Refrigerated Memories

Last night, I was cleaning out my refrigerator. The potato salad that I discovered hidden in the far back….well, let’s just say I could have sent it to a laboratory for further testing, and possibly have found the cure for an unknown disease! I was mortified to find the milk was date June 3……on and on I could go with the discoveries, but I think we both know cleaning it was long overdue.
As I closed the door, I noticed all the clutter on the outside. Old photos from days long ago, ( gosh I looked so young!) , magnets from different places of travel, reminder cards for hair appointments and doctors visits and expired pizza coupons, valid for take -out only.
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I began removing some of the clutter, hoping to make it look a little cleaner on the outside. Standing there, I found myself traveling back to the places and times of each photo. I could almost hear the waterfall gushing down the mountain. I smiled to myself as I heard my friends and fellow hiker’s laughter echo through the valley.
Sadness filled my heart as my eyes locked onto the little heart photo magnet, containing the picture of my beloved Jack Russell, Annabelle. She passed away in 2012; having lived to age 16. She had always been “under foot”, tagging along everywhere I went. I was suddenly reminded of how much I missed her.
As I moved around the magnets, drawings, photos and stickers, each memory associated with the people and places came flooding back to me. People I have not seen in years, places I have not been to since the late 90’s and friends that I have lost contact with over the years, all hold a place on my fridge and in my heart. How many times in a day, do I open the door to the freezer and not notice them? They are always there, constant reminders, yet overlooked, until now.
I wonder if that is how it is for dementia patients? Those memories that are long forgotten are suddenly jogged into the present by something that reminded them that memories were still there?
The other day, one of the Therapy Dogs came to visit the facility. Several of the residents began sharing about their own beloved pets. One lady who rarely speaks, began pointing at the dog, smiling as she leaned down to pet him. She looked at his handler and said, ” I had a dog. His name was Joker.” Could it be that she too, has “refrigerated memories”? Just something that jogs the memory, enabling her to remember? Do we assume that all dementia patients have forgotten past events, places and people, when in fact all they need is reminder of them?

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This morning as I opened the refrigerator door, the little light came on, enabling me to clearly spot my coffee creamer, hiding behind the big bottle of Coke. As I closed the door, there they were. The people, the places…..I noticed them. I smiled as I sipped on my coffee, feeling as though I had found a long-lost friend.
The next time you go to your refrigerator, look at what’s on yours. Travel back to the places you’ve been, smile at long lost friends and enjoy the journey

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Arriving Departures

This morning, while making my way through the airport, I yielded to a group of very happy people. The plane had just arrive, delivering the passengers to family, friends, loved ones and limo drivers. It appeared that each person who had deplaned had at least a small army waiting to hug, kiss, and hug a little more……happiest group of people I have ever seen.
As I exited to the curb, I saw a very different scene. People were clinging tightly to those they loved, tears were flowing, emotions were running high. These were the people that were leaving…departing…..saddest group of people…….
But you know, just as those arriving were lavished with such love and excitement, they too had stood at the departure curb; leaving behind those who would miss them, evidenced by the flowing tears and tight hugs. It’s just a normal process of the journey….depart, arrive, change course, depart, arrive…….Those sending the travelers on their way are sad to see their loved ones go……those waiting for them to arrive, are thrilled and anxious, eagerly awaiting….
Each day at work, I notice the decline of the dementia patients. I listen to them, as they look for their mother or father. They seem excited, knowing that their father is coming for them after work. One lady sits at the door, every day at 4 pm. She is waiting for her husband, Russ, to pick her up after he picks up their children from school. They each are anticipating and excited.
Then there is Willie, and others like him. He tells me each day of his wife’s passing. He is overcome with sadness; tears flowing uncontrollably.
” She’s gone. I will never see her again. I miss her”. It is heartbreaking.
Another fellow asks every day if I have seen his wife. he answers the question himself, stating that “maybe she is at our daughter’s house. I will sit here and wait for her.
Departures. There is something final about the word itself. But you know, nothing compares to the pain and anguish of losing someone, forever………..
We explain death to young children by saying “grandma is in heaven now, with pop-pop. They are happy now that they are together again.” The explanation creates the in the mind’s eye, the exact scene at the airport when jets arrive…..people are reunited.
As a Christian myself, I too ,believe in the beauty of Heaven; a place filled with eternal love, joy and reunions. I believe all of the people that I have loved so deeply are waiting for me there, anticipating my arrival. I, too, will be thrilled to see my family, and friends again and have eternity to celebrate those people.
Yet, when that day does happen, it will be sad for my friends and family left behind…….

The journey of life is constantly changing as we all age. But if we could learn one thing…..our lives would be so much more fulfilled. We need to value the time we have with each other on this earth….because we will depart one day. We need to spend more time with those we love. We need to spend more days in the park, than we do behind the desk. We need to hug our kids, kiss our parents and show those we love, just how much we love them by our actions. So our houses may be a little dusty, laundry may get backed up, a few bills may be late, but when we do arrive at our departure gate, at least we won’t leave this earth filled with regrets.

As I stepped on the elevator to the parking garage, I squeezed in with a husband and his wife. She was leaning into his chest, tears staining his shirt. I could not help but look away as he tried to console his wife.
” Honey, she is going to be fine. We have to be happy for her. I miss her too. She is going to be okay, I know she will.”
I think he noticed me, standing there, staring a hole into the floor. He leaned over to me, offering a kind smile as he whispered:
” Our daughter just left for a 4 week mission trip to Africa. We are just worried”.
Before I could reply, the ding of the elevator announced my floor. I smiled back at them, explaining that I would remember their daughter in my prayers…hoping they could find a some comfort .
As I walked away, I thought about this young lady, embarking on a trip of a lifetime. She will have stories to tell for the rest of her life about her journey, the people she met, the mission she shared and the beauty she saw. What a happy to time for her, yet a sad, worrisome day for her parents.

Life is a continual process………arriving……departing……..each day that passes, we are closer to arriving at our own departure gate, but until then…….. buckle up, sit back and enjoy the ride!!!!!!!!

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Truth

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Masking the Loss

I was sitting on the front porch talking to Willie yesterday. The conversation was about his life; accomplishments, places of travel, marriages, his beloved wife Maggie and his military career. He talked in great detail about each life event, carefully giving credit for his success in every area to his late wife, Maggie.
“She was my life. She saw me through the bad places, the rough spots and dark nights. No matter where I was, she was with me, in my thoughts and in my heart. I don’t know how to live without her. “
I have said this before, and I will say it again. I do not know how to help Willie. How do you take someone’s grief and replace it with anything else? How do I stop his dementia from making her death new to him every day? How can he mourn his wife and cope with her loss, when he continually loses her over and over again? How do we break the cycle?
Willie continued, “Maggie was my life and without her, I have no life, no reason to live and really no desire to live without her.” He began to sob uncontrollably. I am at a loss for his loss.
Dementia does this to people. It takes them to a place where they seek to find people that they loved in their lives…..their parents, their grandparents, their childhood homes…..all things and people have long passed on….. We as health care professionals often turn to medication to “calm the resident”, or better yet “manage their agitation”. It’s a catch 22 situation really. Using medication to mask to their feelings of loss is simply that, a mask. We are not fixing anything, but I guess we are decreasing their feelings of loss by decreasing their memories of loss. Maybe that is the right thing to do.
I just don’t know……………

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If You Need Anything, Anything At All

We all say it. Often times, we really don’t mean it, but we still say it. The value of the words are only as powerful as the hearts intent. We use the words to persuade children to do the things we want them to do and say them in our wedding vows…..the words, “I promise”.

There are times when promises can become painful, emotionally charged, overwhelming; even unjustifiable. Yet the words remain in effect.

Many years ago when I left home for college, my father made me “promise” to call him if I “needed anything, anything at all.” Years later, he stood at the altar, watching as I walked down the aisle of the church, on the arm of my twin brother, to promise to love, honor and obey the young Air Force Airman that I had fallen in love with. Years passed yet again, my marriage failed, promises were broken, and things fell apart. Yet, my father was standing at my doorway, asking me to promise to call him if I” needed anything, anything at all.”

Promise

I moved away, landed a new job and found myself promising to marry a young handsome Marine. There my father stood again, watching as I repeated the words, ” I promise to…”. As my new husband and I settled into military deployments, my father would call and ask me to promise to…. “call if you need anything, anything at all, anything at all.”

I was standing in my kitchen on a rainy, cold day in February,2000. The phone rang, startling me. It was my father.
“Jessi, I need you to come home. I am calling all of you kids, I need you all to come home for a family meeting”. My dad loved his family meetings, a time when all of his kids would gather in his living room , waiting for his “words of wisdom”, lectures, or simply just to gather us all in one spot, so he could “look at us” and tell us how proud he was….
I could tell by the tone in his voice that this family meeting would be different. I questioned his intention of the meeting, but he simply said,
“Promise me you will be here on the 20th.We will talk about it then”.

We all gathered, and sat in his living room, staying true to our promise to not miss his “meeting”. I can still see him today, walking into the living room, dresses in dress pants, a white dress shirt and a black tie. My mother sat quietly on the sofa, wedged in between ” mama’s boys”.

” I am so glad I have you all here. You each make my heart proud. I love each of you so much. God has blessed your mother and I abundantly.”

Without hesitation, he continued. ” I have some news. Now before I tell you, I need you to promise me that you will respect the decision your mother and I have prayerfully made.” Normally, when he would start a conversation like that, it meant that we were moving, again. We moved around a great deal growing up, each time to a new church, a new town with new friends. But this was different.
” I recently went to the doctor. I have prostate cancer. It has spread. Your mother and I know there are treatments like chemo that can slow it down, but we have decided to not pursue any treatment. The doctor says I have about six months. God has blessed us beyond measure and allowed your mother and I raise six beautiful, God fearing children and it is up to Him, and Him alone to determine when any of us go to our eternal home…..”
I no longer could hear what he was saying. My brain was frozen on the words, “I have cancer. Six months.” I felt sick to my stomach. I felt my eyes burning as tears flowed down my face. I could see my brothers consoling my mother. I could see my sister as she buried her face in her hands.

” I need you kids to promise me to stay close to one another. Love each other. Take care of each other. Be strong for each other. Promise me that you boys will take care of your mother. You girls too. Promise me that you will reach out to one another, help each other and be there for one another. You boys take care of your sisters, be there for them if they need anything, anything at all.”

For the next few months, we all went home weekly, changing plans, vacation and business trips, just to be home. There were no “family meetings”, just gatherings. We would sit in the living room as if we were all young kids again, playing games and strolling down memory lane. My oldest brother, a hard core Marine, would pick me up, spinning me in the ” airplane”, just as before he done when I was 8.
” Wayne, put your sister down this moment before you hurt her!” My mother would yell from the kitchen after hearing my screams. My dad would chuckle as he watched us play together as we had for so many years. You could hear the other siblings getting into trouble as well with our mother for cheating at Uno or for sticking their finger in the cake frosting bowl. Dad would sit in his recliner, chuckling as his children found mischief while our mother’s stern voice demanding her grown children to “behave” could be heard throughout the house.

August 28th, 2000 was the saddest day of my life. My father died. It was the hardest, most emotionally charged day I have ever survived. No day will ever be more difficult for me, no matter what happens. Suddenly, I was lost without the man I loved so dearly….the man who stood true to ever promise he made. The man I idolized.

Many years later, I cringe when I hear the word “promise.” I don’t know why, but it’s just a normal reaction. Maybe it is because the word is used without the same emphasis of past years…..people promise things without actually meaning to fulfill the empty words. Politicians promise things, TV preachers stand in the pulpit promising a return on the money you mail them, supermarkets promise savings if you shop exclusively there, mechanics promise to fix your car by Friday……….on and on.

Yesterday, I sat outside at work and talked to Willie. Willie loved his wife Maggie so much, and having lost her to cancer, has devastated him. He wept as he spoke about her, telling me how much he loved and missed her. Without hesitation, he said, ” Maggie and I promised to love one another until death do us part. You know what hurts ? The promise never stops, not even at death.” I listened to him for over an hour as he talked about Maggie……as I got up to leave to go back to my office, Willed yelled after me….

“Young lady, come get me if I can help you do anything. Promise to holler for me if you need anything, anything at all……….”

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Endless Possibilities

Originally posted on Brian's Blog:

Just a reminder this morning that the possibilities for your life are endless. There is no such thing as a dead end. God’s timing is perfect and wherever you are today, it’s for a reason. If you don’t like what you see now, don’t get discouraged and don’t give up. Your moment is coming and it’s going to be amazing!

Have a great day.

Endless Possibilities

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I Just Want To Die

Willie is not doing well. For those who follow my blog, you will remember he lost his wife, Maggie, a little over a month ago. Maggie was his entire world;having stood by his side for over 60 years. Due to dementia, Willie is surprised every hour to learn of her death. Every day, he mourns the loss of his first and only, eternal love.

I walked outside of the facility yesterday to find Willie sitting on the patio, weeping. I knew the answer to my question before I asked.

“Willie, what’s wrong?” I asked as I sat down beside him.

“It’s Maggie. She died.She’s gone. I miss my wife.” His sobs are heartbreaking.

What is it that I can say to this man, who is cognitively aware enough to know that his wife passed away, but yet cognitively impaired to the point where he doesn’t understand the time lapse? Words such as “Everything will be okay”, “I understand”, or even “I am sorry for your loss”, are just not enough. So, I sit quietly beside him, placing my arm around his shoulder, hoping to comfort him.

“Now they are taking my house. They put me here in this old folks home where everyone is crazy. They say I can’t live alone. The court is putting somebody in charge of me, look at this letter”.” He hands me a tattered, worn letter that is dated four days after his wife’s death. The letter is an official notice from the courts, stating that Willie will have a court appointed guardian, complete with a hearing date, in case he wishes to appeal. I have seen the letter numerous times and each time I ask, “What are you going to do?” Each time, Willie begins to sob, holding his face in his hands and replies:

“I just want to die. I lost Maggie, she died this morning. I lost my house, they won’t let me live in it anymore. Now they say I am not adequate enough to live alone. They think I am crazy, too crazy to take care of myself. I served in three wars, I am a decorated Marine, I sure as hell can take care of myself. I miss my wife, I miss her, I just want to die.I just want to die.”

You know, all the degrees on my office wall are useless in moments like this. I draw on my own inner strength to comfort him, but in reality, there is no comfort to be found. He recognizes his losses and knows there is no way he can recover them.

In some ways, I envy the life Willie has lived. He served God and his Country, married his childhood sweetheart, lived a wonderful full life. Today, I feel his loss and in a way, I hope I never feel the devastation of a broken heart, such as his.

I honestly believe dementia, nor heart disease or even old age will take Willie’s life. I believe he will die from a broken heart…….medicine can fix a lot of things, but there is cure for a broken heart, not today, nor will there ever be. So, each day, I will sit with Willie…..and wait………..

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God Bless The Fallen

Today one of our County’s  soldiers is  coming home. Sadly,he will not be landing at the airport, met by family, well wishers and friends. He will land at Dover AFB, met by a full processional, that will make the journey back home, to a local funeral home just down the street. Bridges, overpasses and ramps are all covered by American Flags, flying in the light southwest breeze ,as military and law enforcement officers stand guard as the processional passes by.  The streets outside are lined with mourners and supporters, flanking each side; standing quietly. The roar of the Patriot Guard Riders deafens the silence, as  each of the motorcycles  passes by.     It is a sad day in our community.

 

 

Rest in Peace SSG Stewart. Thank you for your service and sacrifice. 

SSg Stewart

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Peeping Toms , ET and Dementia

Lately my office phone has been ringing off the hook with prospective residents wanting to move into  our facility. That’s really good for business, but at the same time, I am a wee bit worried. The callers are  social workers, calling on behalf of elderly psychiatric patients who have been housed in mental health facilities for very long periods of time.  That is not what troubles me. What DOES trouble me are comments like this:

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” This patient has not had any violent outburst for two years. He is 80 now and seems to be slowing down.”     ( Um, so he was violent at age 78? Slowing down? Not been violent for 2 years? Oh I feel really good about this one, said no one ever.)

“The client was found  not guilty by reason of insanity back in 1983. He  has aged and needs more care than we can provide.” ( Um, if you have had “the client” for over 30 years, what makes you think age alone will prevent him from doing whatever landed him 30 years in the first place?)

“The individual I am calling about was found guilty by reason of insanity. He stabbed his several relatives, but now that we have managed his thyroid issues, I don’t think he will have further behavioral issues. He needs medication management to remain compliant.”  ( Ummmmmmm…..so his thyroid made him commit a crime? Kind of like the devil made me do it? )

” The individual has schizophrenia. But the good news is, now he has dementia, so he forgets what the voices are instructing him to do before he has time to act on them.”  ( Oh, that clears that up for me.)

” The patient is very much into the environment. Very green. His triggers occur when he feels people are harming the environment. He loves spending time in the courtyards, communing with the trees. Your facility is the one with lots of woods surrounding it; is that correct?”  ( Um, would it be wrong to lie and say that we were located downtown near the paper factory where millions of trees are slaughtered?)

” The client has a long history of ‘”peeping Tom” incidents and has a foot fetish.This is not a problem in our facility because everyone wears closed toe shoes. Does your facility have a dress code that includes shoes?” (Ummmm..?)

Lastly,  my personal favorite:

The patient was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He has schizophrenia. The crimes were committed when he was 24. He is now 69, a severe diabetic, shows signs of confusion, high blood pressure and has multiple personality disorder, but all of his associated alter egos have always been aliens, totally harmless, more afraid of you than you should be of them. ”   ( Ummm, did she just say aliens? Like ET, alien????)

 Soooooo, maybe now you can understand why I am a bit worried. Hey, in no way am I poking fun at the mental health system, patients nor the caseworkers. I have a special place in my heart for psych patients, but I am not sure some belong in the same environment as a 93 year old  great -great-grandmother. I totally understand that the aged, infirmed psych patient needs a spot in the long term care facility as well, but……..where? Where is the appropriate place for a sexual predator, axe- murderer or serial killer after they have grown old, feeble or cognitively impaired? Does age change them or make them more suitable to live among us again?  

For me the choice to refuse admission of these types of patients was one I debated with myself, but ultimately decided that it was best to keep our facility committed to dementia, not mental health. I  do wonder what will happen to them…What would happen, if say Charles Manson developed Alzheimer’s…..would the staff continue to keep him locked up 23 of 24 hours,;change his clothes each time he soiled them, bathe, dress and spoon feed him? Correctional officers typically don’t provide that type of care….so hmmmmm. I do wonder how all of those stories end…………..

 

 

 

 

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Come As You Are, Leave Changed

There is a billboard I pass each day, advertising a new church. It reads ” Come As You Are, leave changed“.Having been raised in the church, I fully understand what  the proposed message  is trying to convey. The name of the church advertising is  “The Crossings”…….follow me here. 

The Director of Nursing was hitching a ride home the other day when she noticed the billboard.  The conversation we had went something like this:

“Come as you are, leave changed.” What kind of slogan is that? That makes no sense.” she said, as she stared at the billboard.

“Well it’s a trendy, catchy phrase that means anyone is welcome. I think it’s meant to make people feel comfortable.” I offered. (I wasn’t too sure of her personal religious beliefs, so I was careful not to overshare…..)

“That doesn’t make any sense at all. How can that kind of transition be comfortable for anyone? It’s not that simple just to walk in, make the commitment and hand over your life savings…..very misleading, very misleading. And what change? ” She was growing more irritated the longer we sat at the stoplight, directly beside the billboard. 

For a moment,I was perplexed as to what to say to her. I was debating in my mind as to whether or not I should express my views, but again, I try very hard to avoid engaging with any staff member about politics or religion.I respect their right to privacy and personal choices.

” Well I think the message they are trying to convey is that you really don’t have to change anything; you are welcome just the way you are and the changes will come later by your own choosing…..that’s just my opinion.” I felt that was a safe statement,,,,,,

“Are you being serious right now?!” I could feel her staring at me as the tone in her voice changed. ”  People trust us to care for them, meet their needs, Any changes made, we make. We alter their behavior with medications, we serve them food we plan and cook, we. tell them what time to go to bed, when to wake up……..”

“Wait, what are you talking about?” I interrupted.

“The sign! That stupid sign. The people don’t leave changed! How can they change? They have dementia….”

“What????That sign has nothing to do with dementia……” I was growing more confused by her remarks.

“Then what kind of place is it? The last time I was there, they HAD dementia patients, I saw them with my own eyes.”

” So you have been to that church and seen dementia patients???” I asked.

“Church? Who is talking about a church? Its not a church. Its an assisted living down on Drake Street. What are you talking about?”

Then it hit me. There is a new facility called “The Crossings” as well as a church, “The Crossings”. Ahhh, confusion now has light shed on it. We laughed as both identified our blunders during the conversation. The more we talked, we continued to compare the likeness of the two buildings, seeing that both do promote “change”.

Dementia does change people; changing their memories, thoughts and cognitive skills…..dementia promotes change. Dementia does not discriminate based on your social class,background experience,Ivy league or non- Ivy league degrees….dementia does not care about who you are, where you came from or how you got there.      Changes will follow as the disease begins to progress…..everything changes.

So maybe the billboard could be used to advertise either organization……but gee whiz. Change. Change is indeed the only constant we will experience in this life regardless of what any billboard says. The question is, how will we cope with, adjust  and adapt to it?  

But you know what? If you really want a billboard message……this is my favorite:

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Problem Solved.

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