Drowning? You’ll be fine.
Support’s there, most everywhere.
Open up your eyes.
(Dedicated to the caregivers among us)
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.
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.
After a decade of caregiving, I’m now focusing on self care and my own plans for the future. But that focus brings with it more questions than answers.
Such as where will I live?
What do I need to survive?
Can I return to the freedom and transcendence of my twenties?
And is that realistic?
What I do know for sure is I’m often overthinking my decisions, which only leads to over stressing.
So with the chirping chickadees beckoning me out into the sunshine, I’m confident exercise is the right path for me this day.
I head to a nearby park reserve.
Snowshoeing down the canal, I hang a right past two smiling teens in plaid shorts basking in 40 degree temps.
To my left as I enter the lake, I dodge holes left by ice fishermen long gone. Though soon I spot new ones being aggressively augured by ice fisherwomen behind a rusting Chevy truck.
I move on.
My final destination is the simple yet sturdy home of a neighbor.
One I’ve never met, though I know this neighbor’s out of town.
Most likely she’s in Florida, as are many Minnesotans this time of year.
We call them ‘snowbirds’ here in the midwest.
As I get closer, I see this snowbird’s home rests atop the tallest tree on the shoreline.
She’s one very lucky bald eagle.
This elegant bird of strength will be soaring back in March to her familiar nest to lay this year’s eggs.
A smart female, I’m thinking.
Nomadic, yet a bird who knows just what she wants and needs to stay centered.
Flying with grace on her return flight to Minnesota, she’ll settle in again to simplicity and beauty.
Maybe there is a lesson for me woven right into her special nest.
I look up and smile at this simply constructed home of strength.
Once the ice melts I’ll be kayaking over again to welcome the bird back home, as well as to thank her.
In the meantime, I’ll return home to work on simplifying my own nest.
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.