Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sit down with your dad 2

I hate it when I hit the wrong key too soon before I've finished the post. Read the first one below and then this one.

ANYWAY, my dad and I had a chance to talk while I introduced my new Alzheimer's book to the world. I told him how I've finally started investing in myself in the last year and how much more self-confidence and courage I have to change this world for the better, whether it's ready to be improved or not.

Then he told me a story about himself I had never heard before. He told of how he was class president when he was in the sixth grade and how he wanted to be a leader. However, as his school career progressed, his parents discouraged and didn't allow him to engage socially with his classmates after school, which disappointed him. His parents had no money to send him, the eldest of their four children, to college, where my dad so desperately wanted to go because he knew an education was the path to getting ahead in this world.

After high school graduation, Dad met a man who was building a company and offered my dad a chance to go to college. This guy would pay his way. All the details were arranged, and my dad turned in his notice to quit his job and even had a celebration with his friends as he prepared to embark on this new life adventure.

But then this man's company suddenly had some financial difficulties, and he left town … and my dad's dreams behind.

Dad looked off into the distance while he told this story, and I couldn't miss the sadness in his eyes and the way he sighed. He ended up taking some night classes for a while, but he never got the college degree that he wanted so badly. His attention turned to getting a good job, married and having a child, me. Even though he had a successful career, he wondered how far he would have gone if he had had that degree.

In this moment, I really hated that jerk who let my dad down. Now, I certainly better understand his pride when I graduated from college at age 21. I also realized that the tiniest change in history affects everything that follows. Who would I be if my dad had completed college? Would I even be here? Sorry, but I can't resist one of those philosophical questions that pop into my head every day …

I've talked with many people through the years who have complained about things their parents did or didn't do. I know I've done the same as I looked at everything from MY perspective, not theirs. One of the hardest life lessons we learn is that when we get to know our parents as individuals, as ordinary people, we better understand the decisions they've made, the disappointments they've experienced, the everyday challenges they've faced as human beings, what gave them joy.

Suddenly they're one of "us." While that can be heartbreaking in some instances, it's also very heartwarming and comforting.

Sit down today with your mom, dad, step-mom, step-dad, mom-in-law, dad-in-law and have THE talk about the REAL facts of life. This session is far less technical than that silly story about the birds and the bees.

That's Sit Down With Your Dad 101.

Sit down with your dad

My dad and step-mom came over from Indiana to keep me company while I sat at my booth at the Alzheimer's Association conference Monday evening and all day Tuesday. With gas at $3.60 a gallon, that was definitely a HUGE sacrifice.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Breaking the ice at a funeral

I wish I knew how much I had blushed after providing unexpected comic relief at the recent funeral for my dear friend's father-in-law. What a great endorsement for my web site … "Monica knows how to break the ice at a funeral …"

I volunteered to create a DVD with photos so that family and friends would be reminded more of Bill's life than his death in this time. Genny had given me photos of her dad-in-law to incorporate in the DVD, and it was so beautiful up on this big screen in the room where the service was held. Everybody was raving about how wonderful it was, and how appropriate the music was that I had selected with care, none of that mundane mourning music.

Genny's brother came up and gave me a hug and thanked me for making the DVD and how it had only two small errors. I immediately panicked. He started laughing when he told me that the very first photo of Bill as a boy WASN'T Bill as a boy. It was his brother. A couple of people around us jumped into the laughter and I couldn't resist joining in. Then the second one, the really BIG one was that Bill's boys were quite sure that it wasn't their mother smooching their dad in a 1940s photo. Even mom who was right there wasn't sure either.

The old, quiet, easily embarrassed me would have run away and never been seen again, but Genny's husband and his brother were also chuckling and thanked me for the comic relief when they hugged me. So, the minister from the hospice gave his remarks at the service while the DVD was still running — without the music — and every time these two images came up on the screen as the DVD looped, anyone who knew the truth had to fight to keep from bursting out laughing as word was spreading of the oops. Nobody was looking at the minister. They were all looking at the screen. During a prayer later, I kept my focus on the photos, which chased away most of the tears. And Genny had a great laugh, too.

And I knew Bill was laughing, because that's the kind of man he was. I had rarely seen him without his oxygen in the decade or so that I had known him, but the clear tubing never hid his smile. He made the BEST apple pies ever, and they always filled the dessert table during the holiday dinners my husband, son and I enjoyed with the family because they always made room for us.

Engaging Bill in conversation was a challenge for me in the beginning. He had a soft, low voice, especially with the oxygen, and you had to get near to make sure you could hear. And I loved to hear his stories, though I had not heard as many as the rest of the family. One day, he shared with me a short, though painful and priceless, glimpse of his memories of World War II and the horrors that he had witnessed.

As I scanned in Bill's US Army photos for the memorial DVD, all I could see was the face of a boy … a young, far too young, man forced to travel half-a-world away to save all the world. I could only imagine his fear and shock when he saw how cruel mankind could be.

This past week, I wondered if that influenced his decision to be an avid gardener in his free time, to find beauty beyond the dirt, to appreciate the bounty of food and radiating color the earth provides. How amazing it is that nature remembers the seasons well and gives us reasons to celebrate the annual planting and harvesting that nourishes our bodies and minds. I was always amazed at those huge hands of his. That must have been just another of Bill's gifts.

Yes, as he tends the heavenly rainbow of colorful flowers in God's garden, Bill has to be smiling. Just tell us this: Who's that you're smooching in the photo?

That's Breaking the Ice at a Funeral 101.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

I did it my way

I do apologize for taking tooooo long of a break since my last post. However, I had some pressing challenges, of which the primary one was completing my newest book called "Help ME Cope & Survive! Alzheimer's, Dementia & Memory Loss: Straight Talk for Families and Caregivers."

It was just like giving birth for the 12th time … though my son is the only one of the dozen that talks back to me.

I am excited beyond words about this book, this baby, this heartfelt creation of mine. Holding it in my hands as it came off the press binder, still warm from its journey along the conveyer belt, just like the birth canal, was only a lot less messy.

I love this book. I love everything about it. The laughter, the tears, the embraces, the hellos, the farewells, the confidence all these individuals had in me to tell their story with accuracy and empathy. Perhaps what I safeguard most of all is the renewed confidence in myself that I could do this my way … as I heard Elvis and Frank Sinatra singing it in the background the whole time.

This week, I had a "facts of life" talk with several individuals I love. I made it clear that I'm on near-tunnel vision as I was adament about helping pockets of pain in this universe, whether they're ready to be helped or not. In recent months, I've invested in myself for the first time in my life. It ain't cheap, but life's too short to do otherwise.

Everything has been going soooooo well for me, perhaps too well, as I encountered a huge pothole in my everyday work this last week. Maybe it was time for a bump to make sure I'm still on course. My husband and I had technical difficulties in presenting a video I had created. Nothing went right with the sound. Though I was mortified in the dimmed lights until it started working properly, I reminded myself that shit happens. I just didn't believe it until about an hour later while sitting at my desk, I willed myself to agreed that you-know-what happens, so keep moving on because I refuse to be defined by one mishap.

And I have sooooooo much more to share!!

That's how I DId It My Way 101