The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise. –Proverbs 11:30
Welcome back from the Thanksgiving break! I hope your bellies are stuffed with food and your hearts are stuffed with joyful gratitude. I know mine are. 🙂
We have been working on decorating for a week or better now and that process finished last night with the decorating of our Christmas tree. (Sounds of rattling, metal clanging, muttering under my breath “Where is my Christmas shoe horn??? I know it is here somewhere. Maybe it is by the Mandalorian Christmas train set?”) In a somewhat odd way, prepping my plastic tree did make me think a lot about mom sitting in her Shawshank Re:Dementia dungeon awaiting a visit that got bumped forward 2 MORE weeks by another local positive COVID test. Here is how:
7 Ways Decorating For Christmas Makes Me Think of Mom & Dementia
- Ornament (Bundle) 1: These two green ornaments are from my childhood. They are pretty, I suppose, but not compared to the ultra-fancy cornucopia of ornament options put out by Hallmark and 1,000 other companies these days. I love reminiscing about my childhood using objects like this. If you squint just right, you can see the little white speckles that appear in my poor photograph to be paint chips. These are actually remnants of glitter. See, mom was big on spending time with us. Very big on it. She also spent time with her grandkids and, minus this stinking disease, would be with her great grandkids today. The ornaments are plastic and ho-hum…but the memories are irreplaceable. We fancied up these things about 45 years ago…
- Speaking of glitter: Glitter, whether on an ornament or elsewhere, make it sparkle like a gem. They don’t make it INTO A GEM, they just make it sparkle as such. Just looking at the outside doesn’t always reflect the reality, but your mindset has the power, at least to you, to change the reality. It is super tempting to look at a person with dementia and only feel sadness. I get it. I do. Honestly…I do. It is extremely sad that they are suffering. However, there are glimmers of glitter to be seen if you invest in them. Try hard to focus not on what is gone but what is left. My ornament glitter may have originally said my name or the year or something else? But regardless, it still represents something wonderful today.
- Results may vary– As I have mentioned a few times lately, we used to decorate the tree with these permanent ornaments, but we also used to make our own by stringing popcorn and making paper rings. Far from the uniformity you find in store-purchased decorations, these gems had a certain style. There were gaps, random oddities, and “Happy Accidents” that gave these prizes their character. In dementia, every patient also has distinct differences, but they all have enormous value because of their Creator. As you watch the disease progress, know these two seemingly contradictory facts: every case is completely different yet strikingly similar. Just as a homemade decoration may be shaped like one from Dollar Tree, it is not the same. This, to me, highlights the importance of community. We have to stick together and help each other. Lost a loved one? Take some time off…then jump back in and continue helping and advocating. I think of support group members asking “Has anyone else experienced X” and 3/4 of the crew saying yes and sharing their variation of X. Everyone’s experience is valuable in all of us being able to understand.
- Ornament 2: The importance of tradition
The first two ornaments above was my bride and my first Christmas tree ornament as a married couple. Hundreds have followed. The one on the right was my first child’s first ornament. Now we buy all 3 kiddoes one every year and they are all precious. 🙂 We have dozens of other traditions as well. One example: I buy $11.02 in gas often so that when my wife does the checkbook she will know that I was thinking about her (11/2 is our anniversary). Will these traditions “stick” should I get dementia? Here is my theory: Mom forgot what we think of as very important things a few years ago. She couldn’t remember my name 3+ years ago. However, I am NOT a stranger to her. If I could stand in front of her now, I believe she would smile and know that I am someone who is safe and is in her tribe. That is so much more valuable than remembering my name! She didn’t NEED my name to know me…but she did need to know I was on her side. That is still here and it helps bring me comfort. This is likely not everyone’s experience, but most everyone has something left that could function that way. Don’t give up, friends! 🙂
- Ornament 3: Surprise!
Life is full of surprises, isn’t it? How we react makes a huge difference. In order to announce one of my wife’s pregnancies, I broke out my mad decorating skill and, after washing our test, made an ornament. 🙂 Boy was the receiver of this ornament surprised! Dementia, too, is full of surprises. To me, that was part of what made the first year or two particularly hard. It reminded me of a super-accelerated, harder version of coming home to a wife of a toddler. Some days I would return home to see mom and daughter in a chair reading a book and laughing…and other times I would arrive to my wife holding out the kiddo saying “Here…your turn!!!!” Some days I would show up to see mom and she was in schedule/routine and we would sit around, watch TV and play some piano. Then there were off-schedule days where she could just as easily be frantic or loud or mad or any of the above. You just never know where this roller coaster would go. Very challenging….
- Step back and see the big picture–
I love seeing the details of every single ornament on my tree. They are each super special to me and, even though I am NOT good at decorating the tree myself (my wife and kids are great), I completely appreciate the big picture…the finished product. Do you take some short times away from the situation to see the big picture? You need to. Find respite from 24/7 care from relatives, friends, or church family…someone. You need it and they need it. It will help you to step back and see the challenge. When you are “in the moment”, you may not realize how tired/worn out you are and how much you need help. Breaks will help you refocus. Contact the Alzheimer’s Association and your nearest Area Agency on Aging for help getting help.
- Eventually it all comes down– Boxing up the ornaments doesn’t have to be a sad time. Reflect on each decoration as you box them up… and look forward to better days ahead when you can see them again. In dementia, I can only offer you one thought. Eventually this mess will be over in your life. Your loved one, minus a miracle or a new cure, will be taken by this disease. And it stinks! 🙁 But, as a believer, I can look forward to seeing mom again someday…some sweet day…with no tears, no pain, and no dementia. Imagine how amazing the decorations will be that sweet day! Until then, we serve, we love, we visit…when they let us…and we never stop fighting to #EndALZ !
Update: Not much to say on an update. Our November 30th scheduling date for our first outdoor visit in months was blasted from the sky like a duck from the blind by a new round of COVID at the nursing home. Best case 2-3 more weeks of Shawshank Re:Dementia solitary confinement. 🙁
WW Update: I ate like a stuck pig over the break…and am back hardcore on plan for this brand new week. I am still around 50 pounds from my goal, and am still just under 100 lost. I feel great and am in a solid mindset to get to goal by my 50th birthday in July. 🙂
If you would do me a huge favor, please donate to SeniorAge and to the Alzheimer’s Association tomorrow on Giving Tuesday. Both are in desperate need. COVID has budgets in disarray and your tax-deductible gift will be super encouraging to me and to all involved as we fight to help this mess. Thank you in advance!