Category Archives: Dementia/Alzheimer’s

TO SEND or NOT TO SEND, that is the question

pink lilies

 

 

PUTTING MAKEUP ON DEAD PEOPLE, a wonderful novel by Jen Violi

PUTTING MAKEUP ON DEAD PEOPLE, a wonderful novel by Jen Violi.

My blog post last week included information and examples about writing greeting cards and where to submit them. This week’s post is open to discussion about cards that SHOULD be sent…and those that, in my opinion, SHOULD NOT be sent.  Or at least not sent early.

On Monday I received a very nice Hallmark card in the mail. It came from a couple who live several states away. The card artwork was lovely; the calligraphy was elegant. The cover message was about the permanence of a mother’s love, and the inside message stated that my mother would always be with me in spirit. The final line was two words: “With Sympathy.”

My mother suffers from advanced dementia and on most days her clearest memories are those as a child on the farm in Missouri, but she is definitely still alive. The handwritten note on the card said the couple had made a donation in my mother’s name to the Alzheimer’s Foundation.

By the time I reread the card, I had the eerie uneasy feeling that maybe I had dementia…or had slipped into an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”  Even though I was recently with my mom in Kansas, I wondered if the card senders knew something I didn’t. Finally I read the folded, typed paper in the envelope behind the card, explaining that they did not know how much longer my mother might live, but they wanted to send the card early. Then the typed message went on to other details.

Those of you who have tried your hand at writing greeting cards know that, in general, the two most difficult cards to successfully create are 1) humorous cards, and 2) sympathy cards.  And as far as I know, the two types do not usually overlap, although there was one card years ago that got a “bad taste” award. The details vary, but as I remember it, there was a frog on the front of the humorous/sympathy card, and the message was something like We all croak. Sorry.

Does the process of dying and dealing with death really make people so uncomfortable that their default response is to try to brush it aside, lighten it with a joke, or send a card early to get it out of the way?

One of my favorite novels I’ve discovered in the past year is PUTTING MAKEUP ON DEAD PEOPLE by Jen Violi. It is a poignant, touching, funny and tender novel about a young woman who learns to deal with her father’s death by training to become a makeup expert for a funeral home. Her respectful and genuine desire is to serve, honor and protect the dead and their families…and to honestly face her own fears.  I read aloud several chapters to my mother last winter—especially one of the scenes where the young woman is talking to the lady on her table as she selects fingernail polish to match the lipstick—and my mother smiled and said, “We like fingernail polish…don’t we?”   This novel does not avoid, over simplify, hide from or joke about death. It reveals and embraces the rituals of death that illuminate life. I strongly recommend it. 

We learn as we go, and we do the best we can. Those are the two main lessons I’ve learned during my father’s Alzheimer’s and now my mother’s dementia. I also realize that we’re all at different stages in our journeys, and probably there was no offense or avoidance intended by the Early Sympathy card that arrived on Monday. Therefore, I will set it aside until the time does come to read it…when I will be grateful for genuine words of condolence and expressions of sympathy.

 

Oklahoma City: "The Survivor Tree," the American Elm that survived the explosion.

Oklahoma City: “The Survivor Tree,” the American Elm that survived the explosion.

"Field of Empty Chairs" memorial of the april 19, 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing.  168 chairs with names of those killed, 19 smaller chairs for the children.

“Field of Empty Chairs” memorial of the april 19, 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing. 168 chairs with names of those killed, 19 smaller chairs for the children.

 

 

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, Uncategorized, writing

NOW is the best time

Example of a Saturday card.  Cover message is ...but it's better than to miss a month

Example of a Saturday card. Cover message is
“Another birthday? Well, it’s better to be a year older…”  (inside message) “… than to miss a month.”

 

 

Another Hallmark Saturday card:  "Before LOL, TTYL, and OMG..." (inside message)  "...we were BFFS and didn't even know it!  Happy Birthday to my BFF."

Another Hallmark Saturday card: “Before LOL, TTYL, and OMG…” (inside message) “…we were BFFS and didn’t even know it! Happy Birthday to my BFF.”

 

How many of you have ever created your own greeting card?  Let’s see a show of hands (humor me, okay?)

As a child, maybe you colored flowers or boats on a folded piece of paper for someone’s birthday; or  you learned to print the message GET WELL SOON for a sick friend; or you wrote out coupons on strips of paper and gave them to your mom or dad for Christmas, promising “I’ll clean my room” or “I will not hit my brother.” Remember how much fun card writing was? And as my mom always said, the best cards are the personal ones you make yourself.

Hallmark’s Saturdays card line is your opportunity to make a card, and make some money. So dig out fun or funny or touching photos, color or black and white, and submit them to Hallmarkcontests.com

Read through the section with all the open contests. To get you started, I’ve shared two of my favorite Saturdays Expressions cards…and their inside message lines, to show you good examples. Hallmark pays for each card, plus other perks, including a small picture of you and a clever bio sketch on the back of the card. Deadlines vary.

Maybe you’d rather write about a true aha! moment or Eureka experience. If so, submit a personal essay up to 1,500 words to the Life Lesson Essay Contest. The deadline is September 18, and first prize in $3,000. http://www.realsimple.com/work-life/life-strategies/inspiration-motivation/second-annual-life-lessons-essay-contest-00000000013682/index.html   No entry fee.

And for you poets, another no entry fee contest is Princemere Poetry Prize. Deadline is September 15 and first place is $300. http://www.princemere.com

Or, work on your own writing deadline, or a photography, painting, drawing project that isn’t quite finished. Choose your creative endeavor and go for it…NOW.

Why NOW? As I was driving to visit my mom recently, I heard a radio commentator talking about the August 2014 phenomenon. The Chinese call it “Silver pockets full” and supposedly it happens once every 823 years. This month, August of 2014, there are five Fridays, five Saturdays, and five Sundays. Check your calendar, and you’ll see.

Supposedly—and there’s absolutely no scientific proof, but it’s certainly a good motivator to get busy—anytime during this month is an excellent time to follow your dreams, finish up your creative projects, expect the best…and encourage your friends to do the same.

Well, friends, what have you got to lose?

This isn't a card, but somebody used a smart concept to create this "fight breast cancer" T-shirt.  (If you don't get it, ask someone to explain it to you...it's great!)

This isn’t a card, but somebody used a smart concept and teen reference to create this “fight breast cancer” T-shirt. (If you don’t get it, ask someone to explain it to you…it’s great!  Here’s a hint: think like a teenage boy on a date.  What does “getting to second base” mean to him?  So it’s a good breast cancer awareness slogan to “save 2nd base.”)

 

A display of "Saturday" cards by writers from everywhere.  (All photos by Marylin Warner)

A display of Hallmark’s “Saturday” cards by writers from everywhere. (Photos by Marylin Warner)

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Filed under art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, lessons about life, writing, writing contest with cash prizes, writing exercises

HANDED DOWN TO US

My mother's parents, first row, far left.

My mother’s parents, front row, far left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Their five children: (l to r) Wanda, Sam, Ruth, Mary (my mother) and Ira.

Their five children: (l to r) Wanda, Sam, Ruth, Mary (my mother) and Ira.

Of the thirteen grandchildren, these are the five girl cousins: (l to r) Beth, Karen, Marylin, Sandee, Glee.

Of the thirteen grandchildren, these are the five girl cousins:  (l to r) Beth, Karen, Marylin, Sandee, Glee.

 

This week when I visited my mother in Kansas, I learned three things. First, when she leans back in her recliner and closes her eyes, she is often still listening, so I can’t assume she’s taking a nap. Second, she’s still a very pretty lady at 96, even with half of one eyebrow accidentally shaved off. (From now on, when I use an electric razor to trim away whiskers and curling eyebrow hairs, I will not assume Mom will sit still…I will hold the razor with a steady hand, prepared to stop if she turns her head quickly. Lesson learned.)

The third thing I learned is this: with dementia, the dominant remaining sensory details are not just taste and smell. Touch is still a significant sense. Mom did recognize the little metal wagon she left between tree branches as a child. When I put the little wagon-in-the-wood in Mom’s lap, she didn’t open her eyes, but her fingers touched the metal wheels and traced the lines of the wood. When I asked if she knew what this was, she nodded, yes. Still with her eyes closed, when I asked if she remembered the toy…and did she remember putting it in the tree, both times she smiled faintly and again nodded, yes. She held it for a while, nodding, and then she folded her hands and fell asleep.

The quaint little keepsake has become a tangible reminder of my connection to other generations. My grandchildren have traced the wagon with their fingers, just as my daughter did, and as I did. When my mother was younger than her great-grandchildren are now, she put the wagon in the tree branch, where it was later rescued by my grandfather when he cut down the tree.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The ancestor of every action is a thought.”   As a six-year-old, my mother had her reasons for hiding the wagon in the tree; my grandfather had his reasons for preserving it when he cut down the tree; and as the heir of these thoughts and actions, I will pass the keepsake on to the next generations…along with the stories.

Wilbur Wright (of the Wright Brothers) wrote, “The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who…looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space…”   Possibly my desire to create came from the same ancestors who passed on to my aunts and uncles and cousins the desire to sing, to teach, to play musical instruments, to heal, to cherish and care for children, and numerous other talents and desires.

Native American writer Linda Hogan wrote this: “Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”

During this month’s visit with my mother, I’m not sure that for even a moment she actually recognized me as her daughter. But still, she reminded me of who I am, and how we’re both connected to those who made it possible for us to be here.

The little metal wagon left in the tree branch.  (full story in the July 26 post, "A Mistake?")

The little metal wagon left in the tree branch. (full story in the July 26 post, “A Mistake?”)

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Filed under art, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, Ralph Waldo Emerson, special quotations

PERSONAL STYLE

Mom's fashion "style" was to create her own fashions, even an occasional hat. (picture is property of Marylin Warner; all others in this post taken by Marylin Warner)

Mom’s “style” was to create her own fashions, even an occasional hat. (picture is property of Marylin Warner; all other pictures in this post taken by Marylin Warner)

    

 

 

 

Mary's great-grand-daughter has her own writing style...sidewalk chalk.

Mary’s great-grand-daughter has her own writing style…with.sidewalk chalk.

STYLE: a manner of doing something; a way of painting, speaking, writing, dressing, composing, or creating. Note: Do not confuse this kind of style with stile, as in turnstile, unless your style is to go back and forth, passing through gates.

Some of my mother’s friends’ clothing and jewelry styles were strongly influenced by French designer Coco Chanel’s casual chic designs. Many of them also wore her signature perfume, Chanel No. 5.   Mom wasn’t a big fan of Chanel No. 5, and since she made most of her clothes, she didn’t imitate many of the outfit trends. But during an interview, Coco said one thing that Mom applauded: “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”

I took Mom to a writing workshop at Avila College years ago, and the question of writers’ styles came up. Here are some of the “famous” quotes that made sense to her: “I don’t think writers compete. I think they’re all doing separate things in their own style.” ~ Elmore Leonard. And this one by Raymond Chandler: “The most durable thing in writing is style. It is a projection of personality and you have to have personality before you can project it. It is the product of emotion and perception.”

The one that made Mom laugh was by William Battie, the English physician who in 1758 wrote the first lengthy book about treating mental illness: “Style is when they’re running you out of town and you make it look like you’re leading the parade.” It seemed logical to Mom that showing confidence even when you didn’t actually feel it was good advice for writers, since there was so much rejection.

The one specific bit of advice she followed was about improving writing style: “Cut out all of those exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald     Mom read through her writing samples, and each time she found an exclamation point she studied it carefully…and then often removed it.

I miss many of my mother’s qualities and abilities that have been dulled or destroyed by dementia.

Going through her big box marked MARY’S WRITING, I love reading her notes and quotes about writing and all kinds of creativity. If I read them aloud to her, she might smile and nod, but there’s no longer any true recognition.

So I’ll share them with you. That was my mother’s style, to share ideas and information and activities with her friends, and if it weren’t for the dementia, she would be very happy to count you all among her friends. She really would.

 

An old house gets a new "style lift" ~ a bold and beautiful new paint job.

An old house gets a “style lift” with a bold and beautiful new paint job.

Practical Art style ~ turn a public trash can into an art display (Abliene, KS)

Practical Art style ~ turn a public trash can into an art display (Abliene, KS)

Maybe your style is to combine your favorite car and your favorite sport: get a BMW golf cart  (and it's for sale!)

Maybe your style is to combine your favorite car and your favorite sport: get a BMW golf cart (and look, it’s for sale!)

"Recycling Style"-- an old tire gets new life as a child's tree swing.

“Recycling Style”– an old tire gets new life as a child’s tree swing.

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, Kansas, special quotations, writing

A MISTAKE?

Akey and Letta ~ my maternal grandparents.

Akey and Letta ~ my maternal grandparents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Metal toy wagon, left in tree branches, approx. 1924. (Picture by Marylin Warner)

Metal toy wagon, left in tree branches, circa 1924. (Picture by Marylin Warner)

This happened many decades before I was born, but since I have the tangible proof now, it’s my story to tell. My grandfather called it “a child’s mistake,” but I have trouble thinking of it as any kind of mistake. After all, a mistake is an error, a blunder or oversight, a slip-up or inaccuracy, and I see it as an astounding legacy…a true memory maker.

Supposedly, six-year-old Mary Elizabeth (my mother, who is 96 now) and her siblings were playing by the barn when their mother, my grandmother, came out to pick corn from the family garden. She called for the children to come and help. They had been playing with toys—little metal wagons, carved wooden animals, bent forks and spoons—and Mary E. was scooting one of the metal wagons in the grass. When her mother called them to help, Mary E. looked around for a place to put her wagon, maybe so she could play with it again later. She chose one of the trees nearby.

Standing on tiptoe, she tucked the wagon in a “v” of two branches, pushing it in tight so it wouldn’t fall. Then she ran to help with shucking ears of corn. One thing led to another, and maybe she forgot about her hidden wagon. No one knows for sure.

Years later, my grandfather was cutting down overgrown trees. To his surprise, he found branches grown around the little metal wagon, locking it in place and making it a permanent part of the tree. He carefully cut above and below the wagon, sanded the edges of the wood, and painted the entire piece with leftover paint in the barn.

This wagon-in-the-tree-branch is one of my favorite keepsakes. To me it is not a mistake but a gift, a child’s creative attempt to store a toy, and nature’s way of making it a piece of art. My mother doesn’t recognize it, and telling her the story might make her smile, but she wouldn’t realize it is her story. But as I hold the little wagon, I can close my eyes and imagine my mother as a little girl standing on tiptoe and reaching for the branch.

Rudyard Kipling wrote, “I never made a mistake in my life; at least, never one that I couldn’t explain away afterwards.”   If Mom could remember this story, I think she would definitely cherish it as something other than a mistake. Look at the treasure we have now, ninety years after siblings played in the Missouri sunshine.

Maybe her brothers Sam and Ira saw what she did that day. If so, they maybe nudged each other and did what Napoleon once advised, “Never interrupt your enemy (or your sister) when he (or she) is making a mistake.”   Or maybe, without realizing it, they proved author Brandon Mull’s statement: “Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.” As far as we can tell, neither of the boys imitated their sister and tried doing the same thing with other toys.

I choose to agree more with author Rita Mae Brown: “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” I hold the little wagon-in-the-wood and say it was Mary Elizabeth using good judgment—without realizing it at the time—and leaving a charming keepsake for her daughter, granddaughter, and great-grandchildren. This was not a mistake, but a gift she didn’t realize she was creating.

It’s a good lesson to consider: what we do today may outlive us and affect others in ways we cannot even imagine.  Thanks, Mom.

 

With llamas--as with kisses--spit happens, but that doesn't make it a mistake.  Not a gift, necessarily, but not a mistake.  (Sorry, but I couldn't resist.)

With llamas–as with kisses–spit happens, but that doesn’t make it a mistake. Not a gift, necessarily, but also not a mistake. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I love this picture.)

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Filed under art, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, special quotations

With A CAPITAL “A”

 

cap A for Alzheimers

  

Tinseltown Theaters poster, Colorado Springs

Tinseltown Theaters poster, Colorado Springs

 

The movie begins with action. Apes on a hunt. Hundreds of apes lying in wait, hunting for food. Surviving after most of the world’s humans have been killed by the deadly Simian Flu. But the simians didn’t cause this futuristic plague. The humans did, when they injected apes with a test antidote to stop Alzheimer’s, the disease they feared would eventually destroy civilization.

No movie spoiler alert necessary. This information is revealed in the first few minutes of the movie DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. The desperate attempt to control Alzheimer’s was quickly overshadowed by science-run-amuck, creating a deadly flu that left two separate societies struggling to survive—humans and apes—and the apes are worthy opponents.  The movie is an interesting take on good vs. evil, and the lines that blur in every war.

Alzheimer’s has always been capitalized because it’s named for the German neurologist who first identified it, Alois Alzheimer.  Now it’s become a BIG capital A, and not just because it’s the seed for destruction in a sci-fi action/thriller film. The reality is this: in the United States, every 67 seconds someone develops Alzheimer’s; five million live with it now, and it’s the 6th leading cause of death. The statistics in countries throughout the world are similar. Alzheimer’s is an equal opportunity disease.

My dad died of Alzheimer’s, and my mother suffers with advanced dementia, so when I misplace my keys in the refrigerator* or confuse the passwords of my bank account with my PayPal account, I experience a moment of panic. I also read articles and refer often to www.alz.org for current research and information.

I know the basics about a heart-healthy diet also being brain-healthy:  eat more veggies and fresh fruits, especially berries;  foods with omega-3 fatty acids are important (salmon, mackerel and tuna, etc.);  a daily glass of red wine or purple grape juice will help protect brain cells;  controlled blood pressure lowers risks of heart disease, vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s;  activities and interactions with friends and family make for a happier heart and a healthier mind.

Walk for Alzheimer's T-shirt logo.

And, of course, every day we should walk, exercise, sing, breathe deeply, and keep moving. Coffee is good; cigarettes are bad. Crossword puzzles, hobbies, and word or number games are excellent.

My parents scored high in all of the above, except for two. Living in land-locked Missouri and Kansas, they didn’t eat as much salmon and other omega-3 fatty acids as they should have. They also didn’t drink coffee; they loved the smell and served it often to guests, but their stomachs did much better with hot tea. They were active, intelligent, well-read and socially involved until Dad was 81 and Mom was 90, so it’s probably not a big deal about the fish or coffee, but who knows?

It’s not often that I do a blog on Alzheimer’s and dementia numbers and specifics.  I’d rather share stories so my grandchildren will know that Alzheimer’s and dementia could not erase their great-grandparents’ wonderful lives. Through shared and treasured memories, we keep alive those we love.

This once-in-a-blue-moon information post about Alzheimer’s and dementia is a reminder that the disease is much more than a plot point for a movie. We’re all at risk, and we’re all in this together. Please share any additional information or suggestions you have.

* FYI ~ my doctor told me that misplacing your keys in the refrigerator is not a sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia, but probably more an indicator that you’re hurrying or have a lot to do. It is a concern, however, if you find your keys in the refrigerator…and aren’t sure what they are or what they’re for.

 

1949 family photo of Mary and Ray Shepherd, baby daughter Marylin and son David .  Even then I was trying to talk.

1949 family photo of Mary and Ray Shepherd, baby daughter Marylin and son David . Even then I was trying to talk.

 

1999 ~ Mom, Dad, my brother David and I pose for a Thanksgiving picture at  my daughter Molly's home before Dad's Alzheimer's. (picture by Jim Warner)

1999 ~ Mom, Dad, my brother David and I pose for a Thanksgiving picture at my daughter Molly’s home before Dad’s Alzheimer’s was identified. (picture by Jim Warner)

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren

CHAIRS: True Memory Makers

Colorful "Picasso" chairs by our daughter Molly.  (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

Colorful “Picasso” chairs by our daughter Molly. (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

Retro-Kitchen step-chair, a perfect reminder of my mother's kitchen.

Retro-Kitchen step-chair, a perfect reminder of my mother’s kitchen.

A print of VanGogh's "Chair" in hallway of my mother's assisted living.

A print of VanGogh’s “Chair” in hallway of my mother’s assisted living.

The first chairs were probably flat rocks large enough for cave men to sit on, and high enough to lean against. As civilization evolved, so did chairs: royalty sat on thrones; polio victims traveled in wheel chairs; babies were lulled to sleep in rocking chairs and rode more safely in car seats: convicted killers were sometimes executed in electric chairs.

My mother’s interior design choices were a combination of practical, functional, comfortable and attractive. The upholstered furniture in our home was purchased from stores. Many of the casual tables, wooden chairs, bookcases and blanket chests were inherited or bought at unfinished wood or consignment furniture shops, and then Mom sanded, stained or painted them. I’d find her in the garage, humming in time to her brush strokes that created a colorful desk chair for her writing desk. When I was thirteen, Mom and I bought an old foot stool that I stained, and then together we wove a new cover across the frame.

Our family tradition of chair creations continued this year. For our anniversary gift, our daughter Molly painted metal lawn chairs bright yellow. Her children, big Picasso fans, drew our “portraits,” and Molly painted them on the chairs. On the seats she painted Picasso quotes: “Everything you can imagine is real” and “It takes a long time to grow young.” Even our porch chairs show how much fun restoring and painting can be.

Years after Mom gave a young mother the high chair my brother and I used, her metal kitchen step-chair doubled as a high chair for her grandchildren and any young visitors who stayed for meals. Mom moved the step-chair close to the table, set the child on the padded seat, and safely tied the little one in place with dish towels. My favorite birthday present last year was a red retro-model of Mom’s black step-chair that Jim found in a quaint hardware store in Abilene, KS. Visiting friends see this chair, laugh, and share stories they remember from their parents’ or grandparents’ kitchens. As author Stephen King wrote: “You can’t deny laughter; when it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays as long as it wants.”

Mom’s favorite chairs now are her lounger where she spends most of her waking hours, and dad’s old wheelchair that transports her to the flower garden on nice days. She no longer uses the rocking chair where she used to sing to babies, or the chair that was large enough she could sit with both her great-grandchildren and read to them. Because of her dementia she does not remember these times, but the children do. For them, these chairs are memory makers.

Mom in the wheelchair that was Dad's, out to enjoy the flowers.

2012 ~ Mom in the wheelchair that was Dad’s, out to enjoy the flowers.

Mom reading to her great-grandchildren in 2007.

Mom reading to her great-grandchildren in 2007.

 

Mom in her lounge chair, wrapped in a quilt made by her mother.

Mom in her lounge chair, 2013, wrapped in a quilt made by her mother.

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Filed under Abilene Kansas, art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, memories for grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for