Friday, May 10, 2013

Riding the social media wave

I recently got a new
iPhone. I now have my etsy, Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram all at my fingertips...literally! Why? Because I can and because I have stuff to say...except at the moment, it is late and past my bedtime. Took all night getting the apps on my dang phone! I'll leave being brilliant for another day!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Turning Points

  
   Meet Sophia,  my Wise Woman Totem Doll.  She was created at the turn of the century, circa 1999-2000.  Sophia began as a stick and a rock and an idea to create a doll that became a way to navigate "The Change" and my view of aging.  She is my Changing Woman (see Navajo).  She is  my Wise Sophia.  But before you meet my Totem Doll, let me tell you when she came into my life and why I needed to be inspired.   
   In 1999, I was 41 years old, a workaholic, a mother, wife, daughter, professional woman on the edge.  I worked too hard, partied too hard; and was on the verge of BIG BIG life transitions.  When your OB/GYN tells you to think about a finding a new job because the stress is literally causing damage to your body, you know, something’s gotta change.  And when you are looking forward to the six-week post-surgical recovery period, primarily so you can take time off from work, it’s pretty clear where the change needs to be made.
   What I'm about to describe may be TMI, but its relevant, so brace yourself.  Basically, I was a peri-menopausal, emotional wreck of a woman struggling with uterine fibroids, that meant lots of pain, bleeding and roller coaster emotions.  I needed a hysterectomy and was facing the possibility of instant menopause and hormone therapy!  It was overwhelming.  Having just moved into my 40th decade, was it going to be downhill from here?  Yikes!  All of a sudden I was approaching this crossroads marked in neon, "Change of Life!" Sheesh! What did “being menopausal” really mean?  Am I an old woman now?  They used to call them crones, didn't they?  OMG, does this mean I’m destined to be a dried up crone now?  Yes, okay, you might have notice I can conjure up my inner “Drama Queen” quite efficiently and I know I did,  but my fear was very real.
   Granted, everyone in life faces turning points in their lives – life transitions.  These transitions mark crux points, moving us from chapter to chapter in our life's story.  Sometimes we ease into the turn easily and flawlessly; sometimes we have fun and enjoy the ride; and sometimes the turn is actually a prelude to a wild, gut wrenching, roller coaster ride that we take screaming and crying all the way up, down, around and back.  I was just trying to figure out how I was gonna ride this wave of change.  I don’t like roller coasters and just the thought of “change” scared the pants off me.
   What the heck does this have to do with Sophia, my Wise Woman Totem Doll?  She was a teacher and guide for my journey to understand my approach to aging…the transition from young to old, from maiden to crone; or what I now understand the “Change” to be, the transition into Wise Womanhood. She was one of the first Spirit Art creations.  She is the result of hearing and listening to my heart, my intuition guidance system, paying attention to the synchronicities around me and bringing it all together creatively.  Creating a Doll from a branch and a rock got me out of my head and all my negativity and into my heart, in the present moment where nothing mattered but the creative process.  That in and of itself was healing.  That act allowed me to hear my inner wisdom, my wise self, my conversation with God. 
   My Totem Doll is Heart Art that continues to inspire and teach me to this day.  That's the thing about the creative process.  At its best, it is a soul connection with Spirit manifested through the skill and talent of the artist.  It can change lives.  I'll tell you how my Changing Woman/Sophia/Wise Woman Totem Doll found me and how she was created next time.  See you soon ! 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Beyond the Grave, a New Day Dawns



Saying Goodbye
 You are never prepared for the death of a parent, even when you have been expecting and even hoping for what you perceive to be their freedom, their final release. Last year, at the Spring Equinox, my precious Mommy passed away. I thought I was ready for that...anxious for her spirit to finally be set free from the prison her body had become. I wanted her to go be with Dad. Yet, when it was finally time, I just couldn't bear to be there, the pain too great. I left Mom in the care of my brother and sister and sought the comfort of my  Blue Heeler, Oreo, famously known for healing the blues.  Weird maybe, but honestly, I just needed to love on Oreo to ease my pain.  Mom and I had already said our goodbyes and I knew with all my heart Daddy was nearby and waiting for his beloved bride. I also knew she would be excited to see her son, Mike, her granddaughter, Dana, her parents and grandparents, sisters and all those who had gone before her and who were waiting for her arrival.
I was a block away from home, 15 minutes from the nursing home, when I got the call. I still felt her leave even though I wasn't at her bedside. I don't feel guilty about walking away, not consciously anyway. We said our goodbyes the night before. I think Mom knew it was just too much for me and was okay with it.   
It is no accident that I have not written about this before today, less than a week after Mom and Dad's 60th Wedding Anniversary. It's taken this long to be able to really say goodbye. 
MOM & ME
I deeply love and respect my Mom. I didn't really know or understand her before she became ill. She was just Mom.  In some ways, dementia was a hidden gift. Dementia knocks down the walls and pulls off the masks the ego, so carefully, spends a lifetime creating. The hidden gifts I received included getting to know and understand my Mother in a way I would have never experienced otherwise. My mother had a hard time relating to her daughters, and we girls didn't really feel nurtured by her. There always seems a separation between us even though she and I had a lot of common traits and interests before her illness. 
Strangely enough, after Mom got sick, she became my hero. We traveled a long and difficult journey together.  Beyond the physical and mental changes - and the freaky things she could do because of the dementia,  Mom's opinionated, stubborn, tenacious, strength and love were gifts she was finally able to express, maybe because of her disease. Personality traits which always existed, but I never realized came to light. I doubt I would have ever really  understood just who she really was, otherwise. 
So we adjusted. I thought of it like a new version of downloaded software. This was Mom v.2. We actually had fun. My mom discovered she loved crowns (see "Goddess Moments" post below) and I kept a supply of them on hand for her.  I can only imagine how silly we looked riding in the car the day we wore crowns and feather boas to go visit my Dad! 
One Thanksgiving Day, we went to Wal-Mart and I taught her to drive the electric cart.  What a hoot! The nurses didn't believe her when she tried to tell them I let her drive.  They probably figured I was the crazy one for letting her drive that cart in the first place. 
One of my sweetest memories was the time she was admitted to the hospital because of a sudden weight loss and failure to thrive.    That part was terrifying.  We finally got her settled in a room and I asked her if she had ever seen any Angels (thinking perhaps someone had stopped by to let her know it was "time").  She nodded.  I thought, "OMG, this is it!" When I asked where and when this happened, she looked at me with such amazing clarity and tenderness in her eyes, a mysterious smile on her lips and  said "When I first saw you!"  Oh, Mom! We shared so many precious moments.  We learned to communicate in a whole new way when your words disappeared.  I nurtured you and in doing so, felt you nurturing me, too.  
Oh, we had days that sucked, too.  Lots of late night calls and runs to the nursing home; emergency room visits  for fevers,  falls and urinary tract infections.   Not to mention those couple of times when Mom became delusional, combative and psychotic requiring her  admission to the Psychiatric Hospital to adjust her meds.  Ugh!  She was on hospice at least three times and everyone of those times was a roller coaster of fear that she was dying! Whew! What a strange ride it was!  

LOVERS FOREVER

 Despite all this and despite my father's fast decline from frontal lobe dementia, Mom and Dad never lost each other to their illness.  They knew and deeply loved each other to the end of their days. Their love was so sweet and precious,  it was kind of magical how bonded they were their whole lives.  That was such a blessing and the  best gift they gave to those of us who loved them, their children and grandchildren. 
FIRST DATE
After Dad died, Mom's physical and mental decline accelerated. I hated Mom v.3. Okay, I didn't hate her. I hated the disease. That's when I lost her. She couldn't talk or walk and barely swallowed. She hands were knotted up into tights fists, the contractures pulling her hands into her wrists, and her fingers cutting into her palms. She couldn't sit up. She slept most of the time.  The intuitive communication we had established seemed to disappear with her. 
For 5 years I went to see her almost every week, but during that last year, after Dad died, with Mom v.3, I just couldn't do it. It was so hard to see her. I couldn't get past my pain. Luckily my brother stepped up and saw her more often. In the end, she just kind of went into an altered state, developed a fever and went very quickly.  Within 48 hours from my last late night visit to check on her, she was finally released from the physical shell that was my mother's body. 
I miss her. I thought I was ready for her to go. I wasn't ready at all. I won't ever stop missing her or Dad, either. But I love that my parents are together again. That helps ease the pain.
Finally saying goodbye to my Mom, publicly like this, is part of  my recovery - the letting go process for me. It marks an ending and a new beginning. The past 7 years marked by a veritable roller coaster of transitions including death, dementia and my divorce (not necessarily in that order) took an emotional and physical toll on me. I am saying goodbye to a part of my life.   It served me well and has finally ended.
Today
I feel stronger, wiser and more courageous than ever. My faith is strong. I know I am, have been and continue to be very blessed. I am grateful to have survived the "tests of time," and I am moving on to thriving! Creating your dream life requires courage and I am ready.  It's my time now.  I am devoted to reclaiming myself, my health, well being and fitness. I am devoted to living authentically, spiritually and creatively. My new life involves scads of art, loads of fun, laughter and an abundance of love. I'll create. I'll sell what I create. I'll teach. I'll write. I'll coach. I'll love. I'll laugh and play. I'll use all my God-given gifts to help make the world a better place and bring peace and joy to my part of the world.  I want to inspire joy.  I believe it can happen! My heart has grown wings and I am taking flight. Please stay tuned. It's going to be quite a ride - and I'm just getting started.
 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Milestones




I was posting pics of dad's headstone on my facebook page - I was missing him and his birthday is this coming Sunday. It's the first one since he went to heaven and after I posted the first picture, I realized suddenly Dad died 11 mos. ago today. Weird. Sad. There are no mere coincidences! All of a sudden if felt like "Hello" from heaven. Saw Mom today - I think she lost another tooth. She was awake, alert and hungry. She laughed and cried when she saw me. It's been too long since our last visit but I finally feel like I can visit her again without so much sadness over the loss of Dad.

Time marches on. Grief sort of meanders back and forth, doesn't it? Headstone is beautiful - you know Dad would have been proud. Life is good and I am thankful I am alive and healthy and sending you each my love from this side of heaven (for now anyway)! So give Dad, Mike, Dana and your loved ones who have transitioned a wave and feel the love!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

IT IS WHAT IT IS...

"It is what it is"...this is the phrase I often hear myself say, to myself, to my family and to other caregivers when asked how I cope with the ups and downs of life and the challenges of taking care of parents with end-stage dementia. It is the same phrase I recently heard my heartbroken friend say as she mourned the loss of her beloved Polo, her big, beautiful 15 year-old dog. It was exactly the same thing my best friend said when she reluctantly realized her marriage is irretrievably broken and she begins the heartrending process of divorce proceedings. "What do these situations have in common," I thought. Grief...acceptance...what else?

I hadn't really considered the power of these words before I heard them said repeatedly during the course of a week by my grief-stricken friends. I pondered (yep, pondered) this synchronicity (I believe all coincidences have meaning) and began digging for the gold that I suspected was waiting to be discovered. When life hits us with the brutal force of an F-5 tornado, either physically, emotionally or spiritually, at first, we wander lost in shock and grief. At some point, we must make a choice, a choice to move forward or not. It takes guts to get back into the flow of life. Simply acknowledging, IT IS WHAT IT IS, lets the healing begin. Why are these words so powerful?

Sound vibrates. I believe that the vibration sent out into the heavens when we say "IT IS WHAT IT IS," sets into motion the Power of Grace, which resonates and returns the sounds back to us as a heart song, a very subtle but powerful symphony for the spirit that heals the heart of the heartbroken. Like alchemy, transforming base metal into gold, "IT IS WHAT IT IS" empowers us to fully embrace our grief, to honor our pain and advance towards healing, turning misfortune and sadness into compassion and wisdom and above all, a return to love.

A word of warning, here. This magic only works when accompanied with the powerful energy of acceptance, or
"the serenity to accept the things I cannot change." If these words are spoken from a place of "victim" mentality - we just stay stuck - in grief, anger, pain and misery, believing life is the enemy that beats us down. The good news is if we have the courage to state this with faith, and then TRUST and ALLOW that IT IS WHAT IT IS, we begin our own hero's journey. These delicious words offer each of us an opportunity to heal our broken hearts, to move forward, and thrive in the flow of life.

Try it yourself. Feel the Power of Grace. Yeah, you will still be faced with the ups and downs of life, but you will learn how to balance on your boogie board and ride the waves of life victoriously...cause, you know, IT IS WHAT IT IS...and more...oh yeah, baby, so much more!!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Goddess Moments


I love this picture of mom. I call it her Goddess Moment. I am so proud of her and at the time, I didn't really understand why it inspired me so much. Yeah, she is cute as a button! One look at the sparkle in her eyes and you know there is still a lot of life force in her wanting to be recognized and heard...and she was really seen and heard.

It was May, 2007, my mom stopped eating and began refusing to take her medications. So determined was she, that she objected by whatever means necessary to get her point across, even if it meant shoving or hitting her well meaning nurses. Mom was losing too much weight and we were desperate to get to the bottom of the problem. Her labwork was normal. It was a frustrating mystery and out of desperation, I finally asked that Mom be transported to the emergency room where I hoped we could get some answers. I left work to meet her in the ER. When I got to the hospital, I asked for Julia and the clerk said, "Is she wearing a crown?" Caught off guard, I couldn't help but laugh and confirmed that was most likely my mom. We had given her a plastic tiara for her 79th birthday and she had worn it nonstop since then. People looked at her differently and treated her differently when she wore that crown and she knew it! She liked the fact that it made a difference in how people reacted to her. Her nurse at the nursing home said when EMS came to get her she went back to her room just to get her crown!

I walked into her room in the ER, she smiled at me, quite serenely, and let me take her picture. It was a sweet relief to see her sitting there, so beautiful and in charge! I watched in amazement as various clerks, nurses and even the doctor walked in to see her and their entire demeanor changed when they saw her. I knew my mom knew how she was affecting them. It felt like she really was a queen and she was just letting every one else in on the secret. Perhaps it is my imagination, but it seemed like they treated her with an increased measure of respect and definitely joy!

I had been so afraid she was dying and felt we were getting to that place from where there is no turning back. In hindsight, I see I should have known better. The look in her eyes is so full of life and spunk! This picture gave me hope but I also knew if she didn't start eating, she would be leaving us. The doctor diagnosed "failure to thrive" as a result of her end-stage dementia and she was discharged back to her nursing home where she was put on hospice.

Years before dementia, Mom made her end of her life decisions well known to the whole family - no tubes, no ventilators, no feeding tubes...when it's over, it's over. Our job is to honor her choices and to let her die with dignity whenever that time comes. It was heart wrenching and devastating, but I knew what I needed to do and that was to love her enough to let her go. I prepared myself for the worse...or so I thought. With the help of our incredible hospice team, we developed a new care plan. Her medications were reduced to only those she absolutely needed. The nursing home staff was instructed that if my mom refused to eat, leave her alone. If she refused to take her medications, let her refuse. Quite simply, we decided to quite torturing her by making her do what "we" thought was best for her and let her make her own decisions. Sounds nuts, right? After all, she's got advanced dementia...what does she know?

Quite simply, once my mother regained some control back of her ever changing life, she made an amazing turn around. She decided she was hungry after all. She decided the medication she was supposed to take was okay. She quit being combative and fighting with her care providers. She was happier and at peace again. My mother in a very quiet, determined and eloquent way She so eloquently taught us that she still wanted to live life on her terms - with dignity and honor...and ultimately to become self-empowered, dementia be damned!

Today I understand that my mother's spirit was telling us what she knew she needed - the ability to still have a voice - to be heard... to make some of her own basic choices at a time in her life when dementia was slowly but surely changing her life..her ability to think, to speak, to be who she really is, with or witout dementia!

That was my mother's third time on hospice. She started gaining weight again, quit fighting and began thriving again. Today, she talks even less, no longer walks independently, but still is as tenacious as ever. She is teaching me as never before in my life. I don't want to wait till I'm 80 to claim my Inner Goddess and to proclaim her to the world...but it's pretty cool to watch when someone does!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Endings & Beginnings

I started my blog in January with a stroke of inspiration. I didn't know what a blog was or have any idea how to set one up, but before I knew it, I had a blog. Fear settled in as my ego took over, kicking and screaming over the fear of new things and the risk I wanted to take by writing a blog! Just who do I think I am trying to right and publish my thoughts, my inklings and whatever inspiration might come my way? I would like to say I laughed in the face of my fears...but no...I stayed stuck, frozen, and afraid to move, but life has a way of waking you up and making you move forward in ways you least expect. I like to think I embrace change, but sometimes, when I get stuck, I unwittingly extend an invitation for a kick in the butt to keep me moving!

Life is changing (again) in a big way for me and when that happens, I somehow tend to be less afraid of walking into the unknown. With great transition, little changes seem to carry less risk. Facing death (more about that in a minute) tends to make me want to celebrate life.
So in honor of and celebration of Life, I have decided to take bold new steps...here on my blog. I AM HERE TO HAVE FUN! There will be times, when what I have to say may not feel like fun, but isn't that what a real diary is like? A place to sort ones thoughts, a place to find your inner wisdom and transmute daily events to inspiration and even sometimes, wisdom. It's all in the journey!

Warning: I don't tell short stories, I tend to ramble a bit - learning towards what we call in my family, "the Julia version" - because my mom always wanted to give the big picture, before she got to the meat of the matter, and unfortunately, losing a few listeners in the process. I will be mindful of that tendency, so bear with me.

My beginning is, not surprisingly, motivated by an ending that is approaching. This is the Circle of Life, you know, life, death, life....endings and beginnings overlapping and irrevocably changing the face of reality as we know it. I am the daughter of parents who both have dementia. It is a description that has become a part of who I am, part of the sum of my experience. I take care of them, among the other things that comprise my busy, full and happy life.

My Mom has dementia and late-onset schizophrenia, previously misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's. Hers is a slow moving dementia and she is surprisingly aware of many things that you would not expect in a 79 year old woman suffering from end-stage dementia for 5 years. She is amazingly fit and quite honestly, is my hero! I have learned such amazing things about her that I never knew...and needed to know...and that helped me discover the gems tossed on this sometimes rocky path I call my life. Those experiences make you thankful for this journey, this combination of experiences that make up my life, no matter how ugly or difficult it may seem...The Magic in the Moments.

It's harder to describe my dad's condition - frontal lobe dementia. It is newer, diagnosed in 2005, and given a life expectancy of one year. Frontal Lobe Dementia starts by robbing one of the executive functions of the brain, the ability to make sound decisions, to balance ones checkbook, to plan, to understand right from wrong. He quickly moved from living independently, to assisted living and now to nursing home care. It has affected his balance and his ability to walk. He falls, often, despite all preventative measures and has had more stitches to his face from fall injuries in the past 2 years than in his whole life. Sometimes, he's not there, kind of a creepy morph of my daddy, and other times, more often as he approaches his ending, my real daddy trapped in his body and aware of his own illness.

It would not be a fair description of their illness if I didn't address their amazing love for each other that transcends their illness and touches all of us who are witness to their great love. My parents have been married for over 55 years and did a lot of things together, so it shouldn't have been a surprise that they did this together too. I remember one day (one of those magical moments I get to witness) I took Dad to see Mom when they still lived apart. Dad could still walk but was slow and unsteady. I told him to wait and I went to get Mom from her locked unit at the nursing home. She walked out with me, with that Alzheimer's shuffle, kind of like Tim Conway's Old Man character, and saw him. She started walking faster and he walked towards her. It was like a Geriatric Lovers Running in the Field moment as they shuffled towards each other, their eyes lit up for each other, and when they reached each other, they held each other's hands and kissed...it was a magic moment! I swear to God, everyone in the reception area, stopped what they were doing and watched them...there wasn't a dry eye in the room...an overwhelming experience to witness that kind of love...their soul connection that transcends time, space and dementia! That was a year ago. Today, my dad can no longer walk. They are now in the same nursing home but in different wings for their own safety. Mom knows when something is wrong with my dad...she just knows! Recently, they seem to get sick at the same time. We were recently in the emergency room with my dad who needed stitches to his forehead from another fall, and the nursing home called me to say Mom needed to be transported to the ER for her low blood pressure! I made sure they sent her to the same hospital I was at and thank God for my sister who took care and stayed with Dad while I stayed with Mom that evening. They were both back at their home within 10 minutes of each other after a long night in the ER. It was an amazing experience, frightening and stressful, but still amazing!

I just left my father's bedside at his nursing home. He is nearing the end of his life.
Today he has been having seizures, a strong twitching, jerking in his face and arms that medication does not relieve - it only takes the edge off the discomfort and stress of not being able to stop or control his body. Sleep is his only relief. This disease has robbed him of his mind, his control over his body, but it has not robbed him of his spirit and his love for my Mom. Yes, he still knows us, his kids and he loves us, but his love for Mom sustains him and in my opinion is what is keeping him here - oh, that we all get to experience that kind of love!

So all we can do it help him be comfortable till the seizures pass, today being the longest they have lasted - over 8 hours. Medication helps and so does prayer - that's comforting to him because he still knows and experiences the power of prayer! So today and tonight, I sat next to him, my head on his chest, seeking to bring him comfort and peace the only way I know how - prayer. I believe in Angels....so does he and so we called in for extra help. He can barely talk, but he joined me in prayer and we called in Angels to surround his bed and bring him light, comfort and relief. I know that when I left him, tonight I left him safe and sound. He was still twitching, but he was breathing easier and fell asleep with the knowledge that he had nothing to fear. I believe he knew that. I believe it myself and that's really all that matters.

So we have endings and beginnings going on here. My first blog...a beginning and a place to share thoughts, inspiration and even sadness. My acceptance of my father's coming transition and to be able to put that out there signifies an ending for me - the end of the fear that strikes the heart of children, young and old, when we are faced with the loss of a parent. Death is a transition we try to hard to avoid...but really, it is a graduation of Spirit.
So in honor the Circle of Life, the everlasting cycle of life, death, life and my own personal endings and beginings that I see on the horizon, I begin this fascinating and fun experience of blogging. Thank you for stopping by. More later....in the meantime, look for the gems of life along your path...you have to notice the magic life brings to find the gems.