Category Archives: Memories

Taking a blog break for a bucket list trip

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Blarney Castle

Soon I will be departing for a two-week trip to Ireland. This is a trip of a lifetime for me, as it will allow me to appreciate my father’s homeland in person. I only wish we could have made the trip together. I know he will be with me in spirit.

I will share an account of my adventures upon my return.

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The best kind of birthday gift

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Birthdays are bittersweet for me now, as I have fond memories of my parents singing “Happy Birthday” to me across the miles each year. They would rehearse and make a big production out of it. Even as my father descended into the depths of dementia, he rallied for the birthday performance.

I’ve been fostering dogs for the last several months, something I’ve wanted to do for awhile. It has been a rewarding and enriching experience. While I enjoy fostering, my eye (and heart) was always on the lookout for “the one.”

And now, as a birthday gift to myself, I am adopting my latest foster dog, Magee. He is a sweet rat terrier/fox terrier mix that has proven to be a good fit in my life. (The cats disagree, but I overruled them, haha.)

Like me, Magee is middle aged or so and has a few personality quirks, but is overall a dedicated and loyal companion. Unlike me, Magee overflows with happiness and dare I say … joy.  Anyone who spends time with dogs know there is much we can learn and gain from them.

As we grow older, we learn that the simplest pleasures are often the most rewarding. I now have Magee to guide me on that exploration of everyday joy.

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My mom’s service to her country

Mom Wave profile

I’ve been thinking about Mom quite a bit this week, as Saturday would have been her 82nd birthday. Since her birthday falls so shortly after the Fourth of July, I always think about her brief, but beloved Navy career during this time of year.

Mom was raised on a farm, and knew the hard work and dedication it took to not only feed a family, but raise livestock and crops to help feed a community. Upon finishing high school, she declined to go to college and instead entered the workforce, working jobs that were typical for women in the day, such as nursing aide and receptionist.

In her late twenties, she decided she wanted something more, so she joined the Navy. Her service was during a brief period of relative peace in the world, and she was assigned to naval stations in the U.S. versus being sent abroad. She always spoke fondly of her time in the Navy, even with its challenges.

She could’ve had made a career out of military service, but opted out after honorably serving for three years. She returned to civilian life, working office jobs and eventually settled in as a proofreader, her excellent attention to detail no doubt enforced by her military service.

A few years later, she met my dad, got married, gave birth to me and the rest is history.

 

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Remembering a friend and fighter for Alzheimer’s caregivers

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I was shocked and saddened to learn that Pamela Jo Van Ahn, executive director of Amy’s Place, died on June 15th.

If you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you’ve heard me talk about how much I loved Amy’s Place, serving those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias and their caregivers. It was such a welcoming, non-judgmental environment, and offered numerous cultural and education events each month.

I loved Pam’s passion and compassion. She was so giving of herself and fiercely devoted to helping caregivers. She was humble and reluctant to accept praise for her work. When she was nominated for a caregiver award earlier this year, she said in an email: “It is not easy for me to be recognized for something I did with a lot of support, help, and caring from others–like you…”

Pam was so supportive of my areas of caregiver advocacy. She introduced me as “the author” when I published my first book, The Reluctant Caregiver, and allowed me to test my care bag prototype that is an integral part of Respite Care Share with members of the Amy’s Place caregiver support group.  img_20170215_172858899

As I was reeling from the news of Pam’s death, I read a piece by a former colleague of mine who just lost his 20-year-old son to cancer. He ended his poignant essay by quoting another journalist, Mike Royko, who wrote after his wife’s death: “If there’s someone you love but haven’t said so in a while, say it now. Always, always say it now.”

We all need the sobering reminder to never take the people in our lives for granted. Never hesitate to call, email, or text your love or appreciation of them.

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A towering reminder

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This week marked the fourth anniversary of my mother’s death. I’ve hit that mark where it’s hard for me to believe that it was only four years ago. It seems like a lifetime ago.

But the towering water oak tree in my front yard serves as a sturdy reminder. It has been four years ago since the last time I had it trimmed. The reason why I remember the date of such a mundane task is because it was the day that I realized Mom was dying and that I needed to be with her. I remember the chaos of that day, with Mom getting admitted to the ER again for uncontrollable pain. I was trying to field phone calls with the roaring machinery going full-throttle outside. There was an issue with a car parked on the street and I was being asked to assist. I remember wanting to scream, “I don’t care about the damn car. My mother is dying!”

I recently had the tree pruned again, and the foreman proposed May 21, the day of my mother’s death. Somehow I thought it was appropriate. The tree may very well outlive me. It grows, it sheds its leaves in the fall, occasionally branches drop, and then it is tended to and left naked with knots. It’s akin to how time alters the grief process. One is left raw with some hardened spots, but life continues to grow.

You may never be the same after the death of a parent, but life does go on.

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The healing power of humor

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The world lost one of its great comedic talents with the passing of Tim Conway this week. My mom loved watching him on The Carol Burnett Show, and I watched episodes with her as a pre-teen and teenager.

One interesting note was that it was reported last year that Conway had dementia. His daughter had mentioned the diagnosis in court filings. But when his obituary was filed, it made note of the fact that he did not have dementia or Alzheimer’s, but instead had excess fluid on the brain.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the outpouring of condolences from a variety of generations. I was unaware of his later voiceover work for animated productions until I checked out his IMDB profile.

We could all use a little more innocent humor nowadays, with the world seemingly so full of hate and division. While one of Conway’s best-known skits (and funniest) is “The Dentist,” I stumbled upon “Dog’s Life” and thought it was hilarious. Conway became his characters, even when they were non-human. His attention to detail elevated his comedic ability to a whole new level. Enjoy, and share with anyone who needs a mood lifter this week.

 

 

 

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Marking National Nurses Week

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The week of May 6-May 12 is National Nurses Week. Caregivers of loved ones with chronic conditions resulting in frequent hospital stays get to know the profession and its members quite well.

Being a nurse means often seeing people at their worst: in pain, with mental confusion, combative or frightened. Nurses who treat those with dementia know an extra level of care and patience is required.

Nurses sometimes get labeled as superheroes but they are human, with their own families and struggles. But when they come into work, they attempt to put their own troubles aside to make someone else feel better. It’s a true act of giving.

I am grateful for the nurses who cared for my father and mother during their hospitalizations. One particular incident that stands out in my mind were the nurses at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque. When they found out that it was my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, they brought my mother a slice of cake while we were in the ICU room with my father who was in a medically-induced coma. Those busy nurses didn’t have to take the time to make that sweet gesture, but they did. I’m forever grateful.

If you know a nurse who has touched your family’s life in a positive way, reach out this week to let them know.

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