Six Locations, Five Presentations, Four Hotels, One Goal…

There’s just something about Chicago!! I’ve been there three times now on my “Being My Mom’s Mom” book tour! They love me and the mission I’m on, to bring awareness and find a cure for this horrific disease and I love them back. I was a little worried about this trip, primarily because Tim didn’t going with me to keep me company and drive me around, and because I was supposed to do two presentations a day and would be changing hotels each day too. It was quite the eventful trip, but I never let it deter my mission. After working ten hours in DC on Monday before flying to Chicago, I arrived at the Residence Inn at 9:45pm. All I wanted to do was to get to my room and go to bed. BUT that was delayed when I got to my room and my key card didn’t work. Being a security person, I was quite uncomfortable standing outside in the open with my luggage, but my car was parked far away from my room. After about 20 minutes, and Tim staying on the phone with me, the security guy arrived to let me in. After two great presentations in the morning and evening, I stayed Tuesday night at a fancy Renaissance hotel which was experiencing a computer issue that caused, you guessed it, some of the key cards not to work… Yikes!!! I only had to come and go twice, and luckily someone came immediately to let me into my room. I got to know the front desk staff fairly well in my 20 hours there, and the desk clerk even purchased a book!! After I had checked out on Wednesday morning, I got almost to my rental car and realized I didn’t have my car key. That meant I had to go back and ask to be let into my room again to search for it. I remembered that something had hit the floor when I moved my phone that morning, but when I looked down I didn’t see anything. It had to have been my key. I did indeed find the single key under my bed. I jumped in the car and hurried to my first presentation on Wednesday.

When I got to the location right before 8am, I could tell something was wrong. There were very few cars in the parking lot and the front door was locked. Turns out that the presentation had been cancelled due to low enrollment and no one had notified me. I was sad, and very bewildered that no one had let me know in advance, as was my Arden Courts travel contact in Rockville, MD. But I moved on, and drove to the next location which was an hour away. I was able to get to my hotel and had the entire day to myself before my presentation at 5:30pm. I spent the time working on LEGO strategy and building a few models. I enjoyed the free breakfast at the hotel and never left my room. The presentation on Wednesday evening was incredible. Not an overwhelmingly large crowd, but very lively. Dinner with them was as great as the presentation. Arden Courts is owned by Manor Care nursing homes, and a woman from one of their nearby locations was in attendance. She was so blown away by my presentation, she hired me on the spot to give several presentations for Manor Care. She said of all the dementia presentations she’d been to, she’d never been to one as “emotionally real” as mine. I was thrilled.

Better still, a woman who is a Vice President for Easter Seals in VA was in the process of moving her mom into the Arden Courts facility where I was speaking. She heard so many compliments about me that she came down the hall to chat with me about doing dementia and LEGO presentations for her groups in VA. What a night!! Spreading the word continues!! On Wednesday night I didn’t sleep well at all, so I had planned on sleeping in on Thursday morning since my first presentation wasn’t until 11:30am. That all changed at 5:20am when the hotel fire alarm went off. I never take chances with emergencies, so as I already had on my workout clothes, I opened the door to my room and immediately smelled something electrical burning!! I grabbed my briefcase and phone and hurried to the parking lot with lots of other guests. Four fire trucks arrived in short order and hurried into the hotel. I was hoping all would be well so that I wouldn’t have to give my presentation in my workout clothes as opposed to the purple dress I intended to wear. All was well after the emergency, so the day continued on.

Fire truck

There was no going back to sleep at that point, so I worked out for an hour in the hotel gym. After the workout, I was ready for my last two presentations of the trip. When I got to the South Holland location, I not only got a great welcome back from the staff, but I immediately noticed that five of the attendees were also there last year!! It’s a good thing that I update my presentations often. One gentleman was very upset that Tim hadn’t come with me this trip, but he said he wouldn’t miss the chance to see me again!! WOW!! Not only was that group awesome, but so was the night group! Several of them had also seen me last year!! One of them brought four friends who had been impacted by dementia in the last 6 months. I was truly amazed, and humbled. I received more email by Thursday than I have on any previous trips from people who were very touched by my presentations. The more I can touch people who are impacted by this disease, the happier I am.  Several people said they were were most touched by the LEGO fidget toys I had made for my Mom to keep her hands busy. You can see by Mom’s smiles in the photos how much she likes the toys! One woman who attended the night session said she still had some of her kid’s LEGOs at home and was going to bring them to Arden Courts and sit at the bistro cafe with her mom to see if she liked them as well. The cafe is one of the coolest places in all of Arden Courts.

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On Friday morning, I was thrilled to head home after such a LONG week on the road!! Tim of course was there to pick me up, and we celebrated my homecoming by having a late lunch in southern Maryland on Cobb Island!! I thought I’d wake up today tired and just wanting to do nothing, but we worked out for 45 minutes in the park, and Tim graciously helped me with a dry run of an upcoming LEGO class! It’s been an amazing week, and I can honestly say I did all I could in the fight against Alzheimer’s! Let’s see what I can come up with for next week!! Anything for my Mom!

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A Weekend of Goodbyes

I left work early yesterday which isn’t that unusual for me on a Friday as we are usually heading off to go camping. But this was the weekend of goodbyes, so yesterday I headed to Reagan National Airport to pick up my friend Kirtley, who like many of my friends is an Episcopal priest. He was in town to participate in a funeral this morning of another priest, the Rev. Richard Cornish Martin, one of Kirtley’s closest friends. We grabbed some lunch and caught up, realizing that it had been almost two years since we saw each other last.

  

The original plan was that I’d take Kirtley to his hotel after lunch, but he asked instead of I could take him to see another priest first. I immediately said yes, because I knew it would be a very hard visit for him given that the priest he’d be visiting is dying of cancer. Kirtley had been told that he could visit precisely at 1pm. I sat on the steps of the church as Kirtley went to the rectory for his visit. I prayed that Kirtley’s friend would be awake and alert enough for the two great friends to share a few words. Thankfully they were able to do that. As we headed back to my car, I comforted my distraught friend as best I could. It doesn’t matter if you’re a priest or laity, it hurts like hell when you’re losing or have lost someone you love. 

As Tim and I headed to St. Mark’s today for Suella’s funeral, I thought of Kirtley who was saying goodbye to his friend at the same time. Suella’s service was as glorious as I knew it would be. The choir she’d sung with for many years sang their hearts out for her. There was almost two hours of sung and spoken tributes to this amazingly spiritual woman, the most emotional of which were given by her son and daughter in a shared tribute to their mom. Suella would have been so proud seeing her kids share the pulpit in honor of her. The several hundred of us who packed the church all shed tears. 

The hardest part for me was watching the committal of her ashes into the columbarium in the chapel where she spent countless hours performing her laying on of hands ministry. It was exhausting but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything!! 

Here’s what was confirmed for me today… Everyone in that church today loved Suella, and the way in which she connected with people let all of us know she loved us too. Please let all the people in your life know that you love them as often as you can, because you never know when you’re seeing someone for the very last time. We all thought Suella would be with us for years to come, but it wasn’t meant to be. If you’re reading this blog you’re someone near and dear to me, so please know that I love you. 

Lost a Friend and Gained Two More…

We won't soon forgot the emotional roller-coaster of this Independence Day 
weekend!  We arrived at Point Lookout State Park in a town called Scotland, 
Maryland on Thursday  for the long holiday weekend. We were in awe of its 
beauty, with each campsite in virtual seclusion due to the abundance of trees 
and tall grass. The pier and beach were only a bike ride away from our 
campsite and we thoroughly enjoyed exploring both. Being on our bikes
again was a true emotional high, riding side by side as the wind blew in our
faces.

Then on Friday evening just as we were about to sit down to dinner, came
the emotional low point as I read the news on our church Facebook page 
of the death of our dear friend Suella. We knew she had suffered a massive 
stroke while on vacation and hadn't regained consciousness, but reading 
of her death was still shocking. I cried and cried as Tim held on to me. I had 
had the pleasure of serving several years ago with Suella as Co-Director of 
Worship during one year of my three year term and we had remained good 
friends. The last conversation I had with her three weeks ago now seems 
eerily profound. Before church started that day, Suella shared with me that 
she had recommended me to join the Laying of of Hands Ministry at church. 
She asked me if I knew that laying on of hands was my true calling and I 
agreed with her that it likely is one of my gifts. She went on to say that 
during our friendship and in her casual observation of my interaction with 
others, she witnessed my ability to "lift people out of their darkness and 
into the light". She made me promise to continue to do that and I assured 
her that I would. I created a LEGO version of a house of darkness and a 
house of light in honor of Suella. 

Blog 1

I woke up on Saturday morning still thinking about Suella and life at 
St. Mark's without her. Though I didn't feel much like celebrating, Tim 
and I began our Independence Day  by stopping at the Park's Camp 
Store, and as we passed two women in the parking lot,  one of them 
turned around and called out my name. I didn't immediately recognize her 
under a hat and with sunglasses so she said "it's Mary from St. Mark's!" 
Wow, really???  How amazing is that? Mary and her partner Deb and me 
and Tim hugged like old friends  and chatted away in the parking lot. 
They shared that they have always enjoyed watching me running around 
at church carrying out my verger duties. I had to laugh! 

We agreed to meet later on at the campground, so after an afternoon
rain shower we rode our bikes over to their campsite and had a great 
time getting to know each other. We invited them over to our place for 
wine, S'Mores and Scrabble after dinner, which as it turns out was a great 
idea, because just as they arrived it began to storm which can be challenging 
when you are tent camping. We had an absolute ball together sharing our 
life's stories and we stayed dry too, though due to the weather we did have to 
substitute our S'Mores for lemon cake. 

They also hadn't heard the news about Suella's death, and once we gave them 
the news we all shared some of our greatest memories with Suella. We also 
talked about how amazing  our meeting in a store parking lot was, given that 
we'd never actually had an opportunity during  the hustle and bustle of a Sunday 
morning to have a conversation at church. 

Blog 2

For me, last night once again clearly confirmed that our camper's name 
"Memory Maker" is truly  accurate. What are the odds that we'd lose one 
friend and gain two others on the same weekend, from one church? Pretty 
high I'd say, but I can guarantee that Suella was smiling down on me, Tim, 
Mary and Deb last night as we not only shared our great memories of her, 
but also made new memories of our own. A fabulous end to an emotional 
weekend. We will miss you Suella. Rest in peace knowing that we will 
continue the work we've been given to do.