Since my husband’s retirement in April of 2016, we’ve managed to hike every week except during the winter months. Now with the snow a distant memory on most of the Pacific Northwest trails, we’re well into this year’s hiking season.
On Tuesday of this week, we headed out to Barclay Lake located in the lower Stevens Pass area of western Washington. This was a new hike for me and one perfectly suited for a sprained right foot, mine, needing a bit of coddling while on its healing journey. The hike was just under 5 miles and only had an elevation gain of 500 feet.
About two miles into our hike and a half mile from the lake, a couple in their late 60s were making their descent and as I always do for every hiker we meet on the trail, I greeted the man and woman which then encouraged them to pause and spend some time with us. This couple hiked 30 times last year – to our 18 times – which seriously encouraged me to continue our hiking activities during the winter season, albeit on trails at lower elevations to avoid snow encounters along the way. The kindness extended was the mutual sharing of favorite hiking destinations: for us, it was Margaret Lake, for them, Bowen Bay.
The excitement from each couple describing their particular trail favorite created a commonality of experience that went beyond any differences we may harbor within ourselves, be they political, religious, life experience, or otherwise. The four of us agreed that being out in nature and accomplishing our individual hiking goals contributed greatly to our quality of life.
On the trail, differences in beliefs or political leanings simply don’t come into play. And that, my friends, is a glorious way to experience kindness.
REQUIEM FOR THE STATUS QUO, to be released July 2017, contains fictional characters right out of yours and my reality. If your life hasn’t been impacted by caregiving for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, you are at least tangentially connected to someone who has been.
- A parent’s senior moments transform into hair-raising episodes of wandering and getting lost at all hours of the day and night during varied seasonal temperatures that may very well threaten their lives.
- The husband who was Mr. Fixit for all home repairs, big and small, no longer knows how to use a screwdriver, and becomes combative when challenged.
- A sister’s successful writing career is derailed when she can no longer write coherently or understand the written word.
- The middle-aged next door neighbor pounds on your front door demanding entry to his home and threatens to call the authorities if you don’t immediately vacate the premises.
Variations of these scenarios abound, and within those story-like confines exist the caregivers who have been thrust into a role for which they were not prepared, derailing their status quo – their normalcy – beyond recognition. These same caregivers had very full lives before their days became what has become the caregiver’s 36-Hour Day. Any down time they enjoyed prior to stepping into their ill-fitting caregiver shoes has been filled with doctors’ appointments, loved one-sitting, and putting out fires. Carefully crafted family and retirement plans are no longer feasible because life as the caregiver once knew it no longer exists.
REQUIEM will give readers an intimate look at a caregiver’s day-to-day reality while also endeavoring to provide hope for what lies ahead. To be sure, there are no happy endings, but promises of resolution and lightness spring forth in the least likely of places and during some of the most awkward of times. Whether you are a caregiver, a former caregiver, or know someone who is, REQUIEM FOR THE STATUS QUO will become a most cherished and often-read bookshelf addition.
We all have a strong preference that life should be easy, comfortable, and pain-free, but that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with life when it isn’t those things. It’s just life and it’s not how you would prefer it to be, but that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with it. – Constance Waverly, WaverlyRadio podcast #132
I imagine we all would prefer to live a life of health, happiness, and success (however success may be defined but certainly not limited to financial prosperity). With those three preferences met, life would be a carefree and joyful experience. Given the complexities of life, however, we are guaranteed a certain degree of physical pain, emotional heartache, want, and for some, absolute devastation.
Even an innocent newborn baby immediately discovers that his existence on this earth is anything but 100% delightful. He can’t define what that means when he’s a minute old, but he certainly feels it.
We tend to wonder why good things “always” seem to happen to bad people – an inaccurate thought, nevertheless it’s one that we entertain from time to time – but those of us who endeavor to do no harm aren’t blessed with easy, comfortable, and pain-free lives.
I don’t have the answer to that question but I do have an answer: our assumptions about others are just make believe because we have no way of knowing what is actually going on in their lives. A person’s outward show of perfection, boundless happiness, and ease is just that: their outward public mask that very well may hide an entirely different one worn in private. Let’s face it, no one can be ecstatically happy and fulfilled 365 days of the year – or even 24 hours a day, or dare I say, a mere 60 seconds at a time – so why is it that we assume others have mastered that very impossibility?
Part of what I’ve learned in my sixty-plus years is that what matters most is how we live in the present, regardless of whether or not that present pleases us. Living in the moment, accepting that moment as our life’s current state of being without pushing back against it can be far more fruitful and enjoyable than the alternative: anger, complaints, and hatred. For example, Ariel and Shya Kane, in their book Practical Enlightenment, point out very clearly that getting angry does nothing toward changing ones current situation. Case in point: you’re running late for work in disastrous traffic. You pound the steering wheel, honk your horn, and yell at the other commuters and what do you know? Your situation hasn’t changed but you’ve become your own worst enemy because your previous misery has been considerably compounded by your fruitless actions.
- Traffic doesn’t happen to us, it just happens.
- A rent increase wasn’t directed at us personally, it was simply a business decision made by the landlord.
- Long lines in the grocery store didn’t occur to inconvenience us; quite simply, like us, other people decided to shop at the same time.
- Coming down with the flu a day after a person arrives in Hawaii for the vacation of a lifetime wasn’t preventable; germs are everywhere and will do their thing at any time and any place. Even though it sucks that the germs manifested themselves just as the vacationer was heading to the beach, please know he’s not being punished for trying to have a good time.
All the wishing in the world won’t change our current reality because anything we could have done in the past is over and done with. Anything we could possibly do in the future hasn’t yet happened, so we should give it up and just be where and when we are right now.
Piero Ferrucci had this to say about the illusion of being in control when his preferences weren’t met during a vital point in his life:
The outside world did not adapt to me: More simply and practically, it is I who must adapt to what is happening moment to moment. The Power of Kindness.
No one wants to be a member of a club characterized by a disease that robs a person of their cognitive function and is always fatal. Unfortunately, as of this writing, 5 million Americans (many more million in other countries) are living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. Here are a few more facts extracted from the most current Facts and Figures document published by the Alzheimer’s Association:
- In 2016, 15 million Americans provided unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias;
- That equates to 18.2 billion hours of care valued at $230 billion;
- 1 in 3 adults dies with Alzheimer’s or other dementia;
- It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined;
- Since the year 2000, deaths from heart disease have decreased by 14% while deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased by 89%;
- Every 66 seconds, a person develops the disease.
My novel, REQUIEM FOR THE STATUS QUO, (Black Rose Writing publication, July 2017) spotlights one family’s experience in particular – the Quinn family – while also visiting other households affected by Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
- Eddie and Katherine, a couple in their 40s. Katherine has a combination Alzheimer’s/Lewy Body dementia, a type of dementia that causes somewhat violent behavior and speech;
- Frank and his son, Sean, the latter of whom suffers from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) incurred while on deployment in Afghanistan;
- Victoria and George, a couple in their 80s, trying to crawl through the maze of George’s Alzheimer’s disease;
- Rose and Sophia, sisters in their 50s, struggling with the effects of Sophia’s vascular dementia;
- Donna and Kelly, partners in their 60s, experiencing the devastating effects of Kelly’s Parkinson’s disease and the dementia associated with her disease.
These are characters like you and I. They were living their lives the best they knew how, being good people and doing good for others, yet Alzheimer’s still managed to grab them by the throat and refused to let go.
The storyline is a difficult one but the way in which I have portrayed all of these precious people will touch your heart, and at times, your funny bone. No, there’s nothing humorous about the disease, but people will be people, and when they’re confronted with the impossible, they can find – or create – a bright side onto which they can find redemption and community.
I look forward to introducing you to my characters. Just a few more months before they’ll become a part of your life.
The couple had reached an age where the wife thought it was time to start considering wills and funeral arrangements rather than be caught unprepared. Her husband, however, wasn’t too interested in the topic.
“Would you rather be buried or cremated?” she asked him.
There was a pause, then he replied from behind his newspaper, “Surprise me.”
Mrs. Willencot was very frugal. When her husband died, she asked the newspaper how much it would cost for a death notice.
“Two dollars for five words.”
“Can I pay for just two words?” she asked. “Willencot dead.”
“No, two dollars is the minimum. You still have three words remaining.”
Mrs. Willencot thought a moment then said, “Cadillac for sale.”
A grieving widow was discussing her late husband with a friend. “My Albert was such a good man, and I miss him so. He provided well for me with that fifty-thousand dollar insurance policy – but I would give back a thousand of it, just to have him with me again.”
I am positive proof of that statement.
Confession time for me: after four years of pounding the pavement/internet trying to get my books published, I seriously considered walking away. I’m not proud of that revelation, but I think after awhile, the prolonged efforts in which many of us are involved start to lose their shine, don’t they? They feel cumbersome in their fruitlessness.
Until they bear fruit.
That is the simple lesson here: nothing comes easily. Nothing. There is no such thing as overnight success or instant stardom. The instances of such anomalies are so few, they’re barely a blip on the timeline of creation.
If you want to accomplish something as much as I did – for me it was becoming a published author – you must continue on that quest. Speaking personally, if I had given up on my goal of publishing a novel inspired by my experiences as my father’s Alzheimer’s caregiver, all the research, writing, and re-writing I did might have been considered a waste of time. It was a valuable and cathartic writing experience, to be sure, but its outcome – a published novel – would have never been realized.
What a shame.
The tentative date for publication of my first novel, REQUIEM FOR THE STATUS QUO, is the third week of July, 2017. (Click on the Irene the Novelist page for a synopsis teaser.) And I hope you will visit my publisher’s website, Black Rose Writing, and see what they’re up to. And when you do visit, please sign up for their monthly newsletter. You’ll benefit from doing so as they offer free e-books and sneak peeks throughout the year. Only one e-mail from them per month. No muss, no fuss. Not a bad tradeoff for being up to date on the publisher who chose to place their trust in me.
Last month my husband and I went on a 3-state driving trip. We hiked in two of the states: Joshua Tree National Park in California, and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada. We are crazy-ass hikers, and by that I mean that we are fully addicted to this activity and don’t function at 100% unless we hike at least two times a month. Because of our addiction – for which, thankfully, there is no 12-step recovery program – we hike whenever and wherever we can.
The hiking community is a a healthy one both socially and energetically; we’re like-minded people who love what we do so we’re all smiles and happy-go-lucky people. While on our challenging Red Rock Canyon hike – clambering over large boulders and trekking through snow and ice – we encountered one local couple who told us out-of-state visitors that the boulders in the portion of the trail we were about to encounter were extremely icy and slippery. Their helpful intel was all we needed to decide to cut our hike short.
On our return trip down this same trail, we encountered a recently retired couple from Washington State (the wife was wearing a Seattle Seahawks knit cap) and we shared in their joy of being retired by saying, “We’re retired too!” And what was so cute, a younger couple just coming up the trail met up with us and said, “We’re retired too!” Of course they weren’t, but they joined in with the jocularity and told us how much they were enjoying the hike and getting away from the Las Vegas gambling and drinking scene. The young man said, “Wow, hiking this place is like being in Lost Vegas!”
It was, and meeting up with like-minded people away from The Strip was our generous dose of kindness for the day.