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.

Kudos for those who care

Bouquets for the caregivers,
Wherever they may be.
So tireless and devoted,
Often others do not see.

Sharing love with those who try,
But can’t be understood.
Giving their warm hugs and hands,
I so wish everyone would.

iPods, music and memories

Although the experience was a first for me, it wasn’t exactly on my bucket list.

I don’t go to movies much, but there was one I wanted to see before it disappeared from view.

I knew it wouldn’t be of interest to everyone, though it had been the audience favorite at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

So after deciding to see a movie by myself for the very first time I drove over to a theatre that only shows independent films.

Buying my ticket, I noticed fancy imported chocolate bars for sale next right next to the popcorn. Had it been that long since I’d been to a movie, I wondered?

I quickly grabbed one, as dark chocolate always make for a good companion.

The movie I was there to watch was “Alive Inside”.

It’s a documentary that follows the story of a man with a vision about the healing power of music. He believes that an iPod personalized to the music taste of someone with Alzheimer’s or other memory loss can be a powerful and joyous thing.

The experts who were interviewed, and the filmmaker through his chronicles, quickly proved the point.

It seems personalized iPods can succeed where prescriptions often fall short.

I sure wish I’d had one for my husband packed with the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart and all that opera music he loved so well.

In the theatre this afternoon, I counted just 16 people.

I’m sure most of them were family members and/or caregivers of someone one with memory loss.

But I know watching the movie resulted in a several valuable lessons for me:

-One great idea with tons of tenacity can truly make a difference.
-Even though memory loss is a tough subject, some joy can always be found.
-With an aging population and the predicted growth in memory loss, the more we know about creating happiness for those afflicted the better.
-Independent theaters who play movies that won’t generate a profit should be rewarded.
-Imported chocolate is always a better option than popcorn.
-And finally, when you go to a movie by yourself, you get to sit wherever you want.

And here I thought I was just going to a movie…

Harvesting Joy

Harvesting joy doesn’t come easily to me.

But I’m not giving up.

I continue to pull out the weeds of the last decade of caregiving for my family members with memory loss.

This morning with the falling rain, I reflected back on a few of the thornier broad leaf moments overshadowing me the last few years:

-The call from the neuro-psych to pick up my PhD spouse just five minutes into a two hour appointment. “There’s no memory left to test,” I was told.

-The instant reality check when I realized my husband’s dementia had far exceeded Mom’s during one of her care conferences.

-Discovering Mom had left Dad (with his Alzheimer’s) alone overnight after falling down a flight of stairs. Mom’s own dementia had finally surpassed her judgment.

-Watching some friends fade away when they couldn’t cope seeing my middle aged husband wilt deeper into dementia.

Maybe they thought they’d catch it.

Yet I realize now I’ve been blessed with an iPad and memories as a form of healing, and possibly as tools to support those going through something similar.

Perhaps even as a way to educate those who are not.

I know I’m also fortunate to have my own health as I begin to volunteer as a companion to caregivers who are overwhelmed and often alone.

And there are lots of them.

I know. I was one of them.

With the rains now subsiding, I’ll continue climbing up my hill to gather that spray of bountiful joy.

And to any caregiver reading this, I’m planning on dedicating my bouquet of sunshine especially to you.

So few deserve it more.

Journey of Joy

I never expected to be delivering a eulogy for my husband last New Year’s Eve.

But the timing of the event wasn’t lost on me.

I abruptly started this year on a very different, unplanned journey. But one with a backpack full of possibilities.

And I’m moving forward now at a quicker pace, even if I do fall off track occasionally.

For last 10 years I’ve been involved with four generations of caregiving. Yes, there were some heart wrenching days, but there were also many rewarding ones.

Witnessing a rare smile on Dad’s expressionless face, holding hands with my husband in hospice, or drying my little granddaughter’s tears are memories I’ll always keep with me.

But for now, I’m in a period of respite from caregiving and I’m ready to make up for some lost time.

Also knowing another milestone birthday is coming around the bend, provides additional motivation to just keep moving.

As a result, I’ve started what I’ve labeled my ’50 for 60′ bucket list.

Each of the 50 items entered is something from my past I’d like to revisit such as taking a sketching class, or something totally new like paddling a kayak.

Some tasks that made the list are geared towards helping others. For example, number 8 involves starting a foundation to help provide respite support for caregivers of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

There will be costs involved with some activities, but most are minimal or free.

Soon I’ll be taking short road trips to trails I’ve never walked, historical museums I’ve never entered, and mirrored lakes I’ve wanted to photograph.

I met with a coach/friend yesterday who did the same three years ago, and she provided me with the perfect ‘compass’ to keep me from getting lost.

Her own personal road map for the successful journey she took.

Will I get everything checked off the list by my birthday?

Probably not.

But I’ll sure enjoy the ride.

As this will be one pure journey of joy.

I can help…

Bring joy to those afflicted with memory loss.
Bring joy to caregivers assisting them.

I will share gifts of:

-Tai Chi
-Hand holding
-Back rubs for those tired and stressed.
-Time, listening to stories I’ve heard before.
-The warmth of friendship.
-Love and lots of it.

My mission statement for this year.

I better get busy.