May 2009


Count them, twelve prescriptions and three over the counter medicines make up Mary Ann’s daily regimen.  That translates into Mary Ann consuming twenty-one doses of that collection of meds most days. 

One medication is not supposed to be taken with food.  Another that is taken five times a day at two hour intervals, alternating between one half and one full pill, should not be taken with protein.  Another prescription is to be taken every four hours, a whole pill for the first two doses and a half pill for the last.  It is not to be taken too late in the day or if she is going to lie down for a nap (a need that comes without warning).  One pill is taken half in the morning and half at night.  Another is kept in her purse at all times to be used only if there is chest pain that is not diminished by taking a Tums, suggesting that it might be her heart.  She has to lie down to take it so that she doesn’t faint.  One over the counter med is to be mixed with juice or water and taken Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. 

One prescription is intended to raise her blood pressure so that she doesn’t faint.  Another prescription is intended to lower her blood pressure and help control heart pain. 

One prescription, when she first took it immediately after diagnosis, helped her keep movement, rather than freezing up.  It ceased to be helpful after about three years.  After a decade or so hiatus, it was added again to help diminish the extra movements produced as a side effect of the main medicine she takes to keep from freezing up completely.  Those extra movements are what Michael J. Fox often presents.  They are called dyskinetic movements, or dyskinesias. 

Side effects of the two meds that treat the movement disorder aspect of Parkinson’s increase the susceptibility to hallucinations.   The disease process itself of the Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s Disease Dementia produce hallucinations.  That means there is also a prescription to help diminish the hallucinations.  That is a medicine which can produce a fatal side effect in the elderly.  You tell me just how old we have to be to qualify for that side effect.

The brain chemistry of Parkinson’s produces depression.  Wouldn’t a person with Parkinson’s have to be crazy not to be depressed once in a while?  There are some prescriptions to help with that chemical imbalance.  The side effect of one is to make Mary Ann sleepy, but some of the others make her restless. There is something added to help her sleep. 

Two of the meds thin her blood and help reduce the likelihood of her having another stroke.  The lesion on her carotid artery has a rough surface — not a good thing.  The list of side effects of most of her medicines includes the matter of dizziness when standing up.   That means they interfere with her autonomic nervous system, reducing her body’s ability to adjust her blood pressure quickly enough when she stands up.  The disease process of the Parkinson’s and Dementia are complicit in that nastiness.  The result of the low blood pressure is that she faints, increasing the likelihood of hitting her head and having another stroke or breaking the skin and producing a major bleed. 

The newest prescription is a patch to be put on her back daily.  It is intended to help her memory and alertness.  It’s main side effect is vomiting.  I can hardly wait!  One additional side effect can be diarrhea, but then listed among the side effects of most of the rest of the meds is constipation.  She, of course, takes a couple of over the counter meds to counteract the constipation.   

I could go on!

Every Saturday my to do list includes filling the pill container, four compartments for each of the seven days.  Mary Ann used to do that for herself.  There was a time when she had even more prescriptions and multiple doses of some of them.  When she was having trouble getting them all organized and in their spots without missing some, she devised a numbering system for the bottles.  By the way, the numbers go up to eighteen, seven more than she has now.  The job of filling the compartments is now mine, but I still use her system.  I have to follow a meticulous routine with bottles set out in certain places on the table if there will be any hope of my getting the job done accurately. 

Once all the compartments are filled, we are ready for the week.  Each morning, one of the day’s containers is snapped out of the holder.  The pills must be distributed into the pill cup for the morning pills, taken with yogurt (with active cultures), juice and maybe cereal.  Pills from the other compartments are transferred into two pill boxes with timers, one set for two hours and the other set for four hours.   The timers beep at ten minutes, five minutes and three minutes before beeping for a full minute to tell us the time has come to take the pill.  It is a miracle that I haven’t thrown then on he floor and stomped on them to stop the endless beeping.  The bed time meds are left for another cup to be set out at the end of the day. 

Do I even need to tell you what the frightening error was that I made one dreary morning a few years ago?  I was sleepy.  I got Mary Ann to the table and filled the morning pill cup — with the night time pills!!!!!  It wasn’t until she was pretty much out of it and back in bed that I discovered what I had done.  I called the Pharmacist and we worked through the implications and what to do.  Gratefully, the doses were all low enough that no damage was done.  After that experience, I now make sure that all the lights are on, my glasses are on, I look at the pill container three or four times, and Mary Ann always counts the pills and examines them carefully before she takes them. 

Every once in a while, someone asks me what I am doing now that I am retired.  After they regain consciousness from my having whacked them up side the head, I explain gently that Caregiving is a full time job. 

The pills are a wonderful gift.  They have helped provide a quality of life we could not enjoy without them.  It is tough to live with them, but we can’t live without them. 

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

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He was a pleasant fellow, who came to our home and snapped lots and lots of pictures judging from the rapidity of the clicking sound his camera made.  He is a photographer for the Capitol-Journal Newspaper (http://cjonline.com), one of two photographers left.  There were seven when he started.  He is a young man (at least from my sixty-six year old perspective).  It could not have been very many years ago when he began his career there.

While I certainly cannot be sure that it will actually happen, my understanding is that the article should be in this Saturday’s issue.  The article was written by Linda, who has known us and our situation for many years.  Linda works in the office of the church I served for more than a dozen years.  She just graduated from college after a long hiatus to raise a family.  In graduating from college, she has realized a goal that has been with her for much of her adult life.

The article intends to look at the Caregiving role with an eye toward how meaningful it can be for the one doing the caregiving.   The pictures showed us in our normal mode, sitting at the table, then moving to the spot by the television.  Mary Ann looked very nice. Zandra, our bath aid, did a nice job helping her get ready.  One or our Volunteers was here at the time.  Whenever Cynthia comes, the ironing board and iron come out.  What a Gem she is!  It was a busy day.  Kristie, whom we pay to give the place a good cleaning once a month, was here, spreading that wonderful clean smell throughout the house.  Clarene came to stay with Mary Ann for a couple of hours in the afternoon.  Young came over for a while (bringing some Coldstone Creamery mix of chocolate ice cream and pecans).  Young and I worked on planning a special worship service. During that time, Ann came over to visit Mary Ann.  The morning had begun with Paul and Shari to the house for our weekly two hour Spiritual Formation that meets on our back deck.  Attendance was down by two.  Eva came to stay with Mary Ann during the group meeting.

Most days it is just Mary Ann and me.  Today there was a veritable explosion of activity.  It was a great day.  It was a very public day.  What a contrast to the early years, just after Mary Ann was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

For the first five years after diagnosis, Mary Ann would not permit any mention of the disease to anyone outside of our children.  Neither her Mom nor my parents were told about it.  Her Dad died just two weeks after our wedding.  Mary Ann has always been an extremely private person.  She didn’t want people looking for signs of the disease.  She did not want people relating to her as a sick person, just as a person. She did not want pity, nor did she want others talking about it when she didn’t want to talk about it.  It was her business.

She did allow me to tell a couple of folks so that I would have someone to talk with about what I was going through as we tried to incorporate the disease into our reality.  I was very grateful for that gift.  I process things verbally.  I needed an outlet.  On the contrary, she needed not to talk with others about it.

After five years, the symptoms and side effects of medications made it obvious that something was wrong.  It was about seventeen years ago.  I remember vividly sitting at an outside table at a beer garden in Gruene, Texas.  Mary Ann was resting back at the condominium.  She had given me permission to tell our closest circle of friends (three other couples) with whom we were vacationing.  Of course they knew something was wrong, but they appreciated knowing what it was.

This has never been an easy road, but it was much easier for me when the news was finally out.  It had been so difficult to pretend nothing was wrong when it was such a huge presence in our lives.  Finally I could share it with my parents and siblings and friends and parishioners.  I have little doubt that it was easier also on our children to have it out in the open.

With the information no longer hidden, people could more openly offer their help.  Mary Ann’s co-workers could be more openly supportive of her.  I didn’t have to make excuses any longer when we could not attend activities.  At that point Mary Ann was working full time to help get the kids through college.  She was exhausted at the end of the day and needed weekends to recuperate.

When we moved here, the Parkinson’s was public knowledge.  As the disease progressed and the side effects of the meds increased, help became a necessity.  Without it, I could not have continued to earn a living.  The cost of full time care for Mary Ann while I continued to work would have come to close to my entire salary.  For me to stop working would have eliminated any income on which to live.  It was at that point that members of the congregation came to our rescue.  Margaret set it in motion.  Mary Ann has called them her angels.  If they were her angels, Carol was the archangel.  For at least six years, Carol single-handedly scheduled up to sixty-five different Volunteers, using a spiral bound pad of ruled sheets.  She scheduled evenings and weekends and weekdays, overnights.  There were people who did every imaginable task. The last two years before I retired, three people, our daughter, Lisa, Mary and Edie used the website http://www.lotsahelpinghands.com to manage the Volunteers.  Now that I am retired and doing full time care, Mary is still scheduling a few folks who continue to come so that Mary Ann and I can have periodic breaks from one another.

When the Volunteers come to the door, we might be in a situation that does not allow either of us to come to the door.  They all know, that if we do not come to the door, they should just come on in.

Understand just how dramatic the transformation has been in our household. We have changed from a completely private household with a very private person, both of us keeping a huge secret, to a very public place in which walk-ins are welcomed.

Mary Ann and I have grown in the process.  We have marveled at the generosity that has come our way now that the secret is out.  In spite of the constant stream of news to the contrary from the media, we have been surrounded by very good people, who will do almost anything to help when they see a need.

What used to be secret will, apparently, be in the newspaper this Saturday.  A few months ago, I was invited to do a live hour long interview on the radio by phone with Starr and Bob Calo-oy who do a weekly radio show in San Antonio, Texas.  The show is called Caregiving 101.  I am writing this blog, posting almost daily on the various experiences we are having as we deal with the presence of Parkinson’s in our household, taking a toll on Mary Ann as it progresses.

What was private is now public.  As the Baby-Boomers come along behind us (we are a few years ahead of the bulge), more and more will be impacted by chronic and progressive illnesses.  More and more people will need care and will become Caregivers.  For most of us, it just folds into our lives without invitation.

The public forum allows us to talk and listen and learn so that no one has to do this alone.  The time for secrets is over.  Good people want to help.  Go public.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

There was a four night special on Alzheimer’s Dementia on HBO about a week ago.  A number of those who are in the online group for casegiving spouses of those with Lewy Body Dementia had no interest in watching the series.  Why?

We don’t subscribe to HBO (too tight to pay for premium channels), so it was not an option for us.  I don’t know whether or not I would have watched it if I could.

Especially when I was in the thick of ministry in a demanding parish, I had no interest in watching soap operas or reality television shows.  One reason was that I experienced on a surprisingly routine basis drama in people’s lives that matched or exceeded what was portrayed in the television stories.

One of the characteristics of the pastoral ministry is that due to its nature as a helping role and the concomitant vow of confidentiality, people often revealed what might be called their “dirty laundry.”  Sometimes they confessed their darkest side in search of forgiveness.  Often they revealed the worst of their family secrets. There are many revelations that I will take to my grave.

It was hardest to deal with revealed secrets that I was bound to keep even when interacting with other family members who were not privy to whatever it was.  I heard things that would not have made the latest soap opera because writers would have considered them too hard for the audience to believe.  You know those things we assume could never really happen, at least not to anyone we know?  They are happening in the lives of people all around you, people you could never have imagined could be involved in such behavior.

Having that window to the reality in which I was living, I neither needed nor wanted to immerse myself in some fiction attempting to provide me with a vicarious experience of the dramatic.  Real life provided enough drama.

The reason those online Caregivers were not interested in seeing a special on Alzheimer’s Dementia (AD), is that they are living the drama themselves.  For that group it is Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), which is different from AD in some respects.  The confusion and memory problems and hallucinations come and go, sometimes in minutes for those with LBD.  There may be a decline that is followed by a return to  former alertness.  There is a greater sensitivity to a number of medications, sometimes the very medications needed to control some of the symptoms of the disease.  Parkinson’s or Parkinsonism is often a part of the LBD experience.  There are very many characteristics that AD and LBD have in common.

Those who live with AD or LBD or PDD (Parkinson’s Disease Dementia – a Lewy Body Dementia that emerges after Parkinson’s has already been diagnosed), do not necessarily want to watch their struggle on television.  If anything, they want television to provide them some escape from Dementia World.

I have a thirst for information that might have led me to watch the Alzheimer’s Project on HBO, if we had HBO.  Information helps me objectify what we are going through.  Information takes away some of the apprehension because it demystifies the Disease.  It reduces its power to intimidate.  It becomes more of a matter of fact part of our lives, less able to blind side us with surprise attack of some sort. Of course anything can happen at any time, without warning, but at least we know what some of those “anythings” are.

It is fine to cut out articles and inform Caregivers of programs about the disease their Loved One is battling.  Just don’t be offended if they don’t read it or watch it.  They may be on information overload just dealing first hand with the disease.  They may, as do I, find the information a helpful tool for bringing the disease down to size.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

I’ll bet you wish you had seen hundreds of Wilson’s Phalaropes swimming in little circles at a dizzying rate of speed, a White-faced Ibis, lots of Black-necked Stilts, a bunch of cute little Semipalmated (not fully, but only semi-palmated) Plovers, very many American Avocets and Hudsonian Godwits, not to mention the White-rumped Sandpipers and the Scissortail Flycatcher — all this along with forty-eight more varieties of birds.

I got a day off yesterday, and so did Mary Ann!  We both had a great time.  I spent the day birding with an experienced birder, a new friend that I now call Bob, and Mary Ann spent most of the day with our Son, Micah.

Arranging a day off is no small task for a full time Caregiver.  Those routines that provide the structure to the day and provide assurance that everything that needs to be done gets done, are not easily explained to someone who does not do them on a daily basis.  To write down instructions for all the routines and appropriate responses to the variety of situations that might arise would be almost impossible.  It would read like the instruction manual for a computer program.

To have a day off, I needed to have enough confidence in Mary Ann’s safety and security that I could let go of any concern, relax and enjoy the day’s activities.  There are pills to be taken, a medicine patch to be replaced, a wound to be dressed, bathroom needs to be dealt with, food to be provided, a commode to be cleaned out, maybe a shower and/or hair washed.  There are endless possibilities for problems to arise, from falls to heart pain to fainting spells.

I was able to relax completely.  Here is why:  For the last years of my ministry, we had an agency provide a paid person to do Companion Care with Mary Ann for three hours from 6:45am to 9:45am on Sunday mornings.  That was a time that it was not appropriate to ask a Volunteer to serve.  We have used two agencies mainly.  One is called Comfort Keepers and the other Home Instead.  Both are very good.  The one we have used most recently is Home Instead.  For the last couple of years of ministry, Debbie came each Sunday morning.  She became very familiar with the morning routine, including shower and hair washing, dressing, taking meds, providing breakfast, cleaning the commode and dealing with the fainting spells should they happen.  Debbie was available yesterday for the early morning shift. The cost is about $16 per hour.  It is worth the sixty dollars that it will cost to have her there, to have a day off for both of us. (Home Instead: http://www.homeinstead.com/; Comfort Keepers: http://www.comfortkeepes.com/)

For the evening three hours, Margaret was willing to come.  She is a very good friend to Mary Ann, as well as the Parish Nurse for our Congregation.  She has all the skill and experience anyone could ask for.  She has taught nursing for decades and, while retired, still keeps active, serving on call as a home health nurse for a local hospital along with serving full time as Parish Nurse — volunteering her time in that role.

During part of the afternoon, until a virus laid her low, Edie was going to spend a few hours.  She is also a good friend to Mary Ann and has dealt with everything right up to calling the ambulance to take her to the hospital when it was needed.

The best part of all was that our Son, Micah, was able to come from 9:30am to 6:30pm to be with his Mom.  Our Daughter-in-Law, Becky, and Granddaughter, Chloe, were on a Girl Scout campout this weekend.  That freed the time for Micah to come.  For a Mom to have her adult Son to herself for a full day is a treat beyond description.  Micah always brings out the best in Mary Ann.  She was alert and able to communicate.  They talked on the phone with our Daughter, Lisa.  They played some Scrabble.  Needless to say, the game only went a two or three rounds, but Mary Ann managed to come up with some of the words on her own.  She used to be merciless in playing Scrabble with the Volunteers.  They knew they were in the presence of greatness.  Micah took her outside for a trek to the nearby park, looking at flowers and enjoying the weather as he wheeled her along.  They ate some leftovers and then later headed out to get a milkshake from Sonic.  Micah and ice cream too!  Can’t beat it!

One of the special benefits of the day were the bits and pieces of conversation that Micah had with his Mom.  He got to have her at her best some of the time.  He experienced some of her hallucinations.  There were some times when she was not tracking, but much of the time she was.  While their conversations were between the two of them, one interaction that Micah shared was very revealing.  She wondered if it was not so that once a person needed to be fed, they would have to go to a nursing home.  He assured her that as long as there was someone at home willing to help, that was not so.  She has in recent days begin allowing me to help her with food, even in public.  That need must have been a great concern to her, carrying with it in her mind powerful implications.

As I processed the day, one thing popped into my mind when thinking about how good the day was for the two of them.  Mary Ann and I have enjoyed hopelessly spoiling our Granddaughter Chloe when she is with us before returning her to Micah and Becky to deal with the aftermath.  Turnabout is fair play, as they say.  After a day of Micah’s full attention, entertaining her and enjoying her every minute of the time he was there, I have to deal with the aftermath!

If there will be a Caregiver’s day off (as well as a CareReceiver’s day off), there are all sorts of things that need to be done over a period of time to allow it to happen.

For one thing, we had developed a relationship with an agency, using it on a regular basis, if only for a short time each week.  That way the option was available and familiar.  We  had already developed the booklet with all the pertinent information if any problem should arise.  (See this blog’s March 29th, 2009, post titled “Caregivers’, Carereceivers’, Volunteers’ Safety Issues” for more information on the booklet.)

We had allowed some good people to spend time with Mary Ann over the past eight or nine years, providing a cadre of people to call on, people comfortable with her, experienced in dealing with a variety of contingencies.

We planned the day far enough in advance to allow for the scheduling needed so that it could actually happen.

It was helpful to make a commitment to the day and to make the commitment to another person so that the motivation to follow through would be there.  It surprised me that I was ambivalent about going as the day approached.  I realized that as I have settled into the role of full time Caregiver, the role has come to provide a certain comfort and security.  I was apprehensive about being away for the day.  I have come to find meaning in what I do here to the extent, that it was a little uncomfortable to think of being away from that fulfilling task.

The day off was good for both Mary Ann and me.  We had a chance to be ourselves, each separate from the other.  It was reassuring that we both had a very good day. That the day went well encourages us to do it again some time in the future.  It took lots of planning, but it was worth the effort.

Caregivers, take a day off! It will do both of you a world of good.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

Maria’s George died this evening.  Others are not far behind.  It is such a privilege to read the posts of those in the last days and hours of life with their Loved Ones.  The Lewy Body Dementia Spouses’ group is candid about what they are going through whatever it may be at any given time.  It is a help to the rest of us to hear straight talk with all the details from others at different places in the journey with Lewy Body Dementia.

Each death that is recounted brings lots of responses from others.  There are many celebrations that the battle is over and the Loved One is finally at peace. There is relief that the Caregiver Spouse is also free from the clutches of the Dementia.  There are from the same people words revealing a deep sadness that the time of Caregiving is over.  One spouse giving care during those last days and hours wished she could just keep ministering to her husband without ever having to give him up.

As that fond wish to continue to care resonated in my thinking, I realized just how true some words were that were spoken by a friend when I retired.  He has retired and cares for his wife who has had ALS for many years.  He observed what an honor it is to be able to become a full time Caregiver.

As so many in the online group have died in the past months with more moving into their end times, I recognize just what a privilege and honor it is to have time with Mary Ann.

We spent a good portion of the day driving in the car.  We headed out to pick up a friend and then drove to the studio of our favorite potter.  The studio is in a tiny Kansas town about an hour away.  We picked up a couple of pieces while we were there.  One was a chili bowl with a handle and high sides.  Our hope is that the high sides will keep the cheerios from sliding out of the bowl as Mary Ann chases them with the thick-handled spoon.  We left with his artisans a plastic plate we had purchased to make it easier for Mary Ann to push food on the fork or spoon without the food slipping off the edge of the plate.  Our request is that he make a ceramic plate shaped like the plastic sample painted with glazes matching a couple of other pieces he has done.  There is no reason that we need to leave aesthetic considerations behind when we get adaptive devices to make Mary Ann’s life a little easier.

It is her birthday tomorrow.  The bowl will be her birthday gift — surprise, surprise! We have come to the age at which birthdays diminish dramatically in interest.  At least that is how I rationalize my lack of creativity in celebrating them.

We drove through an area of the Flint Hills.  The green of the spring grass, recently watered by rain showers, glistening in the sun was breathtaking.  Birds were flying, cattle grazing, van passengers soaking it all in.

As I think about those who have lost the ones for whom they have been caring, i realize more vividly than ever just how great it is to have this time.  When I am mid-task, doing something I don’t particularly enjoy, irritated at Mary Ann because she seems to be fighting against the very thing I am doing to help, it is easy to weary of it all and wish it was over.  I am grateful that it is not over.  I am grateful that we can sit at Panera’s and have a Bear Claw and a cup of coffee.

We have had a couple of tough nights in the last week or so.  Those are the nights when she is restless, needing some sort of assistance two or three times during every hour of the night.  It is not so much the tiring night that is the problem but the two days of increased hallucinations and confusion and long daytime naps that inevitably follow.  Tonight again, there was concern about the comings and goings of the Thursday people. We went through the skin Cancer removal, subsequent fall and repair of the wound, all in the last ten days or so.  Mary Ann has struggled more with spatial issues and dexterity resulting in her need for more help in getting food of the plate and into her mouth.

In this same last week we have had some very good days, eating out with some new friends, running errands, spending time at the library, having ice cream treats, going to see the Star Trek movie, enjoying a helpful Parkinson’s Support Group meeting, experiencing our own little meals on wheels program as  couple of great meals were brought over, a melt-in-your-mouth four layered chocolate cake with fluffy sweet white frosting covered with shredded coconut being delivered.

What I intuitively recognized in those thirteen seconds as we sat at McFarland’s restaurant September before last is absolutely true.  We needed time together while we have it.  As others spend their last days and hours concluding their journey together, it becomes crystal clear.  I have an honor, the honor of being Caregiver to Mary Ann.  I am grateful not to have missed the chance.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

Mary Ann barely talks, and I can’t seem to stop talking.  I have just written two posts titled “Who am I” chapters one and two.  When does Mary Ann get to say who she is?

There are different stages in the journey of a Caregiver and CareReceiver team.  Some are at a stage in which each can speak for him or herself.  Some are in the stage in which the CareReceiver can no longer speak at all.  We are somewhere in between those stages, a little closer to the latter than the former.

Mary Ann has never been very talkative.  She has been a very private person.  She was never one to spill her guts to others.  Mind you, when she spoke, it was always pretty direct. 

Now, it is very difficult for her to get thoughts into words.  It sometimes takes so long that she doesn’t get a chance to get those thoughts out before the conversation has moved to the next subject.  Sometimes she seems not to be able to follow the conversation.  Other times, her words when they do come reveal that she is tracking the conversation perfectly and just needs time to get a word in edgewise.  When she does speak it is often so softly that what she says is lost to the rest in the conversation. 

I want Mary Ann to be as fully present as she can be at all times.  I want her to have a chance to be heard, to be listened to.   I want people to discover who she is.  The challenge for me is determining when to speak for her and when to just shut up. 

More times than I can count, when people new to us have interacted with us they have looked at me and referred to Mary Ann in the third person.  “How is she doing?”  “Does she want this or that?”  When that happens, I usually move my body in a way that brings her into the conversation’s physical space, and I relay the question to her.  I don’t snap back with “Why don’t you ask her?”  Also, I don’t want to force the issue, since sometimes she is not able or does not want to respond.   What I do know is that if people refer to her in the third person when she is sitting right there, it feels as they have concluded that she is not actually there any more.  It is as if at that moment, were she to ask, “who am I,” the answer would be “Nobody!”  She is Somebody, somebody special.  I want people to know that. 

Another odd little quirk when folks do talk to her, is that some raise their voice as if she has a hearing problem.  On occasion someone will put his/her face right in front of hers and shout.  Some folks use a sort of baby talk, as if they were talking to a toddler.  The tone sometimes sounds as if it is an attempt to be sweet to her.  Without intending to do so, actually it seems to diminish her presence as a whole person worthy of adult respect — as if she is a poor handicapped little person in need of them descending to her level.  It is hard to watch and listen when she is approached in a way that seems to make her something less than she is.  I am not confrontational with people when they talk in a way that feels inappropriate, since they are doing their best to be kind.  I suspect that I need to be more assertive and find a way to help them understand that it would be better to talk with her the same way they would talk with any other adult. 

Again, one of my greatest challenges in the role of Caregiver/Husband is to determine when Mary Ann wants me to talk for her, and when she wants to talk for herself.   I try to deal with that challenge directly by asking her if she wants me to talk or not.   Sometimes she will answer me when I ask that question, but sometimes the words just won’t come. 

One of the times it is most difficult to be sure I am talking enough for her but not too much is at the doctor’s office.  The doctors generally handle this pretty well.  We have been going to most of them for a long time.  When they ask her a direct question, if she can, she tries to answer.  It is especially hard when her answer does not at all reflect what I think would be a more accurate response.  Sometimes I can jump into the conversation and address Mary Ann, reminding her of the specifics that would suggest her first answer not to reflect her actual experience. 

At the doctor’s office especially, when I do speak for her, I immediately ask her if what I just said reflects accurately what she understands to be so.  As a Caregiver, I have to be especially careful that I don’t project on to her my perceptions and feelings and conclusions. 

To be able to determine accurately when to speak for her and when not to, to be able when I do speak for her to reflect accurately what she is thinking and feeling, as a Caregiver, I need to listen very carefully to what she says about what is going on with her.  I need to to ask her questions such as, how does it feel to you when this or that happens, when I say or do one thing or another. 

All the listening skills I have tried to develop over the years of counseling are important skills to apply to communicating with Mary Ann.  I have to look for non-verbals, read lips, listen for code words that give a clue to what she is feeling.  Then I need to do everything in my power to elicit words from Mary Ann, especially those times she is most alert  and connected.  I need to be quiet long enough to give her a chance to form the thoughts and get them into words. 

When shall I talk for her?  When I have listened carefully to determine what she is thinking and feeling, when I have been quiet and patient long enough to allow her to speak if she is able and willing, then it is my job to bring her presence into whatever the conversation so that those with whom we are conversing recognize and affirm her identity as a whole person.  She is Somebody, somebody special!

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

Who am I?  I am dirt and water.  That is no metaphor.  It is a simple fact.  The human body is made of approximately 70percent water and 30percent dirt (carbon and minerals).  That answer may sound silly and irrelevant, but it is exactly what gives me my identity.  It is what allows me to remain a unique self-aware individual who knows who he is separate from the various roles he has had during his lifetime.  It is what allows me not to disappear into any of the roles and identities that are defined by others in my life.

Being clear about who I am at the most basic level, has allowed me to be a better child, parent, husband, Caregiver and whatever else has defined me over the years — and, for that matter, whatever else is to come.

By knowing who I am at the most basic level I can incorporate all that I have learned from the various roles I have had, the various ways I have been identified throughout my lifetime up to now.

By knowing who I am at the most basic level, I can have successes without wrapping my worth in them and I can have failures without losing my sense of value because of them.

Now, what’s with the water and dirt?

When I was growing up, we had a Sunday afternoon tradition.  We went for a ride in the country.  The purpose of that ride was for one thing to enjoy the scenery, see the sights and, in farm country, smell the smells.  I learned to distinguish the smell of pig farms from the smell of the farm on which cattle were raised.  Dad showed me the difference between timothy grass, alfalfa, wheat and oats.

After I was old enough to understand what was going on, I discovered that there was an underlying purpose to our drives in the country.  Dad was looking for property.  He had grown up on a farm, but worked his entire adult life in an office. He wanted to get back to his roots in the country.

I remember when he first described the place they had found.  Before I had seen it, Dad found the place he wanted.  It sounded like a dream.  Twenty-six acres, mostly woods and hills, with a creek separating the larger section from a smaller area of about six acres of flat and fertile land suitable for crops.

When Dad and Mom bought what we called the Farm, my life changed dramatically.  Almost every night of the week during the growing season when school was out Dad and I headed out to the Farm to work in the garden.  All day long on Saturday and Sunday afternoons after church we planted, cultivated, weeded, gathered and destroyed potato bugs and tomato worms, fought against cabbage worms, we picked strawberries, rhubarb, corn, tomatoes, and dug potatoes.

From where did the all that produce come?  It came from the combination of dirt and water.  How did it happen?  How did the dirt and water become transformed into tomatoes and potatoes, green beans and corn?  Yes, the sun was added to the mix, but the sun can shine on dirt and water all day long and produce nothing but warm dirt and warm water.  There was added to the dirt and water a spark of life.

That spark of life was contained somewhere in the germ of the seeds that were planted.  They were also made of dirt and water that had been formed into a seed containing a germ containing a detailed plan wound into a genetic code.  Something triggered the code that sparked the plan into motion.  Molecules of dirt and water were drawn together to build a factory powered by the sun, using a manufacturing process called photosynthesis.

The reason that the dirt and water became the plants that produced fruit made of the same stuff is that the spark of life was added somehow to the mix.  How and why did that happen?

Who am I?  I am 115 pounds of water and 50 pounds of dirt combined with the spark of life.  The result, a sensient being.  I am a somebody separate from every other somebody in the universe.  I am self-aware.  I can ponder from where I came and why.  I can wonder about who I am and seek to discover the root of my being.

That may all sound very remote and esoteric, words having no relationship with ordinary life.  I beg to differ.  What I do hour by hour, day by day, no matter what it is and with whom, happens because this puddle of water and pile of dirt has been sparked to be someone.  It is who I am.  I find it very reassuring to know the truth about who and what I am.  No one can take that away from me.  I may change what I do or how others perceive me, but I am who I am.

Now comes the inevitable question: Why?  For me, the reason I am a self-aware somebody rather than a pile of dirt and a puddle of water is that there is a Someone who has chosen to spark the life that grew me out of those basic compounds.  There is a Someone who wants me to exist.  That Someone has revealed the truth about human existence in an account of the history of God’s activity in lives of ordinary folks during a very specific few centuries of human existence.  The account of that history reveals a truth that cannot be inferred from the physical world we live in or any study of it, no matter how detailed and accurate that study is.  That truth is the unconditional love of the Someone who has sparked in us life, made us human, living beings, self-aware and wired to live in community with one another.  The pinnacle of that revelation came in a person called Jesus, designated the Christ, a real Somebody, who lived in the same stream of history of which we are a part.

Now, what about those of you who do not share my particular understanding of reality as I have described it?  Let’s go back to the dirt and water.  Whatever understanding of reality you have, whether with or without a spiritual dimension, the facts are the same.  Our self-aware humanity has emerged from a spark of life setting off a genetic code forming the molecules into our body and mind, thinking and feeling.  You are a unique somebody, different from every other somebody in the universe.  You have an identity separate from what you have done or do now.  You can draw strength from that.

The question remains, “Why am I who I am?”  If I believe God made me, why did he make me?  The answer to that lies in the mind of God. I cannot know why.  I can think about it, posit answers of one sort or another. I cannot know why God made me.  I am left only to praise and thank God and celebrate the life I have been given.

For those who do not accept the existence of a spiritual dimension to reality, the same is so.  We can postulate our reason for being.  We can recognize that we are simply a part of a process of mysterious origin.  We cannot know for certain why the particular substance of our bodies has been formed and sparked with life.  We are left to celebrate who and what we are.  We can seek to become more fully human.  We can seek to live in community, just as we are constructed to do by that genetic code.

In either case, our identity lies deep within us, beneath the things we have done, are doing and will do.  Knowing that allows us to be effective Caregivers, imperfect, but committed to our Loved Ones.  We retain our identity without despairing that our lives have disappeared into someone else’s needs.  You and I are dirt and water sparked to life.  We are a unique somebody of worth and value, and no one can take that away.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

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