Monday Musings

Happy Monday world! This isn’t just another Monday. Here in the states it’s Memorial Day.

Yes many often view it as a three day weekend, a kick start to summer and a day to BBQ. The reality is, its a day of solemn remembrance for the men and women who served and gave their lives for our country.

I know if I made a trip to the military cemetery where my father is buried, a flag would be on his stone as well as the thousands of others who surround him.

My father did two terms in Vietnam. He was always immensely proud of his service to our country.

He never talked about his time there. It wasn’t until the last year of his life that he said some things that made sense to some of his ( we thought, idiosyncrasies) and I think it was only the advancing of his alzheimers that may have loosened the memories and let them out.

He always wanted the windows closed and locked. It made my mom crazy. He revealed in his later days that the enemy used to hide in the jungle and trees and then attack. ( we live in the country surrounded by some very dense terrain) he had never lost the worry that they were still out there.

Or more chilling how the sound of aircraft made him tense… the enemy would fly over and throw the dead soldiers from the helicopter. A reminder they could be next.

It was a roadside bomb exploding and causing the vehicle he was in to crash causing injuries that sent him to Germany to rehab and then finally home.

I’m not sure you or I can even begin to grasp what our service men and women go through, or how it makes a lifetime indelible impact on them physically, emotionally and spiritually.

On this day we remember those who sacrificed their lives. Those who left behind loved ones, dreams, and plans for the future.

I thought of how so many laid down their lives as…..

I passed a man selling fresh produce on the side of the road this morning.

I saw a bumper sticker proclaiming political views.

I drove by multiple churches.

I made plans for my business.

I recently voted in an election.

I shopped in stores with a great abundance of food and other items.

Freedom.

We have so much freedom in our country to use our voices, to run businesses, to move about freely, to worship as we choose, or not choose. We have freedom to vote for our elected leaders.

We have so many freedoms and it’s on this solemn day we stop to remember…to remember those who gave all so that we can live in the daily freedoms we take so for granted.

Thank you seems so small…..such small words for gratitude of giving and serving with ones life.

As you gather with your family on this day, I hope you take a moment to pause and give thanks for the precious gift of freedoms you have and for the lives of those who make it possible.

The Step Parent

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Christmas 1998 with my dad

 

 

Heads up. This is a “life” post. Don’t worry… we’ll return to healthy eating, fitness, my current cycling adventures, food, and other interesting topics soon….

This past Sunday we¬† celebrated Fathers Day in the U.S. It’s¬†a day celebrated each year on the third Sunday in June to honor the men in our lives.

I’m blessed to be surrounded by some pretty awesome men in my life, from my inner circle, to those I interact with¬†out in the¬†world.

The man in the picture is my dad. It’s obviously, not, a current photo of me. My mom dated it ’98 on the back. I found it digging through some old photos that she had. Honestly, I have no memory of that picture being taken.

I was a young mom and according to the year my boys would’ve been between 4-10 years old.

No laughing at my mom jeans and bangs.

Christmas has always been a fun, celebratory event in our family. My parents delighted in it and loved giving way more than anything they’d receive. Not only did they always bless us with a fun Christmas, they’d also find a needy family or two to help out. My mom always wanted those families to experience Christmas like she gave to her family.

My dad was the handwriting for “Santa” for way longer than my kids probably bought into it. He loved doing that, it was his job he knew he was expected to do each year. He’d get the name tags ( ask again how to spell everyone’s name haha) and get to work on his project.

Maybe I should pause here to mention… he’s technically… my “step” dad.

I never use that term unless, for some reason I have to clarify something in my life and using the “step” part helps to do that.

My feelings…on referring to anyone as “step” something? I don’t like it.

To me it says… keep your distance, I don’t want you to close, you aren’t worthy enough to not have the “step” attached to it, you aren’t as good as the original etc etc

Now don’t crucify me if you don’t agree. I know all situations are different for people but for the sake of (me) in my family, I have always tried to just include everyone as a part without making them feel separated out.

So, he’s technically my “step” dad. He came into my life when I was 19, almost 20, and about to be married.

I had passed the point of needing a dad. I had two men in my life who had that job and both had walked out on me and my family.

My birth dad left my family when I was 8 for another woman.

My mom later remarried and this man “adopted” us. When I was 17 he walked out.

When this new guy ( step dad #2 ) came around, I was a bit jaded to male figures in my life at that point as “dad”.

Hear me out on this… I’ve made my peace a long time ago with it all. I’ve not allowed it to define me or make me bitter or angry. I’ve not carried it along with me as baggage. I’ve not held onto hurts that I can take out and pet when I’m feeling sorry for myself. Like all things in life, I believe it has strengthened and defined me as a woman. It is what it is, I can be bitter or I can deal with it and move on and that’s what I’ve done.

Oh of course, years ago, I did ask all the questions. I did ponder the “whys” of it. I did wonder why two men didn’t wanna stick around in my life.

I asked all the hard questions. I got answers for some things, some I didn’t.

And I let it go. Nothing would change what was.

My “step” dad.

He married my mom the year after I was married.

He never tried to set himself up as my dad. As an adult, I called him by his first name from day one.

His personality was a bit gruff, rough and stoic. He didn’t often reveal a lot about himself. He had his own quirky things that we all came to jokingly love and tease about.

Rough and not sometimes “polished”, he would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He would help you if you had any need.

As the years went by and he was still around, he just did those things dads would do.

If I had car problems, I called and he’d come rescue me. If I needed help with anything, he was willing to do what he could.

When my husband was in school and things were tight I can remember him and my mom dragging bags of groceries in telling us “they had been at the store and just thought we might need a couple things”

When we started having babies, he always wanted us to have what we needed. He loved picking things out for them.

He bragged on me to anyone who would listen. Even now,¬†with his memory slipping away, one of his caretakers told me one day when I stopped…. “Oh, you’re the runner. I’ve heard all about you”

Life just settled into routine and the years went by…

He was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimers a few years before my mom passed away.

They celebrated 30 years of marriage shortly before¬† her death ( 2 years ago) then the ¬†mantle of “Caretaker” fell on my shoulders.

It has not been easy watching this disease take a horrible toll on him. It is heartbreaking when he asks if it’s ok to use things in his house… or if it’s REALLY his house.

I have to remind him to eat, tell him he needs to take off his shirt before he puts on another one otherwise he will have “layers”, and try and convince him it’s not winter, but summer and he doesn’t need to wear heavy coats.

Looking at photos this passed weekend, he saw some of my mom, and when asked who she was he said… “your mother”…. yet… was unable to come up with her name.

He has days when he’s almost like himself and those are nice. I’ve just gone through “hell week” as this past week was awful with him being angry, temperamental and very uncooperative.

Those days are draining. They make me feel helpless. Tired. Overwhelmed.

I sometimes don’t know which way to go and what to do. I feel a heavy level of responsibility to make sure his needs are met in the best way possible.

He doesn’t always know it, but I’m what he’s got. I’m his advocate.. standing in the gap and fighting for him….Some days I feel so inadequate.

That’s often what you feel like as a parent isn’t it?

Somehow, our roles have been reversed. I try and give him the freedom and dignity as the grown man he is, while remembering mentally, I’m dealing with someone more childlike and have to guide and protect for his best interests.

So, we celebrated Fathers Day yesterday.

He may or may not have totally gotten what the entire day was about.

He may or may not have read and understood the cards or the writing on them.  He may not be able to retrieve the memories in the photos that were shared with him or the names of people. They could be lurking in his mind like ghosts of yesterday or play out like stories from another life in his mind.

32 years have gone by since he entered my life. Those years have contained all the things that make up our lives…. from the normal mundane, to the fun and exciting, the sorrows, and joys, laughter and tears… he’s been there.

So yeah, I dropped the “step” thing a very long time ago. At the end of the day, at the end of our lives, it’s simply about being family, isn’t it?

And family is anyone, I believe, who we bring into our lives to embrace and accept as such.

The Amazing Thing About Mom

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Hello faithful readers… as you sit reading this perhaps, over your morning coffee, it is late evening on Sunday night and my mind has been an empty vortex of nothingness as I ponder what to write¬†that I can¬†share with you come Monday morning.

This troubles and annoys me at the same time. At any given moment I have ideas, thoughts, and words crowding to get out of my head. New topics to write on. New information to share. Words of encouragement to offer you. Random posts to exercise my creativity.

But when I sit down and it’s a struggle… and everything feels disjointed… well as a writer it’s the thing that bugs me the most.

Yet finally, I know what will come, and the words are ready to come stumbling out……

Perhaps in my day I’ve tried to ignore one of the things that’s been the proverbial “elephant in the room”.¬† First of all, on this day, it’s my daughters birthday. She turned 18. A beautiful, confident young woman. It’s such a milestone birthday and one she has been excited about. I’ve focused on her and her life. The celebration of who she is.

I’ve tried to not camp on another thought crowding in. I’ve tried to focus on this as a day of celebrating and embracing life and the beauty of my daughter.

However, for me it will also remain and will forever be, the day my mother left this earth.

It’s been two years now.

There are times I mentally shake myself realizing she’s not here. Just the other morning I had made this amazing thing for breakfast and I was thinking to call her. I know better… I do.. but the urge was so strong….

She loved cooking and baking and all things involved in the kitchen. We often exchanged food ideas or she’d make something to experiment and send the leftovers to us. My favorites were random dessert nights and I could run over and get whatever treat she had whipped up while it was still warm from the oven. She was amazing with her cooking… the kid in me still wants her to make me food.

She loved cookbooks. She “read” them. She has so many that at some point I need to work my way through them. I’ve brought home some I’ve found that she had marked with sticky notes and personal insights on things she’d made. Those I want. I found an old recipe box that contained recipes written in not just her handwriting, but my grandmothers and great grandmothers.

Holidays were a time of brainstorming over using the same familiar fare, but also trying something new. I loved when she’d call about an upcoming holiday and want to know “what we were doing for dinner” …meaning both of us together. Or how she’d eagerly tell me about something new she¬† had found to make.

I think of her when I’m going through tough days and just want to talk to her in the way only a daughter can talk to her mom.

I want to tell her that I understand now so many of her struggles with my dad who has Alzheimers… and wish I¬† had REALLY known…. and understood the things she sought to protect me from and shoulder herself. Wish I’d known so I could’ve been more help to her. I wish I could cry on her as these days with him get harder and harder and I want advice on what to do and how to best help him. Or express my frustration to her when he views me as “the bad guy”, when the reality is, I’m the only one who does stuff for him on a daily, consistent basis, who is there for him and fighting for him.

But she was doing what moms do… in her own way… trying to handle things and protect her children. Mom always tried to simply, quietly, handle things.

I think of her laugh, her smile, the things that brought her joy. I try and live in ways that would make her proud and I want to continue to live in the legacy of strong women I come from.

Mom had a way of embracing, loving, and appreciating life even when things were hard.

She sought joy… laughter…love… hope.

My mother was a fighter until the end. She had an amazing strength that I am so thankful I got to see in new ways those last few months of her life.

I know I’m just one of many in this world. One of many who will lose or has lost someone they love. I’m not exclusive or unique or special in my loss.

But she was my mom… and totally irreplaceable to me.

Time moves on…life continues… and I firmly know and understand she’d want me to be focused on living and embracing life… taking it on full speed… she’d want me to stand up and fight and be strong and not spend time mourning or lamenting when I could be smiling.

But I do mourn her. In small moments. In unexpected moments that sneak up on me like a thief in the night, laying me low and leaving me breathless and aching inside. In times that are bittersweet. In quiet moments or remembrances of times gone by.

I often think in these two years, I’ve not really slowed down long enough to allow that deep grief to wash over me.

To be honest with you, that raw emotion scares me and makes me feel weak and vulnerable. I keep it under tight guard with a firm hand on it lest it swallow me whole.

I’ve said before… I’ll say it now… at some point…when I’m ready to bleed a lot … I will write on this deep topic of grief and grieving… and at some point.. I’ll know when.

For now…for today…¬† in this moment…I need to just speak out loud… to remember my amazing mom… to share her memory and let my mind wander to simpler times in life before illness and disease crept into the picture to steal life.

She was an amazing woman. Kind, caring, giving even when her own resources were limited, thoughtful, generous, and so loving. Ha… if I’m being honest she was also stubborn and head strong… hmmm…. I might resemble that somewhat.

I’m ok with that.

She was my mom.  She was amazing to me.

I think……………. I will always and forever….¬†miss her.

The Agony Of Alzheimers

” So, what day is tomorrow?” It was the third time in 5 minutes the question had been posed to me. I responded appropriately and received the same answer for the third time.

It was nothing I wasn’t used to at this point… repetitive questions… the answer probably forgotten as soon as I breathed it out of my mouth.

This is a day in my life.

My dad has dementia, and not just random every day lose your mind in a painful way dementia,¬†but it’s technically referred to as Lewy Body Alzheimers, a very progressive partner of Alzheimers.

A cruel, vicious disease robbing the person of memory, the ability to do daily basic tasks, and to think past a few minutes along with a host of other issues.  The ability to think and reason becomes marred and tasks like writing and reading become almost impossible.

And besides watching someone you love deal with it, you are along for the painful ride, a pathetic co-pilot unable to control the course they are on.

It is… the most helpless feeling….ever.

There is no miraculous medical treatment… he¬†has the current medications¬†on the market but there is no cure, no fix, for a disease that destroys your brain.

So I do what I can do to make him comfortable, keep him safe, fight for him and defend him where necessary.

A healthcare person told me he has the cognitive reasoning and thinking of about an 8 year old. He’s 72.¬† It’s hard listening to him talk, seeking words and trying to put thoughts together… often I have to read between the lines to “hear” what he’s saying.

It’s hard watching him try and use things and struggle with them.

His writing has declined and even though he can read, I don’t know if he could explain to you what he read.

He has the tv on, but I honestly don’t think he can follow along with what’s going on anymore.

I asked him one day if he wanted me to get anything special at the store for him and he said… “whatever you think looks good”… as if he can’t remember what “something good” might be.

I have to make sure he eats his food or I’ll find it tucked in the ‘fridge still covered or abandoned on the counter.

I’ve been taking care of him since my Mom died, almost 2 years next month. In that time he has had a steady decline. I think my Mom did a lot to keep him “balanced” as we refer to it. Although, learning that he didn’t have “just” Alzheimers, but Alzheimers with Lewy Body, it could explain the more rapid¬†progression.

It’s been a double whammy to me. Losing my Mom and in a way, almost losing him too.

How can I express¬†what my¬†heart feels when a grown man is asking¬†me if you’re “sure he lives at his house?” and “how long has he lived there?” and he’s standing there with tears in his eyes as he inquires of you… it’s all I can do to not sob on him.

But I don’t. There just isn’t time for that.

Instead I reassure him, direct him home ( he lives just down the road from me) and tell him he can use whatever he wants in the house… that it’s ok.

He asks about my Mom and how long she’s been gone. Time is an empty circle for him… time merges into a nothingness… I tell him… he expresses shock.

In day for you and I where time seems to fly by….for him it goes on forever…endless.

I’ve become his safe person and his security in a world he struggles to navigate in.

So often I’m left wondering if I’m making the best choices for him…doing the right thing…really there is no instruction manual for something like this. I shoulder it all as best I can and pray to make the best choices.

As this disease progresses I’m in a place of examining options and trying to determine for now and the future what will be best for him.

Of course there are things along the way that make me giggle…I mean really…sometimes you have to laugh.. or go crazy….

When he comes out carting along odd things that seem right to him…. like little ketchup packs… and some of them are already used…

Or he’s wearing three shirts….

Or when he has one on inside out and perfectly buttoned up to the neck..

Or when he calls me describing the place he’s at and I’m like… “Oh, ok, you are at home”

Then there’s his stubborn streak of not wanting to do what he’s told…like shave… or put on a fresh shirt…

I’ve decided caring for someone with this disease requires a healthy dose of compassion and the boldness of a drill sergeant.

It also requires the patience of a saint, remembering he’s not doing things to be difficult, but that he really is powerless to a lot of it.

And some days I’m left feeling so inadequate…..

If you’ve read this far you’ve probably figured out this isn’t my usual health/fitness post. I wrote a blog a while back that sometimes, I’m just gonna write on life, the stuff in life that’s good, and maybe, not so good.¬†Besides all of my health and fitness stuff, I still have a whole lot of life going on.

Maybe you dear reader, are in the same place right now, caring for a loved one with this awful, hideous disease. I know some days are harder than others… more gut wrenching… more painful… and perhaps more painful to us than them… maybe that is good… that we have the pain because they have enough to deal with.

Then we’re given glimmers or times where we can really see “them” again. Because who they are has become more and more overshadowed by “the disease”.

I want to encourage you, what you do, matters. It is hard. There are times no ones knows or understands what you’re dealing with….

Stay strong… remember to take time for yourself. You need time to decompress…especially if it’s been unusually stressful. Have a couple people you can unload your struggles and concerns on. Don’t be afraid to find someone to help you out in the care required….you both need the help.

And no matter what…just take one day at a time…you’ll¬† make it.

 

alzhiemers