Sunday, July 13, 2014

Stay Strong

Do you ever wish you could rewind the clock? I think back to 10 years ago, back before I knew many of life's sorrows. At that time, I was still relatively newly wed, expecting my first baby and the biggest trial in my life was getting through morning sickness. Sure, there were the normal stressors of life. But I had yet to lose anyone that was super close to me and life was relatively carefree and happy; I supposed you could say I was a bit naïve, not yet knowing the pains of life.

The past few years have taught me much as I've faced the harsh and bitter realities of the world. Over the past 6 years, some of the things major sorrows I have dealt with include:

-the loss of my choir teacher/mentor/very dear friend to cancer
-the death of my grandparents
-the grisly murder of a close friend, whose murder details and murderer's trial was aired on TV (Travis Alexander, murdered by Jodi Arias)
-witnessing/dealing with the stillbirth of my nephew
-coming to terms with my mom's diagnosis, and watching her slowly deteriorate day by day

A couple things I've learned are:

1. When you think you have it bad, someone has it worse.
2. Right when you think it can't get any worse, it can.

This past week my 3 year old son had a tonsillectomy. I was thinking back to when I was 6 years old and I had my tonsils removed. I can still see my mom's tear-streaked face as I woke up from the anesthesia; I was frantic and ripping out my IV. Watching two of my babies now go through this, I can only imagine how my mom felt!

That night, as my son lay on the couch and finally fell asleep after a painful day, I logged onto facebook and a friend messaged me.

"Did you hear about the Stay family?" she wrote.

"No...what's going on??" I replied.

"I'll call you," my friend wrote.

Katie Stay was one of my closest, dearest friends. She was the first real friend I made after I married my husband and moved to Moreno Valley. She threw my baby showers, we had family dinners together often, we walked everyday to the school together to pick our girls up, we had craft days and play dates with our kids and talked on the phone everyday. We hosted parties together and were there for all of the important milestones for one another in our lives and our children's lives
(including the adoption of our niece). Each year, we celebrated our birthdays together by going out to lunch (her birthday is October 6th and mine is the 7th). Indeed, we became the very best of friends. We talked about everything together...our joys, our struggles, our hardships with family relationships, etc. She moved to Texas a few years ago and we've still remained close- talking on the phone, emailing and even mailing cards and gifts to each other.

In the few moments that I waited for my friend to call me and update me on what was going on with the Stay family, I clicked on Katie's facebook page. My jaw dropped and I let out a cry as I read comments from friends saying "RIP Katie and family." Confusion, denial, anger, sorrow, anxiety...those are just a few of the emotions that flooded over me as I learned about the horrific murder of my dear friend and her family. I'm not going to post the details here (google it if you haven't heard, or watch the news). Suffice it to say, I have been a mess the past few days. That night, I didn't sleep a wink. My thoughts kept turning to my friend and her husband, to her 4 children who were killed, to her 1 daughter who survived. My heart was breaking, my head felt as if it were going to explode and the tears would not stop flowing.

Over the next few days, I laid low at home, in my pajamas, trying to care for my recovering child while mourning the great loss of our dear family friends. I couldn't imagine what Cassidy (the sole surviving daughter) was going through. After spending a couple days in the hospital, Cassidy was released and went to a balloon launch/memorial for her family at their nearby elementary school yesterday. I imagined this poor girl would be a mess, but when I saw her on the news, she had a brave smile on her face and declared that she knew her family is now in a better place. She encouraged and inspired others to "Stay Strong" during this tragedy and to find the light in the darkness. I am truly amazed and inspired by this girl's inner strength. I knew she had it in her (she is her mother's daughter, afterall, and Katie was one of the most positive and optimistic people I've known) but didn't expect it so early on. I know she definitely has a lot of healing and struggles to overcome in the future, but I think she will continue to amaze us all with her example of strength, faith and hope.

I know this post isn't really related to my mom or dementia. Maybe it's mostly for me (writing is my therapy). But if there's one message that you take away from this, let it be one of hope and courage. Life is hard. I know that well by now. But rather than dwelling on those things that can drown us in sorrow, let us rise above these trials and give hope and inspiration to others around us. That is exactly the example that Katie led in her life; her legacy lives on in her daughter. My life is better for having had her in it, and though I will miss everyday, I cherish the memories she left me with and the example of goodness that she set. I have a new resolve to "Stay Strong" in the trials I face, the sorrows I encounter. I have hope and I have faith that this life is not the end; rather, death is the beginning of something better to come.

'Til we meet again, my dear friends.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Lessons of Love

Today I feel prompted to write a little something about my dad. He would probably be embarassed that I'm writing this (he's not one to like the spotlight) and he would likely argue what I'm about to say, but I'm writing it anyway.

Lately I've been really touched by his love and devotion to my mom. There are certainly days where he feels absolutely frustrated with her, and I'm not going to say he doesn't ever lose his patience. Live a day in his shoes and patience will bring on a whole new meaning! But I can see and feel, in all of the little things that he does and says, just how much he loves my mom. Some of these things are a little personal to share, but here are a couple of examples to demonstrate his true love for my mom.

He takes her to Bath & Body Works. If you are a regular reader, you know what a chore this is. Furthermore, mom has lost her concept of money so an average trip to Bath & Body Works will cost my dad at least $100. She likes to do this at least every other month. I once asked him why he keeps taking her, arguing that he's wasting too much money at that place. His reply?

"It's just money. If that's what makes her happy then I'll take her. I figure there isn't much left that she enjoys, so whatever makes her happy."

It's the same answer when he gives in to taking her to Sam's Club or to Kohl's or anywhere. He doesn't have to do it. She doesn't need (or even use) most of what she buys. It would be much easier to go by himself or put her off. And as much as he wants to, he always gives in and takes her. Why? It is a true act of love that drives him to do it.

Right now, my parents are on [what will likely be] their final vacation to Utah. I warned my dad against going alone and taking her to Utah; she's very difficult to take out anymore. On their trip last year, mom wanted to visit the relatives she remembered and after 10 minutes of visiting with each of them, she was ready to retire to her trailer. Why go through all of that hassle, spend the money and the time to drive 12 hours, out of state hauling their fifth wheel camper? The answer to me is clear. LOVE. My dad truly loves my mom. He isn't taking this trip for himself (I know he'd love more than anything to take a day of fishing for himself), he is doing this purely for her. We don't know what tomorrow brings...everyday she forgets more and more and pieces of her life and the people she once knew. But for today, she wants to take her trip to Utah. And so my dad does what he can to make my mom happy. He doesn't think he's doing anything extraordinary, but I am touched and inspired by his example of love and devotion to my mom. She is truly blessed to have him as her companion.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now

I may raise a little controversy here with this post, but I'm writing it anyway.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the autoimmune disease that I've been dealing with for the past year. I've really become proactive in my health and in healing my body and eliminating the debilitating symptoms that the medication is not helping. I've also written before about my fears of developing demetia. It's a fate that I do not ever want to inherit. As I have been reading and researching (and I've been doing a lot of this), I'm learning more and more that there could very well be a connection between our diet/lifestyle and dementia.

I've suggested some of these ideas to some of my family members; most are either in denial or think I'm a little crazy (although they haven't read these books themselves). I recently read this book, called "Grain Brain". It may sound silly, but it almost brought me to tears as I read it, thinking about my mom all the while. If I had only known 7 or 10 years ago what I know today, maybe we could have prevented all of this from happening or at the very least, slowed it down. There is way too much information that I've studied to relay in one simple post, but if dementia is in your family I HIGHLY recommend you read this book. And even if it's not...I highly recommend you read this book! So many of my health issues (including my brain fog and migraines) have gone away after changing my diet and lifestyle. [You can read more about symptoms and whatnot in my new health blog]. It's true that genetics can play a factor in dementia and Alzheimer's, but it doesn't have to be your fate! Break the cycle!! After all of my research, I really do believe there are things you can do to prevent this awful disease from happening.

Nobody knows yet what causes semantic dementia. What they do know is that a protein in the body "gets loose" and deposits on the brain, eating it away. But how it gets loose is the mystery. What I have learned is that food plays a huge role in your body and affects the proteins in your body; foods such as carbs, wheats and sugars in particular. Of course everyone's bodies are different; some people are more predisposed to certain illnesses, but all of these foods can affect your brain and neurological system. I've often wondered why there is such a dramatic increase in all of the different health epidemics we see today: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, dementia....what is the common link? I'll tell you what it is. Food. The foods we eat today are so processed and chemically altered and filled with harmful toxins; it's no wonder we are seeing all of these epidemics! Even foods such as wheat, which are considered healthy, have been so genetically engineered and processed that it doesn't even resemble the wheat that our ancestors ate. I know from personal experience that by changing my diet, I have eliminated a lot of the health problems I've been dealing with. I just wish that it wasn't too late for my mom. I will forever wonder what could have been.

Before you criticize this post, I encourage you to do the research yourself. Start with this book. There are many other great books that I have read, but this one spoke to me the most in regards to dementia (it was written by a neurologist, who also happens to be a nutritionist...he has included stories of his own practice and how he has helped people with specific neurological issues they've faced, all by managing diet). I know this post may get mixed reviews. Change is hard. But I feel an obligation to my readers, especially those who worry about their fate to dementia, to share everything I've learned throughout this journey.