One More

April 18, 2013 and April 1, 1016 are significant days that my family will always remember. Like marks chiseled on a door frame, they will be forever engraved in our minds. They will make us swallow, stifle a tear or two, but mostly make us stop and praise the Lord that we were given a precious gift of a few more years with our most special man.

First, he was diagnosed with (FTD) Frontotemporal Dementia, which is caused by progressive nerve cell loss in the brain’s frontal lobes (the areas behind your forehead) or its temporal lobes (the regions behind your ears), most likely caused (or sped up) by 4 significant blows to the head. Three years later he survived a stroke, which left him wheelchair bound for 10 months.

I don’t think we are alone in measuring time by landmarks: when we were married, had our children, grandchildren, moved, changed jobs… But never, did we celebrate them like we do now.

One more.

We were told at the time of the diagnosis that my favorite man had (on average) 6-8 years to live from the time of onset. On April 18, my husband will have reached his 6 year anniversary.

Honestly, we feel like he is doing well. There are seven stages of FTD and I would guess that he falls in the fifth stage. On average, a dementia patient remains in this stage for about 4 years. As long as we keep his world small and predictable, he continues to be highly functional and needs minimal assistance. At this stage, my husband is quite easy to manage and remains fairly content.

What this means is that we don’t look too far into the future for anything and we celebrate nearly everything. It makes me think: What if everyone looked at life as “one more”? What if we slowed down and stopped looking toward the next —- and just celebrated today- the wonderful, beautiful today?

Today we took our first walk of the season to the ocean, and had one more ice cream. We sat on the warm rocks and watched one more tide roll in, and listened to one more windstorm.

Perhaps we all need a mindset change. Instead of “sitting through one more dreaded meeting”, we looked at the time as one more opportunity to gather with colleagues? Instead of “one more work week”, we looked at the blessing of a job that fulfills us?

Everybody has a hard job, and everyone goes through hard times. But what if… What if we took the time to be thankful and joy-filled because God has graced us and blessed us with “one more”?

One more day to say “I love you.”

One more day to hold his hand on a walk.

One more day to close my eyes and feel the warmth on my body while listening to the waves slap against the rocks, smelling the salty air.

There will come a day when I will miss watching the 2016 election, putting down the toilet seat, and running into furniture that has been moved yet again. There will be a day when I will plead and beg for just one more day.

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Early Onset: A Challenge to Diagnose

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     On Thursday, the Alzheimer’s Association is pushing for a new bill in the state of Maine, LD 1072, that will require doctors and other medical staff to be trained in dementia, hospitals to develop a care plan before discharging a dementia patient, and that doctors always disclose a dementia diagnosis.
     This is our story.
     In May of 2002, my husband (age 36) went to a weekend Men’s Retreat at Camp Fair Haven. It was there, that he had a terrible accident. He rolled his four-wheeler going down a steep hill, holding on for 2 of the 3 rotations. Thankfully, he was wearing safety gear and had a helmet on. However, he remained in Trauma Care for 14 days suffering with multiple injuries that included a shattered ankle, broken collarbone, broken ribs, and a punctured lung.
     In hindsight, I do believe that this is where our Dementia story began.
     My husband is a clutz. If he can trip over, fall off, run into, or drop anything, he does. He has never accepted his limitations and has a very strong work ethic. As a result, he has sustained many injuries over time. I lovingly joke that, “He is the reason we have health insurance”.
     That same year we lost the matriarch of the family to cancer: his mother. He hit rock bottom. He could not get his bearings. It was at that time that the doctor put him on the first of many antidepressants. Many made him worse. So we would slowly wean him off one set, and wean him on another. We blamed his mood, social, and cognitive glitches on the loss of the mother that he adored.
     Over time, he has sustained 3 more significant blows to the head, participated in unsafe behavior, began self-medicating with alcohol and had what doctors classified as a classic “Midlife Crisis” in 2009. Our marriage of 22 years nearly dissolved.
     In 2010, my husband lost his father to cancer. Again, doctors continued to treat the obvious: depression. He attended counseling and weekly support groups.
     In 2013, he abruptly lost his job of 17 years after making an error on an insurance claim for a customer, submitting the claim as a “final bill” instead of a “final quote.” He had no idea that the error had been made, until a private investigator knocked on the front door to our home.
     We were denied unemployment, despite hiring lawyer #1 on half-salary, and appealing the decision twice.  His employer insisted that he made the error on purpose, although my husband clearly had nothing to gain.  It was cruel and humiliating. At that time, he was 47 years old.
     Seven months later, he was hired at a competitive company, and worked just 5 months before employers let him go. His employers thought there might be something wrong with his memory and encouraged him to see a doctor. So, a year later, to the date, my husband lost his second job.
     This is when we got serious with doctors and insisted on extensive testing.
     
It took two and a half years to get Social Security Disability. We were denied twice and forced to testify at a hearing with lawyer #2 for $6,000 despite medical paperwork 2 inches thick.
     In March of 2016 my husband had a stroke, which left him in a wheelchair for 10 months.
     
Much of what we have learned, we have learned on our own. Doctors are reluctant to answer questions because “every case is different”, and patients and caregivers are forced to reach and grab at straws. Thankfully, a specialized support group for early-onset coached us.
     
However, the most frustrating part of the diagnosis is that I feel like I have to be a strong advocate and educator to medical professionals and personnel. When I take him to the ER, which we frequent for Urinary Tract Infections and spikes in Blood Pressures, I have to be right by his side. I carry a fist full of papers which include his medical history, the history of his family, his multiple medication list, Medical and Financial Power of Attorney, and a DNR. This was as a result of lawyer #3 & #4, Eldercare Lawyers hired to prepare end of life paperwork & Wills.
     I have to remind professionals to talk to him and look at him while I listen. I have to coach them to put him in a quiet space, to speak slowly and simply, to dim the lights, and keep me with him as much as possible, because Dementia is huge and complicated, and nobody knows how to support and quiet nerves more than the caregiver. A huge part of the diagnosis is FEAR: fear of crowds, people, everything.
     At one point, our Primary Care Physician discussed the possibility of Home Visits. I would like to recommend that as something medical professionals consider. My husband is a very different person at home. If medical professionals want to see an accurate representation of where those diagnosed are at in their progression, I would highly recommend a home visit.
     After both his accident and his stroke, Home Health Care was fantastic. PT, OT, nursing, and social workers came to our home during the day, allowing me to continue to work full-time.
     We are young and many health care facilities aren’t accustomed to working with those diagnosed with Dementia in their late 40’s/early 50’s. As a result, many people have difficulty getting diagnosed, and are misdiagnosed for an extended period of time. At his highest point, my husband was taking 27 pills a day. I worry about the time that we are not longer able to care for him in our home. Thankfully, our youngest daughter and her family were able to move in with us and care for him by day so that I can continue to work full-time. She is taking on-line classes with a focus on Gerontology, with the hope that as he progresses, she will be better equipped to care for him and keep me working. (I’m not eligible for retirement for another 10 years.) Our older daughter has extensive training and has been an additional coach/support system for us. Although her home base is in Arkansas, she comes home for nearly every school break. I often wonder what would happen to my husband if he didn’t have such a strong support system.
     Today he is 53. We are nearing the 6 year anniversary of his diagnosis, and we are told that on average those diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia live 7-8 years from the time of onset. At this point, he isn’t receiving any extra medical care: no more specialists. Initially, we reached out to the Brain Center for testing, Dementia Specialist, Neurologist, PT, OT, and saw a multitude of specialists. Although he remains fairly high functioning, he just wants to live his life. Thankfully his PCP has been very supportive of our decision.
     We just need to know that when the time comes, medical personnel are adequately trained in dementia care, a care plan is provided before sending us to next steps, and that professionals are equipped to help caregivers fill out necessary paperwork for long-term care. We need to be able to access local memory care facilities equipped to work with those of early onset Dementia, so that our loved one is not housed in the same area as the elderly or those with differing mental health diagnosis. In the end, we want to easily access our loved one, and be provided the quality and affordable care that he deserves.
    Please consider testifying on behalf of those diagnosed and contact your local representatives regarding LD 1072. I did.
     Cynthia Higgins
Waldo County, Maine
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     Here is a copy of the bill:

Win! Win!

I went to Wal-Mart yesterday and I only lost my husband once. I consider that a win, win! It isn’t uncommon for any of us to misplace our loved ones on occasion. However, in our case, we are preparing to hit the 6-year anniversary of one of my husband’s worst days of his life: the day that he lost his job of 17 years. It is also when we began to realize that something was very wrong.

Honestly, it has become a blessing. I believe that removing that stress has added both quality and quantity to his life and as a result, our marriage has never been sweeter. Yes, he has dementia. Yes, we know what that means. However, it isn’t all gloom and doom. In fact, it is mostly fine.

My husband is the same old goofball he’s always been. This week I found oven mitts in the frig. This Fall, he had somehow managed to get the entire coffee maker in there. I eventually found out the reason for the coffee pot: to keep the ants out. (Naturally!) I am convinced that there is some equally good reason for the placement of the oven mitts. We just don’t know what it is yet. Perhaps it is to have nice cold mitts to take hot items from the stove and this is the beginning of a new trend!

He still likes to go on short trips to meet up with familiar people. Yesterday we ran errands on the way to have lunch with friends- hence the “quick stop” to Wal-Mart. We went in for 3 items: shoe goo, coffee creamer, and toothpaste. We came out with $115 worth of things we “needed”. (My man just loves to shop!) During check-out he needed to use the restroom and didn’t return. The cashier patiently allowed me to scoop up my favorite guy, who was standing outside the bathroom, looking all around. He wasn’t upset. When I asked him if he was lost, he said, “I was waiting. I knew you’d find me.” I reassured him that he did exactly as we have taught the kids to do, and he nodded his head, proud that he had done the right thing.

Once leaving the store, he became concerned about all the cars in the lot: “Our car is lost.” I always make it a point to talk about where our car is and landmarks surrounding it, when we park. Yesterday, I had announced that we were nose toward the Home Depot flag. He followed my directions as I instructed him where to go, even though he didn’t quite believe me, and he was relieved to find the car.

It made me wonder, how much does that happen during a typical day? How often is he “standing outside the restroom” or “searching for the car” until his brain catches up or until one of us gently finds him and brings him back, or guides him to where he needs to be?

We have had to remind him on several separate occasions that he has just had his 53rd birthday. He keeps forgetting and sometimes doesn’t believe us. One minute he’s in a fog. The next, he is perfectly clear. Yesterday he told our friends, “I don’t know why people say that you are another year older. You are only one day older than the day before. What’s the big deal?” (He’s right you know.)

He’s a nerd. He has always been a joker. My brother said the other day, “I can’t tell if he is legitimately confused, or playing with me.” He’s right. When my brother wished him happy birthday, my favorite man seriously said, “It’s my birthday?” When he told my husband his age, he replied, “That can’t be. That’s old.” 51973075_10218188709851508_3315212005115166720_n.jpg

When I ask him if he feels 53, he tells me that he feels older. He says that he hurts, is tired all the time, and that he hates his gray hair. Some days this is particularly obvious and he can barely function all morning long. He just sits in a daze with his hand over his eyes. He can’t hold a conversation, or even feed himself. But after a nap, nine times out of ten, he’s back to his old self and pontificating about current events. Mornings are often rough- slow to get going, and evenings are generally when he is the most clear. He matches the weather. If it’s a foggy day- so is he. He doesn’t seem to be experiencing “Sun Downing”, which is common of those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. (A fog when the sun goes down.) In fact, he prefers the evening (with the lights on) and sleeps better when the sun is out. When I ask him about that, he says that he “doesn’t like the dark”.

What’s really strange is that he knows ABOUT many people. He can often hold a two-way conversation about friends, family, and community members. Yet, he has no idea who they are when he sees them. The kids and I prep him before gatherings, but it’s a crap shoot. Sometimes he’s fine. Sometimes he’s a hot mess. Sometimes he’s fine for a bit, and ends a hot mess. Generally, we can take him places where we are pretty sure he isn’t going to know anyone and he is fine- like the ocean, the grocery store, or Home Depot. Failure tends to come when we take him to places where he feels like he should know people or people might know him.

This even happens at home. After Christmas we had a small gathering of friends from church come to the house. He cooked, cleaned, and talked about many of the people who were going to be attending. However, as soon as the first guest entered the house, he began to stutter, stare, and shake, so my daughter shuffled him off to watch a movie in the bedroom. He was much happier with the baby, some snacks, and REMEMBER THE TITANS on the TV.

It’s weird. He misses people, but he wants to be alone. He wants to go places, but he wants to stay home. So, if we can get him out into public and only lose him once, I call that a WIN, WIN!

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Figuratively Speaking

Your mind is a garden, your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers or you can grow weeds. I am determined to grow flowers.

We’ve had a really great summer and Fall, a nice long stable stretch. As long as we keep my favorite man’s world predictable, quiet, and with enough projects to keep him busy, he remains happy as a pig in poop.

44284050_10216065718829808_8116275771711946752_nCoffee and candy make him as happy as a kid in a candy store and walks by the ocean keep him happy as a clam at high tide. It takes very little to make his day.

Nap time is most important for him, wrapped like a bug in a rug, he will saw logs for about three hours a day. This gives him enough of a second wind, to stay up until well past my bedtime. He seems to enjoy the quiet time. He thinks it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

He continues to enjoy rewatching the last election from a variety of different networks and is thrilled with the surprise outcome every time. He also follows the local sports teams. He is still quite opinionated, so I say squat when he wants to fill me in about what he watches. Sometimes it takes a month of Sunday’s to get his point across, but if I remain cool as a cucumber when he is wound tighter than a three-day clock, he is happier than a pup with two tails. I remind myself to give eye contact, shut my mouth, nod my head, wait, and listen. That’s all he needs.

imagesMy problem is that I am generally busier than a one-armed paper hanger. I feel like I complete everything by the skin of my teeth and that nothing I do is done up to par. However, I’m learning the value of putting away technology and correcting, giving him my time. Nobody ever lays on their deathbed wishing they spent more time working. My undivided attention makes him happier than a butcher’s dog.

As we prepare for the third snow of the season, we are once again enjoying the pellet stove. Not only does it provide warmth, but it gives him something else to be responsible for. Everyone needs a job, and everyone needs to feel needed. It’s a good thing that he continues to be strong as an ox, and his rotator cuff is allowing him to carry the 40 pound pellets with ease. He really minds the cold, and so the stove is the cat’s meow.

We aren’t quite done winterizing. He still needs to put in the window inserts, the plastic, and the orange stakes out for our neighbors who plow for us. However, he is proud as a peacock that he is still able to do so much to care for our home. God knew that my favorite guy would need plenty of projects.

He can still write, although his handwriting isn’t what it once was and his speech, most of the time, is as plain as day. Sometimes he mixes up words or has a hard time getting his point across, but if we let him “warm up” he will generally make connections.

He putters and is often slower than molasses going uphill, but it makes no difference. There is no fire. Sometimes it is a day or two – and he needs to watch and rewatch YouTube to help him with a project snag, but soon the answer is as plain as day and the snaffoo is working slick as poop through a tin horn.

This year he decided that he didn’t want a vegetable garden or chickens. He has been determined to simplify, which started last summer when our goal was to go through everything we own and thin out. It was a challenge, but he tackled it like a champ, and was happier than a pig in a slop trough when he was able to make more room in the garage.

If he’s having “one of those days” and is meaner than a wet hen, we just remember that there is more than one way to skin a cat. If coffee, candy, and a nap doesn’t do it, we employ the toddler technique. Although our 22 month old granddaughter can run around like a tornado in a trailer park, she can take him from looking like something the cat dragged in, with a personality of a damp dishrag, to a a kid on Christmas morning. Nobody can melt his soul, like his grandbabies.

When the house lacks order and looks like a pig sty, I’m on it like white on rice. We will often clean and straighten together- especially on laundry day, since he has trouble separating the clothes.

If it’s too stimulating, we make like a banana and split, and head off like a herd of turtles to his get-a-way. His mood is never anything that a trip to the coast won’t cure, with a walk and to watch the boats . This makes him as happy as a fox in the hen-house and when he’s happy, I’m happy.

Although poor as church mice because nobody has found that blasted money tree yet, we know that we sow what we reap. Therefore, we want to be transparent, teaching others how to push through life’s challenges. We are not greater than thou. We are just normal humans going through challenges just like everyone else. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, we try to meditate on life as a coffee cup, filled to the brim and enjoyed with friends. My husbands favorite reminder to others is that everybody has a story, we only need to listen and observe.

We miss people. Our world has become very small, but we’ve learned that life is like an elevator on its way up, sometimes we have to stop and let some people off. Instead of dwelling on who isn’t around, we are thankful for those that want to be part of our journey, and show us with their actions and prayers.

Life isn’t all peaches and cream. So, as long as we have air to breath, we will remind our family that, “They (you) are our (my) sunshine”, and when they ask if life’s challenges are over; We’ve hit our max; It’s someone else’s turn, we will tell them to dream on Alice, soon they’ll be in Wonderland.

More than anything we just keep reminding ourselves that love is like the wind, you can’t see it, but you can feel it and when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

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The Biggest Jerk

I used to take life for granted. I said that I didn’t, but I did. Not any longer.

I have been married to my one and only for 31 years, and over time, we have suffered some agonizing times- ones that quite frankly, many could not hang on through. So, what has been the secret?

Faithfulness. I have been absolutely determined to carry through with a promise before God and our closest friends.

On May 23, 1987 we were joined together as one, promising that we would let any ONE or any THING separate us. We were determined to make a lifelong commitment. To be honest, there have many times when I have tried a lot harder than he has. There have been times when I have felt neglected and taken advantage of. Sometimes he hasn’t been very nice, and there have been times when I have felt like a single parent. There was even a time when I considered asking him to find somewhere else to stay. However, I was stubborn and determined not to give up on what God ordained. I knew that my husband was facing some difficult physical and psychological challenges, and that it was my duty to be his number one support system: to lift him up when he didn’t feel strong enough to lift himself up. I made it my mission to pray him through each day and to encourage him even when I was angry, frustrated, and disappointed.

I figured that if he wasn’t going to take care of himself on his own, I was going to help. One of the first things I did was to take over his medications. In his state of mind, he often didn’t know what day it was, and either forgot to take his meds or accidentally took them two or three times in a day. I started by encouraging him to eat more balanced meals, and drink less soda and coffee. I encouraged exercise by walking with him. Since he wasn’t reading his bible or attending church regularly, I upped the ante for myself and made it my mission to stay prayed up for the both of us. During our quiet walks, with nothing else to interrupt us, I shared what I was learning and what was on my heart. When he didn’t talk, I talked enough for the both of us.

Shockingly, what happened was that MY attitude started changing. What was once meant for HIS benefit, began to benefit ME. I wrote him encouraging notes and left them in his lunch bag. I met him for lunch during my time off, determined to shut my mouth and be a better listener. Gradually, I started to see a change in him, because I was so determined to pour myself and my time into him. I loved on him even when I got nothing in return. I made his favorite meals, watched his favorite movies, and listened to his favorite music. I involved him in decision-making for the children and family finances.

We sought counseling that sometimes made our situation worse. It brought up painful topics that had been suppressed for a long time. If he slipped back into bad practices, it was often with others from his support group. The situation did not repair itself quickly, and I would push through the discouragement, and up my game or continue making my husband’s health and our union my top priority. I was determined not to allow Satan any more opportunities to break down our marriage and our family.

I prayed over and anointed the windows and door jams in my house. We burned and prayed over materials from the Masons. I monitored music, movies, phone, and internet that came into our home closely. I regularly prayed over my sleeping husband and my babies.

Most importantly, I took care of ME, because I was determined to stay as healthy as I possibly could, so that I could take extra care of HIM. I walked, watched what I ate, read the Word, looked for encouragement and wisdom from friends and family, and I lived in secret Hell while I remained focused and faithful to my husband.

Just when things began to get better, our family took more hits. Satan continued to take his best shots. We dealt with deaths, rebellious teenagers, financial hardships, the loss of two jobs, and the challenge of a terminal illness that will eventually take my one and only.

Through it all, I continued to take my marriage vows seriously. I never left him. In my heart of hearts, I could not give up on him because I feared that he would then give up on himself and I couldn’t bear that. I knew that I was his lifeline and I was determined to reconstruct our family on a foundation of faith.

I believe with everything I have, that God will reward me for my faithfulness during a time when I had every reason to walk away. As I look at where we are now, I would not be the person that I am today had I done the easy thing. Instead, I remained faithful to my promises, and am so glad to say that I love my husband today more than ever.  The strange thing is that the tough times made my commitment even stronger.

Dementia may take my husband, but it has also provided me with the opportunity to show my faithfulness and not simply “talk the talk”. The disease that was meant for destruction, has taken my faith to a whole new level and I am a living testimony to all who watch.

My advice: don’t give up when the going get’s tough. Take it as an opportunity to practice “walking the walk” and show God, your family, and friends that you mean what you say. Practice what you preach when life seems impossible and there doesn’t seem to be a way out. It’s easy to be joy-filled when all is going well, but how about when the heat is turned up and you are dealing with great loss and destruction?

So what do you do in the meantime? Participate in intense practice sessions, because no one is exempt from the great manure pile of life. If you are lucky enough to be going through a time of smooth sailing, thank your lucky stars, because you will have your turn for turmoil. Get and stay healthy mind, spirit, and soul. Generate a list of reasons why you love your one and only, so that when the time comes, you can refer to it. Build a list of things that you enjoy doing and eating, because you will need to find your joy without becoming unhealthy when your loved one is. Surround yourself with a group of good friends who you are like, or who you want to be like. Determine yourself to be joy-filled and healthy, because you are the only one you have control over.

More than anything: don’t give up. It’s what Satan wants. Don’t let him find even a crack. He is a liar and a jerk and there is nothing that brings him more pleasure than to destroy marriages and families.

 

 

 

Teacher Appreciation Day

images-1This week will mark my 28th Teacher Appreciation Day. Like my birthday, I always come into the day with some hopeful expectations: children bounding into the classroom with chocolates, flowers and homemade cards that explicitly pronounce their great appreciation for teaching, guiding and molding their young minds. They will reminisce about the wonderful units and experiments we have enjoyed together and promise to never forget the contributions that I have made toward their education and futures. The entire classroom will smile angelically and do all that is asked with delight. As a result, their performance on the local, state, and national assessments will show great growth, which was naturally a result of my phenomenal teaching ability. (Can you hear the angel choir and see my halo?)

In all seriousness, I do take this time of year to self reflect and think about MY experiences as a student. I honestly remember very little of my early years, which makes me realize that my little people will most likely not remember me either. I have come to terms with the fact that I work quietly behind the scenes of their education to set seeds and hopefully create a yearning to learn.

I started out in a preschool that felt huge to me. I don’t think it exists any more. I remember singing “Happy Birthday”, coloring pictures that matched the letters of the day, and saluting the flag in a big meeting room. Mostly, I remember my mother making me take a nap after lunch when I got home, and trying to fool her into thinking that I had slept, when I hadn’t.

I’m dating myself, but in Kindergarten, I went to school in a two-room schoolhouse, that is used today as an Administrative Building. The school was built in 1914. About the only thing I remember is the wooden floors. This is a picture I found online. ek_sweetser-500x374

In the second grade, my school was blown up in the evening by some punk kids. As a result, classrooms were farmed all around the surrounding areas. Classes went to the fire house, lodges, and churches while they rebuilt the school. The only additional thing I remember from that time was that I got to be the “Partridge in a Pear Tree” during our concert, because I sang (screamed) the loudest during our rehearsals.

I’m sorry to say that I don’t remember my Pre-K to 2 teachers. However, I have no doubt that they set seeds that made a huge impact on my later decision to become an educator.

In Grade 3 I had Mr. McGovern and he was the bees knees. As I recall, he was handsome and single, and could give a lot of attention to our busy class. He taught us to tie ribbons for wreathes as a fundraiser for a trip to the Boston Museum of Arts. I remember singing the songs that were on the radio during music class, and we loved that. (“The ink is black, the page is white…”) It was during a time when the teachers were expected to instruct art, PE, music. I’ll never forget the day that we went to the museum. I had on a pair of overalls, and I had purchased a glass horse as a souvenir. When I boarded the bus, the horse fell out my pocket and broke. I was devastated. As a result, Mr. McGovern held the bus, ran in, and bought me another one. To this day, that kind gesture makes my heart smile.

We respected Mr. McGovern and he had NO behavior problems, except for one day… Gordon was acting badly and he got a spanking with a wooden paddle in front of the whole class. He grabbed his back side and rolled around on the floor howling, and that was enough for the rest of us. I smile when I think of our own painted handprints that he had us place on the wall on the first day of school. In case of a spanking, we were to place our hands on our own set of prints and bend over. The intimidation tactic worked, and you couldn’t have asked for a better behaved group of 8 & 9 year olds.

To Mr. McGovern, thank you. You made a huge positive impact on my life and I will be forever grateful.

In the Fourth Grade, I had a beautiful young teacher from Peru with long black shiny hair. She was homesick so her parents would send her care packages that included items indicative of the area. We couldn’t wait to see every new doll or artifact that was mailed. As a result, we studied the culture throughout the year and my teacher had a taste of home all around the classroom. Mrs. Johnson recognized my interest in math and allowed me to work ahead of the class, in the grade 5 math workbook with one other student. I remember being motivated and driven, and I loved learning. A big thank you to Mrs. Johnson, who, like Mr. McGovern, made learning fun and encouraged me to excel in the things that interested me.

Grade 5 was a bit of a blur. I remember FINALLY being placed in the same class as my cousin. We talked constantly, and he couldn’t have placed us further away from one another in the room if he tried. I remember really, really wanting to be selected as  Student of the Month, and finally being honored with it in March, just before moving to the farm.

On March 10, 1977, we moved 2-hours north, away from the suburbs of Portland, to a VERY rural area. For the first time in my life, I had to learn to play with just my siblings, because we no longer had a plethora of neighbors from which to play with. The latest styles had not yet made it to the area and I stood out like a sore thumb. I remember rocking my polyester plaid pantsuit on the first day of school and having the kids stare at me. Routines and friendship groups were established and I was absolutely left out and lost. I cried for two straight weeks. I was so homesick. My teacher finally pulled me aside and asked, “What is the matter?” and I poured out my soul. It was then that I became the “Teacher’s Pet” and Mr. Constable’s right hand girl. He made my heart so full, as he asked me to correct and pass out papers. It was then that I decided that I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be just like Mr. C.

Ironically, I did go to school to become a teacher and I did my Student Teaching in Mr. Constable’s fifth grade classroom, the very room that I had been in so many years before. It was in that very classroom at 11 years of age, that I made the decision to act as a public servant and shape lives, just as he, Mrs. Johnson, and Mr. McGovern had done in the 3rd and 4th grades.

I had many more teachers that I admired as I continued throughout my school career. They helped to mold me and shape me into the teacher I am today. Some showed me what I DIDN’T want to be like, and that was important too. So, on this 28th Teacher Appreciation Day, I want to publicly thank those who played an active role in helping to guide, shape, and train me to be the educational professional I am today. Your tireless dedication and devotion to your students has not been unnoticed and I am so grateful for the impact that you made on my life and the lives of others. May there be a special blessing awaiting you in Heaven for your dedication and service.

So this week, as I anticipate the showering of gifts, food, and thoughtful notes, may I remember that whether the children remember me in the years to come, or not, I am setting a seed and playing an immeasurable role in molding and shaping young minds. It is an act of service that is taken seriously, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

To others: I urge you to take the time to thank a teacher. Every card, clothing item with the school emblem, cup, and pen are saved and cherished. Food, flowers, gift cards for coffee, and treats make their day and give them the courage to keep moving forward, doing what they love, even on the tricky days. To my teachers: Thank You. To my parents: Thank You. To my colleagues: Thank you. To my children’s teachers: Thank you. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed.

Happy National Teacher Appreciation Day!  images

 

 

 

The First Time Again

It’s been 5 years since the dementia diagnosis and at this time, he is doing amazingly well. He has shown regression, but it is slow and mostly unrecognizable to the ones he sees regularly. We thank God every day that he is mobile and still has his language skills. He is mostly happy as long as we keep him on a schedule and don’t ask too much of him all at once. We generally learn by failure, since even the best laid plans don’t cooperate with dementia.

Over the past few days, he has crossed paths with people he has known for a very long time, but clearly didn’t recognize. One was his cousin and one was a coworker that he worked with for 17 years.

This is the best advice that I can give anyone who bumps into us:

  1. Introduce yourself. It feels funny to you, but it takes a whole lot of pressure off him. Then, don’t ask him questions. Just tell him about yourself and how you know him. When you hug him or shake his hand, bells and whistles are going off in his head, “Yikes! This person knows me and I don’t know him!” Take the pressure off, by just talking about how you know him and share YOUR memories. Often times, if you keep talking, he will make a connection. Sometimes it is after you walk away.
  2. My husband often talks about past coworkers, friends, or family, but doesn’t recognize them when he sees them. From what I have read, it is because he is looking for a younger you. For example, in the end, he may not recognize my brother, but will recognize his son and call him my brother’s name. My grandmother used to do that with my father and brother.
  3. Don’t correct him. Just go with it. When dementia patients are corrected, it shakes them up and they will stop talking and begin to stutter, stare, shake, or rock. Don’t be alarmed if this happens. It is how they self stimulate and it is a calming technique.
  4. Stick to conversations that you know they can respond to. Think about what you know they like to do. For my husband, safe subjects that he can always contribute to are: walking by the water, gardening, mowing, chickens, baking, coffee, and the baby. These are things that are on his mind and in his bubble constantly.
  5. He is the same old guy. The same things that bothered him before, bother him now. The same things that brought him joy before, bring him joy now. It’s just heightened, and he’s quirkier, but he’s the same old guy.
  6. Too much stimulation and not enough breaks are a deadly combination that isn’t going to end well so we stick pretty closely to a schedule.
  7. He rarely hears from or sees people and it hurts his feelings. He feels forgotton. People really need to come to see him. Since home is his safe place, they need to come when he isn’t napping and not stay long because he tires quickly.
  8. Sleep is very important because his brain has to work so much harder than the average brain to do regular things. It exhausts him, so calling ahead and giving us a chance to prep him for your arrival will set him up for a successful visit with you. His clearest time are between 10:00 am -noon and after 4:00 pm.

So, if you have the pleasure of spending time with someone with dementia, the most important thing to remember is that you are most likely meeting for the first time again. Introduce yourself, tell him about yourself and the connection you have with him, and enjoy. You will be blessed.

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