Winter in Paradise

Dementia is a very strange animal, when it comes to memory.  I can forget what Cookie says to me in a matter of minutes, but I can remember old memories as clear as a bell. I was thinking about this as I had my coffee on the patio this morning, surrounded by dogs.  I was musing about my first year of college at Lake Superior State College in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.  The year was 1969, and the world was my oyster.

I had finished high school with a grade point average that lacked much of a pulse.  I had already been turned down by a couple of colleges.  I bore them no resentment, I wouldn’t have admitted me either.  I searched on with some desperation, hoping for a school that I could get into.  And then I remembered Lake Superior State.  The school had been a branch campus of Michigan Tech, but in 1969 it finally achieved independence.  They were hungry for students, even slackers like me.  And to sweeten the pot, they had bargain basement tuition and board rates, as an added enticement.  I was familiar with the area, as my parents had some lakefront just an hour away.  I filled out the app and lo and behold, I was quickly accepted.

I experienced a number of firsts in my freshmen year.  I saw my first “Snowmobile 500”, while standing in two feet of snow.  I experienced the most frigid winter of my life, including an entire week where the temp never made it above 0.  Despite the glacial conditions, students there still strolled around campus, and many even made the hike into into town.  And, I attended my very first protest march; more on that later.

Lake Superior State had been built on the top of a very large hill, with a magnificent view. One could see all the across the St. Mary’s River, into Sault Ste Marie, Canada. There were many Canadian students there, and they all seemed to play hockey. Our dorm was the former Fort Brady, remodeled to accommodate members of the Womens’ Air Corp (WACS) in the 1930’s.  (See photos below).  Our dorm rooms were heated with ancient steam radiators, which could peel the paint right off the walls.  There was no need for air conditioning, opening the windows could easily induce frostbite.

It was there that I found myself in the fall of 1969, a young lad of 17.  I celebrated my 18th birthday in October, and registered for the draft in a funky old bring building in Sault Ste Marie.  I received my draft card with a student exemption, postponing my chances of going to war.  As Charlie Daniels wrote so eloquently, “a rich man goes to college and a poor man goes to work.”  My family wasn’t exactly rich, as Mr. Daniels might have described it; however we did have the means to afford college with a low interest student loan package.

The Fall of 1969 was filled with protest marches against the war in Vietnam.  There were rallies across the nation, including sleepy little places like Sault Ste Marie, Michigan.  I was curious about such things, and decided to participate.  We had a crowd of a hundred or so marchers, with the customary protest signs.  We had barely begun to march, when the first beer bottle was thrown into the crowd.  As we walked, the beer bottles continued to fly, as well as rocks, bricks and anything else the onlookers could find.    Several students were injured by the projectiles, some rather seriously.  Though not injured, I had a couple of near misses, with a bottle parting the hair on my head.  I still remember thinking to myself, that if there is this kind of reaction in little Sault Saint Marie, it was going to affect the whole country.

Looking back, the event was a watershed for me, in learning how to deal with crowds, anger and violence.  It eventually lead me to a career in policing where I worked a lot with various sorts of political demonstrations.  Our goal was to have the different sides engage in constructive discussion, but sometimes the anger and violence got in the way.  I learned the finer points of crowd psychology the hard way, watching what seemed a peaceful crowd suddenly turn violent.  There were almost always some folks in the crowds who excelled in the incitement of violence; we even had a guy plow his car through a block full of marchers.

Some of those things you never forget, even with the onset of Dementia.  Sometimes they even push their way into dreams.  I truly enjoyed my career as an officer, but some things are still really hard to forget.  There are triggers that awaken old memories.  But my memories are nothing, compared to our Vets.  Sadly, they don’t always get the treatment that’s needed.  It is unforgivable, after the sacrifices they’ve made for our country.

I  was flipping through the channels a few days ago, and happened on Ken Burns’ PBS Vietnam saga.  I wondered how many Vietnam Vets will actually watch it, having seen it first hand.  I will be praying for all of them, most especially those suffering with PTSD.  And I will be praying for all our veterans who have gone forth in battle.  Only they know fully the price of their sacrifice, and for just that, it’s the least I can do.  Whatever your politics, I hope you will join me and pray for them too.

Blessings,

Fr Dave

 

 

Learning From Life’s Lessons

On my better days, I consider all things that come into my life to be gifts from God.  I also believe God sends these gifts because there is something to be learned from them.  These gifts include Dementia and H Pylori.  Not that I asked for them, but they have come into my life and that means there are things to be learned from them.

In my last blog, I mentioned having to take my antibiotics for 28 days.  I have since learned that it is actually 28 doses, taken twice a day.  I am now on my fifth day, and thus far I’ve been spared the digestive woes that are a common side effect of the antibiotics.  Unfortunately, I have not been spared from the total exhaustion that H Pylori excels at.  I had thought my exhaustion was part of my Dementia, and some of it may be, but most of it is due to H Pylori.

I cannot fathom how people without access to antibiotics live with this disease.  It is debilitating, and left untreated, can cause nasty stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.  Perhaps a lesson to be learned is how fortunate I am to be in a place where such medicines are readily available.  Such is not the case in many third world countries, where H Pylori holds sway.  And so, the question needs to be asked over and over again; why not?

Perhaps it’s a matter of seeing.  If we build a wall, we can’t see those on the other that are suffering.  We can pretend they’re not there.  There all kinds of walls we use, so we can’t see them.  Walls of paper, of red tape and yes, paranoia.  Fear is sold through our media, just like a commodity.  Never mind that domestic violence, drug addiction and easy access to weapons do far more damage than those we call terrorists.  Compared to the cost of just those three factors, terrorism in the United States is hardly a blip.  And yet, the best we can come up with is building a wall?

Yes, there are lessons to be learned from all things that occur in one’s life.  And though I would have preferred not to have H Pylori, it has taught me things I wouldn’t otherwise have known.  Like the pain of saying goodbye to my good friend and mentor, Cecil Preas.

Cecil was the Senior Warden, when I was called to St. Nicholas Church in Midland.  In the Episcopal Church, the Senior Warden is the lay leader.  Cecil was a gentle man, with a wry sense of humor.  He mentored me, in my time at St. Nicholas, not to mention helping me adjust to the West Texas culture and climate.  He was a devoted Christian, generous and always willing to help.  With his lovely wife Cynthia, daughter Holly, and the rest of his family, he made West Texas a more compassionate place.

Perhaps the most important thing that Cecil taught me was that all things in life were meant to be lessons.  One could learn from both both one’s triumphs and mistakes.  Therein lies the gift of forgiveness, learning from both one’s achievements and mistakes. Cookie and I were blessed to come to know Cecil and his family.  And though H Pylori keep us from attending his funeral, Cecil, you will always be present with me in my heart.

Blessings,

Fr Dave

 

 

 

A Self Portrait of What My Body Feels Like…..

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Cookie and I said goodbye to the grandkids last Friday, and now, the silence is deafening.  Did I really have that much energy when I was a child?  I suppose my parents house was even louder, with five boys, and a collie to boot.  Our house was small, with three bedrooms that could fit in many modern day bathrooms.  My parents must have been saints.

Having Ari and Will with us put our unpacking on hold for two weeks.  I have been slowly taking care of things, one at a time.  This week’s project was to complete my retirement papers for  the Episcopal Church Pension Fund.  It was quite an adventure, doing so with dementia.  I’m quite sure it wasn’t the neatest application package they’ve ever received; they’re probably scratching their heads over it as I write this.  I even lost a few of the pages from the packet they sent, and had to have them send me some new ones!

To complicate matters, I’ve been dealing with a very low energy level.  Just taking a shower wears me out.  Just a few months ago I was working out three or four times a week, and doing an hour on a Exercycle.  The past month, about all I’ve been able to manage is to walk through the house.  This strikes me as odd, as the folks with dementia I’ve known have all loved to walk.

Last week I had a lot of stomach discomfort, similar to an episode I had this past June, while up in Michigan.  That resulted in two days in the hospital, but I’d been fine ever since.  This past week I’ve had a number of tests, trying to figure out what the problem is.  Turns out I have an H Pylori stomach infection which likely also caused my first episode in June.  This morning I started taking a couple antibiotics twice a day, along with Lanoprazole, all three a four week regime.  I had no idea what H Pylori was, but we’re quickly becoming better acquainted.

Since H Pylori is highly contagious, I’ve had to notify family and friends.  I have no idea how I got it, but I’ve got lots of company; 50% of people worldwide carry it in their stomachs.  The majority of people carry it without being symptomatic, but then there’s folks like me.  More meds to deal with, but hopefully it will remedy my current shortage of energy.

I’ve heard it said that my Dementia probably won’t kill me; the progression of the disease for most folks is long.  But it sure makes me feel like that house in the picture above, worn out, creaky, leaky and old.  I suppose you could think of me a handyman special, no warranty left, but still standing with my support beams intact.  As Jesus was fond of saying, “The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.”  May your own homes each be built on rock, because the storms will surely come.

Blessings,

Fr Dave

 

 

 

 

The Origins of No!

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We’re now in Week 2 of watching our grandkids, Ari (4) and Will (2).  Jen is still working in the FEMA command center in Denton, and still working twelve hour shifts.  Perhaps our first week could be summed  up by this conversation I had with Cookie a few days ago:  Cookie:  “I can’t figure out why Will is eating so much food!  He wasn’t eating that much at his parents’ house.”  Me:  “Well, he’s a big two year old, and he likes to eat.”   Cookie:  He keeps asking for more helpings…ohhhh wait…, he’s been feeding the three dogs under the table.”

Needless to say, we’re dusting off those old parenting brain cells, or at least Cookie is, since I’m the one with dementia.  This week, Will has ramped up his use of the word, “No!”  Believe it or not, he is trying to set limits on grandma and grandpa!  He and his sister are teenagers in training!

With a two year old, you don’t get selective responses.  Do you want to go outside? No!  Do you want to play inside? No!  I do believe we are witnessing the early development of that curious phenomena we call Americus Teensaynotous, i.e. the American Teenager!  Of course he lacks the refinement of the post puberty period, unable to discern yet when his heartfelt “no” will push the old parenting buttons; I have to admit, he’s kind of cute.

To be truthful, all of us carry the “No!” deep inside us.  We all know there’s things we shouldn’t be doing, eating, and drinking, etc, but to those rules we say “No!”  We all carry that teenager inside of us.  Hopefully, we learn to use him or her judiciously, but sometimes we don’t.  There’s a rebellious spirit that dwells in everyone of us.

In Christianity, we sometimes call it the fall, or eating the forbidden fruit, or whatever, but let’s just call it what it really is.  It’s telling God “No!”  And, not with the innocence of a two year old’s mimicking, but with the knowledge that what we’re doing is wrong.  You’ve been there, I’ve been there, and its because at various times in our lives, we think we know everything!

Thankfully, we have a God who understands the trials and tribulations of parenting.  To be an effective parent, one must have great patience.  One must be supple, to bend with the wind of one’s misdirection.  Jesus was so good at providing direction, and so gentle but firm,with those who really needed direction.  As the old saying goes, Jesus disliked sin, but he always loved the sinner.  It’s something we might reflect on, if it seemed to work so well for Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

Moving with Dementia…

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Cookie and I have relocated!  We are now residents of “The Parks”, an assisted living facility in Odessa, Texas.  It was a wild couple of weeks, during which I contracted a rather nasty sinus infection, requiring the ingestion of the venerable “Z-Pack”.  Of course, in the midst of a move there’s no sick days allowed; I manned up and whined my way through it!

We had a couple of hard working guys with a truck move the big stuff, and the rest of it was ferried by car.  I don’t know how many trips I made from Midland to Odessa, so I’ll just say “a lot.”  We were blessed to have our good friend Mary show up, with her humongous vehicle, not to mention her maid, which made the cleaning side of things go much faster!

My having early onset dementia makes me the youngest guy in our new neighborhood.  And, as I’m the identified patient in the household, the staff wisely direct their business questions to Cookie.  They’ve all learned pretty quickly not to rely on my memory, foggy old guy that I am.

And, no rest for the weary in our household.  We drove over to Lewisville this past weekend, and picked up our two grand-kids, Ari & Will.  Their mom, Jenni, is working twelve hour shifts, at the Denton FEMA Command Center.   As they say, all trials and tribulations are relative, and our problems pale in connection to those who live on the coast.  It’s the very least we can do, to take care of the kids, so that Jen and the good folks at FEMA can help those who are suffering.

As the great blues singer, Elmore James sang, “When things go wrong, wrong with you, it hurts me too.”  We’re all interconnected in this time and place, and we all share in the same disasters.  The events unfolding in Houston, and all along the Gulf Coast, will affect everyone of us.  The great delusion of our age has been that things “over there” don’t matter.  When things go wrong with you, it hurts me too, and we ignore that at our peril.  And that’s my five cents worth of psychiatric advice!  Please, give generously!

Blessings,

Fr Dave

 

 

 

 

A Moving Experience

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Having bought and sold several homes in my lifetime, I’m very familiar with the various stages of moving.  We have now entered the stage that I’ve learned to call “chaos.”  It’s the stage where everyone involved in the changing of residences can no longer procrastinate.  Of course, Cookie and I fall in that group!  Repairs must be done, things must get packed, appraisers must appraise, repair folks must repair, and the reams of paperwork must be filled out.  And, of course, all this must happen before the big event, commonly known as “The Closing”, can take place.  And even though the date and time of the said “Closing” isn’t yet set in stone, everyone seems to realize there’s a deadline ahead.

We’ve come to that time when Cookie and I must consider those things still packed in their boxes.  You know, those precious things you’ve moved from one place to another. Somehow the unpacking never took place.  And so, once again comes the proverbial question: Do I really want to move that box one more time?  Well, you think, someday I might need it.  And how about those old clothes that I’m too plump to fit into?  Am I ready to concede that the exercise program I’ve long considered just ain’t gonna happen?

My dementia has added a whole new dimension to the process of moving.  I find that I am much more easily distracted by things.  I have trouble recalling how and why I latched on to things in the first place.  Why in the world did I once feel the need to acquire an old beat up, mechanical calculator?

I’ve been emptying closets and shelves, going through old three ring binders, and finally, giving away a lot of my books.  Some of them went to my friend Rick, who’s going to seminary.  Many went to the Midland Library., and some are now in the library at St. Nick’s.  My wandering mind and my achy old back have made me appreciate the wisdom of Kindle!

I have been feeling this great need to give away things.  I can no longer deal with all of the clutter.  I no longer want to accumulate stuff.  I believe some of that is from my just getting older, and some of it has to do with the dementia.  I’ve had the notion that for dementia, the simpler, the better.

It’s that time in my life to be sorting and throwing, giving and packing.  Truer words have never been written, that for every thing on this earth there’s a time and a season.  For me, it’s the season of learning to live with dementia and learning to finally give up old things.  I’m not quite sure yet which task will be harder, for we humans seem to have a great attachment to things.

Blessings,

Fr Dave

 

 

 

The Tapestry of Light

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While in the midst of my packing, I happened to set the above CD case on my bathroom counter.  As I walked past it a bit later, I discovered the case was also a prism, both reflecting and refracting the light.  I decided to leave the case on the counter, so I could enjoy the beauty until we’re ready to move.

It also brought back memories of the death of my mother.  She’d been diagnosed with cancer back in 1975, after her dentist, of all things, had unexpectedly discovered a tumor.  The cancer had already moved into her lymphatic system, and subsequently, through various parts of her body.  She lasted six years, the last two years by far being the worst.  She spent some time in the hospital and then with hospice at home.  The pain was intense, and the medications were strong, and so I gave her some prisms I had purchased in college.  My father hung them up in her room in the hospital, and then later, in her bedroom at home. She loved to lie in her bed and to watch the many beautiful colors that danced on her walls.

The memories have made me think about this thing we call vision.  There’s a whole lot we can’t see in the world that surrounds us.  The light we can see, because it fills up the darkness.  But to be able to to see the lights’ amazing complexity, it must be refracted, much like in the biblical story of Noah.  Noah’s family saw the light refracted in the arc of the rainbow, after the flood in the great Bible story from Genesis.

In a sense, it’s pretty much the same way we get to know people.  Our first impressions can often be wrong.  We have to spend time getting to know folks, of seeing them them from a number of angles.  What we see on the surface is often not what we judge that they are.  To judge others without really getting to know them, is to miss the incredible complexity of life.

At times I wrestle with the pain of dementia, as I struggle to get on with my life.  At times it is frightening, I won’t deny that.  But there’s also great insight, and at times out of that darkness comes God’s comforting light.  Not necessarily the light that drives away darkness, but light refracted, revealing life’s more intricate depths.  It is a glimpse of the wisdom that lies dormant within us, awaiting that time in one’s life when we’re able to to hear it.

May you each be blessed as you travel on your own  journeys, and know that my prayers will be traveling along with you.

Blessings,

Fr Dave