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SUNDAY DINNER WITH KEN AND COMPANY

lentil spaghetti

This person with Alzheimer's even enjoys lentil spaghetti

Our niece, Carla, and her husband, Chris, came to visit last Sunday.  She is the daughter of Ken’s sister, Loretta, who also is a victim of Alzheimer’s.  Coming from Oregon they had stopped in Santa Rosa to visit her mother who lives in a full-care facility before continuing on to the East Bay where we are located.  Two of our adult children and their spouses were here as well and with Ben helped Ken into the living room so he could be part of the day.

“Mom is doing well,” Carla reported.  “She doesn’t know anyone – not me or my kids, or my brother and sister.  Nor does she recognize her life-long best friend, Jean.”  We talked more – actually at great length — questioning and comparing where Loretta and Ken are as they journey into oblivion. I said that Ken seemed to be having trouble walking.  “Mom walks just fine, but has trouble eating,” explained Carla. Interesting how the disease attacks different parts of the brain in its various victims. I laughed, though, about the eating and reminded Carla it wasn’t one of her uncle’s problems.  Ken still eats whatever Ben or I put in front of him,” which brought up the subject of food and lunch which was ready and waiting.

Carla and Chris are vegetarians and have been all of their married lives (Carla longer) and I respect their choice.  When I know they are coming I prepare a non-meat meal and serve it to all invited guests, knowing that it doesn’t hurt anyone to go without meat for a meal or two.  That Sunday we had lentil spaghetti, tossed green salad and homemade rolls; lots of protein, but no beef.  My son, Keith, who raises cattle, is a good sport about eating what’s served, but I noticed he didn’t go back for seconds.  A meatless meal for beef growers makes for a lively and amusing conversation which included all of the bad meals mom (me) ever made becoming fodder for the fun.

When my mother experimented with a new recipe for my dad and he was unimpressed he wolfed it down anyway exclaiming, “Well, you don’t have to ever fix this again.”  However, experimenting with new recipes is often a joy and challenge for homemakers, and was something both mom and I liked to do.  With Ken so appreciative of what I served I was always spurred on to clip and file some great recipes from a variety of magazines. (Possibly some of those meals are what Keith remembered as every experiment wasn’t always a roaring success.  Then there was the dreaded meatloaf every Tuesday which is at the top of his ever-expanding bad-meal list.)

Yet, the quest for interesting meals went on even after all of our children were grown.  However, as Ken’s AD progressed, he no longer held much interest in what he ate; only that he ate.  For a while I continued clipping and saving recipes, and then I realized I was clipping and after a couple of weeks I tossed the clipping. My motivation for food preparation had lost its zest.  Ben and Criz usually cook Ken’s meals and I make something for myself.  It just isn’t fun to cook for only one person – me.

A few days after Carla and Chris left, I found myself reading a magazine and I tore out a recipe.  I have always been a zucchini person and the recipe I found would be great for Chris and Carla’s next visit.  It contained bread crumbs, lots of garlic, red pepper flakes, a little onion, olive oil, salt and four thinly sliced zucchinis – everything roasted and served over spaghetti.  “Perfect,” I said to myself, but I was a bit troubled thinking about all those carbs. Then I read a side-bar section printed in red which suggested that if you didn’t want to serve it over pasta, you could clean and devein a pound of raw shrimp, stir it into the zucchini-bread mixture and roast everything together.  Never mind filing this under Vegetarian.  I’ll check out what else I can do with lentils for their next visit; perhaps a lentil loaf?  That would probably drop-kick the meatloaf from the top of Keith’s bad-meal list.

My zest had a revival.  With all of the ingredients, including a package of frozen raw shrimp, in the house I prepared a single serving as a test run.  Delicious!  Two days later I made the full recipe telling Ben he could take home two servings and the two left were for me and Ken.

“This is really good,” said Ken, enjoying every bit of the zucchini and shrimp covered with garlicky toasted bread crumbs. Whether my motivation will return to the joy of cooking and continue into the tomorrows I don’t know, but tonight creating a culinary delight was really fun and the meal was appreciated by Ken as much as he is able to appreciate anything. Perhaps that should be motivation enough.

Here’s a link to a recipe similar to the one I made: http://primalplayground.tv/sun-dried-tomato-shrimp-on-zucchini-noodles

And here’s the one to lentil spaghetti: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/vegetarian-lentil-spaghetti/detail.aspx

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/85934826@N00/4267368265/

Originally posted 2011-08-07 02:43:32.

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN GRIEF, THERAPY AND HEALING

Ann Romick as matron of honor for her best friend, Julie

Ann Romick as matron of honor for her best friend, Julie

Last week my friend Bob came for a visit.  We hadn’t seen him and his wife, Julie, since they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary the summer of 2006.  She died on Thanksgiving Day last year.  For me, it still seems unreal and difficult to grasp.  After all, it was only yesterday – or so it seems — that she and I chatted on the phone just like old times, the gaps in time and distance vanishing as soon as we began talking.

Julie and I met while working in the 22-story office building on the corner of Bush and Sansome Streets in San Francisco which was better known long before the 1950s and early 60s as The Standard Oil Building of California (now Chevron).  The two of us were employed by the mega oil company and assigned to Central Steno, located in a gigantic room taking up most of the 2nd floor.  It was filled with copy machines, typists, stenographers, Dictaphone operators, Varatypists and all sorts of other specialists in the clerical department.

Despite Central Steno’s enormity and scattered personal, Julie and I bumped into one another at the morning coffee wagon and became instant friends.  She, newly arrived from Santa Barbara, and I, a local, could have been sisters. We looked alike, we thought alike and often dressed in similar outfits, except her waist was at least three inches smaller than mine requiring alterations on all of her clothes. However, we did have one other major difference: Julie was single and I was married to Ken with an adorable little girl, Deborah, and number two peeking up over the horizon in the not-too-distant future.

We lunched together, shopped together, and talked about her latest date or current beau — none of whom seemed to be Mr. Right.  If her weekend was uneventful I invited her to spend it with me and Ken at our new home across the bay from the city.  When number two baby arrived we named the little girl Julie after my new best friend.

The following summer Julie met Bob.  It was July 1st and they were married September 8th.  A whirlwind courtship and two months after meeting they tied the proverbial knot. I was her matron of honor.  And the skeptics said it wouldn’t last – only 54 years.  Bob was career Air Force and they traveled all over the world adding a girl and then a boy to their family tree. Meanwhile, she was the officer’s good wife, but still found time to study and develop her natural artistic talents — all in addition to being the best mom in the world to their growing children.

We kept in touch.  Then we didn’t, then we did, and then we didn’t, but we did manage to hold on to that thin golden thread which tied our busy lives together with short notes and cards sent every once in a while. That’s how good friendships are, and that’s where we were when my phone rang nearly five years ago.  It was Julie and she asked once again if I would stand up for her as she and Bob renewed their wedding vows in celebration of a half century of marriage.  Bob’s best man and his wife would be in attendance as well as lots of friends and family.  I reminded Julie of Ken’s Alzheimer’s, but told her I would make every effort, keeping her updated through email.

In spite of Washington state’s reputation for rain, the weather that summer’s day was fabulous:  blue skies and balmy breezes.  Ken’s proclivity to be social was at its best as he made friendly conversations with the other guests minus the stumbling blocks often associated with AD.

Bob and Julie wrote their own vows for the occasion, and this time she said she wasn’t going to repeat that “obey” thing.  They pledged, we clapped and smiled in approval, and they kissed – sealing another 50 years– the fates willing. No longer the whirlwind courtship love, it was now a comfortable love, the warm old-slippers kind of love, devoted love — the very best kind of love.  And now Bob was here with me and Ken – remembering — and Julie was gone.

I don’t believe Bob really expected to find Ken as deep into the depths of AD as he is.  “Ken’s gone,” he said after attempting to reintroduce himself and reminisce about some of our early times together.  I agreed, adding that Ken had pretty much forgotten everyone who was near and dear to him.  Occasionally, he will ask if I am his wife, wondering where his mother and father have gone – and his sister Loretta.  His persona seems to be “Buddy,” his mother’s young boy, the name I often use instead of Ken.  I believe it’s in that time zone where he feels most comfortable – if AD victims can ever feel truly comfortable in their confused and frightening world.

“I write about my AD journey with Ken in my blog,” I said to Bob.  “It keeps me sane – writing is therapy for me.”  “That’s why I do this,” he replied.  “I take the celebration of Julie’s life to those people who knew her and have shared in a part of our life together.  This is my therapy.  There are so many people who couldn’t come to the service — so I’m bringing it to them.  Following the funeral there is hardly time to really talk with anyone for any length of time, and then it’s over and they’re gone.  So much is left unspoken.  When I bring the celebration to others, we get to spend time just talking.  It’s been a wonderful experience.”

As Bob and I talked I realized that while we two can empathize with each other and share our grief, the therapy part is a day-to-day process, and healing will be yet another process for both of us to achieve as individuals.  Furthermore, we can’t be forceful or anxious.  It all takes time.

And we talked about the increasing presence of Alzheimer’s everywhere.  Bob’s father was also a victim.  As the oldest son, he was elected to take his father to a care facility when he could no longer be cared for at home.  Life gives us all difficult experiences with which to cope.  I suppose in coping we become stronger. Perhaps adversity is preparing us for what might be heaped upon us at some future date.  Meanwhile, we just keep doing what we’re doing.

Julie had continued with her art and developed a rather impressive following.  Once Bob retired from the Air Force he realized she was serious about her work and told her how he had appreciated her supporting him all through the military.  He would now give her that same support with her chosen career.

Remembering their 15 years on Maui, he said that once, while gazing at a 20’ wall filled with her paintings, he stood in awe of what she was capable of creating.  In his travels he carries CDs of their life and her work.  In addition are four folding panel boards to display either photographs of the work, or small original samplings to share with those he visits.  And he tells of her early life, their serendipity meeting and San Francisco wedding as part of his informal presentation.

Before he left on his journey to Ventura, I told him his continuing celebration of Julie’s life was one of the loveliest gestures I have ever encountered.  Seeing so much of her beautiful art, and hearing stories of their years which Ken and I had missed, I felt privileged our family had been included.  I was also able to tell him a few stories of my own about his wife that he had never heard.

For a few days my focus was taken away from Alzheimer’s (for which I was grateful) and riveted on a long-time friendship and the grieving of a good man who had lost his soul mate.  Seldom do life-long partners depart the planet together which leaves the one remaining alone to mourn the separation. 

With my belief in eternal progression I am always comforted that we will meet again and be reunited with loved ones.  It’s like Samuel Butler wrote a very long time ago when people traveled to the “Continent” by way of the old luxury steamer ships, “Death is only a larger kind of going abroad.”  If you consider that, dying really isn’t goodbye – merely “Bon Voyage.”

Originally posted 2011-03-12 23:18:49.

BROTHER-SISTER TUG-OF-WAR

Ken is sleeping longer now, but by ten in the morning I begin the waking process.  Opening our bedroom door and with my best cheery voice I call out, “Wake up sleepy head, it’s shower day.”   Moving across the room to pull up the blinds I am greeted with a grunt.   “Shower day,” I repeat.   “Not today,” he grumbled.  That’s a first from a guy who once showered twice on a warm and sweaty day.   “Okay,” I tell him, “it’s all right stay in bed a little longer.”

I was certain that when I returned in 10 to 15 minutes and suggested showering again he would be ready and willing.  He did not.  Taking his jeans and shirt into the bathroom, he shaved and dressed.  The next morning I went through the same routine, but again there was no shower.  He made excuses such as, “Why should I shower, I’m not dirty.”  It wasn’t two days, it was actually three because I have been scheduling his shower every other day.

I’m never really sure which of Ken’s three personalities I am waking in the morning?   Is it Ken, Mr. Hyde or is it Buddy?  All three are grumpy, but before Alzheimer’s Ken would have been up for hours.   Gradually the disease has put an end to Ken as a morning person and to make matters worse, he has developed shingles.  The sporadic pain plagues him with a vengeance all through his back and across the front of his upper torso.  The doctor tells me that when older people get the ailment it  usually stays the rest of their life.  It would appear that’s the case with Ken.

No matter which of the three personalities are present in the morning he still complains about pain.   In an effort to bring him some comfort, I tell him how sorry I am that he hurts.  He answers with, “It’s not your fault.”   Hoping to change his shower refusal to “yes,” I counter, “The warm water will make you feel better.”  And actually it does, but he answers, “No it won’t and it’s not your back.”   I leave him alone and return later to try again.  He is insistent, “No.”  It’s day four without a shower.  “You’re beginning to stink,” I tell him as he passes me in the hall fully dressed.”  “So do you,” he shoots back.  “No I don’t.  I took my shower.”  I’m losing this battle and I’m not sure what to do next about his personal hygiene.

It’s day five without a shower and Sunday.  Sleeping as late as he does we haven’t been getting to church.  In the past when I have greeted him with, “We’re going to church, you had better shower and shave,” he was always willing to shower before getting into his “good” clothes.   Even in his demented state he wanted to be at his best to enter the Lord’s house.

This particular Sunday I too slept late.  As we lay in bed I mentioned that we had been invited to our daughter’s house for an early dinner.  “You had better take a shower,” I said.  “Why?” he questioned.   “Because we’re going out and you need to be clean.  Remember?”  He thought for a moment then said, “I’ll see what mommie wants me to do.”  With that I knew he was 12-year-old Buddy, and possibly an even younger Buddy with his reference to  “mommie.”   Picking up on the clue I decided it might be in my best interest to take on a third personality for myself; that of his sister, Loretta.  I began, “Mom left me in charge today and she said I was to see that you took a shower.”  So, in addition to Carla, Mr. Hyde’s housekeeper/cook/caregiver; I am also Loretta, Buddy’s older, bossy sister.   Apparently, it all worked.  Buddy took a shower.

The shower problem might have been just a phase, a momentary pause in his personal care routine, but to be on the safe side I now suggest that he shower every morning.   It’s for certain that he won’t comply on a daily basis —  and if  he does that’s all right.   If not, then at least my chances of success are considerably increased.   Furthermore, when Buddy is present, I have also decided to take on the role of Loretta  and make every effort to address him as “Buddy” rather than Ken.  He seems to take comfort in hearing the “family” reference.   The top advantage of my being Loretta is that it will give me the authority to answer any “Why” questions.  As the big sister in charge I can just say, “Because mom said so!”

Originally posted 2009-03-16 05:05:58.

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