My sisters and I have unusual birthdates.  Not because 2, 6 and 9 are unusual, it’s that all three numbers are in March, and had I not been born in a leap year, the day of my birth would have fallen on March 3 instead of March 2.  That one day would have made the three of us three years, three days apart.  Even without me messing up the numbers by arriving a day early, the closeness of the dates is still rather unusual.

Consequently, my middle sister, Janet, and I often shared a party:  a few of her friends and a few of mine.  This was acceptable until we outgrew parties with little friends, “Pin The Tail On The Donkey,” and the need for a party.  But do we ever outgrow that need for a day of celebration and recognition for our arrival on planet Earth?  Thinking about it in that manner, birth is really a very big deal, as is its yearly anniversary.

The first year of our marriage, Ken prepared a special dinner for my birthday.  As a former Navy cook, he liked to cook and had a lot of experience, serving me an entree of stuffed pork chops with complemenary side dishes.  What the side dishes were I don’t recall, but I will always remember the delicious pork chops.

Our old movie  camera and 35mm snapshots recorded the Kodak moments of our children’s parties with the neighborhood kids as guests.  All of them dressed in their Sunday finery, arriving through the side gate to celebrate each gala in the back yard where spilled drinks, ice cream and cake could be washed away with the garden hose.

Then as the old film commercial crooned, “Turn around, turn around…..” ending in something like “…with babes of their own.”  In agreement, it seemed that as quickly as our babies came into our lives, all of them grew up into adults and now have families — “babes of their own,” but the birthday parties continue, the family having extended into four generations.

Our daughter, Julie, entertainer extraordinaire, with Ken’s input and help, took it upon herself to host my birthday celebrations with lovely dinner parties at her home.  When that didn’t happen we went out for dinner; birthdays being something to place in a fond memory bank.

This year, my birthday was two weeks after the accident and was spent in the hospital.  Family came for a visit as did friends.  One of my younger friends, Christine — a beautiful purple orchid in hand to mark the occasion — assured me that my neck brace would take away any signs of a double chin, or chins.  Of course, she lied, but I loved her for it.

“We’ll have a bar-b-cue at the ranch when you’re better,” promised Keith.  “My birthday is in May,” added our friend Don.  “We can celebrate together when the weather is good.”  “That will be something for me to look forward to,” I replied.  I needed that — a  happy time to think about beyond the neck brace, broken ribs and bruises.  So for the first time in my life, and with warm weather prevailing I celebrated my winter March 2, birthday in late spring.

In all the years of our marriage, there has always been a party for Ken.  June 10, is his birthday, or as some purest say, “the anniversary of his birthday.”  Some parties were smaller than others, but the important people were always there:  our family.  Other years, especially when time ticked off another decade, we had “grand” parties inviting lots of friends, as well as family.  Some were surprise parties, others were not.  In any event, he was definitely “the birthday boy,” finding joy in the celebration.

“Are you going to have a party for Ken’s birthday,” asked Ben, Ken’s caregiver of four months.  For a moment I was left without an answer.  Ken no longer knew “up from down,” nor did June 10, have any meaning for him.  Furthermore, he no longer had “wants” and all of his needs were met.  “A little party,” I answered, seeing that Ben didn’t understand my lack of enthusiasm.

Ben brought a party bag with cookies inside when he came to work on June 10, and I gave Ken a card and more cookies.  Our children called or dropped by.  If  it was convenient and the phone was close he would speak to them.  If he had to get up to answer, he didn’t bother, saying, “No.  Now now.”  They understood.

At dinner we sang “Happy Birthday,” presented him with a flaming candle stuck in a scoop of ice cream and cookies, and presents.  “Blow out the candle,” we coaxed.  “You blow it out,” Ken grumbled, not interested in the silliness of the exercise.  If birthday wishes were meaningful to him, it was hard to tell.  He opened the cards, read them aloud and tossed them aside. Quickly forgotten, he ate his ice cream and cookies.  Birthdays had lost their charm and  meaning.  Like all of the other pleasurable things in life, Alzheimer’s had taken away that last bit of joy.

However, in the midst of being sad about memory lost, I remembered a few lines from one of my favorite poems:   “Intimations of Immortality” by Wordsworth: “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting, the soul that rises with us, our life star, hath had elsewhere it’s setting, and cometh from afar…………”  Believing we have always been “us” — individual spirit children of God — living before in a pre-mortal state of being makes us eternal.  What’s more is that I continue to believe the same “us” will  go on existing after this life.  I find comfort that somewhere in time and in another place, Ken will remember and celebrate his day of arrival in that future place.  I doubt it will be known as a “birthday,” but it will be a day to commemorate which, surrounded by loved ones, will bring him, once again, joy.

Originally posted 2010-06-14 00:55:21.

JANUARY 21, 2010

“I’ll phone you tomorrow early afternoon,” said my daughter, Julie, calling me yesterday reminding me that Ken and I had a wedding anniversary today, the 21st of January.   “There’s a new tea room uptown and we can go there for lunch depending on how Dad is doing.”   “That will be great,” I answered, thanking her for the invitation and for remembering our special day, as if she could forget.

Last year Ken was less demented than he is now, but still had little memory of us as a couple.  Nevertheless, as dinner time approached, marking our anniversary, I decided to “celebrate” by taking him to Neumanli’s, Julie’s restaurant.    He agreed that going out for dinner sounded good.  In my ever-hopeful mind I envisioned the two of us at our intimate table for two tucked in a quiet corner; the romance of us — who we had been —  pulling him into some kind of lucidity, if only for a brief time.

Of course, there was no miracle.  He wolfed down his food and asked me to take him home as his wife was probably waiting.  I explained to him that I hadn’t finished my dinner.   He was without any kind of good manners, almost like a naughty child.  When I didn’t leap up from the table to accomodate his request my “date” became so obnoxious I hurriedly ate the rest of my food, and we left before his annoying manners caused the other patrons to wish they had dined elsewhere. Thanking Julie for dinner, I scurried him to the car declaring to myself there would be no more celebrations, nor any more attempts at celebrating.

Yet, here it was again.  That’s the trouble with special days, they keep showing up on the calendar with no escape.  I had vowed to ignore the whole thing, but somehow the longing for even a small observance of our togetherness remained so strong I became hopeful that perhaps a short outing with him would suffice for me.   However, this morning was no different from how Ken has been lately as his Alzheimer’s takes him further and further away from me, the person who loves him most in all the world.  Lately, he sleeps until noon or 1:00, gets up, eats and naps a bit on the couch, then wanders around the house in his sleepware refusing any and all suggestions.  I wonder if it’s all the rain we’ve been having that makes him so gloomy?  The days are so dark and dreary.  Seldom does he want to shave and shower or become part of the real world until around 6:00 p.m., at which time he is willing to do anything I ask, but only during a limited window of opportunity.  By then, there is only time to get him cleaned up.  Still, I wanted today to be different.  If only he had cooperated, we could have taken in a movie as well as lunch with our daughter.

Julie called at 1:00 and I told her it wasn’t going to happen, and I thanked her for the effort.  Wistfully, she said, “Happy Anniversary.”   I looked out of the window at the rain; such a gray day.  I so wanted to get out, feeling a little cabin fever after so much wetness.  Ken was content doing nothing, which is not good for him either.

At 6:30 p.m. the phone rang again.  “Hi,” said Julie.  “Can you open the front door.  It’s pouring out here and I want to make a quick run into the house.”  There she was,  still wearing her chef’s coat, taking a few stolen minutes from her restaurant and holding a tray carrying two speciality desserts zigzagged with chocolate sauce just as if we were at our intimate table for two.   Tucked under one arm a dozen long-stemmed yellow roses glistened with raindrops.  “Here,” she said, setting down the tray and handing me the bouquet, “I know it isn’t the same, but just pretend.”  I felt moisture puddle in my eyes as I put my favorite flowers in water while she visited with her father.  He may have recognized her, at least he was friendly and allowed a hug and a kiss goodbye as she dashed away.

I had already planned dinner, and now I could really pretend:  Little Caesar’s Hot-N-Ready pizza with two green salads arranged on a dinner plate looked a bit more exciting when placed next to a candle and a vase of roses, especially on the kitchen snack bar.    To add to the festivities, I filled two flute glasses from a chilled bottle of  Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider.  Ken lifted his glass as I lifted mine.  “To us,” I said.  “God bless you,” he returned.

He gobbled down his dinner, as usual, telling me that everything was very good.  I cleared the dishes and served (complimentary from the best restaurant in town) our beautiful dessert.   “Did you cook all of this,” he asked.  “Of course,” came my answer.  I suppose it was all right if I kept pretending for a while — and thank you Julie — for allowing me to celebrate one more time.

Originally posted 2010-01-22 09:56:59.


It’s January 21, 2009 which is Ken’s and my wedding anniversary.  During the day he took turns being any one of his three personalities — as usual. Some time around 4:00 he seemed to be Ken so I asked if he would like to go for dinner and, perhaps, a movie to celebrate our anniversary.  He looked at me with a questioning smile then asked,  “When did that happen?”  “A long time ago,” I answered, but mention food and he is ready to go.

We went to a small, intimate restaurant owned by our daughter, Julie, which during these economic times is struggling to stay open.  We sat in what has become my favorite corner and ordered dinner — a small dinner.  He becomes agitated when he has to wait very long for anything.  Usually we have been going to some fast food places where he gets instant food.  Even before our meal arrived he became Mr. Hyde and wanted to hurry because he had to get home for his wife who should be home from work.  I rushed as much as I could, considering it was hot soup, telling him we would leave as soon as I finished my dinner.  He began pacing around the restaurant and I could see that he was becoming agitated.  Rather than have him bother the other customers, I decided it best to leave.   Asking for the check our server said it had been taken care of.  Leaving a tip on the table I picked up my coat and purse and peeked into the kitchen saying,  “Thanks for dinner, Julie.”   “Happy anniversary,” she sighed, and we left.

Son-in-law Tim caught us as we were driving out of the parking lot.  “I thought you were going to hang for a little while,” he said.  “No,” I replied.  “Ken has to get home to find his wife.  I came with my husband, but shortly after we arrived the evening turned into a real bummer of a blind date.”   Try a little humor, I thought, to cover the pain.  We said our good evenings and I drove home.  I cried all the way.  Ken didn’t notice.

Foolish woman, I thought to myself.  I knew better.  What did I expect?  Perhaps a miracle — a lucid evening — when he would remember who we were and our life together.  It didn’t happen.  Of course not.  After five years, his Alzheimer’s is well advanced.   On his blog, Dr. David, mentioned “a rotting mind.”   I have called it the same thing and it might as well be as there are hardly any reference points remaining; just a mass of tangles and plaque.   It’s almost as if my husband has died and I’m taking care of  what’s left.   However, I know  I am fortunate that I can still care for him at home.  I just won’t plan — or expect — any romantic evenings with my husband.  But every so often, when the sun is bright,  he will remember just a little and ask, “You know what?”  “What?” I answer.  “I love you.”  It’s not an evening out, nor will it fill the whole day, but for a moment I have my husband back.

Originally posted 2009-01-30 06:14:02.


roll of toilet paper

Gifts of paper for the first anniversary. What else but  bathroom tissue?

January 21, 2013 – Monday:  School is out, no mail delivery and the banks are closed.  It’s a holiday, and much, much more:  Martin Luther King Day, Inauguration Day in Washington, D.C., and most important of all, it’s Ken’s and my wedding anniversary.   In retrospect, there are more years than I care to count, and far too many years living with Alzheimer’s, but it’s our day and I remember it with fondness.

Earlier this morning, thinking of it as just another Monday, I put a few letters at the box for the mailman to pick up. Several hours later I remembered it was a holiday and brought them back into the house.  Furthermore, there was no need to drive to the bank.  Meanwhile, they were celebrating in our nation’s capital, and I found myself thoughtful about it being the 21st, reminiscing about Ken and me, our life together before Alzheimer’s, and our very first anniversary.  Continue reading

Originally posted 2013-01-26 07:04:54.


Full winter moon peeks through bare branches

Do people with Alzheimer's remember nature?

I watch the moon on these crisp and clear winter nights as it wanes and waxes just as I have watched it during all of the seasons.  For me, though, it is most beautiful during the fall when it appears to be closer to the earth than at any other time.  In reality it isn’t, it just looks that way.

The Harvest Moon as they refer to its splendor is almost frightening when it’s full, appearing bigger than life, as it peeks up over the hills east from where we live.  For years, at first sighting whether by me or Ken one would nudge the other excitedly saying, “Oh, look at the moon.  It’s so magnificent!”  It was as though if we didn’t stop what we were doing and look right then and there the other would miss it all together – as if neither of us had ever seen the moon before.

It’s understandable why the ancients of long ago were frightened of what they saw in the skies; why they had moon gods and superstitions, worshipping and fearing what they could not comprehend.  The moon itself with its many changes would be awesome enough, but imagine what terror was evoked when something unknown changed the appearance of their moon.

Ken and I have property in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains where we were able to spend some wonderful times several years ago before Alzheimer’s spread its destruction across his brain.  A lunar eclipse had been announced, but because of fog we wouldn’t be able to see it in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Not to matter, we had already planned to spend those days on the property and looked forward to the heavenly show.

Taking our folding chairs and flashlights from the trailer we walked up to the top of the hill as darkness fell and the telling hour approached.  Facing eastward we waited longer than we had expected to see some sign of the moon.  Nothing was happening.  Had the fog followed us to the foothills?  Looking straight up, directly overhead, we found the heavens filled with bright, sparkling stars and yet there was no moon.  Had the universe canceled the show?  Finally common sense prevailed and we stood up and moved to the right of where we had been sitting.  There it was in all of its celestial glory: the lunar eclipse.  Much to our chagrin we had been sitting behind a tree – a distant tree – but a tree nonetheless that reached skyward into the blackness just enough to block our vision.

“Wow!” was the word, spectacular beyond description.  We had lived so many years under hazy skies and city lights such sights had long eluded us.  We spoke of the Indians who had lived here so many years before and wondered what they thought of such a phenomenal happening.   It would have been beyond frightening without knowledge, and having only mystical beliefs they could know little of their moon-god, much less that Mother Earth could produce a shadow.

I wonder if it would frighten Ken if he saw an eclipse tonight, or is his thinking so far gone that even the moon itself is unknown to him. I wonder if he remembers the sun or the stars, the heavens or the universe.  Does he grasp feeling heat or cold, light or darkness – even day or night? Would he know of things once held dear to his heart: the ocean’s roar, the cry of a gull, the wind coming in from the sea, the feel of damp sand beneath his bare feet or the wetness of a lacy edged wave spilling over his toes?  I wonder if he remembers our four seasons with the moon.

It was under a spring moon that we met, falling in love among the stars and moon on balmy summer nights, a solitaire diamond offered in the brilliance of fall’s golden moon, and we married as winter’s pale moon slipped away behind storm-leaden clouds.

We looked out from our window into a gray day watching the rain and wind banter with the last few leaves hanging on skeletal trees in a nearby grove, and I thought of my new husband while promising me, “I’ll remember you in winter.”  And now I look up at the soft moon remembering him – us — January. Perhaps, somewhere deep in Ken’s lost mind and crippled neurons a memory flickers – and then again — perhaps not — but more importantly I want him to know deep in his soul that he knew love and is loved — still.  Happy Anniversary Ken.  January 21.

Originally posted 2012-01-21 03:43:06.

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