“I love all people….”

Happy New Year!! I hope that everyone has a year filled with hope, excitement, love, success, etc., etc., etc… (You catch my drift, right?) I hope that each of you attain your heart’s desire! And…it looks as if I am going to keep blogging past my one year’s commitment. We will just see how it goes…So, for now, keep checking in each week to learn of my latest adventures and/or misadventures…

Working in aging services, I have always questioned the credibility of certain tests and evaluations utilized to assess an individual in specific areas, especially those used for the assessment of cognition and mood state. I think the “scores” of said tests can label and stereotype an individual. The person becomes defined by how well, or how poorly, they did on the test. They  become a “score,” as opposed to maintaining their autonomy and individual  uniqueness. Because of professional standards of practice, and mandated requirements, I have given the Mini Mental Status Questionnaire more times than I can remember. I know all of the questions by heart. So when it came time for my own Mother to experience this test, I was anxious! I knew how the score would be used.

It was our very first visit to the neurologist, and I knew that they would need a “base scoreline” to determine the progression of her disease, as well as utilize the data to determine appropriate medications and treatment. She wanted me to stay in the room with her, so I got to listen as she responded to each query. If sheer will could have affected the outcome of the test, she would have scored 100% accuracy, simply on my nervous energy alone!! With each question, I would sit there, willing her to state the correct answer. In my head, I found myself trying to come up with suitable answers that would be convincing enough to assure someone that I had all of my faculties about me. Under duress, and immeasurable anxiety, it was a lot harder than you can imagine. I found that I was not really sure of the actual date, or the day of the week. I did know the year!

The last item of this test states, “Write a complete sentence.” Now, I’m sitting there, thinking and thinking…”what would be a good, intelligent sentence to write?” I pondered and pondered; however, my Mother wrote down a sentence almost immediately! That first test, she did rather well! On the drive back home, I asked Mother, “what sentence did you write down?” “I couldn’t think of anything!!” She laughed and said, “I just wrote, I sure hope I pass this test!” I was laughing so hard that I almost had to pull to the side of the road. How incredible a response!!!

As her disease progressed, the tests increased, and the scores began to worsen. She began to dread going to see the neurologist. She would ask, “Are they going to give me that test?” She knew that she was having more and more difficulty coming up with the correct answers. And we both knew what that meant…With each test, I was always interested in that very last directive – “write a complete sentence.” She never used the same answer twice, but with each test, her sentences became shorter and more simplistic. On this particular day, we did not know it, but it would be her last visit and her last test. As before, on the drive home, I asked what sentence she wrote. On this occasion, she smiled sweetly and said, “I love all people.” And there, in that one sentence, was the defining truth for my Mother, for she, in fact, DID love all people.

I wonder how many of us can remain true to who we are in the midst of physical and mental decline. That even when we are debilitated, and see the losses that are occurring, can we be certain that the “pure self” – who we really are on the inside – will be evident to us and  others? I want to live such a life, that even when, or if, I cannot direct my thoughts or actions, that my sweet spirit, and “true self” will come through naturally. For you see, just like my Mother, “I love all people.” Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

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Uh oh! Christmas decorations….

To say that my Mother loved Christmas would be an understatement. Oh, how she loved the season, the family gatherings, the cooking and food, and oh my, THE DECORATIONS!! She delighted in coming up with a very creative, unique “design” for our house decorations each year. She would visualize the concept and bring the idea to my father and me to figure out how to “make it happen.” I will admit that there were quite a number of years that she almost had us stumped as to how we would accomplish what she wanted. But each time, we eventually figured it out…The result was usually magnificent, meaningful, and beautiful. Our house was the one in town that everyone drove by to see. I am not talking about those really tacky light displays you see in some neighborhoods or on TV shows. Each year we created a different winter wonderland of lights and design. We usually won a city award, although that was not the intent. Mother just loved the beauty of it all, and what the season meant. Now for this week’s story…

My family was never rich by monetary standards. Actually, looking back, we were poor; however, we, as children, never knew that. I tell people that I had a storybook childhood, and I did! I can remember when we finally got our first television set. I was probably around seven years old. We were so excited! It was a small black and white TV. There was no way that we could have ever afforded a color television set. However, I had always determined in my mind, that when I grew up, and was making money on my own, that I would buy my parents a color TV set. It was one of those dreams that you definitely want to make come true…

Our family was full of traditions that were followed at Christmas time. The entire extended family would gather at my grandparent’s home on Christmas Eve. We would have refreshments and open gifts. All I ever remember of these times are much love, wonder, and laughter. Each family would then go to their own homes, all of us children (the cousins) almost vibrating with the excitement and anticipation of Santa’s visit. The next morning, after we had all celebrated our individual Christmases, we would return to my grandparent’s home for Christmas dinner. What a feast that was! And all the kids got to play with their new gifts. Wonderful, wonderful memories!

On this particular Christmas, I had returned from college, and had begun working at a local nursing home – the very first position of my career. I was living with my folks at the time. They still had an old black and white television set, and I knew what was in store for them this special Christmas. I was about to make good on that childhood dream of giving them a color TV. However, being my Mother’s daughter, I did not want it to be just a box that they unwrapped…I wanted a little surprise and “creativity.”

One of my old high school classmates just happened to own an appliance store. When purchasing the new television, I had convinced him to deliver and set up the TV at my parents’ home while we were over at my grandparent’s home celebrating Christmas Eve. (Now that is what small town living is like…I even left the front door open so that he could get inside the house!) Upon returning from my grandparent’s home, I was beside myself with anticipation. My plan was to go in first so that I could see their reaction when they entered the living room. I was not going to say anything…I was just going to “be casual” and see how long it would take for them to discover the new “addition.” I walked in like normal and saw that the TV had indeed been delivered by “Santa.” And then I waited….Everyone was bringing in their gifts, taking off their coats, and of course, my little brother noticed the TV first. He just hollered out, “What is that?” My Mother and Father turned around, saw the TV, and then she looked straight at me and started to cry. Of course, by this time, I was crying also. She grabbed and hugged me, whispering, “I could just whip you!” (For those of you who are not Southerners, that means that I had done something I should not have…lol) She never wanted to be the recipient of our monetary success. This is one of my most favorite memories, and I bring it to mind to enjoy during each Christmas season.

For me, Christmas is not only a religious event that I celebrate, but it is a time when I get to show the people whom I love just how special they are to me (although I try to do that every day of my life). It reaffirms for me that dreams can come true, and that there is still some wonder left in this world. I hope you take the time this year to enjoy the “wonder.” That’s what I will be doing! Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

Even As You Do Unto Them, You Do Unto Me….

Thanksgiving! What a wonderful time of the year! However, this year will be just a little sad, as this is the very first Thanksgiving that I will experience without my Mother. Thanksgiving was OUR time! Thanksgiving is the holiday that ALL of our family members come home to celebrate. Mother would prepare each child and grandchild’s favorite dessert for this occasion (so we had quite a lot of desserts). She would begin a week ahead of time, cooking. I would arrive a couple of days before the holiday, and she and I would cook and cook, laughing and enjoying our time together in the kitchen. The night before Thanksgiving, I would tell her to get some rest, that I would get up throughout the night and check the turkeys and hams in the oven. One of my favorite, funny memories is of our entire family playing charades the night before. It was Mama’s turn and she had to act out the movie, “The Exorcist.” She turned her back to us at first to prepare herself, and when she turned around, she had contorted her face and body to where she DID look possessed!! All of us were just on the floor, killing ourselves laughing. She had nailed it!! And she had never even seen the movie! Of course, NONE of us guessed the correct answer…

We never knew how many people would show up for dinner, as Mother would invite ANYONE in the community who would be by themselves, or they had no family. We have had over FIFTY people present at various times for Thanksgiving dinner! Mother taught us that it was always better to give and share, especially when you had the means to do so. Her favorite saying was, “the word is compassion.” She lived by that Bible verse…”Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” She instilled that belief in all of us. So, here is the story for this week…

A couple of years ago, I was visiting my folks in MS. Although Mother had Alzheimer’s, she was still able to live at home. Whenever I visited them, the visits were always filled with my making repairs around the house. Mother and Daddy had always relied on me to do these things, and would have a “to do list” for each of my visits. Mother understood that this was one of the ways that I expressed my love for them, and that I enjoyed doing these jobs for them.

I was outside the house, completing some work on their carport. As I was working, a man walked up the driveway, and introduced himself as one of our new neighbors. He told me his name and we visited for a few minutes, as I welcomed him into the neighborhood. Then he got down to the reason for his visit…he explained to me that his family had just moved in, and he was starting a new job on Monday. However, he had a problem…the alternator in his car had gone out, and he was going around the neighborhood, attempting to find some “handyman jobs” in order to get enough money to pay for the alternator. He explained that he had just completed some work for one of our neighbors, and was wondering if he could do anything for us. He indicated that he was about $35 short of the amount he needed. Now, I will admit, I was not born yesterday, nor did I fall off of a turnip truck, so my first instinct was that this was a scam. The only problem was this…what if he was telling the truth, and what if I could help him, and I did not. Then there was that Bible verse that kept repeating itself in my head….”Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” I was in a quandary as to what to do. Adding to the “drama” unfolding before me, was the knowledge that I had exactly $40 in cash in my wallet, and I NEVER, EVER have, or travel with, any cash on my person. As I examined all of the information, I realized that I had only one course of action…I excused myself for a moment, went inside the house, and got the $40. I simply gave it to the man. I told him he did not have to earn it. His eyes filled with tears, and he starting crying as he began thanking me. I went over, placed my arms around him, and we cried together…perfect strangers. I told him that all of us find ourselves in situations at times where we need a little help from others…that I had been in his situation numerous times myself. I explained that I did not want him to do any work for me, but that at some time in the future, maybe he could help someone else in need. He promised that he would. He left, thanking me again for my kindness.

Was I taken in by a very good con artist? Did I give good money to someone who would abuse it? Who really knows? Maybe so, but I think not. And anyway, I could not have done it any differently…you see, there’s this Bible verse…Life lessons, those taught to me by my parents, still drive my actions today. I do feel that I made the right decision that day. I am thankful, and will continue to be so, for those wonderful lessons that have shaped my character, integrity, and have molded me into the person that I am at present. Each day I will continue to try and do the “right thing!” Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

My Mother, the mad scientist….

Wow! It has been quite a busy few weeks for me. It’s “fall conference” time, and luckily for me, that means a lot of speaking engagements…and a lot of travel. I have been from Kentucky to North Dakota to West Virginia, and will be leaving this week for Minnesota. I usually just “hang on” and ride the schedule through…It’s hard, but immeasurably satisfying! When traveling, one usually spends a great deal of time either running through the airports at a breakneck speed, OR sitting hour after hour waiting for: 1) the next plane to arrive; 2) plane repairs from mechanical issues; 3) the flight crew to “show up,” 4) lightning strikes, and 5) re-routing and rebooking the original flights due to items 1-4. There is quite a bit of time for one to “ponder.” This week I remembered a humorous incident that involved my Mother…

My Mother and I got to share a number of experiences as mother/daughter. A very unexpected, and pleasurable, experience came about when my Mother started to work as an Activity Director in a nursing home. I ended up being her Activity Consultant for a period of time.  This meant that I actually trained and taught her how to do the job correctly. It was so much fun, and she was a WONDERFUL Activity Director. One never has to go far to figure out where I got the creativity, enthusiasm, and commitment for my work. The apple definitely did not fall far from the tree…She was one of the most innovative, creative, and unique persons that I have ever known.

One evening I got a phone call from her, and she was just beside herself with excitement. Easter was just around the corner, and she shared that she had done something that was going to surprise all of her residents. Earlier I had shared a neat activity idea with her – getting a small incubator from the local co-op to hatch some eggs. The residents would be so excited to nurture, turn the eggs, and be responsible for the successful “hatching” of little Easter biddies. Of course, Mama being Mama, she just could not bring herself to “do it straight.” She started the conversation by saying that her residents were going to be especially surprised when the eggs hatched, because the biddies were going to be all different colors…not just yellow! She proceeded to tell me “the rest of the story…” She had coerced a local dentist into letting her borrow a drill. She had drilled a tiny hole into each egg, and had added a drop of food coloring into each one. As she was describing the details, all I could think of was that she was going to end up with little “mutant” biddies…and the residents would just be horrified! I could just picture a  “circus act”….two-headed chicken…one-winged marvel…little biddies running into the walls continuously…or running in circles…or psychedelic freaks…You get the picture! None of the images in my head were success stories. I tried to dissuade her…to get her to replace the ones she had drilled with “normal” eggs. She laughed and said that I worried too much, that it would all be good!! The residents took their jobs very seriously, turned the eggs at the specified times, and looked forward to the “births” with great anticipation!

I happened to be visiting my folks at home when she got the call from the residents. “The babies are hatching! The babies are hatching! And they are ALL different colors!” We all jumped into the car and rushed down to the facility. Sure enough, the biddies had all hatched right on schedule…AND, they were all different, and vibrant colors! There were a couple who were “marginal,” with psychedelic colors, but for the most part, they had turned out exactly how Mother intended. And, oh my, the residents were thrilled beyond words! They would not have been prouder, had the biddies been real, live children.

I think of this story often, and it always brings a chuckle, along with the satisfaction of a mutually shared experience with my Mama. She is the one who taught me to ask, “Why not?” – one of my most favorite questions in life! Too often we miss chances (and opportunities for success) by going with the average or norm. Why not try something different? Why not be different yourself? Why not be brave and courageous and carve your own path in life?  Simply…WHY NOT??? That’s what I am going to do! Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

It Will Never Be The Same Again…

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As many of you know, my Mother passed away in February – that means that this weekend holds a holiday that I have never experienced without my Mother. So, here’s the story for this week…

Two weeks ago I had to go grocery shopping. We were just about to head to the checkout, when I remembered that I needed just one more item. I rushed back to the area where I thought the item could be found, and turned down an aisle to get there a little faster. As soon as I started walking a few feet into the aisle, I realized that I had made a mistake. I had unknowingly turned down the greeting card aisle, and plastered everywhere were Mother’s Day cards. In an instant my eyes were filling with tears as I realized that this year I would not be buying a Mother’s Day card, nor would I be making the trip to spend the weekend with her in celebration. I left the aisle as quickly as I possibly could, and tried not to think about what I had just seen, and what it meant for me.

I will be honest…I have struggled with this loss, just as I struggled with her disease process. I have the skills, expertise and ability to train healthcare professionals in these areas, but I have been rather inept in helping myself. I have a very dear friend, who has watched this struggle of mine. She finally asked me, “Cat, just what are you thinking and feeling? What are you hoping for? What are you looking for?” And I tried to verbalize…I said, “I don’t feel Mother’s presence. In my mind, I just assumed, because we were so close, that when she died…I would feel her presence ‘with me’ constantly. That has not happened, and I don’t know what to do.” As soon as I expressed those thoughts, she said, “Cat, she is with you every day…she is in your heart…she is in your mind…she is living inside you.” And now comes the best part…she said, “All you have to do to ‘feel her’ is continue being the person that she wanted you to be.” And just like that, I felt a peace that I had not felt since Mama’s death. You see, I realized that this is something I could do! I can be the person she raised and was proud of…I can emulate the character, integrity and Christ-like traits that she taught by living example. You see, I simply do NOT know how else to be, but who I am…who she made…and who she loved.  I AM my Mother’s child!

For those of you whose mothers are still living…MAKE the time and effort to visit with them, make memories with them, enjoy them, just “be” with them…for one day, they absolutely will be gone from your life…and it will never be the same again. For those of you whose mothers are no longer living, do what I am doing…let’s live the lives that our Mamas taught us to live…strong in faith, compassion, loyalty and love…and ALWAYS doing for others. BE the person that “Mama” would have you be. Won’t you join me? Just for this week….