First in Flight

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Who knew rag dolls could fly?

Mom’s most perfect of pitches (that had me in stitches) is picture proof that she launched the very first rag doll ever into space!

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Mom’s Short Glory Story

Me:

Mom, who is Jesus?

Mom:

Jesus was a little boy.

His dad was God.

God told Jesus, “Always do the right thing. And, after you do the right thing, do it over and over again, but even better.”

That’s it.

Me:

That’s it!

 

Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You

mom bites blog picMY MOM BITES.

And, she throws a mean left hook. Oh, and while I’m at it, I might as well share the bark part. She barks out words I never, ever heard her say in my entire life (my worst fear is that she may have picked them up from me).

There, I’ve said it … my mom is my little stick of dynamite and should come equipped with a warning sign.

I’ve been told it’s the disease. I have been told it is a primal place she goes when she feels threatened, agitated or confused. I have even been told she has a mean streak. Dementia, old age, constipation, the next stage, whatever … warning, warning, warning.

Now, before you go back and reread all of my blogs and say they were a cover up, or made up, or not on the up and up, please know they are all true. But, so are the things I am describing in this blog.

Mom in a Blanket

Shhh! Let sleeping moms lie.

Most of the time mom is indeed a joyful person. Most of the time she is cooperative and appreciative of those of us who are lending her a hand. Most of the time she lulls you into believing it’s going to be all of the time, but it’s not … and the change, more often than not, occurs without warning.

People who care for my mom love her.

People who care for my mom are wary of her (remember that mean left hook).

And, I am by no means the only one experiencing all of the above. I have friends who I met in the Circle Center Adult Day Care support group who are also primary caregivers for a loved one, At times, my friends look more challenged than who they’re caring for.

No one I have ever known looks forward to waking up in the morning (or middle of the night) to be bitten, hit, or barked at … especially by someone you love.

And yet, when caregivers share their stories with each other, they/we always express that we feel guilty for the way we feel. Or, feeling it must be something we’re doing (or not doing) to provoke the behaviors we’re on the receiving end of.

So, we just take it.

TOM’S WARNING: Caregiving is not for the weak of heart. You must be damn tall to ride this ride.

WHAT IT TAKES.

It takes courage.

It takes willpower.

It takes conviction.

It takes love.

And, if you are not careful, it takes you out.

Word to the wise: TAKE CARE!

Never forget, caregiving is a give and take proposition.

The problem is, we give so much, we forget the mission critical importance of the take part.

Caring for yourself and letting others care for you are the keys to your sustainability.

This is not a sprint … it is not even a marathon … it is a run for your life!

TAKE CARE!

Take time outs.

Take time for yourself.

Take memories.

Take a cry.

Take a laugh.

Take hugs.

Take a hot bubble bath … make a that a double.

Take help from yourself.

Take help from others.

Take care whenever and wherever you can get it and never feel guilty or unworthy.

Take guilt and the feeling of unworthiness and throw them away.

Take pride in what you are accomplishing and applaud the courage it often takes to meet the ever changing, always rearranging needs of your loved one.

Take whatever it takes to protect your individuality and your right to make a life for yourself.

Never forget … caregiving is a give and take proposition. If you do forget, it will come back to bite you.

For every give you give, make sure you take a take.

We’ve all heard the familiar mantra of the airline flight attendants during their pre-flight instructions, “…make sure to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before attempting to help someone else put on theirs.”

The question is, are you are listening?

Make this your mantra!

TAKE CARE!

Serenity Prayer

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and (the) wisdom to know the difference.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mom’s & Mad Dog’s Light Years Apart Holiday Tours of RIchmond

Christmas Memories by Candlelight

“You’re supposed to keep Christmas in your heart all year… for me, the worst part about Christmas being over is taking down the pretty lights. – My daughter, Tovi Laughon Heffron’s response after I asked if blogging about Christmas after Christmas was a good idea.

Part One: Mom’s Holiday Tour of Richmond

Funny, when I think back on my “growing up days” and the family tradition of coming to Richmond, Virginia for Christmas, whether it was from Front Royal, Virginia; Norfolk, Virginia; Orangeburg, South Carolina or Gainesville, Florida, it was the high point of the year for me. It was magical. It was mystical. It was Richmond, Virginia.

It was a candlelight holiday that could warm the coldest of hearts, bringing comfort and joy to everyone who immersed themselves in it.

Our Christmas trips to Richmond were always by car and always with the four of us, Mom, Dad, my sister Nel and me, and always sharing limited space with our suitcases stuffed full, garment bags, presents for all, and delicious goodies … lots of delicious goodies. Where was a rack on top when we needed one?

When we arrived, we always repeated the same rituals and routine. There was a rhythm and rhyme … Nel and I would have it no other way. In fact, no matter how far we had to drive, we talked the entire time about what we wanted to do after we passed the “Welcome to Richmond” sign.  And, with little variation, it was the same things, mapped out the same way, year after year, after year. And, we loved it!

We would always enter the city, just southeast of downtown, take a slight detour to drive a well traveled loop on Church Hill and park in front of St. Johns Church where Patrick Henry delivered his “give me liberty or give me death” speech and where Edgar Allen Poe’s mother was buried.

Church Hill was mom’s cue to take on her “official Richmond tour guide” role and tell us (one more time) all about the importance of Richmond and Virginia and help us focus on the important things we needed to know (translation had to know) in order to be strong American citizens.

After mom’s passionate and inspirational tour kickoff, we drove down the Hill to Tobacco Row where we were reminded about how important tobacco was to Virginia and tobacco manufacturing was to Richmond and what they produced was to the WORLD! It seemed like all the brands in the land were made right here! I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to light up a cigarette made in Virginia and tell all of my friends! Then, I would acknowledge their positive reaction with a  perfectly symmetrical shaped smoke ring!

The next stop was the historic state capitol where we were quizzed on who designed it (hint … our third President who my oldest grandson and I share our name with).

We were reminded that the first, largest and most prosperous of the British colonies in America was (no surprise … starts with a V).

Furthermore, Virginia was home to four of the first five presidents of the United States — eight in all, more than any other state. Who could deny that this was indeed the true center of the universe and that anything and everything  of any importance came from here … the birthplace of the United States of America. What else could you do at this moment other than salute and sing a quick round of God Bless America? We sang it in four part harmony.

How could you not put two and two together and realize, that because we were a family from Virginia (that had roots dating back to the original colonists), we were important, too?

Mom stated it was for certain. Dad would smile and give a positive nod.

To Nel and me, all of this, though important and our ticket to becoming strong American citizens, was merely a grand refresher slowing down our progress  to get to where we really wanted to go … Miller and Rhodes and Thalhimers … the two amazing downtown department stores with even more amazing holiday window displays. Those displays totally captured our attention and imagination. We pressed our noses against every window no matter how cold …  even when it was snowing). Themes would change each year, but one I remember was Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Life-sized mannequins dressed to the nines would electronically come to life and perform just for us, accompanied by music, narration, and twinkling lights. Each window would portray a different scene and we could stay as long as we wanted and we wanted to stay forever!

Vintage Holiday Window Display

Every year, Mom would tell us that everything we were witnessing behind those grand display windows came from New York City! That declaration made the experience even more spectacular, more magical, and, yes … more important. This being said, we knew that if you were from New York, you were still a Yankee! But, even so, we had to give those Yankees credit for making incredible department store Christmas window displays.

We would ultimately be gently nudged back to the car (even though Nel and I never wanted to leave) to wind our way from downtown toward the West End. We knew we were heading for Monument Avenue, where Nel and I would be tested on who the statues memorializing Virginian Confederate participants of the Civil War were. We were ready! We passed with flying colors every time. How could we not … we were whispered the answers when we were in the womb.

The Christmas lights in Richmond were different from anywhere else in the world we were told, and we took that as FACT. To our knowledge, there were no multicolor lights in the entire city (except Miller & Rhodes and Thalhimers, and they came from New York City). All the other towns and cities we lived in had lots of multicolor lights, but we never had them in any of our homes, no way! We were always true to our birthplace, Richmond … and folks from Richmond were somehow above that … the city and its homes were all adorned with candles that illuminated every window. These candles were a tradition that dated back to colonial times. Yes, we knew that our new improved candles were plugged in, but this improvement was accepted. Less upkeep and fewer house fires!

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. Nothing in this sacred carol suggested multicolor lights… nothing! Case rest.

Whether you were decorating inside or outside your home in Richmond, only real, fresh cut evergreens, holly, magnolia, cedar and pine adorned with cones, fruit, and berries were acceptable. Fake replicas, plastic or other materials were taboo … forbidden in the old Capital City of the South (which would have been the Capital City of the United States of America had we pulled off winning the War Between the States as planned … damn Yankees).

We knew our Holiday Tour of Richmond was coming to an end when we began to drive west down Grove Avenue parallel to the trolley tracks (first trolleys in the United States of America I’ll have you know).  And, where they dead-ended, we would only pause for a minute or two for Nel and I to shout, that’s Pa Pa’s office! The small plaque next the entrance door on the front porch simply read, Dr. B. H. Martin, MD.

I would always shout out, “Are we going to go and get Pa Pa give us a physical?”.

“Not me … Pa Pa is too rough,” Nel said tearing up. “Mom, please, no, please!”

“Scaredy cat, scaredy cat, scaredy cat! Meow!” I shot back not more than a few blocks from Pa Pa’s (a name that was more special and important than a mere grandfather)!

No one said anything else, we all knew we would be stopping by Pa Pa’s office … physical exam was part of every trip to Richmond. A few blocks later, we were turning right on Three Chopt Road … and there it was … the end point of our destination.

To Nel and me, Pa Pa’s home looked like Downton Abby.  And, he was indeed the king of his castle … the Wizard of Oz … and the only real Pa Pa in the universe (if there were others, they had to be pretenders). His peers, subjects and patients called him Dr. Martin (including my dad).

Only the grandkids could call mom’s dad Pa Pa. Nel and I were the oldest, and therefore the most important of the chosen few. He was our Pa Pa first. We may have named him … on second thought, I take that back … since I was the first born of the chosen few … I named him. That’s right … I named the King, Pa Pa. Yep, all by myself. Had to be me … he was already Pa Pa when Nel came along … case closed!

As we walked toward the door of Pa Pa’s castle lugging luggage, presents and goodies, we saw the white candle lights in all the windows  and on the big front door hung a giant reef of real, fresh cut evergreens, holly and magnolia. And garlands of cedar and pine adorned with cones, fruit, and berries hung above every window facing the street. It was beautiful. It was Richmond. It was Pa Pa’s. This was his kingdom and Nel and I were the chosen ones, so it was our kingdom and castle, too.

The door would open to our excited knocks and there he was, standing at attention, and tall enough to touch the sky. His white hair could easily have been mistaken for a cloud … our very own Pa Pa.

I repeat: It was a candlelight holiday that could warm the coldest of hearts, bringing comfort and joy to everyone who immersed themselves in it.

It was Mom’s Holiday Tour, and we never went off the beaten path. There was a wonder filled rhythm and rhyme to it and it and

Part Two: Mad Dog’s Holiday Tour of Richmond

All of this sets the stage for an event that occurred decades later and was conjured up by a handlebar mustache enhanced guy I have crossed paths a couple of times named Barry Gottlieb …  Barry “Mad Dog” Gottlieb.

Mad Dog and Frank Hudak

“Mad Dog” concocted a scheme that was light years away from traditional candles, fresh cut evergreens, holly and magnolia. Garlands of cedar and pine adorned with cones, fruit, and berries weren’t the only way to celebrate the season. Barry was out to stir things up, more than just a little bit. He wanted to broaden and brighten Richmonders’ horizons.

Bottom line … Barry wanted to shake it up and party down!

He said, “There’s a big part of Richmond that’s always been conservative. And they liked their pretty little white lights and their plaid bows. I think these people were a little offended by it. But of course they all got in their cars and went to check out these houses.”

Barry named his choice collection of homes, whose inhabitants  took his challenge as an opportunity to plug in and strut their stuff, the Tacky Xmas Decoration Contest and Grand Highly Illuminated House Tour. With the flick of a switch, fake was in. Real was passé. Tacky was the new normal.

2300 Wistar - Frank Hudak

Started in 1986, this blur of multicolored lights and illuminated Santas quickly grew into a monster.  Dr. Frankenstein has nothing on us. And, although the name has been shortened to the Tacky Lights Tour, the lines cars and tour buses filled with fun loving humans waiting there turn to marvel just get longer and longer every year.

It’s freewheeling, free, open to the public and open to the wildest imaginations of those who accept the challenge of doing whatever it takes to be noticed and admired.

Looking back on it, Barry could have been just saying we needed to just lighten up a bit,  be more inclusive and accepting of other ways to celebrate the holidays … all lights, decorations and traditions could and should live together!

Then again, he was Barry “Mad Dog” Gottlieb … maybe he just want to stir the pot and party!

Tacky Lights Tour

To me, it’s Miller & Rhodes and Thalhimers Christmas display windows on steroids!

One of this year’s featured homes had 90,000 lights! Virginia Power loves them! Another had 792 homemade decorations … count them and you’ll know it’s true. Still another used an 80 foot forklift to hang their lights in giant trees …. all the way to the top.

I can’t wait until drones, pimped up in tacky lights, start darting around high above the homes on tour and then swoop down to our cars to serve up complimentary hot chocolate in twinkling cups. Now, that’s tacky deliciousness at its best (that is if the hot chocolate in twinkling cups is topped with a gooey glob of glow in-the-dark marshmallows).

Tacky House Tour Monument Avenue

The mansions of historic Monument Avenue are not tacky. Not in the least. Here is picture proof of the Tacky Lights Tour’s acceptance and success. It’s a small display, but a stand out never-the-less! It is what I call, “The New Improved Highly Illuminated Monument on Monument Avenue!” General Lee and Traveler would have to surrender again to this new, improved, outrageously tacky way to travel. Sorry, but it makes the other monuments pale in comparison.

“The New Improved Highly Illuminated Monument on Monument Avenue!”, chosen by the public as one of this year’s Tacky Lights Tour Top Five would have been considered heresy … a sacrilege … a crime punishable by public hanging when Nel and I were kids in the candlelit Kingdom of Richmond … real, fresh cut decorations and white candles everywhere.

Part Three: Daddy Daddy (Kind of like Pa Pa, but me) & Melissa’s Put It All In A Blender Holiday RVA Tour

At Christmas, my two daughters, son-in-laws, and six grand kids follow the old family tradition of visiting us for our version of the Richmond Tour. Parts of it are still the same … the history,  sharing of cherished traditions, importance of family and good times! They pile into cars just like we did. They drive from Wilmington, NC, a right good drive, just like we did. They come bearing gifts, luggage and goodies just like we did.

They love mom, just like we did . We all celebrated her birthday … she’s a Christmas baby! This year was her 95th. Her home was built in 1796. She is not the tour guide she once was, but she still brightens up at the mention of Richmond, and can still sing a proud rendition of God Bless America. And, yes, she had candles in every window.

Our home is right next door to mom’s. We have white candles in every window, too. But we also have plenty of twinkling multicolored lights in just about every room inside! We’ve put the past, present and hopefully the future in a blender!

You can blow out those candles of bygone times all you want (and I am right there with you), but you can’t take away the glow generated in me by those Christmas memories accented by pure candlepower.

Check out http://www.richmond.com/holiday/tacky-lights/

After thought: I wonder if Barry, “Mad Dog” Gottlieb was a Yankee?

What Are The Odds?

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible. Thomas Aquinas

Mom, Me and Cake

I must admit, I was down to the wire when it came to writing and posting my last blog for 2014. I knew I wanted to commemorate mom’s 95th birthday which was on Christmas day, and yet I really didn’t have a concept in mind. The only thing I had going on in my head was the image of Father Time trying to hand off his duties to a mere child. I had to work fast!

TICK TICK TICK was reverberating throughout my entire body. How could anyone write a blog with this much pressure and racket going on?

TICK TICK TICK.

TICK TICK TICK.

My goal … beat Father Time before he beats me and the kid takes over. Stop that damn TICK TICK TICK any way I could became my battle cry. So, I came up with what was a bit of a cop out. It would be down and dirty and hopefully somewhat engaging.

I took mom’s age … added it to mine … subtracted the total from 2014 … and came up with the year 1848. Then, I googled “what happened in the USA in 1848″.

The TICK TICK TICK provided the back-beat as I quickly read Wikipedia’s answers.

Before I share, don’t tune out until you read the last one.

TICK: Discovery of gold prompted the California Gold Rush

TICK: Construction began on the Washington Monument

TICK: Gas lights were installed in the US Capital

TICK: Wisconsin was admitted as the 30th U.S. state

TICK: Zachary Taylor was elected President of the United States

TICK: John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States from 1825 till 1829 (born 1767), passed away

TICK: The Shaker song Simple Gifts was written by Joseph Brackett in Alfred, Maine

STOP THE CLOCK!

This last entry wouldn’t even connect with most people, but to me, it meant everything.

What are the odds? The very first blog I wrote on May 22nd, 2011 was titled “A Gift to Be Simple” and featured the lyrics from Simple Gifts.

What are the odds? My mom’s and sister’s favorite song was Simple Gifts. They learned it while cutting silhouettes of Shakers (past and present) in Shaker Village, Pleasant Hill Kentucky. They sang the song all the time … it was not only their favorite song, it was their mantra.

What are the odds? On July 30th, 2011, I wrote another blog titled “By Turning, Turning We Come Round Right” … part of the lyrics to, you guessed it, Simple Gifts.

It featured a video of my mom, sister and me singing Simple Gifts. It is one of my greatest treasures, because my sister passed away of Alzheimer’s at only 64 years old in April of 2011.

What are the odds? This was the last video ever taken of my sister.

What started out as a desperate and arbitrary attempt to beat Father Time at his own game had me weeping.

Without warning, time went into rewind mode.

It was Christmas day. Mom was on the receiving end of her cake. It featured two candles … the numbers 9 and 5.  Mom’s 93rd birthday was the last for individual candles … after that year’s experience, we felt any more candles would be a fire hazard, especially in her house that was built in 1796.

What are the odds? Mom has lived to be 95! But, if you ask her, she’ll say she is six, ten or twenty-two.

What are the odds that mom’s two granddaughters (my daughters), her two son-in-laws, six great grandchildren and my wife and I would all be here … on her actual birthday to celebrate with her?

2014-12-26 13.34.52

Happy birthday, Mom!

Fast forward … Happy New Year, everybody!

 

Hysterical Historical Holiday Solution

Guest blog by my wife, Melissa

Kenzie & Helen

Kenzie & Helen

Every year, we celebrate Christmas with Tom’s daughters (Tovi & Lissi), their husbands (Ty & Chris) and the six grandchildren (Thomas, Patrick, Fisher, Livi, Kenzie & Tyli) between Christmas and New Year’s.  Tom and I really get into the planning and have created some fun traditions for “Christmas RVA” that we know are on the kiddos “must do” list each year.

Every morning starts off with a hidden clue as to the magic the day will hold.  And, once all the kids are awake, they look for the clue, decipher it and announce the day’s plans (ex: outdoor ice-skating downtown, hot chocolate at the Jefferson Hotel, The Tacky Light Tours, etc.)  And, each year, in honor of Helen, the kids help plan a birthday party for her and decorate the cake.  She’ll be 95 this year! As of last year, we had to stop using individual candles as we were awfully close to a fire hazard at the 93rd celebration!

And, each year, we try to continue Helen’s legacy and love of history by sharing some of the experiences we know she would create for her great grandchildren if she could.  Last year, we visited Mount Vernon and the year prior, Monticello.  This year, we were considering Williamsburg (Note: For those of you who know Helen, you can rest assured we haven’t waited this long to share her love of all things colonial …  we all know and love Williamsburg dearly, but not everyone has seen it casting its candlelight spell during the holidays.)

Last year, the stars aligned and we were able to celebrate together for 6 days.  This year, we’ll have to condense our plans into 3 days which we anticipate to be quite the challenge.  So, this past weekend, we drove down to Wilmington to celebrate Lissi’s birthday and help with Tovi’s move, so we decided to do a little research with the kids.  Which activities would make the cut?  Ice skating and opening presents tied for first.  The “historical” trip ranked low (although they all said yes to Williamsburg if we had more time).

On our last night, as we were gathered around a fire at the Heffron’s and were revealing the results of the kids’ poll with Tovi & Lissi, we shared our dilemma.  Tom and I would have to find a way to fit in the historical experience because we knew we had to make Helen proud.

As everyone considered possible solutions, Kenzie (age 9) piped up with a straight face, “Helen’s historical.”

All eleven of us looked over at her and busted out laughing in unison … problem solved!

Get the Picture?

“Family members of someone with dementia grieve not only the loss of the person they know, but ultimately the death of someone they don’t know.”

– Amy Tucci is president and CEO of the Hospice Foundation of America

(No Picture Needed Here)

While skimming the newspaper this morning, I came across an article by Amy Tucci.

Anything and everything about DEMENTIA and ALZHEIMER’S  screams out at me and stops me in my tracks.  So, even knowing I was about to leap headfirst into disturbing territory, I don’t mind telling you, Amy’s opening line caught me totally off guard.

After reading and rereading it, my immediate reflexive reaction was to grab a tissue and use it to soak up the tears that seemed to come out of nowhere. It ended up being a three tissue, crying-up-a-storm, event. I halfway expected a TV weatherman to appear and issue a warning to everyone in the world to take cover.

After what seemed like forever, the dark clouds moved on, and I was able to take the proverbial three deep breaths. The next thing I did was to try and get my arms around why that opening line packed the punch that it did, after all, I am a seasoned caregiver of four plus years. I have had plenty of time to come to grips with thoughts like the one above, not only with my mom, but with my dad and sister, too.

So, as I sat alone, trying to figure out what just happened, a welcome ray of sunlight entered the room, and the tiniest rainbow I have ever seen appeared just beyond the tip of my nose. No joke! It was a real honest to goodness miniature rainbow … just like in the Wizard of Oz, only small, small, small.

Get the picture? Do you hear Judy Garland singing in the background like I did?

Somewhere, over that little rainbow, I saw mom, not as who she was, or who she will inevitably be, but as she is now. OK, so she is not the mom I knew, but you know what, she makes up for that because of who she is!

On any given day, or moment, she will tell you she is six, or ten, or twenty-one, but never, never, ever ninety-four.

When asked, she’ll tell you her hair is green, or orange, or pink. The only thing for certain is that it is not pure white, which it is.

She is determined and passionate about her desire to marry me. She ask me if I will or would all the time. I deftly change the subject by pointing out something shiny.

She refers to me as her boy or her girl. She uses these words interchangeably, but I can live with that.

Whether I am her boy or her girl is of no concern, what matters is she knows I am hers and that her never ending love for me is the undeniable foundation of our relationship.

The best is when arrive with a, “Hey Momma, Momma, and she lights up and ask, “Is that you, Tom Laughon?” That’s a day maker!

She is joyful.

She is funny.

She doesn’t cry.

She sings made up songs like no one I have ever known. And, when I sing, or we sing together, she claps her hands and rocks to the beat.

She holds me so tightly that I have pry myself loose from her hugs. And, if truth be told, there are times I want her to keep me in her grip forever. You can feel the strength and determination that has allowed her to take a leading role her entire life.

See the little rainbow? Hear the music? Feel the beat? Life. Love. Reflection. Refraction. Real. Illusion. Always a continuous spectrum colors.

There is so much to be grateful for that lies between the “Family members of someone with dementia grieve not only the loss of the person they know” part and the, “but ultimately the death of someone they don’t know” part.

The infinite memories and full spectrum of emotions mom triggers, the rainbows she continues to create … fleeting though they may be … are real and are to be treasured.

Somewhere over the rainbow … when sunlight encounters tears …

Get the picture?

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