Monday, November 29, 2010 0 comments By: Suzanne

Compassion and Disease

I am back at work today. For those of you that don't know, I am a music therapist. Twice each week I run groups at an Alzheimer's Center in Ft Worth. I am reminded constantly at this place of the good a little compassion can do and the ills inattention can cause.

I was listening to my musical love this morning on the way to work, Elvis Costello, and his song Veronica came on. I know that he wrote song about his Grandmother when she was living with Alzheimer's. He gets it perfectly in that song. Everytime I hear it, I'm reminded of one resident or another who fits the lyrics perfectly:

Is it all in that pretty little head of yours?
What goes on in that place in the dark?
Well I used to know a girl and I could have sworn
that her name was Veronica
Well she used to have a carefree mind of her own
and a delicate look in her eye
These days I'm afraid she's not even sure if her
name is Veronica

This first verse is the heart of the pain that families go through. In the media Alzheimer's is often portrayed as an elderly person who can't remember current events, can't make new memories, but remembers the past clearly. This is not true. It MAY be true for SOME who are in the very early stages but for most this terrible disease affects all memories, and they may forget even their own name. It also affects more than memory. It destroys the brain to the point that, in the end, people are unable to take care of any of their physical needs and speech is completely gone. I see family members struggle with this and say to their loved one, "You know, answer the question." But they DON'T know. And they may know an hour from now or they may never remember whatever it is you're trying to get them to remember. Ever.

Do you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide?
and all the time she laughs at those who shout
her name and steal her clothes.
Veronica, Veronica, Veronica

I think the chorus is my favorite part because, in spite of the terrible-ness of it, it makes me smile. I know people like this. I know the nurses and CNAs who shout to be heard by people who are not deaf but simply not "available" at the moment. No amount of shouting is going to accomplish what you want here. In fact, a light touch on the shoulder and a gentle calling of the person's name is more likely to bring them back to the moment.

And I see a lady who is constantly accusing people of stealing her clothes and giving her someone else's stuff to wear. :) This line particularly makes me laugh because how must it seem to them? They're in this place where they feel constantly threatened by people they know they're supposed to know but really don't and "there they go with my clothes! And she put me in this dress that is NOT MINE!"

The next verse talks about memories of a lover. This is common. I hear stories sometimes of lovers who are NOT  the person's spouse. Sometimes it is from before they were married but of course, there are those other times. :) I heard the story from one ex-military man who spent time in Japan. He was half way through the story of his Japanese wife and their 50 children when I realized he was pulling my leg. I said, "15 children?" He said, "No, 50." And grinned big as day. I love those moments. I'm pretty sure he was messing with me but who knows. Made up memories happen during Alzheimer's too. I have to wonder if he had a Japanese lover while he was there who had his love child. It's not like it was an uncommon thing.

Veronica sits in her favorite chair
She sits very quiet and still
And they call her a name that they never get right
and if they don't then nobody else will

But she used to have a carefree mind of her own
with a devilish look in her eye
saying you can call me anything you like
but my name is Veronica

This juxtaposition of  how the person is now to how the family and friends remember them is the main reason why so many family members stop visiting. It is common for the family to visit almost everyday for the first couple weeks and then the visit slowly drop off until eventually they are simply "too busy" to come anymore. The sad thing about this, besides the obvious, is that when the family does come for a rare visit, the resident doesn't remember them at all and is closer to the staff. This makes it even less likely that the family will continue to visit. They justify it by saying, "They won't know I'm there anyway."

And this is where I have to learn compassion for the family members. I can be patient all day with someone in the grips of an illness that affects every part of the brain except emotions and creativity. When they are angry, it is a righteous anger but when they love, it is complete and without limits. They sing with me when they can't even speak and it is because of these small gifts that I have so much compassion and love for them. My patience wears thin though with staff and family members that expect these people to "act normal." This is my challenge, and I am working on it.
Sunday, November 28, 2010 1 comments By: Suzanne

A Flash of Lightning

When I set out to find books on compassion it wasn't because I didn't understand the concept and needed some guidance. This is the principle by which I try to live my life after all. I would hope I understand what it is. :) No, I simply wanted to know how others viewed compassion in their lives and what they do on an everyday basis to make sure they live by it. So I started with books by the Dalai Lama, because who better to discuss compassion?

I settled on A Flash of Lightning in the Dark Of Night, because the back cover starts with this sentence, "Compassion is the guiding principal of the bodhisattvas, those who vow to attain enlightenment in order to liberate all sentient being from the suffering and confusion of imperfect existence." Wow, that's EXACTLY what I'm looking for! Well, not exactly. This book is a detailed explanation of a chapter from The Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva. It's not necessary to have read the original text because the parts that are discussed are given in this book, however I feel there should some kind of prerequisite to this book. I couldn't tell you what that might be but this is simply above my head, and I don't say that often.

It has wonderfully titled chapters like "Carefulness," "Attentiveness," "Patience," "Endeavor," and "Wisdom." I made my way through Carefulness and Attentiveness and am now on Patience. I apparently don't have the patience for this book because I must have gone through the other chapters too quick. I don't remember a thing they say. I'm going to back and read them again.

Until then, anyone know a good book dedicated to the principle of compassion?

New Theme and Layout

Well, I think I finally found something that I can be passionate about blogging. I want to document my attempts to live a compassionate life in this insane, materialistic, every-man-for-himself type society that I live in.

I had a very interesting childhood. First, my mother comes from a very conservative Church of Christ home. She was so sheltered that she didn't even know what a bagel was until she was in college. I am not kidding. When I heard that story my first thought was, "So that's why we always had bagels in the house." :) Bagels were a big part of the day growing up. She loves them and now it makes sense.

When my mom went to college she went a little wild, like most sheltered girls do. She raised me very differently. She gave me experiences and let me decide for myself what I believe. She may have gone a little too far to the other side in terms of religion, but I was raised even so to be a "good girl." I like to joke that if I came to her and said, "I believe fairies rule our world and we must placate them in every way," she would have said, "That's a valid idea, but let's talk about it a little more."

In my own way I was very naive. Looking back on high school, I realize now that there were things going on around me with my own circle of friends that I was completely oblivious to. It was through my own experiences in college that I figured out what exactly was going on in those situations. Everyone thought me such a good girl that they didn't dare pop the bubble of naivety that I was living in.

On the other hand, I was allowed to explore religion with a freedom that most people are not given. I went to church with friends and never questioned why my mother never went but sent me along on the church bus or in a my friends' parent's car.  I was interested in Wicca from a very early age (junior high) when most people go through that phase in college. I became interested in Buddhism in college. I eventually found all of these to be too limiting. Now my main philosophy of compassion in everything I do is essentially a Buddhist one but I love the elements of other religions too. I simply don't believe there is one or more beings physically affecting the lives of human and animals. But I will get into what I believe another time...maybe. :)  I don't think it's very important to describe one's beliefs in order to live compassionately. Anyone can do it no matter their religion. In fact, most people like to claim that their own religion's purpose is this very philosophy and if that is true, then compassion should be everyone's main goal in life.
Friday, November 26, 2010 0 comments By: Suzanne

My New Etsy Store!

I will now be selling my hand embroidered items on Etsy. Please come check them out! Here's the first one listed: An Embroidered Change Purse with Singing Birds

There will be more!!