Blue Highways

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”
― Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Since the moment those deep soulful eyes first met mine, I knew the 6 year old corgi resting before epitomized grace.

And I sensed her grace would help lead me through the journey I was on.

Much like a spirit animal, I thought.

I’d brought my husband Richard along for the long ride to meet Maddie.

“We’re going to drive north and we’ll just take a look,” I’d told Richard earlier that morning eight years ago as I hurriedly entered the interstate to beat the heavy rush hour traffic.

But I doubt he was even listening.

Richard’s early onset dementia had also been rapidly accelerating, as was my stress. And my mother’s dementia seemed to be on the same fast track.

When we arrived at the animal shelter four hours later Maddie spotted us, sporting a smile. She soon rolled to her back, begging for a belly scratch.

I quickly felt my stress melt in spite of the chilly weather.

Maddie had been a former working dog.

“She’s was from a very questionable backyard breeder,” the volunteer told me frowning.

Living on a back porch in the frigid winter months producing litter after litter must have been miserable, I remember thinking.

Yet looking back it seemed Maddie did learn resilience, and fine tuned her nurturing skills while there.

Maybe I have as well through all she’s shared with me over the years.

Today my caregiving responsibilities are gone with the death of my husband and my mom a few years go. I’ve retired from being a caregiver, at least for now.

Maddie and I have become seniors ourselves though she’s outpacing me some in that race.

My girl’s 98 in dog years, and is totally lame.

She’s getting tired, but is still happy most days.

“You need to start thinking about Maddie’s end of life, and her quality of life,” the vet told me recently.

“I am,” I replied with a look of resignation as I walked out.

I was in desperate need of a good cry.

It quickly became my purpose that day to see the controversial movie, “A Dog’s Purpose”.

In the film I knew there was a well loved corgi portrayed who passed away.

My sobbing started as soon as that corgi appeared on screen.

And my tears were quickly creating a waterfall.

They blocked my vision as I stumbled out of my seat, past the buttered popcorn, and then blindly entered the mens’ room in search of more Kleenex.

I apologized profusely to the three gentlemen in there who were staring at me.

Now that my tears are finely gone, I’m watching for more signs that it’s time for Maddie to move on.

This morning she smiled up at me when she spotted me, just as she has so often.

I’ve been blessed to witness plenty of those warm smiles on the sometimes bumpy journey we’ve shared together.

Yet I’m also starting to pay attention to what Maddie has to say as well.

Unfortunately there are no carefully drafted end of life wishes for our aging canine friends.

“Are you ready to go girl?” I ask Maddie if she’s looking a bit down sometimes at night.

I’m not hearing an answer, at least yet.

Author Jon Katz has written in his book ‘Talking to Animals’, “If we listen, they can tell us.”

One day soon I know that Maddie will.

And I’ll be there to help her along, no matter what path she decides to take.

I only hope she can run again like the wind.

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?

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.

Everybody needs a muse

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.

Handsome Man

“You need a handsome man.”

I wasn’t looking for any advice, but recently got some anyway from my five year old grandson.

My daughter Nicole and grandkids had stopped over for a pizza party.

Nicole shook her head commenting, “Where’d he ever pick up that line?”

I quickly turned the topic over to the Mickey Mouse holiday puzzle in front of us.

It will be two years next week since my husband Richard passed from early onset dementia and other related health issues. He left us the day after Christmas.

In terms of holidays, Christmas has never been my favorite. Thanksgiving’s always ranked number one on my list.

Maybe it’s because I prefer gratitude to the greed that often blooms bright in December.

Yet I knew Christmas had snuck in the door once I noticed the annual Lutefisk dinner ads posted in the bathroom stalls at the local Lutheran church.

Still no handsome man was going on my wish lists and most of my Christmas decorations were donated as part of my recent move to a smaller home.

With that move, I’m now living a mile from the hospital where my husband died. And I need to drive by it every night to return home from work.

I’d recently found the gray December weather had made me blue, particularly once the annual holiday light display was turned on again at the hospital.

But one night last week I noticed for the first time a shining star to the north while driving by.

It rested atop the hospital’s brick tower where my husband spent his final days in hospice.

I found myself smiling as I looked up.

And then I turned the radio over to the all Christmas music station.

As light flurries began to fall, I continued driving north to pick up one potential gift I’d put on hold.

This one’s a gift for me.

And I know he will be for others through the volunteer hospice work we’ll be doing.

You see, I ended up taking my grandson’s advice after all.

I went and found myself a handsome man.

And it seems my four legged fellow already knows how to give perfect puppy kisses.

Soul Sister

Ok. I should have known better.

I’d driven over to the shelter to buy some shiny new dog collars that were donated as a part of a big fundraiser.

But first I decided to stop in the adoption room upstairs to play with the kittens. I admit I’m more of a dog person, but there’s something so special about a new kitten.

It had been a particularly hard day. It was a few weeks after I’d moved my husband to a facility for round the clock care due to the severity of his dementia.

Surely some soft little fur balls ought to soothe my nerves, I thought.

And they were mighty cute as I watched them wrestle, then snuggle up tight with each other afterwards.

One of the kittens I spotted was a little larger than the rest.

A pretty calico.

But I probably should say she spotted me.

I could hear her tiny paws scratching on the glass as she tried to jump up and down, attempting to get my attention.

“Pick me, pick me,” she seemed to be saying.

I smiled down at her.

“Ok, but we’re only going to play, and just for a few minutes,”  I whispered.

I then carried the little calico into one of the smaller ‘get acquainted’ rooms for some one on one time. She immediately jumped up on my lap and purred, and then purred some more.

And she wasn’t budging.

A young gum cracking employee handed me her information card.

“Her real name’s Maddie and she’s 13,” she told me while reading the expression on my face.

“I know. Everyone thinks she’s a kitty”, she added now cracking a smile.

“She’s been around here quite a while. You know, her being so old and all.”

As you’ve may have guessed, little Miss Kitty went home with me that night.

And I forgot to buy the new shiny dog collars.

Ms. Kitty’s been a gift to have around and has sensed each of my moods. She’s also shown love and compassion.

And of course, that older cats rule.

We’ve supported each other through life’s most challenging days.

In fact, little Miss Kitty’s been my soul sister.

I thought I might lose her right before my husband went into hospice 18 months ago, but she rallied and was in turn a spirit cat for me when my husband passed. And also for the first year after.

But on Friday morning Miss Kitty suddenly looked older.

And more weary.

When I came home after work, I noticed she hadn’t eaten her food.

While preparing for a visit to the vet, she took her last tiny breath.

But peacefully, and on her own terms.

I’m wondering if she sensed her work was done here, and that she could finally relax?

I do know I miss having her company on my lap as I write this, but I am content.

Though I said I should have known better then to take her home with me four years ago, I’m so glad that I did.

Because as I have come to learn, some loss will always be a part of a life well lived.