A Beautiful Mind

Version 2
My neighbor, Ilse, has a beautiful mind, it just doesn’t always cooperate as she’d like. Dementia has a way of muddling the brain’s communication pathways, leaving a person drifting in and out of a mental fog. Dementia is unpredictable and sometimes unfriendly. One hour you’re laughing and reminiscing, and the next you’re glum and refusing to take a bath.

I write about senior issues, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, for my at-home caregiving client Right at Home. It’s one thing to write about America’s 5 million people with age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s, the number one form of dementia. It’s quite another to personally know someone with the memory, thinking, and behavior disorders.

In February, Ilse’s husband, Herman, died unexpectedly. So their daughter Edie and her husband, Gary, moved in with Ilse as full-time family caregivers. Their sheltie puppy became fast friends with my collie pup. Now we’re more than waving “hi, there,” neighbors. We’re friends. We’re extended family.

Last Friday night, Edie hosted a one-year birthday party for her pup, Dutchess, and invited my puppy Ayrabelle and me. Doggie hats. Doggie balloons. Doggie cake. And a wonderful evening of Ilse fully lucid and loving the frolicking pups. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Ilse so talkative and thrilled.

Dementia can cloud the mind, but not the heart. Else is still my fun-loving, German-born neighbor, and I look forward to more parties and everyday moments when she is fully her
playful self.

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. If you know someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, how do you stay connected with the person or the caregivers as the disease progresses with its ups and downs?


The In Between

IMG_5743Springtime in the Rockies is, well, winter shaking out its coat of snow and ice. I snapped this photo recently of my backyard apple tree stuck in the seasonal in between. Brrrrr and beauty all rolled into one. You know what? You and I find ourselves in these seasonal in betweens too.
Our children are graduating to the next level of school or birthing a career and we are in a bit of a holding pattern. We applaud their life milestones while placing a bit of a check on our emotions. We want them to launch . . . we want them to stay. The in between.

The present job is just draining us or the company is taking another direction and we are left behind. We want a better work fit . . . we want the familiarity of our coworkers and paycheck. The in between.

The medication and treatment are winding down, but we still are not back to our normal energy and activities. We want to be well   . . . we want our “other” body back. The in between.

Like snow-covered apple blossoms, we are to hold steady through the in between seasons. On-ice circumstances do eventually thaw. Resolve and patience will usher in the new, the good. What about the awkwardness of wanting to be done and through and beyond our in between? I’m finding these words from Psalm 37:7 of help: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him . . . .”

Stillness. Waiting. Shhhh . . . can you hear the plop-plunk, plop-plunk of your in between melting into the new and the good?

What’s your in between right now? What helps you be still and wait?

Brave and Resilient Tip #137: In between times do usher in the new and the good.

The Untold Truth of Chernobyl

Radioactivity sign on a shelter door closeupYury flopped open a mini date log, pointing to the black marks he scrawled to count his helicopter trips over the still-smoldering Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Early morning April 26, 1986, the facility’s reactor number 4 exploded, heaving tons of uranium, cesium, plutonium and other radioactive poisons three miles into the atmosphere.

In the weeks following the disaster, the Soviet powers ordered Yury, a Russian video journalist, to film aerial scenes of the crippled Ukrainian facility. Yury and his copter pilots hovered eerily over the molten mess again and again. Odin, dva, tri, chetire, pyat’ . . . the numbers in Yury’s flight manifesto seemed inconceivable.

“After those flights, my hair started to fall out,” Yury explained in solid English. “At first I thought it was from a lack of eating vegetables.” As the driver of my U.S. humanitarian team to Chernobyl’s 18-mile radius Exclusion Zone, Yury seemed anxious to dialogue on that brisk day in January 1991. Our Jeep lurched and pounded on the outlying ruts, kicking up choking dust billows. Compared to the sickening cloud of radionuclides from the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe, the grimy travel debris seemed trivial.

A quarter-century after I became one of the first Western journalists into the Zone, it is time that I disclose the truth. Not about humongous-eyed aliens, but the truth behind a hush-hush secret that grieves me to think that I schlepped along in silence myself for decades. People tend to confess things to me. Addictions. Affairs. Crimes. Like them, Yury’s private mystery long wadded into the core of his nightmares needed space to thud to the surface. After showing us his Chernobyl flight record, Yury stared at the Jeep’s steering wheel before continuing his memories.

That April Saturday in 1986, Yury captured video of his family throwing an outdoor party not far from the doomed power plant. The media cameraman filmed the springtime flowers and squealing laughter of the kids. He recorded the fresh gaiety of the afternoon, oblivious that all around invisible chemicals wafted in the breeze and swirled into streams. Deadly atoms gripped trees, grass and shoes. Ionizing particles floated inside nostrils and lungs.

While Yury kept the camera rolling on fun, firefighters and first responders at the Chernobyl facility raced to dampen the roaring reactor. No one could stop the radioactive fury. And no one told the public of the out-of-control monster fanning a lethal plume northward across Belarus and countries beyond.

Soviet Union leader Gorbachev and other members of the Politburo learned of the tragedy around 3 a.m. Saturday—about 1 ½ hours after the steam blast rocked a 1,000-ton lid from above the reactor’s fuel elements. Seeds of a global cover-up rooted overnight. What Soviet commanders knew and when is still debated. Some 36 hours after the explosion, residents of Pripyat, the power plant’s surrounding “atom town” received first official details of the meltdown: “Attention comrades, an unsatisfactory radioactive situation has occurred at the Chernobyl power station. As a temporary precaution, it has been decided to evacuate citizens of Pripyat.” Three hours later, with the aid of 1,200 buses from Kiev, the community of roughly 45,000 turned eerily empty.

Somewhere in the panic and precaution, Soviet authorities learned of Yury’s idyllic spring day video. Moscow aired clips of his film on state television. The communist powers distorted Yury’s truth of the clear landscape and jovial people into a half-truth for the world to see. Da, April 26 was a bright, sunny day. See the local children giggling and romping, the adults toasting and feasting. Yury’s video footage proved all was well for USSR citizens. Or, was it?

In control of our Jeep ride to the Zone almost five years later, this seen-too-much news professional could no longer control his dam of secrecy. Yury stammered with the sobering reality. “The government used my video to say that “Nyet, nyet, nyet, the Chernobyl plant is fine. Everything is fine. That video, it . . . it. . . how you say? It is a black spot on my heart. A black spot on my whole life.”

The civil authorities turned an innocent party into international propaganda. If Sweden hadn’t sounded the alarm, three days after the initial devastation, how long would have the Soviets remained tight-lipped? Authorities held back on the full effects of the radiation contamination for years. Children splashed in streams. Women gathered mushrooms in the forests. Men tilled their farmland.

The Republic’s calculated downplay of the Chernobyl melee cracked open in October 1990 when Byelorussia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Pyotr Kravchanka addressed the United Nations General Assembly. “I want to be completely frank with the Assembly,” Mr. Kravchanka said in issuing an appeal for international aid. “The bitter truth is that it is only now, four and a half years later, that we are finally and with tremendous difficulty making a breach in the wall of indifference, silence and lack of sympathy, and for this we ourselves are largely to blame.”

A few weeks later I was invited as a reporter to join a New York-based group delivering three ton of medicine and relief supplies to Belarus hospitals and orphanages. Our host, the Byelorussian Children’s Fund, escorted us throughout this troubled country where more than half of the unseen Chernobyl toxins showered unsuspecting citizens with a blanket of potential disease and death. I grasped the hand of a dying teen and cradled babies no body wanted. Seeing dozens of bald, chemo-sick boys and girls is still tough to form into words.

I sensed the country’s suffocating uneasiness as Yury drove us to the Zone’s checkpoint and armed communist guards herded us into an outdated bus to tour a number of desolate evacuated villages. At one point we ventured within four miles of the mangled energy plant and our cell phone-sized dosimeter soared to indicate dangerous radiation levels—10 times higher than what is considered safe.

I can still hear the haunting creak of dilapidated playground swings. Picture dirt-swept toys and dolls long abandoned in schoolrooms. Drawing close to Chernobyl’s Ground Zero, we met an elderly couple outside their farmhouse. “Why are you still here in this contamination?” I posed. The wife pointed to the sky and scolded me through our interpreter, “Neyt! Neyt! Neyt! We see nothing in the air!”

Denial can work for any of us, until reality snags our heels and hauls us down. An accurate tally of the ill and dead from Chernobyl may never be known—estimates still range from hundreds to hundreds of thousands. As celebrated author Mitch Albom notes, “One day can bend your life.” April 26, 1986, was that day for Yury and countless innocents like him.

Today the United Nations reports, “No established legitimate authority was able to immediately address the situation and provide answers for questions such as: Is it safe to leave the house? Is it safe to drink water? Is it safe to eat local produce?”
Thirty years ago in a Cold War culture, Yury did not know Moscow would manipulate his family-time video. Today we live in a world where employees (politicians, NFL players and more) refuse to submit evidence—delete the files, shred evidence or wipe the data—or become infamous whistle blowers. Was Yury an unknowing pawn on a convoluted global chessboard or merely a dedicated family man just doing his job? Yes. Both.

I imagine feeling radiation betray his own body and watching the same in others only added to Yury’s internal agony. Perhaps he wondered, Am I partially to blame for these hurting kids? Could I have spoken out against the mishandling of my video or alerted the outside world to the truth?

Brave and Resilient Tip #136: Always hold to the unarmed truth.

I cringe as I type. Sitting in that chilly Jeep in early 1991, was Yury attempting to alert the outside world through me?
In his UN plea, representative Kravchanka added this perspective. “The verdict of history has yet to be passed on those in our Republic who . . . hid the truth about the effects of the accident from our people,” the foreign affairs leaders said. “It is difficult to say why they did this, and to disentangle cause from effect: was the deception caused by secrecy, or was the secrecy the result of the deception? Either way, it was inhuman.”

Deception always hurts someone. In the case of the Chernobyl disaster, someone swelled to hundreds of thousands. Countless men, women and children lost homes. Lost hair. Lost lives.

I respect national security issues, but is there ever an appropriate time for governments to sequester the reality of a mistake, a manmade disaster, a tragic oops that injures and kills? Its no wonder distrust festers in the psyche of citizens on every continent.
I have no time for regrets. Neither does Yury, if he is still alive. I’m unclear how anyone can fly numerous times over a fuming nuclear reactor and live years later to tell about it. Of the first-on-the-scene photographers who snapped photos or recorded video on the ground and in the air that fateful Saturday, two are dead from radiation-related disease and one was constantly ill from the Chernobyl exposure for years before dying in a 2015 car accident.

Maybe my silence has propagated Yury’s guilt, widened that dark spot on his heart. I’m truly sorry, Yury. I was so wrapped up in telling the rest of the Chernobyl story that I forgot to tell yours. To your homeland and mine, I say stop the sludge-flinging and blaming and cramming fault under calculated layers of classified deception.

A man who believed that the truth will set you free, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, espoused, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
The Soviet government hid the truth from its unsuspecting citizens and the entire planet, while we sometimes hide the truth from even ourselves. I challenge us all to hold to the unarmed truth and inspire others to do that same.

This one is for you, Yury. May your mind and heart live free. Da. Da. Da.

On April 26, 2016, the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, national foxnews.com published a condensed version of this article by Beth.

Puppy Love

IMG_2225Five weeks ago, I brought home my new puppy girl after a whirlwind 30-hour adventure to Reno and back. My new collie companion is named Ayrabelle (Air-uh-bell), which in Scottish—the home country of collies—means “prayerful . . . beautiful . . . loving.” What a fitting name for this spunky yet gentle pup! Two hours after I met her in the Reno airport, Ayrabelle crossed her paws and fell asleep on my lap during the turbulent flight to Seattle. Doesn’t she look “prayerful”? (Shhh . . . don’t tell any airline folks that I took her out of her soft-sided carrier.) IMG_2109

So much prayer went into my finding Ayrabelle and I am beyond grateful for your prayers after my agonizing loss of Logan. I can hardly believe that he passed six months ago! I plan to train Ayrabelle for puppy therapy to visit hospitals, care facilities, schools, etc. More and more I am sensing the need to give back to others and my community. I know I will have more stories to tell in the months and years ahead.

In the meantime, I want to share a few darn cute photos of Ayrabelle, also affectionately known as Piranha Puppy. Her baby teeth are razor sharp and I feel like my recent vocabulary has reduced to two words that I bark out repeatedly: “No chew.”

IMG_2170Here’s to believing that good things DO come to those who wait. In this process of waiting and searching for the right-fit dog for me, I’ve found greater respect for the lamenting and honesty in the Psalms. David and the other psalmists remind us that it’s okay to grieve and long for better times. Waiting is interwoven in resiliency. “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord, hear my voice . . . I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope” (Psalm 130:1-2, 5).

If you are in an in-between time of waiting for answers to your prayers, take heart in knowing that Ayrabelle, my prayerful pup, is ready to cross her paws for you. Me too.

IMG_2269Brave and Resilient Tip #135: Good things DO come to those who wait!

Hmmm…look who has mud on her lips. Someone was digging in the backyard raised flowerbed where Logan loved to dig.

Looking Too Far Ahead?

IMG_1183Sometimes I find myself pressing to know how the future unfolds. I want assurances that everything will work out according to my wouldn’t-it-be-grand hopes. Maybe you can relate. I know hobbits Sam and Frodo can.

Near the end of the movie The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, buddies Sam and Frodo are weak-kneed after battling everything from grotesque little Gollum (how can we ever forget “Preh-shhhhussss”?) to that massive, deadly spider. Battered and famished, the two companions reach the top of a ridge overlooking a valley swarming with enemy troops.

Across the horizon loom the flaming fires of Mount Doom—their long-anticipated destination. Sensing that Frodo is on the edge of giving up, Sam encourages his friend: “Come on, let’s just make it down the hill for starters.”

That’s what our steady God says to us when we’re drained and dismayed. “Let’s not look too far ahead; let’s just make it down this hill for starters.”

If you’re catching your breath at the top of the hill, linger a bit longer. Cast your eyes from the swarming obstacles ahead straight into the eyes of Jesus. The Bible’s Hebrews 12:2 encourages us: “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. . . .” A race that was won one hill and valley at a time.

Brave and Resilient Tip #133: Eyes of faith resist looking too far ahead.

Saying Goodbye

IMG_1186Watching the one solo tear slowly slip down 12-year-old Makena’s cheek nearly left me undone. Ugh. I knew it would be difficult to form words telling Makena and her brother Bryce that I had to put down my collie Logan—his spinal tumor was just too much to overcome. Since Logan graduated to heaven on September 24, a couple of times I’ve almost stopped by these neighborhood teens’ house to break the news of Logan’s passing. But I dreaded ripping loose another breach in the dam of my tears. My heart just wasn’t ready.

Of all the neighborhood kids, 14-year-old Bryce and Makena adored Logan the most. On my almost daily walks with Logan to the nearby park, these two friends would run full blast across their front yard to the sidewalk. “Hey, Logan, hey, buddy,” was quickly met with Logan backing into these siblings, waiting for his trademark hip massage. Hugs, hugs. Massage, massage. Logan and I saw this family at least once a week for the past year or so—even their toddler sister would waddle near and bravely tap, tap Logan’s furry side, giggling in delight.

So when I took a quick walk on Monday past their house, Bryce bolted from the front door first, then Makena. Before they could ask “Where’s Logan?,” I blubbered through the explanation. That’s when Makena’s single tear wiggled down her left cheek. Looking toward the setting sun to steady his emotions, Bryce exclaimed, “I knew something was wrong! We’ve been looking for Logan and you out the window.” Gulp. Bryce gave me a big hug and added, “I wish we could have said goodbye.”

Sigh. I wish there had been time for goodbyes, but my world narrowed considerably after that Tuesday tumor diagnosis and Logan’s final vet appointment that Thursday. I made it through several “I had to let Logan go” conversations in the past 11 weeks, but Monday’s was one of the toughest.

Let’s face it: final goodbyes just rot. My last words to my two dogs were right up there as painful as watching my parents die. Death is brutal and not part of God’s original design for this earth. I do think that when we endure the loss of a loved one, resilience buds anew in our heart. We may not notice for awhile the fresh strength immerging from our sorrow, but our overcoming spirit is there mixed in with the tears and bumbling words.IMG_1469

To ease the news of Logan’s death, I excitedly told Bryce and Makena about my being near the top of a waiting list for a new collie puppy to train for pet therapy, to visit people in senior homes, hospitals, schools, etc. “How soon will get the puppy?” Bryce blurted. “Can you come to our school?”

Before they returned to their homework, I smiled and assured these young friends, “I know Logan is up in heaven and he’s one of the main greeters with his “Hey, hey everybody” personality. He welcomes people and then backs into them for a hip massage.”

That made us all chuckle and Makena’s tear stop.

P.S. Late this afternoon I stopped by Bryce and Makena’s house with photos of Logan and a thank you note for them being so kind to my collie boy. They were not home, but I talked at length with their older sister Taylor, who also was a Logan fan. Now I can’t wait for these neighborhood friends to help me name my anticipated puppy. I will definitely keep you posted on this new bundle of joy!

Brave and Resilient Tip #127: Saying goodbye can be a hello to fresh resilience.

”Pray for Us”

I’m overwhelmed and my words feel as if they are tumbling out and sliding off my keyboard. Another multiple-victim shooting in our country? Earlier today the horrors unfolded in San Bernardino, Calif., where I lived for more than a decade post-college. Last Friday just about eight miles from my home in Colorado, another mass shooting ripped into our collective psyche. “Close to home” reaches a deeper meaning for me.

prayer - candle in handsThe words brave and resilient are increasingly intermingled in news reports and interviews with government and community leaders. Now is not the time for me to share my opinions on these tragedies in America and around the world. Instead, I am dedicating this brief message to ask for us to pause and pray. Would you join me in praying right now for all the people affected by these senseless murders? One of the women in today’s shootings sent a text to her father: “Pray for us.”

Her three short, tangible words remind us to put our busyness on hold for even just 20 seconds and ask for healing and help for those injured and those traumatized by these merciless shootings. May the grieving loved ones right now sense the closeness of the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3) and may we never let these troubled acts become normal to us.

Bless you for blessing countless others through your heartfelt prayers.

Brave and Resilient Tip #126: Your prayers matter!

Beautiful Yet Overwhelming

A 9/11 Widow Shares How She Finds Hope

Last week I interviewed Shelly Genovese again. The last time we talked was two weeks after her husband Steve was killed in the terrorist attack on New York City’s North Tower on September 11, 2001. I wanted to know how Shelly and her daughter Jacqueline (16 months at the time) have fared over the past fourteen years.

rememberThe most difficult question for me to ask Shelly was: Were you involved in the identification process? “Steve’s brother did that,” Shelly explained. “Steve was identified by his dental records.” How sobering. How does someone keep going after the only thing that remains of your spouse are portions of his teeth?

Initially in the months and years following Steve’s death, Shelly filled her emotional void with traveling and shopping and on-the-surface distractions. But nothing brought continual relief, except one thing. Her trust in God to give her “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

“There were times when I felt I would never be happy again. Or no way that I could ever feel safe and not hate the world for what’s happened to me. But God restored all that,” Shelly affirms. “There is still hope after something so horrible happens in your life. When you don’t see that hope in the present, it comes down to trusting that God’s got a plan for you. I always knew to trust in God’s Word and to rely on that in every aspect of my life, but now I have lived it.”

Every November Shelly who moved home to Texas and has remarried, travels back to New York City with Jacqueline. Twice so far they have visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, which Shelly describes as both “unbelievably beautiful” and “overwhelming.” That’s how I’d describe seasons in my own life. I’m sure you can relate. And when we can’t yet see “hope in the present,” Shelly reminds us to bravely keep trust when life feels both unbelievably beautiful and overwhelming.

Brave and Resilient Tip #119: Keep trusting when life feels both unbelievably beautiful and overwhelming.


Well Worn, But Wonderful

IMG_0035I have a fond affection for older houses and the generations of people who lived in them. I love to photograph abandoned farmhouses. Years ago, in another side to my antique artistry, my dad and I would gain permission to salvage old doors and windows from some late 1800s and early 1900s homes. If those sagging, wallpapered walls could talk!

I enjoyed many an adventure with my dad using a crowbar, flat bar, and other tools to separate these architectural elements from the dilapidated homes. What a memorable father-daughter project. (And boy do I have stories! Like the time Dad fell partially through a floor and was hanging by the floor joists over a sunken basement.)

There’s such rich history to preserve in our world, and these aging housesIMG_0036 remind me of resiliency. . . a sort of well worn, but wonderful side to our lives. So often we zip through our days and scurry our minds to our to-dos in our weeks ahead. But today as I scan through some of my farmhouse photos, I’m choosing to pause. I’m adding some breathing space to think through the well worn but wonderful in my life. And, even a few of my favorite well-worn people. 🙂

Antique farmhouses weren’t built in a day and neither is resiliency. Every storm, every bitter wind, every sweltering summer helped shape and patina these once occupied homes. After a hundred-plus years, many of these beauties are cracked, bowed, and leaning, but they are still standing. May the same be said of us.

Brave and Resilient Tip #115: Treasure the well worn but wonderful in your life.


Dads Who Make a Way Through

DadHuntingoutfitI remember my Dad more for as his holding apart barbed wire fences for me more than his holding doors for me. Whenever I’d venture out with Dad to go quail or pheasant hunting or to our land to check the cattle, we’d inevitably encounter a barbed wire fence without a gate. No problem. My dad would heft his boot down on the lowest wire strung between posts and then lift the middle wire up so I could slip between the sharp-pronged strands of metal. Sure I snagged my coat or shirt a few times, but that only seemed to happen when I tried a fancy dip through the wired instead of just ducking through right where Dad had the fence secured for me. (We creative types, find our way of expressing our independent thoughts. Bless you, Dad, for flexing with my “I-do-it-myself” inventiveness.)

As Father’s Day approaches, I can think of a plethora of fond memories with my Dad and each one makes me grateful that I had a father who would go out of his way to help me not just go around problems and challenges, but through them.

If barbed wire stands in your way this week (or a health challenge or tight finances, orIMG_2589 - Version 2 anything really), take time to stop and think through your options. And don’t be afraid to make some necessary adjustments and precautions, then venture straight through. And the good thing to remind ourselves? Our heavenly Father is right there with us, already clearing the way for our next steps.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite verses of Scripture in which I count barbed wire fences as “rugged places.”

“And I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, In paths they do not know I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them And rugged places into plains. These are the things I will do, And I will not leave them undone” (Isaiah 42:16, NAS).

What is a favorite life lesson you have learned from your father or a father figure in your life?

Brave and Resilient Tip #111: Consider going through problems and not just around them.