spring

AFTER ALZHEIMER’S — A PROMISE…

Peach Blossom

The return of peach blossoms each spring bring hope of new life and remembrance of things eternal.

April 7, 2012 — Perhaps Robert Browning said it best:  “The year’s at the spring, and day’s at the morn…..”  As the seasons continue their flow of never-ending cycles I find that it’s spring I love best.  After a long and dreary winter – spring is here — filled with promises of new life and awakenings.  Spring in our world slips in quietly with hints of timid greens breaking through the drab branches of our trees, and warmth fills the air turning my soul to thoughts of life in general, life after life and just a few days away is Easter – holding more promises of distant hopes and seeing loved ones long departed.  My heart wants to burst with joy.

OUR FAMILY’S FIRST BRUSH WITH ALZHEIMER’S

When I most remember our parents and others who have gone before I remember the sadness we felt and think of Nick.  There is always a period of adjustment when a loved one passes, and Ken’s dad was the first parent we lost.  A victim of Alzheimer’s some 30-plus years ago, as I add and subtract the time between then and now, Nick was also our first experience with AD.  The medical community was just getting their feet wet with dementias, hardly even knowing what to call the collective mystery.  We wandered helplessly through the caring period for Nick without much advice from our doctors because there wasn’t any advice to give.  Little by little we watched and worried as he slipped away from reality until it was no longer practical or safe to care for him at home.  A week after placement in a care facility he died.  Nor was it practical or safe for Mom to be alone in the house.  She had her own problems with dementia, bladder cancer and other health issues.  Following surgery and treatment for the cancer, Ken and his sister Loretta moved her in a care facility located between the two families so we could visit on a regular basis.

What remained were the house and its furnishings.  In today’s world clutter experts would have called Rose a minimalist: if it wasn’t used it was gone which made dividing the remaining treasures among us and the grandchildren easy.  The house would be rented with the income going to keep Mom happy and cared for in the new and sunny surroundings.

Cleaning and painting their house was easy compared to the challenge of the yards.  Rose and Nick had what we considered to be the best lot on the hill.  Windy at times as the salt air swept in through the Golden Gate, across the bay waters, and then up and over the hills just north of Berkeley.  For a time Nick made their bit of land a showplace.  Farming skills he learned as a boy in his native Yugoslavia applied to the hardened clods of dirt surrounding their new home changed the impossible to fertile ground to mold as he saw fit.

In the old country he and his father terraced the hills with cleared stones, pulverized the lumpy earth with their bare hands and added mulch to enrich the earth.  In California, he followed the same pattern, and with limited city space he planted a peach tree, berry vines, grafted a variety of plums onto a “mother” tree, and established a fig tree not bigger than a stick in a side corner which grew to be enormous.  For a time during their good retirement years their small spot of land flourished and became their own Eden.  When Alzheimer’s came Nick forgot his garden and Rose neglected the flower beds.  The wind blew, the earth became hard and dry, and the natural grasses  replaced all that had been good from their labors.

With the inside of the house ready for the renter we tackled the yards pulling weeds, trimming hedges and dug some favored bulbs for remembrance. Winter was still with us; the weather cold and threatening rain, and the chores tedious and exhausting.  “Let’s come back and finish on Saturday,” I suggested to Ken.  He agreed and Loretta was willing to quit early so the two of us could get home before the heavy traffic.

“How’s it going,” asked my neighbor Barbara. We brought her up to speed saying we were going back on Saturday to prune some trees and finish the job.  “Then it’s done,” I added feeling the relief.  “You’ll be pruning trees?” she hopefully asked.  “Would you save me a really gnarled branch for a decorating item I’m working on.”

A SPRING SEASON FILLED WITH SURPRISE AND PROMISE

Saturday went well and I brought Barbara her gnarled branch.  “Come in and I’ll show you what I’m doing.”  Stirring up a batch of plaster of Paris and water, she then scooped the white glob into a decorative brass bowl, smoothing it into a flat surface.  Next my neighborhood crafter plunged the branch deep into the glistening mass holding it firm while the plaster hardened.

Scattered on a near-by table I noticed an array of blue silk blossoms and bits of greenery. “When this dries I’ll glue the flowers in place and it’s done.  I’m going to put it against that blank wall in the dining room,” she explained.  I was impressed having to admit the contrast between the delicate blue silk and the gnarled branch was oddly beautiful.  “Come over in a few days and see the finished product,” she asked.  I promised and went home to collapse into a chair before starting dinner.

With the last few rains, winter was passing and the balminess of spring was in the morning air.  Looking through the window I noticed a few billowing clouds drifting overhead and thought about Nick, missing the man he was before Alzheimer’s, and understanding the loss Ken still felt.  Nick would have been out working in his garden this beautiful spring day.  Suddenly, the ringing of the phone broke the silence and my thoughts vanished.  “Come and see my branch,” insisted Barbara joyfully, but with a sense of urgency in her voice.  Obediently I hurried across the street to her house and through the open door.  “Look,” she said, pointing to the gray, gnarled branch.  In wonderment I was speechless.  There among the blue silk flowers was one pink peach blossom.  Perfect in every way and filled with life.  Clinging to a dead branch stuck in a bowl of plaster the delicate blossom held the promise of a peach, almost as a reminder.

Ken and I talked about it when he came home.  Scientifically, we understood that water supplied from the plaster was enough and sufficient nourishment had been pulled from a branch that for a time was more dormant than dead. Of course, the explanations were there, but for us there was deeper meaning in the small phenomenon.

Outside it was spring.  New birth and promises were everywhere.  With Easter approaching we had been reminded, once again, that as people of faith we find relief from our grief and comfort in that first Easter when Jesus Christ rose from the dead and now lives.  Ken nodded with a smile accepting that Nick was gone – but I could see through his tears that he was filled with joy remembering — and knowing — that he would see his father and all of the others who had come and gone before us. We would see them and know their love and companionship throughout the eternities.  The tiny lone blossom was more than a promise of a peach; it was the promise of new and everlasting life.

 

 

Originally posted 2012-04-07 05:04:17.

AFTER-CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS SHOPPING

After Christmas Sales page

This Alzheimer's caregiver misses the companionship of shopping with her husband at after Christmas sales.

Ken and I used to do it all the time, and I do believe he enjoyed this kind of shopping more than I did.  Always one to appreciate a good buy, he couldn’t believe that everything left over from December 25, was marked 50 to 75 percent off.  “Hang around long enough and it might reach 90 percent off,” I would tell him.  Usually, though, at 90 percent what was left wasn’t worth taking home.

“Look at this,” he called out, attracting every customer within earshot, “it’s only $8.00.”  It was usually a toy he would have selected a few weeks prior for one of the many little ones in our family at twice or more the price. Of course we weren’t the only shoppers looking for future gifts.  No longer under the stress of the Jolly Old Elf’s arrival, we all gently sorted through the bins and shelves finding just the right gift for next year’s “someone.”

So amidst the austere surroundings, when stores deliberately strip their displays down to the nubs and advertise “White Sales” meaning sheets and other linens which are no longer necessarily white, we understand the barren look.  Colorless windows and displays in January usher in the coming of spring just around the corner when shoppers, hopefully flocking in great numbers, will be dazzled by the store’s new brightness and buy the latest in fashion.  However, as post-Holiday shoppers strolling through the bleakness of winter there is at least one counter, or section, that displays the merriment of Christmas just past.  That’s why we were there.  With our carts piled high we set out for the car pleased with our bargains; a small portion of next year’s gift list on the back seat.

Going to the mall alone a few days before the New Year, I did not intend to do what had been Ken’s and my pattern for so many years.  Alzheimer’s manages to remove just about all the pleasantries from life – even shopping for the small children.  I went because I needed a few things.  Items purchased, I strolled among the isles featuring “White Sales,” and stumbled upon the red and green of close-out Christmas.  I couldn’t resist just a quick look, but soon my cart was filled with toys, crafts and games for next year.  The bargain hunter within me is alive and well even if the trip isn’t the same without Ken.  Now it had become merely the practical thing to do.

Gone was the mischief I used to see in Ken’s eyes, glancing around as if he had pulled off a “fast” one at the store; the ultimate toy bargain, not fully grasping how happy the store was to have it all gone before inventory.

I miss the time he didn’t want to settle for just one gift for each child – his grown children included.  “Just a few more little things – like the stocking stuffers when our family was small,” he would coax as I marked my list complete a week or so before Christmas.  For a long while he thought gift buying was like after-Christmas shopping: all fun.  What he didn’t grasp was that serious shopping is often time-consuming and tedious.  “Okay,” I finally told him, “I’ll wrap if you buy.”

Dutifully and by himself, he began his search the week before one of those bygone Christmases only to find how difficult it was to find a bunch of “little things” times three or four equaling stocking stuffers for a couple of dozen adults and children.  “You win,” he confessed after a few days of searching for just the right extras.  I know how he felt accepting that our children are all grown with children of their own – even grandchildren  — and they don’t need any more stocking stuffers.  So he became content with our after-Christmas bargains where one gift for each person is just fine.

Our Holidays are different now.   Still able to be at home with me, spending most of his time content to be in our family room which has become his domain, shared with Alzheimer’s, me, the caregivers, and the cats Ken is as happy as he will ever be.  With Ben and Crizaldo to do the heavy care, I am still the main caregiver; the one in charge, but always allowing them to do their job in their own way.  In his dementia every so often he will ask, “Where’s the boss,” which no longer means much although the boss is me, but I am not who he wants.  Recognition is seldom there.  In all outward appearances he is the man I married – older – still Ken – but not.  I miss my husband, my friend, my fun date, and my after-Christmas-bargains shopping companion.

Originally posted 2012-01-07 05:01:34.

A BRIDGE TOO FAR

In the late afternoon I had driven to the post office.  Ken often likes to come with me when I have errands to do, and I had lots of errands, so turning around and heading back home was disappointing to him.  “Do we have to go home?” he asked.   “Let’s take a walk along the bay.  We haven’t done that in a long while,” I suggested, “but first we need to go home and get our coats.   It will be cold down there.”   He was enthusiastic as I helped him on with a jacket and handed him a baseball cap.

The weather was clear and sunny, but windy and cold.  April and May often forget it’s spring in the San Francisco Bay area.  Wind blows across the cold waters of the bay, especially in late afternoon and hikers along the trails bundle up as though it were winter.  We did too, but forgot gloves so our hands were thrust deep inside our pockets as we passed through the pedestrian gate, climbed up a short incline before we headed west bracing ourselves against the stiff, constant wind.

“This is the first time I’ve been here,” said Ken looking around to what should have been so familiar to him.  When he was running 10 ks and marathons this was his training ground.  The; Bay trail was also where he took our dogs for their daily exercise.  This is where our Golden Retriever would leave his side and race into the water.  If  it was wet she was in it even if it was only a mud puddle.  I always scolded Ken because she came home wet and coated with black sand.   She was such a good girl and usually so obedient, but when it came to water her breeding took over.  Doc, on the other hand just watched and barked at her to get back on the trail.  She didn’t obey him either.  “Don’t you remember bringing the dogs down here?”  I wistfully asked.  “I’ve never been here before,” he insisted.   I let it go.

I was pleased with Ken’s rather brisk step.  One knee is a little tender and he often lags behind when we shop, but he kept up with me.  I thought how good it was for him.  The fresh air and the exercise.   We looked overhead to watch an airliner glide in for its landing at the airport.   “It’s going to Oakland,” Ken remembered.  The afternoon felt so good.   “Going back will be easier,” he commented, “the wind will push us.”  I agreed and was surprised at how well he was doing, but not wanting to overdo I said, “We’ll turn around at the second bridge.”

With the wind at our backs and nearing the end of the trail, I noticed Ken was ahead of me and I was walking fast.  “Slow down,” I cautioned.  “I can’t,” he answered as we approached the downhill incline.  His feet took on the shuffling of an old, fragile man, but running.  “STOP!” I shouted running after him, “You’re going to fall.”  To make matters worse, he was leaning forward.  As he neared the closed cyclone gate I hoped he would hit it before he fell, but he didn’t.  Three feet before the gate he stumbled and down he went.  I raced to him worrying that he could have broken bones, or worse, damaged his hip replacement.  Was  he all right?  And me with my cell phone at home, how careless.   He turned toward the gate, slipping his fingers through the wires and with my help, pulled himself up.  Standing for a minute, he appeared to be okay.

Resting for a while we ventured forth on level ground toward the car, but his legs wanted to run.  “Stop,” I again cautioned.  Again he said, “I can’t.”  It was if his mind had forgotten how to make his legs stop.  The wind was mild in the more sheltered area, but he still leaned forward and wanted to run.  I grabbed the back of his jacket and pulled hard — almost as if he were on a leash — until we reached the car where he slid into his seat and relaxed.

I am sure he will have aches and pains tomorrow and I am sorry for that.  He doesn’t need any more pain.  He has some scratches and most certainly —  bruises.   Obviously, I over-estimated his ability, but I can’t help wonder if his mind had, indeed, forgotten how to stop.  Our afternoon together had begun with such promise, so good, so invigorating, but it could have been a disaster.  Perhaps, in a few days I’ll start with a walk around the block — and my cell phone in my pocket.

Originally posted 2009-04-16 05:20:04.

ALZHEIMER’S, APRIL, SPRING, MUSIC AND CAREGIVING

colorful spring garden

Spring brings thoughts of colorful flowers, music and a heart full of love.

Possibly spring is my favorite time of the year, and why not?  The joy of this first full month of awakening abounds with an air of light rain and freshness.  Tiny leaves of green with fluted edges magically appear on gnarled branches, soon fashioned into ruffled curtains and fluttering screens for our fine-feathered friends yet to come.  Blossoms and daffodils burst open almost overnight in playful confusion reminding us this is only the beginning.   

Treasures from the past come to mind: verses and poetry ring with familiar and loved words and praises all about this season of new life.

“My beloved spake, and said unto me,

Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.

 For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone,

The flowers appear on the earth;

The time of the singing of birds is come,

And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”

                                                      Songs of Solomon 2:10-12

I do believe I am giddy from the sun’s warmth for this evening I feel content.  That’s what spring does: even with Alzheimer’s alive and destructive in our house

“I’ll rememberApril and feel glad.

“I’ll be content you loved me once in April…….Your lips were warm and love and spring were new……….”

MUSIC HATH CHARM

 During the music era which Ken and I enjoyed in our youth there are so many samplings of words and music to be remembered about spring and April; songs to lift a slothful spirit, words that speak of ardor, moonlight and roses, kisses at the garden gate, and writing love letters in the sand.

We became engaged in April while background music somewhere spun romance and mood as the Big Band Era began to fade into the past.  “I love you…….. hums the April breeze.  I love you………echo the hills.”

“Though April showers may come your way….. they bring the flowers that bloom in May…….” Who wouldn’t feel better singing that happy song?   “And if it’s raining, have no regrets…. It isn’t raining rain you know; it’s raining vi-o-lets……”  Ending with a positive refrain: “So keep on looking for the rainbow……… and listening for a song……… whenever April showers come along.”

BUT WE ARE STILL HERE IN OUR ALZHEIMER’S WORLD 

With melodies still running through my head it’s time to put away distant memories.  As I see Ken I am reminded of where he is in this Alzheimer’s world, where we really live with good days and some which aren’t so good.  I know that for now, no matter how content I might feel, life goes on and my tomorrows will be different.   Accepting that, I find our music from long ago also brings me another message, “You promised that you’d forget me not………..but you forgot to remember.”

Musing about former springs and better times I write another version of  Song of Solomon as if Ken had written the words.  I am without sadness, but filled with praise and blessings for I have words, music and memories of happier days and times, and I know comfort believing that there is life after life and the continuing of us.  For now, though, and in a mood of thoughtful provocation I leave these words:

My beloved spake with his eyes, and said unto me,

“I cannot rise up and be with you as once we were.

“For, lo, my winter has not passsed, the clouds in my mind are not gone,

“But flowers of the earth are there for you to have joy,

“As is the singing of the birds that will come.

“And listen for the voice of the turtledove heard in our land;

“The cooing and caressing of tender, new love.

“And remember them all – for me.”

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