man winking

Despite the condition of Ken’s severe Alzheimer’s, a wink is still an effective form of communication.

December 28, 2012 — Ken winked at me this morning in an all-knowing manner. He smiled too.  Interesting that in his Alzheimer’s his old way of communicating something special to me is still part of his personality. 

A wink was always his message just for me.  While others may have noticed anyone could tell who Ken was looking at when he smiled from across the room and winked, “I love you.” “Check out what’s going on,” he would say with a quick nod added to the wink. “Did you hear that,” the wink asked as Ken’s brow furrowed? He sent me countless messages with nothing more than a smile and a wink.



When we were dating and I appeared for our date coming down the stairs he looked up at me, his gaze passing my father’s watchful eye, and gave me a wink which silently said, “You look fabulous tonight.” Often as he left me at the door following our date Ken always looked back and winked; his wink saying, “I think I’m falling in love with you.”  At times when a room was filled with people and a long lull hung over the conversation he would glance at me and wink, “Is it time for us to go?”  Another message delivered without a single word.


Then there was the last day of the year after we married; we were at a party, tag-along guests of Jim and Barbara hardly knowing anyone else, yet we circulated; the crowd waiting to welcome in the New Year. Barbara and I finally found a couple of empty chairs just vacated and grabbed them before anyone else noticed. Relaxing for a few moments we watched our new husbands banter with the other guests.  They were much more comfortable than the two of us with their natural affability and jovial manner which charmed just about everyone who happened nearby as the two exchanged conversational small talk and wit. 

The grandfather clock was approaching midnight when Barbara said, “Look!  That girl is making a pass for Ken.” Sure enough she was and I wondered what would happen next.  Didn’t she notice he was wearing a wedding ring?  Then, as the clock began to chime he looked over to where I was sitting and winked.  Excusing himself he came to my side, pulled me up from where I was sitting and kissed me Happy New Year.  My message to her without a wink, “He’s already taken: mine.” 


He had given me that reassuring wink in all five hospital beds after the delivery of our babies.  “Good job wife,” he said without words.  Then he held my hand in both of his and kissed my fingertips softly saying, “I love you.


There were more winks during our marriage of more than a half century.  Coaching Little League he would find me sitting in the bleachers behind the cyclone fencing, come over to say hello and looking toward one of our boys on the team nod his head and wink.  “Look at our boy,” the wink would say.  “Isn’t he a great kid?”  How many times did he repeat that message?  More than I could possibly count for all three of our sons. 

And our girls, each in their own time dressed in a long, flowing gown with dancing slippers to match all ready for the prom.  He would look at her, and then at me smiling and wink.  “Isn’t she beautiful,” said the message without words.


Standing alone in the pew I watched as my husband walked our nervous young bride down the aisle.  She was so lovely, yet so uneasy.  I don’t know what he said, but he spoke softly to her, holding her hand tightly in his as they made their way toward her future husband: father and daughter.  I could see her relax – become more composed — and his eyes met mine and he winked.  “She’ll be fine,” it said.  “And who gives this woman in marriage?” asked the clergyman, “Her mother and I do,” Ken answered, and then he took his place next to me looking into my watering eyes and winked.  “We’ll be okay too,” said the wink as this tender-hearted man brushed a tear from the corner of his eye.


At the end of their growing-up years we periodically dropped each one of our brood off at college or into life with the painful joy of parents watching their fledglings taking that first solo flight into a chosen world.  Out of sight I always cried and somewhere along the way home my husband would look over and wink as a guarantee that they – and we — would be the usual: just fine.  And we were.  Time has moved forward, and so did our brood living happy, productive lives of their own, with, of course, a few of the usual bumps and potholes of family living.


As my birthday neared one year Ken asked where I wanted to go. “To see Liza Minnelli.  In two weeks she’ll be at the Orpheum theater in San Francisco,” I firmly answered.

I bought a new dress for the occasion – a little black number – stylish, modest, and short but not too short.  I hadn’t shown it to him before our date and dressed quietly as he waited in his office.  Looking playfully wicked I leaned against the door and asked, “Hey big guy, how about a date?”  Looking up he said, “Wow!” and then he winked and smiled his silent message making me feel like a very desirable woman — his woman.


Ken winked at me and smiled while standing in line at the pharmacy.  Namenda was the name of the medicine. “Maybe this will help delay the Alzheimer’s,” the doctor told us sending the prescription to the pharmacy via his computer. Minutes later, meds in hand, Ken sat down next to me. “Golly!” he said, “This stuff is expensive.  Do you think I’m worth it?”  “Of course, you’re worth it – every single penny,” I answered, “and so much more. Let’s hope it helps.”


Nine years later, Ken still winks at me even though he is well into advanced Alzheimer’s.  No longer does he know me, nor does he recognize any of our children or the continually growing family they have brought to us.  If he makes a sentence it isn’t connected to anything, and every so often he calls out my name yet has nothing to say nor does he know me when I appear.

Now he winks when he believes he is putting something over on Ben or Crizaldo, his at-home caregivers who help me care for him.  While I hold his restrained hands Ken often tries to flip an elbow into either one of the men’s ribs and he winks at me and looks mischievous. “That isn’t nice,” I tell him.  “Whaaaattt?” he questions blamelessly.

This morning Ken belched; one of those long releases coming from deep inside sounding like the rumblings of an oil gusher.  Giving a side nod to Ben he smiled at me, and then winked which told me he had gotten away with something.  “I didn’t do that,” he declared in all innocence.  Ben and I laughed.

I know where he is on the Alzheimer’s graph of severe, and I’m aware of all the tell-tale signs of his terribly damaged brain.  Yet buried somewhere under all the beta amyloid protein, tangles and tau a bit of personality still clings pleading with me not to forget him, who he was and us.  How could I ever forget him and that charming manner of communication with its “just for me” message delivered with a wink.

Originally posted 2012-12-28 09:56:52.

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