Just a Girl?

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A few weeks ago I attended a writing retreat. One of the first writing assignments we had to complete was a fellow participant’s obituary. I know, sounds not only crazy, but also a little morbid. How can one person capture someone’s life in words, especially somebody you had just met? We all had a few minutes to sit down and interview our partner then write their obit. This made me think, how would I want to be remembered? Or for that matter, how do others want to be remembered?

Last night I accompanied my husband to a visitation for a person I had never met. My husband had known this person for many years and watched her career grow from intern in the entertainment publicity arena, to owning her own business. Needless to say the room overflowed with her family and cohorts. As I stood and observed the visitors paying their respects to the family, I realized the footprint this person had on everyone in the room deeply affected me. Who was this girl, I thought? I looked around and found myself riveted by the slide show on the wall. I felt a huge smile form across my face.

This girl, this lady, this person, embraced every moment of her short life. I was aware that she had cervical cancer and had begun ‘#TEALPOWER’, in support of raising money for the Princess Margaret Hospital foundation, but I was also struck by her determination and strength that she exhibited during her chemo/radiation treatments. This girl’s courage was unyielding as she beat her cancer once, only to have it return as an inoperable tumour, made me wonder, did this break her spirit? After listening to everyone’s stories about ‘this girl’, I believe her spirit may have taken a beating, but eventually soared as only ‘Alison’ could do.

Alison Salinas’ legacy will be different for every person who knew her. One of the many gifts she left her family will be the ‘#TEALPOWER team’ annual ride to conquer cancer. Now the grieving process has begun for those whose lives she personally touched. And for someone like me who never had the pleasure of knowing this ‘girl’? How will I remember her?

T = Tough

E = Empowering

A= Awareness

L= Love

P= Positive Energy

O= Overcome

W=Win

E= Education

R=Real

Thank you Alison for sharing your story and life with all you had connected with – you weren’t ‘just a girl,’ you were a lady with a huge heart and smile that embraced life with your unique essence – what else can anyone say?

Maybe we all should think about our own obits and how we want to be remembered? Maybe my obit writing assignment wasn’t meant to make me write, but to make me think… hmmmmm…

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It may take a little more time…

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Dear Matinee,

It’s been a little over six months since our goodbye. I wonder at times what life would be like right now if circumstances had been different. I also wonder if you knew it was our final ‘goodbye’?

To some you were just a dog, but to me you were so much more. You were my child, my confidante, my teacher, my trainer, my protector, my constant.

Our relationship was not easy at the beginning; I must admit, I didn’t like you. The day we brought you home, we had to pull and push you up the  stairs into our house; we immediately realized you had some quirks. You didn’t like the laminate floors (to be quite honest, neither did I) and ran to the carpet in the living room. You noticed one of our black cats(Sigfried) which you bent down to sniff. I could have told you then that was not a good idea, but you found out on your own when Sig whacked you on the nose.  That drew the line between you and Sigfried. There would always be an unspoken respect between the two of you! I tried to lead you to your crate while my husband turned on the TV; you immediately jumped, tail between your legs, and ran into the crate trembling. At the time, it never occurred to us that you had lived your years outdoors in the kennel with other dogs and that you might be fearful of strange environments, not to mention strange people.

Time marched on and our first year consisted of me running down the road after you when you would decide to bolt, emails to and from the breeder regarding our non-existent bonding, and of course, obedience classes. In classes you were a star with me at the helm, but you never obeyed the ‘stay command’. You never ‘stayed’, you would follow me constantly. I decided that my husband would take you to some of the classes, especially the last class. We had noticed you were much more comfortable with females; had a fear of males and you would ‘stay’ if a male commanded you. You won! The trophy still sits on my bedside table ‘1st Place – Beginner Obedience’! You were our ‘star’! The next day I took you down the road to visit my husband who was photographing horses at a neighbours farm. How was I supposed to know you were fearful of horses? We walked up the long gravel driveway, you were a little hesitant, but it was less than 24 hours when you won the 1st place trophy, so I thought, no problem here! Again, you proved me wrong. You took one look at the horses (which were behind a fence), jumped, and somehow wriggled out of your collar. You began to run. You ran up the middle of the road, never looking back. I hobbled after you calling your name, trying commands, ‘come’, ‘stay’, ‘sit’ to no avail. I have to admit, you made my heart stop. I honestly thought you would be hit by a car and it would be all my fault. My husband and neighbours dropped the photo shoot and ran to get in the vehicle while I ran back home. I had no idea where you would have run to. As I breathlessly ran up our driveway, I had to readjust my eyes. Were you sitting on the porch at the front door or was it an apparition and my eyes playing tricks on me? No, you were comfortably sitting on the porch waiting for me at the front door. How could I be mad at  you? You ran ‘home’. With tears in my eyes, I realized at that moment, you were ours.

Your compassion, playfulness, and protective nature only grew from there. You would accompany me to the long-term care facility every weekend to visit my Mom, who had Alzheimer’s disease. You seemed to love this part of your life. You would visit not only  Mom, but every resident on the floor. You would walk into different rooms allowing anyone to pet you. Over time, you wouldn’t want to leave Mom’s bed. You wanted to stay on her bed lying at her feet. I would have to put the leash on and drag you off. You always made Mom laugh, especially when her words evaporated, and for that I will be forever grateful. As for your unique playfulness, you seemed to delight in puppies and other dogs around the ‘hood’! You were the perfect ‘surrogate’ mother. You played hard and disciplined regularly. You were a ‘gentle soul’, but had a protective quality when it came to me. There was that time on a trail walk when we ran into an individual on crutches walking towards us. You loved people, but this time you pushed your way between him and I, and began a quiet guttural growl. I didn’t know what to think or do, but you took over. You seemed to frighten this individual as I yanked your lead and continued on our walk. I glanced over my shoulder and noticed this individual carrying their crutches and walking fine. I will never know what that person had in mind, but you were there to take care of me and, I fell deeper in love with you.

We only had 10 years together and I guess I thought we would have had more time. Our grooming sessions, your ‘grinch’ paws, your beautiful left blue-grey eye, my fur tumbleweeds throughout the house, the raw roast theft, the quiet cuddles on the floor, the barking at 9 p.m. to let me know it was feeding time, the ‘look’, as if I were the only person that mattered to you in the world… I could go on, but it’s time to let you go and begin a new chapter with another fur friend. There will never be another you! You were an original and I always will have you in my heart.

Loved you baby girl, hope you knew that!

In a ‘perfect world’…

eden

Wow… writing block… I always thought that was a crock… Once again, I’ve been proven wrong.

Last year at this point I was writing everyday – the thoughts, words, and descriptions were rising up out of me like lava from a volcano. I couldn’t type fast enough, and then… nothing, nada, rien.

What changed?

Well I had run out of savings so I began looking for a position in my field and was hired on a 3-month contract basis. I accepted the contract position then prior to ending my contract; I was offered a position at a long-term care facility on a permanent basis. I tried my best to conform to the rules and regulations of the home I was employed at, but to no avail. My philosophy for recreation with seniors, specifically those suffering from any form of dementia was to allow them to ‘live out their remaining days’ using the Eden alternative mission and values – http://www.edenalt.org/about-the-eden-alternative/mission-vision-values/.

How difficult can it be for homes to pursue the following principles?

  • The three plagues of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom account for the bulk of suffering among our Elders.  Common sense, right?
  • An Elder-centered community commits to creating a Human Habitat where life revolves around close and continuing contact with plants, animals, and children. It is these relationships that provide the young and old alike with a pathway to a life worth living.
  • Loving companionship is the antidote to loneliness. Elders deserve easy access to human and animal companionship.
  • An Elder-centered community creates opportunity to give as well as receive care. This is the antidote to helplessness.
  • An Elder-centered community imbues daily life with variety and spontaneity by creating an environment in which unexpected and unpredictable interactions and happenings can take place. This is the antidote to boredom.
  • Meaningless activity corrodes the human spirit. The opportunity to do things that we find meaningful is essential to human health.
  • Medical treatment should be the servant of genuine human caring, never its master.
  • An Elder-centered community honours its Elders by de-emphasizing top-down, bureaucratic authority, seeking instead to place the maximum possible decision-making authority into the hands of the Elders or into the hands of those closest to them.
  • Creating an Elder-centered community is a never-ending process. Human growth must never be separated from human life.Wise leadership is the lifeblood of any struggle against the three plagues. For it, there can be no substitute.

Imagine Seniors that would continue to be engaged and captivating. As humankind, we would not have a throwaway society once people become less then perfect.

Ahhhh… that perfect world:

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Remembrance Day November 11th 2015 poppy

What’s a little writing block?

A Day of Remembrance

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Lest We Forget…

On the 11th hour of the 11 day of the 11th month, marks the date and time the armies ceased fighting World War 1. On this day Canada remembers and honours our soldiers who fought for our freedom during all conflicts throughout the world.

I am thankful for the sacrifices made by those I do not know. I am lucky my family spoke of enduring the long years apart and on this day, I remember Jack Macfarlane and George Bilz.

Jack Macfarlane was my grandfather; born and raised in Edinburgh Scotland. He arrived in Canada with big dreams and fell in love with my grandmother ‘Josephine’. They had a daughter together in 1934, but when 1939 hit, Jack signed up immediately to fight for his country and the King of England (George the 6th). Jack’s health was cleared and he travelled to England where he began his journey as a ‘cook’ on a war ship on the high seas. I know nothing else of my grandfather other than he lived to return to his family in 1945. He was not wounded, but must have witnessed many atrocities that he kept deep inside his psyche, because in 1953, he committed suicide.

George Bilz was my great uncle. He was a fighter pilot in the 2nd World War. I have photos of some of the planes he flew, along with pictures of him in uniform. Family told stories about Uncle George being shot down over Germany more than once. He survived his injuries and returned home at the end of the war with a wife – a nurse he met while in England. ‘Joyce’ was our ‘war bride’.  George and Joyce lived a modest life and raised their family, like many who returned home in 1945. I was 12 years old in 1976, when I met my Uncle George. He was in bed at his home suffering from Cancer, which I had been told was the result of shrapnel left in his body from his bomber being shot down during the War. The young, vibrant and energetic man from the old photo’s had faded and shrivelled from Cancer that took over his entire body. He suffered his last few weeks in the Veteran’s Wing at the Sunnybrook hospital, where he died.

Both these 2 men did not die in the war, but suffered the consequences of battle through both mental and physical conditions. They fought to allow me to speak freely in my Country and for that I am eternally grateful.

With tears in my eyes, lump in my throat, and heavy heart, I honour and remember these 2 men and all who fought for MY freedom on this day…

Thank you Grandpa and Uncle George… thank you all!

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A mother/daughter journey

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Alzheimer’s… is it the end of the person who has it? Just like the delicate ‘forget me not’ flower so is this delicate disease…was published in the focus 50 magazine in May 2015!

Enjoy:

A Mother/Daughter Journey….

‘Oh poor Rita Hayworth, she has Alzheimer’s, you know. If I ever was diagnosed with that, I’d kill myself.’ ‘Oh Mom, I don’t think you will ever get that, besides that’s an old person’s disease’.

‘Promise me you will never put me in a home.’ ‘I promise Mom.’

Eventually, my words to Mom would come back to haunt me.

It’s difficult to say the exact moment I noticed a change in Mom, but over time it became evident there was problem. The misplacing of keys, non-existent hygiene, loss of words, angry outbursts, constant confusion, lack of sleep, repetitive motions, forgetting phone numbers, and her ‘fear’ of being alone.

Diagnosis: Early on-set Alzheimer’s disease.

My feelings of denial (she was fine sometimes and she was only 63 years old), anger (directed at her ‘she should know better’, ‘she forced me to put my life/career on hold’, at family who vanished when I needed help, at the doctors who couldn’t help her), guilt (for arguing with her, lack of patience, and inevitably placing her in LTC), remorse (apologizing after the fact), depression (too many tears from her and myself), exhaustion (primary caregiving, her disease), hit me at varying times without warning over the 10 years WE suffered with Alzheimer’s.

Mom’s disease turned into our disease and we battled it together. Through the ups and downs and laughs and tears, we formed a new intimate relationship. The closeness we shared might never have been possible without the ‘disease’. We spent more hours together, laughing, holding hands, and hugging. As time went by, the anger we both experienced slowly disappeared and morphed into a closer mother/ daughter relationship that I would never have imagined. Speech had eluded Mom in her remaining years, but every now and then she would say aloud, ‘I love you’. Maybe Alzheimer’s had taken so much from Mom, but her true essence still remained until the very end. Her inner spark and reactions to love never truly left; it just went to sleep at times.

It may sound absurd, but in the end, ‘Alzheimer’s’ taught me the beauty of a rare and unique love. Even to this day, I would trade anything in the world to have Mom back, Alzheimer’s and all.

“Thanks Mom, through all the ups and downs, which we had many, you completely changed my life in a positive and meaningful light, while giving me an understanding of what ‘love’ truly means. I love and miss you and will always remember”.

In The Out Door

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I open my eyes from a long sleep. I hear voices, but cannot place where they are coming from. Do I dare close my eyes again? No, they will remain open. I need to know what’s happening. Think, think, I tell myself.

‘Good morning Edna, time to get ready for the day’, a voice tells me.

‘It’s a beautiful day! Hey, Sandy, you think you can help me with this? We need 2 people for the transfer.’

Who are these people? Why are they looking at me? No, don’t touch me; I try to scream! I open my mouth, but only a ‘waahhh’ sound escapes.

‘So how was your weekend?’ One person says to the other.

‘It was okay, I was called in for work on Sunday, but I need the hours, my kid wants to play soccer this year.’

‘Wow, yeah, kids are expensive, try having 5!’

Wait a minute! I’m here! Talk to me! Ouch! You are hurting me. I try to move my arm, but something holds me down.

‘Edna, be good. You have to help us, don’t fight us’, a voice sternly says.

‘Oh, Sandy, did you read her file this morning? She hit Roma yesterday. She’s being very aggressive lately. If she is uncooperative, I will have no choice but to document.’

Who the hell are you talking about? Roma, who is Roma? What file? Stop please! What are you doing to me?

‘Sandy, can you operate the lift while I get her clothes ready?’

‘Yeah, no problem.’

Oh my god, I am being raised up! I’m going to fall. Stop, stop, please stop, I beg you! I can’t move! I’m going to try to get down myself. I struggle to swing my arm out when I feel a weight pressing on it.

‘Edna, stop it! You are going to get hurt. Now calm down!’ one of the voices says emphatically.

‘Mel, I think you better document today that she is still exhibiting behavior’s towards us. She will not listen.’

Listen? No! YOU listen to ME! I am not a child! I am an adult…I’ve had children, yes, that’s right, I remember now; I’m a mother.

‘Yeah I will. They may have to change her meds again.’

Meds? What are you talking about?

‘Okay Edna, we are going to put you in your chair and change your clothes’.

Oh thank you, thank you! My eyes begin to focus, but wait a minute; those are not my clothes. I don’t know whose clothes those are, but they aren’t mine! I don’t want to wear someone else’s clothes, please listen to me!

‘Edna, stop it! We are just trying to help. You need to get dressed, you can’t stay in your nightgown all day’, one of the voices says irritated.

‘Hey, when’s your break?’

‘I have one in 20 minutes, but the rate we are going with her, it may be later.’

Her? My name is Edna, Edna…Ramsey, yes that’s it, Edna Ramsey!

‘I have to do Margaret next, but she’s easy’, the voice says.

‘Oh I love Margaret; she is so sweet. She’s never a problem’, the other voice replies sentimentally.

Who is Margaret? I’m sweet and caring, I think.

All of a sudden I’m dressed and in a chair, how did I get here? I’m being pushed, where are you taking me? I scream again; the ‘waahhh’ sound.

‘Edna, I’m taking you to the dining room. It’s time for breakfast’, one voice says loudly.

I sit at a table with others. Why am I here? These people are old. They drool and make no sense. I don’t know anyone. Someone has made a mistake. I’m, I’m, I don’t know who I am, but I know I don’t belong here. I think I’ve lost my way.

How long have I been sitting here? I think I feel … Where am I? I realize I am crying!

A young girl kneels down beside me and gently touches my arm. Oh, how good that feels.

‘Hi Edna, you want to come with me? We are going to a small concert downstairs’, the girl says sweetly.

I nod my head, yes, yes, you understand! I have to get home. I have to be home for my daughter when she gets home from school!

‘Okay Edna, I’ll take you’ the sweet girl with the most beautiful smile says.

A voice begins to speak with my sweet girl:

‘Shelley, be careful with her, she has been aggressive over the last few days. I’m not sure you should take her down to the concert. She could be a disruption to the other residents.’

I feel my sweet girl’s hand on my shoulder as she says,

‘It’s okay, I’ll sit next to her, and if she becomes agitated, I will bring her back up.’

The growling voice says, ‘okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!’

Warn her? Warn her about what? She is taking me home. You leave my girl alone!

Then the sweet girl bends down and says to me, ‘you still want to go, Edna?’

I nod, and I think I smile, although I can’t be sure.

‘She’ll be fine’, my sweet girl says to the growler.

We have entered a large room with many people. I am not sure I want to be here. I begin to wave my arm. I don’t know where I am and I don’t recognize these people. I begin to shake. I want to go home, please, you promised to take me home!

My sweet girl bends down and gingerly caresses my hand and says ‘It’s okay Edna, I’m here. We are going to have fun’.

Please don’t let go of me. I’m scared; I want to scream!

A voice next to my girl says, ‘Hi Shelley, how is she today?’

I wonder about whom this woman is speaking. She seems to be very nice and somewhat familiar. Do I know her? Maybe she’s one of my daughter’s friends, yes, that’s it, that’s where I have seen her, I think.

I see my beautiful girl say to the woman, ‘Edna is a little upset today, but she’ll be happy to see you. Look she’s smiling! Why don’t you sit next to her, that way I can bring a few more residents down.’

The lady smiles at me and says words that I cannot understand. She seems nice as she bends down to give me a kiss on the cheek. Her warm hand holds mine, as she begins to talk non-stop. I can’t follow everything she says, but I’m not fearful anymore. Somehow I feel calm and comfortable.

I hear music playing and I close my eyes… and there’s my Bert…I feel like a teenager. No wait! I am a teenager! I have butterflies in my stomach and I’m in love. I’m on my feet swaying back and forth enveloped in Bert’s arms. Our song has been requested, ‘You send me’ by Sam Cooke! Bert casts me that crooked smile, takes my hand, holds me closer, and sings along in his delightful deep voice,

‘At first I thought it was infatuation,

But, ooh, it’s lasted so long, now I find myself wanting, to marry you and take you home,

Whoa…you, you, you, you send me…’

I sense a warm touch on my arm, I open my eyes, and I see my daughter. She is smiling at me. Oh how I love her. I know she loves me too. But, wait, she has tears in her eyes, why is she crying? I reach out to touch her and hear, ‘I love you’ breathlessly escape from my lips. She smiles, looks away and says quietly, ‘I love you too, Mom’.

I am fine dear, I try to say, but it doesn’t come out that way. She then looks at me with her big brown eyes, flashes her crooked smile, and strokes my hand.

I am here. I live, I feel, I have loved, been loved, and still love. Please SEE ME, but more importantly, love me and never forget me.

I have a lovely woman sitting beside me, she seems familiar, but I can’t seem to place her, and I think I hear music…