Category Archives: lessons about life

SOUND THE ALARMS!

We take fires very seriously in Colorado after the devastating Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, and the 2013 Black Forest Fire (in picture)

We take fires very seriously in Colorado after the devastating Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, and the 2013 Black Forest Fire (in picture)

 

The closing lines of last week’s blog will begin this week’s post: ~ Sing a song of seasons! ~ Something bright in All! ~ Flowers in the summer, ~ Fires in the fall!

Last week’s post focused on poetry, the book of children’s poems I read aloud to Mom as she snuggled under her covers one night. Despite her dementia, Mom responded to the poems, making comments and asking to hear more. It was a surprising, happy time.

This week the focus in on the four words—Fires in the fall!—because of something that happened in Mom’s assisted living that same night…before I read her the poems.

The alarms went off. Everywhere, blaring throughout the entire assisted living facility, both floors, all four hallways. Steel safety doors automatically slammed shut, closing off all the hallways, and the alarms kept screeching. Caregivers ran to evaluate the situation. I stayed with Mom in her apartment, putting on her shoes, helping her into the wheelchair and tucking her afghan around her, waiting to learn which exit I should use to take her to safety. In the hallway outside her apartment, other more mobile and self-reliant seniors peeked out their doors and waited anxiously in the hall to learn what to do next.

Finally the alarms stopped. The steel doors opened, and caregivers hurried back to the apartments. The halls were thick with whiffs of smoke and the pungent smell of burned …popcorn? Really, burned popcorn.   Bags of microwave popcorn had been accidentally set on fire in a 90-year-old resident’s apartment microwave when he pushed the wrong numbers. Supposedly, the numbers were way off; the bags caught fire and blew the door open on the microwave.

Mom sat in the wheelchair, watching caregivers hurrying around, running back and forth past our open door. She looked up at me and asked, “Well, are we going to go now?” She was ready for us to take a walk.

The Roman philosopher Seneca said this: “There are more things to alarm us than to harm us, and we suffer more often in apprehension than reality.”   My mom’s personal philosophy has always been to not suffer or worry in advance, but to stay calmly busy with other things until there was an actual danger that demanded a specific response. She could have been a poster girl for the 1939 British motivational poster in preparation for WWII: “Keep Calm & Carry On.”

Life can be very difficult. Losing the love of your life to Alzheimer’s; losing your own clarity of time and place to dementia; giving up your home and independence; outliving most of your family and friends; thinking you’re getting ready to go for a wheelchair ride, only to have that ended by fire alarms…and you don’t even get any popcorn.

October 9 is Fire Prevention Day. I’m informing you early, so you can prepare in advance to prevent fires…and to make the most of whatever difficulties and disappointments you might face. Keep Calm and Read Poetry. Popcorn is optional, especially if you’re not sure how to use a microwave.

calm duck on water

moon between trees

Based on the 1939 British motivational poster in preparation for WWII.

Based on the 1939 British motivational poster in preparation for WWII.

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations

CELEBRATE THE LINE

My mom, 1918,  the baby before two more siblings followed.

My mom, Mary Elizabeth, 1918, the baby before two more siblings followed.

 

Mom in 1949, holding their baby daughter, while  Dad holds their son.

Mom in 1949, holding their baby daughter, while Dad holds their son.

Last week’s topic was “Secrets of Success.”

This week’s topic is “How To Turn Disappointments Into Celebrations.”

Many years ago, a college acquaintance had a strange solution for any disappointment she faced: she made herself feel better by finding someone who was more disappointed and miserable than she was. For instance, when her boyfriend back home dumped her, she cheered up when she found someone else whose fiancé made a big deal of publicly ending their engagement on campus. She called this strategy “Being Glad You’re Not THAT Miserable,” and it seemed to work for her.

My birthday is at the end of this month…and it’s a BIG milestone birthday. Although I know my husband, daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren will do something special, I also know my mother will not remember my birthday. Because of her dementia, she rarely remembers who I am any more or sometimes even where she is.  But it’s still sad that for the past seven years she’s had no memory of days that used to mean so much to her, including the day I was born.

Using the technique of my college acquaintance, I found these birthday disappointments of others: Paulina Porizkova was fired by “America’s Next Top Model” on her birthday, and actress Evan Rachel Wood said, “I’ll never forget my 24th birthday when my tooth got punched out…”   But the one that made me choke back tears was by actress/model/singer Amy Weber: “I lost twins at 14 weeks, and I had to have a D&C on my birthday.” 

I’ve never been good at feeling better because someone else felt worse.  The college acquaintance’s strategy didn’t work for me then, and it doesn’t work for me now. 

But I have found a way of creating my own happiness as I celebrate my birthday with my mother. When I drive to Kansas to visit her each month, I take along foods she might enjoy, fresh flowers or a plant. When I visit her each September, I take a cake or cupcakes. And candles. Sometimes ice cream, too.   And I sing “Happy Birthday to US” and light the candles (just a few candles…we don’t want a bon fire.)

Mom still enjoys blowing out candles, and she sometimes wants me to light them again so she can blow them out a second time. It’s our shared celebration—I’m the birthday girl; she’s the mother who gave birth to me—and at some point during my visit I tell her a story from when I was a child and she did something sweet, funny, poignant or wonderful. Usually she’ll smile and say something like, “That’s nice. Do I know her?”   She doesn’t know “her,” but I do.

Dementia prevents Mom from remembering when my birthday is or even who I am. Reality confirms that the woman who wanted so much to be a mother, and who suffered four miscarriages before she had her two children, went on to have three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. All of us are here because she didn’t give up or bury her disappointments by finding other women who had even worse pains and more sadness.

So for my birthday again this year, we’ll celebrate the line of life. We’ll eat cake, blow out candles, smile and celebrate all the lives and loves that dementia cannot erase.   Happy Birth Day To Us.

1978 ~ Marylin holds her daughter Molly, Mary's granddaughter.

1978 ~ Marylin and her daughter Molly, Mary’s granddaughter.

 

2005 ~ Molly holds portrait of Dad's mother as a  toddler for her own toddlers, Mary's great-grandchildren.

2005 ~ Molly holds portrait of her grandpa’s mother as a toddler for her own children, Mary and Ray’s great-grandchildren.

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Filed under birthday celebrations, birthdays, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

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

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