Mom Update: Her Final Goodbye

My mother’s long goodbye came to an end on Saturday, July 6th at 12:26pm.

Thank you for all your love and support.

RUTH JOANNE NELSON
September 11th, 1937 — July 6th, 2013

**********

 A Celebration of Life
Thursday July 11th at 11:00 am
Living Spirit United Methodist Church
4501 Bloomington Ave. So.
Minneapolis, MN  55407

Graduation Celebration Procrastination

We just returned from a week long trip to California to attend our son’s college graduation and participate in “the great dorm clean-up.”  Don’t misunderstand, it was a joyous occasion — but one that included the ever present sense of a mountain to climb against a ticking clock.

The week, from my point of view.

Thursday
Arrive!  Meet Jake!  Learn he needs to be vacated by Monday at 8am!
Visit dorm, resist heart attack, dismiss any notion this will be a vacation.
Feel sense of panic and an unseen freight train quickly approaching.
Try to help.
Hear Jake say he has it “under control” and will “take care of it later.”
Go to hotel, fall into bed, dream of son being buried alive in dirty clothes.

Friday
Go to Bookstore.  Give college more money.
Meet Jake with thoughts of garbage bags and haz-mat suits swirling in my head.
Try to help.
Advised by son with four years of high-priced problem solving skills that dorm room can wait.
Tour Pasadena, hike a canyon, eat a two-pound burrito.
Pick up Jake’s newly tuned-up mountain bike from bike shop.
Pick-up large bike box to ship other (road) bike which still needs to be dismantled and packed.
(The road bike will fly home with us, the mountain bike will fly home later with Jake.)
Tick tock.

Jordan and her calm brother on our Pasadena hike.

Saturday
Allowed to help in dorm room, make small dent.
Attend graduation luncheon while Jake’s $900 mountain bike is stolen from his vacant suite.
Jake looks for bike and makes unproductive police report.
Take advantage of Jake’s unfortunate distraction, make BIG dent.
Wonder where I went wrong as I’m engulfed in piles of dirty clothes and 4 months of grime.
Commiserate with other speechless parents drowning in their own son’s sea of procrastination.
Realize my son is “normal,” stop blaming myself, join “parents of messy sons club.”
Do five loads of laundry.  Husband dismantles and packs road bike. Dorm room is half done.
Dinner out with Jake’s friends and their families.  Reservations for 48!
Tick-tock.

Sunday
Greet father-in-law and brother-in-law who arrive from NY.
Meet Jake for brunch in Dining Hall.  Give college more money.
Resist asking about dorm room progress.
Commencement at 1:30.
Ugly cry.
Photos.
Good-byes.
Family dinner.
Increase son’s net worth.
Goodnight and good luck to Jake who will spend his last night packing.
Go to hotel, fall into bed.
Receive text, Jake requests assistance between 7:30 – 8:00 in the morning.
Realize the job requires zero emotion and reckless abandon.  I cannot go.

Monday
Husband goes to dorm, I go to Starbucks.  I enjoy my first ever Caramel Dolce Latte with my daughter, we leisurely sit by the pool, and I realize:
1.  It’s my first relaxing moment since we arrived on Thursday.
2.  I am to blame for my stress.  I mismanaged the blurry line between helping and letting go.
3.  I have serious issues with letting go.
4.  I finally understand the obsession with Starbucks.

Jake packed up and moved out on time, and my husband returned unscathed.  We drove to San Diego to visit family and celebrate two more college graduations with a homemade Italian feast.  We toured San Diego, sat on the beach, ate the best Mexican food EVER, and traveled 14 hours to arrive home at midnight on Wednesday.

To close, my son may be messy, and he certainly procrastinates, but I couldn’t be prouder of him.  He focused where it counted — on his coursework.  Jake went to a demanding school, he worked harder than he’s ever worked, and in four years he walked out with a degree in physics.  For that, among other things, I am very proud and grateful.

  CONGRATULATIONS JACOB!!!

Jacob Leonardis ~ Harvey Mudd College ~ Physics

It Is What It Is: Pat Summitt – Accepting Reality, Finding Peace.

My brother-in-law shared this inspirational video of Pat Summitt, who recently retired as Head Coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols, due to her diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  Now I’m not a basketball fan, and I don’t know much about Pat Summit other than what I’ve just learned, but I like her.

As you’ll see in the video, anyone who has the words “It Is What It Is” hung over their fireplace must be a straightforward, non-complaining, acceptor of reality kind of person.

I want to be like that.  I strive to be like that.

“It Is What It Is” is a common saying with a big message.  Simply put, I think it means “I accept reality.”  Accepting reality can mean anything from accepting the traffic jam you’re in to accepting a job lay-off, or even accepting an Alzheimer’s diagnosis like Pat Summitt.  But I want to take it a step further and say “It Is What It Is” can also mean agreeing with reality.  Agreeing with and embracing reality, and even loving reality — or “Loving What Is” as Byron Katie, one of my favorite authors writes about when she says: “I am a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.”

The reality is life is hard, things don’t always go our way, and people get sick and die every day.   Arguing with reality adds more pain to an already difficult circumstance.  Accepting, embracing, and even loving reality leads to a path of less suffering and more peace.

It is what it is.

I have an art print that says this on my wall at home.  It spoke to me while I was shopping a couple of months ago, I impulsively bought it, and it’s been tucked away and not hung up ever since.   After learning about Pat Summitt, her brave acceptance of her Alzheimer’s disease, and that she lives by these words, I finally hung it up today.  It will be my daily reminder to accept and LOVE WHAT IS — because what else is there?

Calgary Couple Rises Above Early-Onset Dementia

I stumbled across this short video of a dear couple in Canada who are living with early-onset dementia.  The husband was diagnosed in 2008, and his wife is his caregiver.  The wife’s gentle spirit is so beautiful.  And the two of them together make me feel like I’m witnessing love of the highest order.

Gratitude: A Prayer Meditation

I’m going home for a week on Saturday, and I’m preparing for my trip by selecting two pair of shoes that will go with six different outfits and plow through slush and snow.

I’m also mentally preparing for the changes in my mom that are sure to be evident, and for my ability to join her in “Alzheimer’s World” where nothing makes sense, but where I need to go to truly be with her.

I’m grateful for this time, and on Valentine’s Day, wanted to share a gratitude poem that I love.

Gratitude:  A Prayer Meditation

Source of All Blessings
I am Grateful
for My life
for the Blessings
of
My breath
the beating of My heart

Source of All Blessings
I am Grateful
for Beloved Ones who
share life with me
those in our world beside me
and those in worlds beyond my knowing

Source of All Blessings
I am Grateful
to share life with our Human Family
Jewish, Christian, Muslem, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh
May we walk gently upon our Earth

Source of All Blessings
I am Grateful
to be one with All Creation
the flight of birdwings
the swirling of blueshoals oceans deep
the runnings of wilderness creatures
the sway of forests green

Source of All Blessing
I am Grateful
to be part of the spiraling
of all space and time
beyond my imagination
Yes and again Yes I am grateful
to always be here
where else could I go?
For all this and more
I am Grateful

                                         ~   Rabbi Warren Stone

Racing Alzheimer’s: Mom’s New Year Resolutions

The funny thing is, it didn’t occur to me the Alzheimer’s I’d be racing, would be my mom’s.

New Year Resolutions are like a Bucket List, only with a deadline.  I’ve been writing down resolutions for years now, with some previous goals being to participate in Alzheimer’s research, learn how to meditate, lose 5lbs. (of course!), and last year to run a 10K.

As I thought about my Resolutions this year, I kept going back to my mom who didn’t have any.  I couldn’t help but wonder what her resolutions would be if she had the capacity to understand her short time left.  What would she put on her list?  What would she like to do just one more time?

Since mom couldn’t make New Year Resolutions, I made them for her.   Based on what I know about her, these are the things I think she would like to do this year — one more time.

Mom’s 2013 List:

  • Go to hometown of Wadena, MN to walk down main street and visit old friends
  • Eat buttered macaroni mixed with ketchup, and crumbled bacon
  • Go on a boat ride and fish for Walleye                                                     
  • Walk barefoot along a lake shore
  • Eat a BLT with a homegrown tomato
  • Visit the zoo
  • Drive downtown
  • Play with puppies
  • Watch a softball game at the park
  • Visit Minnehaha Falls
  • Watch the movie “Born Free”
  • Hold a baby
  • Listen to “Hallelujah Chorus” by the Mormom Tabernacle Choir
  • Lay in the grass and watch clouds overhead
  • Sing Christmas Carols

This list looks do-able, but it will take some planning to accomplish everything during the course of my visits home this year.   I may be delusional thinking this is even attainable — mom may not be up for a 3-hour road trip to Wadena, let alone a boat ride — but I’d like to find out.

Alright, let’s be honest.  This list is for me.  Mom would be fine without this list, sticking to her small existence of 3,000 square feet that includes oatmeal, the Price is Right, and a fenced in yard.

But let’s do it anyway!  Let me see the glimpses of joy these things might bring, knowing full well that *poof* they’ll be gone in minutes as if they never happened.  Let me live in the moment with her, and be fully present as she experiences these forgotten things that she loves so much.  Let me witness the little girl she’s become laugh and be carefree.

Let me watch as mom revisits herself and remembers she’s still here.

I’ll take pictures as we go through the list, then someday, if my children ever make such a list for me, I hope they include “Look at photos of Mom and I.”

Adding “Eat Buttered Popcorn” and “Dance to Play That Funky Music” would be appreciated too. : )

Accepting the Flow and Letting Go

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”  ~ Anaïs Nin

A website I found called “Aging Abundantly” spoke to me one day saying:

Aging Abundantly is here for you ~ the woman who is in the midst of the greatest transformation of her life ~ you who are arising from the ashes of your life as maiden and mother and emerging to don the glorious crown of the wise woman and crone.

If you’ve been reading my writing, you know that I struggle with “the greatest transformation of my life” — letting go of my young adult children and my mother who has Alzheimer’s disease.  You’d think I could get on with it, but it’s a process; and writing helps with the process.

Click here to go to Aging Abundantly, and to read my latest reflections on letting go, called “Finding Courage.”

I’m getting there.

I’m further along than I was last summer when I wrote “Adjusting Under My Rock.”

Still, you’ll probably see more on this topic, because I have more to say about love, mid-life, and letting go.

With Much Love,

Joanne

Ruth Update: Feeding The Birds

Mom’s new caregivers have started texting me photos of mom using their camera phone.   So while it’s not the best image, it’s still very much appreciated and I enjoy the updates immensely.  This picture of my mom feeding the birds was recently sent along with the caption “Ruth has become our resident bird feeder.  She goes out daily to the back yard and enjoys just looking around at nature.”

Mom has always been a nature lover and especially a lover of all animals.  This bird feeder stand sits right outside a large picture window where my mom spends a lot of time.  It’s an added blessing that she has birds and squirrels to watch from her window because I’m pretty sure this brings her happiness.  The fenced in yard is nice too since being outdoors has always been important to mom.  Plus I hear she sometimes chats with the neighbors, which is such a sweet thing for me to imagine.  I wonder if the neighbors speak Alzheimer’s?  ; )