Monday, December 23, 2013

Angels Among Us

Daily our lives are touched by people in many different ways. Sometimes these experiences happen but do not register with us in any sort of profound way. Lately, I have been reminded about certain individuals who stand out. There are many people who have made a difference in my life in many ways, but I am thinking of people who have helped me through one of the hardest things that I have had to deal with. They have helped me through the many ups and downs of dealing with my mom having Alzheimer's Disease. These people are my angels here on Earth.

Chinel - My mom knew Chinel before I did. Chinel has done my mom's hair for years so she has known Mom since before Alzheimer’s and through all the stages of Alzheimer's. Mom knew Chinel as a single woman and through a marriage and having her first child. Even when Mom couldn't drive herself, she insisted that it must be Chinel who did her hair. Mom always talked about how kind Chinel was and that she enjoyed her time while in her chair. She was angry and saddened when she thought some of Chinel’s fellow employees were being mean to Chinel and not treating her right. And even now, now that Mom doesn't know what is going on, we always return to see Chinel. Alzheimer's patients don't always do well with some of the things we take for granted, but sometimes they seem to know that they are in good hands. Just yesterday, for instance, it was obvious that Mom still knew, in her heart of hearts, that Chinel is a kind and loving person. Chinel is always so patient and sweet. She talked with Mom, even though what Mom says often makes no sense. Chinel listened to Mom as she talked in her own confused way about the pictures of Chinel’s daughter Trinity that she saw in Chinel’s workspace. She understands even when my mom is confused about the “Lady in the Mirror.” And we certainly have had many laughs over the years, as well as more than our share of sadness. Yesterday Chinel had a hug from Mom, and I know it meant the world to both of them. Chinel is about to have another daughter, due any day now. She will be off for at least six weeks, and we intend to wait for her return before Mom has another haircut. We will wait for our angel. She is our angel because I don’t think I could have continued to take my mom out as much as I have without knowing she had Chinel's chair to sit in and her company to share.

Liz F.- I met Liz in college, and through Facebook and because of a mutual hardship, we have reconnected. That hardship is Alzheimer's. Like my mother, her mother-in-law is suffering from this disease. And despite the miles between us, we know that we have each other's back. It doesn't matter what time of day, we both know that a text from the other means that we need a strong woman to help get through some crisis. Because our loved ones are at different stages, I have been able to offer much help and many suggestions. I can relay to her what I did in certain situations, hoping that maybe this would work for her MIL. And this is not a one-sided deal. This is not a relationship in which I am only helping her. No, we help each other. We understand what the other person is going through. We know the real pain that we have like no one else does. We have lived it and still live it each day. One day she told me that this fight can be so lonely. That some of her friends have abandoned her. They are tired of hearing her struggles, tired of wiping her tears. This broke my heart. I am lucky. People have stayed strong for me when I needed them. They have not left my side. And Liz, my Colorado angel, I will stand strong with you, listen to your struggles, wishing I was at your side to give you a hug and wipe those tears away. Count on me, my angel, you can count on me.

Stacie- Stacie started out as my workout buddy. We would labor through our CrossFit workouts, pushing each other to be better than we thought we could be. Always listening and offering advice, she helped me stay healthy and keep working out, even when I just wanted to put that bar down. She understands that this is what my body needs both physically and mentally. Now that workout partnership has turned into a close personal friendship. Stacie, I thank you for being a friend who has surprised me in so many good ways. I will not forget the offers to help with my mom, even though you have never met her. Offering help for when I was out of town and couldn't help her. You are a selfless friend and I thank you. Also, thank you for keeping it real and making me laugh. Your brutal honesty and one liners crack me up. We sweat away the toxins and the sweat angels remind us why we are there.

Morgan - My sister and Mom’s other daughter also has this struggle to get through. I understand that she is far away and not physically here all the time. She just can't be, but I know that I can pick up the phone and call her anytime. Despite her own pain with the situation, she listens. She helps dry my tears, even 12 hours away. She offers suggestions when I need them. We share laughs when a story strikes us as funny, and she stays strong for me even when she also is sad and it is hard for her to be strong. She is a caretaker, a friend, and the best sister I could ask for. My words seem simple for such a complex situation, but I can feel her love and her strength no matter the distance. My sister, my angel.

Jason and the kids - They have been with me through this entire struggle. They have known my mom through every stage. Jason offers whatever he can, depending on the situation. They have helped Mom when I was out of town, visited her with me, or given me hugs and kisses and let me cry, because sometimes that is exactly what I need to do, just cry. The kids have known their grandma through every stage. They continue to be excited to see her. They accept her for whoever she is on that day, at that moment. They dance with her, they tell her she is beautiful, and they share their treats with her. They visit her with me when I am not strong enough to do it on my own. And they all have shown true love, patience, and understanding not only with Mom, but with me. These angels I hold close to my heart.

Last and certainly not least, my Dad - Remember first, as you are reading this, that he edits every one
of my posts, so he is having to read this about himself as he edits. My Dad is one of the most selfless people I know. He was once married to Mom, they remained friendly after the marriage ended, and he has to continue to hear from his girls the heartbreak that her condition causes us. As a parent I know it is hard to hear that your children are suffering, but he also loved this lady, so he has his own feelings for her to deal with, too. Despite all this, he always has an open ear and heart. He listens to what Morgan and I tell him about Mom- all the pain, hurt, stress, and disappointments. And he hurts because we hurt. Just last week, after having a conversation with Morgan about how hard I was taking Mom's deterioration, he offered the ultimate sacrifice. He offered to move Mom to Virginia, where he lives. We could put her in a safe place there, and he said that he would watch out for her. He thought that having to shoulder the responsibility for my mother every day was too much for me. He worried that I was breaking, and he said that he would relieve me by taking on the responsibility for Mom. We declined the offer, but we will never forget it. Dad is certainly one of my biggest fans, but what he doesn't realize is that I am an even bigger one of his.

We must surround ourselves with those who can help lift us up when we cannot pick ourselves up. We are caretakers for others, but as we care for others, so do we need others to help take care of us. We all have our own angels. Find yours, keep them in your life, thank them, and love them. Blessed be the angels, for they are us.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Love's Spark

Part Two of Our Day of Giving

And so begins the rest of our adventure on that day of giving. We first had planned on just volunteering for the USO and the Snowball Express, but new plans surfaced along the way.

Jacob and I were done volunteering around lunch time. Time had flown, and we were both starving. We stopped off to get lunch and fuel our bodies for the next two stops. We both enjoyed having our lunch together, discussing the day so far. We talked about the little kids. They were so cute and they really enjoyed the bowling game. We talked about all the wonderful things they got to do, but we also discussed that many of these kids had lost fathers, and there was one Dad there with his two daughters who had lost their mother. My heart ached for these families, but I was glad that we could bring a little cheer to their day.

My mother-in-law, also known as Mimi, had mentioned in passing that she wasn't going to put up a tree this year and not much in the way of decorations. My guess was that the effort to do all this was a little too overwhelming for her. That is where Jacob and I came in. After lunch we headed to her house to “ungrinch” it. She was at work and had no idea that we were going to her house to take care of the decorations. In we went and down to the basement to search around for what we needed. She made it easy. She had five artificial trees and some of them were still decorated from last year. I knew that she liked to have trees in the main rooms that she uses, so we set out to place trees where she could see them. One that was already decorated went into her bedroom. Jacob commented on how pretty the glow from the lights was and that he was sure Mimi was going to love it! Onward.

Next we found three smaller trees of various sizes. They seemed to go together. The problem was that two were decorated and the large one was not. Jacob convinced me that this was ok and that if we grouped them together it would look like it was supposed to be like that. We decided to put these in the kitchen where she had just the little nook for them.

Last was the living room. We brought up the final tree, which was not decorated but did have lights pre-hung on it. We had to find decorations for it. She had tub after tub of decorations and I wasn't really sure which to grab. I found one tub with grapes and golden guitars and some silver and gold pine cones and other baubles. I decided I would use these. It was sure to look like a tree from the department store. Those decorations were fancy!

Jacob and I gathered around the tree and placed the decorations here and there. We surveyed our work, rearranged, checked again, and rearranged the decorations one final time. I remembered seeing a tree skirt and some other decorations that she had used in the past. I gathered them from the basement, and we talked about what to do with the things I had found. We decided to put the sleigh on the fireplace hearth. Jacob thought we should place the two reindeer, dressed in their holiday best, under the tree. We did just that and we were finished.

We again checked each tree and were so excited for Mimi to see what we had done. Jacob was full of joy and excitement for doing this small thing for Mimi, his paternal grandma. Then we were out the door and on to our last stop, to visit my mom, his maternal grandma.

We arrived at the locked down ward where she lives. Jacob had some M&Ms in his pocket in case we had to bribe her to hang out with us. Sounds strange, but you soon learn what works, at least sometimes, with an Alzheimer's patient. Grandma loves her treats! In we went, Jacob racing ahead to punch in the code, because kids love punching buttons, Santa hat bobbing along. In we went, and she was talking with another resident. We approached her and the nurse told her we had arrived. She was a bit confused at first, but we greeted her with hellos, hugs, kisses, and a few M&Ms, and she was soon on our side. We started our visit with walking around a bit, which she loves to do.

There was an old Cab Calloway movie on. It was belting out some great tunes and so Jacob decided to ask his Grandma to dance. They danced and she sang. They danced some more and then I cut in and danced a bit with Mom. She smiled, laughed, and sang some more. She was having a great time. After about 45 minutes, we had to get home in time to meet Reese, who would be off the bus soon. We explained to Mom that we would have to go and she gave us an, “Awwww,” just like a little kid would. Then she laughed and said, “I understand hon. It's ok.” We told her we would see her soon. She walked us to the door where we gave her more hugs, kisses, and told her we loved her.

We scooted out and Jacob and I held hands as we walked toward the car, skipping through the parking lot.

It was a day of giving and it felt so good, so right. Although Jacob still believes in Santa Claus (quite a feat at 10 years old), he felt the magic of what being Santa is all about, being a servant to others and enjoying it. Finding ways to give back, not because you have to, not because it has been asked for, but just because. And as good as we made all these people feel, he realized how good it feels to be the giver instead of the receiver.

One day I will have to explain about Santa. Not that he isn't real but, instead that he lives in all of us. His magic is about believing in things you cannot see or touch and things that cannot be measured. We must do this every day with our family, our friends, our beliefs. And what is this big entity that we must believe in? Simply put, it's love. My dad once wrote in a poem to my sister:

Santa will find you, at night in the dark,
For he's guided by love, and love's little spark,
Shines in the night as a guide and a beacon,
To lead him to you as soon as you're sleeping.
He watched you all year, your smiles and your laughing,
The way of your life, your giving and sharing.
Santa will find you, rest and sleep tight,
If love's spark will guide him, he'll see your bright light.

May you find another's bright light, just as we did that day.

Monday, December 16, 2013

My Son, The Giver


When my son Jake was about eight, he started receiving a commission from us. Most people like to call money to kids an allowance, but in our household it is called a commission. You must work for your money. Each day the kids have tasks that must be completed and whether they get paid depends on whether the jobs are done. This keeps everyone accountable. Anyway, when we were introducing this concept to Jacob, we also talked about such concepts as tithing and giving back.

We explained that, as a person living in this world, we need to find ways to give back. We give back with our time and with our resources. We explained that one way to give back is to give money to an organization that needs the money, which combined with other contributions, allows the organization to give back to more people. Together we researched organizations in which an eight year old boy might be interested. We talked about giving to the zoo or another animal-loving organization. We talked with him about some local charities we were involved in, and finally one struck a chord with him - The Snowball Express. The Snowball Express helps children who have lost one or both of their parents who died while serving in the military. He wanted to make things better for these children. He donated his entire commission on the spot, and we matched his donation. It wasn't a big donation, but in his eyes it was everything.

I regularly volunteer with our local USO, and I heard that the USO again was going to be helping with The Snowball Express here in Indianapolis. I knew right then that I had to be involved, and I was hoping that Jacob could be too. When I told him that the two of us were going to volunteer and help with the Snowball Express, he gasped, ran over to me and hugged me. My ten-year-old little boy was that excited about volunteering. I knew my husband Jason and I had done our jobs well.

Then came the countdown. And it was, “I can't wait until next Thursday.” And it was, “I am so excited that you and Dad are letting me do this.” Ok, not only was this kid excited about helping others, but then I told him that he got to miss a day of school! His response, “Mom, that's cool and all, but I don't really care about that. I just can't wait to volunteer!” Jason and I definitely had done our job.

The big day arrived, Thursday, December 12, 2013, and he was out of bed, all dressed, and ready to leave with no urging from me. Off we went, Jacob wearing his Santa hat and full of pure excitement. On the way to the airport, he said, “Mom, you know what one of my hobbies is?” I was ready to hear a response like building legos or annoying his sister, all of which could have been legitimate answers. Instead he said, “Helping people.” I told him that his Dad and I also loved to help people and that we were very proud of what he was going to be doing that day.

We got to the USO, had our updates, and received our boarding passes to get through security. We headed to Gate B5, where American Airlines and the Indianapolis Airport had blocked off not only gate B5, but also gates B1 through B5. We walked around a corner to see balloons, a bouncy house, people in costumes, games, and food galore. The elves had been busy the night before setting up. We knew that this was going to be a wonderful day.

Before we entered into the pomp and circumstance of it all, I stopped and reminded Jacob why we were there. I reminded him that when he saw a child there, despite all the fun and celebration, he needed to remember that the child had lost a Mom or a Dad, or possibly both. My little boy with the old soul got it. He knew why we were there and still could not wait to help.

We were set to help with the CornHole game and were eagerly awaiting the first families to arrive. The entire area was charged with the energy of pure love. People were there because they wanted to be. They delighted to be there. People were dressed in costumes of Christmas trees, penguins, gift packages, and other seasonal motifs. Everyone donned elf hats, Santa hats, or reindeer antlers. There were Colts cheerleaders and even an Indy car driver. But, honestly, it didn't matter who you were, only that we were all there for the same reason. We were there to bring some joy into the lives of the children and their families.

All day, Jacob played CornHole with any kid who wanted to play. He played with some of the boys who were his age. He helped pass out bags of treats and to clean up at the end. Every minute of the day he was smiling and radiating joy and love. Jacob raised his hand when the group was asked who was a USO volunteer. He was so proud.

And so he missed a day of school. He got to eat a donut, play games, and have some fun. What he learned that day was so much more important than a day at school. Jacob knows the meaning of giving back. He knows that sometimes the little things we can do mean the world to others. Today he took home with him the knowledge that we should appreciate what we have because it can be taken from us at any time. Jacob learned that there are actual people, people with husbands and wives and children, who give their lives to keep us safe. And today he learned that even at ten-years-old, he can make a big difference in the world.