The Red Shirt

#3 in a Series on Purpose

“Is today the day I wear the Red Shirt?” Mom asks, as she does nearly every time I visit.

I don’t mind this question. Or the other millions of questions that repeat like a cassette stuck in an endless loop. After living in Alzheimer’s World for five years, the passage of time no longer matters.

What matters is the Red Shirt.

Earlier this year, we launched Yappy Care, a new program at the animal rescue where I volunteer. Twice a month, we bring a shelter dog to visit the residents at mom’s memory care home. As team captain, mom walks the dog down hallways and patios, stopping to socialize with her friends.

And she wears the Red Shirt, the official uniform of a shelter volunteer.

The Red Shirt reminds her that she has a purpose. Helping others has been a guiding principle in both our lives, a code she instilled in me at an early age. And, it reminds me that even as dementia slowly strips her soul bare, she is still capable of living a meaningful life.

As Bob DeMarco so eloquently reminds us in his Alzheimer’s Reading Room blog:

“Success is what happens to you. Purpose is what happens through you. Meaningfulness is what you give away to others.”

The Meaning of Life

#2 in a Series on Purpose

Purpose: the essential ingredient for a meaningful life. For years, it’s seemed out of reach.

In a sales career spanning a quarter-century, my purpose was straightforward yet unfulfilling: make your numbers, get your bonus. My wallet was full but I struggled with an empty soul.

Life changed radically when I left that job to become my mother’s full-time caregiver five years ago. I spent much of that time wallowing in martyrdom and resentment, my purpose unfathomable.

But purpose, like life, evolves with clarity. And as I’ve learned in sobriety, helping others is a reward in itself. So I launch a support group for daughters caring for aging parents. Channel a long-time passion for writing into a flash blog and caregiving articles. Transform my love of animals into enrichment programs at a local shelter and a petsitting business. And continue to support my husband as he deals with the sudden loss of his only child.

Age grants us wrinkles and wisdom and this I now know: purpose is found when you least seek it.

Food for Thought

This week, the planets aligned in my creative galaxy: acceptance letters from two publications; a literary agent seeking quirky cookbooks; a food memoir writing course; a blogger who wants to feature my mother’s cooking newsletter on her site.

As I ran in pre-dawn dusk this morning, drenched in sweat and the deluge of inspiration, I decided to reopen a writing project I’d shelved two years ago in a fit of rage at a disease that knows no shame.

I’d envisioned the book as a tribute to my mother’s many talents. We’d write it together, I thought, the perfect project to regain the sense of purpose Alzheimer’s was slowly stripping away. I’d interlace essays from the monthly newsletter she’d written and designed for thirty years with posts from my blog; use artwork and recipes from her cookbook Cook & Tell, published nearly two decades ago.

But reminders of the skills she’d lost and attempts to reclaim the identity of the woman she no longer remembered proved too painful for either of us to endure. I surrendered the project and Alzheimer’s won that round. Almost.

When the Universe nudges, I’ve learned to listen. And when inspiration sparks creativity, I’m propelled into action.