Wednesday, 20 May 2020
In my family, a conspiracy of silence existed when it came to me. A basic "don't tell Ann anything" policy. I think the motivation came from an urge to protect, but it left gaps in my knowledge until adulthood.
When I came home from school that day at nine and saw my mom and my aunt whispering with solemn looks on their faces, I assumed I wasn't to know about whatever event had occurred. This time, though, the whole world knew so I couldn't be kept in the dark.
President Kennedy had been killed.
As a kid, I didn't understand all the implications for Canada and the world, but I understood the serious, almost frightened looks on the faces of the adults in my life. All these years later, I remember the looks on their faces and how it shook me.
Fast forward many years. I'm at work and go into the nurse's station one morning to grab a chart. The director of care is standing in the middle of the room, staring at a small TV sitting on a filing cabinet. The incredulous look on her face drew my eyes to the screen. Time stopped as I watched a plane fly directly into the World Trade Centre.
This pandemic didn't start with a catastrophic event. It hit my radar, but only slightly and not as a world event. The day the prime minister extended March Break by two weeks I experienced a "pins and needles" moment. My life began to change. In the next several days, isolation, disinfectant and zoom became significant in new ways. Life changed, and I'm increasingly feeling like it will never be the same again.
Now I see that I have the opportunity to write history. As the days after President Kennedy's assassination and 9/11, people will look back on this time in history. Those who lived through it will tell those who come behind what it felt like and how it affected them.
I am "those who lived through it." So are you.
What are you learning? How is it changing you? How are you writing the history of this time?
Here's my take on it:
My attitude has a huge influence on me and my world.
Many parts of this feel wrenchingly painful. They infuriate me. Scare me. Make me reach for the box of tissues. I can write angry posts on Facebook, or reply to others, all in caps, screaming. I'm a writer. I can use sarcasm, wit and snide comments to get my point across. Or, I can sit and cry because this really sucks. Or, I can allow fear to raise my blood pressure as I worry about those I love. I have choices.
I've had my moments of anger and fear and there have certainly been tears. But I choose to write my history in a different way.
In a world where you can be anything, be kind. I love this saying. Kindness touches me and inspires me to pass it on. A smile. A phone call. Kind words in a Facebook post. Remembering a birthday or other significant date. A note in the mail. A little gift. Kindness says, "I thought about you. You are important."
Haven't people been digging deep to find new ways to get together and celebrate? Each time I read about an inventive birthday celebration or a get-together that remained safe, I want to stand up and cheer.
In the game of life, extra points to the family who put together a video for Mom's birthday, the wife who arranged an amazingly creative retirement for her husband (still secret, sorry!) or the family who came together to honour a grandpa who passed away, but did it safely. Don't throw up your hands, use them to be creative.
It's hard to give when you live on a fixed income or your income has almost disappeared or you don't know when the next paycheque will arrive. But even a small amount of giving adds up, and more importantly is what it does for me. When I give, I feel amazing. I reached outside of myself and my pain and helped another, even if it was just a jar of peanut butter for the food bank. Giving opens my eyes to the wider world and makes me part of something important.
I'm all about the small miracles. My regular readers know that. But our sight can be obliterated by fear and tears and pain. I get so I can only see the dark cloud above my head. It takes discipline to reach beyond that and see the small miracles. But they are there. Everywhere,
Are you crazy, woman? What the heck is there to laugh about? Actually, lots, if you are looking.
My sweet, adorable dog has a few nasty habits. He adores toilet paper and also long grass, and will eat it whenever he has a chance. Several hours later, he vomits it up with whatever kibble happens to be in his stomach at the moment. It's gross! So we have ongoing battles. He tries to eat those two items and I try to prevent it. A few nights ago I was brushing my teeth before bed when I heard an odd noise. I turned around to see the toilet paper unrolled across the bathroom floor and on the bed. Teddy was snacking as quickly as he could. "Teddy!" I yelled in my sternest voice. He sat up and gave me a "What is your problem?" look that had me in stitches. So much for discipline.
Choose to laugh.
In your world, your sphere of influence, you are writing your history of this pandemic and your response to it.
What are you writing?
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Did You Know You Have the Opportunity to Write History?
Thursday, 14 May 2020
|The best of times; the worst of times|
A normal person or family, lived their normal life at the beginning of the show. You sat on the edge of your seat because you knew within a few minutes something distinctly weird would happen. Part of you tuned into the show for the "distinctly weird" aspect, but a small part wished normal could continue and those lovely people wouldn't have their lives messed up.
Have you noticed another dichotomy in our lives? On the one hand, the world is horrible, more scary and dangerous than I can ever remember. People are getting sick and dying and it's ready to attack me as soon as I go outside my door. On the other hand...
|New life bursting forth|
Outside my door, winter is over (in spite of the fact that it snowed two days ago) and spring is emerging with aching beauty.
News Flash: You CAN go outside your door. Stay socially distant, but walking outside has kept me sane throughout the pandemic. Through cold and snow, rain, wind, beautiful sun and now spring, I walked. Thirty minutes a day. I see people, we smile as we pass at a safe distance. The world has emerged from its sleep and it's beautiful.
|Almost missed this small miracle|
Going nuts? Eating too much? Licking the window as you stare into the world? Come for a walk with me. Find your sanity.
|Incredibly tiny and delicate|
* I need to insert here: I hate exercise. In all forms. I love my couch, my laptop and a good book. So if you have excuses, I have more. But I also have arthritis. Severe. I need to walk. And after almost 5 months of doing so, I will confess...ahem...I miss it if I don't.
I can't believe I said that.
If you are a care partner caring for an elder at home, bundle them in a wheelchair and get out the door. The effort will seem beyond crazy. It isn't. If you are a parent of little ones, stuff cotton in your ears to reduce the effects of whining and zip up those coats. If you have teens, they may need bribery. Bring chocolate. And maybe a friend to socially distant walk with. If you are on your own like me, give yourself a stern talking to. "Do you really want to be unable to walk? Have a stroke? Not be independent?" I have these conversations every day as I boot myself out the door.
|This bird wasn't early but got his worm!|
Put your senses on high alert. What do you see? God has been waking the world while you hid inside.
- Look-Not just the big picture, but the tiny miracles all around. I walked past that robin's egg (above) and stepped back to get the picture. Those minuscule blue flowers are easy to step on. But if you get close, they're lovely. What secrets have you been missing?
- Hear-I walk with the earphones on sometimes. But there's a time to listen to the world around you. The birds are speaking to you.
Beauty on a rainy day
- Smell-I wish I could do "scratch and sniff." Pine trees, cedar, the world after a rainstorm...
- Taste-The rain on your face. Wait, you stayed in because it was raining? No! A gentle rain is refreshing. (I repeat. I can't believe I just said that.)
- Feel-The craggy bark of an ancient tree, the new grass, petals on plants, teenie-tiny leaves.
My title isn't click-bait. Walking truly has kept me sane throughout days and days and days of being alone.
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Wednesday, 6 May 2020
All winter I watched it.
The log on the side of the pathway had split from the freeze-thaw-freeze of our Canadian winters. Scarcely a centimetre wide, the split travelled the length of the log, and it looked like someone had stuck a twig in the crevice. Strangely drawn to the skinny, fragile twig, I checked it out each day as I trudged by. Would it wither? Would the strong winds blow it over? Would I come one day and find it gone?
Today I walked by to see it changed. Today, buds erupted from its scraggly frame. It wasn't an errant twig stuck in a crevice after all, but a shoot which pushed from the forest floor, through at least a foot of wood, seeking the sunlight. It wasn't the fragile twig I'd imagined. Strong and brave, it was a tree, growing in spite of incredible odds.
I began to think of all the people that a few months ago we didn't see as the heroes they are. Perhaps we didn't think of them as broken twigs, but we didn't realize they were trees, either.
This is for them. For us.
Here's to the front line workers who went into work every day, knowing you were facing a deadly virus but went anyway because people needed their care. Here's to the ones who got sick in spite of all the precautions. Here's to the ones who died. We can't even express how sorry we are.
Here's to the first responders who are often thought of as strong, but had an extra layer of danger added to their roster with the possibility of catching Covid-19.
Here's to the men and women who served the meals, cleaned, washed the laundry and all the other hidden jobs at our long term care homes and hospitals. The spectre haunted you each day, too.
Here's to those working in grocery stores, drug stores, driving trucks which deliver goods and all the other essential services, who kept working when a normal workday was far from normal.
Here's to those who lived in fear and pain because your surgery was cancelled.
Here's to teachers who figured out how to teach courses online which were developed for classrooms.
Here's to parents who struggled with grade seven math when they thought they'd left it behind years ago.
Here's to graduates who didn't get a prom, a graduation ceremony or a proper good-bye.
And, because Mother's Day is just around the corner, here's to mothers who love their kids intensely but would love a break from them. Or moms who haven't gone home in weeks because they're afraid to take the virus home to their children. Or moms and grandmas whose arms are aching to give their kids and grandchildren a hug.
Any list like this is bound to leave someone out. Let me say this:
Here's to all of us. We aren't fragile twigs.
We are trees, pushing through incredible odds, standing tall and then...blooming.
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The Miracle of Trees and Heroes
The Miracle of Trees and Heroes
Wednesday, 22 April 2020
Are you going nuts yet?
This question could probably legitimately be asked of every person on the planet. All of our emotions swerve over this rollercoaster of life each day. We are hopeful, then angry, frightened then grieving, sick and then improving--or not. We've gone beyond hoarding and wondering when this will be over to speculating if it ever will. Could some version of this incredibly abnormal, be our new normal? Shudder.
None of this is more true than for the care partner caring for an elder in their home. Check out this equation:
Care partner + elder (with or without dementia)
minus all supports (no respite care, day program, family help--nothing)
+ no idea when it will end
+ horrific news items every minute
I don't have answers, but here are a few ideas which might bring the stress down a notch for a few minutes. Anything that helps is a plus in the equation.
The other day I cut the end off a celery stalk and stuck it in the green recycle. For some reason, I pulled it out a few minutes later and sat it in water in a small bowl. Look at it a week later!
The calming effects of colouring have been known for centuries, but it's more recent that adults have realized it helps them cope with stress.
Another idea: I discovered an app called Happy Color for free in the app store. At first, I was ashamed to waste my time with this, but I now see it as a stress reliever. Here's how it works: You pick a picture from their huge library. I prefer flowers and butterflies, but they have every style imaginable.
Remember all those people before the pandemic who said, "Let me know if I can help." Let them know. Now. They can't come over but download zoom.us at the app store and learn how to set up a meeting. You get 40 minutes free per visit. Family visits, friends, grandchildren--all are possible. You can also use Skype, but if you graduate to groups of people, Zoom is easier. Make use of this technology to get and stay connected with those you love. Even if your elder is non-verbal or says little, being there for a chat will benefit them.
I feel like I just said something incredibly inappropriate, but hear me out. The other day a friend of mine and I had a QuaranTea party. A warm day is a must, but I promise you those are coming. She brought a lawn chair and a thermos of tea and sat on my driveway. I had my cup of tea and my puppy and sat on the porch. We visited and it felt delightful. A real person. Ask the grandchildren to come to the end of the lawn and sing, or an old friend to walk by. We humans were built for connection and now more than ever we need to find ways to reach each other.
Get and Give
We all need a sense of purpose and for this time of isolation, it's incredibly important. How can you and your elder help others in this time of need? Food banks are crying for donations. Make a list together and add several items you can donate. If you shop online, work together to choose the grocery items.
Another idea to encourage is painting rocks. Choose flat, rounded rocks and have your elder paint them in solid colours. When they are dry, add words of encouragement with a black sharpie. "Keep the Faith" "Better Days Are Ahead" "You Can Do This!" You may need to do the printing. Then go for a walk and have the fun of leaving these rocks in strategic places.
Connection and encouragement are lifelines. You need them. So do others.
Look for ways to spread hope today.
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My 5 Surprising Suggestions for Surviving the Pandemic
Wednesday, 15 April 2020
It began "over there." My mental picture of China is busy markets and crowds of people. Most of them wearing masks. But I know people living in China, so I prayed for them and their safety.
I lived my life while the storm rumbled in the background.
At church, they cautioned us not to hug and did this funny bump thing. I hugged anyway.
Then one day, they shut the schools for three weeks.
I remember the waves of shock that washed over me. Inside the dark recesses of my smug mind, in places no one else goes, I thought, "But I didn't think we were bad here." I read the Prime Minister's statement and discovered words like isolation and social distancing.
I get it. Precautionary. Okay.
We were told if we stayed away from each other, washed our hands, stayed in if we were sick, self-isolated if we'd been anywhere and stayed inside, we'd flatten the curve. Well, of course. We want that.
Then the church building closed. Everything happened online.
And craziness began.
People bought insanely and hoarded and made jokes about toilet paper and cleared the shelves in stores while wearing masks and wiping down their carts with disinfectant wipes. Which you couldn't buy any more because people were hoarding them...
Grocery stores reserved the time from 7:00 am to 8:00 am for "their most vulnerable customers." More shockwaves as I realized they were talking about me. Grocery shopping took half a day as I disinfected and washed each article before putting it away. I approached the whole experience with a sense of dread as if entering a dangerous, germ-filled cesspool. The shelves remain half-full.
Back inside my mind, which was no longer smug, I complained.
- the stores were out of soap and so was I. Finally had to order from Amazon.
- I hadn't adjusted to retirement, which I found lonely, but I had no idea! I discovered new levels of lonely. Even for a confirmed introvert, this remained over the top.
- I had a new grandchild I couldn't cuddle. Hopefully, I'll see her before Kindergarten.
- Another new grandchild to be born in a few weeks and the medical community seems vague about the plans. Scary.
- I'm watching the clock a lot. Is it only 2 pm? How can it only be 2 pm?
I could go on describing my muttering diatribe, but you get the point. I, like a lot of others, AM NOT HAPPY!
When 2019 turned into 2020, many people were choosing their word for the year. Given my state of transition in life, I didn't participate.
Now I know my word.
Thankful for health in the midst of so much sickness. Thankful for the safe arrival of baby Lilly, even though hospitals are dangerous places. Thankful that all my family and friends are okay. Thankful that, although I was pulled kicking and screaming (figuratively) into retirement, God knew. I couldn't have handled this. Thankful that I can fulfil my purpose and pray each day for those at work who are struggling. Thankful for technology which has made this bearable. Thankful for amazing, awesome answered prayer.
There are days I'm still tempted to enter my crabby, grumbling mind and sit muttering for a while. But I can make a choice, and I choose thankful.
What about you, my friend?
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Thursday, 9 April 2020
From the day he moved in, everyone knew three things about Harry. He loved plants, he had a killer smile, and he never went anywhere without his harmonica. Dementia had stolen his huge repertoire but he still retained six or seven songs he played from memory. While passing in the hall you would hear them drifting from his room, or he would draw a crowd in the lounge and spontaneously entertain. Folks sang along and didn't mind the repeats.
As his dementia progressed, he could no longer walk, forgot his plants and didn't smile as often. His smile returned, however, whenever he enjoyed music therapy with Kathleen. She encouraged and sang with him and cajoled him to play. When he did, she made it seem like he led the group and he beamed.
As time passed it became obvious that Harry neared the end of his journey. He barely spoke and the physical aspects of the disease made every day a struggle. When Kathleen offered him the harmonica, I turned away. Not this time. Never again. His fingers fumbled and she helped him hold it to his lips. Then, a miracle.
The song drifted. "You are my sunshine..." Just a few bars, but enough to leave us all in tears.
Why Music Therapy?
Kathleen Power was drawn to music therapy in university while researching music-related programs. Over the years of practising her skills, she continually marvels at the interchange between music and psychology. Music--the universal language.
In music therapy, credentialed professionals (Music Therapist Accredited) use music purposefully to support development, health and well-being. Music also reaches people on other levels and can meet their emotional, physical, social and spiritual needs. MTAs tailor programs with two types of interventions: active and receptive.
Active therapy involves both the client and music therapist creating music with instruments, their voices etc. In receptive therapy the music therapist plays music while the client listens and completes other tasks, depending on their goals. This improves the health and quality of life for clients of all ages and abilities.
So Many Benefits!
- decrease agitation
- pain management
- facilitate rehabilitation
- "provide psychosocial support, increasing mental health" 1
Everyone. Picture a room with a group of elderly residents sitting in a loose circle, belting out a song from their era. A care partner passes and begins to dance in the middle of the circle. A sleeping resident wakes, smiles and taps her toe. A family member drops by because she bookmarked the time, knowing her mother loves singing together.
Music and Dementia
Dementia stole so much from Vivian in her later years. She could no longer walk or speak, but her smile during church services indicated her deep faith remained intact. Her eyes shone through the singing of hymns and often a tear escaped during prayer. But nothing prepared us for the day she sang. After literally years of silence, Vivian's wavering alto sang, "Jesus loves me, this I know..."
Kimmo Lehtonen, PhD, professor of education at the University of Turku (Finland) and a clinical music therapist for more than 25 years says, "Although music therapy is used for people of all ages, it is especially beneficial for older persons with dementia who may be unable to communicate in any other way. Music can function, for instance, as an interpreter of the (patient's) world picture without the problem essentially connected with verbal interaction." 2
Watch as Henry comes to life, not only with the music but after as well.
"Since dementia is a degenerative condition, expressing basic needs and being understood can become problematic and lead to a complicated feeling of isolation for sufferers. Using songs in a therapy setting promotes communication."
David Aldridge, editor of Music Therapy in Dementia Care
The Music in George
George Gershwin, a prolific songwriter, died too young. In his last year of life, he exhibited a decline in motor skills. Unbeknownst to him, he suffered from a temporal right hemisphere cerebral tumour. Despite a decline in many of his functions, his musical abilities remained intact almost to the end of his life.
"George Gershwin lived a life that is testimony to the power of music. Part of the reason that his physicians and friends missed the diagnosis is that he continues to compose great music right up until the final weeks of his life. The gorgeous final song that George and Ira wrote together carries the bittersweet title Our Love is Here to Stay."3
Music Makes a Difference
Kathleen says, "I see examples of this power of music almost every day when I work. It might be something like a 98-year-old resident asking when her mother will arrive, and in the next sentence joining me from memory singing the lyrics of a meaningful song. It might be working with a resident with a rich musical past who 'forgets" they can play an instrument but with the right approach their hands find the notes and they remember. It might be using music to reminisce, distract, soothe and most of all, connect."
Music Until the End
Hearing is the last of our abilities to leave us as we die and music can be a powerful and comforting element to palliative care. Often the family will request familiar music be played when they can't be there. My most poignant memory is of Valerie, who lived with us for many years. Her signature song was, You are my Sunshine, and she grinned when we nicknamed her "Sunshine." As she lay unresponsive in her last days, a care partner went into her room, took her hand and sang into her ear, "You are my sunshine..."
Music reaches us. Beyond dementia, pain, emotional turmoil and the finality of death, music reaches into our souls. Today, make use of this marvellous, many-faceted resource. Pick up your harmonica, tap the piano keys, sing with abandon.
Turn up the music!
 Music Therapists, key to your health. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.musictherapy.ca/
2 Schaeffer, J. (n.d.). Music Therapy in Dementia Treatment — Recollection Through Sound. Retrieved April 3, 2020, from https://www.todaysgeriatricmedicine.com/news/story1.shtml
3 Kogan, R. (2016). THE BERT AND PEGGY DUPONT LECTURE MUSIC AND MEDICINE: GEORGE GERSHWIN. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5216494/
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Thursday, 19 March 2020
The world grinds to a standstill. Roads remain empty, transit systems echo, churches provide online services only. Stores which are still open display hand sanitizers at every corner and mask-wearing customers lurk and disappear. Our present reality. Confined to quarters, staying home, forcing this virus to die the death of having no host. Isolated, we wonder how to entertain ourselves at home.
The everyday reality for many elders.
A 'digital divide" exists between younger and older generations. Seniors 65-75 often use technology at the same rate as their younger counterparts. However many over 75 currently don't use computers or access the internet at all. This great resource holds many treasures for them.
We think of wheelchairs and walkers as assistive devices. But computers have been shown to improve an individual's social skills and increase levels of self-determination. There's nothing like the feeling of success on a device. Smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers can all make the connection, but portable is often helpful.
Computer technology connects seniors socially, provides a sense of safety and makes everyday tasks more convenient.
Imagine the look of wonder on an elder's face as they connect with an out-of-town grandson via Skype.
Computer technology creates opportunities for elders to link with family and friends everywhere in the world. Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp and FaceTime allow for sharing text, video calling, photos and videos. A tablet with pictures of a great-grandchild's first birthday replaces photo albums.
Safety At Home
Feeling safe and secure at home matters at any age but it is never more key than for elders. Technology can provide them with a sense of security. Light timers, voice-activated light systems in stairways, personal medical alarm systems and voice-activated phone dialling can all provide elders at home with a sense of safety.
Accessing the Community
Amazon, grocery delivery services and movie streaming like Netflix can make daily living more convenient and less isolated, bringing access to the global community. Grandma may order her groceries online, but when Great Grandma does, the younger generation is impressed. Having choice and the ability to select products from home can bring a sense of purpose and independence.
How Care Partners Can Help
None of this matters if elders can't figure out how to use the devices. Care partners are essential to the process. Adjustment to suit individual needs and promote easier access is possible. Change the size of text and the colour contrast.
Simple, clear, easy-to-read instructions can be created by care partners to guide individuals who may be living with dementia and require cueing. Care partners can provide elders with verbal and written instructions and a demonstration to ensure the successful use of technology. In some cases, many times over!
Has this week given you a tiny taste of the isolation of social distancing? Take that information and add technology to an elder's life.
Once we can all come outside again!
Leigh Coutu is the Resource Coordinator for the Courtyard at Christie Gardens. Thank you, Leigh, for this great information.