The Power of Connection!

Tuesday March 23, started like every other day. I got up at 4am, worked out, then got ready for work. I had just pushed the button on my coffeemaker at 5:55 when Janet called from Mom’s group home. Mom was in pain and moaning, so 911 was immediately called.

Mom arrived at Southern Maryland Hospital’s emergency room at 6:55am. The first call I received was around 8:30am requesting permission to treat her, but it was the second call around noon that stopped me in my tracks. I was told that Mom has some sort of infection / inflammation in her gallbladder which had spread to her liver and that they’d give her something for the pain and the surgeon on duty would call me shortly with “options”. My head started to spin.

The call from the surgeon came around 3:30pm. She explained that Mom was in acute liver failure and needed some sort of surgical intervention and she was calling for a decision on what I wanted done for my Mom. One of the hardest things I’ve done over our now 15 year journey was to explain to the surgeon that my Mom didn’t want any type of surgical intervention or tubes or anything done to her. I asked if Mom could survive without surgical intervention and was told that Mom’s condition was extremely critical and that it was unlikely that someone her age would survive this. She stated that any surgical intervention would likely hurt Mom more than help her without prolonging her life. I asked if I could see her and she said due to COVID she couldn’t authorize it but she’d try to get permission for me to see Mom. I was asked if I wanted hospice to be called and I said yes. Our family has had wonderful hospice experiences with my grandmother, aunts and my sister.

Permission was granted and I arrived at the emergency room right before 5pm. By that time Mom had been alone for about 10 hours. She looked small, frail and literally scared to death. I was devastated. I asked if there was a prognosis and was told she’d likely live for a few days or weeks. We were moved to a room and I was told I could stay with her as long as I wanted and could spend the night in the Lazy Boy chair in Mom’s room. I advised that I wanted Mom to be taken back to the group home and they agreed to discharge her on Wednesday.

I began reading to her from The Book of Joy by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It’s an incredible and uplifting book and Mom started to nod as I read certain parts. She was breathing funny and I was pretty sure she was dying. They gave her oxygen so she could be comfortable. I played spa music and continued reading. Her eyes had been closed for most of the evening, but then at 11pm her eyes opened and she was awake for almost the rest of the night. Every time she looked at me she nodded and smiled. She was recognizing me!

Through the night we hummed along to jazz, the oldies and some gospel music too. I continued to read to her. By morning when breakfast arrived she had no idea how to use the spoon for her oatmeal so I fed her. I turned on the tv and she watched the people move across the screen. She began pulling on her oxygen tube and was very fidgety but I didn’t have anything with me to keep her hands busy like I usually do. I found the hospital’s menu in the drawer and that saved the day! She read the menu items over and over and was literally having a ball. Who knew menu items could be so exciting!!!

By noon on Wednesday I had met with the hospice leader and some of the rest of the hospice team who were assigned to Mom and she was admitted to the hospice program. I was told Mom would be picked up and transported back to the group home at 4pm. I was relieved. Just then the nurse supervisor came in to notify me that I had exceeded my visiting time limit and needed to leave as soon as the doctor came and spoke to me. I was surprised as they’d told me I could stay as long as I wanted and Mom was leaving in four hours anyway. But I said OK I’d leave. Ten minutes later the doctor arrived and took one look at Mom and how great she looked compared to the previous day in the ER. She told me to “disregard” what the nursing supervisor had told me, that it was clear to her that Mom was responding to me being there. I can’t imagine being in the hospital during this COVID period because very few people come into the room and there’s virtually no interaction unless the patient is in crisis. I was relieved that I could stay and the nursing supervisor returned and apologized to me. For the remaining four hours before Mom’s transportation arrived we hummed and sang, read the menu and laughed at absolutely nothing. We were together for 23 hours and it was priceless.

Mom is happily in her own bed in the group home, is now feeding herself again we are taking it day by day. She’s being pampered every single minute by Janet and she deserves it! I really need to get her a Wonder Woman cape! On Friday afternoon I went to meet the hospice and group home nurses and the hospice social worker who was there too! After they all left, Mom and I had a wonderful visit, and you KNOW it included LEGO bricks!! I had just attended a lunch-time session called “Six Bricks” given by a LEGO facilitator from Ireland and tried some of her techniques with Mom. It was amazing!

The COVID pandemic has left millions of people isolated, alone and unconnected, and that’s so devastating because the Power of Connection is what keeps us going! I know how fortunate I was to be able to be with Mom in the hospital this week. I was terrified for the first few hours when she was doing so poorly, but the more we connected through the night, the stronger we both became. Never underestimate the Power of Connection! Please connect with someone today!

A Different Kind of Happy Hour!

Almost everyone knows by now that not only do I love all things involving LEGO bricks, I am also a trained facilitator in a methodology called LEGO Serious Play (LSP). This year I’ve been focused on using LSP with family and professional caregivers and staffs of assisted living, adult day programs and memory care facilities to help them ReBuild Joy with LEGO bricks. Last November I also took a course that taught me how to facilitate LSP sessions virtually, which I never thought was possible until COVID hit.

There is a large group of LSP facilitators from around the world who connect via a LinkedIn page and through gatherings to share ideas and collaborate. I’m now part of that group and will be gathering with them next week for an exciting four hours of learning and sharing. One of my new LSP facilitator friends is Anat Shabi and she hosts a LSP Happy Hour on Fridays at 5pm London time which I was looking forward to attending. After missing a session two weeks ago because I screwed up the start time due to the time difference, yesterday I got the time right and attended an amazing session!!

In honor of her birthday this week, the theme of Anat’s Happy Hour was Gifts, our gifts to the world and the rewards of giving! I was stunned by the global representation in the group, with folks from the US, UK, India and New Zealand!! Some in the group where it was 5pm enjoyed their favorite drink, while the rest of us who were attending during the lunch hour or late at night enjoyed water or coffee. After friendly greetings we got right to work on the theme of Gifts and I learned something cool in the first two minutes! Anat instructed us to close our eyes and pick five LEGO bricks from the pile of all colors and shapes of bricks we had in front of us and then build a model to represent one of our unique gifts and how we share it with the world!! It was more difficult than it sounds and incredibly four of the five bricks I picked were the color green! Don’t know how that happened but it was amazing!! The group’s sharing of their “gifts” stories was very powerful!!

For the second task we went to breakout rooms with a partner to discuss a gift we had given to others and how it made us feel!! I was partnered with Christina from New Zealand who shared that she’d been following my posts involving on LinkedIn and was very happy to meet me in person!! The feeling was mutual!! We spent our 10 minutes together sharing the stories of our models!! I learned how kind and giving Christina is! Before I knew it our time was up and we were back in the large group.

Anat is a very skilled facilitator and the hour she led us through flew by! I learned a couple of things about myself and learned a great deal about my new friends. LEGO bricks have always been much more than a toy to me, they are truly a means as Anat put it so well to help us use our “unique gifts and innate skills of listening, inspiring, empowering and giving hope” to truly make a difference in this world. It was a very Different Happy Hour, one in which we enjoyed our favorite beverages along with recognizing and embracing the gifts we each share with the world. I’ll definitely drink to that!

Going With the Flow this week, Literally!

This has been a week! Mom turned 92 on Thursday and I had already accepted that I was only going to be able to see Mom from the deck of the group home and possibly get a glimpse of her cutting her cake and opening her card. But the snowy, icy weather didn’t even allow that, so for the first time in my life I didn’t see Mom on her birthday. I was able to take her balloons, cake and card over the day before her birthday and I’m grateful for that. But because there was absolutely nothing I could do about the situation, I just went with the flow. I loved the pics I was sent and I know Mom had a great birthday. Janet and her family even bought Mom a cool sweatshirt that said “I turned 92 in a quarantine in 2021 and none of you are invited”… that was Priceless!

Like everyone else, I watched in horror the news of the people in Texas literally freezing to death without power and water. I kept asking myself how is this happening in the United States in the same week that we landed a rover on Mars that is sending phenomenal photos back to earth. It was heartbreaking! People wanted to send help, but the news made it clear packages wouldn’t get to their destinations in time to help due to the travel conditions. So we all sat around feeling helpless. Not the time you want to just sit and do nothing. You don’t want to go with the flow, you want the water and power to flow as it should.

I woke up this morning looking forward to spending most of the day with Kendal who I hadn’t seen since the end of December. I got up at 5am to get some work done before Kendal’s arrival at 11am. Two minutes later, the start of my day took a little turn. I went into bathroom and stepped into about 4 inches of water, truly a first. I grabbed my mop and bucket and began bailing out the water while trying to determine where it was coming from. I called Michael and Sons as soon as they opened and was scheduled for an emergency call between 1:30pm and 3pm. Between Bible Study and virtual church I bailed water. When Kim dropped Kendal off, we all bailed water before Kim went out to grab us lunch. After Kendal and I enjoyed our lunch, we bailed water now coming from the shower, under the sink and under the toilet. Kendal bailed outside the bathroom and I did the interior. We then did an Art project and played with LEGO bricks before bailing more water.

We worked out in the gym and then bailed water. We went outside and played frisbee in the cold and then bailed water. At 3pm Michael and Sons advised that they were still coming but had a burst pipe at the job ahead of me and they’d arrive by 6pm. So we watched an animated movie and paused it to bail water.

Even after almost 12 hours of going along with my day and having a ball with my granddaughter, I wasn’t worried in the least about the flowing water. I had heat, and power and our day simply included a minor inconvenience of getting more physical exercise due to mopping than we had planned. Michael and Sons arrived at 5:30pm and determined that it was a clog as opposed to a burst pipe and that they’d have it unclogged in about an hour. It’s now 9pm and it didn’t work out they way we had intended. The clog is somewhere in my yard and they will be back tomorrow with a team of people to resolve it. So there’s more bailing of water in my future until tomorrow morning. So I’ll just continue to go with the flow. But as I type this my Mom is safe, I’m warm, I have electricity and water to drink and I had a glorious time with my granddaughter. Bailing water most of the day wasn’t a lot of fun, but sometimes we just have to literally go with the flow.

You Never Know How Many People You’re Helping!

I’ve been trying to write a post for a few weeks now, but I couldn’t get the words to come.

Conquering Life has been tough for me of late, I think being alone so much has taken its toll. I really miss sitting with Mom flipping through magazines and next Thursday she’ll be 92. After her seizure and hospitalization two weeks ago Wonder Woman bounced back yet again, but I wonder what the rest of 2021 holds for us. I’ve cried a lot this week primarily because of the deaths of two friends friends and a colleague.

I know that I’m following my calling and mission but every now and then I believe we all need confirmation that our chosen calling is making the difference out in the world that we hope it is (other than from our Facebook friends who are very supportive). In the last 24 hours almost on cue to help pick me up I received two phone calls and two emails from people who have only heard me speak once.

I’ve set HUGE goals for myself for 2021 and I’m working each day towards achieving them. I’m going to put this email up as my current motivation because it touched my soul. This pic is just a portion of the very long email I received from the author who is a pediatrician from southern VA. You never know how many people you are helping! The lesson I’ve learned this weekend so far is to take my own advice and just remember to take one day at a time!

Yesterday I Actually Wished I Had Dementia!

I’m glad my Mom doesn’t understand what happened yesterday the US Capitol. I wish I could forget it. At first I felt physically sick watching the events unfold on tv, and when I thought about my Mom who was always anxious, I know that if she didn’t have dementia she would have been terrified. Then at 2pm yesterday when I got off from work I was a little afraid, as I needed to leave my home and drive the 24 miles to Tysons Corner, VA for my final appointment with my endocrinologist of more 25 years. Dr. Tanen joined my team of eight doctors in 1995 who were in the middle of the thirteen year battle to save my life. I had already had 15 surgeries by then and Dr. Tanen’s primary role at first was to remove several nodules from my thyroid without surgery. We used to laugh about the fact that my thyroid is one of the few organs I actually have left. He was the youngest member of my medical team and we were the same age. Over these 25 years we also became friends. Yet, I almost cancelled my appointment yesterday because as an African-American I wasn’t excited about leaving my home with the chaos going on in DC.

I went and I’m glad I did. He was the last member of my medical team still practicing medicine and we had an amazing visit. I’m grateful for the role he played in my life as part of Team Loretta! He had a fabulous bedside manner, never made you feel inadequate for asking questions about your medical care and is just a wonderful person. When he closes down his practice in March, I hope that he and his family thoroughly enjoy retirement. They certainly deserve it.

When I returned home, the chaos was still occurring in the Capitol in DC. I was exhausted, felt physically ill and I cried. Last night at 8:30 pm I attended the nightly virtual prayer service at my church, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Capitol Hill, which I also help lead a couple of times each week. That service always prepares me for rest and a peaceful night, but last night that inner peace was hard to come by. Peace was eventually restored at the Capitol of course, but yesterday will be etched in our history forever. Yesterday was only one of a couple of times I actually wished I had dementia so I could forget what we all saw.

So Many Blessings in a Year of So Few!

I had a lot of goals for the days before and after Christmas but none of them actually involved opening presents or visiting others. Because I knew I couldn’t spend time with Mom on Christmas day because of COVID and we were supposed to socially-distance from family we didn’t live with, I’d psyched myself up just to deliver my gifts and keep moving, coming back home to work on all of the goals I’ve been setting for my business for 2021. Turns out the day had some unexpected Blessings! I received a gorgeous photo blanket from my bestie Kris that captured my almost 35 years with Tim. I got to see Mom walk again from the table to the door, strolling as if she was walking through the park like we used to do. I didn’t get to see her open her gifts, but the visit still meant everything!

When I got to the house to see my daughter and granddaughter, my plan was to stay long enough for them to open their presents. I gave my granddaughter a pink and purple Jeep and a table and chair set for her treasured doll Luciana.

I gave my daughter a motivational wall hanging on believing in your dreams. I also gave the kids a gift that was 25 years old but had never been opened. It was a souvenir Tim and I bought in 1995 in Australia. It’s an orange and blue tea towel that was made by an aboriginal woman. Tim loved her stand of kitchen towels, wall hangings and pot holders. Tim purchased his favorite one, and I had forgotten all about it until found it while purging stuff a few months ago still sealed in the original package. I took pictures of it and then resealed it. After some research I learned that today that women who was selling items at a stand on the roadside is now a huge contributor to a gallery of Aboriginal Art in Sydney. I hope the kids use it well in their kitchen.

They loved all of their gifts and I ended up staying for dinner which wasn’t in my original plans. After a wonderful rib dinner with veggies, cornbread and lemon meringue cheesecake, we watched the Disney movie Mulan, and it was truly a girl power inspirational movie. So many delicious and inspirational Blessings in one day.

Meanwhile, the work on my speaking business has gone incredibly well. I’ve been in my house since Christmas day and will be here all this upcoming week continuing to work on all of my goals. I’ve made new presentations, updated my website, written entire speeches, and created specific LEGO Serious Play programs for caregivers that I am thrilled about. I feel incredibly Blessed. My website is now titled – Loretta Veney Inspires, a phrase so many people have used to describe me over the years. My new tagline is Loretta inspires caregivers to move from “I give up” to “I’ve got this”.

Like almost everyone I know I’m looking forward to 2021 and though I have rarely stayed up until midnight in previous years, I’m going to stay up this year to make damn sure 2020 leaves! I’ll likely cry a lot too, for all the people who have died or are sick from COVID, for all of the health care workers who have given every ounce of themselves to save lives, for all who are unemployed, without a place to live or who are alone. There is so much fear, grief and uncertainty in this world today – but I pray that over this last week of 2020 we can all find at least a few Blessings to hang on to from this year. Mom and I wish all of you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2021, and I thank you all for helping me survive the nightmare also known as 2020.

I’ve already received my Christmas Gift!

I’ll be alone for most of Christmas Day and that will be perfectly fine because I received the best gift ever today so I’m already completely fulfilled. I not only got to see Mom through the glass door, I got to witness something I didn’t think I’d see again!

To rewind back to this summer, Mom had three seizures, a fall that resulted in a broken clavicle and four broken ribs, and two hospitalizations. She was so weak by mid-summer that even after physical therapy she could barely stand by herself.

Because she can’t follow directions due to her dementia, the physical therapist wanted to stop working with her after 10 sessions even though Mom was approved for 18. I insisted that they finish her sessions even if they thought it was a waste of time. I’m never going to let anyone give up on my Mom! I spent weeks in early fall working to get Mom a wheelchair so we could do our best to keep her from falling again.

After Mom’s physical therapy ended, Janet worked very hard to help her regain her strength. So TODAY when I arrived she got up from the table and walked to the front door by herself with Janet following very closely behind her. Janet had called me on Tuesday to share that Mom had started to walk on her own again and I was really excited, but to see it for myself today was priceless! She not only came to the door, she tried to open the door to come out!

I never really expected Mom to regain her strength to this degree again, BUT it is proof as to why you should NEVER give up on someone with dementia. It’s why I only focus on all the things Mom can still do! No gift I might receive on Christmas could top the gift I received today! Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but today was pretty great! Love you Mom! Thank you Janet!

She’s One in a Million!!

This week was indescribable! Not only was it the week for my huge quarterly class at work, but I was also expecting my new bed to be delivered, I had two presentations and one board meeting after work and my contractor was supposed to finish up the work he was doing on my patio and sunroom.

All of that was manageable. The thing that was most scary about this week for me was the fact that yesterday was supposed to be the best caregiver on earth’s last day at Lifesprings Eldercare. Her name is Janet Wright. I met Janet in November 2018 when Mom moved to house #2 of Lifesprings. I didn’t know it then, but she was new to that house just like Mom, and they bonded immediately.

No matter when I visited, which was OFTEN, Janet was in control. She seemed to know every resident’s medicines and likes and dislikes by heart. She knew how to soothe each resident, how to calm them and how to entertain them. I was always in awe of her! She and I also hit it off right away. I always looked forward to seeing Mom at Lifesprings, but also seeing Janet. We’ve been through so much together – Mom getting out of the facility and falling down at the end of the end of the block last year, her three seizures, two hospitalizations, four broken ribs and a broken clavicle this summer.

Whenever something happened to Mom, Janet felt it as if it was happening to her or her own family. She cried when I went to the facility in person to tell her that Mom’s fall earlier that week resulted in the broken ribs. When Mom came home from the hospital she was not the same. Her legs were weak and Janet single-handedly coaxed and coached Mom to her current stable condition. Janet even checked on Mom one night at 2am and found her oxygen levels were low and called 911. Who gets up in the middle of the night to check on residents? If it wasn’t for Janet, Mom wouldn’t be here.

A few months ago I found out that Janet’s husband is on dialysis and needs lots of care himself. I wondered how she could be so focused on the Lifesprings residents when she had a very serious illness in her own family. Right around the same time Mom was hospitalized, Janet’s husband was too. Janet lives an hour away from Lifesprings and after her husband’s hospitalization she began to look for a position closer to her home and her husband. She shared that information with me and I was cheering for her to be closer to her home and family. The possibility also terrified me. It was Janet who got Mom and all of the other residents through the four-month COVID lockdown unscathed! Who was going to take such great care of the residents and give them their all like Janet did? Given her amazing skills, Janet found another position very quickly. She was originally scheduled to leave Lifesprings on Oct 17th. My heart started to beat fast as the date approached. As the weather is getting colder and our backyard visits end, I couldn’t help but think that without Janet, will Mom still be here at the end of the winter?

No replacement was found by the 17th so Janet changed her departure date to Oct 30th. She spent time training a couple of people but knew that neither of them would be suitable for Lifesprings. I was sooo happy for Janet that she’d found a job walking distance from her home with a better salary. I got a beautiful thank you card for her from me and Mom and tried to prepare myself for her last day.

And then a MIRACLE! Janet ended up turning down the other job to stay at Lifesprings. She told me she LOVED THEM TOO MUCH to just leave them with anybody! And her husband approved! I cried when she said that and even now, my feelings are all over the place!! I’m relieved and feel so Blessed that our guardian angel will still be providing phenomenal care to our loved ones! But I’m also sad that this amazing woman sacrificed her own family to stay with ours. I’m not going to take her staying at Lifesprings for granted! I plan to continue to tell her how important and valuable she is to our loved ones AND to US! I hope you are fortunate enough to know a caregiver like Janet who gives their absolute all every single day! Not everyone is built to be a caregiver and there is no question that only a few are ONE IN A MILLION LIKE JANET!

Crossing Things Off the Bucket List!

While our lives continue to be filled with stunning news on a daily basis, I came to Chincoteague Island VA to chill out (socially-distanced style) with my RVing Women sisters and to hopefully cross something off my bucket list. Having never seen a rocket launch other than on TV, one was scheduled to occur this weekend from NASA’s Wallops Island a few minutes drive from where we are staying. Originally scheduled to launch on Thursday night, the countdown got all the way down to T-2 minutes before being aborted. But last night was different, and at 9:16pm we all stood in awe as we watched from across the island a huge orange ball light up the sky and head towards heaven. It then turned towards us and literally came right over our heads causing the ground to shake!!! It’s hard to describe how incredible it was unless you were there! I cheered along with the crowd and prayed that Tim was watching from heaven since we tried several times without success to see a space shuttle launch in person! I pray the rocket arrives safely at the space station to drop off the 8,000 pounds of supplies it was carrying!

Then this morning I was able to cross off another bucket list item, to ride a bike more than 10 miles, including riding off the beaten path! At 7:30am my friend Sue and I headed down to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, riding on paved paths, gravel, rocks and sand along the way!! It was a brisk morning with bright sun and I can’t imagine a better day for our trek!! My favorite part was the trail that took us down a path that was so narrow we had to get off our bikes and walk. When the trail opened up again, we found ourselves alone at the beach and we both stood there marveling at how lucky we are to make these God-given discoveries. I knew that like me Sue always traveled alone to the RVing Women events, but I didn’t know until today that she too is a widow. We stopped for coffee, donuts and cinnamon rolls on the way back to the campground and I truly needed the rest!! Whew!! Our total for our adventure was 13 miles! Another bucket list item gone! I’m thrilled with my bike I bought at the last camping trip and I’ll keep on riding to new places!!

The one thing on my bucket list I still can’t cross off yet is for a cure to be found for Alzheimer’s disease. It continues to take more of my Mom each day! In the last week her legs have started to shake badly, she doesn’t want to move her legs forward to walk and most concerning is that she’s starting to forget what to do with the meals placed in front of her! Anyone who knows my Mom knows how much she LOVES to eat, especially dessert!! So when I was told that she has to be promoted to eat and sometimes need assistance, it’s becoming crystal clear that she’s losing more of her brain function as each day passes! I’m going to keep praying for the day when my bucket list item for a cure for Alzheimer’s can be crossed off! I’m smart enough to know it’s increasingly unlikely that it will occur in time to help Mom, but will certainly help millions of others! In the meantime, I’ll continue to show Mom all the pics I take and the stunning things I’m able to see and experience so she can experience them with me! Every now and then when she sees something she likes she can still say Wow!! I hope the photos and video clips I’ve taken this weekend, especially of the rocket launch will bring about one more WOW from Mom when I see her next! Even through our masks and sitting six feet apart we can still enjoy adventures together and I thank God for every day we have left to do that!

Stay well and safe my friends! Let others know you love them every chance you get!

Goodbye July, Bring on August!

You tried to take me down July but I’m still here,  my faith is so strong that I carry no fear.

I think I set a record for all the tears I cried,  but that was so much better than keeping my sadness inside.

I went camping on the 17th to celebrate my sister and Tim and my RVing Women sisters surprised me with a toast in memory of him.

My journey with Mom’s health taught me so many lessons. I used those lessons daily as my therapy sessions.

Mom is my super hero because she never gives up. it’s stunning that this quiet soul is so incredibly tough.

In and out of the hospital Mom’s spirit shined,  even with seizures and broken ribs she said she was “fine”.

I tried to keep up with the dates of Mom’s events, doctor’s names and information they shared. It was daunting all month long but I tried not to be scared.

We are doing our absolute best to keep Mom happy and steady. Caregiver Janet watches Mom like a hawk and is always ready.

The love and support I’ve received from friends and family warmed my heart. July was an immense struggle, but August is already off to a great start.

I’ve updated my website and presentations and I’ve completed a five-mile walk.  As part of my self-care this morning God and I had an empowering talk.

I’m even stronger than I thought I was and am ready for whatever is meant to be. I’m thankful that God and many others are walking this journey with me.

Keep healing Mom! You are loved by so many!