I had to take my father-in-law to the doctor today for a followup visit after a hand injury. With Alzheimer’s Disease, we cannot leave my mother-in-law home alone, so when we have an appointment where I can’t easily take both of them in, we have someone come in to stay with her. Since her sister, Margee retired, she has been able to come over and sit with her, and often she brings he granddaughter, Stasi along. Stasi enjoys coming for a visit, which is such a blessing.
Teenagers don’t often want to go visit the elderly, much less help out, but Stasi loves coming over to visit my in-laws, and even when I get back with my father-in-law, she is often not really ready to leave. She is always willing to help my father-in-law out, by doing whatever is needed. She has pulled weeds for him, a well as many odd jobs around their house. And this last week, when my niece Machelle was painting window frames, Stasi was right there to help her. Stasi is very simply a very sweet girl, and one who likes to be a blessing.
Stasi, her brother, and her Dad live with her grandmother, Margee, my mother-in-law’s sister. Stasi’s mom passed away in 1998. Stasi helps her grandmother, just like she does my in-laws. She shows a kindness toward others that would make her mother very proud of her. It is hard to lose a parent at any age, but when it is at such a young age, very often life goes on without really missing that parent, but Stasi has never forgotten. Perhaps it is because of grandparents and her dad to keep her in remembrance of what a special woman her mother was. Whatever it is, Stasi has never forgotten and strives to live a life that would make her mom proud of her.
As I said, Stasi often helps out her grandmother, who is on oxygen and has a hard time getting around. It is a monumental task for a young girl to take on, but as I am finding with Stasi, it is one that she does well with. And yet, she still takes pleasure is coming over to my in-law’s house, her great aunt and uncle, and help out with whatever they need. She is a wonderful young lady, as anyone who knows her will attest.
It takes a village to take care of the elderly at home, and the longer I am in this situation, the more I have learned to notice and appreciate those who happily and willingly give of their time, resources, and mostly themselves to make the later part of someone’s life be a little bit better. It is a gift that can never be repaid. How do you thank someone for their kindness and sacrifice in the service of others? You can’t. It is impossible. All you can do is hope that in some small way you have made them aware that you see their kindness and sacrifice…that it has not gone unnoticed…that while you can never repay, you most certainly do appreciate all they do.
Since 1995, Bob and I have been hiking in the Black Hills. Our first hike, was up Harney Peak, and while we were pretty unprepared for that hike, it whet our appetite for hiking, and we have been doing it ever since. It is challenging, but beautiful. And when we get to the top, and have lunch, it’s like eating at the top of the world. From the top you can see 5 states. Harney Peak is and probably always will be our favorite trail. We try to hike it every year.
One of our favorite easy trails is The Mickelson Trail, which runs from Edgemont to Deadwood and is 109 miles long. This trail is part of the rails to trails system. It is a great way to get off the main streets of the Black Hills and get the feel of being close to nature without going too far from civilization.
We have walked sections of the Mickelson Trail several times, but a couple of years age we decided to make it our goal to walk the trail in it’s entirety. When we are done, we will actually walk the entire trail twice, because we walk part way up and then back to our car. In 2009 we completed the Custer to Hill City section. That is 31.2 miles total, going up and back. Then add Harney Peak, and it gave us 37.2 total for that trip. In 2010, we walked the Hill City to Mystic section. That is 29.2 miles up and back. We also did a 4.5 (9 total) mile section south of Custer. With Harney Peak we did a total of 44.2 miles last year. This year we plan to walk the Mystic to Dumont section, which is 17.9 or 35.8 total and with Harney Peak a total of 41.8 miles. We usually spend 5 days hiking.
I know…a lot of you think we are crazy, and even our friends and family have told us that too. I don’t know, maybe we are, but we really got hooked and we totally love it. We are able to see things that most people will never see, because they are off the main roads. It is a very cool experience. Yes, we come away with sore muscles and tired feet sometimes, and sometimes it is really hot out there, but every ache, every pain, and even the heat is worth it. There is no other feeling quite like it. We will keep doing this as long as we can…and I’ve heard of hikers at Harney Peak in their 80’s, so we have lots of time left.
We all do it. Many won’t admit it, but it is true nevertheless. We all hear voices. They are the voices of our past. Our parents, grandparents, teachers, friends…whether they are living or not. Our mind is a big storage facility, a flash drive if you will, that holds the things we have heard, read, seen, tasted and smelled. If you think of a favorite food, that taste will suddenly appear, not as strongly as if you were eating the food, but you know the taste of your favorite food. You know it’s smell. You remember events of your life. Things you have seen, good or bad. They are burned into your memory. You remember stories you have read, or text books, maybe not word for word, but the knowledge you gained is still with you today. And you remember the voices, can even hear them very clearly, of loved ones who have gone on before you, or friends you haven’t seen in a while, teachers from your school days, parents, grandparents, speakers, singers, movie stars and even just the passerby who said something that struck you at the time.
The lessons my dad taught my sisters and me still ring strongly in my head. He told us things like, “Never let the sun go down on your wrath” and “go to church” to teach us the right things to do in life, but the things I remember even more, now that he had gone home to be with the Lord, are the teasing, funny things he said. He would do something, like tug on our hair and then pretend he hadn’t done it. When we would “retaliate” by flicking him with our finger, he would look at us in mock innocence and say, “You struck me!!” We would answer, “I wonder why??” He was an incorrigible tease. He thrived on it, and so did we. His teasing filled our lives with laughter. He never lost that…never. I can still see him coming out of their bedroom in the mornings and the teasing would begin. I would say, “Well, it’s about time!!” And he would shake his finger at me, looking shocked the whole time, that I would say such a thing. Our lives were filled with teasing and innocent pranks. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The pictures they create and the words I hear are with me always. He had an amazing imagination, and you never knew what he might come up with next.
I can also hear the things my favorite teachers said, as well as others who had an influence on me. Sayings with a positive impact are forever tied to the person who said them. I can repeat lines from movies and picture the scene, vividly. Songs I like run clearly through my head, sometimes over and over. Yes, like everyone else, I hear voice…every day. Voices from the past, as well as the present, run like a movie in my head, reminding me of right and wrong…of where I came from…and where I want to be. I would never change the fact that I hear voices.
Imagine a world where nothing really makes sense to you anymore. Things just don’t add up. Try as you might, you can’t figure it out. You don’t remember what you did today, or yesterday…so you make things up that seem to fall in line with things you used to do. Still, nothing really makes sense, but you are sure that you remember doing that recently. This is Alzheimer’s, and my mother-in-law has it. She is 80 years old, but she would tell you that she is 65, because she doesn’t remember differently.
I spent yesterday afternoon and evening at the hospital with her for some other potentially serious health issues, and it was so hard, because she doesn’t know what is going on or why. It doesn’t do any good to tell her, because she won’t remember what you told her 10 minutes ago. When the blood pressure cuff would start to check her blood pressure, she always seemed shocked that it hurt, and wanted me to take it off. I guess that is a blessing in disguise in that she also doesn’t remember any other pain that she is in once the spasm, poke, or prod is over. She kept picking at the IV needles and their bandages. And she couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t bring her any supper. I’m sure she thought this was the worst hotel she had ever stayed in. In fact, she told me she wasn’t staying at all.
Probably the most heart wrenching part of Alzheimer’s is the fact that while the patient doesn’t remember much of the things they should, the one thing that seems very clear to them, is the fact that this whole thing just isn’t right! I can’t count the number of times that she has look at one of us and said, “What’s wrong with me?” Few things tear you up more that to have someone say that to you and you just don’t know what to tell them. And even worse, is the fact that they will ask you again in 10 minutes.
Thankfully, she still knows most of her family…the ones that are around her often, that is. There are some that she never asks about, because they live too far away and don’t come often, but the good news on that is that she doesn’t know that she doesn’t know them, or know that they don’t come around. It’s hard to feel hurt about that when you don’t know that they even exist. Personally, I feel sorry for those people, because regret will come later for them, when there is nothing they can do about it. I will say, that if you know someone with Alzheimer’s, do yourself a favor, and be around for them, you will never regret it. There is great blessing in being someone they do remember.
We still don’t know for sure what else is going on with her. More tests today will help determine that, and it is with a degree of dread that we move into the day. No matter what is found, we will do what we can do for her, and keep her comfortable as much as possible. Please keep her in prayers as you go through your day today. Your prayers will be much appreciated.
There are a lot of people today that have an irritable habit. Now I know that you are probably thinking that you could name a few very irritating habits, but I’m talking about an Irritable Habit, meaning that something irritates them, and they are irritated the rest of the day. I have the definite ability to fall into that category, if I’m not careful, and I’m sure you do too. Something makes us mad early in the day, and while it didn’t even begin to be something that should have affected the rest of our day, we couldn’t get it off of our mind.
Sometimes, we allow those little irritations to define who we are. In fact, it can feel like being possessed. This is because we have allowed ourselves to dwell on things that haven’t gone our way. Sometimes, we even think that people do thing to irritate us on purpose. We get to where we can’t seem to say a nice thing to anyone. Our attitude becomes sarcastic and mean. Before we know it, anything and everything makes us mad. You see, irritation can become a habit. After a while we don’t even remember how it all got started.
If we can begin to understand that everybody deserves a little understanding, and that they probably didn’t mean to irritate us in the first place, we might learn to forgive and move on to happiness. I had someone tell me the other day that a person I know to be very blessed, is always irritated. How sad is that? This person has so much going for them, and yet the people who mean the most to them are under the impression that they aren’t happy. Now that…is truly sad.
I have never thought of myself as a Type A personality, and in reality I’m probably not even close, but as is the case with many people, I can find myself having trouble relaxing. There is just so much to get done in a day, and not enough hours to do it all.
Sometimes, I just can’t seem to give myself permission to slow down, until I drop. And of course, when I do sit down, I usually doze off. It’s like the minute my body isn’t in motion, it is just done. And yet, after 20 or 30 minutes, I feel like I need to do more. So, I often find myself still up at midnight or later. Probably because I tried to fit too much into my day…again.
People today, especially those who, like me, are cramming too much into a day, really need to learn to relax. I know how hard that is, believe me, but it is so important. Being overworked leads to stress, which leads to a multitude of health issues, so I am working, not on getting caught up, but on better planning of my day. And maybe, just maybe, on taking the occasional moment to do something just for me. Learning to relax…at least a little.
It’s strange how we can look at our friends’ lives and think that they have it all, and at the same time they are looking at our lives and thinking that we have it all. I was reading a story today about three friends. One started college and quit to start a family, the second finished college and started a family, and the third finished college and didn’t marry or have children. Each thought the others had the better life. We always seem to think that, instead of being content with what we have. It is ok to want a certain life…to plan for what you want in the future, but when things don’t turn out as planned, we need to learn to be content with what we have been given.
No matter how bleak our life might seem, there is much that is good about it. We have been given many gifts and abilities. True the first mother never finished college, and the second mother didn’t use her education, and the third never had a family, but each had something the others wished they did. After repeated letters to each other complaining about what they had missed and being told how blessed they were, each decided that their life was really very special, and they really didn’t want what the others had.
That is a lesson we all need to learn. There are times in each life when we look back and wonder what might have been, but most of us realize that “what might have been” probably would not have been the best thing for us. The choices we make may not be perfect, but the majority of us lead happy lives, and those who don’t could if they would just quit looking back and be content with the blessings they have.
We’ve all done it. Set ourselves a goal, moved successfully toward it, only to slip up along the way, and tell ourselves that it’s ok, because no one knows we slipped up. That is true enough, but we know…don’t we? That still might seem like no big deal, except humans tend to be a gullible sort, especially when it comes to allowing ourselves to do something that we want to do, even though we know it is not good for us. So, having convinced ourselves that no one knows that we slipped up, and we aren’t going to let it happen again…just this once.
Right…remember, we are talking about gullible humans. We may not be gullible in the sense of believing anything we are told, but when it comes to believing ourselves, well that’s a different story. How many times have we started out saying, “Well, I won’t work out today, and I’ll get right back on it tomorrow”, but somehow tomorrow never comes. Soon, all thought of success in our goal is gone. Then, disgust and self loathing set in. Pretty soon we figure we don’t deserve to succeed anyway. We are about as low as we can go.
Then, true to the human spirit, most of us wake up. We look the situation over and assess the damage. Then we get back on track and start working toward our goal again, a little worse for wear, and hopefully a whole lot wiser. And if we learn not to lie to ourselves, maybe with a chance of reaching that goal.
As a caregiver, I can understand fully just how easy it can be to hit the breaking point. Sometimes it comes with irritation, or worse, screaming at the person you are trying to help, but just as often, it comes in the form of an argument with someone else…one that has nothing to do with the things that are bothering the caregiver at all. Usually the breaking point happens over something that is so trivial that you wonder what your problem is. And sadly, so does everyone else. Basically it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s just that last thing to happen in a series of events that have been adding stress upon stress, to the point that you just have no more patience.
Caregivers tend to hold it all in for as long as they can in an effort to keep on keeping on. There is no way out of the situation…you are needed, and you would not leave your loved one without the help they need. You love them. So you simply pull yourself up by the bootstraps, take a deep breath, muster up every bit of adrenalin that you can, and you go on. It’s all you can do. Then, without warning, something hits that last straw point…that breaking point…and you find yourself losing that control you have worked so hard to maintain. It’s like watching yourself explode. You would stop it if you could, but it is beyond that point now. Your mouth is engaged, and your mind has already quit thinking rationally. It is probably the darkest, most horrible, single act that a caregiver can perform, and one that none of us want to do. We already know that we will have to apologize for acting in such a way…after all, it wasn’t the fault of the patient or whomever it was that we have just unloaded all those pent up feelings on. They were simply the last straw.
Not only do they not know what they did wrong, but they find themselves wondering why they never knew that you were insane before. You aren’t, of course, but you are overworked, and you are tired, and you are emotionally drained. The person you have always known to be strong and capable, has suddenly changed into a weak and needy person, and that has turned your life upside down. It is enough to make anyone go seemingly insane. You had always thought that your parents would always be your parents, and they are of course, but they are also your patient, and your responsibility. The tables have turned, and in the process, your life has hit a turning point too, and you don’t know what to do to fix it.
There really is no way to fix it. You find yourself in a position of having to accept that your parents will never be the strong people they were. That part of their life has passed, and the future…the winding down of their lives has been set in motion. Even if it was just a day ago that they felt fine, there is no going back that one day. Time marches on and we have to go with it. We have to learn to make the best of what we have now, and take care of ourselves well enough that perhaps we can avoid that next breaking point…because if we can’t, we will once again find ourselves looking at someone who has no idea what they have done to us. All they know is that the person they love is somehow furious at them, and it breaks their heart…at which point, we lose all that anger, wish we had not let things get out of control, and begin the process of repairing the relationship again with that all too familiar apology.
A few years ago, I found myself sinking into depression. There was so much going on in my life that I had no control over, and I was stressed out to say the least. This situation was so new to me. I had always been a happy person, and now I was becoming angry and bitter, and I didn’t like it one bit, but there seemed to be nothing I could do about it. My situation had taken on a life of it’s own.
After my Dad passed away in December of 2007, I found myself feeling like there wasn’t much to live for. It wasn’t like I wanted to commit suicide, I just felt so sad, that I couldn’t find anything to be happy about. We had fought so hard to get Dad back to health, and we were winning, and then his liver failed, and he was gone. It shook my whole world. Nothing was right, and it wouldn’t ever be right again. Even though I know that my Dad was saved, and I will see him again in Heaven, I missed him so much, and I still do, but I knew he wouldn’t want me to continue on in this depressed state.
I had to find a way back to life. I began to pray for help…for a way back. The Lord guided me first to begin eating better, thereby giving me more energy. Then the Lord began to encourage me to get outside and walk. I started walking on the trail near our home, and slowly began to feel like the fresh air and beauty of God’s creation, and the time spent talking with the Lord began to heal my spirit. I continue to look forward to the warmer months when I can get back outside and recharge again.
I still miss my Dad terribly, but I have been able to move forward with my life. I know I will see him again in Heaven, and I very much look forward to that day, but I know that I have a job to do here. My work here is not done. I am needed here. And my Dad would want me to live a full life.
I know that my life will always have it’s challenges, but the Lord is always there for me. He is my source of strength. I know many people might not find that to be true for them, but they have not been down the road I have. They have not seen the Lord help them to find the way back.