MEMORY DOORS

In front of a house in Colorado Springs.  Open the door and take a book or leave a book to share. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

In front of a house in Colorado Springs. Open the door and take a book or leave a book to share. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

Inviting doorway into the children's room of an quaint shop in Abilene, Kansas. Walk through the doorway for exciting new ideas.

Inviting doorway into the children’s room of an quaint shop in Abilene, Kansas. Walk through the doorway for exciting new ideas.

Actor John Barrymore once wrote, “Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.”  Sometimes, however, doors can cause less pleasant results.  According to both Professor Gabriel Radvansky and an article in the QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, doors and doorways can separate episodes of activity and cause confusion and forgetfulness. 

What this means is that all of us, whether we have mostly clear thoughts or worry that we might be next to suffer with Alzheimer’s or dementia, probably find ourselves forgetting things.

For instance, have you ever hurried out the door in the morning, and suddenly you can’t remember the two things on your “to do” list you planned to take care of on your way to work?  Or do you sometimes walk from one room to another to get something, and once you get there you’ve forgotten what it is?

There are several studies on event boundaries, but here’s my favorite solution to this kind of forgetfulness problem:  go back through the door to the place you were when you made the plan about what to do or to get. Stop, take a breath, and when you recall the detail, repeat it to yourself, and then walk back through the door and go on your way.  Do this with a sense of humor, not an exaggerated sense of dread that you might be losing your memory.

I did not know of memory event boundaries when my dad was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, but I realize now that it was one of his coping skills.  Sometimes he would walk out of his office to put on his hat and go somewhere, then suddenly stop. He’d look away, hesitant, and then he’d go back into his office. This might have been to escape the embarrassment of forgetting, but often after a brief pause, he would walk back out of his office again, smiling and ready to do what he’d planned. By going back through the doorway, he had remembered what he wanted to do.

If you haven’t visited www.fatbottomfiftiesgetfierce.com yet, I suggest you treat yourself to a terrific blog. One humorous post is about “Quinbloits”—things that only someone over 50 will understand.   My favorite Quinbloit is this: ROOMEMBER: to find yourself standing in the middle of a room trying to remember what you went in there to get. There you have it: if you suffer from a ROOMEMBER, now you know to leave the room to help yourself remember.

As the daughter of a father who died of Alzheimer’s and a mother who suffers with severe dementia, I would never make light of any aspect of forgetfulness or memory loss.  But I also don’t want to cause undue worries by dwelling on natural lapses of memory.  As my primary care physician explained to me, finding your keys where you left them in the refrigerator doesn’t mean you should worry you have Alzheimer’s. But if you find your keys in the refrigerator and don’t know what they are or what to do with them, then we need to talk.

Close up of main door of burnt out building in picture below. Going in and out of this door may bring back memories of a better time before the fire.

Close up of main door of burnt out building in picture below. Going in and out of this door may bring back memories of a better time before the fire, but it’s not a safe suggestion based on the damage from the fire.

 

View of burnt out doors and windows of church/theater in Abilene, Ks.

View of burnt out doors and windows of church/theater in Abilene, Ks.

 

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

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

UNFORGOTTEN TIMES

orange autumn leaves

lemons in bowl

For this month’s visit with my mother, I had loaded the abridged version of A CHILD’S GARDEN OF VERSES on my Kindle. I didn’t expect her to follow the details—her dementia has blurred much of her understanding of anything she hears—but I hoped she might enjoy the sounds, the rhythms and flow of poetry. So when she was tucked in her bed, ready to go to sleep, I pulled the rocking chair up close. With the only light coming from a small lamp nearby, I began to read.

I ended up reading aloud all the poems to her. Her eyes would close and I’d think she was asleep. But when I’d stop reading, she’d say to read more. Then she began responding to some of the poems. For instance, “To My Mother” was one of the little poems in public domain, no author cited. She asked me to read it twice.

You, too, my mother, read my rhymes ~   For love of unforgotten times, ~ And you may chance to hear once more ~ The little feet along the floor.

Mom smiled and nodded, agreeing children ran to be read to, because they loved to hear words.  Her responses to the poems were a delightful surprise.  It was the most specifically responsive I’d seen her in a long time.

This is the last full week of September, World Alzheimer’s Month, and also One-on-One Month.  If you have someone in your life who suffers with dementia or Alzheimer’s and doesn’t respond to other things you’ve tried, I recommend you try some One-On-One time reading aloud simple or familiar children’s poems. September is also Self-Improvement Month, and I have no doubt that reading aloud poetry to my mother by lamp light certainly improved me.

September 26 is Johnny Appleseed Day. (Isn’t September a fascinating month?) In fourth grade I did a report on pioneer and nurseryman John Chapman (1774-1845), who made it his mission to plant apple seeds throughout numerous states. I was so impressed by his efforts that I passed out sections of apples to the other students so they could save the seeds and imitate him.  (One of the boys swallowed his seeds to see if he could grow a tree in his stomach. Some things are wasted on 4th graders, I guess.  We all hoped leaves would grow out of his ears.)

Anyway, John Chapman’s vision is even more important this month during the epidemic of a fast moving viral respiratory infection that is hospitalizing children across the country. There is no immunization or miracle drug, but two doctors from the CDC stated that the acid in lemons and the pectin in apples appear to be helpful in deterring the illness.

And finally, September 21-27 is World Reflexology Week. Oh, if only Mom could shake the dementia, she could teach us about the pressure points on hands and feet to release stress, diminish pain, treat sinus infections, and improve energy.  You can Google reflexology for resources and diagrams to get started.

Enjoy this last full week of September. Another of the poems I read to my mother was “Autumn Fires,” about burning leaves. She had me read it aloud twice, and the final lines had her smiling: …The red fire blazes, ~ The grey smoke towers, ~ Sing a song of seasons! ~ Something bright in All! ~ Flowers in the summer, ~ Fires in the fall!   

acupressure feet

acupressure hands

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference

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

TWO SECRETS OF SUCCESS

4:40 A.M. ~ crescent moon is in upper right section of window

4:40 A.M. ~ crescent moon is in upper right section of window

 

 

 

"The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you.  Don't go back to sleep!" ~ Rumi

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep!” ~ Rumi

 

 

Twenty-four years ago, I took Mom to a one-day workshop on writing nonfiction magazine articles.   The speaker began the session by asking how many specific suggestions participants would include in an article about The —#— Secrets of Success. While many in the group had ideas for five, eight, or even a dozen secrets for success, Mom had two.   1)  Greet each sunrise with a hopeful smile, and   2)  Keep moving.   In her experience, those two pretty much pointed her in the right direction each day.

During one of my trips to visit Mom this summer, I was sleeping in the guest room of her assisted living apartment, and for some reason I woke up at 4:40.  The sunrise was just a thread of light on the horizon.  A crescent moon and a single star glittered in one corner of the view from my window. 

I peeked in on Mom to see if it had awakened her, too. In a different time and place—maybe in the bedroom of her real home, and certainly before losing my dad to Alzheimer’s and now losing much of her own memory to dementia—I think Mom would have smiled as she watched the moon and star on the horizon, then taken a deep breath and gotten out of bed early to welcome the new day.

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you.   Don’t go back to sleep…”   These two beginning lines, my favorites from a longer, well known poem by Sufi poet Rumi, are lines I’m sure would have struck a chord with Mom. For many of her 96 years, her favorite time has been in the quiet early breaths of a new day.  She would use that private time to work in the yard, read and write letters and poetry, pray and sometimes even bake.  Before the dementia took over, it was her first secret of success.

Her second secret of success was short and simple, but essential on many levels: Keep moving.  Regardless of obstacles, set-backs, illness, disappointments or worries, to keep moving meant staying focused on what had to be done, breathing deeply, singing or humming as she worked, and being grateful for the things she learned and noticed along the way.

One beautiful example of someone who kept moving is April Holmes, Paralympic Gold Medalist in the 100-meter dash. April was 27 in 2001 when, as a college track star, she lost her leg from the knee down in a train accident. Instead of giving in or giving up, she kept moving…physically, emotionally, hopefully and with full commitment. Against all odds.

I’m sure my mother had more than just the two secrets of success she used that day for writing practice at the workshop. She was a woman of faith, kindness, creativity and common sense, and she had an amazing capacity for love and trust. I wish now that she’d kept writing on that workshop exercise and written out many more of her success secrets.

September is World Alzheimer’s Month, and many forms of devastating memory loss plague families, communities and countries everywhere in the world.

But one day this month, Wednesday, September 10th, is “Swap Ideas Day.” This is an excellent opportunity for us to share our favorite Secrets of Success.   Do you remember poignant, funny, strange, or insightful secrets of success from your parents, grandparents, teachers, friends or motivational speakers?

Today, September 6th, is National Writing Date Day.   Make a commitment today to write some of your secrets of success and share them with us!

Bikers racing through Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

Bikers racing through Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

One Secret of Success for competitive cyclists is Mom's #2: Keep Moving.

One Secret of Success for competitive cyclists is Mom’s #2: Keep Moving.

One section of Garden of the Gods. August 4th was Stage 4 of the USA ProChallenge cycling competition. Colorado Springs is 6,035 feet high.

One section of Garden of the Gods. August 4th was Stage 4 of the USA ProChallenge cycling competition. Colorado Springs is 6,035 feet high.

 

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, special quotations, writing exercises

WELCOME, SEPTEMBER!!! Oh, yeah…

My version of Green Eggs and Ham.  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

My version of Green Eggs and Ham. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

 

"T's the last rose of summer, Left blooming  alone."  ~ Thomas Moore

“T’s the last rose of summer, Left blooming alone.” ~ Thomas Moore

On September evenings, cats cuddle for warmth.

On September evenings, cats cuddle for warmth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My dad often reminded me to not wish my life away…to never want a day or event to come so quickly that I overlooked the gifts of today.   He was a wise man.

In keeping with his advice, I will celebrate today—National Bacon Lover’s Day, rough work but somebody has to do it—and at the same time applaud Dr. Seuss’ GREEN EGGS AND HAM.

Combining special days and foods is a form of multi-tasking, and if the green in my scrambled eggs comes from spinach, it’s actually kind of healthy. Right?

September is almost here, and oh, how I love September.  The rose bush that had given up for awhile now shines with one last rose of summer; the deer visit our back yard at will; and our neighborhood is alive with the laughter of helmeted school children learning to ride their bikes without training wheels. Three cheers for September!

Still cringing from last week’s  “pre-emptive sympathy card,” I’ve decided do something much more fun and make “pre-emptive preparations” for some of September’s special days. For instance, how much more fun will it be on Sept. 5th “Be Late For Something Day” if we carefully decide in advance what we’ll be late for, and how we’ll make our late entrance.

Or if we give it some advance thought, on Sept. 6th we can Fight Procrastination with a specific plan that must be implemented on that day. And if we struggle with long-held superstitions, we can plan a strategy for Sept. 13, which is Defy Superstition Day, and then reward our efforts on the 14th by enjoying National Cream-filled Donut Day. The really good news is that many bakeries make delicious Maple Bacon Doughnuts, which brings us back to Bacon Lover’s Day…see how it all works together? Amazing, isn’t it? ;) 

On a more serious note, September is also the AKC’s Responsible Dog Ownership Month, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Hunger Action Month, Baby Safety Month, and for parents of children hurrying back to school or happily embracing play dates, it is also National Head Lice Prevention Month. (Which you know is nothing to laugh at if your children have ever come home with head lice.)

September is Prosper Where You Are Planted month, Healthy Aging Month, and in memory of my father who told me to never overlook the gifts of today–and also in honor of my mother who still lives that example on a daily basis–I also point out that September is World Alzheimer’s Month. 

As we appreciate and remember the wonderful days of each month , may we also continue to work for a cure for Alzheimer’s and dementia. Memories are important; we need to do all we can to protect and preserve them.     

Believe it or not, but one effective preventative for head lice is rinsing the hair and scalp with original Listerine.

Believe it or not, but one effective preventative for head lice is rinsing the hair and scalp with original Listerine.

A deer stops by for a visit in our back yard.  He jumps over the fence as if it's not there.  Help yourself to the zucchini, fella...we've got plenty.

A deer stops by for a visit in our back yard. He jumps over the fence as if it’s not there. Help yourself to the zucchini, fella…we’ve got plenty.

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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