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Fear-shaming seems to be a thing these days. As if showing respect for a novel coronavirus and figuring out how to minimize its risks are somehow the actions of cowards (and/or the faithless) versus a fact-seeking mission to determine what we can and cannot control about this threat that has seemingly thrown our world off its axis.

For years, my family has called me Safety Mom, in part because I had writing jobs about safety and baby products. But I guess you could probably argue that I was able to get hired for those jobs because I’ve always been one to think about safety concerns. Do I live my life in fear? No. Yet I do live my life by researching safety risks and analyzing various protections and preparations. When it comes to safety, there are many factors not under our control—my approach is to put my efforts toward simple ways to reduce risks. In the end, that’s all anyone can do. After all, we’re not in charge!

For background, I admit that I come from a somewhat overprotected childhood.

First of all, my dad was raised an only child, but, really, he was the child who followed the death of his parents’ only other child. My grandparents were so afraid of losing him that he was raised as a fragile piece of china—even though he grew up on a Depression-era farm. His nickname in school became “Mittens”—because he wasn’t allowed to get dirty or roughhouse. He grew up to earn a professional degree and work as a pharmacist, only using his hands to count pills and type labels. My father seemed a stranger to his own body—living in a cerebral world where physical risks were minimized. For him, it was his lifestyle focused on comforts that threatened his physical health more than outside risks or movements.

And, for me—I was the baby who did not die when my body raged with infection at four months of age. But the experience left me underweight and scrambling to catch up. My dad’s mom would grab my hands and say things like, “She has hands like a bird. Do you think she will make it?” And whenever I fell down in her presence, she would gasp in fear for me—a reaction that never went away throughout all the normal bumps and bruises of my childhood. Not until I could get my tonsils out, a procedure delayed by my lack of weight gain, could I finally grow into a sturdy child—one who tried to pump hard enough to wrap the swing around the bar, who rode my bike up gravel country roads, climbed trees, screwed up her courage to plunge off the high board, and who, in my teens, jumped at a chance to learn to ski.

Compared to my husband (he of a very physical childhood with his two brothers and more than a few broken bones between them, and a current serious mountain-biking addiction) and my own kids, who I strove not to inject with the legacy of fear my family had attempted to swaddle me in, I am a delicate little flower.

However, I do not often cower in fear. I prepare myself by reading the latest studies (from a layman’s perspective), while watching for bias or updated information. My educational background is in reading and writing, and my current editing work falls in the area of science education—an area where I was NOT naturally drawn to at a young age. No doubt my growth into Safety Mom drove me toward trying to figure out how different factors affect health. In general, if my research tells me something I don’t want to hear, I have to decide how badly I want to avoid the risks.

Unfortunately, what I read at this point in our early days of understanding the current viral threat is that how I respond to safety precautions matters to the health of many beyond my own circle. I don’t really spend a lot of time worrying about myself—or even about those whom I love. Instead, I spend time making certain that—as much as possible—I follow the current recommended safety precautions.

What looks like fear to many is actually love. I am doing unto others what I want them to do for me (see Matthew 7:12). I do this because of what Jesus said—not because I don’t have faith. What if keeping our lamps trimmed and burning (see Matthew 25:1-13) is actually about being prepared to care for others in this interim of waiting for better solutions to this illness? Could the inconvenience of loving our neighbors by maintaining distances and wearing facial coverings actually demonstrate that we are willing to accept God’s timing and ways—in all things, including how and when the bridegroom will arrive?

Fear not, but prepare wisely. Because we do not know the hour or time, one way to keep watch is by showing your love.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert
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(c) 2010 Sherman Lambert

Blame it on seasonal weather changes, thirst, the continuous Zumba music running through my head, or the puppy (!) who will be arriving in our lives soon, but I have not been sleeping deeply the last few nights. Anyone who knows me well, knows I am prone to strange dreams anyway, but when my sleep is restless, the dreams get even more vivid.

This April (that cruelest month) I am mourning, but to tell you the truth it’s not so much the recent loss of my mother but that the dreaded disease, Alzheimer’s, took her several years ago. I lost my mother years before she died—that’s one of the harshest aspects of dementia.

Mom was always an absentminded person who often lived outside the norm. We just came to expect her to be slightly crazy. In fact, that was one of the best sides of who she was. Still, when our father died, we realized very quickly that he had been her timepiece, the person who anchored her in the reality of the world of chronos. For her, life was almost all kairos—for good and bad.

But the first time she forgot my birthday, that hurt. Still, it didn’t 100% point out that she had dementia because if she didn’t know what day it was, she couldn’t know it was my birthday. My brother always came to visit at Thanksgiving, so she remembered his birthday longer, but apparently insisted on making him a chartreuse green angel food cake since that was what he supposedly liked—I was the one who liked angel food and the green frosting only happened once, thankfully, when I turned 13 in the mid-1970s.

Looking back, we realize all the dementia checklists in the world don’t necessarily point out when something’s wrong with your loved one. Really what you need to note is when they can’t do the things they always did well. True, she was having trouble with words, but that isn’t so unusual for post-menopausal women. For her, when she started misspelling written words, that was a huge sign of change since she was pretty much a spelling snob. Still, all that’s water under the bridge of sorts for our family.

What I want now is to dream of her as she was throughout most of my life. However, I continue to have these dreams, as I have for the last three years, where she is either in need due to her dementia, or just needs help. Although the final years of her obvious dementia represent only about 5% of her days on this earth—thank God that percentage isn’t even higher—the most recent images seem burned in my brain.

In the pre-dawn hour, I dreamed she and I were at some sort of a roadside stop, such as you find in the Rocky Mountains, where tourists can linger to visit nature. There we saw this circular flagstone or other natural rock structure—water sat deep within this man-made well of sorts. While Mom was looking in, she fell headfirst. I screamed for help, though I didn’t see how there would be time for anyone to climb in before she succumbed to the water.

When my husband showed up, I implored him to do something. Sherman returned to report he had spoken with her and she said she was fine and would get herself out. She’d gotten hungry (blaming blood sugar difficulties was her consistent excuse for any mental or physical missteps and how she attempted to deflect any dementia concerns) and, pointing to a ladder on the inner wall, she would climb out herself after she’d eaten.

Maybe if she had admitted to needing help, she could have avoided some of her distress, but really, there was no way out from her dementia. She was as lost to us as if she’d fallen into a deep well. We could still see her, but could not reach her.

I’d like to think our family’s story is unique, but unfortunately in 2011, the Alzheimer’s Association released a report estimating 5.4 million Americans have the disease and another 14.9 million people function as unpaid caregivers.

I don’t have to read the report to know I am not alone. Sylvia from Deep Water class, Lenny from Yoga class, my nephew’s mother-in-law Anita—these are just a few of the people I know who are walking beside someone they love who has some form of dementia.

Supposedly some people don’t visit their loved ones often because of fear about their own possibility for getting dementia. Suffice it to say, when I stayed away I think it was due to fears about what was happening right then, but that may just be a form of denial. I remember thinking I hoped my kids didn’t have to go through what I had gone through with my mother—and then realizing that if they did, it could be because I had fallen into that well!

So, I will keep working through my own grief and doing what I can for my own brain health, and trying to find more peace in my dreams.

But the thing is it’s not just about my mom or me. We as a nation cannot afford to continue to lose all these brilliant minds—just hearing all the previous professions and past adventures of those who lived in my mother’s care center taught me how much these people had contributed to our society—nor can we afford the costs of caring for them, either financially or emotionally.

Between 2000 and 2008, deaths from Alzheimer’s increased 66%, while deaths from other diseases, including heart disease, decreased. We need to step up the research for this disease in order to both prevent it and treat it. Currently there is nothing that can pull any of us out of the well once we fall in.

But in my sweetest dreams, there really is a ladder on the inner wall, ready for us to climb at any time.

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