Tag Archives: laughter

Road Scholars

While my husband Wayne was a tour bus driver, some of his favorite trips were the “Road Scholar” excursions.

Wayne driving a tour bus through the beautiful Trinity Alps in Northern California.

Their adventures took them to a wide variety of interesting places – not just the touristy spots, but also out-of-the-way destinations with educational value.

That is why I was so pleased when I learned that the Road Scholars would be offering Caregiver Grants to adults age 50 and over who help care for a loved one. The grant would also offset the costs of arranging substitute care while attending a Road Scholar learning adventure.

You are an eligible caregiver if you are the primary unpaid caregiver providing daily care and support for an ill or disabled family member (spouse, parent, adult child, partner or sibling).

A quote found on the page of the Road Scholar website states: “The leaders took a personal interest in me, and in each of the participants. They understood I was on a respite from caregiving for my daughter who is very ill and in hospice care. I felt I had permission to sleep as much as I needed and to socialize only as much as I was able. Each presented their topics in such a way that I was inspired to learn more when I got home, or to restart former activities such as painting and Tai Chi. They gave me a new lease on life and I am so grateful.” — Road Scholar Caregiver Grant Recipient

If you are a caregiver, or know someone who might benefit from a Road Scholar trip, please check out their website: Road Scholar’s Caregiver Grants

If you have any questions regarding Caregiver Grants, you may contact Participant Services by emailing registration@roadscholar.org, or by calling toll free at (877) 426-8056, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., ET.

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 

The Messenger

Muriel Aasve Blankenship (Mama)

Over the past decade or so, my Mama’s communication skills progressively deteriorated throughout the entire journey of the disease called dementia (perhaps Alzheimer’s).  The first indicators that something was wrong began to manifest as seemingly normal conversations included statements that were repeated over and over (We referred to those incidents as her loop).

As time went on, her conversation skills melted slowly away as her ability to string sentences together decreased.  At first it was a back and forth thing – there were good days and bad. The good days gave us hope, while the bad days confirmed we were still on the same downhill path.

For a period of time, Mama retained what I called ‘Muscle Memory responses’. For example, if you asked her how she was doing, she would respond, “Fine.” Or, “Would you like something to drink?” her answer might be “No”, but then she would proceed to pick up the glass and drink it right down.

Mama’s ability to sing remained long after her ability to speak went silent. We knew a lot of songs and so the majority of our visits were spent singing. Eventually, her ability to sing left as well, so I sang all the songs for both of us.

In spite of the fact that her voice was silenced, Mama still had the ability to communicate with her eyes. Quite often when I was singing, reading or praying, her eyes would fill and tears would roll down her cheeks. I found a few Psalms, such as Psalm 23 and 71 that seemed to fit her so I read them to her over and over. I knew they would minister to her spirit so it felt as if I could still ‘do’ something for her.

Over the course of this extraordinarily long journey, various folks would comment that it seemed such a shame about her condition. I had more than one conversation with the Lord regarding it as well. Early on, our family was determined that we would do everything possible to help Mama finish well, but there were times that I wondered just what could be the purpose for this lingering a little longer.

Then one day while reading Psalm 71 to her, I noticed something. Verse 18 says, “And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Thy strength to this generation, Thy power to all who are to come.

I wondered how Mama, who couldn’t even speak, be able to declare anything about God to anyone? I gave it some thought. I pondered it. I wondered.  Revelation came to me over time. I learned that the word ‘declare’ could also mean ‘messenger’.

Mama was a messenger. Her life was a message that didn’t need words. She silently communicated that God did not forsake her.  In spite of the long, downward journey into the valley of the “Shadow of Death” that lasted over a decade, Mama’s sweet quietness steadily declared God’s strength to everyone around her.

This season also gave her family something else. Time. The extra time we were given allowed us the opportunity to show her honor. Honor due a parent and honor to a fellow human being. We had time not only to care for her, but her condition opened doors that we never would have otherwise walked through.  We were able to get to know both residents and caregivers alike, and these visits were full of chats, sharing the love of Jesus, joys and concerns as well as praying and singing. Perhaps even providing hope to someone else on a journey that God will give them strength as well.

The day came and Jesus sent the angels; her work here was done. Mama finished well.

It’s beginning to look , (smell & sound) a lot like Christmas

One of my favorite Christmas decorations.

🎼Jingle Bells, Yuletide smells, Christmas on display – bringing back the memories of a long past Christmas day.

A Christmas tree trimmed with old fashioned decorations and stockings hung by the fire along with the wonderful smells of gingerbread mingling with the sharp fragrance of pine and familiar songs of the season all work together to invoke memories of Christmas past.  Our senses are doorways through which memories can flow.

According to an article in LiveScience.com, Brain’s Link Between Sounds, Smells and Memory Revealed: Sights, sounds and smells can all evoke emotionally charged memories. A new study in rats suggests why: The same part of the brain that’s in charge of processing our senses is also responsible, at least in part, for storing emotional memories…Previously, scientists had not considered these sensory brain regions all that important for housing emotional memories, said study researcher Benedetto Sacchetti, of the National Institute of Neuroscience in Turin, Italy.

Since the Christmas season is chalk-full of sensory delights, this is the perfect time to take advantage of anything that could stir up memories in your loved one.

For example, if making gingerbread houses or gingerbread men was a beloved annual tradition, then the smell of gingerbread baking or the sight of a gingerbread house could trigger fond emotional memories of happy times past.

The Christmas wreath on our front door.

Pine trees are another seasonal smell that is fairly easy to come by this time of the year– even just a few boughs can produce that wonderful fragrance.

According to Fifth Sense, The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses.

Besides smells, the sights associated with Christmas such as decorated trees, poinsettias and twinkling lights might provoke a sense of joy accompanied by a memory or two of yesteryear.

Sounds abound as well this time of the year. Christmas songs and hymns are ring out everywhere you go – stores, coffee shops and even offices. Churches sing many of the beloved Christmas hymns and if your loved one has attended church prior to developing dementia, going to a service will provide a plethora of sights, sounds and smells of the season.

Since the senses are connected to memories, it is possible to provide your loved one with memory-triggering pleasures year around, but at Christmas, it is almost as if the whole world is in this process with you. So as much as possible, take the time to enjoy the sweet-smelling, merry, twinkling, singing most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas!

Jack Hansen re-retires (again)

55 years in the world of education just might be enough for Jack Hansen, but he’s not saying for certain that the third time for retiring will be the charm. When asked why he continued to return, he responded simply, “I missed it.”

Jack was recently recognized by the School Board for all that he has done to enhance education in California.

Todd Brose, Superintendent of Red Bluff Joint Union High said, “Jack Hansen has had a profound impact on education during his 55-year career. As an educational leader in Tehama County, he collaborated with many school districts developing leaders and finding solutions for the betterment of students. Red Bluff Joint Union High School District thanks him for his service and wishes him the best of luck. Thank you Jack.

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Jack Hansen

He came by his love for the teaching profession honestly as his mother and older sister were both teachers (his father was an attorney), and he was able to see first-hand both the rewards and challenges of the classroom. He didn’t initially plan to go into teaching, but after doing some volunteer work during college, he became hooked.

When Jack began kindergarten in 1944, his teacher might not have predicted that he would have a career in education: On the first day of school once he realized that his mother had left the room, he had a couple of tearful hours adjusting, by the end of the day, all was good.

Jack’s career began back in 1961 when he taught in Sacramento. In 1966 he was hired in Yuba City as a principle and at the age of 27 he was the youngest person on staff as well as the youngest principle in the state of California.

Jack’s vocation, which spanned from teacher, to principle, to superintendent, and school board member has taken him to a variety of counties, but Hansen believes that the 25 years he spent in Tehama County were some of the most enjoyable.

There have been many changes in the world of education over the past several decades, but Jack believes that the one thing that has not changed is the need to interact with the kids and building relationships. There are more electronics and tools for teaching, but it still comes down to interaction.

If Jack had to name his most rewarding and most challenging positions, he replied that they were both at the same time. He spent a year in a dual role as Superintendent of Red Bluff Elementary and Principle of Vista Middle School in the early 1990s.

Jack and his wife Cindy love to travel – especially enjoying river cruises, they have been fortunate to have visited a good part of the world. They have 8 children and 10 grandchildren, most live in California and one even lives in Red Bluff – they love spending as much time as possible with them.

Being an avid golfer, one thing that Jack really enjoys about retirement is that he gets to get out on the golf course about three times a week.

When asked again if he was done, he replied: “If something challenging or interesting comes up again, I’ll consider returning to the workplace.”

Only time will tell.



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 

Whimsical joy

While engaging in a lovely chat with a friend of mine, I learned that she had recently embarked on a journey of caregiving. I wanted to give her a word of encouragement or comfort. She didn’t ask for advice, although she had said that she read my book,  “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey” and had gleaned some information which she felt might be helpful and ideas that she would try to keep in mind.

My heart broke with the knowledge of what would likely be a long journey ahead of her. It is no easy task. Many of our loved ones require constant supervision and need help with everyday activities. I hoped that she would have the strength to endure in the difficult times. She mentioned that this was not something she had taken on alone – which is such a blessing as it divides the load and shares both the joy and sorrow. Since she is a believer, my friend will also be drawing on the strength and comfort that comes from the Lord.

Joy is what will be needed for this endeavor. I encouraged my friend to find as much joy as possible by finding social networks and opportunities for her loved one to laugh and smile.

Look for ways to increase the music artistic expression in their world. Sometimes it will be a challenge to go out in public due to mobility limitations or possible inappropriate behaviors.

My sister, Peggy Whitten has a great saying that I love to quote when it comes to caring for a loved one: “They can’t enter your reality, you have to enter theirs.”

Some days their reality may seem like you’ve stumbled upon a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. That’s okay. Try to discover what activities you’re loved one might enjoy doing, (although this may change over time).  I would encourage you to venture out when you can. Help your loved one go to their place of worship, attend concerts, browse art galleries, feed ducks at the park, or visit a zoo.

Do whatever your loved one enjoyed prior to dementia and even add a few activities whenever possible.  When it comes to food, help your loved one share a meal with others whenever possible, whether it’s at a restaurant, with a church group, or a local senior center. Dining with others may also help promote better nutrition which is crucial.

Is there something that will give your loved one a sense of purpose? finishing_well_in_life_towelsMy Mama enjoyed folding towels. I often would bring them to her still warm from the dryer – she would hug the pile of towels and smile large. Eventually, she would begin folding and stacking them next to her. She enjoyed it so much that I must admit there were a few times I took clean, folded towels out of the linen closet to toss them into the dryer in order to give her something to fold. She also loved sorting colored beads and picking nits off of sweaters.

Anything, no matter how silly it seems, if it helps your loved one feel as if they can still do something to contribute is a worthwhile activity. Remember, the journey can be long, use your imagination to lighten the load and find all the whimsical joy you can.

Retired banker investing in his community

Everett McDonough is a man who never stops reading. He routinely reads about 200 books a year. He has settled on a favorite spot in his lovely living room surrounded by family portraits and mementos to enjoy all his books. There are plenty of regular books, but I noticed that a Kindle and smartphone were at his fingertips. Ev has certainly kept up with the technology of the day as attested to by the beautiful classical music courtesy of Pandora emanating from his Sonos speakers system.finishing_well_in_life_ev

Born in 1934, his family moved to Yonkers, NY in 1935. He was raised in the neighborhood of Bryn Mawr and attended public schools. Ev received his BA in Economics and History at Cornell University.

While at Cornell, he was in the Air Force ROTC. Ev served as a commissioned officer after graduation working as an Aircraft Navigator in the Air Force. After his discharge, he was fortunate enough spend a summer as a tour guide throughout Europe for the children of a close family friend.

Returning to the US, Ev earned an MBA at Columbia University and was immediately hired by Security First National Bank of Los Angeles. After graduation in the early 60s, he came out to California and eventually settled in the Pasadena area. More schooling was ahead as he attended Pacific Coast Banking School in the University of Washington, Seattle on behalf of the bank. He graduated with honors from the three-year summer program.

Ev’s father, who has a PhD in Organic Chemistry instilled into him the importance of giving back to your community. Taking it to heart, Ev became involved with the Pasadena Jr. Chamber, and both the Los Angeles and Pasadena Rotary Clubs. His boss was the National Chairman of American Red Cross and Ev was fortunate to work closely with him on several projects.

Ev loved his work and had a successful career in banking. He was told once that his successes were not from luck, but that he was able to use experiences that came his way. He retired from Security Pacific Bank as a Sr. Vice President.

After retirement, he stayed in the Pasadena area until he discovered Red Bluff while visiting friends. He moved north shortly afterward. Ev immediately jumped into activities and associations with both feet. In fact, he began attending the Red Bluff Rotary Club meetings before he even moved to the area.

Other areas of interest include the Friends of the library, SIRS (Seniors in Retirement), St. Elizabeth Development Committee, Tehama Concert Series, P.E.T.S., Board member of The Grove and my personal favorite – where I became acquainted with Ev: Tehama County Tax-Aide program, that he has headed up for the past several years. He is also very active in the Presbyterian Church.

Knowing Ev, there are probably many other involvements as well. He did mention that it might be time for him to cut back and slow down a bit – we’ll see how that goes.

In 2008, Ev was named ‘Senior Citizen of the Year’ at the annual Farm/City night. Ev loves animals and is the personal valet of his three cats. He thinks he owns them, but the cats know better. Everywhere Ev goes he changes and enriches the community around him.

When asked why he is so involved, he responded, “There’s no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. I appreciate the opportunities that are here and I feel an obligation to give back to the community.



 

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 

Allen Barker marches to a different drum

finishing-well-in-life-alle
Allen Barker signs his book, “The Billy The Kid Quiz”

I thought I was going to interview a drummer. I’d gotten a tip from a friend whose band plays oldies for several of the care homes in the area. He said there was a resident at Brookdale who is over 100 years old and when they visit there to play, he brings out a drum set and joins them.  I was intrigued, so I made arrangements to meet with this centenarian drummer.

As soon as I met Allen Barker, I knew it was going to be an interesting visit. His spacious suite is filled with photos, books, and of course, the drum set. I settled in to begin asking my standard questions beginning with “How old are you?”

He replied, “One hundred and one and one-half years old.”

When you are over one hundred, it makes sense to count the months as well. From there he began talking, and I took notes furiously while he spoke.

During our conversation, I learned that he was more than a drummer – much more. I discovered he had quite a heritage and history. Way back in the 1800s his great-grandparents were forced to migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma in a journey called the “Trail of Tears”.

Born in 1914 in Evansville, Arkansas, his family moved to New Mexico where he spent his formative years.  Allen began taking violin lessons as a young lad. With a twinkle in his eye, he said that the ability to play the violin got him into most dance halls for free.

After a couple of stints in the army involving both horses and ships, he earned his B.A Degree in Language Arts from Eastern New Mexico University,  and a Master’s Degree in Earth Science from East Texas State.

Living all over the South West, his jobs were as diverse as the places he lived; teaching, geology, mine surveying, and even one profession I had never heard of before: Gandy dancing.

According to Wikipedia :

Gandy dancer is a slang term used for early railroad workers who laid and maintained railroad tracks in the years before the work was done by machines. Since the work needed to be done in a coordinated effort, they would sing songs to keep the rhythm while they worked. To an onlooker, it appeared they were dancing.

With a smile, he told me how he would hop a train and ride it until it came to a job site and then he would simply ask the foreman of the crew for work. He enjoyed it – the work was hard, but the pay was good.

Besides being musical, his talent for writing opened many doors as well. He has contributed to newspapers and magazines such as ‘True West’, and worked as a reporter for ‘All That Jazz’. However, his main writing interest centered on the renowned resident of the Southwest, ‘Billy The Kid’. Allen is a wealth of information and he has written three books on the legendary outlaw. His expertise developed over time as he lived in every Southwestern community the Kid did, from Silver City to the Texas Panhandle.

Allen is still married to Lillian, the love of his life, whom he married in 1943. Drumming, it turns was more of an afterthought when he found he didn’t have the dexterity for the violin, but had plenty of rhythm.

When I asked Allen about what he attributed his long life to, he gave me another one of his famous smiles and responded:

“I have lived this long, not due to making good choices, but rather making interesting choices – but then they turned out to be good.”



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.

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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 

Curry some goodness

I love it when a study comes out that touts the benefits of a food I love. As you might guess from the title of this post, today’s topic is curry. Turns out that curry has some secrets hidden in all it’s yellow goodness.

A new trial by Australian scientists suggests that eating curry on a weekly basis may keep dementia at bay as we age.

Published in the British Journal of Nutrition, the study identifies yellow spice turmeric, which contains curcumin – an ingredient used in many curry dishes. It is thought that the curcumin blocks rogue proteins called beta amyloid, which clump together and destroy neurons.

Curry is a dietary staple in India, a country where the rate of Alzheimer’s disease is among the world’s lowest.

According to a story posted by WebMD, researchers say curry’s powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties make it a very attractive possibility for treating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, and heart disease.

finishingwellinlife-turmeri

My husband and I had learned about the possible benefits of turmeric, so we began the practice of eating a spoonful of mustard, (which contains turmeric) each day. I love mustard, so it wasn’t a problem, but my husband thought it might be nice to see if perhaps it came in pill form. Fortunately, it does!

In light of this finding, we recently went to one of our favorite Thai restaurants to order some yummy, curry-laden dishes. When the food arrived, the waitress asked if I would like some chopsticks. I was feeling adventurous, and (while retaining my fork) I said, “Yes”.

I quickly discovered another brain sharpening feature of eating curry: Using chopsticks. Since I’m not very good with them, it is a good neurobic exercise for me.  Neurobic exercises in a nutshell are: Doing the ordinary things in new, surprising and unexpected ways.

I wrote about neurobics in a previous post: “Upside Down and Backwards”     Of course, if you are already handy with chopsticks, it may not be that helpful for you, but still fun nevertheless.

If you really want to get a wonderful, dementia bashing benefit from eating curry, then here’s one more tip. Grab a friend – or several to join you for dinner. Studies show that social engagement – talking, laughing and sharing with others is good for your brain.

Are you beginning to feel hungry? Why not make a plan to ‘curry’ some goodness in the near future.