Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Stages of Alzheimer's Disease and How It Progressed With My Friend Over the Years

It has become more difficult these past months to visit my friend at the memory care center where she has been living.  As she declines, the good days are less frequent and the bad days expand to fill the empty space. Each time I go I hope for just one more bit of insight that can help me understand what is going on inside as her mind gradually loses it's foothold. Now...all of the things that have caused both of us angst in the past seem totally meaningless. For the most part, she has lost her ability to speak, remember past experiences or people, recognize food or care about where her dog is. Without a past, who are we?  I seek the answer at every visit.

          This morning's sunrise on the hike I always made my friend take with me when she visited. She would  humorously complain the entire time until we finished with a latte from Dutch Brothers.  
There is a certain look she always gave me that made my heart dance. She would tuck her chin down and raise her eyebrows, tilting her head then look into my eyes as a way to separate herself from the other residents, as if to tell me she was not one of them.  That was my cue to give her a conspiratorial smile and nod. It was something we did in college.  No words necessary.

I knew my friend had memory issues when she was in her 40's. She had always had a voracious appetite for words, spoken or written.  We both saved our books, trading bags of them several times a year when we visited each other. Then suddenly she didn't bring any more books and wasn't interested in taking any of mine. She was unable to keep the story line straight any longer, having to start at the beginning each time she picked up the book.

She began asking simple questions, repeatedly with no recollection of having ask the same thing just a few minutes earlier. Even hearing the answer over and over didn't trigger her memory.  At one visit, each time she ask me where I got my sweater, I asked if she recalled having ask me that earlier.  Even though her declining short term memory was frightening for us both, her sense of humor showed when from then on she began saying after every question, "I already asked you that, right?" followed by a gale of laughter.

We had many conversations about what her future looked like after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.  At first she insisted it wasn't true but there was no denying the scan that showed her brain beginning to atrophy.  She was angry with many people. She was resentful and depressed at times. She was upset when the woman who coordinated the local Alzheimer's Association told her there would be a day when she would not be able to find her car in the parking lot of the grocery store.  She talked with me about what this would mean as she aged.  She obsessed about where she would live, what would happen to her dog and how she would spend her days, afraid of not knowing what was going on around her.  All I could say was "You are my friend. I will be there. I will hold your hand and make you laugh like we did in college".

Today I was there as her future became the present. I held her hand and tried my best to make her laugh but it wasn't what we had pictured years ago when she first learned of her disease. Tears ran down my face as I watched her struggling, drifting in and out of sleep.  It seemed best to tell her the story of her life as I knew it, about how we met in college and the crazy things we did and how hard we laughed, how our lives evolved with each other through
The sunset from the deck where my friend and I sat many times
relationships, job changes, moving closer to each other then farther away and then finally closer again. I spoke about how we ended up right here...right now.  I  told her about the journey she was on and that I would be waiting for her to let me know she arrived safely.  She squeezed my hand as she tucked her chin down, raised her eyebrows, tilted her head and looked into my eyes.  I gave her that conspiratorial smile and nodded just like we did in college.  Yes, you are my special friend.  No words necessary.     

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Alzheimers Disease......Sometimes Not being Able to Remember the Past or Worry about the Future is OK

I'm not sure how long I spent crying in the parking lot of a memory care center earlier this week. I just wasn't able to drive home after I visited my college friend of 45 years.  She lives there now in the highest level of memory care they can provide.  The change in her physically was shocking.  No longer remembering to eat or even to feel hunger, she has lost close to 80 pounds.  Nothing and no one can entice her to eat.  Food just isn't interesting to her any more. Six months before she was eating ice cream out of the carton for breakfast in her own home when I stopped to see her.  It made us laugh because we used to do that together in our dorm room. Two spoons and one carton. I was never a big breakfast eater but ice cream worked well for us both. I would give anything to get her to enjoy one bite of ice cream again.

She has her own language now, using a combination of sounds, hand gestures and her eyes to impart her feelings.  It takes some skill to decipher but you can figure out her message if you take the time.  She does not consider it rude if you finish a sentence for her.  Instead she is relieved.  She doesn't like questions because she has no answers.  She doesn't like names because she knows no people.  She doesn't care what was served for lunch, how her clothes fit or who visited her yesterday.  That information is simply not relevant to her any longer.  Instead she vigilantly watches the other residents for subtle signs of distress and is intuitively drawn to help them. All she can do is stand close by and worry her hands but that is how she shows her concern.  She is present with them.  She is in  the moment, no baggage from her past, no memories of being wronged, no resentment toward family or friends and no wishing she were somewhere else.  I was amazed as I watched her interact with simplicity and honesty.

The irony of it was not lost on me, having just come from a session with a counselor where I had dumped a boatload of unresolved feelings, being wronged and wronging others, feeling inadequate and small for not being able to rise above it, not being able to take the high road of forgiveness and open my heart. I have spent a lot of money and countless hours to learn what my friend showed me in 45 minutes. It is simply better when we forget past wrongs.

My friend at Stephens College in Equestrian Class
I met my friend the very first day at Stephens College because our dorm rooms were directly across the hall from one another.  Oddly, the private women's college we attended recruited a small number of women from each state and many foreign countries as a way to expose the students to a myriad of cultural differences.  We both were from small towns in Oregon, had received partial scholarships and student loans and needed to work part-time jobs in order to attend what was considered at the time a very expensive college.  We were accepted for different reasons. She had extremely high SAT scores.  My SAT scores were not as high but I was extremely creative on my college application. We were best friends for 45 years.

She loved to intimidate others with her extensive vocabulary, making it very difficult for me to win a debate or even a game of Scrabble. Her witticism could cut right to the naked truth, painfully accurate and revealing at times but never cruel.  Her cleverly crafted expressions between ideas and unique observations were endlessly entertaining whether we were in class, at a college mixer or flying home to Oregon together for the holidays.  I smiled as I wondered what she would have to say now, living in the highest level of memory care available with others who were no longer able to live on their own.  It would have raised  her sense of humor to a new level, I'm sure. To her the world was a canvas for intellectual amusement and verbal banter was her medium.  Asking a rhetorical question and answering herself with a creative oxymoron was her calling card. Believe me when I say there is a plethora of raw material where she is now.   
My friend in the studio we shared at Stephens college
Crying in the parking lot wasn't because I felt so sorry for my best friend.  Yes, I miss her terribly and I can't imagine what her acerbic wit would say if she could for one second see the craziness going on  around her. The tears were for the beauty and simplicity of the value she was able to find for herself.  Seeing her concern for those she lived with now and her inability to get bogged down with past grievances, I realized that remembering is not always best. She showed me it's better to just be present and not waste one second being regretful of the past or frightened by the future.

Thank you, my friend, for the 45 years of crazy fun we had and thank you, my friend, for the 45 minutes it took you last Wednesday to show me what really matters.  I will see you at breakfast.  Two spoons and one carton.       


Friday, February 24, 2017

Patron Saint of Purse Makers, St. Brieuc of Brittany

It is standing room only again at the Saturday 4pm mass led by the charismatic Father Lincoln at Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert.  In spite of the crowded seating, I noted that many women brought their handbags to mass.  There are 4 large purses taking up seating space in the row of seats in front of me.  I am simultaneously obsessing over the people forced to stand and the huge purses that couldn't be locked in the car parked in a church parking lot guarded by security for one hour.

After communion, I kneel, give thanks and pray my usual prayers. I pray for determination in keeping an open heart for those I try to love unconditionally, including myself. I pray for the strength to be supportive and kind to those who cross my path daily no matter how busy I am. I pray for help to be selfless in my grace while serving others even in the smallest ways.  I pray to forgive and to be forgiven.  The Divine certainly knows this to be quite a challenge given my personality but I'm hopeful my prayers will be answered over time.  As I kneel, I am sucked into the gaping maw of an open purse on the seat in front of me.  It appears to have a voracious appetite given it's size.  I tried to focus on prayer, love and centering my soul but I  found I couldn't look away.  It presented an excellent opportunity to see what was so important they couldn't free up a another seat.

Looking into the voracious maw of a designer handbag
Just like my mother, Kleenex seems to be the primary ingredient, even in an expensive designer bag. Next is a cell phone, water bottle, lip gloss, Tylenol and  wallet, a variety of coupons, paper, envelopes and pens, followed by a general mess that looks akin to an unmade bed.  Even my ADD brain knew not one of those items was necessary to attend mass. What is this addiction to our purses and why are we so insecure without them?  There must be a saint or two that can help out.  

As my mother aged and became more forgetful, she frequently became concerned with where her purse was....believe me when I say we spent many hours looking for it.  With caregivers in the house, she was convinced it was necessary to hide it even though by then it didn't hold anything of much value.  We prayed to St. Anthony so many times for help  I thought we wore him out.  "St. Anthony! St. Anthony! Please come 'round.  Something's been lost and cannot be found."   He answered our prayers more times than I can count.

St. Breiuc Patron Saint of Purse Makers
After some research, I found the Patron Saint of Purse Makers, St. Brieuc....educated where else?....France? Oui! Mistakenly, I thought Givenchy, Louis Vuitton or Yves Saint Laurent might be the Patron Saints of Purse Makers from what I saw leaning over the pew at Sacred Heart.  St. Brieuc was born in Wales around 420 AD, moved to France and is known as one of the seven founding saints of Brittany.  An official medallion found in Seine shows him to have a purse in hand, slaying a dragon. Most often he is shown holding a staff with a column of fire above him which was said to appear when he was ordained. It's an interesting and somewhat unsettling combination. 

So between purse-maker, St. Breiuc and purse-finder, St. Anthony, I can only hope that those of us who can't be separated from our purses for an hour long mass may find solace in praying to at least one of these two saints.  I'm certain either would be delighted to intervene on our behalf, bringing us enough security and peace to leave a purse at home, downsize or lock it in the car, instead of giving it a seat in the pew at a standing room only mass.  Think of it this way...the saints can help us lighten our burden and feel confident enough to take only what is really necessary to attend mass, our souls. Plus, I'm sure there are many who will give thanks when they are offered a chance to sit down. Mercie! Oui? 






Sunday, February 12, 2017

Patron Saint of Communication. Pray to St. Gabriel for Help in Caring for Those with Dementia

Somewhere in the deepest crevices of my brain I have stored the love I still feel for my late mother. I put it somewhere near my enchantment with tulips and close to my infatuation with creativity, in the special place where my heart still dances. While I am not a brain scientist I do know I have one and like my car, I've learned more about it the longer I use it. Once in a while you hear the sound of a different engine.  You look to see a Maserati humming past. Sometimes my brain runs like the Maserati and other times it runs like a clunker in need of a tune up. I like the Maserati best.

There is the executive function part of my brain where I have stored the memories of the challenges taking care of my mother presented.  This is the part of my brain that deals with lists and procedures, figuring out how best to care for her, the area where it seemed black or white, right or wrong, healthy or sick, either/or.  Unfortunately, it is not that simple when the one you care for is gradually losing their mind. Blending the bittersweet love I felt for her with the intellectual process of providing her with care was hard on both of us.

St. Gabriel, Delivering a Message from Heaven
The Archangel, St. Gabriel is the Patron Saint of Communication and has a long history of delivering important messages from heaven to earth. I like to think of him as a sort of Press Secretary for the Divine. Unlike most saints, St. Gabriel was never a human being living on earth but instead he was an angel in heaven who was declared a saint for helping people on earth.  His most preferred method of communicating was through dreams so as not to frighten the recipient. He is known to intercede on behalf of those who pray for his help to communicate with others and is known to assist anyone who's work involves communication like postal workers, journalists and telecommunications workers, diplomats, ambassadors and clergy, to name a few.  I figure he has become extremely busy in modern times given the internet, email, cell phones and texting.

On occasion, mother would want to go home to her parents, even though she was already home and her parents had passed away years before. Stopping her with logic only made her want to leave more, focusing her anger on the one keeping her from "going home".  Questioning her was confusing and added to her insecurity. Lengthy explanations created bad feelings, not solutions. It seemed all I did was make her more agitated and angry. Everything I knew about communication skills was worthless.

At night I would lie in bed, ruminating over and over in my brain how to keep my mother safe and happy since the two seemed mutually exclusive. I was confused by how my best intentions only served to make her feel more frightened and anxious, the opposite of what I wanted. I prayed I could find a way to communicate with her that made her feel comfortable. It was St. Gabriel who showed me the way.  It occurred to me that I used words with limited feelings and she used feelings with limited words. I realized it wasn't her inability to make sense of my words.  It was my inability to communicate in a way that made sense to her feelings.

As a teacher I knew that you had to reach every student at their individual point of readiness in order to have success. There were no disadvantaged students, only those who were "differently advantaged". Once I saw my mother as "differently advantaged" St. Gabriel gave me the answer.  If the scrapbook of her mind had pages torn out I couldn't fix that but I could work with it.  There were particular events that simply didn't exist anymore for her. I had to accept where she was, not remind her of where I thought she should be.  
I knew the concepts my mother still understood and it occurred to me I could use those to help her make order out of chaos.  She always valued eating meals together so telling her we would do something after dinner could often delay her concerns. If she wanted to call her mother, I would say her mother was using the bathroom and would call when she was done. Using the bathroom was another concept my mother understood. If she was looking for my father, dead 25 years, I would explain he was feeding the cattle.  She knew how important it was to feed them because for many years they had owned a cattle ranch together. 
St. Gabriel, Patron Saint of Communication

Delaying and distracting her worked better than trying to get her to accept my reality. "I'll take you home after we eat lunch" even though we were already home  "We have to wait until the bus comes at 2:00, then we will go" even though there was no bus line where she lived now.  "Your mother and father are still at work.  We'll go when they are home" though her parents had been dead for 30+ years.  If she ask to call her parents, I found reminding her they were dead would cause her to react as if she was hearing it for the first time because for her she was.  It could cause hours of crying. It was a nightmare for us both. My truth was no longer the best choice because her brain simply couldn't hold onto that truth.  Instead it caused agonizing emotional pain and I couldn't bear to be the cause of it.

It's like this...our memories are a long sequence of events that run in chronological order and they give us a reference for making sense out of the present.  In my mother's case she had blank areas in her brain that had once held memories. It seemed I was always the one to remind her of what she had forgotten.  Once I stopped forcing my reality on her, our happiness quotient immediately improved and our collective anxiety disappeared.

I thank St. Gabriel for showing me a way to communicate with my mother that made her feel safe and happy.  I thank St. Gabriel for making our lives easier and less painful as my mother declined.  It is believed that St. Gabriel will blow the sacred trumpet at the Last Judgment and it is then that I will be judged for how I cared for my mother. I look forward to it.    




Saturday, December 24, 2016

Patron Saint of Peace. Our Lady of Fatima

It is Christmas Eve and I am exhausted by the retail frenzy that begins for me at my studio in October.  I have the most gracious, kind and caring customers any business could wish to have.  There isn't a day that goes by that I don't give thanks that I can do what I love for a living because of the many who have supported me. I enjoy the people who come in once a year just to appreciate the decor and get caught up on our lives. I enjoy the customers who buy lots of things from me but I, also look forward to the ones who come just to buy a bar of soap and chat. In the 25 years I have had a working studio, my customers and I have shared our lives.... divorces, caring for an elderly parents, loss of loved ones, happiness of finding a new love, children and their successes and failures, tales of travels all over the world, stories of our beloved pets, defeating cancer and other illnesses,  loss of jobs or houses, finding new careers and new homes, fears and uncertainty about our community and country, our dreams, hopes and successes.  Over the years, as we have become friends, we have found support in getting to know each other and sharing our stories. 

Gold Leafing details on Our Lady of Fatima
I recently received an order for a statue of Our Lady of Fatima and as I always do, I read her lengthy story again from beginning to end.  I like to remind myself of the story surrounding the statue so as I paint I can stay present with it's meaning.  In the past I have discovered I telegraph through my hands and paintbrush what ever mood I'm in and that can make for some disgruntled looking saint statues if I'm not careful.  You certainly don't want a saint that looks like she has PMS or is bad-tempered because she skipped a meal.  Our Lady of Fatima needs to have a serene, quietly reflective and deeply spiritual face which helps to impart her message of salvation and peace.

Almost 100 years ago, Our Lady of Fatima appeared six different times to three peasant- children in Fatima, Portugal during 1917.  Her visits were preceded by three apparitions in 1916 by an Angle of Peace who prepared the children for Our Lady's visits to come. The details are lengthy and the debates, discussions and interpretations have occupied many theologians and scholars for years.  I encourage you to read the details of her visits and of the messages she shared.  Generally, most agree the purpose of the apparitions was to help people grow in faith, hope and love.  Since the birth of Christ, we have had the option to choose what is good and to know evil doesn't have the last word.  "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world."(John 16:33)  Our Lady of Fatima asks us to trust in this promise.

The base of the statue before gold leaf is added
The gold leaf details added

Our Lady of Fatima statue is usually shown standing on a cloud-like base, wearing a white gown and mantle trimmed in gold with a rosary and often a crown.  The statues can vary depending on the simplicity or embellishment of the clothing.  I use gold leaf on the edge of her gown and on the statue's base and other details.  To keep her story authentic, I then glaze and age the painted surfaces to look like all eternity.

Christmas Eve is a time to remember the events around the Holy Family and the birth of Jesus.  It is also a time to gather with family and friends and a time for gift giving.  It's a time when I reflect on how my life has been filled with so many people who are kind and good and have met the challenges of life steadfastly and honestly regardless of what their faith may be called.  It's a time when the message of Our Lady of Fatima speaks clearly above the din of the busy Holiday retail season to trust that no matter how many challenges, sorrows or burdens we carry, it is our choice to choose good over evil.  Her message of love, hope and peace is seemingly, more profound in 2016 than it was a hundred years ago.         


Saturday, August 27, 2016

St. Frances...Patron Saint of Animals and Gold Leaf

Madonna and Child with Gold Leaf Accents
Today I received a box which contained a highly anticipated order of Gold Leaf for my studio.  I felt like a six year old excitedly opening a present.  I use Gold Leaf for a magnificent finishing touch on my saint statues.  This carton of sunlight miraculously arrived at my studio door in a deceivingly dull brown box.  The beauty of the metal leafing was so striking it made my eyes tear-up and my heart ache as I took it out of the package.

Gold Leaf comes in metal sheets that are pressed so thin they float on air.  It is illusive to handle because it is almost impossible to hold without breaking apart.  Even when everything seems perfect, adding the Gold Leaf makes it more so.  Like adding Creme Fraiche to a freshly baked pear tart, the thin golden air sets off what's underneath in a way nothing else can.  Like adding the exact right piece of jewelry to an evening dress or the perfect flower from your garden to your dinner table, it's not necessary but once it's there you can't imagine being deprived of it. There are things we don't know we need in our lives but once we have them we feel we can't live without them.  You simply can't unsee it.

My dog Maizey was the Creme Fraiche in my life.  She was the Gold Leaf that made my day sparkle.  She filled an empty spot I didn't know existed.  Always there, willing to take as much or as little attention as I could give at any moment. She was my transition dog, escorting me through loss and change and discoveries that life presented over the five years she was with me.  She was a bridge between my head and my heart, showing me things about myself I hadn't known and her death taught me things I was not capable of knowing any other way.  

Maizey's Tea Party
Originally, Maizey came into my life as a way for me to soften the upcoming loss of my old dog, Rita.  Maizey unknowingly helped me weather the decline and finally the loss of my mother, with whom she had a special relationship.  She helped me with the inherent deep sadness that followed.  She loved me in spite of my being consumed with my mother's care and my becoming someone others and I had a hard time liking.  Maizey got me up in the morning smiling, made me feel going in the car was the best thing on earth and mealtime was Christmas twice a day.  She made me appreciate all of the mundane things of everyday living and she helped soften the hard stuff being on earth long enough can bring.

I prayed for St. Frances to intervene when Maizey first started getting sick.  Without St. Frances's help I wouldn't have had the chance to return her steadfast dedication and give her every chance to survive. Some days the helplessness overwhelmed me.  Other days I learned to just be present with her, knowing the end wasn't far away.  I had hoped I could control the path we were on but she showed me it was a waste of our time together and what mattered was the "how" and not the "what".

Now I see that the most important thing I learned from Maizey was to never again be satisfied with the inside of the box.  She took a series of unrelated events and wove a circuitous route of eight months of random illness into something that finally made sense in the end.  Only afterwards did I understand how the limits of my own brain kept me from seeing all of the possibilities and I learned I would never be able to see things in only a logical sequential way again.  Like the surface of Gold Leaf that casts a different light on what is underneath, Maizey showed me that there is more...she set off my life in a way I didn't know I needed.  She filled a hole I didn't know needed filling.  She let the golden light loose.  Like Gold Leaf, she made everything look brighter and more beautiful than ever before. 

Maizey         2010-2016   
As I touch the airy sheet of Gold Leaf gently so as not to break it apart, I think about what Maizey brought to my life in those 5 years we spent together.  How she touched my heart then broke it apart putting it back together with a dazzling light that makes my eyes tear-up and my heart ache.  Thank you, Maizey for spending those few short minutes with me as our lives crossed paths in the best of ways.  You are forever my Gold Leaf.           


Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Patron Saint of Procrastination? Don't Put Off Praying Invoke Saint Expeditus

I have put off writing on my blog by coming up with any number of excuses from being too busy to not feeling like peeling a layer of skin from my heart. I have two posts that I have been obsessing about for months but I have been paralyzed when it comes to finishing them because I just don't want dredge up uncomfortable feelings that make me squirm and face my weaknesses.  Although I would really prefer to wait until tomorrow, today I began my search for the Patron Saint of Procrastination.

Vintage St. Expeditus Holy Card
I found just the saint and fittingly, his name is St. Expedtitus or St. Expedite  He is thought to be Armenian, a Roman centurion who became a Christian and was beheaded in the Diocletian Persecution in 303 A.D.  He is known as the Patron Saint of those who hope for rapid solutions or who want to put an end to delays.  The saint to pray to against procrastination.  The saint who helps you to push forward when you really don't want to.  He is also the saint for general financial success, shop keepers, sailors, and computer programmers and hackers.  He is the one to ask for help with the prompt settlement of legal battles and bureaucratic red tape.  He has a lot of fans.  

St. Expeditus is shown holding a cross with the Latin word for today written on it, as he steps on a crow saying "cras" the Latin word for tomorrow.  Hence the opposing ideas of putting off until tomorrow what can be done today, also known as procrastination.  St. Expeditus has been invoked for centuries in the conversion of Christians.  If you're planning to convert, do it now since you might not be around tomorrow and then where will you end up?

As the queen of procrastination, I can make my own private hell by dreading the things I need to do instead if just doing them. No one knows how to procrastinate like I do and whatever I avoid most is exactly what I most need to face. I know that it's easier to put off than to put forth, easier to say than to do,  easier to wallow in dread than to push for a sense of accomplishment. With the help of St. Expeditus, I may as well get busy making things happen.  He can help me put an end to delays that can consume my days.  What are you waiting for?


Friday, March 11, 2016

Giving Up Interupting and Learning to Listen for Lent. Patron Saints of Sore Throats & of Hearing Loss.

This year I was hoping to give up something much easier than the swearing I tried to give up last year.  I figure I can do most anything for the 40 days of Lent.  Over time, the occasional swear word has slipped back into the open spaces of my conversations.  Nature abhors a vacuum and I have done my part to fill it. I'm still committed to not swear but it is damn hard to be disciplined when I'm frustrated, stressed, tired or trying to emphasize a point to someone who is not listening. While I remain devoted to finding other words to express myself, I decided to commit to something even more personally challenging for Lent this year.

First of all, for those of you who don't know much about the forty days of Lent, it begins with Ash Wednesday and ends on the Thursday prior to Easter Sunday and can feel like all of eternity.  It is a time of prayer, discipline and reflection as a means of spiritual renewal and growth.  It is a time to reflect on Christ's sacrifice on the cross for our sins.  A time to elevate our personal spiritual state by abstaining from things that distract us from being a better person. I love the idea of giving up something to show my conviction because it forces me to acknowledge my weaknesses and practice self discipline.  I know I should be living every day in that way instead of committing to just 40 days but I only seem to be able to bite off small chunks. Anything more makes me lose my appetite.

So I have given up "interrupting".  Yes, that's right.  My brain moves too fast.  I don't know how to slow down and listen.  I have mistakenly thought my opinion was more essential to a conversation than listening.  I actually believed it was important to voice what I thought rather than hear what others were trying to tell me. Recently, I had a revelation, a hot sweaty revelation that my opinion was irrelevant to the conversation I was having.  I found myself speechless as the other person continued to share their feelings with me and it made for the best conversation ever.  It felt good to listen and really hear what the the other person was trying to tell me.  Then it hit me.  I'm addicted to interrupting and I need to quit it now!  So I made a commitment for Lent to not interrupt anyone. I'm only a few weeks into it and it has already proven to be a much greater challenge than giving up swearing, chocolate or sleeping late.  It embarrasses me to think it took so long to figure it out.
St. Blaise "Patron Saint of Sore Throats

The first thing I needed to do was find a saint that could really lend a hand in keeping my mouth shut.  I need all the support I can get since, it is second nature to tell everyone what I think about everything.  As I pondered how to give up interrupting, I wondered if I needed to see my doctor and get medicine for Adult Attention Deficit Disorder since I find myself already replying before someone has even finished their question. I thought I might need to attend a support group for Interrupters.  I suspect the meetings are either deafeningly quiet or everyone talks at once.  I decided finding the right saint to intervene would be my best bet.  Where to begin?

I thought first of St. Blaise, Patron Saint of Sore Throats, throat illnesses and choking, wild animals, wool combers and wool trading, quite a dossier.  Physicians' documents from the 3rd century in Armenia, where St. Blaise resided, speak of his skill in helping people with objects caught in the throat.  He later became a physician of the souls, teaching by actions rather than words.  People flocked to him to be cured both for physical and spiritual ills. I pray silently to him to intervene, helping me to catch my words before they leave my mouth and interrupt one more person.

St. Francois de Sales
Once I realized that words weren't necessary, I began looking  for a saint that could help me be more thoughtful, help me listen with my two ears and learn to keep my mouth shut.  So that is where St. Francois de Sales, the Patron Saint of Hearing Loss can intervene.  Somewhere along the way I lost my hearing.  I quit listening and started talking, telling everyone what I thought as if it was more important then hearing what others are trying to share with me.  I've been praying to St. Francois to perform a miracle with my deafness and help me to listen.  I've ask for his help in learning what I think and say is of little value if I don't know what matters to those I love.      
 "Mere silence is not wisdom, 
  for wisdom consists of knowing 
  when and how to speak,
  and when and where to keep silent."





Monday, January 4, 2016

Patron Saint of Alzheimer's and Dementia ........................................... Remembering to Pray!

When I graduated from high school and went away to a private women's college, I was amazed and overshadowed by the number of brilliant, self possessed and attractive women around me.  It was the norm, not the exception at Stephens College.  Born in a small Southern Oregon town and raised raised on a ranch 12 miles from a store, I was humbled when I realized I was a nondescript fish in the well stocked pond known as college.  Even though I knew milk came from cows not cartons, that cattle get butchered in order for us to eat steak and vegetables came from gardens, instead of cans it didn't help my status one bit around those incredibly talented brainy women.    

I developed a lasting friendship with one of those exceptional women.  She was attractive, an excellent scholar and member of the debate team with an acerbic wit.  She could shame Einstein with her extensive vocabulary, often leaving me sneaking a look in the dictionary after a conversation.  It was a rare evening when I could win a game of scrabble.  And not once did I suspect she would  be diagnosed with early onset dementia caused by Alzheimer's in her 50's and slowly become a totally different person.

In my mother's case, I expected that by 101, she would have some confusion but nothing prepared me for the fear and anxiety that not knowing created for her.  After 5:00 in the evening my mother would start to get anxious.  She worried about getting home in time to fix dinner even though she was home and hadn't been able to cook dinner in years.  She was worried where my father was even though he had been dead for over 25 years.  Lengthy explanations to correct her thinking only made the situation worse.   

I learned to listen for the common denominator of her concerns.  All of them had to do with strangers verses family, anxiety versus security, fear versus safety.  Home meant being with people she recognized.  Fixing dinner was the way she showed her loved.  Wondering the whereabouts of my long dead father told me she needed to feel loved with a reassuring hug.  The less said the better.  As words failed, my mother developed a heightened ability to read my facial expressions and body language.  Smiling into her eyes, holding her hand and putting my arm around her spoke to her in a way words no longer did.  I had to enter into her world since she could no longer function in mine.     

Antique St. Anthony Shadow Box
My friend's memory issues are different then my 101 year old mother's dementia but the things they crave seem to be the same.  Safety, security, love, familiar people, not having to be confused by questions or corrected or lectured for not knowing.....As words escaped them both, they needed the comfort of laughter and touch more than ever.  As I've watched the disease progress with first my mother and now my friend, I have had to summoned the intersession of several saints a number of times to selfishly ease my own sense of loss.

St. Anthony, the Patron Saint of Lost Items, has gone beyond the call in helping find lost grocery money hidden in the dry dog food bag, a phone hidden in a shoe box and placed in the freezer, keys wrapped and rubber banded in layers of paper towels put in the trash, hearing aides planted in a flower pot and on and on.  Sadly, the only thing St. Anthony hasn't been able to help find is a lost mind.

St. Rita in Reclaimed Shrine from Chris Hart Studio
Sometimes, I cautiously ask St. Rita, the Patron Saint of Impossible Dreams and Difficult Situations, to lend assistance, knowing I need to be careful of what I ask.  I have learned through St. Rita's story that the consequences of getting what you want can be fraught with a whole new set of problems. I am happy my friend is taking a dementia medication but with that her acerbic wit I so enjoyed has vanished.  I prayed my friend could forget her grudge against her brother for taking her car away but with that washing her hair and clothes is no longer important either.  I wish that my friend could still log onto her computer and read my blog but if she could do that she would be walking her dog, losing her way home once again. St. Rita reminds us to gratefully live in the present because Alzheimer's is on no one's schedule.

St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes, is the saint to pray to when Alzheimer's seems impossible and the only answer seems to be no answer, when everything points to hopelessness and solutions seem nonexistent.  St. Jude helps us shoulder the burden and reminds us to let go of trying to control the uncontrollable nature of Alzheimer's.  Once you put your faith in St. Jude, he can clear the path for us to accept that Alzheimer's has a life of it's own, that "unexpected" is its middle name and whatever happens was meant to be.

When I visited my dear friend last week, she amazed me with memories of our college days.  She could remember the outfit I wore on a blind date in the 1971, the name of the building where the college "mixers" were held and the reading list from the English 101 class we had together, all details long forgotten to me. But I still know what I wore yesterday, I can remember what I ate for lunch today and I know what a key is used to for.  My friend does not.  The saints are there to help us both.
All you have to do is remember to pray.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

St. Frances of Assisi - Patron Saint of Animals

WOW!  It always amazes me to discover anew during troubled times that asking the saints to intervene really works. There is something about giving up control, allowing life to unfold, accepting the circumstances and being at peace with the outcome, all of which help pave our path to faith.  I have put off writing a post about St. Frances, Patron Saint of Animals, in spite of many requests.  Although I have always admired St. Frances and even have his statue gracing my gardens, I had never had the opportunity to call him to action like I did this past week.  Before, my writing would have been mostly hearsay but now I speak from experience. St. Frances, one of the most popular statues and recognized saints of our time, really can create a miracle.  

Vintage St. Frances Cement Garden Statue from Chris Hart Studio
My first recollection of St. Frances was when I was 8 and living on the family cattle ranch.   In those days we doctored our own cattle, horses and dogs. Calling a vet was rarely necessary or affordable.  I watched my dad vaccinate and worm cattle, clean barbwire cuts, bottle-feed newborns and neuter anything that hung around long enough to get caught. Our farm dog, a beautiful silver German Shepherd named Queenie was a working dog and an important part of the family.  One day she  became seriously ill, unable to keep anything down.  My mother was dedicated to restoring her health, getting up through the night to feed her water with a syringe, raw eggs, rice and chicken stock.  Nothing worked and just when my mother was packing the car to take her to the vet,  Queenie, so thin and weak, disappeared into the blackberries. We called and hunted for her, leaving food and water out hoping she would find it. After days we gave up in tears knowing we would never see her again.  My mother, whose deep respect and love of animals had cured many sick and injured that came our way, said quietly "It's up to St. Frances now."  When a rack of bones barely recognizable as Queenie appeared at our back door 7 days later we were in disbelief.  Mumbling something about St. Frances and a miracle, my mother set to work nursing her back to health.

So when my healthy, extremely active 6 year old running companion, Maizey became severely ill quite suddenly last week, it was clearly time for a trip to the emergency vet. Within hours she had became catatonic, fevered and in pain. I began my vigil. That night, as I watched her slip into a coma, unable to stop vomiting or urinating, she began bleeding out internally. I told Maizey about St. Francis and his miracle with our farm dog, 55 years ago. The vet didn't hold out much hope.  My heart broke as my mind swirled with confusion about making the right decisions on behalf of my loyal friend and constant companion. I cried as I huddled on the floor of the kennel with her in my arms. I put my ear against her chest listening to her heart beat and wondered if it was really up to me to make it stop.  I prayed to St. Frances to show the way.
St. Frances was born in 1182 into a wealthy merchant family in Assisi, Italy.  He chose to go on the second crusade but on his first night out he had a vision from God. Although, thought to be a coward, he turned away from war to peace. He gave away his worldly possessions, preaching humility, poverty, simplicity and prayer to everyone.  He included all of God's creation, from insects, trees and animals, even the birds to whom he graced with his sermons.  His statue is shown with birds on his shoulders and often a wolf by his leg, symbolizing his love of animals.

Maizey visiting with my mother Mary at 100
As I held Maizey, it seemed there were no simple answers but then I remembered St. Frances's teachings on simplicity. He looked for the simplest solution to every problem believing that simplicity is a virtue that leads to peace.  That's when I found the answer. Maizey's heart was not mine to stop.  I felt a peace wash over me when I passed the burden off to St. Frances. Either she would tell me it was time or she would give me a sign she wasn't giving up.  Just because my heart was broken didn't give me a license to make a decision about her heart. Sure enough, when she raised her head painfully and recognized me the next morning, I knew then that she had a deal going with St. Frances.

Maizey is back home. While she is not her usual active self, she is getting stronger everyday. I am grateful St. Frances took it out of my hands. He freed me to just love her and be there to comfort her. St. Frances and Maizey did the rest just like he did with Queenie. And just like my mom, I found myself mumbling something about St. Frances and a miracle when I loaded Maizey into my car to go home.