Quality of Life
It’s so tempting to turn the other way when we witness something that offends us, or to cringe when we ourselves think or say something of which we are ashamed and wished we had done better. Well, at least one character in my second novel, A Jagged Journey, has a few opportunities to cringe and correct when confronted with their own abashed behavior.
In particular, those of you who have already ventured into the pages of my second novel have met Dr. Gretchen Marks and know of what I speak. From the outsider’s perspective, it looks like Gretchen leads a life of leisure in her 20th floor Seattle penthouse apartment when she’s not treating high-end clients at her luxurious counseling practice. In a book review, one of my readers characterized Gretchen as someone to be throttled posthaste and let me tell you, I relate to that character assessment with a “Hear! Hear” and a “I couldn’t agree with you more!”
But there’s a reason why I created a somewhat despicable element in my story and it’s because I really, really, want to believe that everyone can undergo an about-face in their way of thinking and come out the other side treating others with the respect they deserve. Readers will get a peek into perhaps why Gretchen is the way she is, while also asking themselves if what has transpired in her life gives her license to push against what most would consider common decency toward one’s fellow man. I’m not going to provide a spoiler by revealing what transpires in the end, because quite frankly, I think readers will walk away with differing conclusions because their own life experience might very well paint a different picture from someone else’s.
I’m anxious to hear your thoughts on the matter once you’ve read A Jagged Journey and can leave an honest review on Amazon or elsewhere. It took me several years to finalize this book because I wanted to get it right while offering characters everyone will fall in love with – and there are many – alongside those we just might love to hate. As one of my book promotions has so accurately stated:
Life is imperfect, because it is lived by imperfect people, just like you and me.
A year after the Covid spread became a verifiable pandemic, I received my 1st dose of the vaccine that will open up the possibility of arriving at herd immunity…depending on the percentage of people who agree to voluntarily submit themselves to the needle.
The global community has been immersed and drowning in a disaster that will become future school students’ history lessons on what can happen when a not-detectable-by-eye virus travels the world on the backs of unsuspecting travelers.
I’ve lived sixty-seven years and therefore have already lived through news events and disasters that are currently a part of history books everywhere. Trust me when I say, I would rather have a boring life experience than be able to recount the tragedies that have befallen my country and our world over the past six decades. The current pandemic is just one of many, but it’s currently front and center in my life, and in the lives of many.
On Thursday, February 25, 2021, after weeks and weeks of concerted effort, I submitted myself to the vaccine needle. I didn’t make finding a vaccine appointment a full-time job, but my dedication to doing so was sincere and robust. The day before I received my shot, my husband and I were preparing to go outside to enjoy the beautiful Pacific Northwest weather. “I’ll join you in a few minutes…I just want to check the vaccine websites one more time before I go out and play.”
And lo’ and behold, when I checked the 4th of as many appointment sites, a 1 pm appointment the very next day just a few blocks from my house showed as being available and I signed up for it as fast as I could, not wanting it to slip out of my hands.
THE VACCINE EXPERIENCE – GLORIOUS!!!!!
Three other similarly aged people stood behind me in line as I checked in – early! – for the privilege of moving forward in a vaccinated world. For me, the price of admission into that world is a sore arm, and that is all. But even if more uncomfortable side effects were guaranteed as a result of acquiring the vaccine, my husband and I were committed to getting vaccinated because a couple days of discomfort beat any day of having Covid. (My husband will acquire the vaccine when his age makes him eligible.)
Before I left the neighborhood pharmacy where I acquired my 1st dose, the pharmacy tech scheduled me for my 2nd dose, which will occur a few weeks later. I walked out of that pharmacy floating on air – and not because I was experiencing delirious or detrimental vaccine side effects. Nope! I was merely feeling what it’s like to be moving toward the other side of Covid, and closer and closer to once again being able to spend time gathering with loved ones with a greatly reduced chance of acquiring or spreading the virus that could make us severely ill, or even usher us into the great beyond.
Many express their desire to get back to normal, but I don’t think normal will ever return, nor should it. Just as after 9/11 we all adjusted our normals to accommodate our present experience, so too will we adjust our normal as a result of this virus experience that as of today’s date has killed 508,000 US people, and 2.5 million people world-wide.
BUSINESS AS USUAL WON’T AGAIN BE OUR NORMAL, BUT OUR RESILIENT ABILITY TO RESPONSIBLY MOVE FORWARD WILL SERVE US WELL.
Definition of a barnacle: A marine crustacean with an external shell that attaches itself to a variety of surfaces. One of those surfaces that non-marine barnacles attach to is aging human skin. There, I’ve said it, aging human skin! Mine to be exact! So said my dermatologist at my most recent annual skin cancer screening appointment. But wait, lest you think the only aging attribute one can look forward to is crusty, discolored skin, let me introduce you to one of the sweetest parts of aging in which one can luxuriate: the candy bowl.
My husband and I have put out an easily accessible candy bowl filled with mini chocolates of numerous varieties for the past seven years – there is no mini-sized chocolate we have not tasted. When purchasing provisions at the grocery store the other day, I told the store clerk and bagger, “We’re just trying to keep alive the stigma of old people eating candy. Doing our part to support one of the oldest clichés of our generation.”
I will say, however, that if my husband and I didn’t have the gift of willpower regarding sweets, we would have never started this 365 days of the year tradition. If each of us ate 3 mini-treats a day, I would be surprised. When it comes to candy, we really don’t have a problem stopping at one or two. (Probably can’t say the same for glasses of wine, however.)
Am I thrilled that my skin is old enough to have barnacles? No, but I am thrilled and grateful that I am a woman of a certain age who can boast about barnacles and eating candy in one, celebratory post.
And may I conclude by saying:
I hope to live long enough to keep spotlighting – and celebrating – aging matters for many years to come.
Those close to our household have taken great measures to be safe in this age of Covid-19. The household with which we have had most contact over the past several months is that of our youngest daughter and her husband, with their son, and as of September 9th, their daughter.
The plan was to add our granddaughter to our current care day schedule, once a week, but now that Covid stats in our state are so ridiculously high – as is the case in too many states in the “United” States – our two households have decided to curtail all further contact for the time being.
This decision was made, not because our personal households have faltered, but because too many households have failed all around us, making avoidance of the virus more problematic. No one enjoys the inconvenience, but because some have rebelled against the inconvenience, we are no closer to containing the virus.
Had civilization as a whole been less selfish, we wouldn’t be dealing with this upsurge in cases…we would be adjusting to a new normal that is FAR better than the ongoing abnormal we are currently experiencing.
I am so f*cking angry right now. As a result of the selfishness of far too many people, my household is currently being robbed of a healthy relationship with the newest addition to our family. Please understand me when I say, I know we are not the only individuals affected by a pandemic that hasn’t been handled correctly from the get-go. My husband and I are healthy and we want for nothing. Millions have been affected far worse than has my household with our seemingly minor personal issue.
But I beg of you, please, to allow me this mini-pity party while I mourn this inconvenient loss.
A quote from the book Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times by Bishop Michael Curry & Sara Grace
There was once a wave, bobbing along in the ocean, having a grand old time. All was well and the wave was enjoying himself. He was just enjoying the wind and the ride, until one day he noticed what was happening to the other waves in front of him. They were crashing against the shore.
“My God, this is terrible,” the wave said. “Look what’s going to happen to me!”
Then another wave came along who asked, “Why do you look sad?” The first wave says, “You don’t understand! We’re all going to crash! All of us waves are going to be nothing! Isn’t it terrible?”
The other wave’s response: “No, you don’t understand. You’re not a wave, you’re part of the ocean.”
What’s in a name? Turns out, quite a bit. We have all been on the receiving end of name misspellings – whether our first name or our surname. Countless times since my 2000 marriage, my surname has been spelled Olsen. Fortunately, when our name appears in print, oftentimes such misprints are easy to correct and life blissfully carries on. But what about after our life has ended?
In my home-based gym, I have been exercising as of late to a Netflix series, Finding God, hosted by Morgan Freeman. What attracted me to the series was the fact that no one religion is spotlighted, rather, many beliefs are presented, and that pleases me to no end.
Today’s episode discussed the topic all of us wish we knew more about:
What happens after we leave this life; is there such a thing as eternal life?
Sorry, I don’t have the answer to that question but what I can offer is the following: our name will live on forever. Morgan Freeman went to Thebes, Egypt and received an educational tour of Ramses’ tomb in the Valley of the Kings. (There were several Ramses, this was one of them.) In this tomb, Ramses tried to preserve the memory of his life by writing on the walls and pillars with both a self-body image (a selfie) and the actual writing of his name in the language of his time. He was well aware that many would outlive him but he was also aware that no one lives forever so he’d better make his mark on history while he could.
What about our mark on history? I already know there are more than one Irene Olsons, which is why when I published my book Requiem for the Status Quo, I wrote out my full name, including my middle name, Frances. No doubt I am not the only Irene Frances Olson who ever existed but to my knowledge, I am the only one who wrote this particular novel to honor her father who died from Alzheimer’s disease; I am the only Irene Frances Olson, née Desaulniers then changed to Desonier by her parents in the hopes of others spelling it correctly; the only Irene Frances Olson who birthed Erin Maureen Li Sai Wong Green; the only woman fortunate enough to be named Irene Frances Olson because of her marriage to Jerry Olson; I am also the only Grammo to her grandson, Lucas…and so on and so forth. Who I am as Irene Frances Olson is different from every other person similarly named because who I am is a result of how I have lived my life and how I continue to live my life.
My name is very important because it is attached to the me who is trying to make a difference everywhere she goes.
No one else is me, so I choose to make sure I inspire memories in others that will carry from one generation to the next. Fortunately, I don’t have to be famous in order for that to happen. All that is necessary is that the me that is attached to my version of Irene Frances Olson is memorable in a positive way.
I am not a writer, I happen to be a woman, mother, spouse, sister, grandmother, aunt, and a friend who has tried her hand at writing. I wrote a novel, Requiem for the Status Quo, to honor the father for whom I provided care when he had Alzheimer’s disease – a disease that took his life on October 13, 2007. I didn’t set out to be a novelist – arguably, I’m really not a novelist at all – but I knew it was imperative that I do something important for future Alzheimer’s caregivers and to use whichever vehicle was needed to accomplish that something. For me, it was writing a book.
Then what? What else could I possibly do to magnify the impact I set out to make regarding the disease that takes everyone it settles on, and forever changes the family members associated with its victims?
What I did was join AlzAuthors, a digital and community platform that uses the art of storytelling to light the way for those impacted by Alzheimer’s disease, to advance understanding of the disease, and to lift the silence and stigma of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. As a newly published author and a survivor of dementia caregiving, I was extraordinarily impressed – and still am – with the organization founded by three daughters of Alzheimer’s who sought a place of refuge and resources for their own caregiving journeys.
Then a funny thing happened – one of those founders asked me to join the management team of five, an invitation I gladly accepted, and with the guidance of a business consultant, who just happens to be my own daughter, AlzAuthors went from being a growing community of authors to a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
Then something else happened: although not serious, my health took a debilitating turn that now requires me to step back from my AlzAuthors responsibilities. Only the patient knows what she can handle, and what I know is that my focus needs to be on my health, as well as on the precious family that means so very much to me. I am still an AlzAuthor and I very much support AlzAuthors’ non-profit mission, but I will do so from a slightly removed distance.
Of this I am certain, and I quote Pico Iyer when I state:
In an age of acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow.
In an age of distraction, nothing is so luxurious as paying attention.
In an age of constant movement, nothing is so urgent as sitting still.
I completed another novel with a message I feel is of great importance that I will publish later this year. Currently, however, I have more important matters on which to spend my time and energy.
Now is my time for sitting still – focusing on me, and focusing on my family. That is the latest chapter I am writing for my life, hoping to get it right, once and for all.
Since my grandson turned 3 months old, my husband and I have had the delight and privilege of providing child care for him a few days a week. As I’ve said to anyone who will listen, being a grandparent is one of the most cherished roles I have ever taken on.
Before Lucas had a presence in my life, however, I became a mother to a little girl who has become one of the most astonishing, loving, and giving people I have ever known. Other than the normal worries parents adopt while their children are growing up, Erin never caused any drama or heartache from the day she was born. But it’s only since I became a grandmother that I have faced the truth of how beautiful a child’s heart is – how honest and generous are their expressions of love. Don’t get me wrong, when I was a very young mother I appreciated the precious person that was my daughter, I became thrilled at every adorable development in her life, I felt that being a mother was – and is – my highest calling, but now as a considerably older mother and grandmother, I am freshly aware of a young child’s ways of expressing that love.
My husband and I can be playing outside with our 2+ year old grandson when all of a sudden he will stop what he is doing and run to one of us with his arms open wide and launch himself at his Grampa; then he will turn toward me, Grammo, and run and launch himself at me, with the tightest huggies and kissies available on this earth. Or out of nowhere, regardless of where we are or what we are doing, Lucas will walk up to one or both of us and say, “Kiss Grammo, Kiss Grampa” and we do just that. The honesty of a child’s behavior is mind-blowing to me – there is no pretense and no calculated manipulation. Certainly, that will come later as it did for all of us, but right now, that type of behavior does not exist. If one or both of us grandparents do something Lucas deems as funny, he’ll endearingly say, “Oh, Grammo. Oh, Grampa” and the smile on his face when he says that melts my heart over, and over, and over again. What a gift this little 2.9-year-old child is to us.
I am so grateful that I have been freshly exposed to the joy-infusing love of a child’s heart. What an extraordinary Valentine’s Day gift that is to me in my mid-60s of life.
A five-year-old in San Diego, CA was concerned about school lunch debt incurred by those households not able to keep up with their children’s lunch expenses. Wait until you see how she set out to rectify this ongoing problem that occurs in so many school districts. What a great story to start February’s weekly good news!
It is so easy to take the comfort of our Home Sweet Home for granted, even when so many, through no fault of their own, have nowhere to live: homeless on the street or living in their vehicle, there are countless numbers of fellow human beings who have no home to call their own. This story about a school bus driver will warm your heart. Let us all be careful not to judge those whose stories we know nothing of.
Happy New Year! May 2020 see kindness, love, and abundant health as your portion!
If I tried to describe the story that makes up the first Good News story of the year, I would fail miserably. Please click on this link to both read, and listen, to proof that miracles happen, and because they do, we should never give up hope.
Thank you to all who have chosen to keep in touch over the many years I have hosted this blog.
Please stay safe during the Holidays and take some time for yourself as we plod toward a New Year!
Lending a hand when needed is something at which customers at a Birmingham, Alabama Waffle House excelled. I am certain one particular employee at this eating establishment had the experience of a lifetime during his work shift. I sure do love good news like this.
Your parent is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia and as their biological child you wonder, “Will that be my fate?”
An article of mine, Me Worry? Not on your Life was recently published on the CogniHealth website, a company that in partnership with Alzheimer Scotland, developed a caregiver aid for those – especially family members – providing care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.
I chose the topic of whether or not dementia might be passed along to biological family members because as a daughter who witnessed the decline of her father as a result of dementia, I certainly had an opinion on the matter. Does one need to worry their entire life about the chance of acquiring Alzheimer’s disease?
I hope you will read my article that while transparent and painfully clear, also provides many rays of hope and encouragement for those in similar circumstances.
At the very least, I am certain you will come away with a clearer understanding of how little value worry contributes to ones’ life.
Chad Kollman knows how to make lemonade out of lemons. The thing is, he doesn’t even consider that he’s been served a heaping portion of lemons, even though the casual observer might conclude that to be the case. Enjoy this story that is certain to brighten even the darkest of your days.
by Sue Anne W. Kirkham
How it all began:
It was late October when my husband, Jack, and I showed up at my father and stepmother’s townhouse to walk their two dogs—a duty we’d taken on several months earlier, after they announced they no longer felt up to the task. At 84, my father suffered from respiratory and circulatory problems; at 81, my stepmother showed early signs of dementia, with some Parkinson’s-like tremors erupting, just to keep things interesting. I was determined that they not be forced by these circumstances to give up their pets. On this day, Dad greeted us at the door with another shocker. “We have to move into assisted living.” No hello. No how ya doin? Just this stark declaration.
Dad and Zelda had always been younger than their years in every respect. He continued his career as a psychologist into his late 70s, and the warm, witty, delightful woman he married in 1972 had always been active and ready for a new adventure. Each enjoyed absorbing hobbies, and they eagerly traveled the globe together for most of their 32-year marriage.
As Jack and I herded the pups that chilly autumn day, I remained troubled by the prospect of a radical change in lifestyle for my beloved father and stepmother. So I hatched a plan: leave my dreary clerical position and devote myself to lightening their load and injecting some sparkle back into their lives. I would carve out a new weekday vocation as companion/housekeeper/social director/exercise coach/assistant cook.
I kept a journal from Day One as, over the next 18 months, Zelda suffered incremental losses of mental acuity. Less noticeably, my father’s COPD was cranking toward a dramatic climax that none of us anticipated. While I focused on finding enough fingers to plug the ever-multiplying holes in the home-front dike, Dad’s staunch self-sufficiency propelled him through his own physical deterioration. Meanwhile, I watched Zelda—former organizer of Fourth of July kitchen band marches—fade into confusion. To be at her side through the slow, agonizing loss of her Self would prove to be the most affecting experience of my life. It soon became clear that the course I was chronicling was strewn with striking contrasts: moments of high hilarity and wrenching despair; snapshots of the struggle for dignity in the face of decline; arcs of mood between fear and optimism, gratitude and resentment. Hobbling my efforts to navigate these troubled waters was the crushing blow of friends and family members challenging my motives, questioning my trustworthiness.
This enterprise had much to teach me about life and death, human limitations, faith, and endurance. The struggle, as they say, was real. But the joys and rewards were every bit as genuine.
Why I wrote about it:
As my time with Dad and Zelda ended, a fresh commitment shaped my mission: I had been seeking a book topic I felt passionate about. This was that subject. I would share our experiences, unique amidst all the universal similarities, to promote understanding and support others confronting the challenge of caring for those who once cared for us. I chose the memoir format because, as dementia robbed Zelda of her voice, my journal became the story; it painted a complete and authentic picture for readers. Memoir also allowed for the interweaving of family history, a fleshing out of characters, and a means of affirming through narration the individual’s continuing worth, untainted by the loss of physical and cognitive abilities.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sue Anne Kirkham is a freelance writer who blogs atwww.yourrecipesforlife.com. She has published print articles on aging and family relations as well as online profiles of inspiring everyday heroes, and essays on health-conscious living and the peculiarities of contemporary culture.
FOLLOW THE AUTHOR:
FOLLOW THE AUTHOR:
Author website: www.lovingzelda.com
Author Facebook page: @LovingZeldaCaregiving/
LinkedIn: Sue Anne Kirkham
This story out of Ashton, Maryland is sure to pull at your heartstrings. A pound dog was saved just in time to become a very welcome resident of a senior living residence. So much joy abounds in this story – I thought it would be the perfect Good News to close out the month of October.
There is a science to being kind, and UCLA in California has set out to prove it! They opened up the world’s first Research Institute on the Science of Kindness, which I’m sure you’ll agree is something the world needs right now. Check it out for yourself!
Twelve years ago today, my father died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. That morning I had received a call from the memory care unit where Dad had lived for several years. The nursing manager of that unit said if I wanted to see my father again before he died, I should come as soon as possible. (I had spent a week with him the month before and knew that his prostate cancer would most likely hasten his death.) I first called my husband at work to let him know I would find a flight from Seattle, WA to Medford, OR and be gone…for how long? I didn’t know. Then while on the phone with my brother and sister, I booked my flight online with a tentative return, threw the very minimum of clothing in an overnight bag, and headed to SeaTac International Airport.
If you have read my novel, Requiem for the Status Quo, you’ve pretty much read the account of what transpired for me at my father’s bedside; some of the happenings that day/evening were altered, but the gist of what transpired are contained in Chapters 41 & 42.
Upon my return to Seattle, my energy level was depleted yet still on alert. When you have a loved one with a debilitating disease, a state of alertness is the norm – the status quo of constantly being in a state of emergency, if you will. You keep waiting for the phone to ring with the latest development – such as it did for the last time on October 13, 2007 – but that phone number’s appearance on my Caller ID had ceased.
What hadn’t ceased was the business of dying – all the financial and estate matters one cannot ignore – but because of my father’s diligence and organization leading up to his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, much of what I needed to do on behalf of his estate and us survivors, was readily dispatched in the months that followed my father’s death.
But the “now what?” of life post-caregiving was front and center for me. Initially, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with anything having to do with dementia. I continued to financially support my local Alzheimer’s Association and participated in one more Walk to End Alzheimer’s, but that was it. Then my heart called and I became an Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support group facilitator and shortly thereafter, I entered the world of long-term care advocacy by becoming a Washington State LTC ombudsman, both of which I did for five years.
Then my heart spoke to me again, this time it said, “How about writing about your experience as Dad’s caregiver?” I ignored that thought until I no longer could – it wouldn’t leave me alone! I dragged out all of Dad’s records and my numerous journals, sat at my dining table, and over many months’ time, outlined how I would honor my father’s journey and my family’s experience within the pages of a book that might benefit others.
That was five years after my father’s death. My book was published five years later.
Now twelve years after the end of my father’s Alzheimer’s journey,
my book still manages to make its way into the hands of those who need it.
If you, or someone you know, needs encouragement and a renewed sense of hope,
please make your way to your favorite bookstore, or find it right here.
Blessings to you today, and always.