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Snapshots of Dementia: Show Me a Sign

Snapshots of Dementia: Show Me a Sign

“Watch carefully.” “Keep a list.” “Keep a journal.” That’s the traditional advice given to people who suspect a loved one shows signs of dementia. Even after Tom’s surprise party and the revival of my concerns, I didn’t keep a record of his struggles. My nagging thoughts came and went. And his previous diagnosis of adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) didn’t help. I remember telling myself and at least one neurologist, “Maybe this is just what aging looks like in someone with ADHD.” But a day came when I did start keeping a list. This lasted only a month or so because it became almost like the situation when someone says, “I think this milk might be spoiled. Could you check it?” I find myself unable to taste or smell anything but spoiled milk—even if it’s perfectly fresh. When I was looking for dementia, I found all sorts of problems. And it hurt to think I might find symptoms and signs where there were none. So I stopped keeping my list and even deleted it. But I do still have notes here and there along with memories, which at this point are more intact than not. Dementia is a diagnosable condition made up of many small elements. I noticed the following signs in what I now call the “early days,” when I still wondered whether something was wrong: —Distractibility/lack of focus: My husband seemed to move away from a task and on to another more quickly than in the past. He left more things unfinished and undone. I knew this was true at home, but eventually, I realized it was also affecting his job. —Hesitancy in speech: Tom’s speech became more and more halting. I realized how much he struggled for words one night when, during a choir rehearsal, he mentioned a previous mission trip to what he (after a long pause) called the “left side of Canada.” As people laughed, I cringed—and added this to my mental list. —Forgetfulness or inattentiveness: Our dear next-door neighbor messaged me more than once to ask if we knew our garage door was open. No, we didn’t, but yes, Tom had forgotten to close it when he went to work. Two or three times, he left the front door of the house wide open as well. People grew accustomed to reminding him multiple times about nearly everything. —Exhaustion: He would come home from work so tired he could do nothing but sleep for a couple of hours. He would get up for a short time and then go to bed early. Normal aging, or a sign of a problem? I had no idea. —Withdrawal from social situations: Tom had always been a...

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Snapshots of Dementia: Surprise!

Tom and Marti at his surprise party, March 11, 2016 When Tom turned 60 in March of 2016, our family threw him a major surprise party. I wanted to make it special because I’d never really held a big party for him before, and his father died at age 59 of a massive heart attack so we all saw this as a milestone birthday. The evening included family, friends, food and (no surprise to anyone who knows Tom, a longtime professional trumpet player and worship pastor) a music theme complete with vinyl records lining one wall, note-shaped balloons atop black-and-white balloon towers and a musical staff where friends could write their own notes on (you guessed it) notes! I would never have pulled off such an incredible party without huge help from all of our children (forever kudos to our daughter Kristen, party planner and decorate extraordinaire). We scheduled it two weeks before his actual birthday because our two youngest daughters, both still in college, had spring break on successive weeks, and the weekend in between was the only time we could guarantee they could both attend. However, I could have pulled off the surprise element on my own. Even then, Tom’s mind did not hold onto dates and events. For at least a year before this, I had begun to wonder what might be happening with him. That night, I only needed one small lie to get him to the nearby church venue. “Remember? It’s David’s (a mutual friend’s) birthday, and they’re having a surprise party for him. I asked you, and you said we should go.” Of course, no one had invited us to this nonexistent party, and we had never discussed anything about going to the church. But I knew he would think he’d just forgotten one more conversation. Everything happened exactly as I thought, and we walked into the fellowship hall as scheduled. What happened next gave the party a personal subtext I’ll never forget. As we stood at the door with all our children along with many friends calling out, “Surprise,” I watched Tom turn and stare. Turn and stare. Stare some more. He looked at me. “These people don’t even know David,” he said at last. I stood on tiptoe, gave him a hug and whispered, “This party’s for you, baby. It’s your surprise party!” Only then did the understanding come over his face. But for the next 10 minutes or so, he still seemed in shock. Later, he said he was so surprised that he couldn’t process it all. And I don’t doubt that a bit. But what I also believe was that his brain was already showing definite signs of decline,...

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5 Things I Learned at My High School Reunion

Dear Friends, Not long ago, I wrote about what I’ve learned since high school. Since sharing that post, I’ve had the privilege of attending (and enjoying!) my fortieth high school reunion. I can only describe it as a wonderful weekend, filled with friends, fun, and plenty of tender/some side-splitting memories. And of course, I acquired a bit more wisdom over the reunion weekend. I’ll do my best to summarize it: 1. Shared Memories Unite Us: In my earlier post, I mentioned that our high school schedules, interests, and activities tended to separate us. Part of the reunion’s beauty was the opportunity to revisit our shared experiences: cafeteria food (Hopewell Elementary’s tender wheat rolls, Lakota’s salty French fries), football games, prom, and particular classes/teachers. As we talked and laughed, those long-ago differences fell away, and the sweetness of the memories brought us closer than the day we graduated. 2. Life’s Difficulties Bring Compassion: As I spoke to friends and acquaintances throughout the weekend, I realized how many of us had been through challenging experiences: Cancer. Divorce. Job loss. Death of a child, parent, or spouse. Some of my classmates’ faces were etched with the pain of those tough times. Others bore little to no evidence of suffering. But whenever anyone mentioned these tough times, heads nodded and eyes warmed in both empathy and sympathy. We care a lot because we’ve been through a lot. 3. Sometimes a Friend Surprises: The evening held more surprises than I anticipated, whether by attendance (“What? I thought you couldn’t come!”), appearance (“You look just like you did back then!” or “I wish the print on that name tag was bigger, because I don’t recognize you”), or achievement (“You turned out a lot different [or exactly the same] as I expected”). But I was also surprised how much it meant to spend time with my new-old friends. One, whom I’ve known since second grade, cried upon hearing my voice. I also choked back tears as I watched old football buddies reunite and other longtime friends rejoicing at the opportunity to spend time together once again. 4. Dancing Is Cool (Even Though I’m Not): Our DJ played a delightful (for most of us) mix of 70s hits and encouraged us toward dancing and karaoke. But most of us just wanted to talk, talk, and talk some more. I did get out on the dance floor, not because I’ve got any disco moves, but because I wanted to celebrate, and dancing provided a great avenue. And unlike the times I dare to dance in view of my children, no one at the reunion made fun of me. Or if they did, my ears were too old to hear it....

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4 Things I’ve Learned Since High School

Dear Friends, My graduating class celebrates its fortieth reunion this fall. And I realize just writing that number dates me. One of the positives of social media has been the way I’ve reconnected with friends from high school and earlier. Soon, I’ll have the chance to see in person some of the people I’ve seen only online since our graduation day in the bicentennial year of (gulp) 1976. But the other day, I realized that I’m also looking forward to this reunion because I’ve learned a few things since that star-spangled graduation. When my classmates see me, they’ll no doubt notice my silvering hair, mom-curves, and face that reveals both laughter and pain. But I hope they’ll also see something else. The Martha (I went by my full name until I entered college) they knew back then isn’t the Marti they’ll see at the reunion. Here are four things I’ve learned since high school. It’s OK to be different. I always felt like the weird kid (raise your hand if you did, too). In younger years, I was left behind in the library, transfixed by my book, when everyone else returned to the classroom. I was still that kid in junior high and high school (who else wrote poetry in French and Latin?) I intentionally remade myself in my sophomore year and tried to be more outgoing, more fun, more cool (big word back then). But inside? I was still that scared little second-grader trying to fit in. Today, I’m still different. I still live through the books I read and the words I write. I still can’t dance (although I love to), and I’ve given up the idea of ever achieving even one degree of cool-ness. But guess what? All that reading and all those words have turned into a rewarding career. I cherish my family and friends more since I’ve learned I need alone-time to recharge. I dance no matter how silly I look. And raising five children has taught me moms aren’t cool anyway. What makes me different also makes me special. And I like that. A lot. What divides us is less important than what unites us. Through the process of reconnecting with friends online, I’ve realized I knew some people better in elementary school than later on. Three elementary schools united to form our junior high and high schools, so the friendship possibilities broadened. But the separate tracks (College Prep., Business, etc.) and various clubs or other activities meant we spent lots of time with one or two groups. That was good, because we got do things what we liked with people we enjoyed. But in the process, I lost some people who were...

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5 Marvelous Mission-Trip Fundraisers

Dear Friends, “Those trips are expensive! How can you afford it?” “I’d love to take a mission trip, but I could never come up with that kind of money.” These represent only a few of the questions and comments our family (five now young-adult children plus Dad and Mom) has heard in the more than 50 short-term mission trips we’ve taken through the years. Because of multiple mission trips, we’ve sometimes had to raise more than $10,000 in one season. So how do we do it? How can you? Large and in Charge   As you prepare for your mission trip, remember the One who called you to go. God doesn’t order what he can’t pay for. If he’s leading you on a mission trip, you can trust him to guide your fundraising, too. But don’t sit around waiting for pennies from heaven. Instead, ask God for creative ways to add dollars to your mission trip account. Feel free to consider some of the following (all of which our family has used, often more than once). The Write Start     This classic mission-trip fundraiser involves writing letters to friends and family explaining your trip and the funds you need. But don’t discount the power of persuasion. A student I know wrote a letter as the first of what she thought would be several fundraisers. Donations poured in, and she ended up with $2802—just two dollars more than the total needed for her trip. The negative side of this approach is that lots of people write fundraiser letters, and yours may get tossed aside. Recently, we’ve ditched the traditional letter in favor of social media posts with a quick link to an online donor campaign. Your sponsoring organization may provide one, or you might consider something like KickStarter or GoFundMe. (Here’s an example: our daughter Melanie’s current fundraiser site.) Sales Pitch What about that junk cluttering up your (or your neighbors’) garages? Offer to haul it off at no charge, then organize and sell it. One church group I know has a huge garage sale each year and shares the profits with anyone taking a mission trip. Advertise the sale via traditional channels (neighborhood social networks, local newspapers, and signs) but make sure to let your visitors know the funds raised go to support a mission trip. During our missions garage sales, we provide posters showing pictures of past trips, country and specific ministry information. We also add a big “donations” jar to our checkout table. Even those avid garage-salers who want to talk you down from a $1 item will often throw a bill into the donations jar! Bake it Off Do you bake mouth-watering muffins or crazy-good cookies?...

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Prayer for Those Who Have Been Wounded by Words

My Father, So many times when I post prayers, people comment back: “That means everyone!” or “That applies to all of us.” I know. And so do you. I wish “wounded by words” didn’t apply to so many. I wish these wounds could be fixed with a kiss, a band-aid, or even a good dose of antibiotics or some secure stitches. But no. The wounds caused by words tend to go much deeper, and the resulting infection remains much longer. Sometimes the word-wounds seem small. A tossed-off comment, a quick word of correction, a thoughtless assumption that hints at anger. But, depending on the recipient, a small wound can plunge deep, can open a tender place—perhaps one still healing from a previous injury. And in this way, little barbs become gaping holes and small statements, large lacerations. Words hurt. They hurt especially when they come from those we respect, even love. Those who have, in one way or another, power over our lives. Those we want to please. Those we seek to honor. Those who often pour their words like kerosene over a smoldering fire, sparking it into a flame that destroys as it grows. Lord, in your mercy, will you stop those words from forming? And if they do form, will you send them another way? Put a block between the source and the ears—and especially the tender heart—of the hearer. Cause the pointed arrows to miss their mark. And where those fireballs and arrows have struck, remove the pain. But Father, don’t just remove it. I ask you to replace it with your power to heal, your light to conquer darkness, your truth to overcome the horror of lies, your love to rule and reign in places where hate had dominion. For your grace to abound. Oh God, clean out the depravity surrounding these wounds—no matter how painful that process may be—and pour your cleansing victory through each one. Let no one remain trapped in their hurt. And use these wounded ones as healers for others, God. Let their words become grace seasoned with salt to lift others up in time of need. For their good and your glory, always and ever, AMEN. Dear Friends, If your life has been wounded by words (and yes, that’s most if not all of you), feel free to share a comment or prayer need below or on social media. I’m here to pray. for his glory,    Marti...

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