Spiritual Gifting

20170723_162803 (1)
Still Alice

Cookie and I  have had quite a week, getting ready to move out of our house and into a very nice duplex.  We’ put our earnest money down on the duplex, and are getting things ready for the two closings.  Even with a sound mind, it’d be a whole lot of paper shuffling, and the dementia really livens things up.  Our checkbook is starting to look like an accountant’s worse nightmare, with all the scratch-outs and erasing I’ve done.

I’ve always been careful to keep very good records.  I’ve prided myself on being able to find things I needed.  But dementia doesn’t seem to care about such things.  It seems to enjoy all my disorganization, and this change has been very disturbing for me.  In my life, I’ve been a tax preparer, a treasurer of several non-profits, and even served as a board member on a credit union board of directors.  It’s been very unsettling to know that I’m having these issues, and that they’re going to get worse.  I’ve always done my own tax returns, but this year I’m thinking I may go to a pro.

And, of course, there’s the  hi-jinks caused by my memory, more specifically the lack thereof.  I had forgotten that when the Home Inspector arrived yesterday afternoon, we weren’t supposed to be there.  He was a gracious fellow, and occasionally chatted with us as he went about doing his work.  When he’d arrived at the house, we saw him talking with another guy, before he came into the house.  We figured he probably ran into someone he knew, and so we thought nothing of it.

And then, the phone rang.  Our realtor gently reminded us that we weren’t supposed to be home, as the inspector and the buyer were supposed to be inspecting the house.  And, to make things even more complicated, the guy the inspector had been talking to was the buyer of the house!  Even worse, he’d seen we were home and got into his vehicle and left!

The two realtors were able to work things out over the phone, and we got out while the getting was good.  We actually had a very nice couple of hours, getting away from the mess.  I even went into a store and did me some some shopping; a rarity as many of you know.  Okay, it was just a birthday card for my soon to be son-in-law Michael, but hey, for me it was a major shopping spree!

I’ve learned that dementia loves to add the “dis” to my organization.  It is an unending,  relentless attack, and there is no real effective defense.  The medication I take work to to slow down the process, but they’re not able to stop it.  At best, they provide a delaying a delaying effect, as the dementia rolls on.  It is a very formidable foe, and I’m still in the earlier stages!

And so I look for strength, any where I can find it.  My Spiritual Director gave the above book to me at our last session.  It’s a novel about a highly educated woman, who is going through the same journey as me.  It is rather eerie to read, as the process she encounters is the pretty much the same as mine.  Even when she finally gets the courage to see a neurologist, the tests he administers are the very same tests ones my neurologist gave me.  I’m having trouble putting the book down, it is such a real a story for me.

Thank you all for sharing my journey.  You are each a special blessing to me.  Please pray for Cookie and I in this busy time in our lives, as we send you all our prayers in return.

Blessings,

Fr Dave

 

 

Lawn Warrior

20170717_102210

This past weekend Cookie and I sold our house!  We’ll be moving soon to a gated community in the city of Odessa, just a few short miles from Midland.  They take care of everything there, so I won’t be mowing anymore lawns after we move.  I’ll be a retired lawn warrior, and I’m both happy and sad about that.

I started mowing my parents lawn when I was eleven, inheriting the job from my two older brothers.  It was your basic lawnmower back in the day; no gadgets.  Back in those days, there were still a few people in our neighborhood using powerless mowers, cylindrical spinning blades operated by muscle!  But we had a gas mower, which was a very good thing since we lived on a corner lot, and had one of the bigger lawns in our neighborhood.

I liked mowing lawns right from the get go, and landscaping in general, something I learned from my dad.  He allowed me to mow other lawns with our mower, as long as I’d spring for the gas.  It was the ideal business model, considering the low cost of gas.  Soon I had a number of customers, and the money began to flow in.

It was then I discovered a curious thing about some of our neighbors, and how they cared for their lawns.  Some of them would keep their front yard neatly mowed, and completely ignore the back.  I didn’t make much mowing the front yards, because they were small, but the large yards were a teenage bonanza!

The unfortunate thing was, I had to mow the backyards twice and sometimes three times, in order to make it look right.  Even worse for both me (and the mower blade)  it was impossible to know what might be hidden under the very thick grass.  This was the Detroit area, and we always had plenty of rain.  I saw many a snake, and once I got bit by a spider, causing one of my legs to swell up.  And than there were the discarded toys, rocks, pieces of wood, and even pieces of metal.  I sometimes discovered ancient car parts buried in the grass, as one would expect mowing lawns in Detroit, the aptly named “Motor City”.

But the worst lawn I mowed, and by far the most lucrative, was a neighbor’s house just down the street.  The house had originally been owned by a cement contractor, whose son Ron Jr. was a best friend.  Ron Sr. had used dyed concrete and stone to build various decorations for his backyard.  Over the years he built a wishing well, a huge barbecue structure, bird feeders, lawn statues, patios, tables and chairs.  The problem was, when he finished doing these jobs, he’d bury the scraps in his yard.  Or, he’d just build piles on the grass, a haven for rodents and snakes.

When they moved, the new owners were a couple of ladies, owners of a Tennessee horse ranch.  Like my Dad, they were both teachers in the Detroit school system.  In the neighborhood, given those times, they were politely called “the teachers.”  They paid me good money to retrieve all of Ron Sr’s. debris, and haul it out to the curb.  Even so, chunks of concrete and stone were always rising up out of the ground like proverbial spirits, causing dents in the mower blade.  My dad and I had some spirited discussions about that; there were a few times I had to pony up money to pay for a sharpening, and in one instance, I had to buy my dad a new blade!

As I got older, I moved on to more lucrative things, but I’ve never stopped loving to mow. I love to landscape in general, though my older back is much quicker to protest.  And so, it’s with some sadness that I surrender my mower, and move on to this new phase of my life.

And then, of course, there is my dementia to be considered.  A lawn mower blade, as some have found out, can sometimes be unforgiving. They’re a lot safer now than when I was a lad, but that sharpened blade still has to spin.  Best to leave it alone before I make a mental mistake, and find myself missing a finger!

That is the one of the hardest parts of dementia.  Like most kids growing up in Detroit, I couldn’t wait for my driver’s license!  I’ve always loved driving, no matter the place, and it’ll be hard to give all that up.  However, I had to take my own father’s keys away, after a thrilling ten minute ride with him, during which he nearly had two serious accidents. And so, this lawn warrior will give up his car keys, and surrender them to my Dementia.

Blessings,

Fr Dave

 

 

 

 

Getting there safely…

20160705_202648

Today for some reason, the phrase “Get there safely” has been on my mind.  When I was in the police academy, we had a fair amount of training time behind the wheel.  The mantra was “Get there safely”.  Which pretty much meant, you can’t help anyone if you get in an accident.  In other words, don’t drive outside of your abilities.

Over the years, I noticed that most of the squad accidents were mostly fender benders. There were the usual pedestrian (no pun intended) city traffic collisions.  Sure they caused some damage, and an occasional injury and such, but they weren’t catastrophic in nature.

My two squad accidents were low speed events, and early on in my career.  They both occurred on the graveyard shift and did not involve other vehicles.  I once backed into a large bench on a golf course on a rainy night, which was a little embarrassing to report.  The other occurred on an icy night while on my way to a hot call, the type of which I can’t remember.  However, I do remember encountering glare ice on a curve in the road, and sliding into the curb at 30mph.  It caved in one of my tires, and had to be towed to the City Garage.  I got away with a nasty glare from my Sgt., who had to do the paperwork.

Though the major accidents in policing always draw attention, most squad accidents are relatively minor in nature.  Very rarely did I have trouble “getting there safely”, though I did have some close calls.  But in dementia, there is no getting there safely, because the damage is already done.  There is a progression of the damage, though it’s rate can vary considerably, and can occur at a variety of different ages.

But there’s another kind of getting there safely, and it’s the one I’m most concerned with. I do my best to remain focused on my relationship with Christ, as I deal with the challenges of dementia.  Our lives on this earth come with no guarantees of safety, and certainly, no explicit warranty.  We all have our own accidents, our ailments and infirmities, and at times they can be pretty scary.  But the kingdom that Jesus was talking about is the one that I’ve grown up with.  I’ve come to know Jesus as others have, as the Great Physician.

Over time, however, I’ve studied other religions.  And, as the old saying goes, there are no atheists in fox holes, whatever your religion.  Whatever path you travel, and whatever tradition you embrace, each involves a journey on some kind of path.  Each path that I’ve encountered  seem to share some common goals.  They all have a path on which to get there safely, and to love one another in the process.  The many folks I’ve met have shared their journeys with me.  We travel many common paths, whatever our faith traditions.

As our Episcopal Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry is fond of saying, “If it ain’t about love, it ain’t about God.”  And without love, there’s not much room for safety.  And so despite the seeming power of dementia, I continue on, focused on my journey.

Transitional Meditations

In just two days, I’ll be stepping down as Rector of St. Nick’s Episcopal Church, here in Midland, Texas.  For the first time in many, many years, I will be without a job.  I will be getting used to this thing we call retirement!  My dementia will be joining me on this quest, of course, and adding mischief to it.  At times, it seems my brain just has to take a leave of absence!

Like all of you, I don’t know how life will go, from this moment as I write this.  Our human warranties are only good for the present moment.  Just minutes from now, our lives could suddenly be much different.  Such thoughts have been on my mind, as I continue on my journey.

The truth is that I am very weary.  Enough so, that I omitted a sizable chunk of last Sundays liturgy.  Unfortunately, it has become a more consistent pattern.  More of my brain cells evidently just aren’t firing.  I’ve had to stop pretending that things will eventually get better.

Having served as St. Nick’s Rector has been my greatest privilege.  They were an awesome bunch when I got there, and even more so as I leave!  They understand that Jesus is in love with his whole creation.  He knows we all have warts and things, but he loves us as we are.  Jesus loves us, despite our imperfections.  St. Nick’s is full of folks who have come to understand that.  They radiate their love of Jesus Christ.  There is no litmus test, to come and worship with them.  They know we each must find our way back home to our Creator.  It’s a sacred road we each travel, and we help one another share the load of making our common journey.

For me, the words in the Burial Rite of the Book of Common Prayer have taken on new meaning.  Life has changed, not ended.  I leave the role of Rector, but I continue on that road that leads to life in Jesus Christ.  Like all of you, I have my ups and downs, but those come with any worthwhile journey.  And despite all the bumps I’ve encountered on the road, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I thank you for your many comments and good wishes.  Please, keep sending me a prayer or two, when you have a moment.  If I don’t respond to you, it’s not that I don’t want to. Dementia is a much demanding companion on the road that I am traveling.   And for those of you that are around this weekend, I look forward to sharing the love of Christ with each of you on Sunday!

 

Dementia: It’s the little things..

20170630_112242 (1)

Sometimes I think the dementia is having fun with me.  Early this morning, I was getting ready for church and was going to brush my teeth.  I was thinking toothpaste, but my brain had it’s own agenda.  Sure enough, my right hand picked up a can of shaving cream!  I suppose you’re thinking I squirted shaving cream on my tooth brush, but I’m not that far gone yet.  But I did chuckle for a moment at what that might have looked like.  And tasted like.  Yuck!

Little did I know, that was just the beginning of my day.  The dementia kept after me in church, resulting in some mishaps.  All in all, I think it had its way with me.  As I write this, it seems to have finally let me be.

I’ve been thinking of creating a t-shirt that reads, “I am demented.”  Not sure what kind of picture I’d put on it, I’m in the early stages of production.  Might as well have fun with it, it’s sure having fun with me.

Cookie and I have been debating what to do about our housing.  It’s hard to plan, not knowing how fast the dementia will be processing.  At the moment, it is clearly getting more troublesome, and showing some momentum.  But it could plateau again, and therein lies the challenge.  And we have to factor in our three Chihuahuas, which is a major complication.  They don’t seem all that worried, if you know my meaning.  As long as they get their treats, they’re good for a new location.

This month I apply for Social Security and for my clergy pension.  I am not looking forward to filling out the forms.  I hadn’t planned on retiring this early, but such is life and I’m sure that I’ll adjust to it.  I really don’t have much choice these days, the dementia calls the shots.

It is a learning process and I’m glad you’re all here with me.  Enjoy the 4th, and all the good things that you’ve been given.

Fr Dave

 

 

 

 

Pharmacology for Dummies

Well, I’m back to civilization, after a week in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and three days in Madison, WI, visiting daughter Chana and her fiance Mike.  I know you’re all wondering, “What did you do on your vacation?”  Well, among other things, I spent time in two hospitals, and got to ride in an ambulance for the first time as an actual patient.

A week ago today, I got what was either a nasty case of heartburn or a heart attack. Since I rarely get heartburn, the docs were worried about my heart.  Having had open heart surgery back in 2003, it was hard to tell the difference.  The esophagus and the heart share the same nerve bundle, being so close together, and they’re known to mimic one another.  I know that sounds a little weird, but hey, that’s what they told me.

After spending an hour or two at the Emergency Room, I was sent by ambulance to a second hospital in Petoskey, Michigan.  They have an excellent Cardiac Unit there, and I spent a very long Tuesday and most of Wednesday getting poked and prodded.  My Doc sent me down to the Cath Lab, where they inject dye into the heart, to discern if there’s a problem.  Happily, there wasn’t, and so they gave me medication for the heartburn and I was happily discharged at 8:30pm.  I was chauffeured back to the cabin, by my brothers Chip and Ken.  How’s that for spicing up one’s vacation?

Sometimes the dementia takes a back seat to other maladies.  The bad thing about an illness, including dementia, is that you’re not immune to others.  Each malady has its own treatment plan, and almost all include medication.  All medications have side effects, and some of those you have to live with.  The bad thing about dementia, of course, is that you must remember to take the meds.  And even at my early onset stage of the illness, it has already become a problem.

I can still remember my younger days, when I took no prescribed medications.  Those were the proverbial good old days, when I never thought of pills.  My ignorance of pharmacology was a truly blessed thing.  But then along came cholesterol and heart issues, and other assorted problems.  My medication count has climbed to fifteen now, and it shows no sign of stopping.  And so not by choice, I have a brand new hobby.  It isn’t easy keeping track of all those medications.  Of course they can’t be taken all together, that would be too easy.  I have my morning pills, my evening pills, and some that are in between.  Some are pills, some are capsules and they come in all kinds of sizes.  I hate to admit it, but I’ve been forced to purchase those funky plastic med organizers for my stash.

Life is changed, not ended.  This has become a daily conversation:  Cookie asks, “Did you take your medication?”  “Which one” I reply.   I get the look, and then we have another med discussion.  It’s become a daily conversation in our lives,  as we struggle with the illness.  Thank you for your thoughts and prayers, and for sharing the journey with me. And now it’s time to take my pills, if I can find them after being on vacation.  I wonder; is there a med for that?

 

Dementia at Night

Those folks that see me on a regular basis, often tell me that I look tired.  I do, and that is another unwelcome part of Dementia.  It disrupts the sleep cycle, and deep sleep in particular.  Even with a strong sleep medication, I occasionally wake up in the middle of the night, for no apparent reason.  I don’t usually get up and wander, as folks with more advanced cases seem to do, though I’ve done that on occasion.  My wife Cookie has me well aware of it!

Though I’m not an expert on such things, it seems logical that sleep deprivation would disrupt normal brain functions, especially memory.  That has been true in my case, though it’s been a gradual thing.  Those who see me on a regular basis probably  don’t notice it much, but I am very much aware of it happening.  I am also afraid of where it is leading.

I am taking some medications that might be described as “brain food”.  As my doc described it, the brain has reduced capacity for memory storage because of dementia damage.  The medication provides food for the brain to make up for it.  Unfortunately, the medication cannot restore my brain to its former capacity, because of the damage previously done.  Of course, this is much the same issue that NFL players and others are struggling with, the brain damage already done.

I want to thank all of you for journeying with me, as I try and make sense of it all.  I can sense the power and love of the Lord in each and everyone of you.

God’s peace,

FatherDave