Category Archives: Friendship

My new friend


I made a new friend today. She was in the activity room where I visited with my Mama after work. I spotted her right away – a new face. I noticed her watching us while I was chatting with Mama.

Looking her way, I smiled. She smiled back, and softly asked, “Are you her daughter?”  Nodding, I resumed my ritual of applying Mama’s lipstick and folding a tiny, minty breath strip as small as possible and popping it into Mama’s open mouth. Mama enjoys her teeny-tiny minty treats, and since they dissolve quickly I can offer her something that I don’t have to worry about her choking on.

My new friend stuck her hand out towards me and told me her name. We talked for a moment as she shared with me that her son lives in the bay area but he’s busy and they don’t get along well, and finishing_well_in_life_senior_computershe has a daughter who is a doctor and lives on the east coast. She was hoping that her daughter might be out to visit this weekend.

Since she was talkative, I ventured to ask if she would mind telling me why she was in the care home. She smiled sadly and said she was having some memory troubles so she called 911. I must admit, I was a bit surprised as she had a laptop and seemed to quite ‘in the moment’.

She looked at Mama – who loves a good conversation as much as anyone, but is at the stage where everyone else has to do the talking, and then back at me. Hesitating, she asked me if Mama had dementia. I nodded. She said she couldn’t remember the exact term her doctor gave her, but it was something like dementia.

With a troubled countenance, she quietly asked me what happens next, and if she would know that she was remembering less and less. Big questions that I have no answers for. I replied that everyone is different, but there might be things she could do to strengthen what remains.  Since she had a pretty pink laptop with her, I suggested that she use it as much as possible. Also, I’ve read that being social and visiting with others is good for the brain. 

My heart was sad for my new friend when we said our goodbyes today. The knowledge that you are losing bits and pieces of yourself throughout each day could be quite the struggle.

While reading through various news and research articles tonight, I came across a bright spot of hope for my friend and others in the same situation. It was an article in Science World Report that reported on a new vaccine: “Scientists in the US and Australia are now testing a new vaccine that can supposedly prevent and in some cases, reverse the onset of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases related to it.”

Wouldn’t that be fantastic! In the meantime, I will be praying for my new friend and hope to see her again during future visits with Mama.

The “Piano Man” keeps rolling

finishing-well-in-life-jazz2
John Gonsalves, left discusses a song with his wife Saralu and Becky Huskey.

The monthly birthday celebration at Red Bluff Health Care got jazzed up when the piano man, otherwise known as John Gonsalves rolled up to the piano to play along.

The band, “Loosely Strung” comes by every month to help celebrate birthdays, but this month John Gonsalves, who is a short-term resident while recovering from surgery delighted the residents and musicians alike by playing a few favorites on the piano.

finishing-well-in-life-jazz
Tony Mayr, left, plays the harmonica in a duet with John Gonsalves.

John was accompanied by another resident, Tony Mayr, a fabulous harmonica player, who has been hooked on the harmonica ever since he came across a toy one as a young lad. That one got destroyed and was replaced by a better instrument. Since each harmonica only has one key, Tony carries a box of harmonicas in various keys with him.

Since the age of 15, John has been playing a variety of instruments. He occasionally played piano with local bands such as Jr. Lesher and Dale  Twiggs band. He played his part in the military as a member of the US Army’s “Screamin’ Eagles Band”. The band traveled throughout the United States and Canada, performing in parades and revues.

After the Army, John attained a Master’s degree in composition and jazz arranging.  He put those skills to good use throughout his 33-year career as a music teacher in Tehama County. One of the members of “Loosely Strung”, Becky Huskey, was offered the opportunity to become Antelope School District’s full-time music instructor when John retired from his position.

He also played with a variety of well-known performing artists, such as the Smothers Brothers, Bobby Vinton, Donnie Brooks and The Drifters as well as every casino in the area. A great honor came to him by way of being chosen to serve a term as assistant grand organist for the Masons of California – a position that took him and his wife, Saralu all over the state.

John is a quiet soul, who prefers to stay in the background – usually at a piano and let his music do the talking.

Ironically, they ended the birthday party with the old Beatles song, “When I’m Sixty-Four”. Many of the residents in attendance were smiling and singing along–perhaps remembering back when they were 64.

 



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and finishingwell-3Dcovertips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

The wheels on the bus go round and round

As some folks mature, they begin to look at life as a series of sunsets. However, those who finish well tend to look instead at life as a series of sunrises. Clair Morey looks at every day as a sunrise – not a sunset.

finishing-well-in-life-clair2
Clair Morey in front of one of the Mount Lassen Motor Transit buses.

Clair spent most of his life as a bus driver. First, as a school bus driver, and then 35 years as a tour bus driver for the  Mount Lassen Motor Transit.  He loved it! He would do the driving, and his wife, Bernice would go along as the Hostess. They went everywhere: National Parks, attractions, wonders and world fairs.

Then one day it happened.

After his 80th birthday, he received word that he could no longer drive. Insurance would no longer cover him. This sadness was added to the grief from losing the love of his life. His lovely Bernice had passed away.

At that point, the future for him is bleak – there is nothing left for him but a series of sunsets.

But Clair is not done yet. So instead of ending the race, he makes a decision that he’s going to create his own rules and continue on in the busing industry. After some time off, he is now working both in the office and the open road. In the winter, he plans and packages tours. In the summer, he reaps the rewards of those tours by working as the Host.

finishing-well-in-life-clair-janice
Clair and Janice Morey on a recent bus trip the Lewiston Peddler’s Fair

He also offers mentorship and advice to the new drivers…his knowledge base is significant. Everyone benefits, everyone wins.  Lightning struck twice when he found a new love of his life and got remarried. Her name is Janice, she is an avid tour bus rider – they actually met on the bus.

I got the chance to visit with Clair on a bus tour to the Lewiston Peddler’s Fair. I was amazed to learn about all the different places he has been, such as Reno, The Rose Parade, and Branson, Missouri. He said that Branson was the longest trip. It was 25 days long and lots of fun. He told me that he really enjoyed the longer trips because you really get to know the passengers better- that they become like a family. He said that they have many long-term friendships with folks who have taken bus tours over the years.

At 87 he is still going strong, still going down the road, still providing insight and humor on the trips. Only now he’s doing it from the passenger seat. He’s a very vital part of the busing industry and to this date has not considered retirement.

Don’t let life dictate to you how you run the race. Finish well.



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and finishingwell-3Dcovertips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

The Lady in Red

I had a lovely visit with an old friend the other day. I don’t call her old finishingwellinlife-redbecause she is in her late 90’s, but because we have been friends for a very, very long time.

I asked her what she had been up to, though with Irene, I knew it would have something to do with sewing. The last time I had visited with her, she was busy making handy meal bibs for all the residents in the retirement village she lives in. She explained that she had become known as the lady who could fix anything – a torn seam, a button, hem or repair a worn spot.

From time to time, various neighbors would drop by with whatever garment needed attention, and Irene would go to work like a busy bee and take care of it. She said that sometimes she had a large pile of items, and then sometimes, several days would go by between projects. She explained that she doesn’t charge her neighbors for sewing – it’s a ministry. She feels as if her ability to sew – even to have good eyesight at her age – is a gift from God to share with others.

She always makes me laugh, and this visit was no exception. As always she was beautifully dressed in an outfit that she created.

Her tiny little apartment  is filled with dolls from her doll collection. Irene’s collection is different from any other I have ever come across. Hers are not fancy or expensive but rather they are ‘Rescue Dolls’ that someone has neglected and tossed aside. Over the years, they came to her all grimy, with matted or missing hair and torn clothing. Irene vigorously and lovingly scrubs them down, repairs their hair and creates a special outfit for each one – including booties and a beanie.

Irene loves each one of her dolls, but there is one in her collection finishingwellinlife-90dollthat is her most prized possession. It is a doll her Mother gave her for Christmas when she was seven-years-old. Irene immediately fell in love with her doll. Her sewing talent was developed and blossomed through the tremendous number of outfits she made for the doll over the past ninety years.

Irene’s doll stands as a witness to the beginning of what has become almost a century of sewing and a beautiful testament to a lady who certainly knows how to finish well.



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and finishingwell-3Dcovertips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

The 3 R’s

Back in the old days, getting an education was often referred to as “learning the 3 R’s: reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic”. In light of the significant losses connected with the progression of dementia as well as the fact that we are all steadily getting older, I would like to suggest a second set of 3R’s for this season of our lives: Remember, Record and Reconnect

finishing_well-in-life-3Rs

REMEMBER:

We all have a story. It may not begin with ‘Once upon a time’…or end with ‘Happily ever after’, but each person on the planet has a life narrative – our own ‘Who, What, When, Whys and Hows’. If you were asked where you were born and why your folks lived in that particular place, would you be able to answer? If you have children, do they know why you lived where you did when they were born? Family history is a precious thing. It’s never too early to ask some basic questions in order to fill in the blanks—but it can be too late!

In my own search to fill in some of the blanks of my life, I emailed, called and used Facebook to try to get those answers. I knew I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but had no idea why my parents lived there at the time. Since my Dad has already passed away, and my Mama is in the end stage of dementia, I can’t ask them. Thankfully, an older relative was able to fill in that particular blank for me. Though I wish my parents had written more down, or that I had asked more questions, it’s not too late for me to remember and write a basic outline of my life for those who come after me. Remembering who they are, hinge upon who I am.

RECORD:

After writing down geographic locations and interesting tidbits, the second important R would be ‘Record’. Read it into the mic—any recording device will do. Most phones have a record app that can be emailed to a computer. Don’t wait until you have your narrative perfect. The important thing here is the sound of your voice, not even the content. I wish I had a recording of my Mama’s voice from when she could talk. Even if you don’t do the ‘Remember’ part, do the ‘Record’. Our voices are the gifts that we leave for others. Even reading a favorite poem or story would be appreciated by some who come after you.

RECONNECT:

Is there someone in your life with whom you haven’t connected with in a while? Are there any family member who might like to hear from you? Who have you lost contact with? Perhaps there is someone you need to forgive.  Facebook is a wonderful way to find folks to make an initial contact, however meeting in person may be a better way to catch up with an old friend.

Take a lesson from the 3 R’s and do a bit of homework today.

Seasons

While Wayne and I were visiting with Mama today, a new resident was wheeled into the activity room and up to the table where we were sitting. I was busy chatting with Mama while spoon-feeding her some thickened water, so I didn’t pay much attention to the new lady.

At one point, she told us her name was Amy and asked us what Mama’s name was, “Muriel”, Wayne replied.”

“I was hoping to talk to her,” Amy said.

We explained that Mama doesn’t talk much these days. “She likes to listen to others talk, and likes to sing…well, she used to sing, but she still likes it when others sing.”

Amy nodded her head. Then she began singing softly.

At that moment, I was so sad that Mama wasn’t able to talk – she would have really enjoyed visiting with Amy.

I resumed giving Mama her water. We finished our visit and began our goodbyes.  I looked over at Amy, she was praying softly. What a wonderful lady, I thought to myself.finishing_well-in-life-almond

As I walked outside underneath the gloomy-gray, overcast skies of winter, I happened to notice a lovely almond tree in full bloom. How beautiful, I thought, here in the midst of winter is a spot of beauty.

I remembered that God used the almond branch to symbolize His watching over Jeremiah. I smiled as it occurred to me that God can bring a spot of beauty even in the midst of winter.

He didn’t suddenly change winter to spring, He simply made something beautiful blossom in the middle of it. He didn’t change Mama’s winter season of life, but He brought Amy to blossom in the middle of it.

We can all find a way to blossom in the midst of someone’s gloomy day.

Who are you?

I’m not saying I’m predictable, but on the rare occasion, if I happen to act uncharacteristically, such as ordering something different off a menu, or suggest we see a Sci-Fi movie rather than a Chick flick with a good ending, my husband will say, “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?

I believe we are all a bit predictable to some degree. After folks have known us a while, they might be able to anticipate some of our reactions to certain questions or events. The way in which others see us respond to various occurrences might actually be the result of our ‘social filter’. Something might annoy us, but since it would be impolite to show the annoyance, we smile and let it go.

Now, I’m not saying that it isn’t a good idea to be polite, show finishing-well-in-life-questionconsideration and act kindly to others, but some recent observations have convinced me that we might want to do a bit more than ‘act’.

I was attending a class recently that my sister teaches. She was recounting a recent visit she and a friend of hers made to our Mama (who is in the final stage of dementia).  During the course of the visit, her friend remarked how sweet and kind our Mama has always been, and that the dementia didn’t seem to change her personality any—she was still as sweet as ever. My sister responded that she believed that it was because Mama was so nice on the inside, and when she lost her ‘veneer’ it didn’t change who she really was—that it wasn’t simply a social nicety. At that point, her friend quipped, “Uh, oh, I better begin working on becoming nicer on the inside now, so when I lose my social veneer, it won’t be such a dramatic change.

Another person in the class said that they had heard it put that, “We are who we are, and as we age, we become more so.

The bible teaches us about the need for certain qualities such as showing mercy, genuinely forgiving others and ‘walking humbly with our God’.

There is no time like the present to work on becoming a better version of who we really are.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind? 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And days o’ lang syne!

The new year often brings with it certain hopes and aspirations. This is the time for new beginnings, do-overs and fresh starts. We tell ourselves that perhaps this year we will do better, be better, live better. The ‘R’ word gets tossed around a bit, if not verbally, at least the general idea of a resolution to eat better, get more exercise, or improve in whatever area we perceive we fell short in last year.

If you do decide to make a change or two, consider becoming more social. The Alzheimer’s Society has conducted a study which shows that 42 % of family and friends mistakenly think that once a person with dementia stops recognizing loved ones, they don’t benefit that much from spending time with them. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, family visits can stimulate feelings of happiness, comfort and security.finishing_well-in-life-connect

Staying connected and taking part in activities helps a person with dementia feel less isolated.

Alzheimer’s Society is calling on people to make a positive New Year’s resolution to spend time with people with dementia and help them take part in activities they enjoy to keep connected.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Society, said: “After spending time with friends and family over the festive period, New Year can be a bleak and lonely time for people with dementia and their carers. It’s so important for people with dementia to feel connected throughout the year.

“Spending time with loved ones and taking part in meaningful activities can have a powerful and positive impact, even if they don’t remember the event itself. We’re urging people to get in touch with us and find out how we can help you stay connected.”

If you have hesitated to visit someone because you are not sure what you would talk about, remember, it really doesn’t matter what you say. Simply entering the room with a smile and taking their hand can create a connection. As far as what to say, try reciting scripture, reading poetry or the newspaper. Perhaps picking up a novel you were interested in and reading a few chapters each visit.

Is someone waiting for you?

Smiling Man

Hey Smiling Man, you waved to me! Yea! I’ve been waiting for some time.

That first time I saw you in the hall, you didn’t notice me – I guess you must have had something on your mind that day. After that, I looked for you every time I came in. Sometimes I would see you, but it took a long time before I could catch your eye.

I remember that first time you glanced my way. You looked a bit unsure, but returned my smile with a quick nod. Since that day, I have been getting better at catching your eye – now you look my way almost every time.  A couple of times, you’ve even spotted me first, and I noticed that your smile was becoming more spontaneous and enthusiastic – no longer waiting for me to smile first.

Today, however, was the best. When you spotted me, your whole face lit up and then finally, finally, finally – you waved!

Most of the residents at the care home where I visit my Mama won’t look at me, but there you are – smiling and now waving. Sometimes, I get sad after a visit with Mama, but your smile helps cheer me back up.

I wonder if you ever get any visitors or have any family in the area. In fact, I don’t know anything about you, and your condition, or even your name, but to me you will always be Mr. Smiling Man – thank you.

Is someone waiting for your smile today?

 



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and finishingwell-3Dcovertips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

What a doll

I couldn’t believe my eyes. While I was at the care-home where my Mama lives, I noticed one of the residents in the hallway holding a tiny baby. What were they thinking? I quickly looked around for the baby’s mother. No one seemed to be paying any attention to her. Taking a closer look at the baby, I understood why –it was a doll! It was so lifelike, and the resident holding it looked so happy.

What a wonderful idea! Even if dementia has stolen and ripped away most of who your loved one was in their younger days, the maternal and paternal instinct is so deeply embedded into us as parents that the simple act of holding a (fake, weighted) doll can awaken the natural feelings that reside inside.

I did a bit of research to see if there had been any studies regarding the use of dolls for memory stimulation. Reading through the studies I could find, I learned that the dolls did, indeed seem to wake up the maternal or paternal instinct within many dementia patients. It did appear to have a greater effect on those in earlier stages of the disease.

One study in particular, conducted in 2007,  suggested doll therapy is a promising and effective approach to use in the care of older adults with dementia.

Many have found doll therapy to be a good way to engage loved ones while giving them a purposeful and rewarding activity. The dolls also seemed to have a calming effect and often created a distraction for them from upsetting events. Loved ones usually spent time rocking their baby dolls – which also helped them fall asleep. Another finding was that they often enjoyed singing to their doll, something family caregivers can join in or simply encourage their loved ones to sing on a regular basis.

The one major negative was that some family members or caregivers thought that giving a doll to someone with dementia was a demeaning and offensive practice.

The studies also agreed on some fundamental practices for the use of dolls:

  •  Do not call the doll a doll, refer to it as baby, or by name if your loved one has given it a name.
  • Provide a bassinet or small crib for the doll.
  • Do not purchase a who’s eyes open and close, or a doll that cries out loud, or as that could be upsetting.
  • Do not force the doll on your loved on. Let them discover, approach and hold the doll on their own time.
  • Be sure to communicate the purpose of the doll for any one else who may be providing care for your loved one.
  • Never remove the doll without permission of the person with dementia. When removing the doll, healthcare professionals and family members should hold the doll as if it were a living baby and explain where they are taking it, for example, if the doll is dirty, it is going to get a bath.

I believe that the bottom line is this is, try it, don’t force it and see what happens.

There is a Postize post on my Facebook group: Finishing Well for Caregivers that has some great photos folks with their dolls. Be sure to check it out as well.

What do you think about doll therapy? Have you found it to be an effective way to treat anxiety and behavioral issues in seniors with dementia, or do you believe that it is demeaning and an offensive practice?