LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE and, by the way, “GET STUFFED!”

LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE and, by the way, “GET STUFFED!”

The old saying goes: Laughter is the best medicine. In addition, sometimes the strangest things can help one make, or accept, important, even life-altering, decisions. So we found out a few weeks ago. As a result, a new expression has become significant in our lives.

“Get Stuffed!”

 

First a bit of back-story. I (Gayle) grew up in an American-English speaking environment. To me the term “get stuffed” meant that one was preparing to overeat. Only after moving to Canada in my forties did I learn that “get stuffed” is a British colloquialism meaning, in the politer sense, “go away” or “get lost” or, in the cruder sense, “piss off” or worse. I became aware of the term while enjoying the satirical rants of Scotsman Jock McBile of CBC TV’s Royal Air Farce fame. Jock McBile, one of the most beloved alter egos of the late comedian John Morgan, was a mutton-chopped, kilt-and-sporran-clad curmudgeon, leaning on a cromach and using a thick burr to sarcastically and comically comment on current political and cultural happenings. His frequent climax to any dismissal of the antics of those whose actions met his disapproval was to tell them to “get stuffed!” as he marched off stage, menacingly brandishing his cromach. After marrying my own feisty Scotsman some 14 years ago, there were times when I wondered if Jock McBile’s cousin had come to live with me!

 

Now, what in the world does that have to do with me making or accepting life-altering decisions? If you have followed my blog, you will know that I started it to publicize the writings of my Scottish-born husband Ian and the books that he and I have produced over the past years. Recently, progress on future publications has slowed as Ian’s health has deteriorated. I’m struggling to continue with editing future books since care giving is taking up most of my time. As things settle down a bit with the provincial palliative care that has recently begun, I’m looking forward to finding more time to get back to editing our next book, Came to Canada, Eh? Continuing a Scottish Immigrant’s Story and, hopefully, progressing to other of our unpublished writings. But first, let me relate our most recent adventure.

Ian had a check-up with his GP to assess if his breathing distress (that had increased after his inoperable rectal cancer diagnosis in September) was being helped by a month’s dosage of morphine and whether it was time to curtail some of the other medications he has taken for other serious long-term medical problems like heart disease, a history of small strokes, peripheral neuropathy, GERD, hypertension and dementia. As the cancer would eventually be terminal, did he need to keep on all the other medications to prevent serious complications from other diseases? In other words, has all the medication become overkill? Ian is content to leave these decisions to me. (A daunting task indeed.) However, I already have lost my late husband to early onset Alzheimer disease and multiple small strokes, so have a bit of perspective to aid me. At the moment I’d prefer Ian not have a stroke that could cause paralysis so I could no longer care for him at home with palliative care until or near the end (which we would both prefer). So we opted for him to stay on Warfarin to aid in preventing a stroke, even though it adds to the bleeding from the incurable rectal cancer.

Next it was time for the clinic’s nurse to administer an annual cognitive test to decide whether Ian should keep on the dementia-slowing drug that he has been on for the last three years. His memory continues to worsen but the regression has slowed on the medication – a luxury that my late husband didn’t have as the drug wasn’t yet on the market when he needed it. Our nurse started the familiar test and I could see that Ian’s awareness of time had deteriorated since last year – “What year is it?” (“Well, it’s later than 1932.” – Smart Aleck – that is his birth year!) “Do you know what month we are in?” – (“Spring?” – hardly!) He could follow sequential verbal directions to take a piece of paper, fold it and place it on the ground, but only remembered one of the three words he had been given and then later asked to recall. “Truck,” readily came to mind but he had no recollection of “velvet” and “church” which he had repeated multiple times just minutes before. He correctly answered a few questions involving numbers and did not do too poorly in copying two geometric figures on a second paper. Then came the last assignment: “Write down a sentence, please.” I smiled thinking of what Ian had written last year. “I love my wife.” This time he readily jotted down a two-word sentence, handing it to the nurse with a smirk. She let out a hoot when she read: “Get stuffed!” There was a twinkle in his eye, though, so we saw it as a touch of sarcastic humour and not a nasty protest at the process.

Ian’s score was only a point below last year’s so I thought he should keep on the drug rather than taking a chance of his memory and abilities getting worse at a faster rate, even though this could also add to his bleeding. The medical staff thought differently, though, and recommended a trial period of 10 days off the drug to see if its absence made a difference. Those 10 days did not go well, however, as Ian had a growing number of disturbing hallucinations and worsening memory. As I still had about a month’s worth of the medication on hand, I started him back on it and will be monitoring him before we see the doctor again to assess whether to continue it. After only a few days, I’m encouraged that the hallucinations have lessened, though I’m not sure about the memory.

 

As irascible as he gets at times, I’d like to keep my old sassy Scotsman around awhile longer if possible. I’ve also started to tell him to “get stuffed” a few times when he gets carried away. That usually brings a chuckle, followed by a cuddle, which helps to alleviate the grumbling. Here Ian is a few years ago, all decked out to sing at the Okanagan Military Tattoo when he was still able to walk with the help of a cane (instead of a cromach).

Ian summed up his “get stuffed” afternoon with: “If you have a choice, it’s better to laugh than to cry.” The day following his medical exams he was so exhausted after our outing that he hardly got out of bed. At least it gave me some time to do some creative writing and fuel another blog post.

As difficult as care giving is, I’m determined to help Ian in these last years (or months) to make life as positive as possible and try to keep myself healthy and productive at the same time. Thank God for palliative care that offers growing support, as it becomes needed, and for the love and concern of family and friends.

 

 

What encouragement old friends can bring, even those who live far away. A recent letter came from Friedemann, a dear friend from my days living in Germany in the 1960s and ‘70s. He had recently lost his wife, Maria (another beloved friend) to cancer and was writing to comfort me after hearing of Ian’s cancer diagnosis. His profound words bear repeating:

“I am really grateful to you for keeping in touch with me and now with the follow-up news on Ian’s health crisis which will no doubt continue to occupy you both. I was sorry to hear that surgery is no safe option for Ian and do hope and pray that he remains without pain and comfortable and that you can both continue to live your interesting lives together.

“I seem to detect a note of optimism in your account–but then you always had what is basically a positive attitude to life, and although I have never met Ian, from your letters I have the impression that he is a person who prefers to see the bright side of life, too–a very healthy attitude (that I sometimes wish I had more of). Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Maria and you always got along so well, way back in the Heidelberg days. You both might have had good reasons for complaint in your lives, but you always managed to see the silver lining: a result of being embedded in your faith?

“Anyway, I do hope you can both find something to look forward to and enjoy each day. I often think of the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’, i.e. give us today what we need just for today (and tomorrow we will ask again).

“A month or so before Maria died she wrote an article for a magazine in which she quoted a poem by a German cabaret artist, writer, author of children’s stories and actor who died in 2005, Hans Dieter Hüsch. The poem apparently appealed to her way of thinking–I imagine also to yours and Ian’s—(In German–which you presumably still read? ):

Psalm

Ich bin vergnügt, erlöst, befreit.

Gott nahm in seine Hände meine Zeit,
mein Fühlen, Denken, Hören, Sagen,
mein Triumphieren und Verzagen,
das Elend und die Zärtlichkeit.

Was macht, dass ich so fröhlich bin
im meinem kleinen Reich?
Ich sing und tanze her und hin
vom Kindbett bis zur Leich.

Was macht dass ich so furchtlos bin
an vielen dunklen Tagen?
Es kommt ein Geist in meinen Sinn,
will mich durchs Leben tragen.

Was macht, dass ich so unbeschwert
und mich kein Trübsinn hält?
Weil mich mein Gott das Lachen lehrt
wohl über alle Welt.

Hanns Dieter Hüsch

 

“In English (roughly!):

I’m cheerful, redeemed, set free.

God took my time in his hands,

my  feeling, thinking, hearing, speaking,

my triumphs and despondencies,

the anguish and the tenderness.

 

How come that I’m so cheerful

in my own small domain?

I sing and dance to and fro

from the cradle to the grave.

 

How come that I’m so fearless

on many gloomy days?

A spirit comes into my mind

that seeks to carry me through life.

 

How come I’m so light-hearted

and no gloom has hold on me?

Because God teaches me to laugh

at the whole world no doubt.

 

“So I hope God continues to give you both your daily bread and brighten your life for as long as God sees fit.

“Cheers and the very best of wishes.

(nicer in Latin: Pax et gaudium–et fortitudo = peace and joy–and strength!)”

And they didn’t live Happily ever after … An Alzheimer Story

Yesterday our community in Vernon, British Columbia, observed a Walk for Alzheimer Research and for those who are living with Alzheimer Disease and their families. The Ukeleles for Fun band for which I usually play percussion performed for the walkers as they rounded the arena track. I wasn’t able to participate this year as I had an important commitment at my church, but I was there in spirit. I also contribute regularly to the Alzheimer Society’s research campaign and have been doing so for many years. I urge everyone to consider regular donations of whatever they can afford to Alzheimer research. The main reason I am so committed to this worthy cause is that my late husband, Gus Johannesson, had early onset AD, was diagnosed at age 58 and died four years later. At the time of his diagnosis our children were 12 and 17 years’ old. Now my present husband, has been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and is getting some help from an Alzheimer drug that wasn’t available when Gus needed it back in 1992. It is not a cure, but can hold off many of the complications from AD for a length of time. I’m hoping and praying that a cure may be found in the near future. In remembrance of Gus, I am sharing a copy of the letter that Alzheimer Manitoba asked me to write for their 1994 campaign.

Gayle Moore-Morrans


 

Alzheimer   Manitoba     

Johannessons at Pishew Falls MB 1988

And they didn’t live Happily ever after . . .

November 7, 1994

Dear Friends,

This September my husband Gus turned sixty. We wanted to celebrate as many families do, but the plans for our party were a bit different. His 60th “Toast and Roast” became the retirement party he never had and an affirmation of what he has meant to his family and friends while he is still able to appreciate it.

On the day of festivities we presented him with a book of remembrances gathered from friends and relatives around the world. This book is a tribute to Gus’s life as well as a tool for memory as he copes with his illness.

Two years ago Gus was diagnosed with Alzheimer Disease. I can’t say that our lives immediately changed. The disease doesn’t change your life overnight, but has over a number of years changed every aspect of our lives. To date, the cause of AD is unknown, there is neither cure nor definite treatment; it is progressive and will eventually be terminal.

It is incredible the emotional upheaval we all have been through these past years. All four of us have had counselling and hope that it remains available whenever we need it. The family has found comfort, relief, professional information and fellowship in support groups for adult caregivers, a children’s support group, the early stage support group, numerous educational sessions, and from Alzheimer staff and volunteers.

The Alzheimer Society of Manitoba has been able to provide these services because of people like you. I am happy to have this opportunity to personally thank you and let you hear firsthand how meaningful your help is for my family and many others.

It took a long time to really recognize that something serious was happening as Gus has always been a bit of the “absent-mined professor” type and we just figured he was getting more-so with age. This is not the situation. A man admired for his keen mind, having studied at the doctoral level in systematic theology has now forgotten how to tie a tie or manage the simple task of handling a sandwich. In happier days Gus was a Lutheran pastor giving support and guidance to others. Today he is on the receiving end.

Alzheimer Disease attacks the whole family. We are all hurting, angry, frustrated, scared; dealing with a tremendous loss.

Your roles change. I have had to become in as many ways as possible mother and father to my children and husband, directing all my energies outside of the workplace to the family. The children and I have become caregivers, not easy for an adult, let alone a twelve-year-old and seventeen-year-old. A caregiver’s day is often referred to as the “36-hour day.” That is how we live, each and every day.

As is typical with early AD, symptoms come and go resulting in good and bad days. So far Gus’s skills that are totally gone are writing, public speaking, driving, anything mathematical, and many deductive reasoning processes.

We thank God for the good days, for the patience that we are learning, for on-going medical research, for the help offered by the Alzheimer Society and most of all, for the prayers, love, help and support of family and friends.

Our family includes you when we say “Friends.” You probably don’t know us personally, but as a supporter of the Alzheimer Society you help make each and every day a little bit brighter, a little bit easier.

Once again, thank you for making our lives happier. Please continue your needed support. It is your caring and generosity that makes the difference!

With our sincere appreciation,

Gayle Johannesson

P.S. The number of families coping with the devastating reality of Alzheimer Disease is expected to at least double in the next decade.

 

Dragonflies and The Great Blue Heron

One of my all-time favourite blogs from a writer friend. I hope others will enjoy it as much as I did. Please also read my comments to Jim at the end of his blog.

jamesosbornenovels

Judi'sPhoto

       Ten years ago, on April 22, 2004, Judi Osborne passed away leaving behind a legacy of selfless caring for others that brought hope and courage to thousands of women throughout her own too short life.  This story honors Judi’s memory, and the extraordinary example she set for all who knew and loved her during her personal life and in the 30 years she devoted to the YWCA locally and nationally.

       This is also a story of love lost and love found, and about the unexplained mysteries that connect both of these stories.

(Please see also the notes at the end)

Dragonflies and The Great Blue Heron

For more than a decade, Great Blue Herons had a special meaning for Jim and Judi.  During those years, Jim had no hint this special meaning would one day have a much deeper significance.

Jim and Judi enjoyed watching the graceful…

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BEQUEATHING OUR HEIRLOOMS – A BLENDED FAMILY’S SOLUTION AND AN AUTHOR’S SOLUTION

Heirloom bone 001

*Heirloom = (1) Any piece of property that goes to an heir as part of an estate; or

(2) Any treasured possession handed down from generation to generation.

             (* from New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition)

We hope to avoid any  haggling over the “heirloom bones” by our descendents after we have passed away. Just reading about what is going on now in South Africa over the literal bones of Mandela’s relatives and, probably, over Mandela’s eventual burial place gives us the creeps. That news has been timely as we’ve immersed ourselves in research and discussions about end-of-life decisions this past month. Being a blended family brings some unique considerations to the fore. Both of us were previously widowed after long first marriages and have now been married to each other for almost ten years. At 70 and 81 years of age, having both experienced some serious health crises in the last several years, we found that it was time to re-do our wills and also to complete Enduring Powers of Attorney (granting financial control to a trustee if we became incapable of handling our affairs) and Representative Agreements (the name for “living wills” or end-of-life directives in our province of British Columbia).

This brings up a special problem that many blended families face, especially those of us who had a second marriage later in life, have grown children (grandchildren and even great-grandchildren) from our previous marriages and have brought a significant amount of “items” into our joined household from our previous households.  What happens to those items we each brought into the marriage, especially those items that one would consider a family heirloom? Normally, if one spouse dies, everything remains with the surviving spouse. However, for us, we needed to consider what would happen to the “Morrans family items” for instance, if Ian should die and Gayle survive? Or what would happen to the “Johannesson family items” if Gayle should die and Ian survive? These items do not have a great financial value; however, we and our families attach a great deal of sentimental value to them. Our solution was to specify in our wills that when each of us dies, those items that were brought into our marriage from the previous marriage be given to our own children from that marriage at the time of our death and not be retained by the surviving spouse. We feel that can avoid potential problems for all parties in the future.

A second problem was what to do about copyrights that belong to an author of published or unpublished works when that author dies. Thirdly, because Gayle has specific religious concerns, she also wanted to completely plan out her funeral and we both wanted to leave specific instructions for disposal of our bodies. We will share our solutions to the blended family problem first.

When we married in September 2003, Ian had been retired for several years but Gayle was still working, not yet having reached retirement age. She continued to work until taking an early retirement in July 2004. We had sold Ian’s house just after our marriage and Ian had moved into Gayle’s house with some of his furniture and household items but had given a lot of such items to his family members who lived in the same town. We had bought a large motor home and planned to drive it to Mexico to see if we wanted to retire there permanently. Thus, we decided to sell most of the furniture and household items, retaining those most important to us which we put into storage, intending to have it sent to Mexico if we decided to stay there permanently. After a year we decided that we preferred to return to Canada but to another province where the weather was more desirable. It took another year and a half to get organized, put our Mexican house up for sale and finally sell it. Now, here we are in British Columbia with a house full of “his”, “hers” and “our” stuff. We wanted to be sure that the “his” and “hers” stuff would eventually be given to “his” or “her” appropriate family members.

Gayle worked for several long days going through everything and making two lists of the appropriate items. Then we worked together to designate how the items would be divided amongst our various family members.

This is the wording with which we began our list:

LIST OF ARTICLES AND BENEFICIARIES* – For Wills of Gayle & Ian Moore-Morrans
*This is an addendum to the Wills of Gayle Irene Moore-Morrans and Ian
Moore-Morrans. We are listing only those items that we wish to bequeath 
which we each brought into our marriage in September 2003 from the families
of Gayle Irene Moore Johannesson and Ian Morrans. Any items not listed here 
are to be considered Moore-Morrans estate residue. A list of family members 
to whom we wish to bequeath these items is on page X.

The following headings were listed at the top of each page:

ITEMS          FAMILY  ITEMS               BENEFICIARY         LOCATION
            Johannesson  Morrans

The following categories were used to list the items:

FURNITURE
CARPETS & FLOOR COVERS
HOUSEHOLD LINEN
CLOTHING & SHOES
DISHES, CHINA, FLATWARE, SERVING PIECES
JEWELRY/WATCHES
ARTWORK
HEIRLOOMS
COLLECTIONS (BOOKS, COINS, CDS, DVDS, ETC.)
TOOLS

At the end we listed the designated recipients of each family’s heritage item and their family relationship to us plus their date of birth:

Example:

Daughter of Gayle Moore-Morrans: Jane Ann Doe, neé Johannesson, DOB Jan 00, 1977

On another subject, that of choosing our trustees (for the wills) or attorneys (as our representative is listed for the Enduring Powers of Attorney) or “representative” (for the Representation Agreement), we decided to each list each other as first trustee/attorney/representative and then, if we were unable to act for the other as in the case of death or disability, to name Ian’s son-in-law for him and to name a local friend for Gayle as she has no direct relatives in Canada.

As a proper Lutheran Celebration of Life (funeral) is important to Gayle, she has also added as an addendum to her will complete instructions for such a service plus a service of committal and disposal of her body.

Ian has left the choice of funeral or memorial service and disposal of his body to Gayle, if she survives him, and to one of his daughters should Gayle not survive him.

We both have included in our wills instructions that our bodies be cremated and have designated appropriate urns to be used from Gayle’s vase collection.

As Ian has published a number of works and written a number of others which he hopes to publish, his will designates that all copyrights, including moral rights, to all his published and unpublished works as defined in the Copyright Act, RSC 1985, c D-42, be transferred to Gayle or, if she does not survive him for 30 days, then to his daughters in equal shares or to their children if one or both of his daughters do not survive him. A list of his published and unpublished works is added as an addendum to his will.

We want also to point out a particular blogger who has two very informative sites about end-of-life topics which we have found valuable. Julie Hall’s two sites are:

http://www.estatelady.wordpress.com The Estate Lady Speaks: Compassionate Advice for Dealing with a Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff

http://www.alzheimercaregiver.wordpress.com In the Trenches: The Alzheimer’s Support Blog for Caregivers