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!

A Spirit that Shines Through It All!

Mom had not been the same since coming home on July 5th from her hospitalization for a seizure. She was very weak and had just started physical therapy on July 21st in attempt to build up her leg strength. Thankfully, one thing that wasn’t damaged or weakened at all from that seizure is her incredible spirit … When she says “Oh Hello!” when you walk in or “Thank You”, for something you’ve done for her, you feel her authenticity and warmth in your entire body. She smiles through whatever is happening and it warms your heart. Everyone loves my Mom.

The start to this week took an interesting turn on Tuesday. Mom lost her balance that morning due to her weakness striking her left shoulder, but thanks to her great caregivers she didn’t hit the floor. As the day progressed a huge bruise appeared and I was asked to take her to Patient First to get an Xray. It was a struggle getting her there and back due to her weak legs, especially holding her up for the Xray but we did it. We were told by the doctor on duty that nothing appeared to be broken and we were relieved. But then came Thursday. First thing that morning Mom had another seizure which was really concerning, but the caregivers and I had a virtual appointment with a neurologist who gave us instructions to hopefully end the seizures once and for all.

Later Thursday morning I received a distressing call from the Patient First radiologist that his review of her Xray revealed that Mom’s left clavicle was broken! I was shocked and very upset, but followed the instructions I was given to call an orthopedic physician near us. I made an appointment right away but was worried about taking Mom given all the trouble I had getting her to Patient First, and she seemed to be getting weaker by the day. I made arrangements for my favorite caregiver Janet to come to the orthopedic appointment with me, and I felt great that all would be well since there’d be two of us assisting Mom and we’d have a wheelchair with us too. What could go wrong?

That answer came Friday morning when Janet called to alert me that something seemed “really wrong” with Mom and that she didn’t think we should try to take her to the appointment. I rushed right over and Mom now had a huge knot on her chest under her neck, her eyes looked really sick and she seemed to be taking deep breaths and was moaning slightly. The best decision we made was to call the ambulance for her. They took Mom back to Southern Maryland Hospital where she’d been on July 2nd. I spoke with a fabulous Doctor who told me that Mom’s oxygen level was low so they had put her on oxygen and were going to do a full workup on her to get to the bottom of what was going on. She said Mom was so nice and polite and she was happy to be working on her case. She told me she would call me back in a few hours after all the tests were done.

Instead, I got a call back from the doctor in just 90 minutes, and she sounded a little more serious than she had in our previous conversation. She said, “so your Mom has four broken ribs and we are going to transfer her to Washington Hospital Center where they can deal better with this kind of trauma”. I said “WHAT??” and she repeated it. I asked if this was serious? and she said “YES, there is fluid building up and her lung capacity may be damaged so she needs to be seen by the trauma physicians to determine if she needs surgery”… I asked “did you say surgery?” I’m nearly hysterical at this point. She calmly said “we will take great care of your Mom while she’s here I promise you”. I said ok and immediately started to cry. I felt horrible that I didn’t understand how injured Mom was from Tuesday’s incident, and worried that she’d be alone AGAIN in a hospital because of COVID. When I went to give the news to Mom’s caregivers at the group home, they were devastated! It was a really sad moment!!

Mom easily made the transition to Washington Hospital Center and based on their protocol for broken ribs at her age of 91 she was immediately put in the ICU. I didn’t hear a word Friday night but was assured that the Trauma Team would call me. We finally talked around 7am on Saturday morning. They gave me the great news that Mom was delightful and had no problems during the night. The night nurses took turns sitting with Mom and they loved how she made them feel special when she said “thank you” for any little thing they did for her. I was proud. I was told that due to her age and the fact that she didn’t seem to be in too much pain, that they weren’t going to do any surgery on her. Nurse Lexi sat with Mom several times during her shift and played music for her. They absolutely loved Mom’s spirit, and though they were glad to see her leave the ICU they were sorry to see her go.

When Mom was moved out of ICU, Nurse Lexi went with her to ensure she got all settled in her new room. The new nurses loved Mom just as much as the ICU nurses. One of my friends said to me this morning “everyone loves your Mom!” and that’s an understatement! I always say that Mom is a rock star! I hope she won’t be in the hospital long, and I still have concerns given that Mom can’t follow instructions well enough to do the breathing exercises she needs for her lungs. But I also believe in silver linings. One of the things Nurse Lexi said was that “Mom’s kindness made her day” and that they hadn’t had a patient as delightful as Mom in a long time. The silver lining for me is that even in her now late-stage dementia, Mom can still share her great spirit with others. She’s calm and relaxed (even when apparently in pain) and when she smiles she can still light up a room.

Not even a broken clavicle and four broken ribs could dampen her kind heart and her spirit. Even on the worst of days she has no fear because she no longer knows what fear is. All she knows is that she’s “doing fine, thank you” whenever she was asked how she was by the doctors and nurses. As ugly a disease as dementia is, I’m grateful that the one thing it has not robbed my Mom of as of yet is her ability to make someone else’s day better, and at two different hospitals! And that’s why everyone loves my Mom, especially Me!! Get Well Mom, I know they want to keep you in the hospital but we can’t wait for you to come home!

The Weight Of It All!

My RV named JOY weighs 10,960 pounds. I had her weighed for the first time this weekend as I headed out on my camping adventure to ensure that she was not overweight. I was carrying a full load of stuff with me this weekend as I always do, including a full refrigerator, a full tank of gas, a full tank of propane, and a 3 gallon jug of fresh water. I had never (nor had Tim and I ever) weighed an RV. Last weekend I watched a YouTube video on how to get JOY weighed at a truck stop. I downloaded the required APP and then drove JOY like a pro onto the scale at a truck stop 29 miles from home! I was surprised that it went like clockwork, as I’d been really apprehensive about doing this amongst a sea of huge tractor trailers. But when I arrived before noon on Friday, there was no line and it was even easier than the video indicated. I was relieved that I’m not close to the maximum weight of 11,500 pounds to drive JOY safely. I now know I can bring along a couple of family / friends and all their stuff with no problem.

I’m writing about this because as I got JOY weighed it struck me that I’m not only driving around a huge weight, I am also (along with many of you) carrying a lot of weight around too! Right now, all of us are feeling the weight of it all and some of us may be close to the breaking point!! There is the COVID pandemic continuing to run rampant, racial unrest, economic upheaval as states open and close as the pandemic dictates, and the thousands of folks of who are lonely, sick, dying or grieving! Just so much (too much) for us to carry right now!

I came on the camping trip with my RVing Women sisters in spite of COVID because I was staying within my home state of Maryland and I knew we’d all be wearing masks, refraining from our customary tight hugs and maintaining social-distancing as required. I needed this trip because July 17th was the fourth anniversary of Tim’s death, which of course occurred while we were camping in NY. Some of my friends are surprised that I still enjoy camping after Tim’s death, but others understand that being in a campground and out in nature is what fills my soul as I continue the dream Tim and I had of seeing this entire country! I also came because I knew that home was probably not the place for me this weekend, and that my RVing Women sisters would help me carry the weight of my grief over Tim and my sister’s deaths, and my continued worry about my Mom’s weakness after her seizure on July 2nd.

Coming on this trip is the best thing I could have done for myself! As soon as I arrived at the campground I got a call from the Physical Therapist who was going to assess Mom and arrange for her in-home PT for the upcoming weeks. Because I was out of town, I gave Janet (World’s Best Caregiver) permission to sign for me, giving consent for Mom to be examined. Thankfully Mom’s PT will start next week giving me one less thing to be concerned about!!

I also knew that after several COVID-caused cancellations of our camping trips my RVW sisters would lift me up and relieve me of some of the weight I’ve been carrying. And help me carry the weight they did! I arrived at the campground and immediately received a motivational plaque from Nancy that says “Find Joy in the Ordinary” something I always try to do! I can’t wait to hang it in JOY!

After a Facebook post last week where Kathy shared photos of a family soup recipe that looked absolutely delicious, I jokingly asked if she delivered. Turns out Kathy and Sandy DID deliver, bringing me two containers of the soup – one to eat this weekend and one to freeze and eat later! What a thoughtful thing to do, and the soup was Awesome!

Since we can’t have our usual dinners together right now, for dinner on Friday night I was invited to eat with Laurie, Marsha and Sandi and the company, food and conversation were all fabulous and we maintained social distance around the picnic table throughout our dinner!  

On Saturday the group did a toast to celebrate Tim’s life and my joining RVing Women after his death. I was blown away by the sincerity and love of the toast, all for a man they’d never met. We usually have at least one new member or guest at each rally and one new member named Mel and I had an instant connection. We are both traveling alone so Saturday afternoon even though it was hot we walked in the shade all through the campground, even taking hiking trails off the beaten path that neither of us would do alone…It was magical! After our trek, Mel treated us to snowballs and root beer floats from the camp store which was PRICELESS! We sat on the camp store’s porch and enjoyed our treats and deep conversation. Another RVing sister to make memories with and share our life journeys.

Late Saturday afternoon the NBC Online article about the impact Coronavirus is having on caregivers that Mom and I were featured in was released. I’m proud that the articles continue to focus on caregivers and all of the weight and worry that can go along with that role. The response to the article was overwhelming and immediate. People have been texting and calling me from everywhere again confirming that the work I’m doing is important and that I speak for so many other caregivers who are also on this journey.

On Sunday morning I did my final walk of the weekend, going down to the lake where there is a huge cross in the middle of the wide-open space. I had my own church service, especially giving thanks for this restorative weekend, and for the life and work of Congressman John Lewis. It was just me and a few swans, buzzards, frogs and fish. My RVW sisters helped me right up until the minute I was leaving for home. Several of them heard a clicking sound coming from JOY as I drove in on Friday, so Laurie and Sandi actually ran behind JOY as I drove slowly in attempt to determine what the sound was! Are these women amazing or what? It was determined that it was just a rock rattling in my hubcap and would likely work its way out on the way home. As I drove off in JOY, I felt so much lighter than I had been on Friday, as if a huge amount of weight had been lifted off of me. I credit all of my friends and being in nature for the change I sorely needed.

We all need people to help us carry all the weight the previous five months have put on our shoulders. In addition to my RVW sisters I know that God and Tim were with me the entire weekend and the photos of the orange sunset (Tim’s favorite color) from Friday night, and my walk early on Saturday morning was all the proof I needed of that… The glorious sunset followed by the trees shining from a beam of sunlight reminds us that we are never alone on our journeys.

I hope that we all continue to find people and things that will help us carry the weight until the current crises have abated. Who is helping you carry the weight of the issues we are currently impacting you? I hope you have some “go to folks” who can listen when you need to vent, support you when you cry, and make you laugh when you need it. And don’t forget to pay it forward and reach out to others who may need help with the weight they are carrying too!! Let’s make sure that none of us falls down under the Weight Of It All! You never know when you can be a beam of light and sunshine for someone else. Sending you all light and love!

“I Think I’m Still Here!”

It’s been a long 6 days filled with worry and sadness, followed by overwhelming joy after Mom’s really scary seizure last Thursday resulted in a four day hospitalization which ended on Sunday! I was almost hysterical because I wasn’t able to see her at all while she was in the hospital due to COVID. But fast forward to today and it was all sunshine and a couple of moments of true clarity for Mom.

I had been a little worried about taking Mom to the doctor today for a checkup following her discharge from the hospital because she is still a little weak from her ordeal. But once we got her in the car it was all smooth sailing. When we got about half a mile from the group home Mom said “it’s pretty out here!” followed very closely by her favorite saying “Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” which she’s been saying constantly for almost a year now. Acknowledging the pretty day and Our Lord and Savior together works for me and immediately reminded me of how the two are inter-connected.

When we got to the beautiful new Medical Pavilion where our beloved Dr. Idoko had moved to at National Harbor (we had to investigate where she had gone when she left her previous practice) the staff met us in the lobby to take Mom up by wheelchair while I parked the car. They made us feel like family and reminded me that I’m not in this alone in this journey with Mom. If you ask for help when you need it, great things happen even in the midst of a pandemic.

One of the questions you hear people asking each other all of the time for the last 110 days is “how are you doing?” Many people say “I’m OK” or “I’m making it” even when they really aren’t OK. Today when Dr. Idoko walked in and greeted us with that Passion and Joy she has for being a doctor, it validated why I made the search to track her down (doctors aren’t allowed to recruit patients to their new practice as they are leaving the old one).

She asked Mom “how are you today Ms. Doris?” and Mom replied “I think I’m still here!” The doctor and I both chuckled, but as I sat there while she examined Mom it struck me how profound a saying that is for the times we are in. Some days we aren’t really sure we are still here! We feel great some days, and horrible on other days. We think the pandemic isn’t real, but we pinch ourselves as we try to remember our lives before March of 2020 and rediscover that this is no dream, but a daily nightmare with numbers that keep rising. Dr Idoko and I not only assured Mom that she was still here, but that she was deeply loved too!

Me, and Mom with Dr. Idoko and Janet

I never underestimate the things Mom says because for me, there’s always a message in there. She’s been through a lot this past week, and much of it alone in a hospital bed. She was missed terribly at the group home by her primary caregiver Janet and all of the residents and definitely missed by me. She’d also become a favorite with all the nurses at Southern Maryland Hospital who weren’t in any hurry to send her back to the group home Sunday afternoon! I was so grateful to all of them because with COVID running rampant I worried aloud if she’d emerge from that hospital room. But emerge she did and when our appointment was over this morning, there was Janet to get Mom safely back inside the group home!

One of the blessings right now for anyone with dementia is the fact that they have no idea what a pandemic is nor the devastating effect it’s had around the world, especially in this country. Knowing my pre-dementia Mom, she would be very afraid of COVID. So I think her response to “how are you doing?” is soooo appropriate. The next time someone asks me how I am, and I’m not really feeling OK, I may just borrow Mom’s response and say “I think I”m still here!” Given all the prayers and response we received during Mom’s latest crisis I know that someone would remind me that I AM still here and that I am deeply loved. Many of you know my family is pretty small at this point, BUT the number of people who love and care for me and Mom (some of whom I’ve never met in person) feels HUGE. I love you all and am grateful for how you hold me and Mom up on the days we really don’t really feel like we’re here!!

Lessons from 100 Days With Myself!

On March 20th as cities and states began to lock down from COVID 19, I gathered up all my belongings at work and came home with my work computer to begin teleworking for the first time in the 7 years of my employment. I was the last one on my floor to leave that day and as I looked around at all the empty offices and desks I wondered if I’d ever return there again. The answer to that question is still up in the air. As soon as I set up my home office I began my Coronavirus Journal to track my milestones and the lowest points of my lockdown adventure.

Now on the 100th day of working and being home ALONE, I’m loving it. There are no distractions and my work production which has always been very good, has increased dramatically. I could work at home forever! That said, the two hardest things about being alone are the nights which are horribly lonely, and not seeing my Mom. Thankfully yesterday on June 26th after 97 days of seeing her only through a glass door, I got to spend time with Mom outside in the backyard. We played ball and read a book and even 6 feet apart from her I felt like 100 pounds of bricks had been lifted off of me. I believe that when all families think back to March when facilities locked down, they were afraid that they’d never see their loved ones alive again as COVID raced through many senior facilities. I was terrified by that possibility!

Looking through my Journal today the lessons I’ve learned jump out at me. I can count the people I’ve seen in person since March 20th on two hands and I’m surprised that I don’t yearn for more interaction. In truth, I think I may have to turn in my extrovert card when COVID goes away because I’ve learned I don’t miss being around people!!

For the first 37 days I didn’t even start my car and I learned I don’t miss driving like I thought I would. Since mid-April I’ve driven a total of 98 miles, the longest of which was 32 miles roundtrip to the cemetery on what would have been Tim’s 70th birthday and 22 miles to and from my office to get my work computer repaired. I’ve only been to the essential places to get essential things. I’ve learned I can live on very little and that I already have more than enough in my home to keep me content for years to come.

In the 100 days I’ve watched more than 50 documentaries and movies based on true stories and learned that my love of learning about people, places and things is stronger than ever. I’ve read three non-fiction books and the entire Old Testament of the Bible so far and look forward to what’s coming next. I’ve challenged myself to do new things, including building a LEGO world without Alzheimer’s, raising $3,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association fundraiser and learning new LEGO building techniques in the process.

The last eight weeks of my 100 days alone have been the hardest. The resurgence of COVID as cities have begun reopening have also brought new fears to my mind. But it’s the current racial unrest in this country that has brought me to tears day after day since the killing of George Floyd and many other Black victims. It’s been hard to sleep and think of much other than race relations (or lack thereof) during the early violence and the continuing protests and on some days I’ve felt completely overwhelmed. I have lots of faith, but it’s difficult find hope in the current state of this country on most days. I wonder and try not to worry about what will happen next. I hope that earnest dialogue on race in the US will occur and that true change can begin, but I feel that may just be wishful thinking.

Even with the current unrest, at the end of my first 100 days of being locked down alone, I believe that I am a wiser, smarter, stronger, and even more faithful person. I am thankful for my family, friends and for my relationship with God, all of which remind me that even though I live alone, I am never really alone.

On the Speaking Circuit While Black…

After reading my Facebook post from last week that I was going to begin mitigating my risk of potentially being targeted for standing, walking or shopping in areas I don’t live in, several people I love and trust asked me if I was also going to stop speaking around the country to caregivers and families dealing with dementia.

The answer is a resounding NO!! I am definitely not giving up my work of helping others. As soon as this pandemic is over, I’ll continue to go wherever I’m invited to speak. The difference between my being on the speaking circuit and the things I do in my personal life that bring me enjoyment is the fact that I’m contracted and invited to speak, not just showing up somewhere where someone may see me as a threat. I love the fact that when organizations advertise the events where I will be speaking, most of the time there is a photo of me in the ad. So in my mind people aren’t going to be surprised to learn that I am the speaker when they arrive at the venue. But every now and there, there is surprise and shock! A few have left the event once they learned I was the speaker.

As many of you know, since 2014 I’ve given more than 330 presentations and keynote addresses to thousands of people around the country. Being on the speaking circuit isn’t something that I actually chose to do, this is 100% the work that God has called me to do, and people say that I’m pretty good at it. I’m told that I bring energy, enthusiasm and hope to topics that are difficult, challenging and devastating. I can’t even put into words how rewarding this work has been for me. I hug, laugh and cry with people who attend these events and have become lifelong friends with some of them.

For the most part, these events have been full of love and bonding with others, but there have also been many more than a few instances where the fact that I am black have created some uncomfortable situations. I share just a few of them below.

  • On multiple occasions I’ve been asked to deliver towels, fix attendees plates of food, told what they wanted in their coffee, and complained to that they didn’t receive their newspaper at their hotel door.
  • People have demanded that I pick up the room service trays outside their door because it had already been sitting there for a long period of time.
  • I’ve been the only person in the hotel breakfast area who was asked to produce their room key to prove I was a guest there before I was allowed to eat the free breakfast.
  • The only hotel guest who was questioned in an accusatory tone by the fire department if I knew who may have pulled the false fire alarm at three in the morning that resulted in an evacuation.
  • the most incredible event occurred in a huge ballroom where I was speaking about 8 minutes before I was supposed to start. I was talking to audience members as I always do when an attendee came up to me and said in a very nasty tone “instead of talking with the attendees, you need to do your job and clean up my spilled glass of iced tea before the event starts”. I took a few steps back and said I’d find someone for her. The people I was talking with looked very uncomfortable but said nothing. As I made my way toward the stage as I was being introduced I made eye contact with the woman who was slowly realizing that I was the speaker. The look on her face was Priceless! In my opinion, that day in that room of almost 800 people I gave one of the best presentations of my life! I got a rousing standing ovation. When I made eye contact with the woman who had talked to me so disrespectfully, she put her hand over her heart and nodded at me as if to apologize. I nodded back in acceptance and felt vindicated.
  • The most hateful event by far came at the end of a conference when the event host and I were reading the evaluations from the more than 100 attendees. They were all fabulous… but there is always one that gets your attention. I heard the host gasp loudly and tears came to her eyes. I asked to see the evaluation. It said “I learned a lot of information. I have to confess she’s a pretty good speaker for a N……..! But in the end she and her Mama will always be just N…….” (which of course they spelled out in big letters.) It was almost 3 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I try to make the best of everything so I thought to myself – at least they learned something from me.. But it still hurt like Hell!!

For the record, most black people have these stories – but many don’t always share them because sometimes it’s just too heartbreaking to. I’m only sharing them now because someone asked me. Some people who know of a few of these events have asked me in the past why I continue to travel and do this work. My answer is always the same. This calling of mine is important and I am a respected leader and public speaker. I won’t quit because then they win. To me, the information and inspiration I provide in my books and presentations are much more important than the few haters out there.

So look to see me out there again when it’s safe to gather in groups, and until then you can find me and my energy on Zoom! The love and support I have experienced in countless towns and cities inspires me, so I’ll be out there at least until they find a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. Hope to see you out on the road someday and that our meeting will be one that we all will remember fondly!

Blessings All Around!

Like many of us I’ve struggled mightily through this quarantine. Aside from walking in my neighborhood almost daily, I’ve left my house in my car a total of 7 times in the 54 days since I began teleworking on March 20th. My journeys were three times to the Post Office, twice to see my Mom and twice to the grocery store resulting in a grand total of 12 miles on my car (which is less than one way to work).

At home I’ve kept a journal of of my days since the lockdown. I’ve read the Bible daily, put up shelves and built a bookcase and a table, made all my presentations virtual and organized every part of my living space, including the carport and my shed and sent Kendal homework assignments.

While that was all great for ME, I hadn’t really done anything for anyone else and that fact added to the guilt I was feeling about how much I have in my life when others have so little (which I posted about on Facebook).

A couple of weeks ago when my order of the 2nd edition of Refreshment for the Caregiver’s Spirit arrived I decided to put 100 copies of them aside to give to caregivers to cheer them up during this pandemic. I signed them and sent them to folks I’ve met over the last six years I’ve been giving presentations across the country and to a a few nursing homes I’ve interacted with in the past. The reaction to the books has been overwhelming from the folks on the front lines of this disease. They’ve all called it a Blessing!!

One of those Blessings turned into even more Blessings. One of the books I mailed was to Karen Seay, one of my blog followers I met through fellow blogger Paul Roberts Abernathy. Last year when Karen learned I was coming to Minneapolis she volunteered to pick me up at the airport, took me on a tour and for a wonderful lunch, sat through my presentation and took me back to the airport that night. I had added a photo of the restaurant Karen took me to in the new edition of the book and she was so surprised when she received her book and saw that photo that will always remind us of our time together.

Karen sent me a note sharing that she wanted to in turn buy ten copies of my book to give to the staff at the nursing home where her Mom spent 14 years! Talk about spreading the Blessing!

Having only seen my Mom twice has been by far the hardest part of this crisis, given that I typically see my Mom almost daily after work. I just wanted to give her a hug! My sister Kris sent me two gorgeous photo pillows, one for me and one for Mom and hugging that pillow has helped me so much! After crying a lot I took Mom’s pillow to her and got to see her enthusiastic reaction to it. Several others saw the pillows in my Facebook post and ordered them for their loved ones! More Blessings!

Mom’s dedicated caregivers have worked tirelessly juggling all of their required tasks AND the new task of video calling loved ones a few times a week so they can speak with the residents. I needed to do something for them…. but what??? The answer came when Mom’s Stimulus check arrived, which I had not been expecting. I split the check between her caregivers. There was joyful screaming and crying when they received their gifts as if they’d hit the lottery!! No one deserves that gift more than they do.

On Mother’s Day I sent gift cards to 50 mothers who have been influential in my life over the last 50 years some of them from way back in my life. One of those women was Colette who has Blessed me mightily over the last four years. I met Colette when I spoke to the members of the Virgin Island Caregivers Program in St Croix six weeks after Tim died in 2016. She asked me what I missed most about Tim. I told her I missed his daily text messages. From that day forward, including today, Colette has sent me an inspirational text message! She was so shocked to receive her gift card, as she didn’t realize how much her texts have Blessed me! It occurs to me that we often forget to Bless those who have Blessed us!

Until at least September I’ve lowered my fees for my presentations and books so I can reach even more people and my calendar is filling quickly. Earlier today I gave my Joy of Caregiving (even during a pandemic) for Johns Hopkins Medicine. The hosts, moderator and Chaplain all raved about the presentation and the audience was joyful and participatory! Hopefully we can all hang in there as caregivers til this is over and right now I feel the Blessings of my many caregiver networks!

This Friday is the last day of my current grad school security management course which started right as the world was shutting down. I wondered how focused my students and I would be during this term given that like me many of them work in some facet of homeland security or are in the military. The course evaluations opened yesterday and students usually always wait until the last minute to complete them if they do so at all. The evaluations I’ve received thus far are stunning. The students mentioned what an amazing professor I am and how I’ve given them such a great outlet from the virus and taught them so much with my energy, enthusiasm and knowledge. I didn’t feel very focused at times but I’m glad to know I’ve done my job well.

I’ll be glad when this is over like everyone else but I don’t want to go back to “normal” either. I want to continue to send anonymous lunches to the nursing homes and the hospital near my house or some other gesture that shows others how much their work means to us, just as Kim and Kendal surprised me with a bag of homemade meals last week!! So many people have inspired me with how they’ve helped others during the crisis and I hope we don’t forget how awesome it is to spread the Blessings around without spreading COVID-19.

Building to Serve a Purpose!

You can usually tell what’s going on in my life by the number of LEGO bricks I have out!! This picture will give you an idea of where my focus has been this week!

I decided I’d put my LEGO bricks to good use by holding a LEGO Lab to design additional fidget toys to help those with dementia. It would be my contribution as we all wait out the devastation of COVID-19. My goal was to use very unusual pieces in my collection and to think outside the box as I created pieces I’d never done before. I spent hours after work this week and many hours this weekend.

Mom loves things that are brightly colored and spin so that the colors mesh together like a rainbow. Since I can’t see Mom right now, one smart way to spend our separation time is to have lots of fun things to show her when I see her again.

My favorite creation reminds me of an amusement park ride. It spins completely around and I used pastel colors which she loves. I’m pretty sure this one will get a WOW from her!

I also created a little garden which reminds me of a small plot Mom had at her senior retirement home before dementia cane into our lives. There’s also a square to which I attached two different types of fences which I believe will keep her hands occupied. One of the most unusual pieces LEGO makes is a big orange circular piece that I decided to try to use like a spinning top! It came out even better than I had hoped. People with middle to late stage dementia tend to like things that spin. The last piece pictured with the two blue spheres reminds me of a rattle in a sense because I placed two small LEGO pieces inside each sphere. It can be shaken but also spins around.

When fidget spinners became popular years ago I had always wanted to make a LEGO version for Mom. So I gave it a try in my LEGO Lab and am quite happy with the result! While holding it in one hand it spins really fast and I believe it will be very popular.

I built a few art pieces as well, one of which I’ll likely hang in Mom’s room. The frustrating thing about COVID-19 is that we still don’t know everything about it yet. There’s no clear black or white about it… so I made a few black and white pieces. This one is my favorite!

I doubt when this is over that we will ever return to a “normal” that will include the live presentations I had been giving for the last five years to help families deal with this disease. So before virtual church this morning I spent a couple of hours using Zoom and practicing my newest presentation that I haven’t given live yet. It’s a show and tell type presentation with me showing and demonstrating different types of activities from my large gadget bag and I was very happy with my first trial run! I’m praying I can still provide help and hope to families in a virtual format.

One of the best things that happened this weekend was the number of calls for advice I received from stressed family members. Since most senior centers and Departments of Aging are closed due to the pandemic I’m happy to answer as many questions as I can. I know some people think I’m crazy for giving out my cell phone number at every presentation but now that we are facing such a crisis and lots of people need help, giving out my number has been the smartest thing I could have done. I can’t be on the front lines to help fight this pandemic but I feel I’m doing what I can do.

My favorite call this morning was from Billy in Delaware who heard me speak in Nov. He and several other relatives are caring for his Mom with dementia and she’s a handful. He’s called me several times since Nov and he’s always so grateful that I take his call. I gave him a few suggestions and we ended our call with him saying “Bless you my friend”! That’s what I’ve been saying in my prayers for everyone fighting COVID-19 on a daily basis and risking their own safety. I pray that this will end soon and that until it does that we all will continue to do whatever we can to help each other! Stay safe my friends and Bless you all!