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GRINCH STEALS CHRISTMAS – FOR KEEPS

The Kindess of All Makes up For Christmas Grinch in Oakley, CA

The Kindess of Many Makes up For Christmas Grinch in Oakley, CA

Unfortunately, there are among us a lot of Grinches and Scrooges, and while we would like to believe they all reform at the end of a story, that just isn’t true.  Take, for instance, the good folks who live in Oakley, California, located in Contra Costa County which is part of the nine counties making up the greater San Francisco Bay Area.  For months the “Friends of Oakley,” a non-profit organization, who serve their fair city, had been collecting toys and food donations for those of the community who were down on their luck during these tough economic times; everything to be delivered just before Christmas.

The day after Thanksgiving, all was going very well until the committee arrived at the school where the growing supply of good wishes had been stored only to find that a Grinch had stolen everything.  The empty store room, without nary a can of food left to roll across the floor, told an obvious tale:  this Grinch, more than likely these Grinches, had no intention of returning their cache of goodies.

Of course, the crime was promptly reported to the police department, the City Council and the mayor.  Word of the robbery spread via TV, newspapers, social media, emails, texting and even phone calls.  Many local residents and many throughout the Bay Area wanted to help.  In addition, the “Friends” received word from a retired school teacher living in North Carolina that she too wanted to contribute.  Such outpouring of concern and generosity quickly erased the hanging cloud of gloom and despair.  However, the big question remained:  in less than a month could all the good intentions in the world replace the missing toys, blankets and non-perishable food items that were meant to help and bring a bit of joy to 800 children, 300 families and 100 seniors this Christmas season?

“The response was incredible,” said newly sworn Mayor Kevin Romick. “Wells Fargo Bank joined the effort with a $4,000. gift, Oakley Disposal added an another $2,000. and many other local businesses made like donations.  The weekend before Christmas additional food was contributed by The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties.  While volunteers wrapped and packed, Santa’s helpers in the form of volunteer drivers with trucks checked their lists twice for delivery of two gift cartons for everyone in need.  “There are some wonderful people living among us,” concluded the mayor.  “Probably some are your neighbors”

Thinking about my adult children, including Mayor Romick, it warms my heart to know the apples didn’t fall far from the tree.  Over the years I have been aware of the many charities to which these adults who shared our life and home have contributed both with money and time, their constant support of worthy causes, and their individual efforts to bring comfort and peace to those  in need – you might say to be the answer to someone’s prayer.  And I remember many of Ken’s and my efforts to do the same. I am pleased with my family, all of whom continue to serve their fellow man and if he were able Ken would tell you so himself.  With Alzheimer’s his mind no longer registers the happenings in life, but I know that somewhere deep in his heart he feels the joy.

It is sad to acknowledge that there will always be unreformed Grinches and Scrooges living among us, but the good news is we have wonderful people as well — some of whom are my children – and some just might be your children, or your neighbors and no doubt you.   So, recalling the most famous and most reformed Mr. Scrooge of all time I’ll echo his Merry Christmas, and in the words of Tiny Tim, “God Bless Us, Every One!”

Originally posted 2011-12-24 05:48:57.

WHAT’S YOUR EXCUSE?

Decorated Christmas Tree
Even something as simple as putting up the Christmas tree could be a great help for Alzhiemer’s caregivers.

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Originally posted 2011-12-10 05:37:08.

THE RUSTING YEARS

Like an old and abandoned truck, some seniors feel they are in their rusting years.

“The Golden Years my Aunt Tillie,” said Frances as we talked about these last few rungs on life’s ladder.  “They’re more like the rusting years.”  “Well put,” I had agreed as she was in the midst of recovering from a bad face-on-the-ground fall that knocked her into the next county breaking her jaw which had to be wired shut while it healed. Like a flash of lightning Frances could zap out words faster than Quick-draw McGraw could whip out his trusty six-shooters.  Her comments could be loving, kind, happy, knee-slapping funny, profound, glib, and, at times, a bit stinging. Did the wired jaw stop her conversations or even slow her quick wit?  Never.  As long as her tongue and mind worked in unison the tumbling words slid out between her teeth and lips with never a pause.

We had become good-enough friends that every so often I was allowed to say, “Oh Frances…….” when a remark might be a little too biting, too stinging or sarcastic, but most of the time I laughed.  She was very funny.

Frances was a widow, and had been for more than 15 years and even with Ken’s AD she invited us for dinner, and I, in turn, prepared dinners for her.  Ken had been Cub Master and she was a Den Mother when all of our boys were just boys.  The two hit it off famously and became the best of friends with my utmost approval.  Frances always puckered up and gave Ken a quick peck on the lips whenever they met.  Following their amicable kiss Frances would say, “How! Great White Father,” holding her hand up with an Indian greeting in reference to a long-ago Pack Night theme from a sweet, innocent time when we were all young.  Then one day we were no longer young and she was suddenly gone.  I miss my friend.

I’ve noticed that a lot lately; our friends keep dying, or they move away.  “Get some younger friends,” advised another dear friend Sofia who, with her husband Don, have moved away, but not too far, just inconveniently far.

Making “couple friends” is difficult though when your spouse has a debilitating terminal illness.  So I mostly hang out with women who have lost their husbands.  They are widows and I am sort of a widow, but I’m not.  Nevertheless, there is an inescapable loneliness in being the one left behind no matter what your title.  Unfortunately, that feeling of being alone can never be filled by friends or family, even though the need for friends and family remains paramount to the well being and happiness of the remaining individual.

I thought about this the other day when I visited Eva.  She and her husband were the entertainers from Hawaii who I have mentioned in other writings.  He’s been gone for more years than I remember, and now with her AD and circumstances dictating the remainder of her life she lives in a very nice full-care facility.  Walking through the halls I was aware of so many lonely souls sitting in their wheelchairs outside of their rooms, and I wonder who they are and about those who still share their lives.  Sofia’s husband Don has a phrase that I often think about when I visit people with full dependency on a nursing home:  “A mother can care for seven children, but seven children can’t seem to take care of one mother.”  It’s only a phrase, but following that first capital letter and the ending period, there’s a lot of truth in those few words.

I found Eva in front of her room matching the forlorn description of the others. Tiny little thing sitting there by herself, looking lost, lonely and pitiful, and I couldn’t help but feel a stab of melancholy as she scanned the area – searching – waiting.  “Let’s go for a ride,” I suggested, securing the foot rest, and then wheeling her through an open door.  It was pleasantly warm outside, so that’s where we went.  I parked her chair in the shade with ribbons of filtered sun teasing the shadowed greenery.  “Where……,” she stammered.  “What is it?” I coaxed.  “Where is my family?” she asked looking puzzled about her surroundings.  That’s the trouble with AD; the answer has been given, but the question keeps rising to the surface.  “All of your children except for Matthew live very far away,” I reminded her.  “They come when they can, but I know Matthew is here to see you almost every day.  I’m sure he’ll come later this afternoon.”  I think of Eva remembering how she was:  beautiful and vivacious in her brightly colored and fitted muumuus, and so filled with charm as she strummed her ukulele and sang melodies from the Islands and pop tunes of the day.   Now I feel overwhelmingly sad that the life she knew, her home and all that was familiar are gone.

Rather than making small talk I sing to Eva.  To those who know me really well my singing is a joke, but I’m not making conversation, nor do I, for one minute, think I’m the entertainment du jour.  I’m communicating with her spirit.  This I believe.  Eva relates to music so I softly sing some of her favorite hymns and songs I recall from her entertaining days.  She manages to join in with a few words and she smiles, and for that little while she appears to be content.

At 90 most of her friends are gone, others are not capable of travel, but I do believe there is a self-imposed detachment that happens with some friendships – and even some family members concerning these last years. I know with certainty that many people claim they don’t have the capability of coping with seeing their friend or loved one in a care facility, hospital, or even visiting the infirmed or elderly in their home; “Too depressing.  I just can’t deal with it.  It hurts me too much,” I’ve heard people say.  I understand because my father was that way.  Yet, I want to scold and remind them, “This isn’t about you.  It’s about Eva, Uncle John, Rose, grandpa, your sister, brother, your father, or Frances’ Aunt Tillie.” You need to strive to bring some joy and a little companionship into that person’s life.  Forget about yourself.  It’s called love and compassionate service, and the more you participate in reaching out to others, the more you grow as a person.  Pretty soon, you’ll even catch the spirit and you’ll be surprised at how good you will feel when bringing some brightness into another’s life.  I could say all this, but I won’t.  It isn’t my place, but if Frances were here, she would.  She might also tell them a few funny stories about the rusting years.

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Originally posted 2011-12-03 01:59:36.

SUPER BOWL GRATITUDE DAY

football game

Though gratitude may not have to do with football, to this caregiver it makes Thanksgiving, the superbowl of gratitude.

I never think of November without conjuring up thoughts of Thanksgiving which I have come to refer to as the Super Bowl of gratitude. There are a few grouches out there who believe the holiday is all a bother. No doubt the naysayers are imagining some corporate CEO greedily scooping up profits from the turkey market. Even if that were true the holiday is and can be so much more.

Squeezed in between Halloween (which seems to be getting bigger and better every year) and Christmas, Thanksgiving looks to be the forgotten holiday. No one appears to give it much thought except school children with their Pilgrim collages and hand-traced-paper-plate birds, and supermarkets whose windows are adorned with cornucopias, autumn leaves and fan-tailed turkeys.

So I find that before the family gathers around the table on the 4th Thursday of this month I begin early to count my blessings. Actually, I do most every day when I offer my morning prayer of gratitude, but sometimes it takes a reminder to appreciate things we take for granted, and don’t always think of as blessings – only bills.

I’m the first one to grumble about the increases in our utility costs, especially with the tight economy and our very tight budget, but what if gas and electricity weren’t available. The other morning, just as my day was getting started, the electricity went off.  It’s happened before, many times, and it’s always such a surprise. My immediate reaction – always — is what’s wrong with the lights? Automatically, I flipped a few switches. No electricity. I knew that already. There is something about a power failure that announces exactly what it is when it happens: the power fails. Perhaps it’s the suddenness followed by a brief, yet eerie silence as everything stops that momentarily baffles our senses.

Outside, there was plenty of light, but neither of our bathrooms has a window. Question: What shall I do until the power returns? Answer: I’ll prepare breakfast. Wrong, the stove is electric as is the microwave. When Ben gets here we can get Ken started on his day. No we can’t. The bathrooms are dark. Check my email, vacuum the rugs, wash/dry some clothes, or mend some of Ken’s things waiting for me on the sewing machine. Can’t do any of those catch-up chores, there is no electricity. Instead I made my bed, and before Ben arrived the power was back on. I went about the day immediately dismissing my half hour of inconvenience. When in reality, utilities, even though we must pay for them are blessings taken so for granted.

The next day the wall furnace, in the family room, where Ken “lives” (eats, sleeps and sits) stopped working. “When troubleshooting a furnace,” someone had told me, buy a new thermostat.”  I did. “Who told you that?” asked the servicewoman from PG&E as she sat cross-legged in front of my ancient wall heater. I gave her a “duh” answer to which she replied, “The first thing you do is call PG&E.” More often than not their house call can get the heat up and running, or they can tell you what’s wrong but they can’t fix it as the problem is beyond their service parameters. And they do this as a free service. She even installed a new thermocouple to match my new thermostat. “Don’t get a new heater,” she advised, “It’s a valve, and you need to get a good heater/plumbing person.”

The PG&E service woman who came and the people in the office with whom I spoke about the problem were incredibly helpful. They all got a “5” on the follow-up phone survey and I am so grateful for their help.

“Mason can fix it,” said a sweet young friend, Tara, when I mentioned my problem. “I’ll have him call you when he gets home.”

So that’s where we are this week in life’s comedy of ups and downs, struggles and solutions, and I am grateful for the kindness, the advice, the help and the general goodness of people, and to Mason who put the heater back in A-1 condition. Grateful for my comfort-filled home; certainly an understatement. Today’s homes are filled with luxuries beyond measure. What a marvel our lives and conveniences would be to our long-ago ancestors: running water in the house – hot and cold – heat on a chilly day, sanitation, lights to take away the darkness, a stove to cook our meals and a big white box to keep our food cold and fresh.

Setting aside the wonders of our modern world I can’t forget so many wonderful people who will and do step forward to help. I could go on, but I won’t. I have to save some thoughts for Super Bowl Gratitude Turkey Day when I will share my appreciation and feelings of love with those I am passionately thankful for: my family.  Ken and I are truly blessed.

Originally posted 2011-11-12 04:01:01.

HALLOWEEN AND MY SUPER FUN DATE

Halloween pumpkins

Carved pumpkins a sure sign of Halloween

I have often said the bonus part of being married to Ken is that he was a fun date. Not only was he a fun date before marriage he continued to be a fun date after marriage, but then many of our friends remained okay dates after marriage until the tube took over, turning them into the well-known couch potato. The difference between Ken, who did watch his share of ball games, and our friends was that he continued to be a fun date up until AD became a third wheel in our lives.

Our early neighborhood was mostly made up of young couples with small children, and all but a few budgets were pinched tighter than a size eight foot in a six shoe. Consequently, nights out on the town, or even a movie, were few and far between. However, to keep our social appetites fed, kids in tow, we entertained one another at our various homes taking turns hosting: we bar-b-cued, planned picnics in the parks, or at the beach, and enjoyed Sunday summer band concerts by our city’s Municipal Band – all without spending any money. In addition, a couple of nights a month the neighbors got together for a game of penny-ante with no one going home richer than he came. It was for fun not fortune as all of the winnings went into a kitty until there were enough accumulated funds for everyone’s dinner, plus a tip, which happened every year or so.

And there were parties and celebrations according to the calendar, but perhaps none so outlandish and memorable than Halloween, with costumes required. The 31st, of course, was kids’ night so the adult party was usually held on Friday or Saturday night before Trick Or Treat, but not every year. For those less willing than Ken to dress up as someone-something else was much too much to ask of some husbands on even a yearly basis.

Prior to our just-across-the-street friends Fred and Phyllis adding a family room, all parties were held in the host’s garage. Once we found their new room to be a warm and cozy place without a draft their home became the gathering place during the colder fall and winter months.

So it was that Phil donned in black shorts, black shirt, a cowboy hat and toy six shooters hanging from her hips became a female Paladin (Have Gun Will Travel, a popular TV series at the time). Laughing, she opened the door to let in the party revelers. Fred put on two arm bands, a bow tie and took his place behind his bar as the in-house bartender, which was the costume for many of the men. Ken wasn’t much different that first year matching my Roaring 20s flapper dress with gangster-looking attire, including arm bands.

Other years, and good sport that he was, he agreed twice to wear the other half of Raggedy Anne: Andy with a sailor hat and sprouting red yarn hair. Our faces matched with cherry-circled cheeks, smiling mouths and exaggerated eyes. We wore it to Fred and Phil’s second party and a few years later our duo costumes appeared at other events. There were times when I couldn’t believe he was still such a fun guy and so willing to throw caution to the wind and be just plain silly.

Several years later we had occasion to attend a fund-raiser for a local community service organization. I made Ken a white sports coat out of a piece of left-over polyester knit from years gone by, painted a black mustache on his upper lip and handed him a baton. As Xavier Cugat, he matched my Carman Miranda outfit topped off with a turban headpiece filled with an assortment of fake fruit, including a cluster of purple plastic grapes. We were a hit with friends, but didn’t win the grand prize – not even runner up – which was all right. It was a good time because I had a special evening out with my fun-date husband. I sure miss him.

Even as Ken succumbed to Alzheimer’s, I continued to decorate for the holiday, and the second year of Ken’s illness he remembered about the little ones coming for Trick or Treat. Together we put out decorations making our house look spooky without being scary. Every morning, though, I would find the pumpkins, scarecrows and the friendly, smiling ghosts on the kitchen table. More of a morning person than I wanted to be, Ken busied himself getting the house in order while I slept. “Why did you bring in all of the decorations,” I asked him. “Halloween is over,” he replied. “Let’s put this stuff away.” Explaining that the holiday wouldn’t be over for two more weeks, I asked him if he wanted to help me put the things outside. “Of course I’ll help,” he said, ready and willing to have it all in place when the costumed children came for candy.

We went through the same routine every morning until November 1, when I agreed that we could put Halloween away for another year. It would have been easier for me to just give in the first time he brought the whole array into the kitchen. But I wanted our life to be as normal as possible even if it meant doing the same job over and over, and for several years it worked.

This year in front of our house there is a seven foot happy-faced ghost – possibly a distant cousin to Casper — hovering in the midst of our juniper bushes, surrounded by candy corn lights and spider webs. Ken no longer brings in the decorations during the early morning hours. Sleeping in a hospital bed with full rails his morning activity is limited, as is his walking ability.  He isn’t even aware that Halloween is fast approaching. Actually, I doubt he notices what’s outside, much less the passing of days, one being much the same as the last. Neither is he aware of the leaves turning gold and the hint of another year soon to pass. Alzheimer’s, like a thief in the night or a mysterious, ghostly intruder has stolen away my fun date, and the demon disease didn’t even ask, “Trick or Treat?”

Originally posted 2011-10-29 18:14:30.

SIMPLIFYING IS DIFFICULT

home library with books

Cleaning out the study of a loved one with Alzheimer's is just another difficult task for caregivers.

Today I started cleaning the office.  While it has a corner for my computer, it has always been Ken’s room – his den – inherited when the last of our boys left home.  It’s filled (as I have mentioned before) with his things: collections by the score, memorabilia from his youth, school, Navy days and of course his Marathon and fun run awards.  And books; we can’t forget the books: college books, history books, WWII books, a few novels, lots of Navy books, and binders filled to overflowing with what was important to him.  They all seem to look down upon me as I work, perhaps asking, “What now?”

Alzheimer’s is such a perplexing disease.  Our son Kenney dropped by to say hello this afternoon.  Reaching out to shake his father’s hand, Ken didn’t even look at him, but said, “No.” I tried to get his attention so he would at least glance up and smile at his son, but he didn’t.  “He looks good,” said Kenney.  And he does.  Other than that disconnected gaze often found in their eyes AD patients look very good, and normal.  So normal in fact that as I began cleaning the thought raced through my mind, “What if he wakes up tomorrow and the AD is gone.”  What if he came into the office remembering everything and asked what I had done with his engineering books, his drafting and building books, his Architectural Graphic Standards?  What would I say?  I know it’s never happened: a return from the bottomless pit of Alzheimer’s, nor do I believe it will happen, at least not in our lifetime.  Nevertheless, I sometimes find myself wondering “what if?”

Is that the reason I’ve delayed for so long to sort through a lifetime of collections and dispose of what will never be used again – even some personal items — at least not by Ken, and then asking, “What can be used by someone else?” Questions we mull over and over when downsizing. I glanced at some of the publication dates knowing full well the books were obsolete, and even if he were still Ken, most likely they would never be opened much less read.  Even he would have to admit they were outdated.  But they were his and he liked seeing them on the shelf – they were part of him – who he was and what he did.  The drafting books?  Even I know drafting is all done with computers – CADs as they are called – computer-aided drawings.  So it was almost with force that I persevered and sorted out that one section of books – with more to happen at a later date.

My friend, Bob, who had visited the earlier part of the year as he celebrated the life of his deceased wife Julie with all who knew her, called to say that he was home and his journey was complete. We talked about all of these chores that needed our attention, and Bob said that his next goal was to simplify his life.   He planned on sorting his books; technical books from his past, just like Ken, which he had always planned to review or read again, but now he needed to be honest with himself knowing that he never would.  So he planned to take them all to a place where they would be shredded and sent on to be recycled.

In our area of California we have a recycling program, and I knew that if I put the books into the recycling bin, they would be shredded and made into new paper – or whatever.  So into the bin went Ken’s tech books.  A scene from an ancient movie popped into my mind as they clattered to the bottom.  As a youth I watched the screen in a darkened theater as countless books were dumped into a burning bin because Hitler in his madness had ordered obliteration of a good part of the past in his march to world domination, and books held vast treasures of knowledge and history. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always loved books and felt a desire to protect them — treating them with great respect — wanting them to be there for future generations.  Now I was sending some of them away for destruction.  Even though I know it’s really all right and recycling is for a good purpose I felt a little guilty, consoling myself that a modern world has no use for obsolescence.

Ken loved books as well.  I suppose that’s why he had so many, but Bob is right about simplifying. I need to repeat that word over and over as I continue sorting through Ken’s and my lifetime of stuff.  The one thing I have found is that beginning is the hardest part, and once started I know with certainty that Ken isn’t going to wake up in the morning and ask what I had done with his engineering books. Alzheimer’s never pardons their prisoners.

Originally posted 2011-08-14 00:00:33.

TO COMPLAIN AND QUIT — OR NOT

If anything, I would say that Boy Scout Mark had an extraordinary spurt of character growth at the tender age of 12.  Not only had he learned to cope with some of life’s heavy loads through what had been fun and games for the older scouts, he would also receive insight into another of his character traits a few weeks after the big hike.  While being a pre-teen at 12 can be a stepping stone into growing up, age doesn’t really matter as long as those valuable lessons learned are incorporated into one’s life.

Mark had already learned that if you remove the excess rocks – things you don’t really need — from your pack – your life — the load is lighter, and he cheerfully applied what he had learned to the remainder of the 50-miler.  It wasn’t as if Scoutmaster Ken hadn’t been aware of the shenanigans pulled off by the older boys; what he had been impressed with was that Mark didn’t complain or tattle. He also noticed the camaraderie that developed among the multi-aged troop during the seven days in the mountains where they recognized that the competition was not among one another, but between all of them and the challenge of the wilderness.

Mark continued to write:  “We learned about trees, poison oak, and edible and non-edible plants along the trail.  We crossed a glacier, and ate food with a little dirt; we learned respect for nature, which was all around us, and we learned to respect each other, and of course, to always be prepared.  It was seven days filled with learning, but it was what happened after the trip that changed my life forever.”

Ken always liked to give each boy the recognition he deserved at the Courts of Honor which were conducted for not only the young men, but for friends and families.  The Court was always well attended, and after the 50-miler the room soon filled with eager scouts and proud parents.  One by one the honor and merit badges were awarded, including a special 50-miler remembrance in the shape of a hiking boot.  “But I had not received my award,” continued Mark, realizing that all of the awards had been handed out.  “Then my Scoutmaster called me to the front as he had all the other boys. ‘I want you to know,’ Scoutmaster Romick stated, ‘that in all my years of scouting I have never seen a new scout like Mark.  He never complained, nor did he give up, not once did he quit on the entire trip.   He is not a quitter nor is he a complainer.  I am amazed and impressed.’  He then handed me my award and patted me on the back.”  Applause filled the room.  Basking in his moment of glory Mark later declared, “I believe I grew 12 feet tall that evening.

“That statement of 30 seconds, and the following accolades, changed my character and my life forever.  An adult had recognized a positive trait in me, told me about it and I believed it!”

For Mark it was a year of epiphany, discovering a part of his self, part of who he was which provided a guideline to the man he wanted to become.  With that inner knowledge he established a creed of determination by which he lived, and he has continued to do so all of his life.  Now, a grown man with a family of his own, Mark still recalls that evening with Ken, and wrote, “Even now as I think of my Scoutmaster I thank God for that man who showed me the way.” 

When I read Mark’s words I am in awe of my husband who was a very likable, but ordinary man, yet he was able to reach through that invisible armor of youth, see the boy’s potential and impact him with self-motivation and power.  I am humbled at Mark’s accolades for Ken. But even more I am inspired by Mark’s every-day use of his own established creed, which I’m striving to make my own.

As the “boss” caregiver for Ken with his Alzheimer’s there are times when I would like to quit and times when I am tempted to complain.  Actually, I know that neither is an option.  I’m not going to quit, and I have found it doesn’t do much good to complain; besides few want to listen.  Of course, we are allowed to vent and to share our sorrows and woes with friends who have fought the battle, and with my wonderful internet friends who read my blog and share their stories about their ups and downs, their joys and sorrows while living with AD.  They provide (and I hope I do as well) the soft shoulder to cry on, and with them I can vent – knowing that venting is good.  Even the best of machines needs a vent.   But I’ll strive not to complain or whine about those things which cannot be changed, and I’ll remember the wisdom of a 12-year-old boy who grew to be 12 feet tall in 30 seconds because of Ken.

Originally posted 2011-07-10 18:52:36.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SIMPLE

Lincoln logs

We all enter the world as little tiny people — babies; and right from the near beginning we have reached out with eager little hands for activity spurred on by our insatiable curiosity: something to examine – to touch, to taste, to feel — a challenge to stimulate our brain, to satisfy the inquisitiveness of our growing bodies and minds.  Whether it’s a bevy of plastic birds clipped to the crib, a zoo of stuffed animals to play with or a bridge to build, man has thrived on activity whether it be play or work.

When Ken and I were fairly new grandparents, our daughter left her two sons, John and Peter, with us for the evening.  “What can we do?” was the immediate question.  A closet still filled, at the time, with puzzles, coloring books, board games, cars, trucks and other toys from their younger uncle’s youthful days was the answer. “Here you go,” I said, handing one of them a bag of Lincoln Logs for starters.

Dumping the contents on the floor, the two boys began laying logs in various directions.  With Lincoln logs, though, there is an interconnecting pattern which holds the cabin together.  I helped them fit a few of the pieces and told them they could finish.  After struggling, and having their building fall apart, John said to his grandfather, sitting nearby, “Grandpa, help us build this cabin.”  Grandpa’s interest was more centered on the evening news and tactfully declined.  “Please, help us.  Please, Grandpa, please, please, please.”  With enough intense coaxing, Grandpa reluctantly agreed and in no time the cabin was finished.

With proud satisfaction the two boys tore down and rebuilt the cabin a few more times, soliciting their grandfather’s help, before asking to play with something else.  “But first you have to pick up all the Lincoln logs and put them back in the bag,” I instructed.  “Ahhhh,” was the duet reply.  “Come on,” I insisted, “you played with them and now you have to put them away.”  “Okaaaaayyyyy, but Grandpa played too so he has to help.  Even if the Lincoln logs didn’t hold their attention all evening, their curiosity led them to many new adventures coming from the game closet with instructions, “Play and put away.”

At the other end of the spectrum, activity still remains an important factor on a daily basis, including the lives of those with afflictions found under the Dementia Umbrella. Boredom isn’t good at any age. However, Ken’s level of interest is diminished to almost zero as AD increases in severity; with drive and enthusiasm nonexistent.

My friend Darline’s AD is at mild cognitive loss.  She is fortunate to live with her daughter and her family, and with Darline as Top-Totem on the Totem Pole, there are four generations living under one roof.  On Mondays and Fridays Darline spends several hours at Adult Day Care while her daughter does catch-up with errands, her own doctor’s appointments, and other family obligations. Although Darline tells me she enjoys tuning in on family conversations about all of the activities and goings-on in the busy household, going to day care, where she has made a few new friends, gives her a break as well.  She also takes part in simple activities.

I believe Ken and I missed the opportunity for day care during his Alzheimer’s journey.  Up until last February, we went everywhere, and did just about everything together.  If we visited a friend, which was often at his request, he always needed to be assured that I wasn’t going to leave him.  Not even a consideration, but when I thought day care might be good for him, I also wondered if he would be willing to stay without me.   As the past year has been filled with readjustment and recuperation, he is pretty much content to be at home among what is familiar with his interests very limited.

Yet, his caregivers and I wonder how to increase his activity level.  A true sports fan at one time, television of any sort holds no interest.  Having been an out-of-doors kind of guy, and as the weather warms, Ken likes being outside.  Weather permitting, he is content with a very short walk or ride in the wheelchair, we can do that and then sit on the front porch, which is something he has always enjoyed.

He likes looking at picture books, photo albums (recognizing no one), rustling through the newspaper very briefly having lost most of his reading skills, and walking around the house to see what’s going on in each room. If Ken sees a stack of letters or papers on my desk, he’s interested.  Quickly, I divert his attention to something else and scurry him from the room.  I would like to give him all the junk mail to carry around and hide in books, but that adds too much confusion to my life. Overall, though, his span of interest is much like that of a very young child: short.

Reading one of the numerous blogs about AD activity, one caregiver reminded us not to overwhelm our patient with “too much.”  She had offered a coloring opportunity to her mother only to have mom just sit and stare at the crayons and paper.  Eventually she removed all but one red crayon.  Success!  Apparently, there were too many objects from which to choose, so she chose nothing.  With only one, she went right to work.  Good ideas need to be explored.

With one crayon and one page to color, I placed the project on a small, narrow table for Ken to ponder.  With another page and another crayon I pulled up a chair and sat across from him and began coloring my picture.  “Wouldn’t you like to color your page?” I asked, handing him a crayon.  He looked at the crayon and decided the bright color might be something to eat.  “No, no,” I cried, taking back the crayon.  Briefly, I continued with my page making an effort to attract his attention to my activity.  He spoke in disconnected sentences looking at me as if I wasn’t there.  There was no way he wanted to color.  At other times Ben has offered him a pencil and paper encouraging him to write his name.  All to no avail — some activities work while others don’t.

I tried a puzzle with Ken, but it held no interest although there were only five pieces.  It was a Spiderman puzzle and perhaps it was the subject matter he didn’t understand.   Even in its absolute simplicity and with my help he walked away.  I’ll try again – presenting a more simplified pattern with which he may relate.  What is important, however, is that we make the effort.  Keep trying, but keep it simple.

Our game closet has changed since we were new grandparents, and John and Peter are grown men with young ones of their own. The puzzles and games, even the Lincoln Logs, are gone with a few replacements added to keep the new generation entertained.  One of the zipper-closed-handy-handled-see-through plastic containers is filled to the absolute brim with colorful snap-on plastic blocks.  Wondering one day if “building” something might nudge at Ken’s engineering past Ben brought them out.  Not as complicated as Lincoln Logs, he began snapping them together, but before long his interest waned.  A colorful wall and the remaining scattered blocks were left on the table while he leaned back in his chair and took a short nap. Yet, each time they are introduced, he is interested.

Right now, it’s time to put everything away for another day.  Too bad Peter and John don’t live close by.  Perhaps it might be fun to help their grandfather build something, and when the project was finished they could help Grandpa put away the blocks.  In that imagined scenario it would be no more than right for them to help pick up.  After all, they played too.

Originally posted 2011-04-11 00:07:36.

Does Gladys Have Instant Alzheimer’s

Several years ago my good friend Gladys Blogerbang and her husband Bob retired, moving to the Denver area.  I have missed them immensely.  (All names and places have been changed to protect the innocent – which in this case is me – because I didn’t do anything wrong.)  Through the years Gladys and I have corresponded, telephoned, visited back and forth and emailed one another.  We have kept in touch.

The Blogerbang family and our family overlapped:  they had older children, we had younger children and there were a few in the middle the same age.  Those in the middle were friends.  Together, Gladys, Bob, Ken and I watched them all grow; distancing themselves from us as teens, stumbling through the 60s-70s, screeching into young adulthood, and hopefully finding that which they were seeking as mature adults.  Meanwhile, as parents, we consoled one another when they crashed, and cheered when things went well.  Gladys and I should have been sisters, but close friends is almost as good.

Neither Gladys nor I have ever totally mastered our computers, but we get by with tips and help from friends and family. Call us computer “dummies” if you like, and that’s okay because that’s how Gladys got us into trouble – well — one of us got us into trouble.

Gladys lost Bob a few months ago, and because of Ken’s Alzheimer’s I didn’t feel I could leave him to fly back for the funeral.  When she called to let me know of Bob’s passing we spent a few moments on the phone.  It’s almost impossible to let someone know how your heart aches for them over the phone, and how much I’ll miss Bob.   I thought about sending emails, but somehow that was so impersonal.  Rather I chose to send cards and notes to keep in touch the old-fashioned way:  U. S. Mail.

Time passed and Gladys called me from Arizona.  She was staying with her daughter for a while.  It was wonderful to hear her voice and she sounded as if she was picking up the pieces of her life.

“I have a new computer,” she announced, “with a new carrier and a new email address,” which she gave to me over the phone.  She also sent me a card with some slight variations in the email address.  I chose the one I thought to be correct, which included her full name.  The following week I began to send her notes and a few forwards just to catch up.

Days later I checked my email and there was an email from Gladys Blogerbang.  “Good,” I said aloud, “she’s home and back on line.”  “Do I know you?” the message read.  “I’ve been getting your emails and I’m not sure who you are.”  Terror struck in my heart.  My dear friend, Gladys Blogerbang didn’t know me?  What happened?  Alzheimer’s?  Instant Alzheimer’s?

I know Alzheimer’s hits different people in different ways, but the only case I can recall of instant Alzheimer’s was Miss Daisy in the touching play/movie “Driving Miss Daisy.”  A long-time retired school teacher, Daisy woke one morning to find her class papers missing.  Searching for the non-existent work, she ransacked shelves and drawers finally becoming angry and frantic. End of scene; and then in the next scene she was in a care facility.  Was this happening to my friend Gladys?

Rather than panic, I zapped off a reply.  “Are you the Gladys Blogerbang who once lived in the Bay Area of California?”  “Were you married to Bob?”  “Do you live in Denver?”  The answer arrived that evening.  “I live in Germany.  I am married to Jake, and, yes, I am Gladys Blogerbang.  How did you get my email address?”

My first thought was joyous relief that my Gladys was just fine.  In addition, wasn’t this a fun, serendipity coincidence finding two Gladys Blogerbangs, each on opposite sides of the world.  I mentioned all of this to Germany Gladys explaining how I accidentally ended up with her email address, no doubt making some minor error, and adding a bit about myself and Denver Gladys.  Maybe too chatty; too much information.  I also wrote that I would check with Denver and see where the mistake might be.  If it couldn’t be found I suggested it was probably the fault of the carrier.  I signed off with, “Please keep me posted and nice to meet you.”

Meanwhile I tried one of the other email addresses for Denver Gladys.  Nothing came back, so I sent a few more notes.  Two days later an email arrived, but from Germany Gladys:  “I have blocked your emails, but they are still coming through.  Please call your Denver friend and get this straightened out.  I do not want to hear from you.  Do not ever email me again” Wow!  Rejection – big time.

Admittedly, I was disobedient and replied one more time to Germany Gladys telling her that it wasn’t my problem, and that I was really glad she wasn’t my friend Denver Gladys, because she, Germany Gladys, was no fun at all besides being a considerable grouch.  Not kind of me, I know, but I actually felt, and feel, a little intimidated by her terse email, almost expecting Grumpy Gladys to appear on my screen and yell at me.  Me – the innocent one.

Then the imagination took over:  Is she an agent?  A spy?  A drug dealer?  Does she think I’m dangerous, planning to steal her identity?  A hacker?  (Now that’s a good one — me – the computer dummy.) Perhaps, though, in our crazy, mixed-up world, she has a right to her paranoia.  Sad but true, Denver Gladys and I could be a threat, but we aren’t —  not to anyone.  Furthermore, I am extending to Germany Gladys my utmost apologies just as I do when I get the wrong number on the telephone.

I have written a U. S. Mail letter to Denver Gladys detailing my internet adventure with Germany Gladys, and requesting she look into the mix-up sending me a correction to her email address.  We’ll just have to wait and see how this plays out, and I do hope it’s over.  The one thing I know for sure is I am really glad my dear friend Gladys doesn’t have instant Alzheimer’s.

Originally posted 2010-09-26 04:15:04.

EARTHQUAKE DAY — 10/17/89 — 20 YEARS LATER

We had moved my mother and father from Sebastopol, California to the Bay Area so they could be near us as they both grew older.   In addition to their age, my mother was showing positive signs of Alzheimer’s.  My father was healthy,  fully aware and capable of caring for himself, and, to a limited degree, he could care for my mother as well.  Nevertheless, it was prudent that they be located nearby continuing to live by themselves, which is what they wanted.  Ken and I, as help, were just minutes away.  I saw them daily, did their shopping, watched over their finances and took care of anything else they needed.  It wasn’t necessary that I hover over them on a 24/7 basis, allowing Ken and me the time to pursue our own responsibilities and interests.

As with Football, baseball never held much importance in my life, but that year, the unusual win of both baseball leagues brought the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland “A”s together to duke it out for the BIG WIN.  Seeing one game of the World Series might be worth watching.  So when our son-in-law, Tim, said he could get tickets and asked if we wanted to go with him Ken was ecstatic and I said, “Why not?  It’s possibly a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

October 17 was a fabulous day for a ballgame — shirt-sleeve weather at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, and that afternoon it seemed as if everyone was going to the game.  Traffic was heavy, but steady and we left early enough to find an acceptable parking space.  Walking toward the complex we passed tail-gate parties by the score with revellers who were already enjoying themselves a little too much.  These people were obviously over-the-top fans.

Near the crow’s nest of the stadium we found our seats about 30 feet from what Ken called an “eyebrow.”  This was a concrete overhang all around the top of the facility and as it hung above us unsupported it did look like an eyebrow; a very large eyebrow.  Towering above the eyebrow a couple of light standards stood rather ominously to the right and left of us.  Looking down on the field we could see miniature people finishing preparations for the game.  Fortunately, we were prepared having brought two pair of field glasses.  I took out my camera with its telephoto lense, hung it around my neck and sat back in my seat.  Glancing at the time we had about 25 minutes to kill before the game started at 5:00 p.m.  We watched as a steady stream of enthusiasts continued to pour into the stadium wearing team hats and waving banners.

At the scheduled hour a cheerful resonating voice spoke into the loudspeaker welcoming all to this historic sporting event.  With hardly a few words out of his mouth the sound of what seemed to be a rumbling train drowned out the rest of what he said.  Bewildered, the fans looked around to see where the sound was coming from; recognition was almost instant.  The stadium began to tremble and the light standards shook and swayed so violently I was certain they would fall on us along  with the overhanging eyebrow.

While my whole life did not pass before me I was amazed at how many thoughts raced through my mind in just 17 seconds.  The first was fear — terror at what was happening.  I was certain we would be crushed under concrete and steel.  The second feeling was acceptance that we were all doomed, and the third feeling was a wonderful, peaceful calm.  I was going to die and it was all right.  The next thought was planning my last act of service to the world — at least to California — the Bay Area to be exact.  With my camera in tact I would snap photos of death and destruction until I either ran out of film or a slab of concrete took me out.  And then it was over; the quaking stopped.  An audible sigh reverberated through the air as probably every person in attendance let out their breath.  Later, as TV and radio commentators spoke of the fans they called it a “cheer.”  Wrong!  It was the sound of grateful relief.

As everyone was sucking in their next breath the same announcer who had welcomed us just seconds before came back on the air, and in the calmest, most controlled voice imaginable he said, “In case of an emergency, please exit in an orderly manner through……”  And then there was silence.  Electrical power was gone.

Many bolted from their seats and left, but the stalwarts had come to see a game having paid $100.00 and up for their tickets.  The earthquake was over, nothing seemed damaged.   Let’s play ball.

From our high-in-the sky vantage point we could see some billowing puffs of smoke throughout the city.  People in front of us had a portable radio and we asked,  “What do you hear?”  “Nothing,” was the reply.  Must be okay we decided as there were no announcements on the news.  But “nothing,” meant nothing.  The stations were dead.

Yet, we waited.   Were they going to play or not?  So we waited some more, as did most of the fans.  Finally, as the sun began to slip over the western hills of San Francisco an official came out with a bull horn and made the announcement, “The game is postponed.”  We were dismissed.

Those who had waited became instant friends talking about the earthquake, damage throughout the city and speculating about the future of candlestick.  Was it stable?  Were our homes okay?  How about our families?  What was the smoke we saw?  Are the bridges in tact?  How long would it take us to get home?  Would the game be played here?  It was all spectulation.  Some of the answers came through our new friend’s portable radio.  Within minutes after losing power, back-up generators at TV and radio stations kicked in and they were back on the air.  We were shocked that a section of the Bay Bridge was down, that the Marina was badly damaged and there were fires.  In Oakland a section of the Cypress Freeway had collapsed.  Rescue teams were on the way.

There was this amazing camaraderie among those remaining, but now it was time to go home.  I looked around as the crowd filed out of the stadium in the requested orderly manner.  Would we come back?  That day nothing was certain so before we left the top of the world I took some photos of the sun setting over candlestick, the light standards silhouetted against the fading orange and red sky.

Driving through darkened streets and across the San Mateo Bridge, usually a 45 minute drive from our home to the ball park, we arrived at our places of abode three hours later.  We were all concerned about family.  Stopping off at my parent’s home first we found my father sitting alone.  Our son, Keith, had stopped by right after the quake.  Finding his grandparents safe and well he returned home to his own family.  Mama had gone to bed.  The lights were back on and Dad related to us how the house had rocked so badly he thought it would fall off the foundation, but it had survived.  A few books were thrown from the shelves and a few dishes had tumbled from the cabinets.  Dad said, “And your mother — she was so frightened crying out again and again, ‘What will we do?  What will we do?’   and the lights went out.  Later, as we sat by candle light, she asked, ‘Why are we sitting in the dark?’  She had forgotten the whole thing.”   At our home we found the same slight damage.  All was well.

Two weeks passed before the stadium was pronounced “safe,” and we found ourselves sitting in the same seats at Candlestick watching our missed game of the World Series.  It was memorable — I suppose — but today I don’t even remember who won.  I do, however, recall with vivid accuracy the Loma Prieta Earthquake of October 17, 1989 which was, indeed and hopefully, “a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Originally posted 2009-10-15 01:09:54.

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