Family

A WALK IN THE COUNTRY

“I think I’ll take the Scouts on a 50-Miler,” said my Scoutmaster husband many years ago.  “We’ve been to Scout camp for the past few years, but I’d like to challenge them a bit more.”  For prerequisites, Ken’s troop of eager young men, ranging in age from 17 down to 12-year-olds with skinny legs and wobbling knees, strapped a full pack on their backs, laced up their boots and hiked the lowlands in preparation of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.

For several years the troop, with Ken and a few other adult leaders, braved the rutted trails, thunder storms, peaks and valleys and dehydrated food so they could unroll a sleeping bag, toss it on a bumpy terrain and gaze up at a pitch black sky dotted with billions of stars.   The young men soon learned why it was unwise to go barefoot in camp, to identify certain rocks and rock formations, to fish the lakes and respect the land, to hike in groups, wait for the others when the trail forked, and to watch out for your friends who would gladly slip an extra rock or two in your pack just for the fun of it.   A week later the troop  arrived home dirty, bandaged, bedraggled, smelling of camp-fire smoke, pine and sweat and gloriously happy for the experience.  They had climbed the mountains because they were there and both men and boys were better and stronger for it.

When our boys had completed Scouting, Ken was reluctant to give up the mountain adventure.  So for Christmas he bought me  my own light-weight aluminum backpack with a bright red nylon covering and a pair of hiking boots.  “Good grief,” said my friend Sofia, “are you going to like that.”  “Well,” I answered, “it’s more adventurous than two weeks at the Holiday Inn.”   Having sons who still hiked the high places, we were often joined by any one of them or all three. We also had grandchildren who wanted to come.  Like the Scouts, they had to be 12 to qualify.  John, Peter and Sean tramped the trails of The Three Sisters in Oregon with us and our oldest son, Kevin.

Kevin led the way, with Sean and Pete close behind.  Their taut young bodies springing ahead as if to blaze a trail for we who lagged behind with our aging dog, Bruiser.  Feeling our years just a bit, our packs seemed to grow heavier each trip.   Never getting to far ahead, we always found the others waiting around the bend, rested and ready to continue.   In between the front and rear guard, was John who finally decided to stay behind with us.  He felt no need to rush ahead, and if truth be told, I believe he was sensitive to us: his grandparents and Bruiser.  Whether we needed him or not, I’ll never know, but it was another joy to have him close by to share the adventure; to see which plants attracted more butterflies, to sit for a while with our feet dangling in the cool water of a mountain stream and to get better acquainted with this third generation.

Crossing the creeks Ken would hold out his strong, firm hand helping me and John, guiding us step by step to the solid rocks and logs until we reached the other side and the continuing trail.  Ken was ever the Scoutmaster at heart, still agile and experienced in his acquired knowledge of the wilderness, which he loved.

Out last backpack trip was to British Columbia with Pete and John, their parents, Julie and Tim, and two other grandchildren: Pam and Jeff.  Promises were left with the younger ones, “It will be your turn next time,” but next time never came.  The back packs were stored in the garage and gathered dust while the grandchildren grew up and married and had children of their own.  Ken’s Alzheimer’s descended like a gathering storm and he now shuffles like the frail old man he has become.

It has been nearly impossible to talk him into much of any kind of adventure, but as Labor Day weekend approached and John and his wife, Marisol, with their little ones, and parents planned to camp on our acreage in the foothills, I longed to join them, if only for the day.    Ken sleeps very late in the morning and I didn’t want to make a 200-mile round trip for just an hour.  Being realistic, I hadn’t planned on going.  However, he surprised me at 9:30 agreeing to get ready and come with me for a ride, which he really enjoys.  But of course, once he was ready, he had forgotten about the ride, refusing to get into the car claiming he had too much responsibility at home.  I have learned to play the “waiting game,” and after a while I was able to coax him into the passenger seat and off we went.  How good it felt to once again be on the open road going somewhere, even if it was just a mini day trip.

We found the family at everyone’s favorite camp spot and they were surprised and pleased to see us.   Accepting some refreshments and pulling a camp chair into the shade, we settled in planning an afternoon of relaxation before dinner.  The trip, mixed with country fresh air, seemed to bring out the best in Ken even if his remarks were off the wall and  unrelated to the conversation, it was good to have him participate.    Someone mentioned a sight to see at the top of the hill, not much further than a walk around the block, but with a more difficult terrain.  A few of us accepted the challenge.  Together, we were four generations with 3-year-old Maya asking me if I could pick her up.  I did, then put her down suggesting we hold hands.  She did.  Single file, we began our walk in the country to the top of the hill.  Ken behind me and John following, bringing up the rear, making sure his grandfather would be all right.  This time I knew we  needed him.

Mostly a cow trail, we ducked under low-hanging branches, stepped over rocks, twigs and cow plops, and then dipped down an embankment where a very small creek ran forming a muddy bog on either side.  For the sure-footed, it was easy: from the bank to a rock to the bank.   The two of us were no longer sure-footed, but as Ken watched the others cross over, a scrap of memory struggled free from his tangled mind, and he said, “I used to do this with my Scouts.”  For some strange reason I am always thrilled when he has a spark of memory.  Meanwhile, John found a sturdy log and making it secure, he held out a strong, firm hand and guided Ken across.   My turn next, but as I watched John, the man, now the strong one  helping his grandfather, his children nearby, I was warm with gratitude seeing the generations already here and the knowledge that a tiny bit of us is in evidence before me and will continue with our progeny to come.  The cycle of life continues.

Originally posted 2009-09-11 07:32:36.

SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE

When my two sisters and I were young marrieds and busy with children or careers we made every effort to stay close, visiting with one another as often as we could.  To make our relationship even more pleasant our husbands were good friends and enjoyed discussing their various fields of endeavor with one another:  Douglas, a jeweler; George, a chemist and Ken an engineer.  Douglas and Ken were WWII veterans having served in the Air Force while Ken was a Navy man.  George, however, had been 4F because of poor eyesight and hearing problems.  Nevertheless, the three delighted in conversation and would sit, bantering with one another about every subject imaginable; war experiences, college life, youth and their troubles, and solving national problems if not the world’s — not to forget sports.

We women described their endless discussions as “Can You Top This,” not to say they out-and-out lied to one another — maybe some fabrication — or better yet, they stretched the truth; each attempting to make his story, no matter what the subject, better than the others.  I had also noticed that our three weren’t much different from most other husbands we knew whose wives complained about their story telling, but right now I’m talking about just three men:  our men.  This is not an attempt to dissect the male psyche, but the habit of “Can You Top This” was something our men indulged in no matter who they were talking with, even us, their wives.  Perhaps, though, not to the degree of repartee savored for one another.

When Ken and I met the thing I liked best about him was his easy, relaxed personality; his broad comfort zone with people from all walks of life.  He could talk with anyone, something that was difficult for me, being rather shy.  I loved his stories, filled with fun and adventure.  He was the life of the party and he was my date.  Ken had the gift of fab and I was happy to be with him.

After we married I noticed his stories grew with the telling.  Happenings about his friends (when Ken wasn’t even there) began to include him as part of the escapade.  I was sure the base story was true, but I started to suspect he enjoyed elaboration and color to make his story just a little bit better, even fudging into some subject matters which were not of his expertise.  Nevertheless, he remained Mr. Charming and definitely Mr. Entertainment.  Our company took pleasure in his chatter and our young children clamored for him to tell his stories again and again, which he did beginning each episode with, “When I was in…….”

As the years passed I probably knew those accounts better than he:  high school sports (which were cut short by his becoming a Merchant Marine seaman at 15), followed by  his stint in the Navy, and then coming home from the war and finishing school.

Always athletic, he skied, had a brief spell with a fledgling (but doomed) semi-pro football team, played a little college and office-league basketball, and swung a baseball bat with the Dad’s Club of our elementary school, and our church athletic group.  If he couldn’t do it well, Ken didn’t do it at all.  For example, his experience with anything movable attached to his feet was a complete disaster.   As a family we tried roller and ice skating at the rinks, but Ken’s weak and wobbly ankles brought those undertakings to a quick end.  Good sport though he was, skating of any kind was not for him.

During all the years of our marriage, he was a sports enthusiast, seldom missing a game on TV, more often than not to my annoyance.  Now, with his Alzheimer’s disease I find myself scanning the screen for any competition which might hold his attention.   Several nights ago, I found a hockey game in full battle.  Personally, I had never paid much attention to Hockey, but as the skaters raced around the rink, I found myself watching.  “Look Ken,” I excitedly said, “They look like a bunch of chickens chasing a bug.”  I wondered in his dementia if he would pick up on what the skaters were doing, but he actually watched and laughed at the wild, fast movements as the players chased the small, black speck on the ice.  We talked a little bit about the game and he actually laughed at my chicken joke.  Then somewhere in his clouded mind the old fabricator struggled free and said, “When I was in high school, I played a little hockey…….not much, our team was really small, but we did all right…..”

I rolled my eyes, and smiled, it was nice to know that somewhere in that tangled mind, Ken, the great spinner of tall tales was still there playing his favorite game, “Can You Top This.”  Some things — hopefully — never change.

Originally posted 2009-07-09 05:56:49.

LETTING IT GO

If we could look back on all of the people who have helped make up our life’s tapestry what would it look like?  Colorful, I’m sure — often brilliant in its scope and varied in texture.   Supposing all of those people were represented by a different color — not a racial thing — colors from the Crayola box and no one can choose the same color.  Now look to see how those colors come and go — in and out of our tapestry —  each entry bringing new vibrancy, contrast and dimension.   At times,  though, our people must pack up their color and move away, but there are times when the color is gone because of a misunderstanding, lack of compromise, anger, grievance or whatever?   The reasons friends and often family members leave our lives isn’t important.  It’s what we do about it that counts.  Do we hang on to the anger/frustration/hurt or do we let it go, and in letting it go is the loom of life left open for more weaving with those colors later on, or it is closed?

On that tapestry there is a major section where there are two dominating colors:  him and her — male and female — husband and wife.  There are times when those colors are bright and other times when they appear dull.  While it is natural to not always agree — and that’s all right — the colors can be dimmed even more over little neglects, hurts, offenses or lack of appreciation just to name a few of the myriad of complaints that are a part of two people living together.   Take note, however, this isn’t about the serious crimes in relationships and marriages which might bring about breaking up or divorce.  It’s about the little irritating (and sometimes not so little) things and about letting them go.  I suppose this is all about forgiveness.

In the beginning of our marriage I was, admittedly, a pouter.  And I was very good at it.  Whenever there was a slight (and believe me I can hardly recall what most of them were) I would pout for a while — perhaps even a day or two.   Ken agonized while I pouted and finally he would apologize.  That’s what I was after:  “I’m sorry.”  Not only did his words say what was important so did his big, sad, hazel eyes.  An apology was always followed by immediate forgiveness on my part.   We never exchanged harsh words or names, nor did we yell at one another.  I pouted and he apologized:  our m.o. for years and years.

One evening at our home after a neighbor secretly spiked our already delicious punch, Ken got a bit tipsy (along with several other unsuspecting guests).  Recognizing his carefree state of being he announced to everyone in the room that I was going to be really angry with him.  Then he added,  “Well, at least this time I’ll know what I did wrong.  I’ve been apologizing for the last 15 years and I never knew for what.”   After that declaration I took note.   When he offended me I told him immediately why I was angry.  Total communication.  I was mad and he knew why.  Furthermore, his apology didn’t come as quickly as they had in the past because he now had to recognize what he had done and make amends.  Pouting — perhaps.  Apology — probably.  Letting it go — forgiving — eventually.

Alzheimer’s has taught me differently — just let it go — now.   When you live on a roller coaster, emotions carry you to highs and lows you never thought possible.  At times I have seethed with frustration and often feel anger to a point where I have to leave the room over things my stricken husband says or does.  Then a few minutes or hours later when he has forgotten he’ll seek me out looking so bewildered and with sadness in his eyes will ask, “Did I do something to make you upset?”    I know he can’t help not remembering, he can’t help being arrogant at times, he can’t help lashing out at me in his own frustration.  Then I hear his words as he recognizes me once again and he says, “If I have upset you, I’m sorry.”  I am swept with a feeling of calm, and to my own surprise I can truthfully answer, “No.  You didn’t do anything wrong.  Everything is okay.”  I have learned to let it go even when there can be no apology.

As I review my life’s tapestry there are a few earlier threads which have clashed with my present color scheme and in retrospect I don’t miss their shades and hues.  My tapestry is beautiful without them.   The past is gone and all is forgiven.  It’s just a matter of letting go and remembering the advice of a dear friend who said, “True forgiveness is remembering without pain.”

Originally posted 2009-05-04 02:09:34.

CHRISTMAS AND FAMILY

December 26, 2008 — Ken’s Christmas benchmark was noticeable this year.  He has become somewhat frail looking, and moves like an old man with faltering footsteps and waving arms rather than the robust mature person he was before AD.   As we approached the steps to our daughter Julie and husband Tim’s house, where we have spent Christmas Eve for years, I noticed he was fearful of venturing onto the stone-laid walk.  Even though he was supported by two of his sons, he felt along the stones with his feet wanting to be certain they were solid.  Once inside the house he was much more subdued during the evening — almost like a shy, clinging child in new surroundings.   It’s times like this when I say he is like Velcro.

Later on, Ken felt more at ease and decided to get a drink of water in the kitchen.  Carefully, he meandered his way between the glass coffee table and the couch.  He did well, but on his return trip, he took a quick right turn at the middle of the clear table top.  (He has macular degeneration in his right eye and his poor vision is now even worse.)  Blindsided and in the dim lights of Christmas he thought the way was open.   Suddenly, he was falling right onto the glass and into the sofa on the opposite side.  I could see him grimace as he went down.  Immediately, I worried that he might have damaged his hip replacement.  The men who were close leaped to his assistance, but being the stubborn, independent man he still is Ken wouldn’t allow the help.  Instead he struggled to right himself.  Although the glass is about three-quarters of an inch in thickness we were all concerned it might be broken.  If it wasn’t, the possibility of more pressure on its tilted position  against the base might be the final insult causing it to break and really do him injury.   Still refusing help, he managed to climb over the glass and pull himself erect.  The men picked up the top placing it back onto the supporting base.  No damage and no harm done except for Ken’s shin bone, which was pretty well skinned.

Within a few minutes he had forgotten the accident and settled down next to me.  All evening long he asked,  “Whose house is this?”  Repeatedly I answered, “Julie and Tim’s house.”  Not once, but it seemed like a hundred times.    Comparing benchmarks, I could see considerable change during the past 365 days.

We had dinner, opened gifts, exchanged small talk and everyone went home.  As soon as I entered the house I slipped him two Tylenol PM tablets.  He had been sleepy in the car, but by the time we got inside, brushed his teeth and took the pills, I could sense him slipping into one of his other characters.  It could have been 12-year-old Buddy, who guards the house like a stockade with the Indians circling.   Midnight and I was so ready for sleep, but wanted to wrap a few more packages.  He began pacing, rattling the outside doors to make sure they were locked.  After three or four rounds, I lost my temper and he ordered me to leave.  Instead I busied myself finishing small chores and wrapped the waiting gifts behind locked doors.  In between his wanderings I peeked out to make sure he was all right.  Eventually, he  settled down and went to bed.  It was 3:00 a.m.

When I woke on Christmas morning, the day was well underway.  Feeling somewhat refreshed, I quickly got up, dressed and spread out a small morning buffet to munch on for two of our sons, their wives and granddaughter, Jessica.  I wondered if I would feel up to driving to Antioch (some 50 miles away) with the gifts for grandson Sean, his wife Lani and family.  That decision would come later.  The late-morning visit with the others was lovely.  I was glad they came, and Jessica, our youngest granddaughter, being such a sweetheart had made us several gifts.

Approaching 3:00 in the afternoon, my morning family had other places to go and friends to see.  A little late for us to be leaving for Sean’s, but if we left right then, opened the gifts and had a bite to eat, we could be home by 9:00.   In addition, we needed to be back when Tim brought their three dogs for a half week’s stay.  They were off to Atlanta to visit son Pete, his wife Renae and four-year-old Mason, one of their three grandchildren.

It’s been about three  years since we lost our last dog.  Even though I miss not having an animal in the house, I don’t miss having to clean up the piles of hair that seem to float in the air landing on and under everything.  Nor do I miss the compulsory yard-duty clean up brought about by their needs.   It will be interesting to see how Ken does with three spunky dogs.  Meanwhile, hectic though they can be I love the Holidays.

Originally posted 2008-12-26 07:34:56.

LIFE GOES ON NO MATTER THE STAGE OF ALZHEIMER’S

family gathered at a beach

With or without Alzheimer’s, family changes are inevitable as people age.

July 1, 2016 – Sleep seems to be an ever-time- consuming activity in the last stages of Alzheimer’s. At least such was the case with my husband Ken. This is an open letter to him about all that he missed in our family, while in the process of losing his life to Alzheimer’s. During these last stages of AD, Ken no longer communicated in any form. If he was in discomfort, he was unable to verbalize that discomfort. Nor could he verbalize whether he felt too warm or too cold, hungry or thirsty. He just looked into space and reflected nothing. Meanwhile, life went on.

Continue reading

Originally posted 2016-07-03 04:33:24.

old man at a concert hall

Ken had his own excuses, but when we did manage to get ready and go, we had a good time.

THE ALZHEIMER’S CONUNDRUM, GET READY AND GO? OR JUST GO!

November 6, 2015 – “I can get ready, or I can go, but I can’t get ready and go” was one of my mother’s favorite phrases as her Alzheimer’s continued to limit her once endless activities. It was during the last few weeks of living in their beautiful country home in Sonoma County, California. I was there to pack their house and be ready for the rest of the family who would arrive when I said “Ready, get set, go.” At that point the family would show up with trucks in all sizes, shapes and capacities. Once everything was loaded and we began a caravan it all looked like a scene from the movie “Grapes of Wrath,” especially with the borrowed cattle truck bulging with boxes and various pieces of furniture.

But while I was working in getting the place packed I suggested that we clean up and go to Occidental, a tiny little town nearby, famous for their delicious Italian dinners. I knew it would be a long time, if ever, that the folks would be in the area again. “Come on Mama, let’s get ready, and then we can go,” I encouraged, as she scurried around looking for her favorite warm sweater. “Well,” she said in a casual manner, “I can get ready, or I can go, but I can’t get ready and go” For her each request had become a challenging chore. We settled on just going. The restaurants in Occidental were casual in every sense of the word. So dad and I settled on just going. The meal was wonderful, and I know they, especially Dad, would miss their favorite quick dinner and it’s convenient location, just two miles from their home.

THE THOUGHT IS PART OF ALZHEIMER’S

Ken never used my mom’s quote. He had his own. “I can’t go,” he would explain as soon as I said, “Let’s go.” “I have too much to do here, or I’m in charge here, and I can’t leave the house without some-one to watch things while I’m gone.” Tip-toeing around his excuses looking to counter whatever he said so we could be on our way wasn’t easy, but I usually persevered and soon we were on our way to wherever I had planned.

THE KINDNESS OF “STRANGERS” CAN MAKE IT ALL WORK

One evening I had planned that we attend a festive concert at one of our church buildings where it was all right to wear casual clothes instead of our Sunday best. I was doubly happy because some of the large buildings can be cool, if not downright cold, so wearing our jeans was a good thing. We easily found seats and waited for the performance to begin when suddenly I knew I needed to go to the ladies’ room. If I took Ken with me he could wander away, or we would probably lose our seats, and we had good seats. I was sitting between Ken and another man that I had seen now and then at services and other events. Quietly I explained that my husband had Alzheimer’s and I needed to be gone for a few minutes. I also mentioned to him that Ken mustn’t wander because of his AD. “I’ll be happy to care for him while you’re gone so don’t worry. He’ll be fine.” I left and was back in record time and Ken was just fine. My volunteer said that Ken did want to leave and look for his wife, but my new friend convinced his charge that I would be right back. The evening was worth every effort and I do believe that even Ken enjoyed getting out for a bit of entertainment.

It doesn’t take a village to care for Alzheimer’s patients, it just takes a lot of thoughtful people and I have been blessed with many of them.

Originally posted 2015-11-08 04:23:59.

ENTERING THE ALZHEIMER’S WORLD

THE ALZHEIMER’S WORLD MARCHES ON

April 24, 2015No matter who, Alzheimer’s appears to be

unraveling mind

The slowly unraveling mind is an everyday part of the Alzheimer’s World.

waiting for it’s next victim striking at friends, neighbors and family. As my husbands former caregiver – he passed in October 2014 – it would seem that not a day goes by but I don’t hear of another person entering the Alzheimer’s world, another diagnosed case of AD causing untold grief to another family. This time it’s the father of one of my young friends. Continue reading

Originally posted 2015-04-28 06:28:48.

THE “WHAT-IFS” OF ALZHEIMER’S

What ifsMAYBE TOMORROW OR EVEN NEXT WEEK

April 15, 2015 – As a former caregiver for my husband Ken that thought, “The what-ifs?” often became part pf my thoughts. “Maybe tomorrow or even next week there will be cure for AD” ran through my mind constantly especially when an important item on the evening news  announced: “A new advancement for Alzheimer’s disease is being further tested on mice.” Usually, the “news flash” occurred on a slow-news day and was just a rehash of a previous “breakthrough story” one of the “breakthroughs” that really weren’t news worthy at all – just an attention grabber. Such items are always a major disappointment for any caregiver listeners, whose highest hope hangs on to any and all “breakthroughs.”

My heart had always skipped a few beats at the beginning of the announced breakthrough, but hopes were quickly and cruelly dashed in finding that, in actuality, there was nothing new at all. Alzheimer’s, it seemed, was/is a nearly impossible nut to crack. Continue reading

Originally posted 2015-04-19 06:23:07.

ALZHEIMER’S, COUSINS AND THE GOOD SISTER

September 20, 2013 — Sara is the middle child of five.  Her mother was the sister of my mother, Irene, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.  Sara’s mother Louise was not a victim.  In this early 20th-century family there were ten children: six girls and four boys.  Two of the women, in their older years, were victims of AD and two of the men – this we know.  Some of the siblings died early from other causes.  Whether a form of dementia may have happened had they lived a full life is anyone’s guess.

An ALZHEIMER’S FAMILY HISTORY 

In her late years, the mother of these children became a little confused and stubborn, but appeared to have good control over most of her mental abilities.  The father died in his early 50s with pernicious anemia.  Could he possibly have been the carrier of an Alzheimer’s gene?  The family will never know?  So far, though, none of the cousins have Alzheimer’s or other dementia, but at times we worry. Continue reading

Originally posted 2013-09-20 23:55:23.

SPIRIT HOUSES AND ALZHEIMER’S

September 6, 2013 – Spirit houses are miniature dwellings, dangling from trees or placed on a small post somewhere on the property of many Southeast Asian homes. A resting place for former dwellers, coming back to visit as spirits.

My friend Matthew is a dear man.  Just over retirement age he is alone – not alone in the world but alone in his beautiful state of California as far as family is concerned.  His siblings live in other states and he has not been invited to come and live with any one of the three.  That reality brings tears to his soft, brown eyes and to mine.

We might say that Matthew was and is a bit off-center; at times unable to reach what we may perceive to be a logical conclusion to a problem, or to always do the right thing in a social setting. His rationale is not the usual. He does not have dementia, but if AD is a family disease he is a candidate for Alzheimer’s.  His I.Q. is low, but not low enough that he qualified for special ed., but not high enough to allow him entry into a permanent kind of job as an adult.  Socially, his preference has been with the Gay community being involved in limited or sporadic affairs during his younger years, but never entering into a committed or long-term relationship.  Matthew lived at home with his parents contributing to the family income and buying his own creature comforts by cleaning houses and doing yard work throughout the neighborhood. Continue reading

Originally posted 2013-09-06 22:25:28.

Sign-up For Our Newsletter

Sign-up for our free newsletter and receive expert tips from Ann Romick, a woman who has cared for 4 different family members with Alzheimer's over a span of 30 years. Be the first to get notification of her forthcoming book, Journey Into the Fog, based on her experiences.

We respect your email privacy

Email Marketing by AWeber