How do you celebrate Mother’s Day or Father’s Day when your parents are no longer living? As the day approaches, I think of my parents and look for ways to keep remembrances blooming. During the years, I’ve explored ways to feel close with my mother, father, and other loved ones who have passed on. Here are four of the actions that keep me connected.
Dress to Connect
When I feel lonely for Mom, I like to put on her black blouse emblazoned with silver sequins. When Mom wore this blouse, it signified she was going someplace elegant. She accompanied it with a long black skirt and high heels. When I put on my ordinary black slacks and black tennis shoes, I imagine my mother shaking her head. “Don’t you have any better shoes, dear?” My mother prods me from beyond the grave, intoning, “A little lipstick would be nice.” Here’s the lovely part of our post-death ritual: instead of bristling at her grooming suggestions, I see how she wished the best for me and fondly remember her love of dressing up.
Feed your Memories
I still love to eat and share my parents’ favorite foods. My brother, who has untold culinary abilities, has mastered Mom’s butterscotch brownies and he has improved on her chocolate chip cookie recipe. He often bakes those for family gatherings and sometimes even mails me a box of nostalgic homemade treats. As for my dad, he particularly liked Planter’s Deluxe Nut Mix. He adored the cashews, but he didn’t want to spend the money to upgrade to all cashews. He preferred to pick out the deliciously rare morsels, leaving behind a plethora of peanuts, almonds, and hazelnuts. In his honor, I often buy a can of mixed nuts. Did you know that memorial cashews have no calories?
Tell their Stories
We all have heirloom family stories that anchor us in our history. My father liked to talk about his growing up days in the Canal Zone, in Colon, Panama. My mother favored her time serving as an Army nurse in Iceland during World War II. These were the stories of my growing up years and I think of them every time someone talks about Iceland, Panama, the Canal, or WWII. I have written some of them down so I won’t forget them. When I tell one of my parents’ stories, I feel they are in the room, leaning forward, smiling, and listening with delight. I like to share these tales at family gatherings and I like to tell them to friends. I also like to invite other people’s legendary stories.
Continue the Conversation
Sometimes I go on a solitary walk and talk to my mother. She loved birds and I point out the robins, cardinals, and sparrows on the route. I also tell her about my grandchildren, my work, and I discuss any dilemmas I’m struggling with. My father loved being in the water and I often commune with Dad when I’m swimming backstroke. I tell him entertaining things that are going on and talk to him about my dreams and big ideas. My parents are still good listeners and I picture them nodding proudly and cheering me on.
A version of this article originally appeared on MariaShriver.com
Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.
No one said, “Hush,” during the excitement of the paper airplane-flying competition in the Plaza Library. No one put a warning finger to his lips during the spontaneous conversations about favorite childhood foods. And laughing and clapping were encouraged during the two short films and two clips that anchored the Feb 11th Movies and Memory event, an invitation to connect through movies and memories.
Most of the audience that poured into the Truman Forum that Saturday afternoon could not resist the alluring aroma of the freshly popping corn and stopped to get their free fix. They settled into the comfortable seats and sang along as music therapist and performer Rachelle Norman invited audience members to croon old favorites such as Blue Suede Shoes and Tennessee Waltz. Then they enjoyed two Oscar-nominated shorts, Paper Man and The Feast.
Everyone stood and walked through a waltz, guided by a ballroom dance instructor, after a romantic clip from Cinderella’s ballroom scene. After the final rousing cinematic scene, Marian the Librarian from The Music Man, everyone smiled as volunteers handed out cozy heart-shaped boxes of Russell Stover’s chocolates and shining red carnations.
“What a great way to end the week,” one of the caregivers said.
Later, Michelle Niedens, Education Director at the Heart of America Chapter of Alzheimer’s Association, said, “I don’t know whether we have more fun planning these events or participating in the events.” All of us on the planning team agreed. This partnership with the Kansas City Public Library, the Alzheimer’s Association, the Kansas City FilmFest, and The Creativity Connectiong (me and Ron) is filling us all with hope and joy. Our quest to create a dementia and family friendly film series is happening and we are delighted. It’s free of charge, offering families a lovely way to have an uplifiting and interesting experience together.
Don’t miss our next event on April 9th, 1:30 at the Plaza Library. We are thrilled to be part of the Kansas City FilmFest. and we are planning some lovely surprises for our attendees.
For additional information visit: www.kclibrary.org/signature-events/movies-and-memories-annie
For three weeks, a small pile of books huddled on the floor of my bedroom, next to the bureau. Every time I saw those books, I thought, “I should put them away.” But I walked past them, too busy. Until I read Amy Newmark’s new book, Simply Happy. One of her tips challenged me. “What can you do in one minute?” I took the “One-Minute Tips to Boost Your Happiness” challenge. I swooped into the bedroom, scooped up the tomes, and put them in the bookcase. Then I looked at the blank carpet and smiled. That quick action filled me with joy.
Amy Newmark left her high-powered career as a Wall Street analyst to take over the Chicken Soup series. After years of immersing herself in true stories of miracles, lessons learned, and hopes fulfilled, she wrote her own book, Simply Happy. I was so inspired by Amy’s insights, I asked her to offer a few ideas for busy care partners. Here are some of her “One-Minute Tips to Boost Your Happiness.”
Amy’s Insights for Care Partners
Counting Blessings Adds Up to Happiness
“The gateway to happiness is counting your blessings,” Amy says. “If you’re not grateful for what is in your life, how can you be happy?”
Scientific studies have proven that people who are actively grateful are happier, healthier, and more productive. Plus, they get along better with family members, colleagues, and others.
“You can easily learn gratitude,” Amy says.
To start, each day jot down three things for which you’re grateful. Strive for three different ideas each day. At the end of the month, you’ll have documented nearly a hundred blessings.
“Writing and speaking your gratefulness changes your perception,” Amy says. “You start looking for good things during the day. You can share your blessings with your partner and encourage him to consider his own.”
Some people drop the blessings into a box, and then read them at the end of the day or the end of the month.
Smiling Serves You
Smile even when you don’t feel like it. Often, when you smile, people smile back. This boosts everyone’s spirits and energy. If they don’t give you a grin, it doesn’t hurt you.
“Your smile will change the way people react to you,” Amy says.
Zipping from Zero to 60 Brings Joy
Set a timer for 60 seconds and zip through a task you’ve been putting off. File the insurance policy that sprawls across the dining room table. Unload the dishwasher. Take your vitamins.
“Doing even one of those tasks every day will lighten your spirits,” Amy says.
Dropping Perfection and Embracing Your Own Abilities
Abandon your pursuit of perfection and strive for your own version of excellence.
“When you try to be perfect, you can’t get a lot done,” Amy says. “For most of us, it’s better to do five things at 90 percent than one thing at 100 percent.”
I love Amy’s final piece of wisdom:
“Treat yourself nicely,” she says. “Use the fragrant soap you save for guests. Indulge in a rich bit of good chocolate or a fresh crisp apple. Put the good sheets you save for company on your own bed.
Give yourself a tiny pleasure every day.”
For more happiness boosts, read Simply Happy.
Extra tip from Deborah: If you like to write, consider submitting one of your own life stories to a Chicken Soup book. I’ve shared my stories in dozens of their books and it’s such a meaningful experience. Go to www.chickensoup.com, scroll down to the bottom, and click on “Submit Your Story” to learn how.
Ron and I were already champions of Dan Cohen’s world-changing Music & Memory program, which is featured in Connecting in the Land of Dementia, but we had never met Dan in person. The moment we learned we were going to New York City, we reached out to Dan and he agreed to meet with us.
Dan is a prime example of one collaborative person making a difference for thousands. Eighteen states have already funded Music & Memory rollouts as a best practice approach for care facilities to improve quality of life for persons with dementia. In Toronto, everyone who is diagnosed with dementia receives a free iPod so they can enjoy personalized music. Dan and his team have trained 5000 dementia care managers, who understand how effective this program is. He is currently collaborating with hospitals, hospice, and prisons, as well as long term care communities.
Here is some of the wisdom he shared with us.
“We all need to create our personal play lists now,” Dan says. “Music makes any healthcare encounter better. Whether you’re waiting in the doctor’s office, going into the hospital, attending rehab, or moving into a care community, you’ll have a more comfortable experience when you are able to listen to favorite songs.”
Our friends Elizabeth and Charlie Miller are a constant source of inspiration. Here is one of the many ways they embrace life.
Elizabeth and Charlie knew they had to instantly work on their travel bucket list. When they met and fell in love, Charlie had been living with dementia for four years. He had not traveled much, but he wanted to see the world with Elizabeth. He asked a friend to help him plan a romantic trip to San Francisco, where he proposed to her.
After she said, “Yes,” they combined their love of beaches and nature and began adventuring, going on driving trips, taking cruises, and sharing a multitude of experiences. When flying grew too complicated and stressful for Charlie, they focused on local day trips or short driving trips.
“I used to have to travel alone,” Elizabeth says. “Now, I travel with Charlie. He enjoys the trip in-the-moment. How wonderful to have all these shared experiences. Plus, it’s renewing to be outside of our routine.”
Elizabeth stopped to think. “Hawaii,” she said.
“Hawaii,” Charlie said, his eyes bright. “Wasn’t that the best cruise ever?”
Elizabeth smiled and felt a deep sense of happiness and connection. “You are right. It was the best cruise ever.”
To make every trip “the best” here are a few flying travel tips from Elizabeth:
- Try for a non-stop flight at a time best for the person living with dementia.
- Call TSA in advance and arrange for assistance in getting through screening.
- Ask for a Pre-boarding pass to minimize the stress in boarding.
- Get a business-type card that says, “Thank you for your patience with my companion. He is living with dementia.” Share this information, as needed.
- Carry a travel packet that includes a letter from an MD, stating that your companion has dementia, and a medical power of attorney. Include doctors’ names and contact information as well as emergency contact information.
- Carry a bag of essentials: water, snacks, medications, a change of clothing, and activities.
- Be flexible, in the flow, and have fun!
As the daughter of someone who lived with dementia, I do a lot of things to promote my brain health. I try to walk 10,000 steps a day, along with other exercise. I eat blueberries and broccoli. I work on crossword puzzles, occasionally flirt with a new language, try new things, and sing. But a recent study revealed that I was doing something else that was cheering on my brain, something I hadn’t even counted….
Yes, eating dark chocolate. I am in love with this Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS), of 968 people that asserts:
All cognitive scores were significantly higher in those who consumed chocolate at least once per week, than in those who never/rarely consumed chocolate.
“More frequent chocolate consumption was significantly associated with better performance on the Global Composite score, Visual-Spatial Memory and Organization, Working Memory, Scanning and Tracking, Abstract Reasoning, and the Mini-Mental State Examination,” said the research team, which included scientists from the University of Maine.
More Delicious News
And another study from Loma Linda University states:
“Dark chocolate, which is 70 percent cacao, is a major source of flavonoids– powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory components that are known to be beneficial to cardiovascular health. The California team’s initial studies at Loma Linda University have shown that absorbed cacao flavonoids penetrate and accumulate in regions of the brain associated with learning and memory.
“We are tremendously excited about what these findings could potentially mean for brain health,” said Lee Berk, DrPH, MPH, who led the team. “This may open the door for potential restorative uses for individuals with memory/recall or dementia and aging-related issues.”
Never Forget To Boost Your Brain
I now have a remedy for those days when I’m too tired to exercise, too busy for a crossword, too cranky for a brain game. Or for when I forget. On those days, I’ll simply treat myself to a taste of the dark side. And hope it leads me towards the light.
Want to learn more?
When you laugh, you change, and when you change, the whole world changes. Dr. Madan Kataria, M.D., Founder, Laughter Yoga Movement
Have you ever found yourself surrounded by brilliant, compassionate, and creative people? For months, I interviewed more than 60 such luminaries, all of whom contributed to my new book, Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together. The book features easy, meaningful, and fun activities for people living with dementia and their care partners.
Dr Madan Kataria, founder of the globally acclaimed Laughter Yoga movement, taught me how important and easy it is to consciously add laughter into the day.
“Do you know the Ha Ha chorus?” he asked, during our Skype session.
I had to answer, “No.”
He began singing, “Ha ha ha ha ha ha,” to the tune of Happy Birthday to You. I was instantly laughing, as was he.
Carmela Carlyle, who is a Dementia Care Specialist, Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher, and the creator of the training DVD, Laughter Yoga with Elders, offered simple tips for adding laughter into daily life, including “Ha ha ha-ing” at traffic lights and while cooking a meal together.
From these two luminaries, I learned the importance of consciously integrating laughter into daily life. Dr. Kataria explained that laughter improves blood circulation and increases the net amount of oxygen to body and brain, which makes us feel more healthy and energetic. Laughter also makes our immune system stronger. Plus, laughing with others builds a social bond and reduces feelings of isolation.
Carmela Carlyle says, “When we laugh, our jaws move, sending a message directly to the brain to release feel-good hormones. People living with dementia can bypass the intellect and go directly to the powerful medicine of laughter.”
To add more laughter into your life, visit www.laughteryoga.org
Madan Kataria, MD, is the founder of the Laughter Yoga Clubs movement, which started in 1995 in Mumbai, India. Dr. Kataria is an internationally acclaimed speaker and a corporate consultant for holistic health, stress management, team building, leadership, peak performance and communication skills. He is associated with a number of research projects to measure the benefits of laughter. www.laughteryoga.org
Carmela Carlyle, is a psychotherapist, Eldercare Specialist, Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher and Certified Integrative Yoga Therapist. Her DVD, Laughter Yoga with Older Adults: Joyful Chair Fitness, is used all over the world. www.carmelacarlyle.com
Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.
As we move into the holiday season, Ron and I think often of our parents who went through their last holidays with dementia: my mom Frances and his father Frank. We wanted to share the season with them in ways that felt safe, comfortable, and honoring so we gradually developed these tips. Recently, we shared them via email and had such a great response we also want to share them with you.
Several people wrote, “These tips are good for anyone, not just those with memory loss.”
What great wisdom–to treat each person with the tenderness and consideration that we often reserve for someone going through a physical or emotional illness.
We’d like to share our tips and we’d like to learn from you: what other suggestions do you have for helping people feel connected at gatherings?
Eight Steps to Help People Living with Dementia Feel at Ease during Holiday Gatherings
- When you’re in a group, help the person living with dementia feel safe and comfortable by having a trusted friend or family member stay beside him or her, explaining the proceedings and fielding questions from others, as needed.
- Encourage people to say their name and maintain eye contact when conversing with the person who is living with dementia.
- Make sure the person can come and go from the group as needed. Create a quiet space where he or she can rest — or appoint a caring person to drive your loved one home when he tires of the festivities.
- Have something special for them to look at, like a family photo album or a favorite magazine.
- Choose background music that is familiar to them, music of their era played in a style they resonate with.
- Prepare a few of their favorite foods.
- When talking to them, don’t correct or contradict or try to pull them into the current reality. Simply listen carefully and let them talk.
- Appreciate them for who they are right now.
Here’s to a holiday season filled with grace, gratitude and generosity.
Thanksgiving changed the year I went vegetarian. I did not mind giving up the tender, moist turkey or the savory oyster-specked stuffing. But giving up the flavorful flow of mushroom-laden gravy was quite another thing. I watched enviously as my family ladled the luscious liquids over their mashed potatoes, turkey and stuffing. As I nibbled dryly on my carrots, green beans and salad, my lower lip protruded. I felt left out and deprived.
My brother, Dan, ever alert to the pouting big sister, came up with a solution.
“Next year I will make special vegetarian gravy just for you,” Dan promised.
Years later, that special vegetarian gravy has become one of my favorite Thanksgiving rituals. I begin fantasizing about it the moment the autumn leaves turn crimson. I know that in mere weeks, my brother and his family will arrive and I will have my yearly boost of family and feasting, highlighted by gravy.
When my brother calls to tell me his travel plans, I write his arrival time and GRAVY on my calendar. The night he comes to town, we make the shopping list together, avidly discussing how many pounds of mushrooms we need for both the carnivore and vegetarian pots of gravy. I relish the early-Wednesday morning trip through the grocery store, where Dan and I and our children carefully select the foods we will be making the next day. We linger in the produce aisle, filling several sacks with gleaming white mushrooms and buying rustling yellow onions.
On Thanksgiving Day, Dan and I and other family members spend long, luxurious hours cooking. Dan mans the stove and I manage the slicing and chopping. Together we snap, peal, slice and dice the vegetables that will accessorize the turkey. I take special pleasure in wiping clean and slicing the mushrooms, then bringing my brother the brimming bowlful. When he has nodded his approval, I get out the old copper pot I bought in Germany in the early seventies. This year, Dan is improving his already amazing gravy. With his new immersion blender, he creates a rich base of caramelized onions, whose flavor surpasses that of the lowly vegetable cube. He adds in a little flour, then gentles the mushrooms into the onion broth. When the pot is bubbling with thickening nectar, he says, “Taste this and see what you think.”
I always think the same thing—“Wow, this is great.”
We are in a state of giddy and satisfied exhaustion by the time our guests arrive. We share grateful prayers with everyone and lay out the feast, including plenty of turkey-based gravy for the rest of the family.
Then comes the moment I have been waiting for: I sit down, my own personal pot of gravy poised by my plate. I cover the mashed potatoes, carrots, green beans, and salad with the aromatic concoction and I savor every bite. But more importantly, I savor the bounty, creativity, and love that have gone into this simple dish. Through this gravy, my brother speaks with his hands and his heart, saying: “I care about you and I am going to make sure you are not left out and that you have something fantastic to eat.”
And now, if you’d like to bring home this delicious gravy, here’s how:
Dan Barnett’s Chicago Style Never-Enough-Mushroom Vegetarian Gravy
2 large onions (chopped)
2 pounds (or more) white button mushrooms sliced (can add some portabellas for enhanced flavor)
1 cup of white wine (of lesser quality)
Salt & pepper to taste
To create the gravy base:
In a four -quart pot, pour a thin layer of olive oil and turn the burner on medium.
Add the onions and sauté for10-15 minutes until they are caramelized (golden brown)
Add water until the pot is about half full.
Simmer slowly for 30 minutes.
Blend the onion water mixture using either an immersion blender or by transferring the mixture to a food processor.
Once you have the gravy base
Add the 2 pounds (or more) of sliced mushrooms, white wine and fill the pot with water until it is 3/4 full.
Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.
Normally, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday, a time our family gathered together at my Kansas City home. But that November, my stomach clenched at the thought of our traditional Thursday evening meal.
My mother had Alzheimer’s and the holiday would be different. I felt alone but of course I wasn’t: there were 15 million family/friend caregivers helping the five million Americans who have dementia.
I’d been through my initial storm of denial and grief. I felt I’d been coping well with Mom’s diagnosis, focusing on offering my father extra support and trying to flow with Mom’s now spotty memory and personality quirks. But a pre-season sadness invaded me in October and I found myself dreading the alleged festivities. How could we have our usual holiday dinner, take our after dinner walks, play Scrabble and Hearts and Charades without Mom’s participation? How could we enjoy going to movies and plays when Mom was having trouble focusing and sitting still? And how would Mom react to the situation: would she feel uncomfortable and out of place? Would Dad feel protective and anxious? And more important, what would we have for dessert! Mom was legendary for her chocolate and butterscotch brownies, date crumbs, and bourbon balls. No store-bought cookies would compare.
As I stewed over the prospect of a depressing Thanksgiving weekend, I remembered the vows I had made: I had promised I would try to stay connected to Mom throughout her Alzheimer’s journey. And I had promised to see the gifts and blessings and fun in the experience.
So I began thinking: if the holiday is going to be different, why not concentrate on making it different in a creative and connective way? Here are some ideas I used to make the holiday work for me.
- Acknowledge my feelings of loss and grief. I wrote them down and shared them with a few friends. Just expressing myself made me feel stronger.
- List what I would miss most during the holiday season. My list included cooking with Mom, eating her brownies and rum balls. I asked my brother, who’s a terrific baker, to make some of our favorite sweets and I set up a place in the dining room where Mom could sit next to me while I chopped mushrooms and peeled potatoes.
- Create an activity to give our holiday a new focus. We created a simple holiday scrapbook called, “The Little Kitchen that Could,” complete with a family photo shoot and a playful script.
- Appreciate my blessings. We started our Thanksgiving meal by asking everyone to name one thing he or she was grateful for. I continued my gratitude practice throughout the holiday season, either alone or with others via telephone and social media.
- Take extra good care of myself. I treated yourself as I would a friend who’d suffered a deep loss.
- Set up a lifeline. “I’m worried about melting down,” I told my friend. She urged me to call anytime for encouragement and reassurance.
These six steps helped me enjoy my holiday and appreciate my mom just as she was. Our holiday was “different” but it was also wonderful.
Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.