night

I SEE THE MOON. DOES KEN?

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.

NIGHTMARES

“Help, help!  It’s the wolf.”  It was the middle of the night and I leaped from my bed and ran into the bedroom of our little girls.  Snapping on the light to let Debbie, our six-year-old, know that I was there to chase away the fear and to hold her close so she would understand that everything was all right. Patting her small back as she clung to me I couldn’t help but smile a guilty smile at my unwise decision to read “Little Red Riding Hood” as a bedtime story.  It was one of her favorites as was “The Three Little Pigs” who also had issues with a big bad wolf.  “Please, please,” she had coaxed handing me the tattered little book, “please read ‘Little Red Riding Hood.'”  So I relented and read the scary story before turning off the lights.

Harmless fairy tales when the sun shines, but the wolf proved a bit more menacing in the darkness of her room.   A hug and a few kisses and reassurance that it was just a bad dream; that the story was only a fairy tale and there was no wolf in her room soothed my frightened little girl.  Finally, comforted and content she snuggled down in her bed and went back to sleep.  The worrisome wolf with the big teeth “the better to eat you with,” was gone.  Such is the stuff of which bad dreams are made when you are six.

For me, the villain of my first remembered childhood nightmare has vanished, but not the terror I recall as I struggled to free myself from the grip of that frightening dream.  My older sisters had been telling ghost stories to one another and I listened wide-eyed and trembling as an eight-year-old, not wanting to hear what they were saying, yet glued to the edge of the bed as they expanded the gory details of their tale, no doubt giggling inside at their gullible little sister.

Finally awakening from the horror, the real world didn’t feel any better than the nightmare.   Wide awake I was somewhat relieved, but in the blackness of my room, the misty experience lingered, and behind every shadow I imagined some lurking “thing” which could leap out and harm me — or worse.   I buried my head under the covers and closed my eyes ever so tightly, wanting to call out to my mother, but too frightened to make even a sound.  Somehow I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I remembered the room was filled with sunlight washing away shadows and hidden ghosts — and the best part  — I was still alive.  Such is the stuff of which bad dreams are made when you are eight.

Everyone has bad dreams and nightmares for any number of reasons.  My last run of recalled mid-night unpleasantness came about because of a new prescription for high blood pressure.  They were, once again, nightmares with me as the intended victim of any number of horrible characters cloaked in black capes and hoods, demons and even an assassin where I ran and ran and ran with “it” or him close behind wielding a dagger to do the dastardly deed.  The attempt to escape from those dreams was nearly more difficult than escaping from my imagined tormentors.  The dreams finally stopped when the doctor changed the medication.   Such is the stuff of which bad dreams are made when you are a grown up.

But suppose there was a nightmare from which the victim could not awaken?   As Alzheimer’s continues to claim the mind of my husband, I often see him frightened and agitated, and I believe it’s partly fear which, at times, makes him disagreeable, uncooperative, angry, combative and downright mean.  When I see him drop into his agitatedmood my heart sinks.  This particular mood, which seems a “must” occurs at least once a day, usually taking place anytime from late afternoon throughout the entire evening, and well into the night and even the wee small hours of the morning, or it can last a comparatively short period.

Introducing that mood, he seems to “mark time” barely lifting one foot then the other from the floor — kind of like a little boy who has to go to the bathroom.   This mood — this personality — this action —  this — whatever it is I dread the most.  Communication with him is at his choice, shutting me out and any of my efforts to reach him.  If he does speak to me his words are insulating or degrading.  Somewhere inside his body there appears to be a mountain of pent-up energy which requires disbursement.  At times he can be subdued with the aid of a tranquilizer* and two or three Tylenol PM tablets* in the evening.  Other times he overrides the medication and cannot be subdued.  I confine his agitation activity to the living/dining room, the hall, bathroom and our bedroom.  Every other room is off-limits to him:  locked.  I lock them not to be mean, but to keep some kind of order in the house and to make life a little easier for me.  He doesn’t need to ransack everything in every room.  During part of these moods he becomes obsessive-compulsive and spends that time rearranging whatever he touches with ritualistic exactness.   It does no good to correct him, to suggest anything to him, or to make an effort to redirect his interest elsewhere.  For most of this time he remains alone  in his nightmare world obsessing and searching endlessly for his elusive home.

I imagine him like a robot where the control panel is out of commission allowing any of the robot’s still-functioning electronics to misfire sending nothing but broken signals of confusion (much like Ken’s diseased brain).  With Ken, the misfiring sparks a jumble of emotions: love, hate, abandonment, suspicion, loss and fear, and it seems as if fear and loss are paramount.  It’s no wonder he’s frightened as he looks around in his own home where we have lived together for more than a half century and recognizes nothing.  And me?  Surrounded by confusion, he sees me as an enemy and is, understandably, even more fearful and defensive.  I am a stranger in his midst and although I am a woman — his wife — he is still afraid of me.  By watching him, I can tell when he feels threatened and as his anger peaks toward rage I know he can become combative.  Until he is able to calm himself I often walk away, locking our bedroom door, which leaves him totally alone until the agitation subsides and the anger dissolves.   It’s during these wild episodes when I think of him as experiencing the most terrible of bad dreams:  ones where no mother can give him comfort, no sun-drenched room chases away the ghosts, and no doctor can write a new prescription.  Ken’s life is held captive in a terrifying dream-like world with no way to escape and no way to wake up from this awful torment.  Such is the stuff of which nightmares are made when you are a victim of Alzheimer’s disease.

*See Blog titled “This’ll either cure ya, or kill ya, or….

Originally posted 2010-02-07 09:41:39.

CHRISTMAS LIGHTS AND FEAR

December 22, 2008 — Last year I put up lights along the roof line of our house, but found that Ken would turn them off as quickly as I turned them on.  I couldn’t imagine why he wanted them off, especially when we would drive through the neighborhood where he admired the Christmas scenes on other people’s lawns and beautifully lite homes, but still insisted that our house remain dark.

Recalling how he felt, yet not wanting our house to look as if our last name was Scrooge I strung lights around the posts on the front porch and let it go at that.  Still, we played the off and on game.  Tonight, after standing outdoors surveying the other houses nearby, he came in from the cold extremely annoyed because “those” people had their Christmas lights on and there was nothing he could do about.  I agreed with him saying,  “That’s right.  There is nothing you can do about other people having lights on their roof and Christmas scenes in their front yard.”  Then I asked, “Why does it bother you so much.”  He had a difficult time formulating why he was so annoyed, but finally he was able to express his fear — and it was fear.

Looking very troubled he said, “When all those lights are on along the street there are criminals who will take advantage of it and will rob the houses.”   Surprised at his reasoning, I asked, “What has happened in the past to make you believe that our neighbors, or us, have been robbed during Christmas?”

Then I got the all-knowing look as he continued, “You don’t live here all the time, so you wouldn’t know what happens in this neighborhood.”  Ken looked at me suspiciously and laughed, a mocking kind of laugh that said, “Just you wait.”

He had become Mr. Hyde in the blink of an eye and I am no longer his wife.  The intrusive Mr. Hyde always intensifies Ken’s growing paranoia.    He quickly followed with, “Ask my wife about it when she comes home.  She can tell you about all that goes on because of the lights.”  Then he gave me the look which said, “I know something you don’t know.”

When Mr. Hyde appears I know it’s time for me to back off.  This is when I say,  “Our discussion is closed,” or some other remark to dismiss myself.  He doesn’t want to let it go attempting to provoke me into a further argument while still embracing his fears.   I know the fear is real and I never try to scoff it away, but coaxing him into the family room is a distraction which usually works.   Watching TV, looking at the Christmas tree and hearing me prepare dinner is relaxing and seems to soften his mood.

It’s always a relief to find out what troubles my AD patient.  At times the problem can be fixed, but sometime not.  I’m not going to ask my neighbors to turn off their lights.  I’m glad, though, to discover why he doesn’t like the lights, and I’m grateful when I hold my tongue.  No sense turning the trivial into an argument.  It’s far better to remember how my husband enjoyed the Holidays in the past, and how pleased he was the first time we hung lights along the edge of the roof when his only fear might have been falling off the ladder.

Originally posted 2008-12-23 06:24:44.

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