Category Archives: importance of doing good things

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

ORAL HYGIENE: A Poem by Mary Shepherd

You don't have to brush all your teeth--just the ones you want to keep.  (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

You don’t have to brush all your teeth–just the ones you want to keep. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

 

To be safe, keep extras on hand.  Remember, possession is 9/10 of the law...

To be safe, keep extra supplies on hand. Remember, possession is 9/10 of the law…(or something like that?)

 

Dear Nic,

Grandma’s favorite stories—and poems—have been about her grandchildren. She loved the cute things you all did and the sweet things you said. Almost three decades ago, you made everyone laugh with what we like to call your “Oral Hygiene” incident that Grandma later wrote about in a poem:

Mom and Dad were traveling—

A three-year-old grandson so dear

Was staying with Grandpa and Grandma,

Making their world bright with cheer.

 

“Where is your toothbrush?” asked Grandma,

After getting him ready for bed.

“I think it’s down at my house,”

The smiling little boy said.

 

So Nic and Grandpa went walking

The next day, down to his home,

And soon Nic was brushing merrily;

His mouth was covered with foam.

 

“That’s a very large brush,” said Grandma.

“Are you sure it belongs to you?”

Nic gave her a great big bubbly grin;

His answer was simple and true.

 

With his feet perched on the nearby stool,

And his smiling mouth dripping foam:

“It used to be Dad’s, but it’s mine now;

I just brought it here from home.”

(~a poem about her grandson Nic, by Mary Shepherd)

Grandma’s teeth are cracking and breaking now. It seems to be the normal progression of things for someone who is almost 96. She eats less food and it’s softer, and everything she drinks is served with a straw. But true to form, according to her caregiver Tammy, last week Grandma used the straw to blow bubbles in her milk! Inside the frail little grandma with advanced dementia, there’s still a hint of the happy playfulness she used to share with her grandchildren.

Molly and her little cousin Nic ~ she wanted him to be her little brother.

Molly and her little cousin Nic ~ she wanted him to be her little brother.

 

Fritz, Nic and Molly at Grandpa and Grandma's house.

Fritz, Nic and Molly at Grandpa and Grandma’s house.

Ray and Mary's grandchildren: Andrew, Molly and Nic (1990)

Ray and Mary’s grandchildren: Andrew, Molly and Nic (1990)

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, importance of doing good things, lessons for great-grandchildren

WHAT WE LEARN WHILE WE WAIT

Penny, the visiting dog who waddles in for pats. (Photographs by Marylin Warner)

Penny, the visiting dog who waddles in for pats. (Photographs by Marylin Warner)

All we need love & a dog

Mom and I hold her great-granddaughter Grace's Flat Stanley project.

Mom and I hold her great-granddaughter Grace’s Flat Stanley project.

I’ve been asked, many times, exactly what it is I do when I visit my mother each month.  From my house in Colorado to her assisted living apartment in Kansas, it’s a round-trip drive of 1,300 miles.  English poet George Herbert wrote, “Every mile is two in winter,” and between November and March, I brace myself for bad roads.

In Colorado I’m busy with friends and family, writing and editing, organizations and activities, and taking hikes with my husband and our dog, as well as being open to all kinds of plans and adventures.  In Kansas, within limits, Mom and I might eat the foods I bring, take walks outside in nice weather (I walk and she rides in the wheelchair), watch television and “play beauty shop.”  She will ask questions, sometimes the same ones again and again, including asking if I’m someone she knows, which is the nature of dementia.  I also know that we’ll sit quietly together in the living room while she naps.  In other words, I spend a lot of time waiting.

Before you nod off or retch in your shoes at this Dickens-type dreary scenario, let me say this: I’ve also found that while I wait, I learn. A lot. Seriously. And I always leave a little smarter than I arrived.

For instance, because I have time to read magazines and newspapers and flip through the channels on my mother’s television, I learn information I never would have had time for on a regular, busy day.  Some of what I learn is a little strange. Like the article about the wife who donated one of her kidneys to save her husband’s life…and now she wants it back. It seems he was mighty grateful at first, but now he’s having an affair, and she’d like to give the kidney to someone who deserves it.  Anyone want to debate that issue?

There are also happy lessons, reminders of  “the kindness of strangers.”  There is always some quiet, kind, unexpected gesture from one of the caregivers that reminds me that the little things make a big difference. And then there’s the man who visits the residents and brings his little dog Penny to waddle in for pats and smiles. Or the friends who’ve sent me amazing links that finally I have time to watch: this Tchaikovsky Flashwaltz at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem is the most stunning example of  “the kindness of strangers” I’ve ever seen. Please, do yourself a favor and invest two minutes…you’ll be astounded:   http://safeshare.tv/w/OXHZUxUXXN

I also glean all kinds of health information from the magazines stacked in the mail room. Seriously, I now know the most important times to drink water to be healthy:   2 glasses of water after waking up helps activate internal organs             ~ 1 glass of water 30 minutes before a meal  helps digestion  ~ 1 glass of water before taking a bath/shower regulates blood pressure  ~ 1 glass of water before going to bed helps you avoid a stroke or heart attack.    Yea! for H2O!!!

Mostly, though, each month I’m reminded of basic truths:  1) Our mothers were right ~ a smile does make all the difference;  2) When we pause to visit with someone who is sitting alone or has nowhere to go, it’s a very good thing for both of us;  3) Slowing down, taking time to wait and think, to watch and listen and learn, is actually a gift.

February is the shortest month of the year.  No matter where we live, no matter what our age or health or economic status, for all of us there are only twenty-eight days this month.  If you have an opportunity to sit with an elderly relative or friend who knows who you are–or doesn’t even know who she is–who is healing from surgery or just hoping for a visitor, I encourage you to welcome the opportunity. You may have to sit quietly for a while and wait, but there’s a good chance you will learn something important.

Leave it to the Brits to have fun!  The Little Tikes for kids (on right) is now for adults, too. I learned that they're windowless, have seat belts, and can go up to 70 miles per hour!

Leave it to the Brits to have fun! The Little Tikes for kids (on right) is now for adults, too. I learned that they’re windowless, have seat belts, and can go up to 70 miles per hour!

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Filed under Colorado Springs, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, friends, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, Special days in February

YELLING AT TREES

Old Colorado City Library. Knitters prepare the tree for winter. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Old Colorado City Library. Knitters prepare the tree for winter. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Bare trees are ready for winter on eastern plains of Colorado

Bare trees are ready for winter on eastern plains of Colorado

The Tree Lady waits...you'd better not yell at her!

The Tree Lady waits…you’d better not yell at her!

Dear Mom,

You don’t remember any of the essays from Fulghum’s book ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN. I used to read excerpts of his book to you, and one essay made both of us shake our heads and laugh.

Supposedly, if natives in the Solomon Islands needed to cut down a tree that was too large to be felled with an ax, they yelled at it. Woodsmen with special powers crept up on the tree at dawn and screamed at it. Really loud. They did this for thirty days, and after the yelling killed the spirit of the tree, it fell over. (Note: I checked Wickipedia, and this “fact” is still up for debate. In the past, when Solomon Islanders had only very basic tools and no metal for their axes, who knows for sure what they did?)

I remember we wondered who would sneak up on trees and yell at them (other than islanders without axes).  One year in school, my class kept two plants in the classroom for an experiment. We were to ignore or talk mean to one plant, but smile and say nice, encouraging things to the other, and see what happened.  Of course we all know what the lesson was supposed to be, but I don’t remember if our project proved the point or not. I wasn’t the only one who felt sad for the ignored plant, so I think others also would sneak in nice words, encouragement and smiles to help it out. We weren’t good scientists, but we were nice kids.

Now, even though your dementia is very advanced and you often don’t know who I am, who you are or where you are, your basic kind, gentle and sweet personality has remained the same. I can’t imagine you yelling at a tree, a helpless plant, or a person, either. Okay, once, when the neighborhood bully tried to sic his dog on me and you flew out of the house and stopped him. But other than for emergencies, I never heard you yell.

I recently read that actress Reese Witherspoon had this to say this about yelling: “If you are not yelling at your kids, you are not spending enough time with them.”

I think she was probably trying to be funny–and show she was on top of things–but I don’t think you’d agree with her.

You spent a great deal of time with children, Mom, and you showed us by example that we didn’t have to yell, scream, hit, pinch or bite to communicate. I also remember that when I did resort to yelling or screaming, your response was usually to pause, take a deep breath, and send me to my room to think about things and come up with a better plan.

Thanks, Mom, for your example then…and for you example now.    Love, Marylin

_________________________________________________

P.S. to readers:  Tracy Karner is a creative, energetic advocate for building a ‘community’ of bloggers with recipes, travel pieces and terrific photographs.  This week she has featured a short piece about my mom…and Mom’s recipe for “Eggs ala Goldenrod”—which is very good, especially at this time of year!  Stop by!  http://tracyleekarner.com/2013/10/18/its-october-join-our-pumpkin-party/

Abilene KS tree, broken by lightning and wind, not by yelling.

Abilene KS tree, broken by lightning and wind, not by yelling.

Blowing in the wind? Or is someone yelling at it? (Watercolor by Marylin Warner)

Blowing in the wind? Or is someone yelling at it? (Watercolor by Marylin Warner)

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Filed under art, autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren

ALL WE REALLY NEED TO KNOW

Rules adults, children...and politicians should know and follow are in this book.  (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Rules adults, children…and politicians should know and follow are in this book. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

 

Kindergarten teacher Mary Shepherd (3rd from left, back row) in 1944

Kindergarten teacher Mary Shepherd (3rd from left, back row) in 1944.  An added note: Beth, my cousin in Georgia–her picture playing the flute is in the post “Keepers of Memories” — and she told me she is the girl second from the left end on the first row! But she wasn’t in my mother’s class! For Beth’s funny story, read her comment at the end of the post.

Dear Mom,

Author and astrophysicist Carl Sagan wrote, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”   Robert Fulghum, a Unitarian minister, simplified what we really need to know in his successful 1988 book, ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things.

The book grew out of  Fulghum’s speech at a primary school celebration where Senator Dan Evans happened to be in the audience. Evans was so moved by the basic truths in the speech that it was eventually read into the Congressional Record.  Major newspapers picked it up, and the rest was history.

Fulghum’s basic premise is that the wise rules needed to develop successful children and adults (and politicians, too, obviously) are found not in hallowed halls…but in sandboxes and on the playgrounds of life.  Here are a few of Fulghum’s short, simple and honest rules: Clean up your own mess…Don’t take things that aren’t yours…Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody…Wash your hands before you eat…Flush.

I bought Fulghum’s book for you when it first came out, Mom. As a former kindergarten teacher, you applauded the basic life truths, and you told me stories from the classroom, from teaching Sunday school and substituting in elementary classrooms…and also funny (and sometimes embarrassing) stories from when David and I were children.

That was many years ago. Now, as you lie in your bed after hip surgery, you don’t remember your stories or the successes you had raising your own children and helping other children. But I remember many of the stories, which is why I write this blog, so your great-grandchildren (and others) will know some of the many good things you did that made a difference.

It’s October now, Mom, and I remember one of your basic rules from this time of year:  When someone has raked a pile of leaves and you jump in it, afterwards be sure you rake it up again.  (Remember how we used to burn our piles of leaves–with you and Dad supervising, of course– and how wonderful the scent was on chilly autumn evenings?)

Here are some of your other “Basic Wisdom” rules I remember:  Eat an apple—or at least some slices—every day… When someone says mean things to you, the best way to get over it is to say nice things to someone else… When you borrow something, return it in better condition than it was… It’s better to take birthday treats for the whole class than to have a full birthday party and invite only some of the class but leave out others.

Mom, thanks to you and Robert Fulghum for teaching us the basic rules that everyone should follow to make the world a better place.

Maybe our blog friends will share some basic rules they learned! 

Ray and Mary's great-grandchildren making their own music.

Ray and Mary’s great-grandchildren making their own music.

Mary and Ray's children, Marylin and David, as young children.

Mary and Ray’s children, Marylin and David.

Chapman, KS elementary students learning team work.  Good job!

Chapman, KS elementary students learning team work. Good job!

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Filed under autumn lessons, Chapman KS, Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, kindergarten lessons about life, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations

THE DIFFERENCE ONE PERSON CAN MAKE

Chicken soup. It's not just for colds and flu.  (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Chicken soup. It’s not just for colds and flu. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Dear Mom,

When I began writing this blog, my goal was to remember, collect and record as many special memories about you as possible so your grandchildren and great-grandchildren could know how special and wonderful you are. Along the way, you’ve had hours and days when your dementia took a break, and I’ve read to you some of the blog posts and comments from the readers.

This week I would have loved for you to be alert and aware enough to read a very special email from a wonderful friend you and I met through this blog. (http://www.darlawrites.com/)  In our blog last week, I reminded readers about the upcoming April 10 “Encourage a Young Writer” Day. Here is an excerpt of Darla McDavid’s reply:

Hi, Marylin:

I spoke with Chiara for Encourage a Young Writer Day.  Chiara is a fourth grade student who wants to write “adventure and fantasy books” when she grows up. I told Chiara your mother’s name and age, and explained how Mary would love to be standing with her right then to encourage her, if only she could. Then I spoke in Mary’s name and encouraged her to follow that dream. Chiara smiled as she listened.She said to tell your mother “Thank you,” spoken in that pure, sincere way of a child…

With many, many thanks to Darla. Because of her kindness, April 10 also became the day to Encourage an Older Writer and Her Mother.  Each month when I visit you in Kansas, Mom, I will read aloud to you Darla’s full account of working with Chiara. During one of our visits, I believe you will understand and know what a gift this was. To Chiara, to you…and to me.

For the rest of us, it’s no secret that we live in difficult times, face pressures and problems, and often feel overwhelmed by the many demands and disappointments. How do you survive…and thrive?  If you have an experience, a special technique or routine for meeting and defeating obstacles, how about sharing it with others?  In the words of Marcus Aurelius, “The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”

Here are the full details for an excellent writing opportunity from Santa Fe.

30 Days to Sanity: We Want Your Stories!

Do you have heartwarming, insightful, and powerfully moving true stories about how to stay sane in this chaotic 24/7 world? A co-author of the New York TimesBest-selling book series Chicken Soup for the Soul is currently seeking personal stories to be included in 30 Days to Sanity, an online stress/resiliency program. We’re looking for inspirational true stories that give a personal account of an event, an obstacle overcome, a strategy to remain sane, or a lesson learned that helps the reader discover basic principles they can use in their own lives.

Some of the topics we will include are: Getting to Know Yourself, Your Needs & Dreams, Getting Your Priorities Straight, Learning to Listen to Your Heart, Discovering Your Passion, Setting Aside Time for You, Balancing Work & Family, Building a Soulful Community, Learning to Love Your Body, Taking a Mini-Vacation or Playcation, Setting Limits Both at Work and at Home, Putting Technology to Work for You, Making a Meaningful Contribution to the World, Growing From the Bumps in Your Life, Making Technology Free Times to Truly Connect, Creating a Space Just For You, Making Sacred Time for Your Family, Eliminating Time Wasters and Energy Suckers, Managing Technology, Banishing Your Guilt, Celebrating Your Gifts and Strengths, Expressing Appreciation to a Friend or Loved One, Asking for Help or Support, Discovering an Attitude of Gratitude, Using Life as Your Teacher, Cultivating Compassion, or Comic Relief (humorous stories about funny things you’ve done while stressed).  Submit as many stories as you’d like.

Story Length: Up to 1,200 words  Submission Deadline: June 1, 2013

Compensation: $100 one-time use fee for each story accepted for publication

Submit to: stephanie@30daystosanitycom or to 30 Days to Sanity, Box 31453, Santa Fe, NM 87594-1453 (please keep copies as we are unable to return submissions).

How Do You Stay Sane During Rough and Tumble Times???

Do you turn lemons into lemonade?

Do you turn lemons into lemonade?

Do you pray and light a candle?

Do you pray and light a candle?

Do you cuddle with a buddy?

Do you cuddle with a buddy?

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren

YOU CAN’T BLAME GRAVITY

TinMan & girlfriend IMG_2189

Goodbye Oz: The Tin Man has moved to Abilene, KS

Dear Mom,

In several polls to determine readers’ favorites from Dorothy’s traveling companions in THE WIZARD OF OZ, Tin Man is often in third place. Sometimes he even comes in fourth, behind Toto, her little dog.

But no matter. In this blog, this week, The Tin Man is our featured star. He’s in love! Really. We don’t know his girlfriend’s name, but you have to admit, they make a shiny couple. If we can’t quite see the attraction, we’ll chalk it up to love being blind. As Albert Einstein said, “You can’t blame gravity for falling in love.”

We can give the credit for the creation of Tin Man and Dotty (I named them that) to the staff of the Dickinson County Transfer Station near Abilene, Kansas. Their creation is not a monster made of body parts dug up in cemeteries like Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, but a fun couple made of disposable electronics recycled into something new.

In THE WIZARD OF OZ, two of Tin Man’s lines make him my favorite character. The first is when he’s about to lose his friend Dorothy: “Now I know I’ve got a heart, ‘cause it’s breaking.” The other is his wisdom about the measure of love: “It’s not how much you love, but how much you are loved by others.”

That’s the quote I dedicate to you, Mom. You have always had a tremendous capacity to love others, to respect, accept, befriend and help them. And now, at 94 when your dementia, frailty and confusion limit the love you can offer others, the Karma of love has come full circle back to you. Can you feel the love, Mom? I hope so. It’s there.

grandma kiss Gannon

Mary Shepherd sharing love and hugs with great-grandson, Gannon.
(all photos by Marylin Warner)

___A NOTE TO READERS FROM TIN MAN AND DOTTIE: ___

Our nation dumps between 300-400 million electronic items per year, and less than 20% of that e-waste is recycled.  www.dosomething.org/actnow/tipsandtools/11-facts-about-e-waste

junk in landfill

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, importance of doing good things, making a difference, memories for grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren