Monday, June 25, 2012


One of the first things I did on that Friday night after my laptop was stolen was to change all the passwords on all my accounts. I had mistakenly assumed the thieves were clever and would access info stored on my hard drive.

Know what? Even though my brain works fine, and even though I was the one who decided to change the passwords, and even though I PERSONALLY CHOSE THE NEW PASSWORDS, my fingers still automatically type in the old passwords out of habit. 

Regardless of the motivating factors, old habits are hard to break. 

(If I was still at Arrow, the pastor-type guys would say something like "that'll preach.")

Every time I type my gmail account password incorrectly, I think of my dad.
In the past five years, as his brain has been shrinking, his world was also shrinking. By the time he went into the hospital in February, he was down to being in control of very few actions:

1. Choosing when to go to bed and when to get up. He would exercise this choice randomly, going to bed at 5 pm, getting up at 9 pm. Going to bed at 9:15 pm, getting up at 10 am. For example.

2. Choosing when to go to the bathroom. He chose to go, sometimes, 5 - 10 times per hour. JUST BECAUSE HE COULD. It was exhausting watching him.

3. Choosing which foods placed in front of him he actually wanted to eat, and those he wanted to throw in the garbage.  And he could choose the pace at which he consumed his meal. (Usually everything on the plate was put into his mouth before he started the swallowing process. Yes, this was not pretty. Gagging was a common response; his throat just couldn't handle the volume.)

4. Choosing to do his 'chores'... turning on the fireplace lights and taking out the garbage. He was proud of his ability to contribute. I think he wished every day was garbage day. 

But now? After more brain shrinkage, and that massive stroke? His options are limited. He is on the Lodge's schedule for going to bed and getting up. He is spoonfed whatever mush has been prepared for him. He has no chores, no responsibilities. And going to the bathroom? Is a major ordeal involving himself,  two other people and a contraption. THIS habit of his? The one where he exercised the freedom to go as often as he wanted? Is the last habit to die. He, like me, keeps putting in the old password. Even though it doesn't work. 

My dad's need to have that seatbelt OFF so that he can go to the bathroom is all consuming. 
"Hi dad!" I say as I come across him wheeling himself in the hallway.
"Scissors?" he asks. (He want to cut off his seatbelt.)
"Nope, no scissors. Let's go check out the lobby."
"Get some."
"Nope, they don't have scissors here. Let's go see what the cats are up to. Hey, know what? Rudy and Claire are coming to visit you today. Do you remember them?"
"Tell them to bring scissors."
"They can't bring scissors here dad. They're coming to say hi."
"Seatbelt off."
"Sorry, you have to keep it on. Let's go this way. Can you press the down button."
"What if I have to pee?"
"Then we'll get the nurses to help you. The seatbelt has to stay on."
"Have to go pee."
I wheel him back to the dining room where the care aides are feeding other residents. "He says he has to pee..."
"He's been on the toilet 4 times already. He's going to have to wait til we've finished here."
"OK.. Come on dad, let's go downstairs. See what's happening on the other floors. They'll help you get on the toilet in a few minutes."

I walk up and down each hall, allowing him to look in all the rooms, pushing him through doorways and elevators. We don't talk. After 20 minutes we've totally investigated the entire building, so I grab some dominoes and set us up outside in the courtyard in the sun, at a new picnic table. I start lining up the dominoes, so that you can tip the line of them over with a nudge from a finger and in two minutes, he's bored. "Take me inside. I have to go pee." 

We go back inside.
"No dad, no scissors. Your seatbelt stays on."
"What if I have to pee?"
"Then the nurses will help you."

Over and over again. Scissors. Pee. Scissors. Seatlbelt off. Pee. For two hours. 

The care aides say that he is relentless. 

I will eventually remember my new passwords automatically. My brain will get a new groove worn into it with the new letter and number combinations. I'm praying that my dad's broken brain is still capable of getting new grooves too. 

It's hard work, this retraining of our brains. 

I remember hearing an anorexic woman share her struggles. And how she had to forge new brain pathways so that her immediate response to negative situations was not the automatic response that had contributed to her illness. And how exhausting it was, making new paths for one's thoughts to travel on. 

And this new pathway in our brains, isn't just about new passwords or old bathroom habits. It's about other habits as well. Like the way our brains automatically go to a well-worn groove when, say, discussing, or thinking about a certain event. Or a particular person. Inevitably the same, worn out thought patterns emerge and ancient opinions and negative attitudes are regurgitated. Repeated again. Discussed again. Agreed upon again. The groove gets deeper. The original hurt resurfaces. The original disagreement is relived. The original opinion is not altered. The groove gets etched deeper.

It's like we make a point of making sure that original (mis)conception is never upgraded. We (I) keep etching that groove deeper and deeper. 

Thoughts on how to forge new pathways:

1. Identify which pathways my thoughts consistently travel on. Some are good. Some are not.
2. Which pathways need to be overhauled? Write them down. (Like, for example, how I feel about Kinsmen Lodge, or my aunt, or my daughter's friend, or my wedding day ... FOR EXAMPLE.)
3. Research, think, pray, talk about TRUTHS regarding my pathways, not just how I feel
4. Fill my life with an assortment of people, family members, friends, who challenge my pathways. Have conversations about things that matter, and forge new pathways about people and events that are positive. Ask for help with stubborn pathways from someone who has had similar experiences, but handled them differently. Pray about it. 
5. Fill my mind with things that are good and kind and excellent and gracious and warm and fuzzy. I think that's a bible verse. 


Three FIVE things I'm thankful for:

1. It's Monday and it's not raining. A GLORIOUS start to a new week.
2. That my kids all have unique thought pathways that inspire and challenge me. 
3. That I was able to have supper with 2 out of 3 of my boys last night. I miss seeing them more often. Oy. 
4. Had two showings yesterday. And despite the negative feedback, I will not be discouraged. 
5. Freedom from fear. I seem to be OK staying here, in my house, by myself, with God and His angels on guard. 


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