Picking up sticks is about control.

These days, my husband attends to specific tasks he sets for himself whether they need doing or not, repeating the steps carefully, obsessively. I bite my tongue and turn away because I want to scream, “Please do something that helps. I’m doing everything and you’re picking up *#! sticks!”

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When I sat down to write this post, he was doing it again, right outside my window — collecting twigs that were blown off the trees during two days of high wind. In his mind, I think, he knows tiny sticks are something he can still control.

In my mind, I wish he’d remember I asked him to mow the grass. Grass-cutting is on the list, a list he checks every thirty minutes or so, but never remembers. I learned long ago, as most wives do, nagging doesn’t work, dementia or no.

Ever since he retired, Peter has cleared the dishes willingly after dinner, but now he’s become obsessive about the task. He won’t leave the house to walk the dog unless the job is done, even when I tell him I’ll clear. To be honest, he doesn’t like the way I clean up! I’m not as fussy as he is.

He wipes our countertops endlessly to “polish” them, but to do it he uses any grungy cloth he finds under the sink from the supply I keep to wipe splatters off the floor. When I showed him the special granite-cleaning cloth he scoffed, so I use it secretly with the special cleaner when he’s not around. He gets very offended if I do or say anything that suggests he’s not done a job correctly.

Once, when I made an even worse-than-usual mess baking bread, I had to leave it to attend to something else. When I returned to the kitchen, it was spotless. “Wow! Thank you for cleaning up my ‘bread mess,’” I said.

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Peter’s eyes twinkled. He loves homemade bread. “Thank you for messing up my clean,” he said.

He’s still so quick, and of course I laughed.

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So, no matter how frustrated I get, I try very hard to remember that my husband can’t help what is happening to him. I know he’d give anything, even his entire Mickey Mouse collection, to turn the clock back to a time when he was in control of his life.



Header photo: Peter imagines himself picking up all those sticks, 2008

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

4 thoughts on “Picking up sticks is about control.

  1. you are remembering this all so well…we would ALL give anything to have our Poppy back. Well done Mama!!

  2. Reading for the first time thanks to Carolynn, met her on our Northern Italy food and wine tour and so grateful for your site….she can fill you in, just in the first reading I can see so clearly and know I will be reading your blog regularly, thanks so much!!! Loved meeting and traveling with your daughter…..she was delightful!

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