LOTS OF CHATTER
May 17, 2013 — It was during clean-up time with Ken the other morning when he surprised us with a sentence. Getting ready for the day is not his favorite time but some days his cooperation is outstanding; most days he is stubborn, ornery and combative. Somewhere deep into the severe stages of Alzheimer’s Ken is seldom communicative although he might try. More often he expresses anger – even cussing or derogatory name calling — and unattached words sometimes making up a random sentence. Other times, though, he may utter a partial statement or a response limited to one or several words other than “Noooo!” which is his usual retort. So it is surprising when he comes out with a very clear statement such as, “I think I’ll just die.” While he doesn’t say it often it is a standard. My stock answer, “It isn’t that easy, hon.”
I doubt he expects anything additional nor does he ever respond. Furthermore, I’m not sure if his brain is capable of the thought process of actually understanding what he said, or if he understands death at this point in his disease. Yet, there are times I can’t help but wonder if there could be random bits of information trapped inside his dying brain. There are many who believe AD patients, even those whose disease is advanced, are “more there” than we might believe. At times I agree and other times I find nothing on which to base that assumption.
As I continued to assist Crizaldo in our morning routine with Ken, Crizaldo chuckled a little as we gently discussed Ken’s declaration. In the facility where Crizaldo works when he isn’t caring for Ken he mentioned one of his patients. “The other morning the resident said to me, ‘I’m going to die – maybe after lunch.’” I chuckled with him about the “after lunch” time frame and how often remarks made by AD victims can be filled with humor. But again I wondered if the old man’s mind was capable of entertaining thoughts of death – and realizing he didn’t want to miss lunch postponed his departure.
MILD ALZHEIMER’S AND THOUGHTS OF DEATH
Later, as I pondered the tenderness of “death after lunch” I thought of Rosie, Ken’s mom. When her Alzheimer’s was approaching mid-cognitive loss, and after the passing of her husband Nick, she often said that she wished she could jump off the Bay Bridge. I believe she had some reasoning powers intact as she searched for a desired way of escaping from her mental failings and loneliness.
The three of us, Ken, his sister Loretta and I would strive to bolster up her moodiness with some “up” response or tease her by saying that cars weren’t allowed to stop on the Bay Bridge and we weren’t going to drive her. At times she was well enough to smile or even laugh with us as we guided her along this sinister pathway of Alzheimer’s with its dark and dreary places.
THEN THERE WAS MAMA
Before my mother reached her final ending – that of an obedient little girl – she too went through the frustration of realizing that “something was wrong.” Often when I was helping her dress she said to me, “I wish I could just die.” “Oh, Mama,” I answered, “You’ll have to wait your turn.” We had the discussion many times until she became content with me being her mother, taking her with me on errands and happy in her vanishing world.
A MORE DESIRED PLACE TO BE
For Nick, Ken’s father, China was his exit door. The last day I visited with this once-dynamic WWI Leatherneck he cautioned me with remarkable clarity, “Don’t come to see me again. I won’t be here.” Surprised I asked where he was going. “My regiment is going back to China.” With that said he fell back into the mumble-jumble of our previous chat time. Two days later Nick was gone. I hope he was able to swing by Tiananmen Square in Beijing before returning to God who is our home.
MY GROUP OF LOVED ONES
These four people have been mine to care for during their stint through Alzheimer’s. Ken and I, and our parents before us, are all people of faith. I would like to believe that their expressions of desired death were/are out of frustration to move along out of their brain-shackled life and into what is yet to come. That desire, based on an inner knowledge and belief that there is life after life could be their way of saying, “I’m ready to go home.” Another chapter of their eternal quest awaits them.
Suicidal? Perhaps, but not in the foreboding sense of the word and not in the horror feared by loved ones, for I believe they were/are just eager to get on with it. After all, scripture and poets tell us that the best is yet to come.
A MOTHER’S DAY THOUGHT
May 10, 2013 — I have seen this minature essay titled “Life With My Mom” on Facebook many times. Never seeing a signature name at the bottom I have assumed it was written by the famous author Anonymous. It seems to appear on emails and FB every year around the 2nd Sunday of May in honor of this special holiday, which of course is all about Mom.
LIFE WITH MY MOM
Age 6 – “Mommy, I love you.”
Age 10 – “Sure mom – whatever.”
Age 16 – “My mother is so annoying.”
Age 18 – “I can hardly wait to leave home.”
Age 25 – “You were right mom.”
Age 30 – “I want to go to my mom’s house.”
Age 50 – “I’m not ready to lose my mother.”
Age 70 – “I would give up anything for my mom to be here with me.”
Mothers are/were people who really do/did have lives of their own even though, to most of them, being the female parent has and will always be the most important career she will ever choose.
I believe we often forget that important factor, taking them for granted, failing to recognize mothers are not utilitarian builtins like kitchen appliances — always dependable – always there; yet, they do have those same qualities, but let’s not stop there. Mothers can be soft, tender and ever so loving, tenacious and fierce when need be and would probably throw herself under a train to save her child.
She has deep and profound feelings, is more fragile than you realize and can cry for no reason – or so it seems — sobbing away when joyously happy or when stabbed with pain – emotional more than physical.
As I read this short synopsis of a mother’s life I couldn’t help but think back about the woman who has been a highly significant part of my life for as long as she lived.
At age 6, and before, I too loved this woman who cared for me and made me feel happy, content and secure. Secure, at least most of the time. When I was 5 my grandfather died. I remember sitting next to Mama in the church pew at his funeral. I was bored, but as I glanced up and saw tears flowing from her eyes I cried too. If Mama cried it must be the right thing to do, but I did not understand her father’s death.
Later, still at 6, I lay in my bed and cried sorrowful tears. “What’s wrong with you?” asked my older sister Janet. “Mama’s going to die,” I answered finally putting the puzzle together and realizing that if my grandfather died then my mother must die as well.
“When?” asked Janet, her face scrunched with frightened concern.
“I don’t know,” I sobbed. “Someday, just like Grandpa.”
“Then she’s not sick?” Janet continued, her face unscrunched, quickly taking on annoyance. “You mean she’s not going to die next week?” questioned the 9 year old.
“No.” I timidly replied.
“You are such a dumb bell,” she scoffed slamming the door as she huffed out of our shared room.
Age 10: My generation didn’t say, “Whatever” and we didn’t roll our eyes in frustration. We stayed younger longer. My girlfriends and I were still playing with paper dolls. Sometimes when my best friend Rita spent the night we would listen while Mama read to us out of the best of books, or she would recite the alphabet as if it were a dramatic scene from Shakespeare and we would laugh and laugh. Mama could be very funny.
At 16, if we were brave, we might have said, “Whatever” but that was not an expletive for our generation. Besides, it would have been considered sassy — and punishable. We didn’t sass, eye roll or mumble — that is until we closed the door to our bedroom, and then we mumbled about the injustice of it all.
Janet was my nemesis and confidant as I turned 18. We graduated high school (she first), got a job and paid rent. Mama cooked our meals and packed me a bag lunch for the office. Janet said, “No thank you.” We helped in the kitchen, did our assigned chores, as usual, and dated hoping someday to find Mr. Right. Janet and I had a good life which included being obedient to the house rules. The two of also talked about getting our own apartment, but why leave a good deal.
I could have said at 25, “You were right Mom” about so many things, but it wasn’t necessary. My new experiences were bringing about understanding as what it was to be a mother. I was married with two little ones and Mama and I had become good friends – sister-friends. Still mother and daughter but now I had joined her in adulthood.
Slowly, I learned who she was, and who she had been, appreciating this woman and her many talents and her growing wisdom. She had been a real person and an interesting one at that. My mother shared stories about her youth and schooling, receiving a 10k gold medallion for her artwork and willingness to contribute her time. It was engraved “Special Award” and I held it my hand realizing that my mother had been recognized as outstanding. I learned she had completed one semester of college, but could not continue when her family moved to where there was no hint of higher education. During the early years of the 20th century young women seldom left home before marriage.
Mama and I laughed at the old photos of her high school girlfriends. They could have been me and Janet with our girlfriends other than their hairstyles and clothes which were really goofy and laughable.
Later, when I was 30 I took my children and spent a few weeks with my parents at their country place during summers. Ken came up on the weekends. We swam in the historic Russian River and picnicked on the beach at Bodega Bay in Northern California. At night after Ken had returned home to his work and the children were in bed Mother and I talked into the wee small hours of the morning. I loved going to my mother’s house.
At 50 I noticed she was growing older, becoming somewhat demented. No longer did we sit and talk and laugh. Mama tuned me out, often interrupting my sentence with a fragmented thought. “Who is this woman,” I asked. With tears in his eyes my father explained that she was slipping away. Alzheimer’s was stealing my mother. It did and after a time she was gone.
I am older now, more than 70, and I would give anything for my mother to be here with me today celebrating Mothers’ Day 2013.
SPRING BRINGS AN OVERGROWN BACKYARD
May 3, 2013 –
While spring has sprung I couldn’t help but notice how both the front and backyard have not only sprung but jettisoned out of control. Beginning with what seemed to be just a few sprinklings of weeds a few weeks ago several days of good warm weather has exploded them into a full harvest. That description covers our entire lot.
The other morning, as I looked beyond Ken’s bed into the backyard noting more greenery sprouting everywhere I said to Ben,“Good grief, I am overwhelmed.” Alzheimer’s has taken away my life’s helpmate leaving me alone to fight this war on weeds and robust growth. So it was natural to feel nothing but defeat. “You know,” I continued, “they say if mankind disappeared from the planet nature would reclaim its own in 20 years. Looking outside at my tiny corner of the world nature could reclaim this lot in a quick 10 years or less.
I was making conversation, but I am sure that Ben read into my words a lot more than idle talk. The dear man has been, and is, completely aware of my shortcomings and needs. Every morning before we care for Ken and his AD Ben works a half hour or more out-of-doors making the walks and front porch neat and tidy. Later in the year he spends the time raking up the falling leaves of autumn. I am astounded and humbled with gratitude by the extra service and loving care I receive from both him and Crizaldo. Continue reading
AN ALZHEIMER’S CAREGIVER’S RESOLUTION
April 26, 2013 — I haven’t made New Year’s resolutions for many years, but I have decided to make a resolution this spring: to take better care of me. As a caregiver that is often the most difficult of all tasks. Being the first assistant to Ben and Crizaldo in caring for my Alzheimer’s husband Ken I do manage to visit friends, meet people for lunch and see some of the latest movies, but the one area which I have neglected terribly is taking care of the physical me.
When Ken was well, especially after he retired and before AD we went to the gym and actually worked out three times a week. Plus, he (some days coaxing me to go along) walked the dogs along the bay. Last year I managed to get to the gym all of a dozen times, if that many, although it was and is on my Monday, Wednesday and Friday to-do list. Even though it remains at the top of my TDL the gym does manage to slip by the wayside when the list gets too long.
At one time I also did a half-hour workout on my living room floor, but even that has been dropped from my Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday routine. Nor have I been walking. All of these activities have fallen into an “I don’t want to and I don’t care” bad-attitude phase. I have asked me many times the “Why” question, but haven’t found a good answer.
I JUST DON’T CARE
Having lunch one day with my friend Madalyn I mentioned that I really didn’t care that my car needed some TLC, even though I felt a little embarrassed about picking her up with so much grime on the outside of my reliable vehicle.
“I just don’t care,” I apologized, and then repeated the IJDC about a few other things on the list.
“Do you know that not caring can be a sign of depression and stress,” she said.
I have always thought I had a good handle on the depression demon and actually don’t feel too stressed. However, I must admit that I have been hampered about getting things done because I have fallen into the habit of not caring. Thinking I would start to care again once the warm weather arrived, the days grew longer and our skies were clear and blue, it was easy to procastinate. I was certain I would snap right back into wanting to get the car washed – and caring – but it wasn’t happening. Perhaps Madalyn was right. Could I kick the “I just don’t care” attitude, feel better and less stressed if I could get beyond this rebelliousness? Possibly, but how?
A HAPPY VISIT
Kristina dropped by for a quick visit and to give Ken his monthly vitamin B shot. She is a very “up” person and right now she lives her life with her secondary goal as having fun. That doesn’t mean to say she doesn’t earn a living. She does and enjoys her work as a caregiver for disabled people, and has been wonderful, at times, helping with her Alzheimer’s grandfather. Right now, though, she and her boyfriend are pretty much into amusement when they aren’t working, and she mentioned looking forward to the weekend so she could goof off.
“Hummmm,” I hummed, how long has it been since I goofed off wondering if I still knew how. Ken, before AD, knew how to goof off and was an expert. Watching sports on TV was goofing off and visiting with the neighbors instead of cutting the lawn were two of his favorite goof off non-activities. I’m not sure if wives are as good at this talent as are their husbands, especially if life dishes them a full plate of Alzheimer’s complete with accessorized ramifications. I’ll have to think about resurrecting this goof-off idea.
SILLINESS IS GOOD
Gouda the cat and I have a continuing contest over “Whose bed (chair) is this anyway?” She either occupies my computer chair or the bed after I get up. So far it’s a standoff. Going in the other day to make up the bed I pulled at the covers which immediately awakened the ball-of-fur feline. Instead of leaving her comfort zone she attacked the moving blankets. I pulled and she dove into the exchange. “Fun,” her action declared.
My arm went under several layers of blankets for protection from her sharp, needle-point claws which were in full flight as I snaked my hand in every which direction across the bottom sheet. She was doing what cat’s do best — chasing a moving object. I reacted with full participation – always guarding against Gouda’s prowess skills and weapons which now included teeth and her back feet. Bounding here and there she was all over the “map.” My armored arm, hand and fingers became her prey as she challenged them from on top of the swathed surface. After several minutes I said to myself, “Good grief, I’m playing with the cat.” Do you suppose that could be considered goofing off? Playing? Wasting time? Indulging in nonsense? If that’s what it’s called – then this could be the start of something big. I’ll put that on my to-do list: schedule goof-off time – ten minutes to play with the cat — well, maybe at least five.
RUNNING FROM ALZHEIMER’S
April 19, 2013 — Our house holds a lifetime of stuff, and whenever I do a tad of downsizing I know that eventually a total bulldozing is inevitable. When a couple plans to move to smaller quarters it is easier – almost fun — with two sorting, remembering and then deciding which treasures have turned into trash. However, when one of the partners in a marriage becomes the victim of any terminal disease it is, in a word, devastating. For us, the disease is Alzheimer’s. Under these circumstances clearing out is not only extremely difficult it’s a very emotional experience. I find myself drifting, often stumbling, into these necessary chores as the spirit moves me. I know, also, that whatever I manage to purge is only the tip of the iceberg.
Take the office as an example. Before it became mine, and before Alzheimer’s, it belonged to Ken and to him alone. I suppose every man looks forward to the day when the children are grown and gone so he can have his own “den.” Ken’s den, decorated by me under his approving supervision, could best be titled a miniature Smithsonian. Not only did he add to the décor with knick-knacks and various collections of his own choosing, but the room boasts an assortment of items given to him at Christmas and for his birthday from doting family members.
For example, there is a 4 ft. tanned rattlesnake skin (without head or rattlers) stretched onto a piece of red fabric and mounted on a rustic fence board hanging above the widow. Before you say ”ick” let me tell you it’s actually very attractive, tastefully done and definitely a conversation piece.
Common to the warmer regions of California (and many other western states) the snake lived where my son and his wife make their home. The demise of the snake came when it and Ken, Jr. met by surprise which became a standoff — neither willing to turn their back on the other. Ken, Jr. was the winner when a confrontation appeared inevitable. As his mother I am happy my son was not the victim. Continue reading
For the most part I dislike nicknames. When I met Ken he was introduced to me as “Bud.” Bud, I thought, he doesn’t look like a Bud. Actually, I didn’t even know what a Bud was supposed to look like. Perhaps someone small, around seven with no front teeth, but this Bud had his teeth and was over six feet, and rather handsome. I just knew I didn’t like the name, Bud. In making further conversation he mentioned that his uncles back in Colorado liked to call him Buckshot.
Ugh, that was worse than Bud was my second thought: “Buckshot? Why?”
“Just nicknames,” he continued.
“Do you have a real name,” I questioned?
“Ken,” he answered. “My full name is Kenneth Richard Romick,” but most everyone calls me Bud. All of my life I have been Bud, and my sister Loretta has been Sis.”
“Do you mind if I call you Ken,” I asked. Continue reading
April 5, 2013 — Lyricists used to write songs like “Spring is here…Why doesn’t my heart go dancing?……” And then the melody picked up and soon you’d be humming along caught up in the loveliness of a spell. Spring can do that to a person.
Possibly spring is my favorite time of the year, and why not? The joy of this first full month of awakening abounds with an air of light rain and freshness. Tiny leaves of green with fluted edges magically appear on gnarled branches, soon fashioned into ruffled curtains and fluttering screens for our fine feathered friends yet to come. Blossoms and daffodils burst open almost overnight in playful confusion reminding us this is only the beginning.
Treasures from the past come to mind: verses and poetry ring with familiar and loved words and praises all about this season of new life. Continue reading
March 29, 2013 – Caring for an Alzheimer’s patient is more often than not just about all a caregiver can do. Actually, that’s enough. Yet, outside of our AD world life goes on and for others there still is a need for someone who cares.
As the primary caregiver of my husband there is so much more involved than just the daily seeing and caring for his needs. Still living in our home and having rental property to help with our income, it is a business requiring management and maintenance. That was something Ken handled as well as paying all the bills and keeping track of expenditures for income tax purposes, and so on and on. I hadn’t properly appreciated him until I had to take on all of his responsibilites leaving not a great deal of time for doing much of anything else. Continue reading
March 22, 2013 — It’s been four years since granddaughter Kristina arrived with her cats. She, as I have mentioned before, has moved on with her life but the cats remain. Actually, I’m happy to have them here. They are good company, especially Gouda, a small female with gray stripes and an undercoating of thick, pale fur.
DEMANDING HOUSE CATS
The male cat, Junior, by choice spreads himself throughout the neighborhood and leads a very colorful life on and beyond our house. Gouda, however, spends as little time out-of-doors as possible. She is also a most loveable animal.
She will sit at the end of the counter, a rather central location in the house, while we walk back and forth managing our various chores and duties with Ken. Periodically she will reach out with a paw and snag a sleeve in an attention-getting effort. If the passerby escapes she will try again and again until her chosen one is captured, picks her up, nestles her in the crook of an arm and sits down to take a break: a break for her chosen but a show of affection for Gouda is all she wants: a good deal of petting, a few scratches under the chin and some ear rubs. She responds gratuitously with a barely audible meow, a contented cat smile and that odd vibrating hum for which cats are famous – better known as purring. Continue reading
March 15, 2013 — Every so often we run across a story that touches our heart in many ways. I have a lot of friends on Facebook; that social media thing which could command much of our time if allowed, but today I am pleased to have skimmed through and found my cousin Sara had added an Alzheimer’s video to my page, a story about an older male caregiver, responsible for his sweet wife. I stopped and watched “Bill and Glad: a love story.” Continue reading