was looking lethargic with her head down on the ground.

One of Maddie’s backlegs is lame, and now the second seems to be slowing down as well.

I joined her on my stomach anyway right next to her, and started snapping pictures.

But that usual magical spark was missing in Maddie’s eyes which was bringing me down even lower.

My girl’s expression reminded me of the words my paternal grandmother shared with me in her eighties.  “It’s hell getting old,” Grandma would often say before she passed from Alzheimer’s a few years later.

I stopped and thought for a moment about about those I’ve lost in in my life, particularly in the last 3 or 4 years.

There once was a mother, one husband, and three sweet senior dogs.

Mom, my spouse Richard, and even one of the dogs had dementia. And yet they all managed to keep happy in spite of their illnesses.

Perhaps even happier than my late corgi Mariah and chi-doxie Greta who held on to their cognitive skills till the day each of them passed on.

I began to scratch Maddie’s soft belly for a while to calm her and to calm me.

Suddenly a mourning dove began to croon on the weathered fence post behind us, but it wasn’t a sad song at all.

Then a monarch darted and danced right past Maddie’s black nose demanding her attention before taking off for the barbecue next door.

Soon I saw joy and dignity return to Maddie’s face.

And I felt a growing smile on mine as my camera hooked just the shot I was looking for.

It’s definitely a keeper.