Category Archives: Memory

A Time to Mourn

I somehow assumed that since Mama had been slipping away bit by bit for over a decade, that I would have said all my goodbyes and experience her passing with a minimal of grief. I don’t know if I ever said any of that out loud, or whether it was just a vague idea, but either way, as it turned out this was not true. After her passing, I experienced sudden bouts of crying and waves of sadness would wash over me at unexpected times.

Two of our children watching the memorial service on iPads
Two of our children watching the memorial service on iPads

Another assumption I had made was that since Mama had been ‘out of social circulation’ for over a decade, and several of her friends had already passed, it would be better to hold a quiet, family gathering to remember her rather than a more formal memorial at a church. Again, my assumption turned out to be mistaken. I quickly came to realize that not only did I need to have a memorial for Mama, other family members, friends, church friends and previous co-workers also needed to have the closure that a memorial service provides.

We wanted to keep it on the simple side. The first thing my sister and I needed to decide was: who would perform the service and secondly, where would it take place?  We decided to hold it at the church where my sister teaches a class. It made sense as there would be built-in support from others who attend there. Mama had been an Episcopalian but had stopped attending a number of years ago due to health issues. We felt it would be okay with her to be remembered at a Baptist church.

We also wanted the service to be performed by the same person who had performed our daddy’s memorial service a decade ago. It was slightly more complicated—not only had he and his lovely wife moved to Portland, Oregon, but they were also dealing with the grief of losing a son in a very unexpected and tragic circumstance. Nevertheless, he agreed to perform the service and we set a date.

The next item on our to-do list was to write an obituary. I wrote up a preliminary draft, and my niece, Christi who is our family historian filled it out in a way that wonderfully captured Mama’s personality. Obituaries can be expensive to place in the newspaper, but it helps to let others know about the passing and memorial details, as well as a useful record for future generations. Costs can be kept to a minimum by only submitting basic information.

Due to this modern, mobile age, much of our family—like so many others are living in other states and countries. But also due to the modern age, we now have technology that helps overcome these distances. Some of our children were able to attend the memorial service through the use of Facetime. We set up two iPads on the front pew and everyone could see and hear quite well. Technology is great!

And finally, a memorial service is also one more way to show honor to a parent. As God’s word tells us in Ecclesiastes, there is “A time to mourn.” I have come to the conclusion that memorial services – no matter how simple or elaborate, are an essential piece of the grieving process.



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and  tips finishingwellinlife3Dcoverabout 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 

Emotional Memories

More often than not when I arrive for a visit at the carehome where my Mama lives, she is either sleeping or simply staring out into space.

I usually put my hand under her chin and turn her head towards me in order to make eye contact and get her attention.  When she looks at me, there is no flicker of recognition in her eyes. I’ve come to terms with that – knowing I’m her daughter is a memory that dementia stole long ago.

I always begin with a smile. Establishing eye contact is our initial point of connection.  Everything proceeds from there.

When I am able to make eye contact during our visits, it is easier for her to make a connection between my speaking to the noise she is hearing.

A famous quote from Maya Angelou, an American poet says, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

A recent study by the University of Iowa has confirmed Angelou’s statement. The results of the study concludes that caregivers can have a profound influence for either good or bad on the emotional state of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.finishing_well-in-life-connect

It’s called Emotional memory. It is the memory of the feelings associated with an event, as opposed to the facts of the event. They may not remember the details of recent visit by a loved one or mistreatment by staff at a nursing home, but those actions can have a lasting impact on how they feel.

One of the researchers in the study, Guzmán-Vélez, states,Our findings should empower caregivers by showing them that their actions toward patients really do matter.”

So it turns out that even though Mama and others in her condition are not able to remember facts, their emotional memory is as active as ever.

I am not always able to achieve a good connection with Mama during our visits. Sometimes she is so far lost in the world of dementia that “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” are unable to pull her consciousness back to this world again. But we are doing the best we can… and so is Mama.

Voice lessons

With tears in her eyes, she told me that her mother could no longer carry on a conversation – she could still talk, but not comprehend what was being said to her. She told me that all she can do now is listen as her mother rambles on and on. I remember when my Mama was at that stage of dementia. My heart breaks for those who go through this. There is no right way and it is never easy.

I gave my friend some advice that I have been finding myself saying over and over: If it is at all possible, record your loved one’s voice while you still have the opportunity.finishing_well_in_life_record

As discouraging as it might seem to no longer be able to have a meaningful discussion or even simply chat about this and that, it is even more daunting to wish you could hear a single word. Mama, who  is at the final stage of dementia, has been silent for over a year now.  I would love to hear her voice again.

This is not simply advice for loved ones with dementia as other illnesses also take them away sooner than we want. A friend of my told of the bittersweet time she had while her mother spent her last days on earth. One of the sweet things she took away from that time was a recording from her mom. Anytime she wants or needs to, she can listen to that recording and remember.

I got to thinking about words. Words are great. Words hold so much power—so much potential for both good and evil. Kind words are gifts we can give each other; to our spouses, family, and friends.

If someone had told me that it would be a good idea to record my Mama’s voice while she still had speech, I might have. I’d like to think I would have, but it’s hard to say when looking back what you might or might not have done. Even though I didn’t, I still have hope that I will come across and old VHS or cassette tape that she is on.

I wish I had a recording of Mama’s voice from the days when she could still talk. But though I don’t have her voice, I still have her and I give her the gift of hearing my voice as often as I am able.

Note: Most phones come with a voice recorder app, but in case you don’t have one, try Voice Recorder by Green Apple Studio – it’s a free app and works on either an iPhone or an Android.

Memories and memorials

You really can go home again. In fact, according to a recent article,  it is good for the memory. Of course, the saying “You can’t go home again” has more to do with wanting things to be exactly as they were in the past. That is a different issue. The article touched on a variety of ways to help the memories of the present by experiencing places, faces and the smells of the past.finishing_well_in_life_map

We were able to experience some of the joy of reminiscences on a recent trip we took to visit the area where my husband spent a great deal of his childhood. One of his dear cousins passed away, and we traveled up to the state of Washington for the memorial. While there, we did some driving around to see some his childhood houses and haunts.

One place in particular was a wonderful meat store called “Farmer George Meats”  in Port Orchard – by the way, if you ever find yourself in the region, make sure you stop by Farmer George Meats and pick up some of the finest jerky or beef sticks on the planet. Not only was the visual of seeing the shop wonderful, but the smell of the ‘smokes and spices‘ used to prepare the meat triggered a cacophony of wonderful memories.

When we were first married, Wayne was stationed at Fort Lewis near Tacoma, so while we were there, we also checked out the places we lived at that time. Though we noticed the differences, we appreciated the parts that were the same.

The memorial itself, with all the various family and friends, evoked powerful associations and memories.  There is something inherently satisfying about making those types of connections.

To make a delightful trip (though for a sad reason) more enjoyable, we were able to stop in Portland for a short visit with one of my cousins. The visit was lovely as we were able to catch up on family news. As an unexpected bonus, the sound of my cousin’s voice (with her charming Wisconsin accent) produced powerful reminders of the sounds of speech I heard as a child back in the Great Lakes area.

Our oldest son is getting to enjoy, to a degree some of the joys of returning to visit his hometown, as he has been able to come out to California for a rare vacation. He has been able to see the familiar faces and places from his childhood.

As Glenn E. Smith, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at the Mayo Clinic, in an article on the clinic’s website says, By gathering memories, you can bring important events and experiences from your loved one’s past into the present. You’re the link to his or her life history.

So, whether physically, or virtually, try to take a trip or two down memory lane to enjoy a journey of a lifetime.

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.

How Grace remembers

While visiting with a friend the other day, she shared with me about how hard it was taking care of her Mother. It seems that she and her Mom were never close, but due to circumstances of life, it fell to her to be the caregiver as her Mother developed dementia and grew increasingly less able to care for herself.  At first she kept contact by phone, and then one day when there was no answer, she frantically raced over to her house to discover that her Mother had fallen and hurt herself.

After a knee-replacement surgery, my friend brought her Mom home to live with her. My friend confided in me how distressing it was for her to see her Mother in such a helpless state. She said that looking back, she realized there was more she could have done to ensure her mother’s well-being – but she didn’t realize the severity of her condition. Her Mother passed away not too long afterwards.  She carried a quite a few regrets and was consumed with guilt. My heart broke for my friend as I assured her that I too am no stranger to guilt and regrets.Jumping Bright People 2

The next day, as I was spending some quiet time with the Lord and reading the bible, I came across a passage in Psalm 105 where God seems to be reminiscing a bit about Israel. There is one particular part describing how He delivered them from Egypt and cared for them in the dessert. Verse 40 tells us, “They asked and He brought quail, and satisfied them with the bread of heaven.” As I was reading I thought, wow, what a picture of grace! See, the account back in Exodus 16 shows us a fuller picture of what a bunch of whiny grumblers they were. It is interesting that Psalm 105 doesn’t mention anything about their grumbling, just that He provided quail and bread. It’s clear that God remembered their actions, but He chose to focus on the good.

Thinking about His grace, I realized that perhaps this could be a key for my friend to heal from some of her guilt and regrets. Since her Mother has already passed away, she won’t be able to ask her for forgiveness, but she could begin by confessing her regrets to the Lord and asking Him to forgive her and help her find peace. Moving forward, she could do as the Lord did in Psalm 105, and focus on the good. Let the sad, bad and ugly memories be replaced by the better ones.

A second witness is found in Hebrews 6:10 where the Lord assures us that He is still looking back over our past and remembering the love and kindness we have shown to others.

We can follow His example by doing the very same thing for ourselves. It’s never too late to change our focus.

 

Have yourself a merry little memory

In a recent post, (It’s beginning to look alot like Christmas…) I wrote about helping your loved one awaken some memories using songs, smells and visual reminders of favorite Christmas traditions.

I would be remiss not to also emphasize the need for us to fix some of our own memories in our minds. Whether you are a caregiver, or someone who is simply concerned with memory issues. This season is a fabulous time to ‘set’ some of our own Christmas experiences into more permanent memories.finishing-well-in-life-decor-two

How? The secret is: Be sense-conscious with as many different senses at a time during this sensory-rich season of the year. Studies have shown that using multiple senses at the same time  actually works the best to help improve memory retention.

The Christmas season is filled with a multitude of sense-tickling treats. This is a good time to do something unusual or surprising for your brain. Whether you are by yourself or gathered with others, if possible, take a moment to sit down close your eyes. Try to identify what you hear and what you smell along with how you feel when you experience each of those things.

Examples might be: take in the sharp whiff of fresh cut pine, the soft alluring aroma of freshly baked cookies or simply the compelling combination of cooking smells emanating from the Christmas dinner. Listen to the sound of conversation, laughter, and familiar songs are all possible memory markers.

Don’t forget to also engage your emotions. If you include your feelings, you are more likely you are to remember something. All of these areas working together will help make your brain sit up and take notice. When it does, you release a natural growth hormone called neurotrophins, which enhances your brain’s fitness levels. Each time you open a new circuit, or a neural pathway, you do what amounts to mental sit-ups, but without the exertion.

What are some of your favorite ‘Senses of the Season’?

It’s beginning to look alot like Christmas…

Everywhere you go….

One of the wonderful things about this time of the year is that it is steeped in all the essential elements that help stir and awaken the areas in our brains that have to do with memory.finishing_well-in-life-gingerbreadment

Songs. After my Mama was unable to carry on a conversation or even speak, she was still able to sing. On good days, I could pull one of her ‘heart songs’ out of her. Perhaps it is because, as my husband says, “Music does not reside in the brain, it lives in the soul.” Heart songs are special. Not every song learned becomes a ‘heart song’, only the ones that somehow get embedded into the fabric of our souls. Of all the songs that a person might learn over the course of their lifetime, Christmas songs are very likely on the list. Whether your loved one believes that Jesus is the reason for the Season, or Santa Clause is coming to town, find out what songs stir, and awaken the music inside.

Smells. Recent studies have shown there is indeed a benefit to smelling: The actual process of smelling helps stimulate the neural pathways in our brain to keep them clear or even encourage new branches. The Christmas season brings with it a whole gaggle of smells. From freshly cut pine, to warm Christmas cookies and a host of other, unique fragrances and aromas that arise during this time of the year. Do you have memories of certain smells associated with Christmas? If your loved one is your parent, perhaps those would be the ones to begin with.

Visual memories. Just as ‘music serves as a potent trigger for retrieving memories’, decorate, or collect bits and pieces that may stimulate a lifetime of Christmas memories. Did your loved one have favorite Christmas decorations? If you don’t know, perhaps ask family members or try the standard items that might trigger nostalgia such as garland, poinsettias and lights and bells. Memory Museums are popping up in many places that seem to help patients return to long-term memories of childhood and growing up.

If you are not already incorporating any of these suggestions, give them a try during this Christmas season. Of course, the nice thing about caring for someone who is no longer reading a calendar, Christmas could happen on a very regular basis.

Please share your Christmas season songs, smells and memories with us

More on: Neurobic exercises

In a previous post, ”Upside Down and Backwards”, I wrote about the benefits of Neurobic on brain function.

According to SheKnows.com Neurobics is the science of brain exercise.

Neurobic exercises in a nutshell are: Doing the ordinary things in new, surprising and unexpected ways. Break routines. Use your five physical senses as well as your emotional sense in unexpected ways to help you to shake up your everyday routines

A website called Physiotherapy-treatment.com  provides several Neurobic exercises to try. You don’t need to make too many changes at once, attempt things and find out what works for you. Develop a mindset that asks, “How can I do this differently?”

Since neurobic exercises can help make a person’s brain more responsive to mental challenges, they could actually enhance the quality of life for both care-giver and those being cared for.

According to “Keep Your Brain Alive” by Lawrence C. Katz, Ph.D.,
there are conditions that make an exercise Neurobic.

It should do one or more of the following:

  1. Involve one or more of your senses in a novel context. By blunting the sense you normally use, force yourself to rely on other senses to do an ordinary task. For instance: Get dressed for work with your eyes closed. Eat a meal with your family in silence. Or combine two or more senses in unexpected ways: Listen to a specific piece of music while smelling a particular aroma.

  2. Engage your attention. To stand out from the background of everyday events and make your brain go into alert mode, an activity should be unusual, fun.

Begin with your morning routine:

They suggest such activities as, changing the usual smell you wake up to in the morning. Instead of coffee or tea, using a different smell or freshly baked bread will activate new neural pathways and change your usual morning olfactory association. Also try vanilla, citrus, peppermint, or rosemary. Keep an extract of your favorite aroma in an airtight container on your bedside table for a week and release it when you first awaken, and then again as you bathe and dress. By consistently linking a new odor with your morning routine, you are activating new neural pathways.

  1. Shower with your eyes closed. Locate the taps and adjust the temperature and flow using just your tactile senses. (Make sure your balance is good before you try this and use common sense to avoid burning or injury.) In the shower locate all necessary props by feel, then wash, shave, and so on, with your eyes shut. Your hands will probably notice varied textures of your own body you aren’t aware of when you are “looking.”

Physioherapy-treatment.com also offers some of the following suggestions:

  1. Use your non-dominant hand to eat food, brush hair or write. Also try brushing your teeth (don’t forget to open the tube and apply toothpaste in reverse, too).
  2. To use the side of your brain you don’t normally use close your eyes to wash, dress, open the front door, find your keys. This will help you strengthen your sense of touch.
  3. Getting dressed with the eyes closed.

These are only a few. Give them a try. I’ll keep a look-out for more and post them periodically.

Benefit from it, you will. 😉

“I’ll be me”

“I am a lineman for the county, and I drive the main road.
Searchin’ in the sun for another overload.
I hear you singin’ in the wire,
I can hear you through the whine, and the Wichita lineman is still on the line”

If you began singing along while reading those words, then perhaps you were also one of the Glen Campbell fans back in 1968 when this song was “singin’ in the wire” and right into the hearts and lives of both country and pop music fans.

I owned several of his albums when I was little. At the time, I didn’t know what type of music it was, but just knew I loved every song Glen Campbell sang.

My husband and I just watched a documentary called “Glen Campbell: I’ll be me” that is both inspiring and encouraging. It was about his Farwell Tour that the family embarked on after he received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. The tour was originally scheduled to be a three-to-five-week goodbye tour, but ended up completing 151 concerts over a year and a half.

The documentary was filmed by Hollywood producer and Campbell’s long-time friend, James Keach, who also produced the award-winning Walk the Line, about Johnny and June Cash.

“Glen and his family are so in the moment, so supportive of one another and have really dedicated their life to changing the face of Alzheimer’s in America,” Keach says. “I think Glen’s legacy won’t just be music. It will be what he’s done with this journey with Alzheimer’s.”

The tour included three of his children in the back-up band. When discussing the tour and how Glen was able to accomplish it, his son, Cal Campbell sais “Maybe in his current state of haziness when he connects to something that he’s been doing for so long or brings him so much joy, I think he becomes himself again.”

Their attitude is to take each day as it comes, make the most of everyday, enjoy life and try to have fun. His son, Shannon Campbell added, “It’s not all bad, really. We get to celebrate his life while he’s still around.”

That is good advise whether you’re loved one is famous, rich and talented, or a simple soul. Try to do the activities that bring the most joy and celebrate life each day.

Kim, his wife of over 30 years, says, “We prepare for tomorrow, but try not to worry about tomorrow or else we can’t enjoy today.”

When asked how he wanted to be remembered, he responded, “Just for what I am. I’m Glenn Campbell and I believe in God, I believe in other people. Treat others like the way you want to be treated and help others who are less fortunate.”

The documentary ends with his song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”, which are both irony and a sad commentary considering the challenges he faces in life.

Good Bye, Glen, we’re going to miss you.

Are you a Glen Campbell fan? What is your favorite song?



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