Feb 27, 2014

The Worst Day of Her Life

When my mother was sick, any time the phone rang, I reflexively cringed. Although she wasn’t living with us, we were the front-line defense for any issue at the nearby assisted living center where we had moved her after my father’s passing.

In addition to other issues, my mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. After three years of dealing with her disease, we were more fortunate than some, in that she still had about 50% lucid moments. There were also times, though, when she couldn’t remember my children’s names, that I wasn’t sixteen or that she had lung cancer and COPD.

“I breathe just fine,” she’d say while cursing at the staff for insisting she wear her oxygen.

Shaking off my Pavlov response to the center’s number popping up in the caller ID, I picked up the receiver.

“Hi Melinda, we have a situation with your mother and we need you to come out,” the center director said at a more frantic pace than usual.

After caring for someone with Alzheimer’s for a while, I’d learned to triage the chaos the symptoms caused. Refusal to wear her adult diaper (because she didn’t remember having an incontinence problem) would require one level of engagement. Her trying to leave the center because she didn’t believe she lived there would be another. Thankfully, over the years, we had developed a good, trusting relationship with the center staff. When the director didn’t immediately tell me what was going on, I knew we were probably looking at some kind of Deafcon 1 scenario.

“She’s not hurt, but I really need you to come as soon as you can. I’ll explain when you get here.”

I heard the noise of the commotion from my mom’s room from down the hall when I entered the center. The door to her room was open. The center director stood in the doorway and two staff attendants were in the room.

Tears streamed down my mother’s face. Short and frail, in her Tinkerbell nightgown and clutching her vintage purse, she looked like a crying child.

“Why won’t you help me find him! We have to find him,” she yelled as I entered the room. Upon seeing me, relief overcame her. “Melinda, these charlatans won’t let me call the police to find Pete.”

I spent the next couple of hours trying to help my mother understand that her husband of forty years had died, that he wasn’t coming home to take care of her and that the police couldn’t help her find him.

Hearing me saying it and reading his obituary was as painful to her as the morning she found his cold body on the bathroom floor. Added to her grief was an overwhelming shame and sadness that she hadn’t remembered something so important to her.

Looking back on it, I can pinpoint that day, that event, as the day my mother died. Sure she physically fought on for a few years after but her spirit had left the party.

Last night I caught an interview Seth Rogen on a news show talking about his testimony to Congress regarding his Alzheimer’s foundation. His mother-in-law has the disease. It was a great interview and I hope you’ll watch it. Unfortunately, a lot of Senators didn’t even bother to show up.

Today Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the US, affects 5 million people and costs our country $203 billion dollars annually. It is the only cause of death that increased from 2000 to 2010. Every 68 seconds, someone is diagnosed. If you’re looking for a great book on the topic, I highly recommend my Lotus Lit agency sister Nancy Stearns Bercaw’s book Brain in a Jar.

Both of my parents had cancer. My father, after beating cancer, died of a heart attack. I can truly say that there is no worse disease, no crueler way to die, than Alzheimer’s.

Solving a riddle as complicated as the brain isn’t easy. As Seth points out, right now, the biggest obstacle to treatment and a cure is money.

So this is a shameless plea for you to give. Give to Seth’s foundation Hilarity for Charity. Give to Cure Alzheimer’s (the highest rated Alzheimer’s charity).

If you can’t give, but want to help support the fight against this horrible disease, please help share my post or links to the foundations through your social media network. Social Media buttons are below. Thank you!

Feb 5, 2014

Writer Wednesday - Finish It!

One of my top ten all time favorite movies is Chariots of Fire. If you've never seen it, it's worth your rental money. A mix of sport, history, religion, love, inspiration and hot guys in tight shorts - what's not to love.

While talking to a couple of my critique partners recently, I was reminded of a great scene from the movie.

For those of you without video access, one of the main characters, Eric Liddell, gives a speech comparing getting through life to running a race:
You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It's hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape - especially if you've got a bet on it. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe you're dinner's burnt. Maybe you haven't got a job. So who am I to say, "Believe, have faith," in the face of life's realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. 

Of course this quote is much more powerful when delivered with a Scottish accent :)

I have two critique partners (waving hello to them) who are fantastic writers. But they are struggling to finish their work. They both can give genuine reasons why they haven't - jobs, family, kids, illness...and of course, all of those reasons are valid. I struggle sometimes too.

For these two writers, though, I think it's more than that. I think they haven't been able to finish because they don't believe - they don't believe they are good enough or they don't believe they can.

I tell them all the time - a certain magic happens when you finish something. Suddenly you are a person who can. And how you think about yourself and your tasks, whether it's writing or anything else you are striving for in life, becomes different.

But to embrace that magic, you have to finish.

"So where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within."

To my very excellent critique partners (and all of you out there struggling to finish something) - close your eyes and believe. You are worthy.

Curiosity Seekers

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