Saturday, May 19, 2018

Do You Hear What I Hear?

I stopped by Arby’s one night last week and ordered the usual: regular roast beef, turkey ranch & bacon sandwich, and curly fries. “One Arby’s sauce. That’s it,” I said to indicate I didn’t want any drinks. He read the order back to me and at the end he said, “a root beer.”

I wasn’t sure what I’d said that he interpreted as “root beer” but I had to laugh. It just struck me as funny that he heard something that I hadn’t said at all.

After I got home, I saw a graphic on Facebook that said, “Yanny or Laurel” which do you hear? Well, I gave it a listen and didn’t hear either word. I heard “Yammy.” Later, I saw two other people who heard “Yammy.”

“I guess we march to the sound of a different drum,” I wrote beneath the original post. Later, I read an explanation—it depends on which tones an individual hears best, the speakers on your electronic devise, and the acoustics of the room. As an experiment, I had my husband listen to the special word. Both of us were listening at the same time. He heard “laurel.” I heard “Yammy.”

To me this experiment explains a lot. Is this the reason that people hear completely different things? For example, you listen to a speech. One person thinks it’s great and another person hears the flaws. One person hears a profound statement, and another hears nonsense. Okay, so this may not have to do with one person hearing “yanny” and another hearing “laurel,” but in another way it is similar. How we perceive speech is as individual as each person who is listening.

This one word may provide some insight into how a person with dementia might hear something totally different from the words we say to them. Think about it. If two people can listen to the same sound, but hear different words, how much more confusing would the sound of words be to a person with a disease that affects his brain?

Communicating with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s is challenging. Because words may become difficult, tone of voice and body language are vital to good communication with a loved one.

Although disputed by some, Albert Mehrabian’s study of communication is sometimes called the “rule of seven.” His study indicated that only seven percent of communication is verbal, while fifty-five percent is body language, and thirty-eight percent is tone of voice.

Regardless of whether you really believe the rule of seven in normal communications, I would agree that it certainly applies to a person with dementia. When words begin to fail, other forms of communication are essential to making the person understand you. Tone of voice and facial expressions convey your thoughts and emotions more effectively than words alone.

Hearing a mechanical voice say this special word could be a breakthrough in the art of communication if we allow it to me. Some people say the argument is “silly,” and I’ll have to agree to get in a heated argument over how the word sounds to you is silly. It can be a valuable reminder that people don’t always hear exactly what we say even accounting for those who are hard of hearing, or have selective hearing. Even at seven percent, verbal communication is overrated if your loved one has dementia.

Copyright © May 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Unexpected and Unexplained

I began an organized effort to clear my calendar several months ago, but I’m yet to reap the benefits of any hours gained. I had plans to spend some of that extra time working on Jim’s memoir and, of course, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s will be here before we know it!

I’ve been busy lately with updating a website for the change of officers in Sedalia Business Women. I also took photos at the installation and completed a photo book for the outgoing president. It seems I’ve barely had time to breathe for trying to get everything finished.

Our incoming president, Donna, was president year before last, but her husband became ill and passed away while she was serving her term. She missed a lot of meetings and felt like she had not had time to enjoy her time as president.

Usually, installation is pretty straight forward, but somehow the menu was mixed up. Instead of the chicken and veggies we were expecting, we had a buffet of hamburgers, potato salad, and basically, a picnic setup. After a talk with the chef, wait staff rushed around and added grilled chicken and vegetables. It was unexpected, but tasty just the same.

Other meetings were going on and the wait staff rushed past us with platters of great smelling food on their way to other rooms. We stepped out of their way and finally, the traffic slowed down. After our meal, installation of officers began with a candlelight ceremony.

As the officers stood there holding their candles, I stepped close to the buffet table to snap a few photos. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man standing beside me. I figured he was waiting patiently for me to take my photo, so I snapped a few shots and lowered my camera. I turned to give him the go-ahead, but to my surprise no one was there. So to the unexpected, we add the unexplained.

I found out many years ago, that not everything that happens in life can be explained, and that sometimes things happen that are downright creepy. My grandkids used to want me to tell them some of the stories of my experiences with the unexplained at bedtime, until my granddaughter would say, “Grandma Linda, you are creeping me out!”

Some of the unexplained isn’t creepy at all. Sometimes, it can be comforting, or a message. I’ve noticed these experiences happen during times of change. Shortly after Jim and I moved into our mobile home, Jim was working in the garden and I was planting flowers. While my back was turned, Jim saw his uncle that had passed away years before. Jim said it wasn’t a ghost—it was his uncle standing there beside him. His uncle said, “Jim, you need to sharpen your hoe.” Now, wouldn’t you think any message from the beyond would be profound? From the shocked look on Jim’s face, I knew he told the truth. When they worked in the fields together, Jim said his uncle often told him to sharpen his hoe. 

Some people believe they have a guardian angel to protect, guide, and comfort them in times of trouble, or in times of change. Whether we believe in angels watching over us, or just leave the unexplained, unexplained is an individual choice.

After the candlelight ceremony, Donna gave her acceptance speech and announced her theme, “Guardians of the Future.” She broke down when she talked about her husband and how everyone had rallied to keep the club going so that she could be with him.

As far as the man I saw at installation, I have an idea who he might have been and why he was there. I don’t think he was there for me, or for me to see. I don’t think he even intended to be seen; he was merely offering a comforting presence during a time of change.

Copyright © May 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Visit with Congresswoman Hartzler

When I looked at this week on my calendar, it seemed like it had been attacked by a magic marker. Some days had as many as three events with only Wednesday sitting in the middle of the week without a single notation.

Monday was a red-letter day on my calendar because that was the day we local Alzheimer’s advocates were meeting with Congresswoman Hartzler. Our meeting was scheduled for 10:30 at the Sedalia Fire Station. Jamie, a firefighter and a Walk committee member, and I decided to rearrange the room so that it was more conducive to conversation. We called it a square, round table setting.

The Congresswoman arrived on schedule, and after introductions, we sat down to talk about research funding and the BOLD Infrastructure for  Alzheimer’s Act.

As Congresswoman Hartzler’s ambassador, I thanked her for her support of Alzheimer’s research. In the years I’ve traveled to D.C., I’ve seen funding increase from $400 million to more than $1 billion. The professional budget calls for $2 billion to reach our goal of a cure or effective treatment by 2025. We are asking for an increase of $425 million for fiscal year 2019.

We talked about how Alzheimer’s is a public health threat because the burden is large—five million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. Because Alzheimer’s is a public health issue, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would collect data on cognitive decline and lead the nations efforts to improve quality of life for those with the disease and reduce the costs associated with it.

Alzheimer’s affects not only the person with the disease, but also affects the caregiver. Several caregivers shared their stories. My mom said, “I saw how stressed Linda was…every day. She was working and taking care of Jim. She couldn’t sleep because Jim would wander off in the night.”

Another advocate shared how her grandfather’s personality changed and how things he said to her grandmother stayed with her even after he passed away. Other caregivers told of instances where the person with the disease outlived the caregiver.

We need to use a BOLD approach to end Alzheimer’s! The BOLD Act establishes Alzheimer’s Centers of Excellence; provides funding to state, local, and tribal public health departments to promote early diagnosis; and increases collection and reporting of data on cognitive decline. As our time drew to a close, I made the “ask.” Congresswoman Hartzler said she would study BOLD (HR 4256) and give consideration to lending her support. She praised our handouts and thanked us for keeping her informed about our legislation. 

We had forty-five minutes with the Congresswoman. As she was leaving, she hugged my ninety-one-year-old mother and said, “When I grow up, I want to be you.”

Copyright © May 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Picture Perfect

I spent the weekend in Independence with my Business Women of Missouri sisters. This year, I had the pleasure of taking the “official” photos for the group. I’ve taken the “unofficial” photos for several years. As usual, I got a little carried away and took more than five hundred photos. Well, now, that makes the selection process a little bit harder.

The most fun was taking group photos in front of the fireplace. My goal was to get the best and most flattering photos possible, so I borrowed a stepladder from the hotel. It was a little wobbly, but in true sisterly fashion, my friend Ann offered to steady the ladder. I knew the photo shoot was successful when one woman commented that I made the photo shoot “fun.” I enjoyed taking the photos and didn’t want to stress out this time because they were counting on me.

I’ve always enjoyed taking photos even when I had to send the film off to have it developed. I can remember how looking at the photos made me feel. Sometimes I was disappointed that the photo fell short of my expectations, and other times I took a little too much pride in how well I’d captured a moment.

My professional photographer friend Randy says good photography is about having an eye for the best shot, but mostly it’s about timing. Since the majority of my photos are sunsets, I’ve learned that timing is crucial. A little too soon and the sky isn’t colorful. A little too late and the sky turns to a shade of drab grey.

Yes, it is possible to take a beautiful photo of some not so beautiful moments, or maybe blurry photos of a peaceful, happy moment. Photos capture the stillness of a moment and can bring back the emotions we felt inside at that exact time. Smiles may hide a troubled heart, and others might look at the same photo and misunderstand the image.

Our memories are much like photos or short movie clips. From a distance, the past may be out of focus, and open to interpretation. How many times have you done something that mortified you, but years later that became one of the funny stories you tell? Yeah, me too!

On the flipside, we mull the could have, should haves. That would be those times we wronged another or made a mistake that had horrible consequences. To sin means to fall short of the mark, and we’ve all sinned. Even when others forgive us, we may never forgive ourselves.

The hardest thing I ever did in my life was to be a caregiver. I’d like to say that I was perfect in my role, but I wasn’t. In the still of the night, I try to convince myself that I did more things right than I did wrong, but why do the wrongs weigh so much heavier on my heart? It is easier for me to tell another caregiver to be forgiving of his or her mistakes than to heed my own advice.

We are only human. As much as we might admire the abilities of a superhero, they are fictional characters and we are not. We are the stars of our own reality show—and our own worst critic.

Nobody’s life is picture perfect, although we may look that way in photos. We each have faults, regrets, and imperfections too numerous to mention. Living doesn’t have the flat smooth surface of a photo. Living has depth, rough patches, pitfalls, and chasms. Life is messy, but it does have warmth, love, and a human touch that cannot be found in the most perfect photo.

Copyright © April 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Flannel Shirt Kind of Day

This morning I was getting ready to take the dog out and pondered what to wear during this cold snap. My eyes lit on an old flannel shirt. Yes, this was a flannel shirt kind of day.

As I pulled on the shirt, I thought about the history of this shirt. The frayed collar and the ripped shirttail were indications of a well-worn shirt. That’s not too odd considering the shirt had aged a quarter of a century, or more.

Jim and I both wore his flannel shirts on cool spring days when we were building our house. In fact, I believe the tear in this shirt came from catching the shirttail on a nail.   

On a day like today, Jim might have put on a flannel shirt, grabbed up his fishing pole, and headed to the lake. The fish always tasted better when the water was cold.

Fishing brought Jim a lot of enjoyment. I remember one time after he first started showing signs of dementia, he decided to go to Truman to fish. I went off to work, happy that he was going to enjoy the day.

I wrote about that day in my journal, and here is an excerpt from Indelible:

My co-worker Tammy thought I was out of the office, but when she called my cell phone, Jim answered.

She came into my office. “I think there’s something wrong with him,” she said. “He just didn’t sound right.” Jim’s plans for the day had been a trip to Truman Dam to fish.

I called his cell phone. “Where are you,” I asked him.

“Right here,” he said.

“Can you tell me where you are? What highway are you on?”               

“I’m on I-70,” he said, “and I have a friend with me.” I-70 was the opposite direction from Truman.

“What are you doing on I-70?” I asked.

“I’m taking my friend to Higginsville,” he said.

“Who is your friend?”

“I don’t know his name. He needed a ride home.”          

Jim was easily distracted and I was afraid to keep him talking while he was driving on the Interstate. I told him to call me as soon as he got home. Jim’s assurance that he knew this guy didn’t mean anything. If someone started a conversation with him, Jim thought that meant he knew the person.

Why I kept this flannel shirt out of all Jim’s shirts is a mystery. Apparently, when I sorted through his clothing to donate to Open Door, I didn’t consider this shirt worthy of charity.

I hadn’t worn the shirt in a long time and my dog was curious. She sniffed the sleeves as I fastened her leash to the harness. I thought maybe the shirt smelled funny from being in a drawer, but it smelled fine to me. It smelled of memories and younger days. If I used my imagination, it might have smelled of campfires and Colorado mornings.

So today, I am wrapped up in memories of flannel shirt days, wearing a shirt that should have been tossed in the ragbag twenty years ago. Minimalists warn us about this kind of hoarding.

I have a new ladies’ flannel shirt that isn’t threadbare or torn. So wouldn’t the logical thing be to toss this shirt? When I take it off tonight, it will be decision time. Do I throw it away or put it in the laundry? Trash or treasure? My mind says trash, but my heart says treasure. When in doubt, I follow my heart.

Copyright © April 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Monday, April 2, 2018

April? You Could Have Fooled Me

Well, Mother Nature pulled quite an April Fools’ joke on us. Here we were all celebrating spring when the weather did a complete about face.

I wanted to wear a dress to Easter services and even tried to psych myself up for a pedicure in case I decided to wear my sandals. Instead, I wore my boots and my winter coat. Sunday dawned with below freezing temperatures with wind chills thrown in for good measure.

That’s what happens when Easter Sunday falls on April Fools Day. Ma Nature thinks she’s a jokester. Just to make a point, we had that good old thunder snow, wintery mixture falling all over the place during the afternoon.

For some reason, Sunday seemed so long that I kind of thought we’d moved right into Tuesday. As I pulled myself out of a sound sleep Monday morning, I couldn’t seem to lift my body out of bed. I propped myself up on pillows, glanced at my cell phone, and then  pulled the blanket up over me and thought about the month ahead.

April has always been the month of taxes, conferences, and enjoying the signs of nature’s rejuvenation. It is also a month that catches me off guard at one time or another. Today was that day. I lay in bed thinking about the memories I can’t let go.

April 5, 1970, was the day Jim came home from Vietnam. We celebrated his “homecoming” by making it a special day for him. I know one year we forgot our wedding anniversary, but we never forgot his homecoming. It was a happy day when he came back to the “world.” Happy days make sad memories. Homecoming day never passes that I don’t think of him.

April 18, 2005, he left the world for a better place. That didn’t make it any easier for the people who loved him. Just thinking about that day, makes my heart hurt.

If I’m going to make it through April without letting it get me down, I’m going to have to accentuate the positive. I know sunshine will eventually chase away the gloomy skies and cold weather. Mother Nature will get back on her meds and show us some sunshine, blue skies, and cotton-candy clouds. Of course, we might have a few random thunderstorms and tornadoes thrown in the mix for excitement.

It is springtime—time for daffodils, tulips, irises, and lilacs to bloom. The birds will be tweet-tweedle-tweeting every morning.

In the meantime, I’d really like to take the dog out without bundling up like it’s a cold January day. Hey, Mother Nature, I’m calling you out. This is April 2 and the weather is still miserable. I remember a rhyme from school when someone played a joke a day late. “April Fools is already past, and you’re the biggest fool at last!”  It’s not nice when Mother Nature acts like a fool.

Copyright © April 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Chopped Onion Rumination

A few days ago, I was chopping an onion. While working on the mundane task, I began to ponder various subjects.

During times of contemplation, I tend to be a deep thinker and it takes me to a different place. The first thing I thought about was how careless we can be in our conversations with our loved ones. I saw two family feuds play out online for everyone to see. Hurtful words, accusations, misunderstandings, and throwing zingers out there for everyone to see.

Why would someone do that? The onions made my eyes sting as I thought about how sad it was that words could cause such a rift.

Knowing there was nothing I could do about that, I turned a mental page and opened a new chapter of thought. I thought about death and illness. Why did dementia find Jim? Try as I might during my rumination, I found no answers. It’s not as if there was something off with his thinking. Jim was a logical, deep thinker and talented in so many ways.

Without answers, I continued to chop the onion into bits and traveled to a different time and place. My hate-affair with illness goes back to childhood. I never could understand why people had to be sick or feel pain. It was a puzzle with too many pieces for a child to put together. Even now as an adult, I still don’t comprehend why a human body can have so much go wrong with it.

On the other hand, when you think about the complexity of human anatomy, how can so many body parts work in harmony? Every individual is different. Some are happy and healthy, while others are plagued with misfortune.

My memories from a half-century ago were as choppy and incomplete as the pieces of onion on the cutting board in front of me. When I looked at old photos of myself, I felt like it was a different life. I’ve changed and my whole way of life has changed.

Now, we take photos of everything, but when I was a kid, photos were rare. My favorite two photos were taken when I was about five years old. I wore a cute dress and posed on the hood of our car.

Somehow, those pictures wound up in Jim’s billfold, and he carried them around from the time we were dating until a few years after his memory problems began. For some reason, those photos disappeared from his wallet, and I have no idea what happened to them. I imagine they will turn up some day, but for now, it’s just another mystery to think about when I chop onions.

The way people weave in and out of our lives is another mystery to contemplate. It seems that people who are so important at one stage of our lives vanish into the mist of time. Some leave, others appear. No one ever replaces the loved ones who left us behind when they moved on, or passed away. Yet, at the same time, new friendships are formed and births allow our hearts to love again.

I chopped the onion into tiny little pieces and thought about how it would never be a whole onion again. It would be silly to think that it could be. The onion was forever changed, but it was still an onion.

Chopping an onion gave me time to ruminate about the mysteries that have perplexed me throughout my lifetime. As I finished my task, I wiped away the tears the onion brought to my eyes, pushed away the troubling thoughts, and snapped back into the present.

Copyright © March 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Sunday, March 18, 2018

No Use Crying Over Spilt Coffee

I don’t even like to talk before I have my first cup of coffee in the mornings. I like it hot with creamer in it and usually drink a half cup at a time. My husband, on the other hand, only drinks black coffee from his 16-ounce Mr. Coffee mug.

A few days ago, we started breakfast before I’d had time to finish my first cup of coffee, so I wasn’t functioning at my best. I had to be in town, and figured with luck, I could squeeze in time to eat.

We routinely divvy up the job of preparing breakfast, and my part is to pour the juice, milk, and coffee. I was pouring juice when Harold said, “My cup doesn’t have much coffee in it.” He handed it to me, and I grabbed the pot and poured it full. As I headed back with the mug, it slipped out of my hand crashing to the floor. Coffee splattered onto the refrigerator, my shirt, and puddled all over the kitchen linoleum. Sixteen ounces of black coffee turned into a river snaking in all directions.

Instead of crying over the spilt coffee, I said a few choice words, wiped off the refrigerator, grabbed a mop, and went to work cleaning up the mess.

This wasn’t my first time to clean up spilt coffee. Jim usually made the morning coffee, even after dementia made every small task harder. One morning several years ago, I walked into the kitchen to pour my first cup. A full pot of coffee was all over the counter and had spilled onto the kitchen carpet. Jim had forgotten the step of setting the carafe on the warmer to catch the brewed coffee.

I don’t think I cried that time, but I probably felt like it. It was unbearably sad that Jim, the person who always made the perfect pot of coffee, forgot how to do something he had done his entire adult life.

Jim’s morning routine was to drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, and play his guitar. He quit smoking a few months before I noticed he was having memory problems. That was certainly a blessing, not just that he’d finally quit smoking, but that we didn’t have to deal with the danger of him lighting a cigarette and forgetting to use the ashtray.

Jim struggled to play the guitar as his dementia progressed. After he went in the nursing home, it wasn’t long before he quit drinking coffee.

It is only human to cry over our circumstances when we know we can’t change them. Standing there mourning over the past isn’t going to help or change anything. We have to grab our mops and do what we can to put things right and move on.

I do not condone or even understand people who deliberately hurt others. Certain people demean others to give themselves the appearance of superiority. They may give more credence to our mistakes than they deserve thinking it diminishes theirs. Avoid these people when possible; otherwise, don’t let them disparage your self-esteem.

Dwelling on the wrongs we’ve done won’t improve our situation. No one expects perfection. We err. We make stupid mistakes. We drop the metaphorical mug and make a mess. If we learn from our mistakes and make atonement, we can walk in the sunshine and avoid the shadows.

Copyright © March 2018 by L.S. Fisher