Family

the gaps in my memory

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It is a three day weekend.  There are piles of paperwork on the floor next to my office chair that await: requests for 2014 tax documentation, audit folders for PTA and stacks of paperwork to sign for field trips, science projects and school conferences.   The work folders remain in my book bag.

I continue to fill in the gaps in the 1,000 piece puzzle and, to both my family and I’s surprise, I cannot stay away from it.  The daylight filters through my living room curtains and illuminates my coffee table as countless hours are lost patiently sifting through the pieces.

allegory.  noun.  “a symbolic representation.” Def. 2. Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2015.

The puzzle is the allegory of my life.

The jigsaw makes me sit in the present moment.  With the five of us within my four walls I can enjoy these hours unencumbered.  I don’t need to rush to bring kids here, there and everywhere.  I do not worry about my to-do lists, schedules and due dates.  I am here.

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There is a gap that continues to bother me and each day I actively search for the colors that will fill it in.  I have been unsuccessful in locating these pieces.  I know eventually, I’ll fill in the gaps.

It’ll work itself out.

Recently I had asked the members in our bookclub to share a book that had special meaning to them; a book that our group of ten had not read.  Some chose classics like The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett or Jane Austen’s  Pride and Prejudice.  Others chose contemporary books that renewed their love of reading.   I have read some amazing books over the years.  But the one that remains in my mind, one that I have not shared, is Lisa Genova’s Still Alice.

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I had read this novel some time ago and had forgotten it was going to become a movie.  I was surprised by the text from  a girlfriend, informing me of its limited release date on Friday, January 16th.  I was shocked when I watched my early morning show and discovered one of my favorite actresses, Julianne Moore, won the Golden Globe and received an Oscar nod for this movie. I hadn’t even known she was starring in it.   How can a movie that hasn’t been released have so much hoopla?

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And as all things do, the thoughts from my subconscious circled in my mind.  In my dreams.  It brought me to the place that I rarely go to…the gaping hole in my life that stays hidden away.

Alzheimer’s Disease.

With the release of this movie my past comes rearing back.  It is my biggest fear; one that my hubs shares with me.  Will I lose my memories, my mind like my own mother did?  Am I genetically predisposed?

It is one of the reasons I painstakingly document my family with photos.  I read books for enjoyment but also know that reading stimulates the mind.  Last year I chose to re-subscribe to my Sunday paper; reading it from cover-to-cover.  Each December I self-test myself  when I place my hands on the ivories; attempting to play Irving Berlin’s White Christmas from memory without any practice.   The factors that can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s include: reading, mind stimulating games (like Sequence or puzzles), music, education level, social interactions and healthy lifestyle choices.

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I delve into all things mental; the neurogerontologist within  stimulating neuronal networks to keep the synapses current.   The years in the lab return; the slides of neurofibrillary tangles and plaques.   Last year my mind was scattered; the multi-tasker pulled in many different directions.  Mediocre at everything; good at nothing.  I literally lost my mind.  When I began to lose my train of thought or began a task and forgot mid-stride; I was on full alert.

Life had its own way of working itself out and I took a break.  I cleared my schedules.  I worked hard to discover the motives for doing the things that I did.  I began to sit quietly and listen to my intuition.  It was hard to hear it amongst the chaos and noise I had lived in.

I bought books on organizing my mind.  I retook the multiple intelligences test to determine my modality of learning. Unknowingly, I bought the jigsaw puzzle.  I searched for my Still Alice book and realized I did not own a hard copy.  It remained buried deep in my electronic Kindle files.  I chose to step outside of my box to volunteer as a bookkeeper; to learn new versions of QuickBooks.  I do not have a financial background but push myself to expand my horizons.  I seek to master basic accounting principles which will also be useful at work.  I must interact within a large organization and I mentally train my mind to learn names and meet new people.

I am grateful the hubs supports these endeavors.  He understands the motivation behind them.

I mentally sort through the pieces, years ago, when I watched my mother live with impaired memory loss.   Ironically I had given seminars on dementia as a gerontologist.  I volunteered at my local Alzheimer’s Association in conjunction with my paid job in a non-profit that advocated for the elderly.   My co-workers gave weekly support groups to caregivers and I listened intently as they shared the ups and downs.  Never would we have guessed that my own mother would be diagnosed with it.  That I, the one educated and knowledgeable in this specific field of study, would revert to the caregiver’s denial and blinding anger.  And the guilt.  Lots of guilt.

The memories flood back.  My husband’s shock when he returned from deployment as I told him I placed my mother in a locked board and care facility.  The phone calls  from the facility of her escape.  She had been found in a 7-Eleven convenience store several miles away.  The identification bracelet had not been noticed by law enforcement.

Memory walk 2002 cropThese gaps lay open like the puzzle before me.  I search for the pieces, finally choosing to remember and acknowledge them.  I had compartmentalized this period in my life as I raised my infant and almost two- year old son.  Although I volunteered at the Alzheimer’s Association and had access to a physician, whose book is still prominent in this field; I had not asked for help.  I walked four miles in our local Memory Walk, with my sons,  and raised over a thousand dollars.  I brought people to tears as I taught law enforcement and social services about the symptoms of dementia and the importance of identity bracelets  But never did I acknowledge these things for myself.

I had been too overwhelmed.

I find the few pictures taken during that time; the purple album (whose proceeds partially went to the national Alzheimer’s chapter) purchased years ago and never started.  I coordinate with girlfriends to watch Still Alice onscreen when it is released to the general public in February.   I allow the memories to flood my mind; feeling the emotions as if it were yesterday.  And I found the picture, playfully taken, as my mother held the gorilla.  It was to be sent to the hubs in a memory book of the things he missed while on his six month deployment.  His aviator call sign was monkey boy and the gorilla was meant to make him laugh on the other side of the world.  It is one of the last memories of my mother when she was cognizant.

And with that I can finally pen the thoughts to the high resolution screen, in black and white, in acknowledgment.  I fill in the memory gaps.

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Family, Work

the boring every day

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The unspoken word comes up more often than I’d like.  It’s insidiuous.

Boredom.

I feel its presence as I stare at to-do lists written on the squares in my calendar; the box to check, empty.  Close behind comes procrastination as I ponder all of the other things I could or should be doing.  My daydreaming state activates; my eyes glaze over and time passes in a blink.  At the end of the day the guilt sets in; the to-do list undone.  What happened?

What is surprising is that this boredom is resurfacing during the season that keeps me the busiest; the holidays.  In clearing my schedule I am finding myself twiddling my thumbs.  Past distractions included absorption with my PC or phone and the apps that accompany them: Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.   Orchestrating gatherings and parties; spur-of-the-moment.   Heading projects and committees.  Expanding an idea from the simple original one into something grand; involving a lot of time and effort.  Projects and lists.  Shopping and gifts.

In tamping down on these tendencies and saying the word, “no,” to meaningless dross,  my mind lays idle.  The boredom presents itself because my brain needs to become focused on doing something.  Something of VALUE.

  • Reconciling books, paying bills.  Boring.
  • Cooking dinners, washing clothes, grocery shopping and cleaning house.  Boring.
  • Chauffeuring children here, there and everywhere.  Boring.
  • Attending seminars, meetings or social gatherings.  Boring.
  • Being with my family.  Boring.

All of the above are the ins and outs of daily living.  Real life.  I ponder if I am checking out or depressed.  The twinkling lights usually spur me into an activity frenzy.   When the middle son casually mentioned to the hubs that I seemed disinterested in working with him on his saxophone; the hubs gave me a nudge.  To which my response was.  I’m busy.

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And I was.  Busy doing the things I had to do.  Waking unwilling kids each morning, making school lunches, dropping same unwilling offspring, to schools and practices.  Washing clothes, cleaning bathrooms, cooking dinners.  Running bank errands, typing emails and providing customer service.  I sat in my home as my the other members of my family, headphones plugged into computers; played online.  The hubs sat at the DVR watching recorded episodes of Doctor Who or The Walking Dead.  The Kindle, filled with four books to read on my device, lay open; the words unseen on the paper white page.

I felt like one of those zombies.  The boredom had settled into the recesses of my mind.  It is easy; to be bored.

It is much harder to mentally change my mindset.  To align my focus on what is valuable and to define what valuable means.   I called to the son to practice his saxophone.  Soon the silver Xeno emerged from its case; the eldest sitting alongside.  With the tree lights switched on and two musical pieces simultaneously echoing within the walls of my home I, unwittingly, slid the lid of my piano open to join in the cacophony of noise.

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And became amazed.  Amazed that my fingers could still play the music to “White Christmas,” memorized at age twelve (this middle son’s age).  Soon my mind began to engage and when I got stuck with the musical passage; I dug out the sheet music.   I had to work to be able to replicate the notes upon the staff lines; missing the flats on occasion.  And though my fingers were stiff I willed myself to relax; the finger motor placement memory returning .  It is only once a year that the desire to play this music arises.

The wiring of our brain is such a wonderful, miraculous thing. 

My eyes were unfocused; only glancing at the music as needed.  The memories of Christmases past flooded through me reminding me of my purpose once again.

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The repetitiveness of life has a way of beating us down; obliterating our vision; our mission.    I hadn’t realized I had turned the volume of my car stereo down; my Christmas CD silently repeating in my vehicle.   I had effectively muted my life; silently miming my existence.

I heard the alto sax’s rendition of Sleigh Ride and the trumpet’s harmony in a Christmas medley.  I began to jazz up the White Christmas piece on the piano; syncopating my rhythm as the boys and I took turns.  The youngest joined in; humming along.

I became present once again.

It is eerie how quickly that switch can flip.  I had just been writing about being present in my life as time quickly passes.  I am reminded that I must not let my mind be idle; that life takes effort in all areas.  As a wife.  As a mother.  As a Catholic.  As a member of society.  As a friend.  That I am continually a work in progress and that there are many plateaus.  Complacency is the vice I must continually be watchful for.

Moments do not create themselves.  We must always be present; watchful for their coming.  To recognize their value; their purpose.

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The music has given me a renewed sense of purpose.  I found myself happily shopping.  But this year it is different.  I am not shopping just to buy.  I have a purpose in mind.   When the boys suggested a gift card for the teen boy I chose from our church’s “Angel Tree” I happily complied.  It was satisfying to hand the card over to the parish office; to be donated to a teen similar in age to my sons.  The boys were happy to choose this gift for someone else.  Its monetary worth did not matter.

My boys, who are accustomed to receiving, have not learned to give.  To really give; from their hearts.

There are many people who wish to donate and give time during the holidays.  But what about the every day?  How do you instill this value of giving, just because and to expect nothing in return?  It has been this question that has kept me in the doldrums, this holiday.

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. ~John 3:16 NIV.

The giving.  In November we gave thanks.  In December we give it away.  Life isn’t about the things we have; it is about what we can offer to others.  Love.  Friendship.  Relationship.

I need to believe that I have something to offer; the thing I have been searching for all this time.  In my twenties and thirties I thought my mission in life was in having things, creating a family, building a home.  I’ve since discovered otherwise.  To expect things in return breeds disappointment.  Burn-out.  You base your worth on things given to you.  External factors should not define who you are; what I am.

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There will always be the hard days where the present moments leave nothing to be desired.  The youngest enjoyed his short-lived time in a wheelchair as he nursed a sprained foot.  The x-rays revealed no hairline fractures or broken bones.   He was adamant that he would push himself from radiology to the cast room.  It was all I could do to not grab the handles and rush to our next destination.

But my schedule cleared.  I had all the time in the world with no excuses.  My older sons were in carpools.  I willed myself to be present in the long and sterile hospital corridor.  The orthopedics department was in a completely different building and finally, this son tired of the novelty of the wheelchair.

When the high school marching season ended I missed the daily busy thrum of the quads; the chromatic peals of the bells.   No longer could their music carry me.   I have to compose my own movements within life’s symphony.  To find inspiration in the every day; boring as they may seem.  I begin to see my mundane days in a different, multi-colored LED Christmas light.

  •  I pay the property taxes, grateful I have a home to pay for.
  • I make nightly dinners, replenish empty refrigerators and empty full trash cans; physical proof that a family of five gathers together and lives here.
  • I drive loops around my community; happy to have places to go and people to see.
  • I mentally push myself out of my comfort zone to explore business learning opportunities.
  • I belong to a family; the only child with deceased parents.  It is my very own.

The words.  They finally come.  My fingers fly, once again, across my keyboard; fighting their way onto the page no longer unwritten.  I can finally recognize them, taste them on my tongue and DO something with them.

I turn the volume up to my favorite Christmas song by Mariah Carey on the car stereo; singing loud and clear.  I’ve found my rhythm once again.