Wednesday, November 19, 2014

November is Caregivers Month: Caregiving Isn’t for Sissies

November is Caregivers Month, and I thought it was a good time to share my caregiver story.

I was eighteen years old when Jim and I were married in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was on R&R from Vietnam, and I was on Christmas break after two semesters of college.

We struggled financially for many years. Entertainment was hamburgers at Griffs, an occasional drive-in movie, jam sessions, fishing, camping, or traveling in one of our old vans and sleeping at rest areas. We were short on money, but took pride in paying our bills and putting a little aside.

Jim was always there for me. He was my strength, my companion, and my best friend. Jim had bouts of depression, and I worried about him. Our marriage never wavered; our love for each other was never in doubt.

We finally gained financial security and built our home. Just as we thought life was going to be easier for us, Jim began to have cognitive glitches shortly after he turned forty-nine. His forgetfulness didn’t seem as strange as his loss of mechanical skills. The man who once fixed our van with a piece of baling wire, couldn’t change the oil.

For years, we had gone to bed an hour early and read. It was our quiet time, our time together. Jim lost his ability to read. He became eccentric in the way he dressed, and compulsive about taping every program on TV.

By the time he was diagnosed, I realized the Jim I had loved for twenty-five years was turning into a different person. The man who had always been protective of me and so aware of my needs, began to turn inward. Surely there was a simple explanation—a stroke, a vitamin deficiency, depression. The day the doctor told us that tests results showed Jim had dementia. “What could cause that?” I asked. The answer was shocking: dementia of the Alzheimer’s type.

We knew that whatever happened, we were in this together. We cried for hours as we faced the new reality. We were not satisfied until tests exhausted all other plausible possibilities. Somewhere along the line, I realized that I was going to have to get a grip on the grief and make some sense out of this tragedy.

My first step in the right direction was to learn as much as I could about Alzheimer’s and caregiving. Knowledge became power and helped bolster my confidence. I took caregiving classes, read numerous books, watched documentaries about Alzheimer’s.

I became an Alzheimer’s Association volunteer and advocate—first locally and then nationally. Most people thought I was crazy to take on volunteer work when caregiving took so much of my time. Jim only slept about four hours a night and I spent a lot of my sleepless nights working on Memory Walk, or writing letters to my legislators or to the editor of the local paper. Alzheimer’s made me feel out of control, and being a volunteer gave me a purpose and direction at a time when I desperately needed it.

Jim wandered off constantly and to keep him safe, I put him in a long-term care facility. My caregiving did not end when he went into the facility. I was comfortable bathing Jim, providing his personal care, feeding him, and watching TV with him. We would stop at Dairy Queen, go to the park or just drive around.

Aphasia made Jim silent, but that also meant he was a good listener. Sometimes a sparkle in his eyes let me know that he understood at least part of what I told him.

Jim had more company than anyone else in the facility. Our sons and extended family made sure he had a steady stream of loved ones to check in on him and spend time with him. Throughout the ten years of Jim’s dementia, we learned to cope and adapt to the myriad of changes Jim went through. The one constant that never changed was our unconditional love for Jim.

I lived life in the present without looking back to what he had been because it made me sad. I learned to not think too much about the road ahead or I would worry about what was coming. I could hug him close and kiss him. I could place my heart on his chest and hear the irregular beat that was so distinctly Jim’s heart.

Jim left this world in 2005, and I miss him still. I miss the youthful Jim, and even more, I miss the Jim he would have been in old age.

copyright © November 2014 by L.S. Fisher


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Salute to Veterans

Today is Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day. In 1919, President Wilson established November 11 as the day to remember our veterans with these words:  “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

In 1968, the Uniform Holiday Bill moved Veterans Day so that it became part of a three-day weekend. But unlike other holidays, the significance of the 11th hour of the 11th month was not to be deferred to a three-day weekend. After three years of total confusion, President Ford wisely decided that tradition of this patriotic pride should be returned to its original date. On October 25, 1971, he returned it to November 11 regardless of the day of week.

We dedicate this one day to honor those who served our country. We honor them for their sacrifice.

My dad fought in World War II. He often talked about how soldiers were drafted for “the duration.” What a scary thought that must have been. They were shipped off to war with no idea of when they would come home, or if they would come home. World War II had 297 deaths per day. A total of 405,399 American soldiers died in this war. This entire country was vested in that war. Everyone sacrificed and did their part. People were given rationing stamps for everything from tires to food. Manufacturing of automobiles and home appliances were stopped. And racing fans—all auto racing was banned, including the Indianapolis 500 for the duration of the war.

Jim Fisher, my brother Tommy, and nine percent of their generation served in Vietnam. Jim served nearly a year, and my brother Tommy came home after three months when he was wounded.

Jim’s wounds were harder to see. He was wounded in spirit and had an untreated cervical spine injury. A total of 2,709,918 were sent to Vietnam and 58,202 died. Sixty-one percent of them  were twenty-one years old or younger. Five of them were sixteen years old.

Unlike previous World War veterans, Vietnam veterans did not see a hero’s homecoming. They came back individually. Some were lovingly met by family members, others came home to be spit on and called “baby killers.” Jim never forgave “Hanoi Jane” and was thoroughly disgusted with Hollywood’s portrayal of “crazed” Vietnam veteran killers in TV shows  and movies. He suffered from PTSD, and I can’t help but wonder what part the aftermath of Vietnam played in his early-onset dementia.

Many Americans reap the benefits of our country without personal sacrifice, and it seems that disparaging our government has become the norm. We whine about how awful things have become and borrow trouble on a daily basis. We have split this country along party lines rather than being united in the common good. We’re too busy placing blame for what goes wrong and taking credit for what goes right. We salute the flag with our hands over our hearts, but too many hearts don’t believe in the United States of America. We take freedom for granted, and by doing so, we are figuratively slapping our veterans’ faces.

Today, November 11, is a day to not only honor our veterans, but also to truly appreciate them. Going to war to preserve our freedom to complain, whine, and gripe is not a small feat. It involves sacrifice, dedication, bravery, and often leaves scars externally and/or internally.

Today would be a good time to count blessings and be thankful for the freedom we have here in the United States. It is an opportunity to be grateful, truly grateful. Veterans Day is one day to find every veteran you know and say, “Thank you for your service.”

copyright © November 2014

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fright Night—What Spooks Us?

The ghosts and goblins of All Hallows’ Eve are lurking in the dark ready to jump out from behind that old dead tree to send shivers of fright down our spines. Since we associate Halloween with scary beings that go bump in the night, it is a good time to talk about what frightens us.

The scene is set for me to talk about the things that scare us. As I sit in my office working on this article, the wind howls around the corner of the house and branches scrape against the window. In fact, the unusual sounds are downright creepy.

Although some of the surveys show slightly different results, I’m going to hone in on ten common fears.

Things that go BOOM in the night.  A lot of folks are scared of storms. Thunder and lightning can shake up the best of us. Throw in a tornado warning complete with a heart-stopping siren, and you can create panic. I used to be terrified of storms, but somewhere along the line, I just learned to respect them and find a safe spot if possible.

Dark and spooky nights. No wonder the cliché for the beginning of a story is “It was a dark and stormy night.” Two fears rolled into one. The dark is the most common fear of children. I think that’s because when its dark, you can’t see the monsters in the closet. And you can’t go trick or treating until after dark…

Creepy Crawlers. Let’s face it. Spiders are mean little critters that can give you the kiss of death before you can say “Granddaddy Longlegs.” They all scare me…black widows, tarantulas, or brown recluse…and the only good spider is one that I see first because it will become a ghost spider.

Slithering Sneaky Snakes.  I never saw a snake that I liked. A few weeks ago, I was at a wedding rehearsal dinner where Sedalia’s own “Snake Lady” dressed up as a witch and brought one of her pet snakes in a caldron. Fortunately, I was sitting at the back of the room. Needless to say, I wasn’t one of the people who let the snake slitter around my arms.

Crash and burn.  If you are afraid of flying, you have lots of company. As many as twenty-five million people are nervous flyers. I don’t think they are so much afraid of flying as they are crashing.

Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I have a love/hate relationship with heights. I love looking at scenery far below, but I can freak out if I get too close to a canyon. The spinning sensation makes me feel that I’m just going to topple over the edge, plunging to my death far below.

Hell Hounds. I’ve never really been scared of dogs in general, but I’ve had a couple of close encounters. One time I was handing out some literature door-to-door for a local organization. At one house, I knocked, but no one was home. As I started back to the car, a German shepherd wedged himself between me and the car. I talked really nice to the dog as I slowly backed around him, never turning my back. “Nice doggy. Aren’t you a pretty boy? Are you having a good day, little doggie?”

Coffin Claustrophobia. Nobody likes to feel like they are in a tight spot where the air is hard to breathe. I’ve known fearless men who would climb a high wire or chase storms, but put them on an elevator and their knees began to knock.

Evil Drilling Dentist. Some people treat the dentist like he’s Dr. Frankenstein and they expect him to drill right through a tooth and into the brain while laughing manically.

Mice and Rats. Yep. Rats are pretty scary if they wind up in bed with you. That happened to me while staying at a very nice resort in Mexico. Not one of my more restful nights. But still, better a rat touching my hair than an ghost.
I don’t know why, but ghosts didn’t make the list. I’ve had a few experiences in my life that would be classified as supernatural. I’ll save those stories for another time. In the meantime, I’ll wish you a spooky, spine-chilling Halloween.

copyright © by L.S. Fisher, October 2014

Friday, October 17, 2014

Depends on Your Perspective

Often, what we get out of life depends on how we look at things. These last few weeks of rain began to get on my nerves. The grass is growing and the tree that came down in the storm needs to be hauled off. Except the yard is soggy from all the rain, so it all has to wait. This both gets on my nerves, and also is simultaneously a relief. I can use the time to work on my projects.

While I shivered in the blustery wind and cold rain as I took the dog out for her morning constitutional, I couldn’t see much good in the weather. I turned on my computer and my brother Tommy had posted: “Been shelling chestnuts this morning, now in the lanai enjoying the cool air and a hot cup of coffee.”  The accompanying photo was peaceful, beautiful, and gave me a new perspective of the incessant rain.

I drove through town yesterday and saw that gas had dropped to $2.83. All of a sudden, I noticed my tank was half empty. As I pumped the gas, I realized that when gas was reaching new highs, I’d have considered my tank half full and would have passed up the gas station. It’s all in how you look at things.

When I drove into Walmart’s parking lot, I noticed my car thermometer showed sixty-six degrees. The sun was shining brightly so I left my jacket in the car. As I walked toward the door, I noticed a cold breeze and pulled my thin sweater a little closer. I noticed that people’s different perspectives of this autumn day varied from a woman wearing a winter coat to a man clad T-shirt and shorts pushing a cart. They all seemed more comfortable than I did considering that I was dressed more appropriately for the weather than either of them.

Perspective affects our big decisions in life as well as how we react to the small moments that make up our day. As we plug along from day to day, we can lose sight of the possibility that the rug can figuratively be pulled out from beneath our feet and we fall flat on our keister. What happens then depends on us. We can sit on the floor and cry from the pain, or we can stand up and keep moving forward.

We’ve all seen it, haven’t we? Those amazing people who choose to refuse to stay down, but instead continue to live life to the fullest. When life looks the bleakest, they focus on the thin ray of sunshine that breaks through the gloomy haze.

As my niece, Angie, explained it: clarity. From the moment, she found out that she had colon cancer, she knew she was terminal. Taking what time she had left, she experienced her dream wedding and spent quality time with her family, sharing her radiant smile, love, and hugs.

She shared her thoughts, hopes, happiness, on Facebook. On November 23, 2012, she wrote:  I think we all know what I’m thankful for. I’m thankful I’m still alive. Alive, to love my family. Another day to see Reiana smile, hear Madison’s laugh and see Connor’s beautiful eyes. And most of all to hear my hubby tell what “he thinks” are funny jokes. BTW, God, thank you for bringing my brother back to me. Occasionally, she spoke of her regrets, sorrow, and fears, but by far her words reflected her positive perspective on life. She died on December 11, 2012 a short time after her thirty-ninth birthday.

Alzheimer’s is another disease that can challenge a positive attitude. It is a disease without a cure or effective treatment and the only prognosis is death. Upon diagnosis, death isn’t normally immanent, which makes it more difficult to see the urgency of seizing each moment of joy. The care partner may be facing ten to twenty years of watching a disease rob a loved one of his or her memory, communication ability, skills, and talents. Yet, if you consider the expanse of time, it would be foolish to allow this disease to steal your happiness.

When Jim was in the early stages of dementia we were able to travel, spend time with family and friends. We shared many happy moments and good times. It was a bleak diagnosis, but life went on for ten more years. Even during the final stages, I loaded Jim into the van for trips to Dairy Queen or to take a walk in the park. When he couldn’t walk anymore, I wheeled him around the nursing home or parking lot.

How much you get out of life depends on how you look at it. Most of us don’t know how much time we have so we assume we have plenty. Enough that we can spend hours, days, years, or decades without a thought as to how much time we allow ourselves to sit on our keister and cry about the unfairness of it all.

Maybe the best thing we could do for ourselves is to consider how differently we would live if we knew we only had a short time left. Ask yourself: Who would I want to see? What would I want to do? How would I want to be remembered? Would that change my perspective?

copyright © October 2014 by L.S. Fisher

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Visit with Vicky

Each year when I visit Washington, D.C., to advocate for Alzheimer’s funding, I take my current blog book. This year I left copies of Garden of Hope with legislators. I leave these books with the thought that someone might read it—often a legislative aide—but seldom believe that the representative or senator will read the book.

I am an Alzheimer’s Ambassador for my representative, but due to a scheduling snafu, I did not get to meet personally with Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler. When I arrived at the scheduled time on my sheet, the Congresswoman was already gone. Her aide assured me that Vicky had wanted to meet with me and had waited several minutes past the time on her calendar. So I left the book and my apologies for the misunderstanding.

In early August, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a handwritten note from Congresswoman Hartzler thanking me for leaving her a copy of Garden of Hope. She wrote, “What a wonderful collection of insights into this tragic disease plus messages of hope in our fight to eradicate this debilitating illness.” She ended her note with “Thank you for leading the charge to bring awareness, spur action, and inspire hope.”

Okay, I’ll admit this was a first! I had never received a handwritten note from my representative. Then, another first…A few weeks ago I received a called from a “202” area code—Washington, D.C. When I answered the call, I was speaking to Adreine from Congresswoman Hartzler’s office. Adreine wanted to set up an appointment for the Congresswoman and me to meet for coffee on October 9. We agreed that I would meet her in the lobby of historic Bothwell Hotel and we would have coffee in the hotel’s restaurant, Ivory Grille.

On Thursday afternoon I arrived at Bothwell Hotel to find Vicky sitting in the lobby. We shook hands and she asked if I’d like to go somewhere else since the restaurant was closed for the afternoon. We decided to have our meeting in the lobby instead.

She talked about her morning at State Fair Community College where she spoke at a teen leadership summit. After our visit she was going to visit the Boys and Girls Club.

For the next forty-five minutes, we talked about Alzheimer’s disease and its impact on families. I had brought fact sheets that served to remind us how many Americans know the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s. There it was in purple, black, and white:

·         More than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s
·         Every 67 seconds someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s
·         Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States
·         Fifteen million Americans provide unpaid care for a person with Alzheimer’s
·         In 2014 the total cost of Alzheimer’s will be $214 billion—$150 billion to Medicare and Medicaid
·         0.25% of the cost of Alzheimer’s is being spent on research
·         Approximately 500,000 people die each year because they have Alzheimer’s

We talked of the frustration of how a mere 1.7% of the NIH’s budget goes toward Alzheimer’s research. I thanked the Congresswoman for being a co-sponsor of the Alzheimer’s Accountability
Act and for her unwavering support for Alzheimer’s research.

We shared our personal experiences. Talked of nursing homes, caregiving, and recognizing that a person with Alzheimer’s is a person first. Someone to love, and to find joy in his or her moments of clarity or humor.

We ended on a high note. I gave her a handout of what we are doing in Sedalia: Photos of our successful Walk to End Alzheimer’s and information about our local support group facilitated by Betty Hopkins.

Our meeting began with a handshake and ended with a hug. The Congresswoman and I are united in this battle against Alzheimer’s and for a world without it.

Copyright © October 2014 by L.S. Fisher


Watch the video of Facts and Figures:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Clues to What Is Normal: Ten Warning Signs

For the past few days, I’ve been immersed in reading mystery stories for an anthology. A good mystery writer sprinkles clues throughout the entire story and then at the end it all makes sense. Sometimes you slap your head and believe you should have figured it out, and other times, you are completely surprised. It depends on the skill of the storyteller and how attentive you are.

I guess our greatest mystery in life is life itself. It seems that clues pop up every day in our relationships and our health. If we ignore those clues, or just don’t “get it” life can move forward while we are oblivious to what is happening.

Most of us fear the unknown. No matter how dire the diagnosis or prognosis, we realize that we have two choices: give up and be miserable, or live life to the fullest choosing quality over quantity if necessary.

Almost every disease has warning signs—and have you noticed that it is usually ten? Alzheimer’s is one that has narrowed the multitude of clues to a manageable ten. I’ve taken a look at the ten to see what the clues have to tell me.

The number one warning sign of Alzheimer’s is memory loss that disrupts daily life. We all forget things. Last month I showed up at the hair salon for my appointment a few minutes early so I sat down and started reading a magazine. My hairdresser came back from lunch and began to leaf through the appointment book. “Linda, I have your appointment down for tomorrow,” she said. Sure enough, I checked my calendar and there it was, same time, same place, wrong day. That interrupted that day a little for her and me, but it isn’t a warning sign of Alzheimer’s. Occasionally forgetting appointments is normal. Whew!

 The second warning sign is challenges in planning or solving problems. I had a nightmare about this a few nights ago. I dreamed I was taking a test and it used two words in questions that I didn’t recognize. How was I supposed to answer a question if I didn’t understand the words? Well, when I awoke in the middle of the night, I Googled paradigm (pattern) and esoteric (cryptic). The strange thing is that although I couldn’t place the meaning immediately, they made sense when I inserted them into the problems. With Alzheimer’s words and numbers may not make sense which can make solving a problem impossible.

Sign three is difficulty completing familiar tasks. I run into this often when I need a password or user name to pay a bill online. Part of the reason is that to get to the familiar task, I am using a new method. This is normal unless I forget that I need to pay bills.

The fourth sign is confusion with time or place. Since I’m retired, the days and months seem to swirl together. So sometimes I admit to being a little vague about the day of the week. Thank goodness, my granddaughter plays volleyball so monitoring her schedule helps me keep track of the days and the date. Oh, and the place. It really helps to show up at the correct gym.

The fifth sign is understanding visual images and spatial relationships. This includes reading and judging distance, both of which can affect driving. We won’t talk about me getting too close to the curb and scratching my fancy wheels—twice.

Number six: problems with words in speaking or writing. A person with Alzheimer’s might have trouble finding the right word…okay, so we all have that trouble from time to time. Sometimes, I’ll be leafing through my mental dictionary and can’t seem to come up with the correct word to express an idea. My mental Google is offline, the “page cannot be found” or is “not available at this time.” Sometimes it comes to me. Sometimes not. Still, considered to be normal.

The seventh sign is misplacing things and not being able to retrace steps. Let’s just say that I’ve had to call my cell phone everyday this week to locate the darn thing. I can’t remember where I left it. As long as I can remember the number, I’m considering that a normal sign of aging.

Number eight is poor judgment. My judgment is normally pretty good, but sometimes I’ll buy both pair of shoes rather than having to choose. Just saying!

The ninth sign is withdrawal from work or social activities. I withdrew from work permanently when I retired at the beginning of the year. I need to withdraw from a few social activities just because I like to stay at home once in awhile. After all, there’s a new season of The Voice to watch.

The tenth sign is changes in mood and personality—becoming fearful, depressed, confused, etc. Okay, I take ownership of being irritable from time to time, but, hey, that falls within normal range.

After reviewing the ten clues, I consider myself to be as normal as I’ve ever been. Life is a challenge for each of us, but as long as we use our strengths to compensate for our weaknesses, we’ll get by. Whatever the clues say is wrong with us, we always have the ability to opt for quality over quantity.

copyright © October 2014 by L.S. Fisher    

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Autumn and Alzheimer’s Risk

My mind is gravitating from Summer to Autumn. There are few signs of autumn here in Missouri unless you count Halloween decorations, corn fields, and maple trees. Grass and most trees are hanging on tightly to their summery green hues. Temperatures are still hovering around the 70s and 80s—more indicative of summer than fall. Heck, I even managed to get my worst sunburn of the year yesterday while working in the yard. I wore a swimsuit top (hate the look of an entire suit!) and a pair of shorts. My formerly pale back is now fiery red and hot, hot, hot.

Apparently the autumn equinox in the northern hemisphere, according to Google is either  September 21st, 22nd, or 23rd depending on the source. So, I went with my best source—the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which gives the date and time as September 22 at 10:29 p.m. Eastern Daylight Savings time. That makes me understand the discrepancy between the 22nd and 23rd, but not sure how the 21st fits in.

 When autumn is in its full glory, it is a season hard to beat. Often the retirement years are considered to be the autumn of life. After working at a day job for years, I’m looking forward to coming into full and colorful splendor and living a full, and still, productive life. Most healthy retirees have this same ambition.

Unfortunately, just when we are hitting our stride all those darn pesky diseases try to interfere.
I could easily break my biggest concerns down to a few major illnesses that I wouldn’t want to develop—the Big “C”, heart disease of any kind, or dementia. Our risk of developing any of these diseases increases with age.

Sometimes, it’s just the luck of the draw that determines what our future holds in store. Other times, we are our own worst enemies when it comes to maintaining good health. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle—luck of genotype and health habits. We all know people who smoke their entire lives and never develop lung cancer. Yet, smoking is clearly a risk factor for lung cancer since 80-90 percent of lung cancer is attributed to smoking.

Although we don’t have such numbers to indicate this strong connection between smoking and Alzheimer’s, smoking is considered a “significant” risk for vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  Those especially at risk are people who smoke heavily between the ages of fifty to sixty.

Smoking is by no means the only culprit to increase our risk of developing Alzheimer’s—at the top of the list is my personal nemesis—obesity and sedentary lifestyle. I continue to battle with weight issues and make an effort to make healthy food choices. And after the past three days, I’m feeling downright cocky about conquering the sedentary lifestyle. I’ve been doing yardwork, mowing, lifting and loading brush, bending, stooping, walking, and more aerobic/weight lifting than I ever accomplished when I had my gym membership. I don’t see any short-term end to the physical workout either with all that remains to be done.

To further complicate matters, obesity and sedentary lifestyles contribute to two other risk factors of Alzheimer’s—hypertension and diabetes. It’s a catch-22 situation.

In addition to controlling these risk factors, Maria Carrillo, Alzheimer’s Association vice-president of medical and scientific relations, adds other helpful ideas to cut the risk of Alzheimer’s. She said, “Other lifestyle aspects that may contribute to healthy brain aging are eating a brain-healthy diet, being mentally active, and being socially engaged.”

The best and safest way to modify Alzheimer’s risk is to make healthy lifestyle changes: don’t smoke, exercise your brain and body, control your weight, and become a social butterfly. Is it easy? Not a chance!

Remember the three dreaded diseases that cut short the autumn of many, many lives? Well, guess what? Reducing the risk for cancer, heart disease, or Alzheimer’s slashes the chances of developing any of them. Sometimes good health can be attributed to genetics, but more often it requires a personal commitment,  determination, and perseverance.

copyright © September 2014 by L.S. Fisher 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Know What to Throw Away; Know What to Keep

Our Walk to End Alzheimer’s was Saturday and, as usual, I couldn’t help but be a little nervous about the weather. We were at the fairgrounds at 6:30 a.m. unloading vehicles, setting up tables, and trying to figure out the best places to put everything. Before the 8:30 a.m. registration time, we were set up and ready to go.

By walk time, we heard good news from the registration table—we were very close to our $34,000 goal, and with the pledges to come in after the walk—we would easily reach that amount. We handed out trophies to the largest team and the best-fundraising team which turned out to be the same team—Sylvia G. Thompson Residence Center. Fairview Nursing Home came in second in fundraising, and Jim’s Team came in third. I think that as a family team, coming in third is quite an honor.

In addition to the trophies, we recognized the youngest walker and the one with the most birthdays. This year it turned out that I was well acquainted with one of them and knew the proud mama of the other. The youngest “walker was Catherine, daughter of Jessica and Brandon Snell. Jessica is a co-chair of the Sedalia Walk. And the guy with the most birthdays was ninety-year-old John Chambers, better known to be as Uncle Johnny.

As soon as I came home from the walk, I faced the reality of having to find a new place to put everything in the home that I share with my new husband. I knew that the fundraiser and walk materials that I keep from year to year couldn’t stay in the back of Harold’s Tahoe forever. So, I went through the supplies and organized them to store on a shelf in the garage. Easy peasy, you say? Not quite. We had to reorganize the shelves in order to find a place for my three totes. We wound up with several trash bags, totes full of recyclable items, bags and boxes for Open Door, and, of course, there were the things to keep.

Wednesday, we made another trip to my house to start the monumental task of sorting through forty-five years of accumulation. The problem for me is that digging through drawers, boxes, papers, and miscellaneous cubbyholes, storage boxes, and stacks of stacks amounts to tearing at the heart of memories.

It’s easy for me to decide what to give to charity. Some items were easy to toss, especially those things I should never have kept in the first place, or those I’d just never gotten around to throwing away. But other things—Jim’s belt buckles, his knife, one of his many pocket watches—okay, those I had to keep. Harold kept pulling things out of drawers. A phone call to the optometrist settled the issue of Jim’s and my old eye glasses. Recycle.

Am I the only person that hides a few secret things in an underwear drawer? Harold tossed an old diary and a few of Jim’s letters from Vietnam that I managed to keep since 1969. I tossed them in the “keep” tote.

“What’s this,” he asked.

I looked up to see the yellow nightie I had taken to Hawaii when Jim and I married. Moment of truth. I couldn’t wear it anymore. It was old. I certainly wasn’t going to give it to Open Door for someone else to wear. “Hand it here,” I said. I threw it in the trash. And started crying.

So, in a few hours we cleaned out the dresser and chest of drawers. We hauled out several sacks of trash, but I still have to go through the bags of socks, underwear, pajamas, shirts, shorts, and odds and ends that would clothe a small nation.

It had been raining most of the day and as soon as the rain let up we loaded the Tahoe and started down the drive. I told Harold that I felt like I was throwing away part of my life. “You don’t have to throw away anything,” he said.

“Yes, I do.” I turned my head and looked out the window as we drove away. The tears came again.

It’s just too easy to accumulate and so hard to pare it down. I never wanted my kids to have to go through all my stuff when I’m gone. Yet, in reality, it would be much easier for them to decide what to throw away and what to keep. They wouldn’t have the emotional ties that I do and wouldn’t feel so much like they were throwing away a lifetime of memories.

copyright © August 2014 L. S. Fisher