Blah, Blah, Blah

Today’s Bloganuary prompt:

What is a superpower you’d love to have?

I remember being asked this question in RA (Resident Assistant) training my junior year of college. My answer hasn’t changed in the 30+ years since.

I’d love to be able to speak every language in the world fluently. Can you imagine the connection that would happen if you could communicate with every person you met? Not just transactional conversations, but sharing jokes, understanding humor. Asking for or giving directions. Offering comfort. The ease at which visitors would feel, hearing their language spoken. This would be the most magical power of all.

Getting Older

Today’s Bloganuary prompt:

What is a cause you’re passionate about and why?

There are a few.

Ending mass incarceration in the United States.

Eliminating food insecurity.

And one that I’ve thought about more and more over the past few years: systems to support the aging population in the US. This wasn’t top of mind until I became my Mom’s guardian. And as I have navigated everything on her behalf, I have to wonder how people (especially aging persons with dementia) address this if they don’t have an advocate. I am incredibly grateful that we have resources to make this easier. Before I became her guardian, I was living close by. My father had the foresight to procure long term care insurance that mitigates the financial burden of care. I live in a city with a large retired population which has incredible healthcare resources. And as I’ve navigated this, I’ve noticed that caretaking generally falls to a child or another family member. What happens if there isn’t a child or family member?

It’s not just logistics. What about quality of life? Making sure that there’s a place they can call home. That is safe. That is stimulating. With healthy food. That may have been what assisted living facilities set out to provide when they were conceived. And COVID exposed the limitations of those facilities. One of the most dehabilitating factors for someone with dementia is isolation. And that’s what COVID forced upon folks in assisted living facilities. So. Much. Isolation. I understand they were doing the best they could with the information at hand. The isolation, though, was one of, if not the main, reason I decided to move Mom in with me. And had I known at the time how difficult it would be, I may have thought twice about that decision. But it makes me wonder what will happen when I reach that stage. And what options will be available.

“I’m curious…”

Today’s Bloganuary prompt:

What is a life lesson you feel everyone can benefit from learning?

Be curious. There’s usually more to learn. Ask questions, focusing on understanding. “Why?,” as in “Why did you do that?” will often result in defensiveness. “Walk me through how you got to this decision…” invites conversation and an opportunity to learn a person’s thought process.

My team teases me that my favorite thing to say is, “I’m curious…” then I ask a question. It’s true, though, I am curious! 🙂

Snow Day!

The big news is that Izzy is coming to town. Over the past few days we’ve heard we’d get a dusting of snow, 3 – 6 inches, 12 – 18 inches, or even 24 inches. That’s a pretty wide range. It honestly doesn’t matter. Regardless of how much we get, things will essentially shut down. And I’m kind of looking forward to it.

There’s something magical about a snow day. About waking up, looking outside, and seeing everything transformed, covered in a blanket of white. Quiet. As if the covering of snow dampens sounds, a hush encompassing the world.

Snow days as a child were an adventure. We didn’t have many, but the ones that we had were doozies. We often lost power during snow storms. When I was maybe seven or eight, there was one storm where the power was out for a week. And I loved it. We huddled in our den, the room closed off to the rest of the house to conserve heat, wood stove burning. We each had multiple quilts and blankets that we snuggled under, the weight of the blankets providing comfort. We cooked our meals in a dutch oven in the wood burning stove. Soup and bread. With snow cream for dessert. Snow, vanilla, and sweetened condensed milk. And the belief that snow could be transformed into the most delicious treat ever with a few stirs. We read during the day and talked at night or played board games by candlelight. I was sad when the electricity returned. I loved being together in our cocoon.

We’re ready as we can be for the weather this weekend. The pantry is stocked, there are flashlights (with new batteries) and candles in each room, the gas fireplace is working, blankets are easily accessible, all devices are charged.

And there’s a large bowl ready to put out on the back deck, ready to catch a fresh bowl of snow for snow cream, if we should be so lucky.

An Ideal Day

Today’s Bloganuary prompt:

What does your ideal day look like?

The day starts by waking up naturally and well-rested. I love having visitors, so the house will be full of friends. We’ll drink tea and coffee in our pajamas and talk, lounging about. Someone suggests breakfast (though by this time it’s likely brunch), and several of us will head to the kitchen to make waffles, eggs, bacon, toast, and a fruit salad with fresh mint from the herb garden. We’ll eat on the deck, warmed by the sun, conversation flowing easily and lots of laughter. So much laughter. Afterwards, we’ll get ourselves together, and head to the mountains for a hike, marveling at the blue in the Blue Ridge Mountains and enjoying a waterfall or two. We’ll come back home, order in some barbecue (likely Luella’s), share a nice bottle of wine, then sit on the front porch, chatting and watching the fireflies light up. We’ll stay there til we can’t keep our eyes open, then head to bed, ready to enjoy another perfect day in the morning.

An Emoji Is Worth 1,000 Words

Today’s Bloganuary prompt:

What emoji(s) do you like to use?

Ooh! Dancing emojis are my favorite. Dancing panda, dancing monkey, dancing Pikachu. It seems these may be custom for our Slack instance, so I’ve pasted a screenshot here:

Dancing emojis!

Also anything that seems to be happy. The bouncing rainbow sheep. The joyous pig.

Happy emojis

Though this ages me, I also do love the crying/laughing emoji. 😂

A Beautiful, Bold Life

Today’s Bloganuary prompt:

What does it mean to live boldly?

Doing the things that you yearn to do, but that might be a little scary. Sometimes they will work out, sometimes they won’t (and it can be crushing when it doesn’t). You won’t have to worry that you didn’t try, though.

There have been times that I was sure of a path: a career path, a relationship. And I threw myself into them. And they didn’t work out. But I gave it a go.

And there were times that I wasn’t sure of a path, and the uncertainty was scary, but I moved forward and oh my goodness, the richness that ensued. So, I guess living boldly is being okay with the uneasiness and moving forward anyway.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Today’s Bloganuary prompt:

What are 5 things you’re grateful for today?

  1. The first paperwhite bloom. I bought 5 paperwhite bulbs as an impulse purchase in the checkout line at Ace Hardware. They were piled in a cardboard box and I thought, “how difficult could it be to grow these?” I brought them home and placed them in a shallow dish of water. A week later I transferred them to a pot with rocks and dirt. Each day the stems grew a little bit taller, a little bit wider. And today the first blooms opened. I inhaled deeply, intoxicated by the sweet scent.
  2. Laughter. Mom and I held hands as she prepared to say the blessing. “Oh, lawd,” she began. We both giggled, which turned into all out laughter before she continued, “Lord, it’s a good day. That’s all.”
  3. Radiant heat. The weather has been hovering around freezing the past few days. Our house has radiators as the heating source. When I first saw them during the house tour, I thought, “Oh, noooo….” The only experience I had previously had with radiators were in old apartment buildings in San Francisco. Radiators were either on, clanking loudly and emitting extraordinary heat, or off. These radiators are different. They’re silent. They quietly heat the house, emitting a cozy, encompassing heat.
  4. A welcoming kitchen. Cooking is one of my favorite things to do. Especially preparing meals for others. I love the counter space in my current kitchen to prep all the ingredients, and a gas stove to cook on. And a spice drawer where I can keep ALL my spices organized alphabetically. Heaven.
  5. Friends. My goodness I’ve been blessed in this category. I’m not quite so sure how I got so lucky, but I am surrounded by incredible people, near and far.

And bonus – the USPS. I love mail, sending and receiving. I’m amazed at how efficient the service is; I can send a package from a small town in North Carolina and it reaches its destination in two days. Such a way to spread joy!

The Highs

In addition to the lowest of lows of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, there are also some pretty great highs. Like these:

  • I wake her in the morning, gently running my hand over her back. Her eyelids flutter, eventually opening, and she gives me a bug hug. “Today’s going to be a great day!” I exclaim. “Yes!” she replies enthusiastically.
  • We take turns saying the blessing before meals. Actually, I ask her to say the blessing until she says, “It’s your turn!” which is about 1 in every 8 or 9 asks. She says that she’s grateful for the good, and the bad, and then names something amazingly specific (sometimes imagined) which is a great reminder to remember the little things.
  • We listen to classical music while she “journals” (cuts up the newspaper and tapes it into a notebook) and I read or work. Every so often, she’ll look up and say, “This music is just so beautiful.”
  • On our daily walks, she’ll stop and examine a dropped flower or a leaf, turning it over in her hands, then carrying it home, to tape into a notebook and color around it. The flowers and leaves are usually dead, ones I wouldn’t have given a second glance. A reminder to look for the beauty in everything.
  • She hides candy throughout the house. Every so often, she’ll sneak into my office while I’m working and pass me a Hershey’s Nugget or Kiss, with a mischievous grin.
  • In the evening, I’ll ask her if she’d like to go to bed, or watch an episode of The Golden Girls. “Oh, the girls! The girls! I just love them.”
  • I sneeze. She laughs hysterically. Over, and over, and over.
  • She asks me for a dish of ice cream (usually right after she’s finished one). I go into the kitchen, fix a bowl, and when I return and hand it to her, she says with surprise, “Oh! Ice cream! Thank you so much!”

These are the highs I relish.

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

Bloganuary prompt (using last week’s prompt that I skipped):

Write about the last time you left your comfort zone.

“C’mon, Mom, it’s time for dinner!”

She wandered around, looking lost. “Should I go upstairs?”

“No, we’ll eat in the dining room.”

“But what about him? He needs to eat.”

“I think he’ll be fine” (no idea who he is).

“My husband will be hungry! I’m going to get him!”

I try not to allow looks of pity and sometimes my face betrays me. My heart was breaking.

Her bottom lip started quivering. “He’s gone, isn’t he?”

“Yes, Mom, he is. I’m so sorry.”

Sobs erupted. She screams, “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

“Oh, Mom.” I hugged her. “It’s so hard without him, isn’t it?” I held her for several minutes as she sobbed.

She sniffled then said she’d be alright, so I sat in my seat opposite her at the dining room table. We joined hands across the table.

Right before we said the blessing, she looked up and asked, “How long has he been gone?”

“Almost three years, Mom. We were so lucky to be with him as long as we were. He was a great husband and Dad, wasn’t he? This is what I loved about him…”

This is what I’ve been advised to do by her doctors, and my goodness, this is so far out of my comfort zone. Constantly trying to divert the conversation away from Dad’s death, which is one of the very few things she remembers, to other subjects, which she can’t remember. She can’t recall any memories of Dad, other than his death, and when I share memories, the majority of the time she’ll say, “Hm. I don’t remember that.”

Alzheimer’s is such a heartbreaking disease. I’m watching my Mom’s brain die, day by day. It feels like she’s declining so quickly, and her doctors advise me that the disease is progressing slowly. I’m constantly calling on my meditation practice, reminding myself of equanimity, and anicca, and appreciating the moment for what it is, knowing it too, will pass.