Have you ever gone through a time of despair? You feel like you’ll never be happy again. I haven’t had many, but they feel like the opposite of inspiration – desperation. You remember them clearly – they’re a scar you’ll never forget.
This post is about my 3 most desperate times, and how I coped. I hope they help you,. I’ve dealt with colds and the flu, but never with sickness and death. They found me 9 years ago.
The first story is about my dad. He was a teacher, a principal, and a man of words. I’m a daddy’s girl, and I lost him to Alzheimer's in February of 2011. He went looking for a boat in the middle of winter. He came home that night for the last time. He moved into a nursing home by Valentines Day.
With Alzheimer's the neurons in your brain slowly gum up until they won’t connect anymore. At the beginning you lose a thought, can’t find the word you need. Later you forget where you’re at, where you’re going, like my dad did.
In February the dad I’d always known was gone. He lost touch with the real world and found himself living in a fantasy. He showed me his classroom. It was really his bathroom. Another night I found him ready to pilot a plane. He’d never flown one before.
My dad was gone, locked in his own brain, so where’s my silver lining? I found it by meeting him where he was. I was dad’s Peter Pan. If he wanted me to see his classroom, I looked inside and talked school.
When dad said he was flying, I said don’t crash. Ahlzheimer’s was never his fault. He believed what he said. I didn’t fight for the truth. I wanted both of us to enjoy the time we had left.
The last time he said Rinda, he asked about my funeral. I didn’t cry. I looked for the silver lining, my dad still remembered me. I said she had a great funeral. Story telling has its benefits!
The ultimate silver lining for me – a story. I wrote about our golf course adventures. It was the last place I found my dad, the one I remember. He used to hunt golf balls in the creek, and he tried to drag me in after them. Alzheimer’s took away so much, but I’m grateful for our last memories.
That story is still in my computer. I hope I can find a way to edit it for kids. They’re natural Peter Pans, if you show them a few rules about Alzheimer’s.
The second story is about our family dog. This is Leia Millenia Beach (we were a Star Wars family). She came to us as a pup in August 1999. Her kids were in 5th, 3rd, and K. I couldn’t have asked for a better friend for them.
Leia loved to walk and would go crazy if we said walk, w-a-l-k, or the w word. She was that smart! Her favorite kind was to pull her kids down the street, panting and choking the whole way, but with the biggest doggy smile ever. Life couldn’t get any better.
She loved to pull me down the street, in shoes. That little 10 pound dog had to lead! I’ve never had a better friend. Loyal, true, and always happy to see me.
In 2013 she was a senior dog. This was her favorite spot because she could keep track of her people.
Age had taken its toll. I didn’t notice until November when we did a photo shoot. (Leia has her own story.) I took her to the town next door and realized she had doggy dementia.
She’d walk a few steps and rest. No more pulling me down the street. At the photo shop, she paced. She used to sniff her way around the room. Not any more. She paced like my dad, and I realized I was losing her too.
I cried all the way home, only 10 minutes, thank goodness. I felt like I was losing my dad again, plus my dog. I’m so glad we did those pictures. I still have them, ready to publish when her story is told.
She’d look at me like this, like she could see down to the bottom of my soul, and she loved me anyway.
By March my cleaning lady called and said I think it’s time. I called our vet, left a message, and of course my 2nd graders came in the door when she called back. One of them asked about Leia. He said it happened to his dog too. We agreed that someday I should write this part of Leia’s story, saying goodbye.
I took her to the vet the next day. She gave Leia the shot, and as she passed I told story after story, about how much we loved her.
When I returned to school my kids asked. Word spread. My sister teacher in 3rd grade found out on bus duty. My kids passed the word to her and to my old 3rd and 4th graders. We were family.
My Texas son, daughter-in-law, and their 2 dogs sent me flowers. Here’s part of my Facebook thank you to the dogs: Your flowers made me cry, but they also made me think of the stories Leia would tell you like how to squirt between 2 children so they don't catch you, or how to find M&M's and drag them to your crate.
This post is about silver linings, and that’s what I found. I asked my school nurse how to get through the grief. I’d never gone through it before. She said put a rubber band on your wrist. When you feel tears, snap it!
I found something better, memories. When tears came, and they did for a week or two, I would close my eyes and remember Leia pulling my kids down the street. It made me smile again, and I hugged it to my heart.
My other silver lining is having her story in my computer, waiting for the right time to become a book. Our picture will be on the author page together, the one from our photo shoot.
The third and final story is about my dad and his last summer. It was the end of May 2015, my last week as a teacher. That’s when we got the call that dad needed hospice care. I knew that meant he was dying.
Hospice doesn’t help you live. You only qualify if you have a terminal disease. There is no hope. Nothing left to try. Hospice helps a patient face death, as comfortably as possible.
Sometimes you only have a few days. Sometimes a week. In May we didn’t know how much time was left. It turned out to be 4 more months.
From 2011 on, Dad lived in a nursing home. Hospice worked with his nurses to minimize his pain, to help him end life as comfortably as possible.
Hospice also helped my family to understand what was happening. When changes in medications needed to be made, dad’s hospice team would call and guide us through them.
The saddest thing about 2015 and watching dad go downhill was that he would never hear my stories. A friend said tape them. I did, and Dad could hear my voice anytime his nurses pushed play.
After school let out, once a week I went in to read with dad. I started with my stories first – 2 bat stories, golfing with dad, the ants, Leia’s story, all of them. Then I turned to my kindle.
I started with MARLEY AND ME and Nora Ephron’s I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK. Both stories are about aging and death. They gave me a chance to talk about the important things – dogs and kids, aging and death. I’m grateful for that time with my dad, to read, to talk to him about the things that mattered. I left nothing unsaid.
The last time I saw my dad was the week before my son’s wedding. I told him I had to leave, when I’d be back, and that it would be OK for him to go. My son’s wedding was Saturday, September 19. Dad died Tuesday the 22nd. I didn’t make it home, but I was at peace. I had said everything I needed to say. I’m glad for my summer of silver linings.
The Inspiration for this post came from STRANDS OF MY WINDING CLOTH (The Elizabeth of England Chronicles, Book 4) by Gemma Lawrence. I read the passage below and knew I wanted to share it in a post. It’s how I feel about life, death, and how to live on.
I messaged Gemma for permission to quote this passage – Elizabeth had just asked Kat Ashley how to fight death, and this is how she answered . . .
“Live, Elizabeth. That is all that can be done against Death. Live each day and know the beauty of life. Laugh with friends, and know that even when Death separates us, we are never lost to one another. Love those who deserve your love, and be grateful to be loved in return.”
Kat wrapped her arms tight about me. “Speak the names of those who have died, so that they are not lost from memory. Step out into the sunshine and the rain with equal joy, and cherish the feel of the wind upon your skin.
Know that to live is a gift, and even when it is taken from us, understand we have been fortunate to possess such grace.”
She pulled me closer. “That is all that can be done, Elizabeth, to thwart Death. None of us can escape Him for all time, nor should we mourn such a fact.
When He is done with His work, He takes us to join those we have loved and lost in Heaven. But enjoy life for as long as it is yours. In that way do we defy Death. In that way do we learn to live without fear of Him.”
That’s what I’ve tried to do since Alzheimer’s took my dad. Since old age took my dog. I live, and I look for silver linings. For hidden, unexpected joy, and I always find it.
In 2020 I still use silver linings to handle things like Covid. To help my mother with her steady decline. Mom has always been the Ever-Ready Bunny. She never, ever, stopped moving.
After dad died, she slowed down, sits down, and even naps. She never did that before, ever. I know our time is finite, not forever, so I look for those silver linings – like finding letters from my grandfather that Mom forgot she had, or discovering my prom picture from 1977. Yikes! That was 43 years ago if I got the math right!
Here’s the link for G. Lawrence’s book (That’s her writing name!):
When I write, I can only have one voice in my head, mine. A little noise is fine. But too much, or worse yet, WORDS, and I must change rooms or pull out headphones. Then I can write on!