“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!

Being Home Alone!

I’ve started a Coronavirus Journal so that years from now I can look back on how I spent my time during the pandemic.

Here’s one of the things I wrote…

I now seem to cry at the drop of a hat. It never used to be like that.

I always was as strong as ox, I kept all my feelings packed in a box.

I love traveling around to do my Alzheimer’s work. Fighting the disease taking my Mom helps relieve the hurt. 
I’m always hanging out and doing something fun, but when the Coronavirus showed up there was no where to run.
I’m forced to stay home alone with all my memories of thirty-four years. Memories that make me laugh out loud and cry buckets of tears.
Thank God I find peace while clicking together LEGO bricks. They help me process my life and the things I need to fix.
I miss my sister, my husband and my Mom who doesn’t know me. Very thankful that in my redesigned basement home I’m starting to feel free. 
I had never sat still long enough to enjoy my new living space, because there are so many things in my life I still wasn’t ready to face. 
Part of me still feels cheated cause I never met my dad. All things we never got to share in our lives even to this day makes me sad. 
This year Tim and I would have been married for thirty-five years. But on September 21st without him there will be no cheer!
The virus is preventing me from visiting Mom except via a screen or through a glass door. Dealing with the virus and dementia together almost caused me to collapse on the floor.
Maybe my recent tears are helping me heal. Grieving the things missing from my life I’m starting to deeply feel.
It was past time to stop running and to finally start to process all my life’s stuff. Who knew a pandemic would force me to uncover realities that have been really tough. 
As long as the stay at home order remains in place, I’ll continue to relish my time being still in my space. 
I pray that the virus that’s impacted the entire world will soon go away. And yet I hope that the growth and peace finally building within me is here to stay. 

It’s About What’s In Your Heart!

Bruce

Today I attended the funeral service for Bruce Ellington Foote, my friend and my niece Nia’s father. Bruce was a guy who truly loved God and loved his family! It was an incredible service of love, but of course was also filled with tears of sadness. I am thrilled that I was able to attend, as I was supposed to be flying back from Connecticut this morning and was worried that I wouldn’t get back in time. But due to the Coronavirus my event was cancelled and I was able to be there for my niece and Bruce’s wife Debbie who over the years has become my friend.

I have great memories of Bruce and his siblings, but my favorite memory is one he actually wrote about in his obituary (yes he wrote his own). I had my first ever concert experience when I was a pre-teen when Bruce and my sister took me and two of his sisters Elaine and Melanie to see the Jackson Five in Baltimore. At the time, Bruce and my sister were both students at Morgan State University. Poor Bruce was surrounded by all these screaming girls and women but he was a trooper and seemed to relish watching us have the time of our lives. Today, Melanie, Elaine and I talked about that memory and it still holds a special place in all of our hearts.

My other favorite memory with Bruce and his siblings occurred in 1998 when my Grandmother Alberta was dying. When Bruce heard about my Grandmother, he and his siblings who had a singing group called Wings of Faith came to sing as my Grandmother was bedridden in the home in DC I was born in. Our entire family was around her bedside, her eyes were closed and she was said to be in a coma. But as the group sang Grandma opened her eyes and began to sing along. Do I need to tell you that everyone in the room was crying? That room was filled with love, and it didn’t matter to anyone that Bruce and my sister were no longer married. It was simply pure love in that room doing an amazing thing for my Grandma, who died the next day. I will forever be grateful to the Wings of Faith and what they did for our family.

Today at Bruce’s funeral, his siblings, cousins and nephews who now make up Wings of Faith sang their hearts out. Thirty years after Bruce created the group, their song paid a very special and loving tribute to him. The entire church was in tears and many stood and sang along with the group.

The highlight of the service for me was the eulogy given by his uncle The Reverend Irvin Beverly! His entire focus was on how much love Bruce had for God and his family and how much love was in his heart. It was one of the funniest eulogies ever as he shared lots of Bruce stories! But on the serious side, he asked us the question “what was in our hearts” and asked us to think about that question in the coming days! So much is going on in the world today, most dominant being the Coronavirus, the pandemic which is in the process of changing life as we currently know it. I left the funeral feeling inspired and filled with the love shared by all who were in attendance! I also was focused on what is in my heart.

Those of you who know me well know that I am all about love, joy and hope! I believe that dominates my heart and how I try to live every day with God’s help! What’s in your heart? If there are grudges and hate and contempt I hope you can lay that down for now and forgive some of the things you may have been carrying around for years. I pray that even in our current state of uncertainty and fear, I can share love and hope with others using what I believe is my really big heart!! Until this crisis passes, I’m going to try to make others smile and laugh just as Bruce always did. While we are off from work and school for the next couple of weeks I’m going to call the sick and shut-ins and let them know that even though they may be home alone, there are many who love and care for them. Bruce would say “Seek God first” and we can’t go wrong. That was in his heart. Let’s be like Bruce, and may he rest in peace!

For the Love of Sisterhood!!

Today, March 4, 2020, would have been my sister’s 70th birthday. Renee Woodward Foote was my only biological sister before she died from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) on July 17, 2011 at age 61 (my current age). My niece Nia and I gathered around Renee’s bed in Burbank, CA for her birthday in 2011 four months before her death.

It was a Joy to celebrate all together and embracing every moment. We told old family stories, laughed as if there was no tomorrow and ate the carrot cake cupcake we had sneaked into the nursing home for her!! We sang happy birthday which I recorded and still listen to on occasion. My sister could speak very little at that point, yet she said “YAY” at the end of our song. I think we all knew that it would be my sister’s last birthday and I tried to leave nothing unsaid during that visit. I flew cross country to Burbank again that July and told her how much I loved her. She told me how proud she was of the great job I was doing caring for our Mom. I was at her bedside with Nia when she died. 

 

Renee and I had a very complicated relationship, beginning with my birth and my father’s departure from our family both of which happened fairly close together. Renee was two months shy of her 9th birthday when I was born and as a kid who believed that our parents had a perfect relationship, she blamed my birth as the reason our father left us. 

 

 

By the time we learned the real reason for our father’s departure more than 30 years later, our relationship had been fairly non-existent. Renee and I saw each other for short visits and gift-opening each Christmas, but rarely celebrated birthdays together unless it was for our Mom. We never called each other unless someone was sick or dying and we definitely didn’t hang out together. That all changed when I made one last effort to forge a relationship with Renee by taking her on a cruise for her 50th birthday. It was her first and only cruise and we had the time of our lives! After the cruise we began monthly sister dates and we were loving our times together until the first signs of her illness began to appear in mid-2005, beginning the long saga towards the MS diagnosis around 2007. It was a devastating diagnosis especially since our Mom had been diagnosed with dementia in 2006. I wanted to do everything to help my sister so I began participating in MS 2-Day 50K marathons for her to raise money for a cure, participating in seven of them! I walked most of them alone, but in 2012 Nia and her Aunt Melanie and my awesome friend Jan did the marathon with me!

 

I was crushed when Renee died, and felt as though we’d been robbed of a great relationship that was just starting to become a real Sisterhood. I miss our sister dates in spite of the fact that we were only able to do them for about 18 months before MS invaded our lives. I hate the fact that Renee never got to meet her amazing grandchildren or to see what an incredible mother Nia is. I especially hate that she won’t be there for Nia’s wedding later this summer. 

I have to admit that even before Renee’s death my need for Sisterhood was very strong, actually almost overwhelming. That overwhelming need stemmed from the fact that I spent the first half of my life feeling as if my sister didn’t love me – and given that I’d never met my father I needed someone besides my Mom to love me and to be there for me. I most definitely have serious abandonment issues from my childhood. I began to choose my own Sisters – the women with whom I’ve built deep bonds that have been in existence for more than 25 years They are from my high school (Kathi), my early work life (Kris and Linda), and my personal life (Wendi and my Cha Cha sisters – Mary, Blanca, Emily, Millie, Rose and Sonia).

 

 

I’ve also built some amazing relationships with women from my church life and my Alzheimer’s sisters who are caring for someone with the disease, some of whom I’ve never even met in person but love just the same. Those lists are too long to name everyone, but they know who they are! I have two cousins in the D.C area as well and I’m thrilled that we’ve started to have frequent lunches or dinners which would make our relatives who are no longer here very happy. 

 

Though many of my relationships are great, particularly at church, I still longed for deeper connection with other women, connections that involve more than asking “how ya doing?” while still moving toward another destination before listening to their entire response. I’d like to sit down in a comfy chair with other women and talk about our careers, our vacations or bucket lists, our greatest fears (as I get older my list of fears about the future grow longer), and our deepest sorrows and greatest joys! I signed up for a Sisterhood class at church for no other reason than the title! We’ve completed two weeks of the five week class so far and it has already been incredibly beneficial. Great relationships are being formed between class members and there’s even homework that involves meeting outside of class with a different partner each week. Taking this class is one of the most important and meaningful things I could have done for myself!! 

 

Do you have a Sisterhood (or Brotherhood) that you can count on? Who are the “go to” people in your village? My village involves people who will listen when I talk about how much I miss Tim and my sister and how hard it can be to be a caregiver to someone with dementia. It can be incredibly difficult to allow ourselves to be open, authentic and vulnerable with new people we’re trying to form a relationship with. But don’t let fear or unnecessary worry stop you from forming that Sisterhood that could change your life! You are worth the effort and deserve that Sister you can choose for yourself. My biological sister would be proud of the women who now help to carry me through life after she no longer could! To all of the Sisters in my life, I love you from the bottom of my heart!

Feeling at Home and Going Home!!

What a week it has been …. a true emotional roller coaster!

On Tuesday, Mom turned 91 and what an amazing celebration we had!! I found a beautiful cake for Mom, and added only two orange candles to represent Tim and how much he loved celebrating birthdays!! We not only had lots of cake and ice cream but there was plenty of dancing too!!! I danced with Mom and the caregivers danced with the other residents…I asked Mom if she was having a good time and her response was “I’m feeling right at home”! I don’t think Mom has ever said that before and she may never say it again…. BUT it sure made my heart happy!! She’s content and at peace and with this disease, and if there is anything better I don’t know what it is….

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On Wednesday I headed over the Bay Bridge to Easton, Maryland to give a presentation at Candle Light Cove, an assisted living and memory care facility. I walked for an hour before my presentation through the quaint town and was inspired and relaxed at the end of my walk. As soon as I walked into the facility, it was like being at home. People rushed to great me, made me coffee (they also had wine!!), filled me up with many chef delicacies and the group that listened to my presentation was simply awesome! I was really sad when it was time to return home!

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On Friday night, I had the pleasure of seeing the One-Woman Show by one of my newest friends Elizabeth McCain! The show is called “A Lesbian Belle Tells” and it was simply fabulous!! It was funny (as she gave us wonderful impressions of all of her relatives) and painful (being estranged from family members after coming out), and brutally honest (sharing her deepest feelings of love and pain). The evening was stunning, and as a speaker myself, I learned so much from Elizabeth… Throughout the show she virtually “took us home” to where she grew up in the deep south! One of the things I took away from that powerful night was that after a long journey of soul searching, spirituality and finding true love with her spouse Marie, Elizabeth is as “at home” in her own skin as anyone I’ve ever met. I’m in awe of her! I felt empowered and emotional at the end of the night, thrilled by everything I took away from her show.

It was Saturday that was the most emotional of the week. I was supposed to work a LEGO shift at the National Cathedral but got a substitute instead so I could be with my dear friend Wendi who has over the period of more than 20 years absolutely become part of my family. Her Mom Harriet passed on Valentine’s Day and I was heartbroken for her. I made the three hour trip at the crack of dawn to Courtland, VA, a place that I’d not been before, but felt I knew from all the stories Wendi had shared of it. The drive was beautiful and peaceful and because it has snowed the day before, the snow had stuck to the trees making them glisten! When I got to Harriet’s home, it was warm and inviting and of course filled with family members prior to the start of the funeral. The long line of cars that went from the house to the church was somber, but what struck me the most was the respect that all the other drivers showed to the procession. Even if they were on the other side of the road, they pulled to the side and waited for the procession to pass by. Some people got out of their cars and put their hands over their hearts, which brought me to tears. Bryant Baptist Church where the funeral was held was small but beautiful and filled to capacity with some folks even standing in the back. The eulogy was given by Harriet’s nephew and was entitled “You CAN go home again” and had us laughing and crying! Harriet had spent almost 40 years in DC throughout high school and a long Federal career, BUT had returned home to her beloved Courtland in 2007. I loved that she was so loved in DC and in her beloved Courtland! And I loved that she was able to go back home and that she actually died in her home as opposed to a hospital. To be able to go back home to the place you were born and raised and be so happy with that choice, and then to be called home to be with God filled me with sorrow for her family who will miss her dearly, but also with love and hope and the belief that you really CAN go home again. On the three hour drive back to DC, I thought about my Mom and the two homes in DC she lived in for the first 77 years of her life. My Mom won’t ever be able to go “home” again as Harriet did, BUT the fact that she’s found a home in her group home brings me much joy!

Today my goal was to spend the day filling my spirit. I went to the early service at church where there was both baptisms and confirmation and a visit from our Bishop. After church I attended a class I was so excited to take. It’s a five-week Sisterhood class, that most of the participants are looking forward to as a starting point for building deep relationships with other women who worship in the same place. For me, the older I get the more I feel the need for more meaningful relationships. After the very empowering and enlightening class, I had two hours to spend before the start of a Liturgical Dance Festival I was to attend. So I went to the Frederick Douglass home, one of my favorite places to go and reflect (even when it’s not African American History Month), not to mention the fact that it is the perfect vantage point from which to see almost all of DC. I walked around the gorgeous property for an hour in the beautiful sun, and looked out over the city reflecting on this past week.

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Attending the Liturgical Dance Festival was absolutely the BEST way to end this very emotional week. I had bought the ticket as part of my observance of African-American History Month and though it was the first time I’d ever attended the event, it surpassed my expectations!! I was stunned by the beauty and spirit of the event!! What an incredibly powerful and inspiring two hours and several of the dances brought me to tears!! The dancers were of all sizes and ages, which I LOVED – AND they all moved like they were on cloud nine!!!

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I can’t think of a recent week where I cried so much, both from Joy and Sadness – YET I’ve come away feeling like I’ve grown a mile, and that makes me feel right at home!! I hope you all have a Blessed Week and are in a space where you feel “at home” wherever you are!

Making Loving and Historical Memories!

I always learn a lot in February because it’s Black History Month, but this year I’ve been especially focused on it and have been rewarded in a myriad of ways.

Last weekend we started a new family tradition with Kendal going to her first performance of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I’m thrilled to restart this tradition after more than 25 years of attending with my Mom and other family members. We all enjoyed the performances, especially the dance Revelations, but it was the free performance and demonstration after the show that was the most emotional for me. We all danced and learned as the retired Ailey dancers took the hundreds in attendance through the various dance moves in Revelations. Watching Kim and Kendal alongside each other and even up on the stage, and then me dancing side by side with Kim brought tears to my eyes.  I took quite a few video clips that I shared with Mom this week. She smiled and said “good” though I’m sure she can’t process what she was watching, but the fact is we are making historical memories that I hope will last a lifetime.

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The only part of February that I dread is Valentine’s Day. I’m used to being by myself now, but I still get that ache in my heart as the day approaches. So this year I made plans to spend the afternoon with Mom, and then to pick up Kendal after school to put together a LEGO set. I was stunned when I arrived at the group home and all of the residents and caregivers were dressed in red, looking gorgeous! I had made some Valentine’s Day coloring sheets for me and Mom to do, but she wasn’t talking at all or very aware so I just sat with her. Like I always say, I have no expectations with this disease so I wasn’t upset at all that we didn’t color. After a couple of hours with Mom I took a few pics and then headed to pick up Kendal. The surprise of the day was when Kendal got in the car. I told her that I’d spent time with Mom and she quickly said she wanted to see her too. So back to Mom’s I went. Mom was totally different when I returned. She barely acknowledged me, but when she saw Kendal, she smiled from ear to ear and said “HI!!”. She hasn’t smiled like that in a long time! The card I brought for Mom had gold colored lettering and it was hard for her to see. So all she could read was her name and mine that I’d printed. As she struggled reading the card, Kendal said “I’ll read it to you Grandma”. Oh Lordy!!! Mom and I listened intently as Kendal read and tears came to my eyes.  What an amazing kid she is. We had a great time building the LEGO set at my house too, it was simply the perfect day! I forgot all about being alone, and I know Tim was with us and smiling!

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Yesterday I had already set aside time to attend a Black History lecture on Josiah Henson (on whom the book Uncle Tom’s cabin was loosely based). The lecture was held at Surratt House (where Johns Wilkes Booth ran to after assassinating President Lincoln) which is literally down the street from my house. Most important of the many things that I learned from the lecture was how Josiah and his wife and four children walked through dangerous territory for 6 weeks from Kentucky to Canada so they could be free!!

Today was “historical movie” day for me! I watched the Netflix series on “Who Killed Malcolm X”,  and “Barry” (a young Barack Obama) and documentaries on Muhammad Ali, Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones, and Allen Iverson. It was a day full of pride and tremendous learning for me and I wish Mom could have enjoyed some of it with me! I hope we can continue to share our history with Kendal and I will continue to review history with Mom just as she used to do with me. Role reversal is such a humbling experience but I try to continue to rise to the occasion and pray I’m doing all the right things. Next up is Mom’s birthday on Tuesday and the folks at the group home are really looking forward to our celebration! Love you Mom can’t wait to have cake with you!