Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Alzheimer's: Avoid avoidance

“Some forgetfulness, repeating conversations. She would have episodes of like going into a ‘stupor.’ ”

That’s one woman’s vivid description of the transformation she witnessed in her mother as she succumbed to dementia. We do not want to believe that someone we love could have such drastic personality changes or seem to have “lost it.” Those transformations require families to avoid avoidance and seek answers.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Alzheimer's: Was it a stroke?

“I thought at first he had a small stroke,” says one wife, “then thought he was worked up due to worry about treatments he was to have for prostate cancer.”

Not all cases of memory loss are permanent or forerunners of Alzheimer’s. Episodes of memory loss might be attributed to outside factors … concern about loved ones, anxiety over work or responsibilities, poor diet or worry about personal health issues, such as facing cancer.

Families need to learn to pay attention to what’s “normal” and what’s not because they know this individual better than anyone.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Alzheimer's: If you could read my mind

“My father ‘knew’ before his diagnosis that he had trouble remembering.”

Is this one of those times in life when you wish you could read someone’s mind? How enlightened or frightened would we be if we could witness the unspoken fears, questions, anger or prayers of someone who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, dementia or memory loss? Try to imagine how you would react.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

I forgot it was Panic Day!

Oh no, how could I forget Panic Day! Was it yesterday or today? I'm in a panic because I can't remember!

This is getting bad when I'm actively searching for new things to worry, no, panic about (in the spirit of the day).

Yesterday, my accountant just looked at me, shook her head and smiled like she does every March when I stumble in with my surprisingly organized paperwork. She's the one who taught me the basics of Excel so that I could make HER life easier.

And my new cell phone, just about 5 or 6 weeks old, is draining the battery at too fast a pace. I stopped at the place where I purchased it and my two-year contract, the same place we've gone the last decade, and explained that it must not be working properly because it was fine until the last week or so. And the guy has the nerve to tell me I should be GLAD I get two days out of the battery. And I said that's unacceptable because I'm really not on it that much, and it is new and under warranty. He told me where I could get it repaired in town or to bring it back and they'd have to ship it in for repair, which would likely take a month.

Should he have been surprised when I just turned around, without saying thank you, and left? I think he was because I should have been GLAD, no, EXCITED, no, ECSTATIC that I should settle for two days battery life on my phone.

Well, settle for this, bud … ppppppplllllllllllbbbbbbbbb!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Have a happy Panic Day, unless it was yesterday … Oh, heck, I'll take another one since my battery lasts for two d...........

Friday, March 27, 2009

National "Joe" Day

What an interesting concept: everybody can call themselves "Joe" today. I'm not sure who decreed this observation, but I kinda like it.

Actually I don't know all that many Joe's, though there is one who has a special place in my heart and is certainly no "average" Joe. Unfortunately, I've only known him a few years and didn't get to know him better before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Oh, but the stories I've heard about him before that have entertained me for many, many hours.

Even if it's not MY Joe, everybody should know a Joe who makes them laugh, who does funny impersonations.

Or today, be that Joe yourself because a lot of the folks who surround us need that spark of humor today more than ever.

And it's perfectly legal because it's a holiday!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mad as hell at brain tumors and cancer!

I hate brain tumors and cancer! I despise them with such an intense passion!

I just learned that a young man I met in Phoenix last summer has died after his brain cancer returned. A beloved husband, father, son, brother, friend and inspiring speaker. It's not right, it's not fair, it never is.

I attended the funeral of a 60-something woman last fall, a lovely individual who had been kind enough to let me interview her for my upcoming book on coping with brain tumors-brain cancer. Her straight talk was refreshing and thought-provoking. It was a wisdom instilled by her many years as a teacher, a woman who had to overcome some tough obstacles along the way, a mother who worked tirelessly when it was all up to her to care for three daughters.

She was much beloved by family and friends, and it was easy to see why.

I attended the memorial service for a 40-something man earlier this year, a bold, yet gentle soul who emptied his heart to tell me for my book how he was coping with his brain tumors, and what inspired and terrified him. He often minced no words and wasn't ashamed to cry in front of someone who was a total stranger to him until we met on that late summer evening, and I allowed my tears to flow, too. He was gifted and an inspiration to countless legions of fans and admirers.

He was much beloved by family and friends, and it was easy to see why.

And this other young man, the one who just passed away, I met him briefly in Phoenix, and we were going to talk by phone so he could also share his story.

I forgot to call.

I forgot to call.

At that moment, I was also mad as hell at myself for not remembering to contact him. I should have talked to him within a few weeks after we met, while everything was still fresh, while my mind still echoed with his determined words that he was going to beat this because he loved his family, his beautiful wife, and how he was going to be there to watch his kids grow up.

I forgot to call.

And in that moment of sadness and rage I forgot I was human.

When I halted my angry pace from the kitchen to the living room and back again, I knew there were several lessons I had to commit to heart from this experience. I needed to organize the writing of my books in a different way, to develop "priority lists" for interviews and more efficient ways of compiling materials and notes so that I could create more effective volumes that would help other families going through difficult life challenges.

Does that sound selfish? Does that sound trivial? No, my gut tells me it's not because it shows that the positive ripple of this young man's life will continue to create gentle and enduring waves of compassion and awareness for a very, very long time, touching lives he could have never imagined, including mine.

And how truly blessed I am and will always be.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hello Mo-Na!

It rained Tuesday in central Illinois … the kind of start and stop … pour and shine … spit and shower … the kind of day when you were certain Mother Nature just couldn't make up her mind. You were pulling out sunglasses one minute and running in search of cover the next. Yep, spring has sprung … a leak.

Well, Mo-Na (short for Mother Nature), it's time you join the millions of us human beings who are having trouble making up our minds in these goofy times. We don't know whether to laugh or cry some days, so we understand your indecision, too.

We're supposed to spend. We're supposed to save.

We're supposed to speed up. We're supposed to slow down.

We're supposed to take care of others. We're supposed to take care of our own.

We're supposed to believe. We're supposed to question.

We're supposed to cry sometimes because it's good for us. We're supposed to laugh much more because it's better for us.

We're supposed to have hope. We're supposed to face reality.

So, Mo-Na, it's okay to be confused. Do what you need to do to get by in this crazy ol' world. I am!

P.S. Next time, just give me at least 70 degrees to go with the rain, and I'll dance barefoot in the puddles in your honor.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Alzheimer's: You start thinking

A husband wrote: “I was confused until my wife got fired from her job. After that you start thinking.”

We all have lapses of memory at times or days when our behavior seems a little out of character, often when we’re tired, stressed or feel like our brains are overloaded.

When it comes to conditions such as Alzheimer’s, dementia or memory, the change can be gradual. An observer may not make sense of a transformation until a person is diagnosed, and then a lot of past behavior can be explained. Sometimes, there’s a sudden wake-up call … an accident, getting lost while driving or losing a job … before it’s clear that something is wrong, terribly wrong.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Alzheimer's: Not just "old people"

“My vision of Alzheimer’s was something exclusive to old people.” That’s a powerful statement from a young man about his father who was diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia at age 51.

Our definition of old changes every day as we grow older. It seems to stretch further than ever before. The retirement age continues to creep upward as we work longer out of enjoyment or economic necessity. As we approach landmark birthdays, we don’t see ourselves as “old” as our parents or grandparents were at that age.

And we certainly don’t expect 50 year olds to be diagnosed with dementia or memory loss. However, it is happening. It is a reality, and that’s why we need to be more attentive than ever, to look for clues to unexplained behavior, to safeguard our loved ones’ health.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Response to comment

Monica.....we watched a movie on TV tonight about an Alzheimer's patient. Wife was bothered by it. Then, on the Newsmax.com website they were advertising books by Dr. Dan Amen, about Alzheimers. He has a Health Report. Are you familiar with his stuff?

Dear friend,

Thanks for writing. I am not familiar specifically with this Dr. Dan Amen you mentioned other than some articles about him on the Internet, which can be found in a Google or other search engine. He has a variety of theories about the brain overall and his theme is "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life." I have not done any research on him so I cannot offer any opinion on the validity of his claims.

Please remember that if you see an advertisement for a product on a website, it's a PAID placement and NOT a news article. There are so many theories out there on the cause and effect of Alzheimer's that it is truly difficult or frankly impossible to navigate them all and find the best information that meets your family's needs. That's why the Alzheimer's Association alz.org is a great resource because its staff follows the news closely and reports any breakthroughs or vital information that can keep families and professionals informed.

But we humans are curious beings and always searching for more answers when we're hurting … always hoping to find the one that will provide THE answer we want and that will ease our pain … If only it were that simple.

No matter the topic these days, the Internet has made the search for answers easier and more difficult because of the information overload, of which it seems there is a growing amount of material without any sources of reliable research. As a former newspaper reporter and editor and someone who is still quite meticulous about research, I find that distressing.

I can only imagine how difficult it was for your spouse to watch the show about Alzheimer's when she's been told this is what she has. Movies or TV specials about Alzheimer's are not easy to watch when you or a loved one is affected by this horrible disease. I'm not sure which show you're referring to, but it is sure hard to cram all the realities of several years into two hours or less.

Thanks again for sharing your questions and I hope I've helped. Please feel free to contact me directly at info@copeandsurvive.com.

Take care, friend.

National Goof-Off Day

OK, all in favor of celebrating National Goof-Off Day, say aye!

Hey, quit goofing off and say aye!

This is a great idea, but why is it on a weekend instead of during the week? That certainly takes all the fun and meaning out of the day. It must have been some mean old boss who proclaimed it.

Unfortunately, there are fewer people out there goofing off on the job because there are fewer jobs and those who still have them are too stressed out wondering if they're next out the door. That's why there have been quite a few media stories on whether it's better to be laid off or to be a survivor.

It's become a cruel working world out there. There are some bosses who are gutless and heartless in how they deliver the bad news. Those who send it via email, SHAME ON YOU! Those places that bring in guards to escort people out like they're criminals, SHAME ON YOU!

And employers wonder why there is less employee loyalty nowadays! Duh!!!

I'm so glad I'm self-employed … though confidentially, my boss can be a real b-…

"Hey back to work!"

"Nope, it's National Goof-Off Day!"

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Alzheimer's: Start the conversation

“Mentioning Alzheimer’s is a conversation stopper.”

That's a succinct description of Alzheimer's disease, straight from a caregiver who lives it every day.

The topic of Alzheimer's is not a cheery one. As it intrudes into more and more lives, it's becoming one of the scariest diseases out there. I talked to one woman who's single, has no children, and worries about who would care for her if she should develop it later in life.

There are no easy answers, and that's why we must start the conversation now. That's the only way we can cope with and survive the pain of dementia and memory loss.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Let's Laugh Day

Let's Laugh Day was actually yesterday but I guess I wasn't laughing enough to write about it before it arrived. Does that make sense …

ANYWAY, I think I laughed last week more than I have in a long time … all while I was down for the longest time with a blasted cold or whatever. I really think I had simply wore myself out from juggling too many books in my brain, and life seemed to screech to a halt. I couldn't focus on my computer screen because my vision was going wacko, and a couple days of vertigo every time I blew my nose was enough to send me spinning to the floor the first time and to gladly retire to bed after that.

And where does laughter come into this story? While wrapped up in bed with my electric blanket and two cats, I treated myself to some of my favorite comedies, both big and small screen features on my portable DVD player. And I laughed aloud for hours and forgot the rest of the world.

I laughed.
I giggled.
I chuckled.
I snickered.
I cackled.
I hooted.

I had not treated myself to that simple pleasure in days, no, weeks, maybe months … no, actually years.

I was way, way, way overdue for some mental health days. I'm not sure how much it cured the cold in my head, but it certainly cleansed my mind. I actually felt excited about tackling some writing projects again. And I forgave myself for falling behind on some stuff.

The world will not end and no one will die if I'm not perfect.

Now, THAT is definitely news worth celebrating … with a couple episodes of "I Love Lucy."

So, let's laugh today, tomorrow and the day after that …

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The tragedy of brain injuries

With great sadness I followed the details of actress Natasha Richardson's death from traumatic brain injury Wednesday, March 18. The shock wave that followed this news is to be expected. How could someone hit her head without any obvious external sign of bruising or blood, walk, talk, be just fine and then be brain dead within hours?

It makes no sense and it never will when we're talking about the brain.

While working on my upcoming book on coping with brain injuries, I have talked to individuals with traumatic brain injuries, their families and experts about a diagnosis that affects 1.4 million people in the United States every year. Of those, 50,000 die, which now claims Natasha, a wife and mother of two boys, as a statistic. The Brain Injury Association of America estimates 235,000 are hospitalized and 1.1 million are treated and released from an emergency department.

I've met people with brain injuries who seem just fine and others who are unable to care for themselves ever again. The message is that we must do exactly what the media docs are preaching right now after Natasha's death: don't ignore head injuries.

Protect your brain!!!! You've only got one!!!!!!!! And I've only begun to preach that message even more!!!!!!!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Alzheimer's: Seeing things

“Confusion and hallucinations, seeing people and things that weren’t there.”

That’s what one young lady remembers about her grandmother’s unusual behavior before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. That’s scary. That’s really scary when we see someone we love and admire so much confused by everything around her. How would you want someone to react if it were you?

That's why we have to take the time to listen. We may comprehend that they're seeing something that really isn't there, but our basic need to be heard is still part of our human make-up, and must be acknowledged especially at the moments that scare us the most.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A day 'o purple

If the Irish can have their day 'o green, then I should be able to have a day 'o purple.

And what would I celebrate on a day devoted to purple? Creativity.

A call to put down the guns and pick up a paintbrush to decorate a canvas with the beautiful images stirring deep within you …

To close the divorce and family courts to engage in the art of storytelling, to learn how to communicate the emotions we're afraid to express and how to really listen …

To send educational leaders, who haven't been inside a real school or actually talked with real children in years, into the classroom to learn how simple and important it is to stir a child's imagination into action that will last a lifetime, far longer than the answers to mundane tests that are forgotten as soon as the bell rings …

Okay, I hereby proclaim that June 9 of every year will be "Create a New World Day." Why June 9? It was the day my creative soul debuted in this world, so why not make it a holiday for everyone to discover or rediscover those creative spirits within each of us?

And don't forget to wear purple!

P.S. Happy St. Patrick's Day to everyone!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Alzheimer's: Get over YOUR fears

Are you afraid to talk to someone who has Alzheimer's, dementia or memory loss? Don't know what to say? If so, get past these fears right now.

• Just be yourself and talk about what comes naturally.

• Try to refrain from a lot of questions, especially, "Do you remember …"

• Make eye contact. That reassures them that they have your full attention. Make yourself available to them on their terms.

• Don't expect them to initiate a conversation because they may be uncomfortable in that role.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The last summer #3

The summer of ’99 offered him his first real job, a whole other dimension beyond household chores.

I must say he was braver than I was at his age. He talked to managers and asked for applications when a 17-year-old Monica had been terrified to even walk in the door. I admired him for that skill.

One afternoon, I watched him talk to a prospective employer on the telephone. The little boy was a man, although a young one, ready to enter the real working world. A sad, yet thrilling moment, unlike any other we’ve shared.

Suddenly, he looked at me and posed that unexpected question:

“Do you need to talk to my mother?”

Oh, I was a bad mommy. I burst out laughing and hurried to another room where I went on hysterically for several minutes. That simple question plus his sincere expression had restored my seat on that eternal throne as his mother, no matter what he does, no matter where he goes. At that moment, I knew that I had given him a tool of self-confidence every time he goes in for those big interviews in life. He’ll have that humorous memory to put him at ease.

I didn’t have to wait until his high school graduation to see if I did an adequate job in the mothering department. I had a full summer to monitor how both of us were progressing, whether he was ready to go out into the world alone, and if I was ready to let him go. We’re getting awfully close.

But shaving? A razor? No, honey, I don’t think you’re ready for that. Trust your mother on this. I’ll tell you when that cute little mustache ought to come off. Think of what a cute senior picture you’ll have .... Remember, son, mothers always get the final word ... cute, cute, cute ....

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The last summer #2

In the summer of ‘98, my 16-year-old son was still accumulating enough hours of required driving time before he could get his driver’s license. Next spring, he’ll put his high school diploma in the safety deposit box with ours.

In the summer of ‘98, we packed suitcases for our mother and son 3,000-mile trip out east. Next summer, we’ll be narrowing down what can be crammed into a dorm room.

In the summer of ’98, I got teary-eyed at times thinking of the future. Next spring and summer, I’ll have pockets stuffed with tissues for any sentimental emergency. Those old sirens and nose will be ablowing.

The summer of ’99 was one of new responsibilities for both of us, as I have relinquished some of the hold I’ve had on my son. I have to let him go out on his own more and pray that he’s learned all those important lessons of life well. At the same time, I have to be tougher and attach some new strings, though sometimes he stretches them further than a rubber band …

Friday, March 13, 2009

The last summer #1

I can't believe this summer will mark the 10th anniversary of "the last summer." Ah, the memories I documented a decade ago …

The letting-go process has begun.

I didn’t want to. I fought it a long time, but can’t anymore.

Upon just completing his junior year of high school, my son hauled home all the costly information on senior pictures.

Senior pictures?

Not my baby. Not with instructions that the guys should shave as close to the photo shoot time as possible to avoid five o’clock shadows. Not my baby. He’s not even shaving yet. That mini-mustache is still cute ...

Sorry. “Cute” in reference to my 17-year-old son is not permitted in our household now. Yeah, but I can think it all I want. Cute, cute, cute ....

But seriously, during his junior year, I started mentally preparing myself for this past summer. It was kind of like giving birth again, only this time, this would be the first real summer of separation, physically and emotionally, but at least I didn’t have to be hospitalized this time. He now had a car to drive and was the recipient of numerous and regular reminders on responsibility and what driving a car really costs. He spent more time with his friends and liked going to the mall just for the heck of it, something I haven’t indulged in for years. He’s still receiving enough college mail to start his own institution of higher learning …

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Alzheimer's and the value of conversation #3

I learned a lot about human interaction while working on my book about Alzheimer's. Here's one of my favorite stories from the book, simply called, “He’s not deaf.”

When she takes her husband with Alzheimer's out, the wife often uses the card the Alzheimer’s Association gave her, which states that this person has trouble with memory loss and how their patience is appreciated.

“I’ve done some very interesting studies on this. Do you know what happens? The minute you hand it to someone, they assume that person is deaf. They suddenly start talking much louder and say, ‘SIR, DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO EAT?’ Finally I say, ‘He’s not deaf.’ But isn’t that funny?

“One day, I handed the waiter the card, and that waiter immediately got down on his knee so that he was face-to-face with him. I asked, ‘How did you know to do that?’ He said, ‘My grandmother …’ So, now I’m thinking there is a whole new school of people out there that need to be informed about memory loss and people coming into their place of business. They will start shouting at you, and they even do it in a doctor’s office.”

OK, folks, listen up! People with Alzheimer's are NOT deaf! Did you hear me?!?!??!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Alzheimer's and the value of conversation #2

Some of the best conversations and most enlightening moments of my life have been in the last year when talking with individuals who have Alzheimer's disease, dementia or memory loss.

I want to tell you about Delores and the wonderful talk we had. At a gathering of dementia and memory loss clients and their immediate caregivers, I asked her how she was doing. Her eyes immediately brightened when she heard my question. She told me about how her house had been fixed up to make it easier to get around, and she gestured as she described the wider door openings and how much nicer the bathroom was now. I listened to what she was saying so that I knew how best to respond or a good follow-up question to keep the conversation going.

And her smile widened when she pulled out photos of her dogs and granddogs just like they were one of the grandkids. She pointed out their features and how much fun they were. I learned a lot about a dog breed I hadn't known much about before … mostly because I'm a cat person, though I love many types of dogs, too. I really enjoyed our conversation.

Life lesson: Don't ignore these individuals. They need to talk, listen, learn and teach like the rest of us.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Alzheimer's and the value of conversation #1

For many years, I was so shy that it was extremely painful for me to initiate a conversation. Speak in front of a group? Never!

At least until 1999 when I was asked to give a presentation about my second local history book. I momentarily conquered the fear by giving that talk … in the dark with a slide show. I survived and now I'm sure I talk too much. I guess I have a lot of catching up to do.

After working on this book about coping with the everyday challenges of Alzheimer's, dementia and memory loss, I began to appreciate more the value of conversation and how vital it is to connecting us as human beings.

A lot of people forget that individuals with these memory diseases are still ordinary folks in nearly every way. They still have physical, emotional, spiritual and social needs, though those may change during the course of the disease. They can still laugh and cry, and want to love and be loved.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Answer to "Who Am I?" #4

In the course of learning more about Dorthy and myself, I discovered that family trees offer nice branches to climb. But don’t we sometimes wonder who the women were, the mothers whose strength formed the trunk? What defined their hearts and their souls … what made them laugh and cry … what forces had them perched on that tightrope between sacrifice and selfishness … what gave them strength and what could destroy them. When we search for those answers, we also discover more about ourselves. As one character learns, “Now I understand just how strong they were, their passions and desires, loves and losses. How much we really have in common …”

The novel proved to be an emotional, physical and spiritual roller coaster, one of the most invigorating rides of my life … terrifying yet satisfying.

Sometimes I wonder how my grandmother and I would have gotten along. But then again, if she had lived, would I be here? My mother’s life would have certainly been different, and in turn, so would have mine.

Do I have my grandmother’s domestic skills? Definitely not. But I do have her green eyes. Maybe she gave me those to see the world and describe what I see there, what she could not stay long enough to savor for herself.

And it looks pretty darn good from here.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Answer to "Who Am I?" #3

Dorthy, my grandmother …

The second of 14 children, she eloped at age 15. The woman who loved to keep house, to cook, to nurture. The laundress who made sure her daughters’ dresses were ironed and hanging neatly in the closet. The figure who was not too talkative, yet was very sociable and had many friends. The strength that allowed her to be outspoken when necessary. The soft-hearted woman, the good person. And she had green eyes.

She was no longer shrouded by the tombstone I had visited out of respect as a child. She had come alive if nowhere else but in my imagination. It was her image that pulled my fingers to the keyboard to create a story of mothers and daughters.

Out of her inspiration emerged a story of imaginary, yet real people, the many love stories that existed within the framework of their lives … their love of parent, of child, of spouse, of lover. How their lives are shaped by the decisions they make … the ones they applaud and the ones they regret. How they suffer in pain, revel in passion. How they make mistakes, make amends. How they want to love, want to be loved. How they create a story that probes the undeniable link between mother and daughter, directly and indirectly, one that never dies. How this connection ultimately molds these characters.

I discovered many realities during the countless hours of creative passion. In a world that had become increasingly complex, demanding, and society-focused, I believed we all search for the roots of our individual being, consciously or not. One character asks another, “Have you ever wondered who you really are? Why you feel the way you do? How you’re influenced by parents and grandparents, even if you’ve never met them?”

More tomorrow …

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Answer to "Who Am I?" #2

She was my maternal grandmother, Dorthy (without the traditional second "o"), a woman who rests across the gravel road from James Dean, Hollywood’s rebel poster boy, in Fairmount, Indiana. I had visited her grave a few times when I was younger, but something riveted me in 1995 as I stood beside my mother, who had lost this woman when she was only four years old. No ghosts floated overhead, no voices carried on the February wind.

What I did see was myself. The woman buried here was part of me, filtered through my mother. This woman was gone, yet she wasn’t. I stood as a reminder of her legacy.

Born at that moment was a lengthy list of internal questions: What was she like? Did she have a sense of humor? Was she brave? Did she speak her mind? Was she creative? Did she sing? What was her voice like?

My mother did not have those answers. All she had of her mother was a brown fabric purse with wood clasps and the sparse contents. All that remained was a handful of photos, half of them posed snapshots and the other half of the final images of the woman in her casket, surrounded by a flood of flowers, a natural outpouring for a mother of two who died far too young at age 27.

Hoping I was not bordering on morbid fascination, I studied the photographs of my grandmother, both living and dead. The wedding ring and watch she still wears.

I focused on the small smile and the eyes emerging from the black and white images of her standing alone. Then I would close my eyes and try to imagine the color of hers, try to bring her into a three-dimensional world as if I were creating an old home movie.

I read her obituary countless times, its succinct summary of a lifetime in six inches. But it did not tell the whole story. My reporter background told me there had to be more.

I talked to my grandmother’s surviving siblings at a family reunion that summer, a meeting that stirred sweet and sad memories of a woman frozen in time …

More tomorrow …

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Answer to "Who Am I?" #1

I wrote a novel a dozen years ago. A copy sits in my filing cabinet. The electronic version follows me through each computer upgrade, ready to spring to life any time I'm ready to resurrect it.

That book was the culmination of nearly two years of anxiety and a lifelong ambition. However, the real pressure was going to be trying to get the darn thing published … which I've still not done yet because I haven't really tried.

The crooked stack of paper still amazes me. How on earth, where on earth did I find the discipline to write 650 pages? My numb fingers could attest to the physical drain, and my swirling brain could vouch for the emotional upheaval.

However, the most taxed portion of my creative being was my heart. It was there where the seeds of a story were planted, unconsciously at first, vigorously by the time “The End” was punched into an overworked keyboard. It all started with the simple thought, “Who am I?”

On the surface, I knew I had always been the short one in the family and had seen the world through fingerprint-smudged eyeglasses since first grade.

I understood most of my emotional makeup, the sense of humor my mother had instilled, the need for perfection my father had implanted. At the same time, I was like them, yet so different. The chemical combination of two can provide some very interesting results.

When this book called upon me to write it, I saw myself as more than the product of a merger of two entities. I knew I was much more, and thus began the fascination with a woman who had died 14 years before I was born, who would influence my life more than I could imagine …

More tomorrow …

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Alzheimer's: It's your choice

Why did I write a book on Alzheimer's? Because families and caregivers are always looking for unconditional comfort and support. They need frequent reminders that they're not alone and have not been abandoned.

Coping with a loved one's Alzheimer's can be one of life's toughest, yet most rewarding challenges. It's all up to you how you face this uninvited intruder.

You can close your eyes and deny it, like a lot of people try to do.

You can walk away and let somebody else take care of "it."

You can take a deep breath and decide to learn everything you can and educate the rest of the family and world.

You can fall in love with this individual all over again … every day.

It's your choice. If you're willing to listen and learn, drop me a line. If not, just keep on surfing!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dear dear friend

Dear dear friend,

Thank you for calling and remembering that you can call me anytime about anything. Thank you for gently reminding me of something I forgot to do the day before. Thank you for asking how I'm doing. Thank you for listening to my long-winded story about someone else I also care very much about but whom you've never met. Thank you for sharing your deep pain, an episode you know I wish I could erase for you. Thank you for accepting those well-worn, but hopeful, words of "It'll be better tomorrow," when we both know we have no idea if that really will be the case. Thank you for knowing that I'll be there for you whenever you need me or just somebody.

Thank you for being a dear, dear friend.

Love, Monica

Monday, March 2, 2009

"Women" #2

Continued from yesterday …

“Number five," I told my son a decade ago, "take her word for it when she screams, ‘I’m not in a bad mood!’ ”

“Oh, like you told Dad last night?”

“Yeah, you’re right. And number six, learn how to nod and smile with sincerity and know when to give up.”

My son shook his head and chuckled, “Are you for real?”

“Honey, how do you think your father and I have survived 23 years together, more than 18 of those married? It took some time, but he learned all of the above … most of it during on-the-job training. Someday your wife will thank me for teaching you all this now.”

At that moment I heard the wonderous blend of the laughter of a boy and a man. “Mom, how did you and Dad fall in love?”

“It’s your father’s fault. He fell in love with me at first sight. Even ran home and told your grandma he had met the girl he was going to marry.”

I smiled at the memory of 23 years earlier and then panicked.

Egad, I was only 16, only 16, but my future hubby loved me so. My apologizes to Dr. Hook who made that song famous when I was only 16.

“Uh, honey,” I said, “stay away from women until you’re 25 or so. I know them too well. I was one of them …”

Brought back to 2009, I look at the photo of my 26-year-old, scruffy-bearded offspring. Hey, kid, remember that I warned you!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

"Women" #1

My 26-year-old son has been dating a nice gal since July 4 of last year. As I looked at a photo of them the other day, I was reminded of a conversation he and I had a decade ago while we were running errands …

He surprised me when he muttered the single word, “Women.”

“What about them?” I asked.

“They drive me crazy.”

“In what way? C’mon, you can tell me. I’m a woman. I can take it like a man.”

Certain that I had won him over with a well-timed grin, I gestured for him to continue.

With a teen-age sigh, he repeated the same line uttered by millions of men before him, “I don’t understand them.”

“Well, honey,” I offered, “it’s a good thing you’re admitting it now. It’ll save you a ton of grief later on.”


"No, I’m serious,” I said. “You asked my advice, so here it is. Number one, they say one thing and do another. Number two, they expect you to read their mind. Then they’ll tell you ‘I didn’t want that. You should’ve known better.’ ”

“Oh, like you told Dad this morning?”

“You got it,” I said. “Number three, they say, ‘nah, you don’t have to do that,’ like give them flowers or little gifts, but you’d better.”

“Oh, like Dad buying you roses for Valentine’s Day this year?”

“Yes, he was smart. Anyway, number four, don’t forget birthdays and anniversaries. Forget your own before you forget hers. And if you buy her something, make it a personal gift, not appliances or something for the house. Your dad learned that one the hard way."

Continued tomorrow …