I Am Thankful

Gratitude n. being thankful, appreciation of and inclination to return kindness.

I believe that every day there is something for which we can all be grateful.  It can be small or large, internal or external.  It can encompass all nature, thought, the physical as well as the meditative.  No doubt you have heard the variation of the theme of being alive.  The simple, polite inquiry of: “How are you?” will bring an answer like: “Well, I’m still alive” or: “I woke up this morning so everything is good.” My favourite answer is: “Well, I am still on the right side of the grass.”  That always brings a smile to my face.  I am grateful for that smile.

However, these last few days I have been filled with a special kind of gratitude.  It is one that came after my unwanted but necessary visit to the ER.  I am feeling poorly, in pain and my number one priority is the care for my Bert.  How will I cope?  There are so many little chores to see to, too many to count.   I was worried but I should not have been.   We are blessed by having the sort of neighbours and friends that come to your aid swiftly, competently, caringly, without question.

I am grateful to the Lifeliner who was at the door to pick up the prescriptions and get them filled.  I am grateful for the neighbour who instantly took away the worry of getting my Bert to his Day Programme.  “Just tell me what time to pick him up and I will take him.”   How precious an offer that was.  Here is someone my Bert will find familiar enough to accompany without a fuss.  I can go back to sleep and with the Valium still coursing through my body, I have no choice, really.

Then there is the neighbour who brought dinner in a beautiful wicker basket which had everything including two lovely serviettes, such a cheerful and most welcomed gift.

I am grateful to the Lifeliners who could give practical, hands-on help and those who could not who sent words of cheer, good wishes and prayers.   I even got instructions to turn off the phone.

Once friends heard, the offers kept on coming with a couple wondering why I had not called immediately.  When I explained that I was calling the ambulance at 2 A.M. the reply was: “You can call me at anytime.  You know that.”  Yes, I do and I am grateful.

Our family of friends and neighbours came through like a ray of sunshine to scatter the dust motes of my anxiety.  Yes, we do appreciate the kindness and have more than an inclination to return it.  That is how kindness works.  There is a continuous lightness of being, a positive feeling that things will work out well.  I am grateful to all the people who turned my darkness to light.

Thank you!

The Meander: In this troubled world where everything seems so dark, selfish, and full of hate it is good to be reminded that there are so many more people who are kind, thoughtful, caring and filled with the milk of human kindness.

Alone But Not Lonely

When Ross Weber came on board he was a hirsute, grizzled, denim clad man who seemed rather diffident and cautious in his approach to people.  Soon the whispers and rumours began.  Our floating village was abuzz.

“Did you hear that the lanky, grizzled man is a multi-millionaire?”

“I heard he owned an island that he sold for $32 million.”

“He has never worked in his life.”

“He was a hermit and is just coming out into society.”

It was like a game of Gossip.  In fact that $32 million had grown from $7 million in about three days.  I was fortunate to be among those who got the truth from Ross himself.

I had not paid much attention to Ross except for the usual pleasantries in passing.  Then one night he asked a friend about my origins and she invited him to join our group which met to talk out on deck or in a cozy lounge almost every night.  He came but still does not know much about me as we were too interested in his story.  He opened up to us, speaking in brief sentences and then he said:

“I have two tapes.  They are documentaries about my life.  They have been shown in New Zealand and Australia on T.V.  If you can arrange it you can see them.”  We surmised he was either tired of talking or did not want to go into any details.  He was very shy.

Our Cruise Director was most accommodating and set up a viewing for the next sea day.  We told a few people and it was also announced through the ship’s public address system.  We garnered quite a crowd.

So here is a synopsis of Ross’ story.  Ross had a dream to own a farm.  Farmland on the mainland was very expensive.  At 27 years old he was able to buy his farm and a boat because his farm was the very picturesque Puangiangi Island off the coast of New Zealand’s South Island in the beautiful Marlborough Sounds. Most small islands resemble a cup turned down in a saucer, Puangiangi however, seems to undulate in the incredibly blue waters of the Sounds.  Ross shared his island with his flock of 60 sheep and the local birds.  The sheep provided meat, which he dried as he had no refrigeration and he grew vegetables.  He also grew his own herbal teas and grapes from which he made wine.  After 47 years he sold his island and was cruising around the world for a year.   The interviewer tried to get him to divulge the selling price of his island but was not successful.

While viewing the tapes, my interest peaked when I noticed the number of books in Ross’ rustic home.  The walls were lined with books.  There were books in boxes and other reading material everywhere.  Ross said he spent more than $1000. annually on books and magazines.  Ross showed his watch which he had got with a magazine subscription.  It had no wristband so he carried it in his pocket.  He found no need to get another because: “It still works.”

As Ross fielded questions we learned more about him. He said he was never lonely; that loneliness was for those who had nothing to do.  He said he worked hard and sometimes through the night caring for the sheep, battening down during bad weather, tending his crops and doing the myriad chores necessary for one man, living alone on an island.

Ross was adamant that you should not call him a hermit.  That he was not.  He had yachtsmen and deep sea fishermen visiting him to walk the trails on his island.  A few became friends whose arrivals he anticipated each year.

“They brought me practical gifts and had tea with me.  I had friends.  I had books”.

His conversation was current with a broad view of the world.  He did have television in the last few years and one room with electricity powered by solar power, but the books were what kept him informed.  They were his constant companions.

He was asked about needing companionship. His response was that he met some very nice women but they had other interests, jobs, relatives and did not want to live on his island.  He ended with: “I just didn’t find the right one.  However, I could always find the right book.”

There were those on board who wondered how soon some unscrupulous person would try to separate Ross from his money.  Those were the ones who did not sit with him and see those wise blue eyes look steadily into yours and see beyond the surface.    When asked what would have happened to him in an emergency with a look of surprise he simply said: “You just take care or you die.”  That was literally true as for the first 10 years he had no telephone.

The Meander:  Among the many fascinating people we have met on our travels, Ross is one of the most interesting.   He is living proof that you can live your dream.  He attests to the fact that the best non-human inanimate companion is a book.  As he so often affirmed: “I had my farm.  I had my books.  I lived alone but was never lonely.”

Note:  A version of this post first appeared in the summer 2005 Access, a journal of the Ontario Library Association. 

Lifeliners Friendship Songs

Recently, it seems every Lifeliner  was experiencing something a little beyond the ordinary.  (See Post: My Lifeline) I opened my inbox and there it was in very large and bold print:  LIFELINERS THEME SONG.  Jay had sent it with a beginning note that just said: “Have to share”.  The message contained the entire lyrics of “Thank you for being a friend.”  Immediately The Golden Girls television show came to mind but what resonated was that as I read, the words took on a very special meaning.  They seemed created for us, this little group of Lifeliners.  It was the perfect theme song.  Through the marvels of the internet we adopted it in minutes and were emailing each other saying we were singing as we wrote and signing off with thank you for being a (or my) friend.

In replying to Jay I wrote “…that’s what friends are for and, thank YOU for being a friend…”  Seeing the juxtaposition of the two songs I smiled to myself.  I could picture all of us holding hands and dancing as we sang our newly minted Theme Song.  We do like to dance.  Then I wrote suggesting that we should put together a list of songs of friendship that was illustrative of the special friendship we share.  I am not sure my finger was off the ‘send’ button when Jay responded with a list she found at the following URL: https://www.thoughtco.com/top-friendship-songs-3248289

It was an interesting list as it did contain almost all of the suggestions made by us for our Lifeliners song of songs.  Here is a NOT a playlist but a compilation of Lifeliners friendship songs. The collection ranges from a 1927 song to Bob Marley, Frank Sinatra, Rihanna, Bill Withers and more.  Perhaps, if you are interested you can find out for yourself who sang what if it is not already included in the above URL. Here goes:

I am “Tongue tied” as my Lifeliners “Stand by Me” through thick and thin.  We know “Everybody hurts.” I know that “Anytime you need a friend” a Lifeliner will say “You’ve got a friend in me”.  I am never lonely as “I’ll be there for you” yes, “I’ll be there” is the assurance from each Lifeliner.  “With a little help from my friends”, “I believe I can fly”.   Sure, “The road is long” and hard but, “That’s life” though none of us have any intention to lie down and die.  Rather, on dark days when it is raining tears we will gather together under the “Umbrella”.  When we say: “You’re my best friend”, we say it to each one and also to the group who singly and together are the “Wind beneath my wings.”

We travel this road “Side by side”. We support each other, we share, we care because “That’s what friends are for.”

Lifeliners theme song is “Thank you for being a friend”.  What a precious gift we give to one another.  We are grateful that we can share this giant, amazing “One Love” that lightens the darkness of our unique night and makes us feel alright.

The Meander:  In writing this I realized how closely aligned friendship and love are.  I realized that friendship is the amalgamation of Agape, Filial and Eros those major columns of love.   Friends have been very special all my life.  The best friends just are, no subterfuge no wearing a face. That is the power of friendship.  Friends choose to be friends.  You love them, you like them; you are in communion with them. To all my wonderful friends: Thank you for being a friend.

The Vow

It is a good morning.  By the time I had finished my shower my Bert had made the bed and was ready and waiting for his bath.  Now breakfast was done and my Bert was sitting, waiting for me to put in his hearing aids.  He looked out the window and said: “It is a beautiful day. The sun is shining. I love this place. It is quiet.”  He smoothed the table cloth and says: “I love this table cover. It is cheerful. This is my favourite shirt. I love my shirt.  You look nice. I love you. You don’t know how much I love you”.  He was smiling. I smiled at the diction of my wonderful toddler/husband and was impelled to write:

The Vow

I will be patient, kind and loving

I will remember “It is the disease”

I will laugh with, talk with, and share with,

I will see an adult who is facing challenges not a recalcitrant child

Even if that‘s the reality.

 

I will not brush off, nor ignore

I will feed and clothe and soothe

I will encourage and praise

I will entertain and join in games

Even when I am tired

 

I will sing a lullaby and blow a kiss

I will mime a story and be silly to jog a memory

I will accept the illogical as the new logic

I will coerce the abnormal to be normal

Even though I reject it

 

I will love and cherish as promised

I will make our home a safe and warm place

I will be wife but accept that I am mother too

I will endure to the end

Of him or me.

 

The Meander:  I see a steady and continuing metamorphosis.  A thief is robbing the faculties.  I note the weakened senses leading to confusion and bewilderment.   I see how much has been diminished, how the familiar terrain is becoming a strange and arid landscape.  I am first row center as this terrible disease plays out its act of destruction.  Yet that appreciation of the simple things and his love epitomizes My Bert.  Yes, the disease may be the victor of the body but not of YOU.

My Bert has been keeping his vow without fail.  I will try to keep mine.

Gibraltar and Dreams

“Phew!  That piece of fish was as big as a surf board.  I can’t believe I ate the whole thing and most of the chips too.”

This was perhaps our fourth or fifth visit to Gibraltar, The Rock, and as usual we had just finished a late lunch at Roy’s Cod Plaice (sic) in the main square.  It was almost a ritual.

Another ritual was to walk to the corner where this jolly, Cockney fellow sold inexpensive watches. The first time we met he offered me one of his $10.00 watches.  I told him I had just bought one in a store just up the road. “Hahah, I bet you paid a lot more for it and it tells the same time.”  Everyone laughed.  Again we listened to his spiel before buying another $10.00 watch.  But now it was time to return to our ship.

Too full, read lazy, to walk to the shuttle service pick up point, we hailed a cab and requested to be taken to the pier. Immediately, and as is his norm, Bert started a conversation.

“Where do you think we come from?”

“America”

“No, no!  We are Canadians but I want you to guess where we were born”.  After a few tries Bert told our driver he was from the Netherlands then asked him: “Where do you think my wife was born?”

The driver smiled and said: “America”.  A laugh and then: “Wrong again.  My wife is from Jamaica.”

“Jamaica! Jamaica!  Do you know the Papine Market?”  I looked at him in amazement. “Of course, I do.  How do you know it?  Have you been there?”

“No, my lady.  My mother was an evacuee to Jamaica during World War II.  She lived in Gibraltar Camp and every Saturday she would go to shop at the Papine Market.  She always talked about her time in Jamaica, about the food, the fruits, the wonderful, kind people.  She loved it.

There were tears in his eyes as he spoke of his mother who had died recently.  He refused our fare.  He kept holding on to my hand and shaking Bert’s hand for a long time.

A year later I was introduced to Dr. Diana Cooper-Clark, a Professor at York University and Jamaican by birth. We bonded immediately.  It happened that Diana was in the middle of doing research on Gibraltar Camp, Jamaica’s role in the Holocaust and the Jewish refugees, most from Poland and the Netherlands who were housed at the Camp.

The recently published (2017) Dreams of Re- Creation in Jamaica: The Holocaust, Internment, Jewish Refugees in Gibraltar Camp, Jamaican Jews and Sephardim, is the result of Diana’s more than 18 years of meticulous research and her commitment to bring this little known piece of Holocaust history to light.  It is at once a paean to her Jamaican background, a lifeline for the survivors, education for Jamaicans and the world, a moment in history captured for posterity and recorded with love and respect for the survivors, their descendants and the Jamaicans who enfolded them in love during a terrible time in history.

Dr. Cooper-Clark took some survivors and descendants  to Jamaica for a reunion in November 2016.  Yes, they visited Papine Market, the camps and St. Andrews Girls School, one of the schools the children attended courtesy of the Jamaican government and the generosity of Jamaican Jews. She tells of the many tears shed as they remembered.  Observe Diana as she talks of the reunion and you can see this is one moment in her life forever indelibly engraved in her heart.

The Meander:  Serendipity? Coincidence?  I do not know.  Gibraltar Camp is now part of the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies, Jamaica.  Many students have gone to lectures at Gibraltar Hall, have walked Gibraltar Lane and Path have seen the old ruins, remnants of the little city on the banks of the Hope River without knowing their import.  Diana has given face and substance to the place, the buildings, the people, and the times.  This is history with heart.

Just one more thing for me to do to close this particular circle:  I will be sending a copy of Diana’s book to the John Mackintosh Hall Library – the only public library in Gibraltar.  Who knows?  Maybe that taxi driver will see it and read it and fill in the gaps of his mother’s story.

For Caregivers: All Mothers!

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers!

To those who never gave birth but are mothers of the heart

To those who are mothers on the second shift

To caregiver mothers who are mothers to husbands, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends grandparents, partners

To men who are caregiver mothers to wives, mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, friends, partners.

 

 

Today, I want to be mother to all caregiver mothers, to embrace you, to give you hugs, to let you know that as a caregiver mother I do know the sorrow, the joy and love of being a caregiver mother.

Here’s to another perfect day of doing and an infinitesimal token of appreciation for all we do.

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

The Meander:  Every week I look forward to receiving the Alzheimer’s Weekly & Dementia Weekly Newsletter.  It is filled with information on the many forms of dementia, new research, caregiver support and ideas to ease our special journey.  It links to other publications and organizations. Each issue begins with a Thought for the Week similar to the one reprinted above.   I must confess that in addition to the articles I do look forward to these gems with  anticipation.

Thank you John Wooden.

 

Baker’s Yeast…er…Cyst

My foot was elevated on a stool, cushioned by a pillow.  The entire leg was swollen with the knee looking suspiciously like a substitute for a basketball.  The ice pack was enclosed in a small towel resting on the knee.  The pain was, well I have given birth so I will not say it is the worst I have experienced but it comes a close second.

Everyone says exercise is so very good for you.  In my case exercise is hazardous to my health. My used to be dear friend chortled and proclaimed: “You are the only person I know who could bust up a knee slipping from a stationary exercise bike.”  That is true.  I did not fall off.  One well shod, sneakered foot slipped out of the stirrup and all my voluptuous avoirdupois went onto one leg and landed me in painsville.

I iced the entire leg and took myself to the doctor. I was sent for X-ray and a number of ultrasound tests including DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis).  That one gave me pause as you are talking probable serious repercussions if there is a clot.    My doctor called as soon as she had some results to say: “I am happy to tell you that there is no clot, however you have a Baker’s  …ist (mumble) behind the knee.”

“Baker’s yeast?”  I asked incredulously.

“No, no, it is called Baker’s CYST”.

I had never heard of this.  She told me she would be referring me to an Orthopaedic surgeon and in the meantime I was to follow the RICE formula.

I was surprised how many people knew about Baker’s Cysts, how many had had it or knew people who had.  I had read up on it and was praying that it would heal itself as can and does happen.  One acquaintance gleefully informed me that she had had the needle aspiration and showed me the length of the needle that in my apprehensive state seemed to be at least a foot.  Yikes!

As is always the case, my Lifers were among my best support.  Outpourings of love and practical offerings and advice came from each one.  I emailed my thanks, explaining that I was being good and that RICE was helping. Jay wrote to ask what RICE was. I explained it was an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, the method used in First aid to relieve pain and swelling and to promote healing and flexibility. Here are excerpts of messages which followed:

Jay: “I thought you were eating the rice…I don’t think my neighbours, knew that either …  her doctor put her on a rice diet and she asked me if I had any rice, actually she was on rice and bananas and I wonder if her rice was the same as your rice  haha. I gave her some rice and never gave it a second thought, but now I wonder 

Me: “Now, that’s is hilarious!  Given my experience with aches and pains – rolled ankle, banged up elbow, I am quite familiar with RICE.  By the way I also like rice.  Did your neighbour have any swelling, inflammation, or sore joints? If yes, then it is not the diet but the acronym.  If no, then perhaps her doctor did mean her to eat rice.  Will you ever know for sure?  HaHaHa.” 

Jay: “Might even be funnier than that …  she had diarrhea in a bad way for nearly 6 weeks!  Bananas and rice was  prescribed.” 

Me: “I am almost falling off the chair….definitely the diet​…bananas and rice for diarrhea!” 

Out of curiosity, I look up R.I.C. E. on the internet. I finished falling off my chair as in the middle of explaining the first aid procedure the next heading in the stream was varieties of rice;  It informed me that in the US long grain rice is used for boiling, quick cook products and soup; short grain for cereals, baby food, beer and liquors.

This was followed immediately by ‘do not put ice directly on the skin’  then without skipping a beat or establishing a discernible logical connection the next heading was Inflammation fighting foods  which did NOT include rice but had broccoli and wild caught salmon in the mix. I thought, here is a complete dinner and was feeling quite full and drunk too from the long grain liquor when I was suddenly brought back on topic by the next heading: what is rice used for in first aid and was back to athletic injuries and the formula. 

You just cannot make up stuff like this.

The Meander:  Our intrepid Jim has suggested Jay and I do a skit or work on a routine for You Tube. Jay is wondering if my rice formula is holistic. I want to know if the bananas and rice is served as a smoothie.  We are all having fun with this….that’s GOOD!

 

Something Worse 05/22/2017

The T.V. is on

An intrusive susurration

Barely audible

I hear, I do not listen

My thoughts are inward, personal,

Dark

Created from fear

Not knowing what lies ahead

Afraid to speculate

So tired, breathing is onerous

Brain at rest is wishful thinking

Sleep deprived too often a descriptive companion

Sleep is a roiling, swirling maelstrom,

Too vigilant to be peaceful

Thinking, doing, planning remembering for two

Forgetting self

Learning new unwanted skills

A logistical nightmare

Endless.

Tears make tracks down my face.

This disease that robs our humanity, our dignity is the worst.

“…Breaking news…22 persons, including children were killed by a suicide bomber at Arianna Grande concert in Manchester City, England… Hundreds are injured…”

Breath caught…Breathe, just breathe.

No, dementia is not the worst.

This is.

 

The Meander: May 22, 2017 was one day that the burden of being a caregiver was heavy.  The senseless bombing and loss of innocent lives at what should have been a happy occasion gave me a new, if somber, perspective.  I had to record it somehow.

 

 

“If Music Be the Food of Love, Play on”.

“If music be the food of love, play on.”

This was the quote of the evening.

My grandmother was a staunch member of the Women’s Institute.  Anyone remember that?  The programmes were designed to educate and ‘elevate’. She looked forward to the meetings which happened once a month.  Well, they should be once a month, but it seemed that any project going involved extra meetings, extra work and my grandmother.  Our living room was often usurped by some project or another.

On this particular meeting night my grandmother was running late and it was mandated that when the attendance was taken instead of answering with ‘present’, ‘here’, or holding up a hand you had to declare your presence by saying a sentence that contained the word ‘music’.   No doubt the elevating subject for that night was music.  A Royal Doulton tea cup would be the prize given to the person whose quote was voted the best of the evening.

As grandma rushed to get out the door she called to me and said: “What can I say that has music in it.”  I told her to say: “If music be the food of Love play on”.

“Who said it? I can’t just say a quote.  I have to say where it comes from, at least who the author is.”  Then she laughed and said:

“Julie says she can’t think of anything so she is just going to say: ‘Gertie plays great music on her organ, I say it.’ ”

Julie was grandma’s very good friend and was full of fun.  It would not have surprised anyone if she did just as she told Grandma.  I loved when she visited as Jennifer, her granddaughter, would come too and then I had a very compatible companion.  We were supposed to be busy with home work, but often we tried to listen in on their chatting as they laughed a lot and we wanted in on the joke.  Turned out it was not funny to us, just boring.

“The quote was written by Shakespeare and it is from his play Twelfth Night”.  I did not have to think twice about this as luckily this was the play we were studying at school.

“Just Shakespeare is enough”.  A delighted grandma shouted a “thank you” as she went out the door muttering; “If music be….Shakespeare”.  I was asleep when she got back from her meeting.

Next morning I got a great big hug and from a beaming grandma who declared: “Thanks, darling, my quote was the quote of the evening”. She showed me the beautiful tea cup she had received.

“I also got a standing ovation!” I thought she was exaggerating until I got confirmation. Sunday morning after service two women came up to my grandma and instead of the usual ‘Good morning’, it was a giggly: “If music be the food of love, play on”.

Julie came running up and in a loud voice declared: “Gertie,  let me tell you my dear that food, music and love make one great combination.” Then she twirled and declared as only she could:  “If music be the food of love, play on, Sister!”

I can still see it all in my mind’s eye, a laughing grandma, two giggly women, one twirling, too loud gesticulating woman and me in the midst with the biggest grin on my face.

The Meander: Memories of childhood are like pop ups.  They appear suddenly and insinuate themselves in the middle of whatever you are doing.  Instead of irritating they are moments to treasure. They are comforting.  They are adult security blankets.  This memory for me underlines the oft spoken adage that the simplest things bring the greatest joy. I wish everyone happy childhood memories.

I Live With A Toddler

I live with a toddler!

Oh joy, oh bliss.

He can be the sweetest or most obstreperous kid alive

Exasperating and at the same time totally lovable.

Contrary, cantankerous and stubborn then meek, sweetly obedient, loving and caring.

Most used words: “No”,” Why”, “I don’t want to”

Most used phrases; “I love you”; I miss you”; “Where were you?”

Most frequent activity: Sitting in ‘his’ chair, eating, sleeping,  going out for a drive, hugging me, always teasing.

His blue eyes fade when angry, anxious, fearful, hurting or lonely.

When all is well they become deep twin bluebirds of happiness

They shine that perfect Dutch Delft blue.

He chortles with glee at the simplest of pleasures,

He twinkles when he wins the battle,

He beams with love.

 

He cries in sadness and in happiness.  He is happy when I am happy and sad when I am sad.

 

But best of all he makes me laugh.

My toddler is uniquely mine

My toddler is 85 going on 5

My toddler is my husband

His eyes glisten when he speaks of love…our love!

The Meander: ‘Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.’ – Stephen Hawking.