“I don’t want to be a burden…”

Most of you know that I began this blog as a way to deal with my own grief…while watching my Mother slowly die, literally and figuratively, of Alzheimer’s Disease. Those who loved her beyond reason, had to stand by and watch her descend into that living hell. She remained home, with family, until we could no longer give her the care that she so desperately needed. One of our strategies, to keep her home as long as possible, was to “share” the responsibility of her care among the four children and my Father. Part of my responsibility (and honor) was to stay with her and Daddy, one week out of every month (more often, as I could)…

Mother had gotten to a point where she could not bathe herself, go to the bathroom by herself, or feed herself. So, on this particular day, it was time for her shower. I found it easier (and safer) to just get in the shower with her, and gently bathe her as we talked, laughed, and reminisced. Some times this was a difficult task for her, in that she could not follow or understand anything that I was saying. Other times, bathing was easy, and she would assist me with her own care.

We were both in the shower, drenched from head to toe, and she placed her hand on my arm and made me stop. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I never wanted you children to have to do this. I never wanted to be a burden.” Those words broke my heart and I struggled to find just the right thing to say, to convince her that she was never a burden to us. With a smile on my face, I said, “Mama, didn’t you tell me that when I was a baby, while nursing, the only way you could get me to go to sleep was to let me pinch the skin under your arm, and roll it back and forth between my fingers?” She smiled so sweetly with the memory, and said, “Yes, that’s right.” I asked her, “Didn’t it hurt?” She said, “Yes, but that motion somehow soothed you, and you would go to sleep every time.” I then said, “Didn’t you spend countless, sleepless nights, sitting by my bed, or laying beside me, or just holding me, because I was so sick that you would not leave me alone?” Again, she said, “Yes, I did!” I continued to tell her that there were too many examples to count, too many memories of selfless sacrifices that she had made not only in my behalf, but for all of her children. I asked her if she considered being our Mother a burden. She looked at me in shock, and said, “No! I loved all of you, and I wanted to take care of you!” I then explained that we were doing the same thing for her now; that we wanted to take care of her, out of our love for her. She smiled through tears, and said “OK, then! That’s settled.”

Some times the greatest gift we can give someone is to simply accept their help and caring. Those who are being cared for DO feel like a “burden” to their family. You have a choice as to how you are going to make that person feel…You have a choice as to HOW you are going to give that care – either out of guilt or out of love…and your actions will indicate which choice you made. Have you let your parents, or loved ones, know that they are NOT a burden? Or do you let them know how inconvenienced you are? I tell families and caregivers all the time, “It’s not that you just gave the care, and got it accomplished, but rather, HOW you gave the care.” Do you make them feel guilty? Let those individuals, the ones you are caring for, know that providing care and assistance is an act of love… I don’t ever want someone I love to feel as if they are a burden to me. Caring should be given freely, from the heart. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

“Sticks and stones…”

As kids, we all learned those old “comebacks” to win an argument: “Oh yeah? Well, your Mama…” “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah!” “I know you are, what am I?” And of course, the best one, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me!” As we grew older, we learned very quickly that words could indeed harm us. In his book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” Robert Fulghum gave us a new quote regarding “sticks and stones.” He writes, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts.” I would like to add to that statement. Words will also break our spirit. I am sure you have guessed by now that the “power” for this week is WORDS.

At conferences, I am often asked to present a session entitled, “They’re ONLY Words…” In that presentation I tell of a little girl in the second grade. She was very tiny for her age, and had a “clubfoot.” (Also called congenital talipes equinovarus (CTEV), a congenital deformity involving one foot or both. The affected foot appears to have been rotated internally at the ankle. Without treatment, people with club feet often appear to walk on their ankles or on the sides of their feet.) In addition to this deformity, she had a “cauliflower ear” and could not hear very well with that ear. (Cauliflower ear is a condition that occurs when the external portion of the ear suffers a blow, blood clot or other collection of fluid under the perichondrium. As a result, the outer ear becomes permanently swollen and deformed, resembling a cauliflower.) I have told you the exact definition and descriptions of those two deformities because I want you to get a good visual image of this small child. This was quite a few years ago, before we had all of the latest technology to test someone’s hearing. The way they tested a child’s hearing in school went something like this: the teacher would call up one child at a time, whisper a phrase into their ear, and ask them to repeat the phrase they heard…all conducted in front of the entire class. The little girl remembered last year when this was done…how she was embarrassed and humiliated to have to go before the class, dragging her little foot, and hoping against hope that she could hear the phrase well enough to repeat it. I can just picture her…her heart pounding so loudly in that little chest that you would think it might explode…trying to remember to walk as straight as possible, not limp or drag her foot…and praying so hard that she might actually hear what the teacher would whisper in her ear. (I can never tell this story without tears springing to my eyes. I am such a visual person, and I can see this little girl in minute detail every time I recount this event. Even now, I am writing this with tears in my eyes.) So, it was time for her to walk up to the teacher. She took a little longer getting there than the rest of the children. As she was walking to the front of the class, she heard the comments: “retard,” “gimp,” “not right in the head…” Oh yes, she heard all of that!! She finally reached the teacher, turned her “good” ear to her, and tried to hide the tears already forming in her eyes. The teacher leaned down, scooped the child as closely in her arms as possible, and whispered tenderly to her, “I wish you were MY child!”  And right there, in that moment, those words made all the difference in the world to that child. Just from those few words, she discovered that she had worth and value; that someone wanted her…defects and all. Those words gave her hope!

I hear what people say to their children. I hear what people say to the people they supposedly love. I hear what people say to, and about, the people they work with. I hear what neighbors say about other neighbors. I hear what husbands and wives say to each other. I hear what children say to their parents. And my heart breaks over and over again. When did we become so cruel? When did we become so uncaring? Once a word is spoken, you can never take it back. There are no “do-overs.” You can never really correct it. Oh, you can apologize, but the memory, and that you said it in the first place, will ALWAYS be remembered. Words can absolutely destroy a person. Words can lift and encourage one’s  heart and spirit.

I always think that if this was the last time I saw a person, what words would I have left them with? Would the words be fault-finding, cruel, disrespectful, harmful, and destructive; or would the words be loving, comforting, encouraging? I want my words to be tender to the heart and soul…loving in every way. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

The POWER within each of us…

It continually amazes me when people don’t see their own worth and value. I believe so strongly that every person was created for a purpose. God gave us brains and the ability to make free choices. It is up to us to figure out exactly what we were created for, and to “search” for our purpose in life. So many fail at that mission simply because they never recognize their own worth. So, if you will bear with me over the next few weeks, I want to “explore” the various “powers” that lie within each of us. I think the secret to life is to discover your “powers,” and use them to make the world a much better place.

I think we would have to begin with the power of faith. No matter what your religion, most of us believe in a higher being. People often use phrases like, “It’s God’s will.” “Trust in God.” “I believe in miracles!” Or, if you are part of the FaceBook world, you see daily requests asking for prayers, and the subsequent comments as to whether prayers were answered. Even the Bible states that if we have the faith of a mustard seed, we could move mountains. Now, that is real power…and it lies within each of us. 

The question I have is this: “Do we really have faith, and do we exercise it daily?” For example, we pray to God with a specific request, and are amazed and quite surprised when the prayer is actually answered…as if we did not really expect positive results. So where was the faith? By definition, faith is “a strong belief or trust in someone or something. : belief in the existence of God : strong religious feelings or beliefs. : a system of religious beliefs. plural faiths: belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” As you see, all of these definitions include one basic word: “belief.” So, if we go with that definition, “faith” should be something that we “believe,” whether founded or unfounded. What do you “believe” to be true in your personal life? And do those beliefs enrich your life, make your day to day existence better or worse?

I have faith in what I can do. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can stand on a stage in front of hundreds of people, and that I can hold their attention, be entertaining, and send them home with at least one bit of education or information that they can use for the betterment of their own lives, or in the lives of someone else. I know I can do that! It is a belief in myself. Shouldn’t our faith in God be just that strong, if not stronger? Shouldn’t we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are in His care, that He designed us and wanted a good life for us, that we have value and worth? Shouldn’t we believe that fact, and act on it everyday? I meet people from all over the country, and you would be surprised by the number of individuals who cannot explain their beliefs or faith to me, or why they live a certain way. I will be honest, it perplexes me. My faith comes from a lifetime of teaching and examples…my parents, my family, friends, educators, real leaders. It comes from experience, and I cannot imagine living a life without faith! I think they should add another word to the definition of “faith,” and that would be “action.” If you do not put your faith into action, it is not really faith.

I have faith that the world can be a better place. I have faith that I can always be a better person. I have faith that I was created in a perfect image, and I am worthy and valued. I have faith that my prayers will be answered, but not always with the answer I want. I have faith that I matter in this world! I have faith that one day I will be judged for the life that I have lived, and I want to hear those words, “Well done, thy good and faithful servant.” Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

 

Which “Cat” are you listening to?

I can almost believe that Spring is just around the corner…beautiful weather…birds are chirping…and, at least for today, it is warmer than it has been. For the first time in months, I am not dressed in double layers of clothing. Spring cannot get here fast enough for me…Usually Spring begins my “conference” speaking schedule, and I can end up in numerous locations from east coast to west coast in just a short matter of time. You never know what might happen at any of these conferences and that will lay the groundwork for this week’s story…

I have spoken at numerous conferences, and as a speaker, you have to be prepared for any “unplanned happenings” during a presentation. The bottom line is that I only have a specified amount of time to speak. Because educational credit is provided for my sessions, I am required to speak the entire length of time for which I am scheduled. I was speaking at one conference when a huge thunderstorm came through and knocked out all of the electricity. We were in a room with no windows, so I, along with several hundred conference attendees were literally in pitch black darkness. Knowing that I could not afford to wait the storm out, and because I am such a “visual” speaker, I continued with my presentation, alluding to my facial expressions, and hand motions. In the middle of my doing this, a board member had gone to her car and gotten a flashlight. Of course, being a kid at heart, when they gave me the flashlight, the first thing I did was place it under my chin and began making “monster faces.” The audience was on the floor laughing (although I could not see them…). I then continued my presentation in the dark, with the help of the flashlight. The executive board was more than pleased that I had not let the situation sidetrack my presentation.

On another occasion, I was in Florida making a presentation in a room that had windows and two doors that led directly outside. During my presentation we began hearing a cat (apparently in heat) “meowing” really loud right outside one of the doors. I would say a few words, and then the cat would “say a few words.” Everyone began trying very hard not to laugh, including me! The dialogue kept going back and forth to the point that I could no longer tell which “Cat” the audience was listening to. I knew that this was a “battle” that I was not going to win, so I just stopped, and asked someone near the door to please let the cat come in! Once the cat got inside, he immediately stopped his caterwauling and I was able to finish my presentation.

In life, no matter how well you have things planned, the “unexpected” always happens. How well you deal with those unexpected “life events” depends on your attitude, graciousness and confidence. You can let those events defeat you, destroy the moment, and take away your success, OR…you can embrace the experience and rise to the challenge. The choice is always up to you! And believe me, someone is always watching to see exactly how you deal with those unplanned “moments.” What are your actions saying about you? I hope that I always show grace, patience, and innovative responses to those unexpected life events. Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

There’s an elephant in the room…

I’m hoping that everyone stayed warm this past week. I don’t know about you, but I am so ready for Spring! I was disheartened to hear that the “official” groundhog saw his shadow, meaning six more weeks of cold weather…Oh well, that will make us just that more thankful when warm weather does finally arrive! Now, to this week’s story…

Whenever I travel to a conference, even for one presentation, I always take two outfits to wear. You never know what might happen, and I like to have a “spare,” just in case… On this particular occasion, I was headed down to Orlando, FL, for a huge conference. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I had just picked up a brushed silk suit from the dry cleaners, so I threw it in my garment bag, and headed for the airport. I cannot explain why I did not take two suits for that trip.

I arrived at the hotel and settled in for the evening. The next morning, I got up as usual, took my shower, and began getting dressed. I pulled my suit out and stepped into the skirt. Once I had the skirt on, I looked down and realized that there was a HUGE crease going from my right hip down to my left knee. In other words, the entire front of the skirt was creased. It looked awful! I quickly got out of the skirt and fired up the steam iron. I pressed and pressed that skirt to no avail. Nothing I did removed the crease!

(At this point in the story, I need to give you a little background about me. As a professional speaker, I am very particular about how I dress. The hair has to be “just right,” which most days can prove to be a challenge in that I have naturally curly hair. I get a surprise each morning because I never know which way it is going to go…I use just enough makeup to hide nature’s damages, but not enough to make me look like a hussy. The suits must be stylish, clean, fit well, have no creases or lines, and NO “rumples” anywhere. Shoes must be polished and have no noticeable scrapes. If  even one of these areas are not as they should be, it will definitely impact my presentation and delivery.)

So here I was in Orlando with only one suit, and it had that big ole’ crease across the front. What to do? I knew that once I got onstage, and started my keynote address, that people would be noticing the crease, and for some, it would become so distracting, that they would not hear my message. As I stood to the side, waiting for my introduction and cue to come onstage, I was perplexed as to how I could reconcile that blasted crease. The moment came, the introduction was given, and I made my way to the center of the stage. I walked to the very edge of the stage, as close to the audience as possible, and said, “I would like to draw everyone’s attention to my skirt, and the crease on the front. I do not normally wear wrinkled clothing. I know that it is there, and I tried to get rid of it, but here’s a little life secret that just might help you out in the future. If the dry cleaners put the crease in, they are the ONLY ones who can remove it! So take a good look at it, satisfy your curiosity, and I will begin.” The audience broke out into hysterical laughter and applause! In fact, I had to wait quite a few moments for them to settle down. I then gave the keynote that they were expecting, and it ended better than I had anticipated.

Why is it, that when there is something so obviously wrong (like the elephant in the middle of the room), that we act like it doesn’t exist; knowing that all anyone can see or think about IS the elephant in the room? I have found that when you go ahead and bring the problem out into the open for dialogue and communication, you take away it’s ability to cripple and limit you. I try very hard to maintain that control, keep the lines of communication open, and talk about that elephant. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

Don’t You Fret None…I WILL be there!!

By now, you all know that I travel a great deal in my work. In that travel, I can face quite a few challenges in “getting to” the location where I am to speak…lightning strikes, thunderstorms, floods, ice, snow blizzards, mechanical problems with the plane…you just never know what you might face once you get to the airport. In 35 years of traveling around the United States, I have only been late to one conference, only missing my morning presentation. It can be a little daunting when trying to figure out how to get to a conference location; however, I am pretty much known in our industry as a “sure thing.” Education Directors and Meeting Planners know that I will make every effort possible to honor my commitment to their conference. So here is the story for this week…

I was scheduled to be the keynote speaker for an annual conference in Kearney, NE. In addition to being the keynote, I was to provide a full day of additional presentations. I never make reservations on the very last flight into a city, “just in case…” You always want there to be “another” flight, “just in case…”

On this particular morning, I had an extremely early flight, so I was at the airport bright-eyed and bushy-tailed! We all got on the plane (the first leg of my trip), and as soon as they closed the door, the inside of the plane filled with smoke. We all thought it was a pretty good idea to get back OFF the plane, so that’s what we did very quickly. The airline did not have another plane for us to use, so we had to wait for them to send in another plane from another airport – a 2 hour delay to the beginning of my trip. As is my habit, I contacted the Meeting Planner/Education Director and explained that I had run into difficulties, but I thought that I would be able to rebook other flights to make the trip. I explained that I would be late, but I would be there in time for the opening session.

The second plane came…we all got on it…they closed the door…and no smoke…so we were good to go. We made it to Houston, where I was to make a connection to Denver, CO. While waiting for the plane to Denver, the agent got on the PA and announced that the flight to Denver was cancelled. They then booked me on another flight to Denver. In doing this, I was going to miss all connecting flights to Kearney, NE, and not be able to make it for my presentation. After much discussion with the airline agents, they suggested that I could rent a car in Denver, and drive over to Kearney…about a 4-5 hour drive in the best of circumstances. I asked them how they thought I might be able to drive in a snow blizzard, when all flights were being delayed or cancelled. They did not have very good answers to my concerns. So, I asked them, “What is is the closest city to Kearney that you can fly me into?” They said they could fly me into Lincoln, and I could then rent a car to make the 3-hour drive to Kearney. The flight would arrive into Lincoln at 1:00 a.m. in the morning, and after I had rented a car, and driven the 3 hours, I would hopefully arrive in Kearney at between 4:00 a.m. – 5:00 a.m. the next morning. This was the only way that I was going to get there, so I agreed. I had been in airports for approximately 17 hours when my flight boarded for Lincoln. Most everyone I know would have just called it a loss, and told the Meeting Planner that they could not make it…that they were just going to try and return home. But, me being me, I just could not do it that way. A commitment is a commitment.

I called the Education Director, a very dear friend of mine, and brought her up to speed on the latest developments. She said that the she was sending a driver from the hotel to pick me up in Lincoln, so that I would not have to drive those last three hours. She also said that she had placed a blanket and a pillow in the back seat so that I could sleep on the way. The poor driver was a young man who had worked a double shift at the hotel, and now was driving three hours in sleet and snow to pick me up. We then drove the three hours back to the hotel in the same sleet and snow. There was NO WAY that I was going to get in the back seat, and try to sleep, while this poor young man was exhausted. So we talked the entire way to the hotel – almost four solid hours! He was such a sweet person, and going through quite a few problems in his own life. He opened up to me and I tried to give him some good, caring, sound advice. I’m told he still asks about me whenever they have a conference at that same hotel, so I am hoping that the words of advice that I gave helped him in some small way.

We arrived safely at the hotel around 5:30 a.m. I checked in, got to my room, and fell onto the bed for a 1-hour nap. At 7:30 a.m., I arrived at the ballroom to set up for my keynote address. The Education Director almost body-slammed me with a hug of gratitude and thankfulness that I had made it safely! (Or that I had made it at all!) At 8:00 a.m. I began my presentation. NO ONE knew that I had spent 17 hours on planes, and in airports, and an additional four hours riding in a car in sleet and snow to be there with them for that morning session. The title of my keynote, you ask? “Motivation vs. Burnout!”

Sometimes you have to keep going, even when you are so bone-tired that you can’t see straight. It’s all about honoring commitments that have been made. Do people know they can count on you? That you are dependable? What do your actions say to others? Do you exceed their expectations? I always want to be someone who can be counted on…that people will know I will try everything in my power to be there for them. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

“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…