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Thursday, January 19, 2017

On The Trail With Mom

Who Said Alzheimer's has to Slow You Down? 

In 1996, Mama Natalie was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, a progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys a person's memory and ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate, and carry out daily activities. As Alzheimer's progresses, individuals may also experience changes in personality and behavior, such as anxiety, suspiciousness or agitation as well as delusions or hallucinations.              

One of the most heart wrenching decisions I have ever had to make was to move Mom and Dad to an Alzheimer Home.  I will never forget how devastated I felt when it was time to leave. There would be other moves, ending in Atlanta, GA, where I lived. Dad soon passed away and Mom was living with me. She blossomed. She was a part of all the activity in the home and participated in everything I was doing-my workshops and classes, special projects and celebrations.  Everywhere we went, people connected with her.  She loved every minute of it.  She could feel that she was still a central part of an energetic extended family. She loved being surrounded by young people and others who deeply cared about her. She related as though every experience was a part of her classroom.                                

Mom taught in North Carolina, for over twenty years, at E.E. Smith High School and as an English Professor at Fayetteville State University.  In 1970, we moved to the Virgin Islands, where she taught English at St. Croix Central High School and World Literature, Speech and English, at the University of the Virgin Islands, for over twenty years.  The arts were her passion.  Cultivating the artist in everyone was her mission. She was a phenomenal teacher and professor who took great pride in inspiring her students to write, create, and be the initiator of their fate.     
In 2005, I had a dream to travel around the world on a 3 ½ year "walk for global peace."  As the vision for "The Trail of Dreams World Peace Walk" came forward, my response to the question of what to do with Mom was, “... take her with me.”                
Mom and I always had a relationship that was a great friendship, as well as, mother and daughter.  We have always enjoyed adventure together and, most importantly, we have always supported each other through everything that was happening in our lives.  As members of the "Trail of Dreams Team" began to sign on for the journey, it was apparent to me that the support necessary to bring Mom with us, was there and that she would be a vital part of the group.           
The walk began in Atlanta, Georgia, on October 21, 2005.  It is a demonstration of ordinary people showing up to engage in a journey of the human spirit that has taken us around the world in 3 ½ years to affect global peace. Our mission was to raise the collective awareness of humanity as conscious choice-makers and to center people in their power to choose. One of those choices for me was to keep my Mom with me on this journey.  Looking back, I don't think I could have made a better decision.  Thanks to my family, fellow walkers, Karen Watson, Chandelle Binns, Tony Shina, Lessie Pat Randall, Brenda Kay, Paolo Cafini, and all the people we met throughout our travels. The journey provided dignity and grace to the last chapter of Mom's life story.                     
She was an inspiration to the walkers and the communities through which we walked.  She taught us unconditional love and how to live in “the moment”.  She taught us how to serve and how to find joy in the little things-which really are big things-such as a smile, a hug, a kiss, a clap, a well-timed comment, beauty, and how to extend ourselves, in a very personal way, unconditionally … every day.   
She had an uncanny empathy for people and what they were going through.  She would reach out and grab someone's hand and hold it, and sometimes kiss it, totally melting the person's armor, snatching them right out of their head and into their heart.  Even when we encountered, what could have been, difficult times, Mom used this same technique to disarm and transform the situation.               
In terms of medication, at first, she took medication but medicine did not appear to benefit her. That is when we began giving her certain vitamins, protein drinks, and lots of love. I am aware that sharing our life force is vital to the recovery and wellbeing of everyone.  So, the greatest medicine we could provide was mega doses of the healing energy that comes to her through our sharing of our life force-LOVE!  And, meeting her everyday exactly where she was.                  
We shared everything, every experience with her. When we were camping in our tents, in sleeping bags, so was she!  When we were at the rim of the Grand Canyon, so was she!  When we were sharing in a community traditional ceremony, so was she!  Though Mom could not communicate verbally, her presence was always powerfully felt by all.
This experience taught me many things about Alzheimer's. Those afflicted with this disease are our parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends.  They need our touch, our smiles, and most of all to feel that they are an important part of our lives, whether they are in nursing homes, our homes, or still living in their own homes.  If we can move through our pain and expectations of them to be the same as they were before Alzheimer’s, then we can see them for who they are and find the beauty and grace in each moment we have with them, whether they appear to remember us or not. And, we go slow, one step at time, because there will be good days and not so good days. As care givers, we must be mindful of our own self-care.
Mama completed the journey around the world with us in Atlanta, GA, on April 21, 2009, walking and singing all the way. Her favorite saying on the journey was "Thank me darling."  We do everyday Mom, we do!

Comments from fellow walkers:

"Being on this journey with Natalie, has taught me about unconditional love: Love has no boundaries or conditions. She communicates this in many ways with her smile, her affection, her words. Natalie, reminds me that elders hold the vision and wisdom for the world, and just because someone has an ailment of some sort, it does not stop them from LIVING. It is a great lessen and honor to take care of our elders in a loving, human way. Being in an environment filled with unconditional love and constant attention extends one's life. Natalie, keeps us laughing and keeps us grounded. We are reminded that the basic necessity of life-LOVE-is essential in the healing of any situation. - Chandelle C. Binns


"I remember one time, we were on a silence fast. We got Natalie, ready for the day and brought her out to have her breakfast. She shook her head and said, "...and nobody's even talking!" We all laughed out loud. She has her way of reminding us to maintain a sense of humor. --Tony Shina 

3:08 pm est          Comments

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