Play the cards you’re dealt.

My husband has taken to putting decks of cards in order, by suit, probably related to his need to control anything he can, however unimportant the activity seems to me. This latest obsession was especially noticeable when we visited Carolynn and Bill for a week.

Carolynn and I had put two decks of cards, a pad and pencil on the picnic table under a tree before lunch. The two of us were ready for an afternoon of canasta, part of our ritual weeklong championship.

After we ate, Peter picked the cards up and began to lay them out, face up. He shook his head and frowned. “How do you know which deck to use?” he asked.

“We use both decks.”

“But they’re alike.”

“Doesn’t matter. Canasta is played with two decks, plus the four jokers.”

He continued sorting. When he finished, he knocked each deck sharply against the table and slid them neatly into their boxes. Even though Carolynn and I shuffled them over and over, the first hand we played after he’d organized them wasn’t well mixed. After she won that game too, we gave the cards back to Peter to organize all over again. He was happy.


The joke is on me because later, when I Googled “organizing cards,” thinking I might learn another tidbit about dementia, I discovered instead that people around the world engage in contests to determine who can organize cards the fastest.  A young Canadian man set a record set a few years ago when he sorted a pack of cards in 00:22.60. There were no jokers in his deck though.


Photos: Safari wallpaper

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Left? Right. Left. Wrong!

We were having lunch at Lefty’s. As always, Peter looked at the menu, then at me and asked, “What do I usually have?”

imagesAs always, I said, “You can have something different.” It does absolutely no good to encourage him to try other things on Lefty’s or any other restaurant’s menu. I looked up at the large blackboard where daily specials are posted. “Oh, look, pork BBQ burger, yum! I’ll bet that’s good.”

Peter looked at the board. “No, I’ll have what I usually have…” His eyes asked the question again.

“A Lefty’s burger with fries then?” I’d already settled on a turkey reuben, my favorite, or I would have had the special myself. So much for branching out from “the usual.”

Later, while waiting for the check, Peter looked at the blackboard again. “Pork BBQ burger,” he said. “That sounds good. I should have ordered that.”

I sputtered. “I tried to get you to have it, but you wouldn’t.”

“Pfff, never saw the sign.”

I raised my left eyebrow at him. “It’s just like when we traveled in England,” I said. “You drove and I navigated. Every time we came to an intersection or a roundabout you’d ask which way. If I said ‘left,’ you’d turn ‘right.’ I’d insist, ‘left,’ and you’d say ‘wrong.'” Peter was confused. “In other words, no matter what direction I said, you thought I was wrong, so you’d turn the opposite way. I never did learn that I should have said ‘right’ when I mean ‘left.’ We’d have gotten where we were going a lot quicker, and with less fuss.”

A smile tempted his lips. He didn’t remember specifically the time lost on tiny English lanes, but down deep, he knew what I meant.

Continuing my argument, I said, “So my point is, an hour ago, if I’d looked at the list of specials and said, ‘Ew-w, yuck, pork BBQ burger’ sounds awful,’ you would have ordered it.

“No-o, I didn’t see it,” he insisted.


2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Prompt. Hint. Jog. Nag.

Bill, my husband’s kindly helper, arrived a bit early. We sat at the kitchen table chatting, while waiting for Peter and Nobby to get ready for their weekly therapy dog visit to a nursing home. Finally, Peter clomped through the kitchen.

“How ya’ doin’, Pete?” Bill asked.

Peter stopped, turned, and said, “You’ll have to ask her.” He nodded towards me. “She knows how I am.” He was laughing.

Bill laughed too. “Maybe you don’t want to know what she thinks,” he said.

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Peter carries Nobby’s leash.

“Oh, he knows what I think,” I said. “I tell him all the time.” I didn’t know what had prompted Peter’s remark, but perhaps it was because I’d had to remind him several times that he needed to put on a clean shirt and brush Nobby before Bill arrived.

There are lots of caregiver hints on-line. I’ve tried to lay out clothes for him to wear or attach a note to clean pants and shirt. I set the stove’s timer to remind him he needs to get ready. Nothing works. He will not wear what I’ve selected and he crumples my notes. When the timer goes, he calls to me saying something’s beeping in the kitchen.

Bill and I continued chatting, while Peter tried to put Nobby’s harness on. He doesn’t like me to help and yanks it away from me — his dog, he’ll do it!  Actually, Nobby is so smart I think he could buckle himself up better than Peter can these days. Not so long ago he tried to harness the tail end of the dog, and another time he fastened it in place without getting Nobby’s head through the apparatus.

All relatively little things, but frustrating to both of us —me for having to prompt, hint, jog, nag, and him for having to be…reminded.

Laugh, you just have to laugh.

Header photo: Nobby waits patiently for his walk.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

It’s the little things.

It’s opening the silverware drawer this morning to get a knife and finding one that should be in the dishwasher. It’s crusty with toast crumbs and jam.

It’s finding the salt and pepper shakers in the fridge’s butter compartment.

It’s wondering what happened to the coffee mug I’d just been drinking from. Oh look, it’s in the cupboard with my coffee, still warm, inside.

It’s taking a pan out to cook broccoli and finding yesterday’s mashed potatoes remains.

It’s starting the Christmas baking and having my measuring cups and other utensils cleared away before I’ve used them, likewise the dishcloth I’ll need.

It’s him asking if the hiking boots he’s holding are mine. “Unh uh,” I say.

It’s yet another lost watch so that he’s started looking at the numbers on the cable box again as if it’s a digital clock.

It’s him standing outside the shower door yelling, “How do I stop that beeping?”

“What beeping?” I yell back.

“That…big thing.” I could see through the glass that he was drawing a box in the air.

“Smoke alarm?” He shook his head no. “I’ll be out in a minute.” The “big box” was the fridge, the beeping, the alarm that repeats annoyingly if the door has been open too long.

It’s him banging on the shower door again the next evening. “How do I turn off the squeaky thing in the basement?”

“Give me a minute,” I said. Invisible Fence control box, I figured. Peter spends most of his time downstairs, so the shrill squealing would pierce his ears. My hearing is so bad I can’t hear it unless I’m right beside it.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t reset it. Three days passed before someone could come. “When will it stop” he asked So. Many. Times.

It’s going out to eat, spur of the moment, and seeing his eyes light up when I steer him into our favorite hole-in-the-wall. “What do I have here?” he asks.

“Chicken kebabs,” I say, “but you decided you’d order my favorite next time.

“What do you have?”

“Suguk wrap.” I order for him.

It’s watching him eat something he’s never tried before. He loves it. “I could eat another,” he says, “but I won’t. Are we having dessert?”

“Two baklavas, please,” I say to the waitress. He remembers baklava as soon as he sees it.

“Balaclava,” he jokes, as I knew he would. “Yours is bigger than mine!”

I swap our plates.

It’s the little things that make him happy.

Header photo: Baclava, two please.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 



This is the way he makes our bed.

Peter helps around the house…creatively. He can no long fix or build things like he used to, so he’s invented chores and ways to do them.

He scuffs at embryonic maple leaves and tiny pear blossom petals — they hitch rides inside attached to Nobby — off the family room rug with the edge of his shoe, then picks them up and carries them to the wastebasket. Using the hand vac would be quicker and do a better job, but he likes his shoe method.

After I’ve done my weekly run-through downstairs with the vacuum cleaner, Peter straightens the fringe on the rugs, sometimes with the dog’s wire brush, sometimes with a comb, once with my pastry fork!  I don’t care whether the fringe is untangled or not, but the pastry fork is off limits!

My husband has an ongoing obsession with picking up the tiny twigs that snap off the trees. He mounds them into piles in the woods or crams them into an empty birdseed bucket that I dump when he’s not looking. He polishes the kitchen countertops until they gleam, but he doesn’t move appliances out of the way to do it.  There’s no doubt where the coffeemaker, knife block, tea kettle, and mixer live because the unbuffed areas tell the story.

I’m usually up and out at least an hour before Peter is, but when I come back from my walk he’ll have “made the bed.” That is, his side of the bed is smoothed, pillows plumped, spread straightened. My side remains as it was when I crept out — strangled pillows, tossed quilt, crumpled sheets.

When I hang laundry out back, I often ask him to bring it in. He brings his jeans, his shirts, his socks. His excuse for not bringing my clothes, our sheets or our dishtowels is, “I didn’t know you wanted them!”

That excuse, and the novel bed-making, has ASD (Austism Spectrum Disorder, fka Asperger Syndrome) written all over it. It’s nothing to do with dementia.


Peter charms this lass.

I’ve often said, my husband’s dementia is much easier for me to deal with than ASD. Neither can be “cured,” but ASD sometimes manifests as what I call “The Mt. Rushmore Effect” —stone-faced, remote, cold. And yet, the man I fell in love with all those years ago can be funnier, sweeter, and more charming than anyone I’ve ever met.

I’m sure Peter thinks his ASD is a non-issue since he’s lived with it successfully all his life; dementia, though, has foiled him and he does not go gently.

An excellent “Masterpiece Theater” series*, “Doc Martin”, makes both of us laugh no matter how many times we watch it. The Doc (Martin Clunes) is a highly intelligent surgeon who has a blood phobia and serious relationship issues with his patients, and with Louisa (Caroline Katz), the woman he tries to marry. Although sometimes cringe-inducing, the series is doubly funny to me, first, for its pure comedy, and second, because Doc Martin is my husband all over again. Peter doesn’t see himself, while I relate to Louisa’s devotion to and frustration with the man she adores.


* “Doc Martin” is also available on Netflix.

Header photo: All pictures, Middleton Place Gardens, North Carolina, 2011.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Debit or credit?

About a year after my husband was officially diagnosed I discovered a big error in our checking account. Since I almost never wrote checks it was a double whammy — I hadn’t made the mistake, but I knew who had. Quicker than I could subtract what had been added, the bill-paying and taxes-doing landed in my lap.

I’d always relied on Peter, so good with numbers and so logical, to take care of everything involving money matters, never my forte by any stretch. Until that day I had no inkling that he’d lost those skills. Taking over those tasks was no laughing matter for me, a words person. People laugh when I say, “I don’t do numbers,” but I don’t…didn’t.

Now I do.

I found a CPA to help with the taxes, and son-in-law Martin set up automatic bill paying to ease things for me. This created suspicion, a common dementia symptom, in Peter’s mind. He did not like that I had commandeered the checkbook. He didn’t trust “automatic” and,Screen shot 2014-09-21 at 4.32.55 PM worse, he didn’t trust me, with good reason — my own bookkeeping history before we were married was abysmal. It was months before he was even moderately comfortable with the idea that I had taken over his job and that the checkbook was no longer his domain. He still doesn’t understand that the need for anyone to write checks is all but gone.

I’d write a check for any amount if I could reverse Peter’s mental decline.

He had always been in charge and suddenly he wasn’t. Not easy to deal with. Now he’s forgotten there are even any bills to pay, taxes to file, or investments to manage. And I’d never been in charge of such matters, but now I am. Not easy to deal with either. I wanted to scream and sometimes, oftentimes, I do. Or I go to the basement and throw sneakers at the wall.

Screen shot 2014-09-21 at 4.39.24 PMThen one day, I told Peter to cut-up his bank debit card because I thought it was his old, expired credit card. When I realized my mistake, I said, “I owe you an apology,”

He didn’t miss a beat. “That’ll be ten dollars, please,” he said.



Header photo: Graceful anemones, Montreal Botanical Gardens, 2010

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 


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!”

Screen shot 2014-10-05 at 4.29.40 PM

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.

Screen shot 2014-09-22 at 6.22.25 PM

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.

Screen shot 2014-10-11 at 3.07.23 PM
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.