Support from Every Corner!

What an amazing and emotional week this has been!! It started last Sunday night with a visit from Pontheolla, our frienily (friends who are family) who just happened to be in town for a few days and helped me get Memory Maker II ready for its maiden family voyage. We shopped at Lowes, Walmart and the Dollar store to get Velcro, picture frames, drawer organizers and trash cans and Halloween decorations for the RV. We then organized the items in their proper locations, and used the Velcro to hold everything in place in preparation for Memory Maker II (MMII) rolling up and down the road. By the time Pontheolla left on Wednesday morning, MMII was ready to go!

Not more than 2 hours after Pontheolla departed and I had headed to the RV shop in Manassas to get the radio / camera system repaired before the trip, I received a phone call from Angelina, the nurse at Mom’s group home. She informed me that Mom had passed out while walking down the hall with the caregiver, and when they determined that Mom had no pulse and wasn’t breathing, Angelina performed CPR while the caregiver called 911. Mom was taken to Fort Washington Hospital and admitted to ICU for observation.

The news stunned and terrified me. Mom had passed out about 10 times over an eighteen-month period more than 5 years ago, but the reason for those occurrences was never found. I prayed that Mom would survive this and that this wouldn’t be the start of another period of passing out. They completed the work in short order on the RV, and I headed immediately to the hospital where Mom was disoriented and confused. I felt so bad I couldn’t do anything to help her, other than to get her to smile when she recognized my face. I stayed most of the day, leaving her in time to get home for the first meeting of my support group of friends from St. Mark’s. Organized by Jan Lipscomb and Louise Walsh after Tim’s death, the group consists of 11 individuals willing to provide me whatever I need. I thought seriously about cancelling our first meeting, because I believed I needed to be at the hospital day and night as long as Mom was there. But Kim convinced me not to cancel and I’m so glad I listened to her.

There were six of us at the first meeting and it was phenomenal! We shared a meal, laughed, listened and set up some goals for the group. They listened as I shared what I needed and wanted from the group. I felt embraced, loved and cared for, both regarding Tim and my Mom! I was giddy when they left, knowing that this group is with me every step of the journey as I continue to process Tim’s loss. Thank you Jan, Don, Charmian, Tracy and Yvonne for your love and support! I can’t wait for our next meeting!

On Thursday, I went to work for a few hours to attend a meeting, then saw Mom briefly before heading to Silver Spring to do a presentation and book signing for the Older Adult Ministries for the DC Baptist Convention. I was excited about doing the presentation because I felt the stress lessening because Mom was scheduled to get out of the hospital later that evening, though the cause of her event hasn’t been discovered. The presentation was incredible and I was in my element!!

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We laughed, a few people shed tears, and the energy in that room was incredible resulting in a standing ovation. Afterwards I was a little concerned because the line for books was really long, and I didn’t have anyone to help me. Tears came to my eyes because Tim always helped me with the lines by entertaining those standing in line, swiping the credit cards for payment and ensuring we had enough books on hand. Just as I was starting to worry about how I was going to handle this long line, a woman who had helped me with the audio visual system, stepped behind the signing table with me and began taking care of everything  –  handing me each book to sign, swiping the credit cards and handing the customer my phone so they could sign for their purchase. She had introduced herself to me as a member of the church staff, AND a woman who had already read and loved my book. She shared that it was her honor to help me. Thank you Brenda Ward for your help and support!

Mom did indeed get discharged from the hospital on Thursday evening, so even though I was exhausted from my book presentation followed by my evening security class, I went by the group home to see Mom. After not having slept for the entire time at the hospital, Mom was already fast asleep but I just had to see her little face that night. Thanks Angelina and Anna for saving my Mom!

I was right back at the group home at the crack of dawn on Friday, to spend a couple of hours with Mom before heading to Kendal’s school for their Harvest Parade. Kendal represented the country of Canada and it was Fabulous!! Kim and I then scrambled off to meet back at my house and head for our five-hour journey to Fancy Gap VA. The Three Adventure girls headed off at 11:30 am and arrived seven hours later at Fancy Gap to meet friends Dawn and Linda and new friend Denise. As we set up our campsite Kim and I consoled each other and our sadness about camping without Tim. But we were also proud of ourselves for having accomplished getting to the campground without incident! We are so grateful to my cousin JoAnne for hanging out with Mom on Saturday ensuring that she was ok while we were gone! Thanks JoAnne!

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This was a mostly technology-free weekend for me because I had no phone service near or in Fancy Gap. Our new friend Denise posted pics of our group on Facebook! It was so great seeing Dawn and Linda again, as Tim and I had camped with them in 2015 right after we got Memory Maker. In memory of Tim, Linda made us a bright orange key chain with angel wings to hold MM II keys. I was stunned! I gave she and Dawn a huge hug but didn’t cry until later when I hung the keys up next to Tim’s picture in MMII.

Even though we were only gone for short weekend, it was rejuvenating and one of the greatest confidence builders for Kim and I. We met neighbors during the camp pancake breakfast and the Halloween Trick or Treat hour where Kendal strolled through the campground as a witch collecting candy with Kim while I handed out our candy in front of MMII.

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This weekend we drove and parked MMII like pros. We conquered high winds on Friday and tight parking spaces and traffic on the return on Sunday. The Three Adventure Girls rocked this weekend, we encourage and supported each other, and cheered great and small accomplishments.

So much happened this week that my mind is still spinning…but what is clear to me is the fact that through everything that happened this week, there was support from every corner! People called, emailed, texted me, had dinner and wine with me, helped me to sell books, held my hand, hugged me, wiped my tears away and made me feel whole again by surrounding me with love and support. This journey continues, but this week has lifted me up and made me stronger!

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Spreading the Spirit as Far as I Can!

I’m still learning on a daily basis through emails and texts how many people were touched by Tim’s amazing spirit and his giant smile. I’ve realized that as I go around the country continuing the work in the fight against Alzheimer’s for Mom and the millions of others impacted by this dreaded disease that Tim’s spirit is with me everywhere I go.

After the issues with contractors and changing accounts over to my name last week, I was looking forward to going to Connecticut and Massachusetts to get away! The trip definitely didn’t disappoint! I arrived in Branford, Connecticut on Monday night excited because I had just realized that the venue where I’d be speaking on Tuesday for Artis Senior Living was a beach club. It was breathtaking and exceeded my expectations in every way. In the morning session, I gave a presentation on the book tailored for professionals (home care specialists, nurses, health care business owners etc) who would each receive CEU credits for attending. We had a ball, and everyone loved my enthusiasm and my spirit. Since July 17th throughout my presentations I give credit to Tim for all the work he did for Mom and also discuss the steps I’m currently taking to fill the void left by his death.

In the morning session with the professionals most people commented either directly to me or in their evaluations on how my “spirit” impacted them in a positive way. One woman told me she hadn’t been excited to attend the event, and that her boss insisted she come. She told me I had totally changed her attitude about the profession she’s in and that she realized it takes a certain “spirit” to serve people in need when debilitating illnesses strikes. About a dozen books were raffled off in the morning and I signed them all.  I got more hugs after that session than I can remember. I had intended to go back to my hotel during the break between the morning and evening sessions, but the beauty of the venue compelled me to stay. During the more than seven hours I had to enjoy, I walked on the beach, I sat in the gazebo writing, and I laid out in the sun listening to music. I also cried – both tears of joy at how I had inspired people both with my journey with Mom and with my attempt to rebound after Tim’s death, and tears of sadness that Tim wasn’t here to share it all with me.

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In the evening session, caregivers and families were in attendance. The room was welll-suited for probably 60 people, yet 88 people were in attendance. Because of the way the room was split, I had to “describe” what was being shown on the screen to the 25 people seated on my right who didn’t have a clear view. Surprisingly, they may have enjoyed the presentation just as much if not more than the people who could actually see the photos and strategies in my presentation. I got a rousing standing ovation at the end!

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Half of the room was in tears, including some of the Artis Senior Living staff members! We did large sections of group hugs, individual hugs, and sharing of personal stories. Even the wait staff and bartendars who prepared the scrumptous dinner and drinks wanted signed copies of the book. I was overwhelmed! Artis had only purchased 60 and there were many more people than books, so the staff took care of strategically distributing them. I’ll be mailing more out this weekend to some of them who really wanted a signed copy. The one question I was repeatedly asked was how I was able to give such great presentations and continue to focus on Mom after losing Tim. It’s actually an easy answer. It’s what Tim would want, and his spirit is clearly shining through me now and spurring me on.

The next day in Reading, MA the morning and afternoons sessions played out just as they had in CT, we were just in a different city in a different venue. There were tears and hugs again, even from the staff members and even more comments about my spirit. This time between the morning and afternoon sessions I went on a ninety minute walk through the historic part of Reading. It was very relaxing and rejuvenating!

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I got up on Thursday morning at 3am to get to the airport in time for my 6am flight. When I arrived at the airport it seemed I was the only one there! Others begann to arrive slowly but while waiting for my flight to board I had time to reflect on the worldwind two days. When we landed in DC I headed straight to work and worked a full day. My day wasn’t over at the end of the work day, because it was also the first night of the Security Administration course I teach for Webster University. I was exhausted, but pressed on with my usual enthusiasm during the class. I did share with my class about Tim’s passing because the University had made provisions for a backup instructor in the event I didn’t feel up to teaching the course this term. Last night after I got home I sent my normal “test email” to my class to ensure I had the correct information to contact them with class information or updates, and I asked them to confirm receipt of my email.

All 14 of them responded last night and today. Most of the time I only receive the word “received” or “receipt confirmed”. The students in this class however wrote lots more, almost all of them commenting on my amazing spirit, and how fun and informative I made the class in spite of my loss. One student wrote to me today that he recently had a loss of a loved one and didn’t believe he could focus this term and had planned on dropping the class. But he said after meeting me and my positive spirit and having thoroughly enjoyed the first class, he decided not to quit and to press on as I was doing. That email made my day!! From Monday afternoon when I boarded that plane, to today with the email responses from my students the theme from this week clearly is “my spirit”. While I am the person that everyone saw standing in front of them this week, and I’m the person who shared with them the passion I have for my work, I believe the spirit they felt was definitely Team Veney. Tim and I are still a Team, they just can’t see him – But they can certainly feel him through me and I pray that will always be the case! Team Veney forever!

The Reunion I Attended and the One I’d Give Anything to Have!

Yesterday, October 15, 2016, I attended the 40th reunion of the graduating class of 1976 of Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA). ICA was a small all-girls Catholic high school on the corner of 24th and K Streets N.W in Washington DC. One of the coolest things about going to school there, was that the bus I took to get there went past the White House every day. Each year the ICA Alumnae association hosts a luncheon in the Washington DC area and all graduating classes are invited and encouraged to attend. I’ve always known the reunion lunches existed, but I never joined the ICA Facebook page to keep up with information until this year. I figured the 40th anniversary of my high school graduation was as good a time as any to join! Tim thought it was a cool idea and he had planned to attend with me.

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Of the 53 young women in our graduating class, more than 20 attended the luncheon. We were by far the largest class with three tables of amazing women. The oldest attendee present at the event was from the class of 1943! Wow!! The class of 1966 also had a full table for their 50th reunion. There were more than 300 graduates in attendance and I was really blown away by the size of the event. I hadn’t seen any of the women in attendance yesterday since graduation day forty years ago, YET they all embraced me as if we’d seen each just yesterday. The two women I was closest with in high school weren’t in attendance at the luncheon.

The meal that was served was excellent, and the many door prizes and the silent auction items made for a really fun and exciting afternoon. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and re-connections that reunions are supposed to bring. I laughed, and yes at one point I cried when my classmates presented me with a sympathy card on my loss of Tim and a beautiful plant in an angel vase. We all did a group hug which was comforting and uplifting for me. It probably goes without saying that I am thrilled that I attended, though I almost didn’t.

When Tim died, a friend from church who lost his wife more than a year ago told me that I would have moments when the smallest thing would cause me to burst into tears. That exact scenario played out for me on Friday night. I was watching one of my favorite shows when one of the male stars of the show told his “wife”that he loved her. I went from typing on my laptop to a mess of tears in almost an instant. While I’ve known this is true since Tim’s death, it struck me at that moment that I’m never going to hear Tim say ever again that he loves me. I cried and cried. I want to hear Tim tell me that he loves me Just… One… More… Time…. but it will never be. I instantly went into a funk and “decided” that I wasn’t going to go to the reunion on Saturday morning. I was going to stay home and sulk because I can’t have what I want. But I could hear Tim’s voice saying….”you’re going to the reunion!!!” For my sister-friend who was there Friday night as I was inconsolable, Thank You. I went to sleep thinking of the prayer you gave me and knew I’d be going to the reunion as I (and Tim) had intended.

I also realized this week that I had a “reunion of sorts” with a person I’d never actually met prior to the USAgainst Alzheimer’s Summit in DC a few weeks ago. I received a photo a few days ago taken by a Summit photographer of me with Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. In the photo we are showing support to each other along our journey with dementia (his wife has early onset Alzheimer’s) and he was extending his sympathies on my loss of Tim, who of course had been so instrumental in helping me with Mom. Though my back is turned, our “reunion” in that photo speaks volumes about the fact that we are bonded together through a horrific disease and though our individual journeys are different our struggles are very similar! The compassion he showed to me in our few minute conversation will forever stay with me.

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This has been quite the emotional week and I’m glad it’s coming to an end. I had a ball at the reunion with women I hadn’t seen in forty years, received a photo of a reunion and bonding with a person I’d never met and had an emotional meltdown for a reunion I long for, but will never have again. But here’s what I’m sure of at this moment. Tim loved me with all of his heart, and he knew that I loved him the same, and as of right now I can still hear his voice in my head. So here’s what I would encourage all of my friends and family to do. The next time you tell your soul mate that you love them, say it as if it will be the last time you’ll ever say it to them, because you never know when it actually will be. I love you Tim, and I know you can hear me!

 

Conquering Fear To Achieve Our Goals!

I was so happy on September 9th when I picked up Memory Maker II. I couldn’t wait to take it out for more camping adventures as I promised Tim I would. Only I didn’t take it out. I didn’t even turn on the ignition. Each weekend I found an excuse such as … it was supposed to rain, I needed to go to church, I needed to finish reading the manuals for the RV before heading out. But the truth of the matter was I was TERRIFIED to go out by myself… I wasn’t confident that I could hook up the cable, sewer and water connections or work the control panel in the RV. Why didn’t I just ask someone to go with me??? Because I needed to do it by myself first, to see how it felt being alone and responsible for any and everything that would occur. There would be no teamwork this time, like with Tim where we shared all responsibilities on every trip.

Finally on Thursday after work, I drove to a huge campground in College Park, MD near the University of Maryland and paid in advance for a campsite. That meant, unless I wanted to waste my money I’d go camping on Friday afternoon (and I’m too frugal to waste money). So yesterday I left work and headed home to get MMII. I was already packed so I just had to put on my sweats and go. Just as I was pulling off, the UPS man arrived with my latest order of 250 books. He helped me put the books inside the house. I then headed off for my adventure. I immediately noticed that my radio and backup camera weren’t working, and no power seemed to be going to it. It wasn’t a game breaker because I had ordered a pull-thru site and shouldn’t need to back up. So I continued on, determined not to let anything stop me. I got on the Beltway, about 7 miles from home before realizing I didn’t have my phone. I last had it in my hand when the UPS driver showed up. RATS!!! I had left it on the table as we put the books in the house. Back home I went because my license, credit cards and everything else of importance are all in my phone case. All of a sudden I wished I had my backup camera, because as I jumped off the next exit and into a huge church parking to turn around, I had to back up to do so. Thankfully I did it easily without crashing into anything. I made it back home, got the phone and started the trek again.

I got to the campground with no problem. YAY!! There was a woman directing traffic into the waiting line to enter. I was surrounded by huge RVs!! When I paid on Thursday I was told that someone would escort me to the campsite and help me set up since I’d be alone. But of course when I got there they were swamped with checkins so I was alone… Uh oh .. The first hurdle was getting through the security gate where I had to enter a security card I received at checkin. I drove half a mile an hour so as not to hit the side of the checkpoint gate…

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This campground was HUGE so I drove for three minutes at least to find the number of my campsite. I thought I had passed it and made a U-turn (woo hoo!) but turns out I hadn’t gone far enough!

I was esctatic when I arrived at my site and pulled in safely! I got out and went through the required checklist in my head. Put the chock block down, hook up the water system, hook up the sewer system I had just purchased (I left the old one in MMI accidentally), and finally hook up to the camp’s cable and wi-fi service. I was shockingly done in less than 15 minutes! YES!!!

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Inside, I put up Tim’s picture (of him standing next to MMI) and his favorite orange cap. Now MMII felt like home. I tried out all of the tv’s and programmed them all to the campground’s cable which had more than 100 stations. I looked at all the storage areas in MMII and put things away. I read the instructions and turned on the stove for the first time (don’t get excited, I didn’t cook anything!!)… I also read the short instructions on the microwave and heated up some chicken and pasta I had cooked earlier in the week. Score!! I also took a piece of cake from the freezer that Kim had made on Sept 21st for our 31st anniversary with me for the trip. It felt like Tim was really there as I was eating the cake. I shed a few tears but felt so much joy!

I thought I had packed sufficiently but soon discovered severlal things I left at home. A roll of paper towels, napkins, and most importantly, sheets for my awesome bed. Turns out though that sheets are overrated. I had my blankets and I was in heaven!! I made do easily without those things I had forgotten and even laughed about it too! I read the manuals on the control panel while standing in front of it and learned a lot. I pushed buttons and tried things out.

The night was great! I did have one minor issue when the very sensitive smoke detector went off because I had the heat up too high. (Hey, I’m always cold!!) LOL. I resolved that issue easily by turning the heat down and opening the door. In the morning after trying out the shower and the other beds in the RV, I began packing up. The process was great in spite of the pouring rain! I left early so I could get home and mail 110 books that came yesterday to my next two speaking engagements in Boston and Connecticut. I then needed to go back to the RV dealer in Manassas so they could figure out what was wrong with my radio system / backup camera. They couldn’t help me over the phone and asked me to come in. Turns out it wasn’t operator error like we all thought… it was a bad radio so they ordered a new one for me and I’ll have to bring it back for installation. Thought it was raining hard, I really enjoyed all my drive time in MMII this weekend. I feel really comfortable now, like it was made for me! I am astounded by the fact that when I forget to put things away in the RV, they always fall on the floor as I drive… but Tim’s hat that I had put by the door, never moved an inch. WOW! He really was with me.

The most surprising thing for me was the fact that I didn’t have any anxiety all weekend. The campground folks were really friendly and came by to check on me. My neighbors were great too, and everyone is surprised to hear the story of why I’m camping alone. I didn’t take the easy way out when I forgot my phone or my backup camera didn’t work. I pushed on because I knew if I just allowed myself, I’d have fun on my short excursion. I had promised Tim I’d continue on, and so I was going to!! And I DID have fun! I walked the huge campground trails, watched the Metrobus come onto the campground to pick up or drop off campers to or from sightseeing (have never seen a city bus stop at a campground).

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I walked through the mini golf course, saw the movie theater, and banquet hall which had a wedding in progress. This place was a mecca of entertainment not just a place to camp. I sent Kim pics of the pool and water park (which were still open), the restaurant and the bus stop! She too was amazed!

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It was just the right place and the right weekend for me to get back on track with our goals…. The rain washed away the tears I shed, both of sorrow of having fun without Tim and of joy for pressing on through my fears. I’m so proud of myself I could shout to the world!! If you know me well you know I’m not a handy person with tools. But I was twisting lugnuts and screwing nails, and banging things with a hammer! Who is this person??? This is the Loretta who is living up to a promise to continue our goals and our journey. It’s requiring that I learn a few new skills along the way while continuing to use the skills I already have. You can Rest in Peace now dear Tim! I’ve got this! I’ve conquered the Fear and will replace it with Fun and you’ll be there ever step of the way! Next adventure in two weeks! Bring it on! Love you Tim!

The Club No One Wants To Join!

I’ve belonged to many clubs in my life, some were much more enjoyable and fulfilling than others. But this new club keeps me up many nights, including last night. I even tried spa music on Pandora to help me fall asleep, but that didn’t work either. According to my Fitbit, I was restless 12x last night. No surprise there…. 
Nevertheless, as tired as I was, I was at my desk at 6am, though I didn’t want to be in spite of how much I love what I do! In particular I love the Chief of the office where I work, and he was front and center at Tim’s funeral with other folks from the office. He’s super busy so we don’t always get to talk every day. But I must have looked really bad today because as we passed each other in the corridor he took one look at me then stopped and asked “so how was the Alzheimer’s Summit?”. He has a family Alzheimer’s family connection so we sat in a conference room spoke for about 15 minutes. I shared with him how emotionally overwhelming going to St. Croix and the Summit were and how much I missed Tim during those times. The Chief is a really great guy and very understanding, and he really turned my day around today. He’d be a great club member with the right credentials. But even with his extensive resume he doesn’t qualify for this club because he’s happily married.
My new club is the Widows Club….and it’s no fun at all being a member. 
I think how I looked today at work is the same look I often saw on my Mom’s face growing up. Now she wasn’t a widow because my dad left her for another man (which actually might be worse in my Mom’s mind than his death). But I still saw in her the lost and pained look you have when there’s a hole in your heart. 
Even as a very young kid whenever Mom had that look I tried to cheer her up and make her laugh! I could ALWAYS make her laugh. During some of those times I’d get the LEGO bricks out and we’d build for hours and it would take her mind off her problems. I temporarily could fill the hole in her heart. Now that Mom no longer remembers me we now build LEGOs together as our one remaining connection in this world. She usually comes alive when I get the bricks out.
Tonight I had an awesome dinner at Union Station with a new friend from church! Having lost her husband 19 months ago, she provided great insight into what I’m thinking and feeling. Being with another club member was really therapeutic! We had never had even one conversation at church, yet we talked for three hours at dinner. 
It’s hard trying to describe the hole in my heart without Tim, but here’s my version in LEGO bricks! 


What I know about holes is that they can be filled, as long as you use the right substance. As I move through the stages of grief, I have great hope for my future because of all the people in my life rallying to love and support me. Each one of the supportive people represent a brick bonding together and when they stop what they’re doing to give me a kind word or a hug when they see me with that lost look, a little more of the hole in my heart is filled. Being in the club that no one wants to join isn’t the end of life, it’s the start of a new life that will take you in an entirely different direction. I hope my GPS provides life directions as well!