For this week’s story, you don’t even need to click on an attached story, such as I provide each week. Instead, my good news has to do with something that happened to me.
The other day, I went on what I call my Square Block Walk (SBW). When my husband isn’t feeling like taking a walk or has just come in from working in the yard, I take off on a very fast one-mile trek. When doing so this particular time, I passed by a neighbor (he purchased my husband’s Honda Civic for his daughter a couple years ago.) This neighbor was on his riding lawn mower in his front yard; we waved at each other and I continued on. He turned off his mower and asked me, “Is your husband okay?” I stopped in the street, “My husband?” To which he responded, “Yeah, I’ve seen you walking by yourself a few times, haven’t seen your husband with you, and I was worried.”
I almost started crying. “Thank you very much for asking. He’s fine, but sometimes I take walks by myself. But it’s so kind of you to ask – you noticed something different in my routine and you showed enough interest to ask. That means the world to me.”
I hope my neighbor’s act of kindness towards me improved your day as much as it did mine!
This post is about anticipatory vs sudden death. I know that doesn’t sound like a very positive post in honor of my sixty-seventh birthday, but this subject matter weighed on my heart the other day so I decided to write about it.
The last time I saw my mother was the 3rd week of August 1994. She died one month later. Mom and Dad visited their adult children during the month of August: my brother and I in the Seattle, WA area, and my sister in Northern California. What a gift that was – the impact of that gift not fully appreciated until Mom was taken from us during her sleep on September 24, 1994 – a life-changing shock to my father who found her, an occasion for us kids to receive the worst news possible by telephone.
The last time I saw my father was October 13, 2007 at his bedside as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease leeched the life from him. When my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four years earlier, we knew there was no cure; we had time to prepare for the inevitable, an inevitability accelerated by a cancer that was not operable due to my father’s frail condition resultant from the slow deterioration of his body by Alzheimer’s disease.
Which death was more difficult, the fully unexpected one, or the expected one?
There is no comparison, and by that I mean you cannot compare grief in that manner. Grief is grief and although the shock of my mother’s death was a jolt to our emotional systems, so too was the slow death that occurred for my father. The outcome was the same: someone we all loved no longer existed, but more importantly, we became painfully aware that whether a person is seventy-seven years old when they die, as was our mother, or eighty-nine years old as was my father, life is short.
The child who succumbs to an illness, the teenager killed in an automobile accident, the newly married sweethearts starting out on their journey as a couple, the sixty-something-year-old or centenarian whose days come to an end, all those lives are valuable and their ending won’t always be anticipated.
It may be trite to say live each day as though it were your last, but trite or not, that’s what each of us needs to do. I do so without being morbid about it – rather, I have gotten into the habit of living and loving fully, always respecting and honoring those with whom I come in contact, and spreading kindness and truth wherever I go. Because, as I’ve said: life is precious.
Won’t you join me?
The current worldwide crisis appears to have torn us apart instead of drawing us together. This pandemic is not a respecter of persons: people of all political leanings, beliefs, ethnicities, and locations are its victims. A virus that has taken many thousands of innocent lives is at fault and there is no way to spin that news in a positive way. It has been said that a house divided against itself cannot stand – certainly appearing in the Bible and quoted often in such a time as this. When we come across a person who falls down on the sidewalk and is bleeding, we don’t ask them what political party, religion, or belief structure they favor. If a vehicle accident occurs while we’re out on the road, we don’t poll the victims to determine whether they are of the same political leanings or beliefs as ourselves before we call 911. No, we let compassion rule our actions and we step in to meet the need.
My prayer is that we recognize our fellow-citizens’ needs and set aside our differences and judgments for the good of all. Let’s aim to lessen the massively wide and deep divisions that are threatening to permanently separate each other from each other.
Let’s be more we-minded instead of me-minded. Equal compassion in equal measure to one and all.
by Susan McCormick
Granny Can’t Remember Me, my lighthearted picture book about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, was motivated by our family’s experience with my mother’s Alzheimer’s. My sons witnessed her agitation when she knew her memory was failing, yet we learned how to shape our conversations so they were pleasurable for all. My boys always started a visit with my mom with, “Hi, Granny, it’s me, James, or it’s me, Peter.” This set my mother up to know she was the grandmother and this was her grandchild. If not for those clear introductions, my sons would be greeted with, “Which one are you?” I wrote this book for children like mine, who need coping skills for this sometimes scary and sad all-too-common family situation.
We learned not to ask any questions, because this would make my mother anxious and worried. Before her Alzheimer’s progressed, my lawyerly mom would try to figure out why she didn’t know the answer, and she would often try to fake an answer or turn the conversation away from the question. This upset her. So, my boys would just state the facts and start a conversation. “Today is Friday and it’s root beer floats and milkshakes day. I love root beer floats and milkshakes.” Then my mom could join in with, “I love chocolate milkshakes best of all.” In the book, six-year-old Joey doesn’t ask his Granny what she ate for lunch because he knows she can’t remember.
Another trick was to have a story my boys knew my mother enjoyed, usually about Albert, our huge, slobbery Newfoundland dog. The boys could say, “Albert got stuck in the pantry and ate an entire bag of flour.” Then my mom would say, “Oh, Albert, what a dog! What a mess!” They could tell the same story over and over; my mom always loved it and couldn’t remember that she’d heard it before, which always presented an interesting conversation topic. Alternatively, they encouraged my mom to tell her favorite stories. In Granny Can’t Remember Me, Joey hears Granny’s stories again and again, how Mom cut Uncle Jim’s hair playing barbershop or when Jim got a bump on his head playing catch with rocks.
We never questioned anything my mom said. When I told her James wanted to learn to drive a manual transmission but couldn’t find a car with a stick shift, my mom brightened and said, “My car is a stick shift, he’s welcome to borrow it.” Instead of telling my mom she hadn’t driven in years and that her car was long gone, I said, “Thank you, I’ll let him know.” She beamed, knowing she was helping. In Granny Can’t Remember Me, Joey knows his grandmother’s dog was alive long before he was born, but he doesn’t tell this to Granny, he just goes along with her story.
These methods, not asking questions, going with the flow of the mind of the person with dementia, and telling favorite stories, served my boys and our family well. In the book, though Granny can’t remember Joey likes soccer and rockets and dogs, with the endearing stories of her Three Best Days, Joey knows she loves him just the same. Granny Can’t Remember Me shows a boy’s acceptance and love for his grandmother despite her unfortunate illness. I hope the story helps other families dealing with dementia as well.
Susan McCormick is an author and doctor who lives in Seattle. She also wrote The Fog Ladies, a cozy murder mystery with spunky senior sleuths set in an elegant apartment building in San Francisco. She graduated from Smith College and George Washington University Medical School, with additional medical training in San Francisco and Washington, DC. She served as a doctor for nine years in the US Army before moving to the Pacific Northwest. She is married and has two boys. Her mother and father-in-law had Alzheimer’s disease.
Social media links
Author Website: https://susanmccormickbooks.com
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.
Pretty sure we’ve all lived long enough to realize that during difficult and widespread tragic times, the best, and the worst, in human nature surfaces. Well, this being a Good News story, I will of course spotlight the best in human nature, and here it is in this brief story…and I’m not fooling!!!!!
My mother, Patricia Constance Conroy Desonier, left my world far too early: September 24, 1994. She was an extraordinary mother, spouse, grandmother, musician, and activist.
As a member of the Honolulu Chapter of the Catholic Women’s Guild, she and other community-minded women spearheaded a ministry to benefit the homeless on the areas of Oahu most populated by those affected by the inability to maintain a roof over their heads. In this article the many charitable works of the Guild were spotlighted, including the efforts my mother and another member, Julie Braig, completed, centered in Nanakuli, Hawaii.
They created an Office of Homeless Ohana (Ohana meaning family) where individuals and family members could set up a mailing address so they could send off applications and resumes to acquire meaningful employment and/or receive mail from other loved ones, have a place to shower, receive meals, and gather as a community; playground equipment was even secured and installed so children could play and live just like those who had a home to return to each day.
My family lived 30 miles away from where this shelter existed, and my mother’s abilities were limited because of severe rheumatoid arthritis that plagued her since she was a teenager, but my mother and Julie made the trip week in and week out to help those who needed someone in their corner during a rough time in their lives. My mother taught me many things about charity and living a full life. Here are a few of her maxims:
- Don’t assume everyone lives as comfortably as you do. Life can change in an instant;
- Give of yourself in any way you can;
- When in physical pain, just remember: you can be active and hurt a bit more, or you can stay at home and do nothing and still hurt, nonetheless.
Thank you, Mom, for being such an influence on my life, my family’s life, and the lives of so many who never met you. I love you, and I miss you terribly.
We all know that as adults, we are supposed to encourage children to read – whether in the classroom or outside the classroom. But what does one do when a school’s finances aren’t enough to stock a library? Well, you do what this librarian did: you scour discount, used stores and use your own money to create one for them. Wait until you see this!
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.
Fourteen years ago, my mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. She was a brilliant woman who’d spent the majority of her career in the legal field as a very sought-after court reporter. But as her disease progressed to her brain, her physical and mental health slowly declined. The woman I knew, the one who could add columns of numbers in her head and spell medical terms longer than her arm, slowly lost the ability to balance her checkbook and manage her meds.
It soon became evident that someone would have to step in and help my father manage her care.
Unlike a lot of caregivers, I was fortunate. I have two sisters and a brother. All of us agreed to give one week a month to come “take care of Mom.” But I lived 8 hours away and had to make the long drive alone. Added to the strain of doing my part for Mom, I had a husband, a drama business, and two teenagers still living at home.
For two years, I juggled Mom’s care and my family. It was the most wonderful thing I’ve had the privilege of doing. It was also the most stressful, exhausting, and one of the saddest times in my life. When Mom’s thoughts were clear, we’d reminisce about old times, or I’d ask questions about her childhood. I did my best to collect her knowledge of our family tree. But as cancer progressed in her brain, the good days became fewer and her thinking became more like that of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Mom had little notebooks everywhere with jottings that made no sense and her actions became dangerous. One day she drove her motorized wheelchair to the curb, slid into her old Lincoln, left her scooter on the side of the road, and drove herself to Walmart. When she got to the store, she realized that without help, she couldn’t get to the motorized cart she needed to navigate Walmart. She sat in the Walmart parking lot for thirty minutes, had a good cry, then turned around and drove home. Fortunately, she didn’t wreck the car, she found her way home, and her scooter was right where she left it.
To keep from crying about Mom’s deterioration, I learned to laugh. Humor became my key to surviving the horrible process of watching pieces chip off of this person I’d always thought was invincible. Watching Mom deal with her impending death taught me a lot about how I wanted to die. There were things I wanted to do and so many things I wanted to say while I still could. Most importantly, I gained a deeper appreciation for each day and the importance of faith, friends, and family.
But I wasn’t sure what to do with the stress I felt for how much time taking care of Mom was taking away from caring for my family. We’d just moved to a new city. My teenage children were adjusting to a new home, new school, and trying to make new friends. The burden of taxiing them to all of their activities fell to my husband. Every time I missed one of their activities, I was swamped with guilt. When I was with Mom, I felt like I was failing my kids. And when I was with my family, I worried that Mom’s care would fall through the cracks.
While this fictional story does not depict the exact journey I had with my mother, many of the feelings portrayed in the three-book series come from the ups and downs I experienced during the caregiving process. When I did the research into the different types of dementia, I realized the dilemmas that arose during my intense period of caregiving were not unique to me. Millions of you are currently sacrificing your time, money, and efforts to care for an aging parent. Your struggle is real.
My prayer is that this three-book series will give you permission to laugh, rest, and to ask for help when you feel pulled in a thousand different directions. That you will experience love on the deepest level when you give love to another—whether or not they give love to you. That by your loving actions you will teach your children what it means to love, even when it’s difficult. That you’ll find something to laugh about every day. And that, in the end, you’ll forgive yourself for feeling like you failed everyone who had you sandwiched between two impossible choices.
Lynne Gentry Author Bio
Lynne Gentry is an actor/director turned award-nominated fiction author who loves using her crazy imagination to entertain audiences with her books. Her varied works range from the highly-praised time travel series (Carthage Chronicles) to two laugh-out-loud romantic comedy series (Mt. Hope Southern Adventures and the Women of Fossil Ridge). She recently released a co-written medical thriller (Ghost Heart) with author friend Lisa Harris. RT Reviews calls Lynne Gentry a Top Pick author and one to watch. Readers say her writing is extraordinary and her stories exceptional. When Lynne is not creating enchanting new worlds, she’s laughing with her family or working the cancer wards with her medical therapy dog. Find out more about Lynne and her books at www.lynnegentry.com.
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.
I married Jerry Olson. I have known him for 24 years, a duration of time where we have both experienced the joys, and the travails, that life has to offer.
Jerry has been my dutiful caregiver far too many times during illnesses and surgeries. He has supported me during stressful times and celebrated me during accomplished times.
He is an extraordinary person, an amazing spouse and father, and the best Grampa a child could ever hope for.
This post couldn’t possibly provide sufficient space for me to adequately celebrate my husband, so I’ll end here by saying, thank goodness two people, born in 1953 and 1956 managed to get together in 1996 and marry in 2000.
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!
So many in this world suffer unbearable loss; I do not know how such losses are reconciled, or how one survives such a loss without losing one’s soul. A young mother in Wisconsin lost her baby boy, shortly after his birth. The generosity she exhibited after her loss absolutely floored me.
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.