Me

When I was a very little girl, my parents bought my sister and me a rocking pony. It wasn’t on rockers though, it was mounted on a frame with springs. You could rock it…if you were of a mind to, but I always felt it was destined to gallop. Most of this story is what I’ve been told, because I was too little to remember, but I have also seen a few movies of me on that horse.

As a little girl, I had a head full of blonde curls, and from what I saw, I really kept them bouncing when I rode my horse. Our house had a wooden floor, and my mom told me that after the damage suffered at the hands of a little girl and her horse, there were ruts on the floor. Since I have seen myself in action in those movies, I can totally understand why that floor had ruts. As I would gallop, the horse would come off of the ground, come back down, and slide back to the starting position, where it would once again come off the floor.

Yes, that horse was for my sister and me, but it was my horse. I totally loved it. After I grew up, that horse was transportation to many other kids, but none of them ever rode it as long and hard as I did. We had many an adventure together, and I will always love that horse. It was so much mine, in fact, that when my mom decided that it was time to thin out the toys, since the grandchildren were growing up, that horse came to live at my house. It is a little worse for wear, but it had a good life. Now it is out to pasture, where maybe it will get a fresh coat of paint, a new saddle…or maybe not. The way it is shows that it was very loved. No, I don’t ride it, but a girl can still have her dreams…right.

My mother-in-law shares her birthday with my grandson, Christopher. He is her first great grandchild, so that makes it even more special. This is an honor her mother also got to share with Christopher’s mother, my daughter Corrie. It is an unusual statistic indeed. My mother-in-law turned 80 years old today, but if you ask her, she is 65. You see, my mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s Disease, and she often lives in her own little world.

On any given day, if you ask her what she did that day, you will get a variety of answers, from doing laundry or other household chores to going to work. This is the really odd one, because she never held a job outside the home. Still, she thinks she worked in an insurance agency. Probably because I am an insurance agent. She thinks she works at a school, but I’m not sure where that one came from since we have no teachers in the family. She has also told us that she babysits on occasion, and we are pretty sure she thinks she is watching her granddaughters, as it has been girls and the only girls of that age don’t live here. I have found that the best thing to do is go along with the stories she comes up with, but some of them really take me by surprise, making it difficult to come up with a good answer in the conversation.

Sometimes she gets a little frustrated when we tell her it is time for bed. She always thinks it is too early. By the time we finally get her up, she is mad at everyone for “being so ornery” to her. That is the bad part. The good part is that by the time she is in bed, she is back to her sweet self and thanking you for getting her to bed, because she doesn’t remember that she was mad at you, not 10 minutes ago. I have been told that many Alzheimer’s patients are aggressive, and I am thankful that, at least up to this point, she is not one of them. Very little bothers her, and in reality the only things are exercise and bedtime. Oh, to have that be my biggest problem.

A sad side to Alzheimer’s Disease is that every once in a while, she gets an inkling of the fact that she should be able to remember some things, and when she can’t, she asks, “What is wrong with me?” That is so hard to take. It makes me want to cry for her, and her situation of moments lost. She still has many of her memories of the distant past, but she doesn’t always have her present life. From one moment to the next, something happens, and then for her it is gone. She doesn’t know that her younger son got married in June. She doesn’t realize that her grandchildren are grown adults…moments lost.

Dad and MomAs 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 Dad and Momthe 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.

When I was a young girl, I dreamed of the things I would do and the places I would go when I got older. At one time I thought I would move to Germany, and while there, I was going to marry a German man and live happily ever after. I discovered the German language in junior high school, fell in love with the country and I still love it today. Well, part of the dream came true. Bob comes from a strong German background, and we have lived happily ever after. As to moving away, well that didn’t happen.

Bob and I have both lived here since we were very young, and after marriage, we have stayed right in the same town. He had a good job, and our families were here, so we just never moved away. As the years went quickly by, the kids grew up and had families and stayed right here. We would never want to leave the kids and grandkids. Then our parents were suddenly older, and we were needed to help them. The time to move away…well, it became just a distant memory.

I suppose many people would think I missed out on a lot by living in the same place as I grew up. By never moving away and living somewhere exciting. But, while my life might seem boring to some, I have had the benefit of a close family. My mother was born here, and spent all her life here except the first five years of her marriage. Her family have all lived here except for a couple of them who lived away for short periods of time. See, I bowl with my cousins. My family has a family Christmas party every year, and we have to rent a hall to hold us all. My boss says I’m related to half the town, and he might not be far off. Many of my clients are relatives. I work with my daughter and granddaughter. I attend the sporting events of my grandsons. It takes three rows of chairs to hold our family at church on Sundays. I might run into my family at the mall or Walmart. Many of my friends on Facebook are relatives. And, my sisters are some of my best friends.

Yes, my life has been spent surrounded by family in one form or another. I grew up around grandparents, parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. I guess some people would think that boring, but there is something to be said for knowing what is going on in your family’s life. Something to be said for getting to know the babies, and knowing your grandparents through the years. Something to be said for being there for the good times and the bad times. Something to be said for being where you are needed. Yes, some people would say I have really missed out on life, but to that I would have to say, “I haven’t missed a thing. I have been blessed with the best life there is. A life of contentment, knowing right where I belong.”

I have been blessed a number of times in my life with what could only be classified as an unlikely friendship. These would be friends you find where you would least expect, or people you would least expect to be your friends. We’ve probably all had friends like these.

Often, as we get further and further from our high school days, we are able to look back at people we would not have been friends with because we were in different circles. Now, all that doesn’t matter anymore, and you are able to see things you have in common, and with that, a friendship is able to grow.

Sometimes, some of the dearest friends are the children of friends who have now grown up. Now while I’m sure most of you could not imagine some of your friends children as friends, but I have been blessed with a very dear friend whose mother was also a very dear friend. And I established that friendship after about 25 years had lapsed since I had seen her mom. Very unlikely.

Once in a while friendships are born between people who have never met, but were drawn together for a variety of reasons. I have met friends due to an error in an email address, the sadness of loss, and mutual faith. These friendships have become very dear to me, even though all we have of each other, is the internet, some letters, and a picture, but the blessings have been so great, and I an so grateful.

And sometimes, someone you would never expect to be your friend, becomes your friend through a random act of your kindness. Acts of kindness reach so much furher than we expect or could ever know. You simply filled a need, answered a call…you were there. And from such a small thing, grew a friendship that will last a lifetime.

There is really no way to do justice to what these friendships mean to me. I’m sure by my stories some of my friends will see themselves. I just hope they will also be able to see how important they are to me and how dearly I love each and every one of them.

Most of my life is spent running here and there. I help care for my mom, and my in-laws, I work, I go to as much of my grandchildren’s activities as I can, Bob and I walk 2 hours 5 days a week, and we bowl. Basically, we live our life, but once in a while, I like to spend a lazy Saturday just sitting around in the quiet, maybe reading my Kindle…doing nothing really.

I think everyone needs a day, now and then, that is just for self. Our lives are so busy these days. You watch shows about the west, and while they worked hard, it just seemed like a more peaceful, easy time than today. The work day ended and the family spent time together reading, sewing or listening to someone play music. There was no rush to go here and there.

I guess those feelings of wanting a lazy day, is why Bob and I like being out in the wilderness areas of the Black Hills…hiking. There is no schedule, no hurry, no cars, and few people. That’s what it’s all about. Now while many of you might not consider hiking to be in the lazy day catagory, but it certainly is in that, all thought of responsibility is gone, and it is just you and God’s beautiful creation. That is what puts it in the lazy day catagory!

Now, remember summer vacation when you were a kid. School was out for 3 months. The weather was warm. The air fragrant with flowery scents. The breeze was gentle. You had no cares. No job to go to. No homework. Just days and days of freedom to play, and very little chores to do. It was a time to rejuvenate. Looking back, I think, “Why was I in such a hurry to grow up?” I wouldn’t want to go through the whole growing up process again, but really, who wouldn’t love to go back in time for just one more lazy day of summer?

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.

My husband and I had the rare opportunity, at least for January in Wyoming, to take a walk outside on the trail near our home. The day was beautiful. It was 59 degrees out and no wind, which is another rarity for Winter in Wyoming. We love to hike and walk the trails in our area. To be one with nature and just enjoy each other’s company.

We walked along with snow on the sides of the trail, and the occasional passerby on the trail. We know most of these people as it is usually the same people out walking. There is a camaraderie among the walkers. Most say “Hello” and then move back into their peaceful thought world, as do we. It is easy to walk side by side here in total silence, because that is how it feels on the trail. It’s not really a place for lots of small talk…normally.

As we walk along, suddenly there is an outburst of noise. We are at the spot in the trail where there is a house that has a hedge of bushes that always seems to be filled with birds, all chirping at once. A place we have dubbed “the clubhouse” because there are so many birds there year round. As we listen my thoughts wander back to my blog, as a story begins to form in my head…a story of nature’s version of Twitter.

Just MeWhen you are gone, what will people remember about you? Most people don’t want to think about dying, and I don’t either, but I do think about what memories people might have of me when I am gone. I think about the loved ones and friends who have gone before me, and the memories I have of them, and how I would compare. My Dad was a person who never carried a grudge and taught his children never to “let the sun go down on your wrath” which he got from the Bible, as God was the most important thing in his life, above even family, as I also believe God should be. My grandparents who were always giving to those in need and showing kindness to all, also come to mind. My friend Char, who would defend a friend to the very end, is another. So, what will people think of me?

I want to be a giver to those in need, because I have been blessed in so many ways. I have a good job with a wonderful boss, though he hates that word. I have a wonderful family who I love dearly, and I have the great blessing of knowing that I am loved back. I have a sharp mind, and I know the value of that, because my mother-in-law and my uncle both have Alzheimer’s. I have been richly blessed, and if I can pass that along in charitable acts or other ways of helping people, than I will have maybe shown my gratitude to a small degree.

I have the ability to be sharp tongued sometimes, and that is something I don’t think I want to be remembered for. I think I would rather be remembered for my sharp mind and maybe the ability to use it to benefit others. Maybe to be some kind of advocate for those who can’t speak for themselves on some things. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want a different job, but if I can help others within my job and my daily life, then maybe I will have a legacy to leave.

I do have the ability to be a caregiver, and I can only hope that in the future I may be able to do it with kindness and patience. Care giving can be very wearing on the caregiver, and there are times we lose our patience. I am very thankful that I have never physically lashed out, but here again, remember that I can be sharp tongued, so I would have to say that there are many ways to lash out, forgive me Lord. I am learning patience, but the lessons can take time to learn. I don’t want to be remembered as an impatient, screaming daughter, who made the remaining years of her parents or in-laws miserable. Please help me to never let that happen Father. Rather I want to be remembered as a daughter who helped her parents and in-laws through their elder years by giving them respect and kindness and dignity.

And most importantly I want to pass on to my children and grandchildren, the Christian values I was taught as a child and continue to learn as an adult. There is nothing greater that I could pass on to them than the knowledge and wisdom that is contained in the Bible, and the importance of daily study and church attendance. I want them to know that the single most important thing they can do and teach their children to do, is to have a personal relationship with God and to personally know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. There is nothing more important.

These are some of the things I hope people will remember about me when I go home to be with the Lord. What do you want to be remembered for?

How do you relax? There are as many ways to “get away from it all” as there are people, but for me, the answer is hiking. I love to get out in the forest following a trail, just to see where it will take me. It is so quiet and peaceful. The birds chirping and the occasional butterfly flitting by, just serve to enhance the beauty of the moment. I’m not really a winter person, though I live in a state that sure gets it, but I live for late spring through early fall, when I can get out on the trail with my husband and just enjoy nature at its finest.

We have hiked many trails over the years, but by far our favorite is the trail to Harney Peak in the Black Hills. This is not an easy trail, and definitely not for those who aren’t in good shape, but it is so worth it. On this trail, you will find yourself deep in the forest of the Black Elk Wilderness Area of the Black Hills. It is a well traveled trail, but there are many times that you are by yourselves. And the views along the way are breathtaking. When you get to the top, there is a fire tower that used to be manned, but after it was struck by lightning, resulting in fires, several times, they decided it wasn’t the best place for a fire tower. So it became a favorite destination for hikers and horse back riders. The top of the peak is 7242 feet above sea level, which is the highest point East of the Rocky Mountains until you get to the Swiss Alps. The climb takes you up 1142 feet and is 6.8 miles round trip. It takes us 4 hours to make the whole trip, however we always spend at least an hour on top having lunch. The view from up there is completely amazing. You can see 5 states from the top. It is a trip I can never take too many times. We have taken the hike 6 times, and plan to continue to go once a year. Now that is my idea of relaxation.

Hiking has not only been good for me physically, and I have to stay in shape to be able to continue to hike, so it is a really good motivator, but sometimes I think it has saved my sanity. In such a busy world, it is nice to get back to nature so that you can unwind. I highly recommend it.

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