Happy Mother’s Day 2014, Mom

My mom and me in late 1952.

My mom and me in late 1952.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! I know you are a bit frustrated by a few health issues right now, but I hope you know how much we all admire and love you.

In all these years, as far as I can tell, you’ve never encountered a subject that you don’t want to learn more about. Sometimes when I think about you, I just lean back and marvel at your drive and intellectual capacity. Every time we talk, you tell me about what you’ve learned by working on your computer, sharing at the book club, attending a peace and justice meeting, listening to music at the Bach Festival, or working hard in a committee you serve on at one organization or another. Or maybe I arrive and more plants are in the garden, so I know that you’ve been working out there.

Mom, Her Mom, and Me - 1973

Mom, Her Mom, and Me – 1973

Of course these days you tire more easily, but you are learning to pace yourself so you can do the the things you like to do.

Do you have any idea, over the years, just how many people you have registered to vote, all told? Hundreds, I bet. Of course, we all treasure the picture of you and President Obama (well he wasn’t quite the president at that point). But then you were one of the super-volunteers in the Shenandoah Valley, so active in politics and always willing to take on extra jobs. Then last year you were active in the governor’s election, and one day there you were pictured with former President Bill Clinton when he came to campaign for the candidate. Continue reading

Grandma by Jessica Shepherd: A Book Review


Grandma book

Recently I discovered a children’s book, Grandma, that tells a story, from a child’s point of view, about a much-loved grandmother who develops dementia. As an educator, I’ve often thought about the need for books that help children understand the disease while illustrating how to continue to love and support a family member who experiences dramatic memory changes. Only now, years after my family lost my husband’s mother to this terrible brain disease, are children’s books that address dementia beginning to appear.

Grandma, an easy-to-read picture book written and illustrated by Jessica Shepherd, fits the bill. Young Oscar shares his thoughts about his grandmother, describing the fun they have, the fond ways they interact, and the changes that have come about since she “started forgetting a lot of things.” He describes how she lives in a new community, with caregivers, and tells about his visits.

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Uncle Sherman, World War II, and PTSD (Before We Called It That)

Uncle Sherman

Uncle Sherman

It’s Veteran’s Day 2013, when we remember men and women who fight  and those who gave up their lives in wars — wars fought largely to maintain democracy and take stands against extreme hate and cruelty. Each year, I think about my Uncle Sherman, because while he did not die fighting, he made an ultimate sacrifice — forever losing any quality of life after he suffered extreme shell shock (now called post traumatic stress disorder or  PTSD) in World War II. Sherman was a B-24 tail gunner.

These days, as various groups make life complex by telling  people what to believe, how to worship best, and who they should and shouldn’t love, I remember Uncle Sherman, precisely because of how a kid from a poor family told his mother that he had made a complex decision with understated simplicity. He told her he wanted to fight Hitler because of what he learned in Sunday School about freedom, evil dictators, persecution, and even a bit about world religions. Not many people were talking about religious persecution back then, but somehow in American Baptist Sunday school in Terre Haute, Indiana they were.

Uncle Sherman told his mother that he understood that we were fighting evil — and that he could lose his life — but that he wanted to join up. His mom, my grandmother, who was a short order cook with a fifth grade education, made a deal with him. She would sign the papers as soon as he graduated from Gerstmeyer Technical High School. He graduated, she signed, and he was still 17 when he went to war.

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Time for a New iPad for Dad — iPad for Dad #24

ipad4dad5It is time to purchase a new iPad for my father.

If you have followed this blog for the past several years you know that three years ago we (my husband, my daughter, my son-in-law, and me) purchased an iPad for my father’s birthday. The iPad for Dad project, beginning in May 2010, has been an enormous success, and it’s generated a long list of blog posts here on As Our Parents Age.

Rarely do I arrive at my parents’ house without seeing his iPad set up and a quick glance demonstrates that Dad, now 90 years old, has been using it or is about to sit down to write or search. He’s written over 400 journal posts on the iPad — tapping the little arrow and sending them off to his family of readers — and many of these mini-essays shared rich ideas (of course he’s always had these), interesting observations, and detailed family information (much of it new to me and other family members).

What I liked most about the iPad was its ease of use and the fact that it’s always connected to my parents’ wireless. It does not require waiting around while programs boot up, and from the beginning of this project Dad hardly needed any tutoring to get going.

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A Snow Story Never Heard Before: iPad for Dad #23

Read other iPad for Dad posts.

Whether or not you help a parent get started writing on an iPad, when you encourage writing activities you often get the opportunity to read wonderful stories like the memory below. I had never heard about this event before Dad composed his short essay. Dad writes on his iPad at least every other day and sometimes more often. What makes it especially lovely for me is that I can picture the playground and the old parsonage because I also played there in the snow many years later.

The playground where this story took place is behind the Silver Lake Baptist Church (as it used to look) in Belleville, New Jersey.

The playground where this story took place is behind the Silver Lake Baptist Church (as it used to look) in Belleville, New Jersey.

Washington’s Birthday Long Ago — My Dad’s Memory

I suppose I can begin a story with “In the Old Days.”

One Washington’s Birthday, we had a record snowstorm in Belleville, New Jersey, and trudging one’s way to the church’s playground, adjacent to the Parsonage, required boots. I had them on and ear muffs too. So did my friends Nickie, and Benny, and Mario.

We rolled up huge balls of snow on our Church playground and were in the process of building a snow man six feet high when Cal turned up. Cal was a grown up and a painter by trade. He was well-known at the church for anything that needed a coat of paint, but he also had drawing skills and entertained us many times with interesting sketches of the characters of the Bible – David for example, John for another, and the popularized head of Christ. We were all impressed by his skill.

Out came Cal, and he began to reshape the mounting pile of snow. We caught on immediately. He was shaping a bust of George Washington — eyes, nose, cheeks, neck, shoulders, and even that strange tri-cornered cap. The finished masterpiece attracted a number of persons who chanced the chill and watched from behind the fence that enclosed the playground. We all marvelled — it looked just like a picture book Washington.

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We Lost a Son and Brother to Mental Illness: Violence Was Not an Issue

http://Percentage of US Health Expenditures Spent on Mental Health

Percentage of US Health Expenditures Spent on Mental Health Care and Services from upworthy.com

Like everyone else I’ve been glued to my computer, newspapers, and the radio, keeping track of the catastrophic and heartbreaking events that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut. As a parent and an educator, I’ve alternated between tears and anger, prayer and frustration, trying to understand how someone could murder little children and their teachers, and imagining the thought of losing my own child. I’ve been awed by the bravery of the educators at Sandy Hook.

Yet, as I listen to the media, I’m appalled by the reports and conversations equating — intentionally or not — mental illness with violent behavior. You see, my family can imagine losing a son and brother to mental illness, because we experienced it for 24 years. Violence against others was never part of the equation, and it’s not for most people who live with brain diseases. Read the December 17, 2012 New York Times Health section article, In Gun Debate, a Misguided Focus on Mental Illness by Richard A. Friedman, M.D.

From the time my brother, Jeff, was 18 until he took his own life at age 42, he suffered from bipolar brain disease. He was erratic, often upset, and frequently angry with us — his family members. He wanted so much to be like the rest of us, his friends and family, and to get on with his life. Despite all of his problems, however, he was not violent toward people. His most erratic behavior occurred when he overturned a grocery cart in a parking lot next to our car — an attempt to demonstrate how angry he was with my father, who was trying to reason to him.

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