The mind is a wonderful thing….

Until you lose it.

About 7 years ago I noticed something in conversation with my mother; something slightly off, slightly confusing, something like a short circuit, I wasn’t quite sure what, but I knew it signaled the start of something bad.

An increase in frequency of these episodes prompted a full physical – the diagnosis,,,Dementia. The progression of this disease is, we discovered, quite predictable. Confusion, paranoia, loss of speech, and in the end, complete loss of rational brain function.

Armed with this information my siblings and I prepared for the inevitable. My father, on the other hand, couldn’t accept what was to come and poured through books, articles, medical journals, anything he could get his hands on that would offer hope of her recovery. Over the next several years he cared for her, protected her, and desperately hid her increasingly irrational behaviours, determined to look after her “until death do them part”.

Visits with my mother had to be brief because she tired easily. Her only memory was of her childhood and youth, and while she appeared at ease when we came, it was obvious she was vague as to who we were. Eventually and sadly, the illness progressed such that her behaviour became difficult to manage; angry outbursts, violence, aimless wandering, but my father remained diligent, determined to keep her at home. He rarely slept, for fear of her wandering, and because of her unpredictable outbursts, he could rarely go out with her. The happy home they had once shared was now his prison and while we had come to accept what was happening to her, it was becoming more and more painful to see what was happening to him.

The medical system, while somewhat cumbersome due to volume (and endless red tape), has a very specific routine for victims of Dementia and Alzheimers; providing regular home visits, check ups etc, to monitor the progress and provide assistance as required. My mothers Dementia had catapulted her to another level in recent months. Frequent violent outbursts prompted calls to 911 for assistance and every time my father would wait patiently in emergency for them to calm her, and then this fragile 87 year old man took her home because that’s what you do when you promise to look after someone for life. At this point it was unclear who was the greater concern, and after consulting with medical professionals it was determined that my mother needed to be moved into long term care, if only to save my father.

Moving day came and he took it stoically, acknowledging that this is what had to happen, even though you could see the pain in his eyes. My mother adjusted well. She is happy and well cared for. The need to put her in a secured facility means her world has narrowed but at least she is safe from aimless wandering. She has no idea who we are now, is happy to see my father and equally happy to see him go, and this is what he finds difficult. He keenly feels the void and she, mercifully for her, is oblivious.

Determined to remain in her life he visits every day after lunch. He brings a treat; a cookie or peach, sometimes a magazine, even though he knows she can’t read it. He lives for the childish delight in her eyes when she sees him and his gift, and it is this that keeps him coming back. Then, after too little time, she tires and he leaves her to go back to his empty apartment, and he cries. He cries for her and for him, for everything they once shared, and for all they will never share again. He says it would’ve been easier to lose her to death than this, because in this state she is neither, and he cannot, will not, move on without her.

Fifty years ago people died younger. My grandparents passed in their late sixties and early seventies. In fact most passed at younger ages then. Life spans were shorter and it seems that this shorter life span helped many dodge the bullet of age related illnesses like Dementia. Are we better off living longer? I don’t know. All I see is the agony of what this does to the rest of the living, and as painful as it was to watch a healthy, beautiful mind wither and die, nothing could prepare me for the ache I feel when I hear the gentle sobbing of an old man who cries himself to sleep every night, out of sheer loneliness.

The mind is a terrible thing to lose.

lonely man

Are you happy?

We’re so busy living the mechanics of life we often forget to enjoy it. So many of us spend our life always in search of the perfect partner, home, job, whatever; that magic elixir that will make us purely happy.

My mother was a restless soul; always searching for the perfect home; the perfect  neighbourhood, and whenever we moved it was always declared the perfect place, the one she’d always dreamed of, the permanent place, but invariably within 10-12 months she’d grow restless again and we knew another move was imminent. Her final move, recently, was to long term care, and while I know this is her last move, I wonder if she’s still searching. And if so, for what? Does it even exist? Was she ever happy?

This ‘searching’ isn’t uncommon. In fact, I know of others who always seem to be in search of what appears to be ‘that unattainable something’, they don’t know what, it’s just slightly out of reach, but oh so perfect.

I suppose we all dream of the perfect life; ultimate happiness, and after much reflection I’ve come to realize that true happiness comes from appreciating what we have, not what we’re missing. While out walking a few weeks ago I suddenly came to the conclusion that I am happy, right here, right now. After years of searching for the perfect job, struggling with diet and exercise, trying to portray the image of the perfect family, I realized that what I had was what I really wanted. No job is perfect, no family is without issues, and no one is a size 8 forever. I spent 35 years in a career I didn’t love, but I survived to retirement. I’ve been married to the same man for 35 years and we still laugh, a lot – and more since we retired (ok, we laugh at those still working, but we laugh) I am not a size 8 and have learned to live with it. In fact, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing a little more of me than I used to and I now appreciate my excess insulation.

What would it take to make you happy? The perfect  partner? (they don’t exist, and if you do happen to find Superman, what makes you think you’re Superwoman enough for him?)  The perfect  job? (mine would be the gal who travels the worlds’ most exclusive resorts rating their spa services – honestly, whose daughter do you have to be to get that job?)

Money. Lots and lots of it. Would that bring ultimate happiness? (not if you’re terminally ill, or going through a break-up,  grieving the passing of a loved one, or just lonely)

Happiness isn’t getting what you want, when you want it. It’s about enjoying what you have while you have it. Live in the moment and choose to be happy with what you have. Chances are it’s more than many, and it could be gone tomorrow.

Life is good.


Look into my eyes

The eyes really are the window to the soul. I’ve always made it a point to look directly into a persons’ eyes when speaking with them. This has, on occasion, unnerved some, but I defend this practice for two reasons; one, making  and holding eye contact ensures you have their attention, and two, looking into someone’s eyes is the only way to really ‘see’ the person, in all sincerity.

People often put on a façade; a ‘game face’, if you will, to accommodate the audience or situation, ie, they try to project the image expected of them in the moment. This is often to camouflage their own vulnerability; hide their pain or insecurity or sorrow, even joy. Most people are uncomfortable revealing their emotions too readily because it potentially exposes what they perceive as weakness within themselves.  (The whole, ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘learn how to hide your feelings’, rules)

Letting ourselves feel and express every emotion, happy or sad, is one of the gifts that comes with being human. How often have you asked someone how they are, and gotten a half – hearted response; ‘fine’? You know from the answer, they are not fine at all. Take it a step further.  Look them in the eye when you next ask and you may be surprised to get an honest answer. You may also get appreciation for expressing sincere interest cause let’s be honest here, most of us ask about another out of habit and usually don’t care what the answer is. Looking directly at a person when posing a question forces honesty. They can’t look you in the eye and lie, not without squirming and giving themselves away – the soul doesn’t lie.

I’d like to think that if we all took the time to genuinely look at another we’d change our behaviours in a positive way. If you look into the eyes of the obnoxious sales clerk, you might see that they’re nervous on the job, possibly insecure about approaching you. Wouldn’t that temper your reaction to them?

If the abuser looked deeply into the eyes of their victim, be it a child, spouse, dog, etc, would they still strike them? I believe they would see fear, pain or disappointment, maybe they’d even see the reflection of themselves in those eyes – would it cause them to pause, reflect on their actions? Not making eye contact makes the victim anonymous giving the abuser a guilt free conscience. Staring right at them is like forcing a mirror into their face and odds are they won’t like what they see.

If you look into the eyes of the coworker who’s testy or moody, maybe you’d see fatigue, or sadness (never presume to know what goes on in the life of another) Maybe they are unwell, or are having problems with a child, spouse, parent, finances. Maybe they’re unhappy with their job. Looking directly into their eyes when you ask tells them the question isn’t just lip service; you really sincerely care how they are, and while it’s not an invitation to get their life story, it does resonate in their minds that we live in a caring society.

It has been my experience that looking directly into someone’s eyes invites trust. Granted, it’s also made me the confidant of many, and sometimes the burden of hearing another’s story takes an emotional toll, but I wouldn’t change my strategy because looking deeply into the eyes of another opens the window to my own soul letting them know we are all weak and vulnerable and loving and caring, and very humanly beautiful.

Here’s to looking at you, kid!  (ok, shameless pilfering from the classic, ‘Casablanca’, but I had to do it)







My Athletic Prowess

Ok, I don’t have any. Prowess, that is, athletic or otherwise. I learned at a young age that I am not athletic, and despite my ability to dance up a storm, I am apparently, not overly coordinated either. Rats!

As a child, in school, I was last to be picked for any team. I scored on my own team in basketball in grade 5 (couldn’t understand why everyone was fighting to throw the ball in the one net, when another was wide open at the opposite end) I was much better by grade 8 in folkdance. The gym teacher paired us up for a Russian dance called the ‘Troika’. My partner was a fat kid named Ralph who was a good head taller and 30 pounds heavier than any other boy in the class (it was his 3rd year in grade 8) and we were the best. Coulda gone pro too, except that he’s still in grade 8.

Then came outdoor gym, girls field hockey. I hated field hockey. There were always grasshoppers in the field, and they jump randomly and in weird directions (do these things not have eyes?) They always seem to bounce off you, no matter where you go. Ok, also, I stunk. I never got near the puck/ball, whatever, and when I did, I was so afraid an opponent would whack me with their stick, I shied away.

In my later teens I tried volleyball. A friend of my fathers coached a team of ladies and suggested I might join them. When I arrived at the gym they were practicing, giving me time to observe. (Jesus, they were big. Had I signed up for volleyball or an Amazon decathlon?) The coach placed me near the back and urged me to ‘take an active role’, whatever that means. I’ll be honest. I don’t remember much after the first serve. The ball was hurled across the net and then big bodies just stared pounding it. (I ducked out before they mistook me for a ball) I’m young, who needs exercise?

I tried golf. (and by the way, it’s much harder than it looks) My future husband took me out to teach me. He bought me clubs and a bag (not the colour I would’ve chosen but I decided to forgive this reckless oversight) This looked promising, surely! Beautiful scenery, cute outfits, and a lovely dining room after, for a civilized dinner, now this is my kind of exercise! I swatted away at several balls, flies, God knows what else, and after removing a substantial amount of turf, I leaned back proudly against our golf cart to peruse my achievement (damage) It was at this inopportune moment my beloved decided to drive away (probably in embarrassment) and I fell and cracked my elbow.  Ok, so golf is not my thing (but I still like the whole, cute outfit, clubhouse, dinner thing).

In my mature adult years I took a renewed interest in my physical well-being, (ok, I gained weight) and decided to try jogging. Everyone was doing it. Commercials boasted its’ benefits, doctors vouched for the cardio exercise; (also, the fashion industry now produced the cutest outfits for running!) how hard can it be?


I joined a running club. I thought professional coaching would give me the guidance and science I needed (cause it wasn’t coming instinctively) I bought all the gear, sneakers, socks, running pants, (who runs without pants?) and a waist pack that held what felt like 6 gallons of water (cause the 12 gallons in my bladder,,,,, that wasn’t enough) I ‘hoarded’ with the group so I would be social. (Woulda worked too, if I hadn’t stumbled out of the launch and tripped a couple of seasoned runners. One of them actually knocked out a tooth,,,,what a shame,,,handsome fellow) I did forge a couple of friendships though. Ok, not friends really, we just had a few laughs in common during class, (you know, at  the guy without teeth) Anyway, it’s hard, really hard, and it hurts (Running that is, not the laughing).

I was told to give it 2 weeks so my muscles could ‘acclimatize’. What they actually did was seize. Took me another 3 weeks to restore / relax my joint muscles. (Jesus, why do people do this?) And by the way, take a good look at the face of a jogger next time you pass them. They aren’t happy. (ok, maybe cause I tripped them) They’re pained,and it’s obvious they aren’t having fun. (Good health, my ass.) Thank God I had the good sense to give that up before further disaster ensued (I like my teeth)

Finally I discovered walking. Simple. No expensive gear or clothing. No training. (no accidents,,,,,so far, anyway) I plug in my head gear (IPOD) and often it’s not even on (I wear it because I get tired of people stopping to ask me for directions—-do you see 411 on my forehead?) And NO pain. Oh, I keep a good clip, believe me, so I’m getting my workout but you won’t see that pained expression on my face that you see on the face of the joggers. (and I still have my teeth)

I think I finally got it. The perfect exercise that gives me good health,,,,,,and keeps the rest of society safe,,,,,from me. You know, I’d still love to be a famous athlete. On the podium, accepting the gold medal…maybe in my next life… or at the next Russian Folk Dance Festival…..Ralph, where are you? (probably still in grade 8)