‘I believe that tomorrow is another day & I believe in miracles.

Three weeks ago my husband’s already steep downward trajectory propelled him to a crash-landing in a muddy ditch — “The second worst day of  my life so far” The ten days following were worse, but then darned if a miracle didn’t happen.

Cruel disease that Alzheimer’s is, I know this upward swing won’t last, but I’ll enjoy it while it does. Peter can’t put his feelings into words,  but I see the twinkle in his eyes again.

Several things happened to precipitate the miracle…series of miracles really. First, ten days ago, his feet slipped out from under him while he was trying to get dressed in his closet. That doesn’t sound like a good thing, but it was.

Until that day, he’d been barricading himself in the closet. Not by locking the door, rather by pulling out a drawer in the built-in dresser, thus jamming the door. He did not want me to help him get dressed no matter how long it took him. “What if you had a heart attack or a stroke or something? I wouldn’t be able to help.” I said. He snarled. Later I removed the drawers and hid them.

But that day, with no barricade and him flat on the floor, I was able to shove my way in by using the door to push him out of the way. I couldn’t lift him though, and he couldn’t get up by himself. I grabbed a towel from the laundry basket, Peter shifted his bum onto it, and I pulled him across the floor to a chair. He managed by himself then.

When he fell, I think he jarred something in his brain back into place. After we both rested for a bit, I told him he smelled like road kill on a July day, and he needed to shower. Once clean — I did wait outside the door to help if need be — he came downstairs hungry for the first time in ten days. He ate his usual big lunch and was hungry again two hours later. He was actually quite chipper!

That evening, Carolynn and Bill arrived to help us for a week and, not incidentally, celebrate Peter’s eightieth birthday. He perked up when they arrived, though he grumbled that I hadn’t told him about their visit.

From that day to this, his “Parkinson’s shuffle” ceased and he began to walk almost normally. He goes up and down the stairs easily, still holding the bannister, but not with the two-handed white-knuckle grip like before. Once again, his steely determination prevailed, and his clenched-teeth warnings, Leave-me-alone. I-can-do-it-myself, were validated.

There were a lot of laughs at his new normal, but none more so than his telling Carolynn and Bill over and over about the times he hitchhiked in big trucks to get up and down I-81 or back to college in England. The story varied as often as he told it.

He was surprised by his birthday, didn’t realize he’d reached 80, nor that the pile of presents were for him. He kept us in stitches while he opened them. The family gave him thoughtful things he enjoys and cards he looks at every day. I, ever practical, told him the accessible toilet Bill and Martin installed was a present from me. He was pleased. In addition to a selection of tiny  French pastries in lieu of carrot cake which he no longer likes, I gave him a fake cactus similar to the type he raised years ago. He thinks it’s real and waters it several times a day. If it were real, it would have drowned by now. Makes me a laugh to see the puddle and gives him something to do. I don’t remind him it’s plastic.

Most miraculous of all, he calls me “Luv” again the way he used to do. He gives me hugs and kisses, about 23 so far, and murmurs, “What would I do without you?”

I’ve thought about that, but I don’t dwell on the possible answers. For now, I’ll hang onto an Audrey Hepburn quote for as long as I can: “I believe that tomorrow is another day & I believe in miracles.”

Header: The fake cactus looks as real as the real begonia nearby.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-10-14-53-am



Oh! My funny Valentine!

Valentine’s Day! Chocolates and cupids, hugs and kisses, champagne and…more champagne. Right?

Not so much around here these past three days. Still, I believe firmly that no matter how very bad things get, there’s always a bright side, always a laugh hidden somewhere amidst the crumpled tissues.

Yesterday, after hours at the doctor’s office, a laugh presented itself that had me giggling all the way home.

[Sometime in the next week, I’ll write a post about the second worst day of my life so far, but for now, this is the laugh that made yesterday tolerable.]

I’d taken Peter to see Dr. T for a follow-up to, um, what happened Sunday. Suspecting a possible UTI (urinary tract infection), at the end of the consultation Peter was ushered to the restroom to provide a specimen…you know…pee in a bottle.

I sat in a chair at the side of the lab to wait. And wait. When the nurse walked around the corner I asked if he was still in there? I thought maybe he was out of my line of sight waiting for lab results or maybe they were drawing blood too.

She nodded a bit frantically. “Should I try to get him out?” she asked.

“Yes, or I will if you want,” I said. I got up and walked into the lab just after she knocked on the toilet door. Peter popped out holding a nearly overflowing cup. There was something in his other hand and he had a silly look on his face as he walked toward me.

“Are you OK?” I asked. “What’s in your hand?”

He showed me. Although he couldn’t explain — words fail him most of then time these days — apparently he’d been waiting for someone to tell him to come out, so he’d amused himself by folding paper towels into hats.

OMG, how I laughed! If ever there was a time for bathroom humor this was it.

Header photo: Peter’s paper hat or maybe it was his attempt to make me a Valentine?

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-10-14-53-am

Could be a whole lot worse!

Most of January, I was mired in gloom worthy of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, and for no good reason really. We are fortunate to have good long-term care insurance, I have companion help for Peter, and house-cleaning help for me. Best of all, Leslie is close by to bolster me, and Carolynn cheerleads from 596 miles away.

Could be a whole lot worse.

A well-timed phone call jerked me right back to my senses last week. Several times a year, our insurance company nurses call to ask routine questions: “Does Mr. Clarke need help bathing himself? Does he need help brushing his teeth? Has Mr. Clarke had any falls lately? Does he need help toileting? Is he incontinent? Does he have a problem falling asleep or staying asleep?” I always answer no. When they ask him directly how he’s doing, he charms them with a cheery “So far, so good.”

Before she rang off the nurse asked for more detail about his days. Peter is way more forgetful than the last time she checked, I told her, and more confused generally. And no, he can’t really converse except with me or other family members. We try to fill in the blanks and make sense of what we think he wants to say.

But, Peter copes better than most. He doesn’t need nursing care — yet — and he still “lets the dog walk him twice a day.” His sense of humor is intact, and although he often wears me out with his silly jokes and continuous corny patter, he takes care of me in the only way he can. He makes me laugh.

A recent morning for instance.


If not now, when?

I’d been begging him to get rid of the moth-eaten, raggedy wool sweater he wears all the time. I dug into his drawerful of English cardigans —”cardis” he calls them — and found a marine blue double knit one. “Maybe you’d like to wear this for a change,” I said when I handed it to him. I thought sure he’d recognize it as one his mum had sent more than forty-five years ago, but he didn’t. He’s never worn it, but he’s always said he would when he was an old man. If not now, when? I thought.

Darned if he didn’t put it on right away. I wasn’t surprised how perfect it looked with the blue tattersall shirt he was wearing. I spread praise thickly.

He looked in the mirror, tucked his chin in, puffed his chest out, and said in a rumbling Churchillian voice, “Hrmp hrmp, erm, yes, jolly good, yes, I say, yes, mmm….”

When I burst out laughing, he wrapped me in a hug and I asked myself, what in the bloody heck do I have to feel depressed about?

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest, second place, blog category.

Apples and pears…stairs.

Peter looked at the lunch I was fixing for myself, my usual apple, chunk of Cheddar cheese, glass of milk. “Where did you get the apple?” he asked.

I pointed to the old wooden bowl that has always occupied our kitchen, that is always filled with fruit, and the occasional veg.

“Oh, I didn’t know that was there.” He picked out a piece of fruit, came back to the sink and turned on the water.

“That’s a pear,” I said as he washed it off.

Instantly, he collapsed laughing, his face as red as the apple’s cheeks, eyes twinkling. He hugged me. “I know it’s a pear, silly. I’m not that far gone.” I laughed with him and savored the hug.

That far gone, no, but he is more and more confused by the day, less and less able to find words or remember the simplest things. Still, I was grateful for the moment, the laugh, and the hug!


Fruit with acorn squash.

The National Society of Newspaper Columnists contest winner, 2016 —
online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category.

There’s always something worse.

Peter asked his usual question, “What do I order here?” I gave my usual answer, “Beef.” We were at Lefty’s, a favorite restaurant, and we were hungry. I wasted no time ordering steak au poivre for him, Asian chicken salad for me.

He gazed out the big windows. “Looks like afternoon,” he said. “The sky is so blue.” Cloudless skies delight him.

“Technically, it is afternoon,” I said. “It’s not even five-thirty.”

“I never know what time it is anymore.” He looked at his watch. “Looks like daytime,” he said.

“It is daytime,” I said.

He followed the script engraved on his brain. “Any news from ‘upstate,’ or have I already asked?”

“Well, yes, you have, and, no, no news.”

“Any good movies on?” He realized that was another routine question and he smiled when I shook my head.

He looked at me, eyes questioning, mouth downturned. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Oh, just thinking how I am now and how I used to be. I can’t even talk anymore.”

“You never talked,” I reminded him, “and besides, you’re doing OK, a lot better than some. There are worse things.”

“Worse for you maybe,” he said, with a teasing smile, “but not for me.” For some reason, that made us laugh and his downcast moment was erased. Forgotten.

When our meal arrived, he reached for the salt and pepper. As always, he salted and peppered liberally without first tasting his food. One of my pet peeves.

“You are peppering your steak au poivre,” I said.

He shrugged. “So?”

“It is pepper steak,” I said.

He laughed, I sneezed, we laughed together.


Hello! My name is…

Bad enough that our doctor and our dentist have the same last names. Not only that, but our doctor and Peter’s dermatologist have the same first names and very similar last names. Add to that my childhood friend and another friend from the not as distant past have the same first names. The former’s husband has the same first name as the latter’s surname.

My poor husband doesn’t have a chance of keeping all that straight.

Recently, while Skyping with our friends in England, Martin and Anna, Peter was confounded by a question Martin asked. He came running to me, mid-Skype, to ask about “an old house.” I had no idea what he was talking about, so I followed him here, to my computer. “That house,” Peter said, pointing to a small painting of our previous home on the wall behind him. His friend could see it as they talked, and wondered about it.


Peter with son-in-law Martin.

“Martin painted that for me for Christmas about thirty years ago,” I said.

“Martin? Martin doesn’t paint,” Peter scoffed, while his friend laughed on the other side of the Atlantic.

“No-o, not that Martin,” I said, “son-in-law Martin!”

“Oh,” he said. “Well, anyway, I don’t remember that house.”

“Peter, we lived there seventeen years,” I said, frustrated. I loved that house, loved living there. He shook his head. Nope, he neither remembered the house, the little village, nor that Leslie’s husband Martin painted the picture. Peter’s old college mate sat at his kitchen table chuckling, not that the confusion was really funny. But, might as well laugh as cry, eh?

Version 4

Mates of old.

Call a spade a spade.

From Sally Hepworth’s touching, witty, insightful, heartbreaking novel, The things we keep, these two paragraphs jumped off page 21 and imprinted themselves on my brain and on my heart:

Dr. Brain once told me that an Alzheimer’s brain was like the snow on a mountain peak—slowly melting. There are days when the sun is bright and chunks drop off all over the place, and there are days when the sun stays tucked behind clouds and everything remains largely intact. Then there are days — spectacular days (his words) — when you stumble across a trail you thought was gone forever.

“I get the feeling that since the analogy involved the words “mountain peak” and “spectacular,” Dr. Brain thought this news wouldn’t be depressing to hear, when in fact, the opposite was true.  I think I’d have felt better about my prognosis [Anna is 38 and has early-onset Alzheimer’s] if he’d reworded a little. Something like, The brain is like a filthy, stinking pile of crap. When the sun comes out, it stinks worse than you can imagine, and when it’s cold or cloudy, you can barely smell it at all. Then there are the days that, if the wind is coming from a certain way, you might catch the cold scent of a spruce for a few hours and forget the crap is even there. With that analogy, at least we’d have been calling a spade a spade. Because the truth is, if you have dementia, your brain is crap. And even if you can’t smell it right this minute, it still stinks.”

Graeme Simsion, The New York Times bestselling author of The Rosie Project, praised The Things We Keep, with these words: “A compelling read that touches on important themes, not least the different forms that love may take.”

TTWK Cover

The things we keep is a book to read and read again. Both funny and sad, it’s a page-turner I raced through, but a book that I didn’t want to end. I don’t know if Hepworth has first-hand knowledge of Alzheimer’s or if she just has a brilliant imagination. Whatever, she has captured what I think I see happening in my husband as the disease increases its grip.  And, yes, it stinks.

Screen shot 2015-05-20 at 5.30.52 PM

The things we keep, Sally Hepworth, pp. 21, St. Martin’s Press ©2015


What lurks in the shadows of his mind?

He sat across from me. The restaurant was very crowded, very noisy. Talking wasn’t possible, not really. But Peter kept trying to converse. I reminded him we seldom talk across our own dinner table, so it doesn’t matter if we don’t talk when we’re out.

“But, it’s different,” he said, “when we’re somewhere else.”

“I can’t hear a word you’re saying anyway,” I reminded him.

He nodded and sat back. He studied a spot on the wall behind my head. I watched his face. The V-shaped creases between his brows deepened, his left eye twitched, he shook his head slightly. He was far away.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked.

He shook his head again. “I’m trying to remember what it was like when I first came here.”

“To America?”

“Yes. Things have changed, but I can’t remember…”

“But that was in 1968! Nearly fifty years ago.”

He nodded.

“I’m going to have to learn to read your mind,” I said.

His eyes brightened. He smiled. “Well, if you do, tell me what you find in there.”

His remark was so apt we broke into laughter. The people at the next table must have wondered what was so funny. If they only knew.


Sweet tooth, Sweetheart?

Toothpaste-PeopleHe squeezes the bottom, I squeeze the middle…of the toothpaste, that is. Who squeezes where has never been a problem in our marriage.

What is a problem these days is Peter’s obsession about having toothpaste. In spite of the tube on the sink and a new one in the cupboard, he always writes “toothpaste” (actually, touthpaste) on his ever present shopping list. He used to walk the two blocks to the grocery, but he doesn’t go on his own anymore. Neither does he give me his list which always includes string as well. I don’t understand that either.

His toothpaste concerns befuddle me. I wonder, does he remember rationing as a child during World War II? Toothpaste wasn’t rationed in England or here, but in both countries a purchaser had to turn in the used metal tube in order to purchase another. I remember my mother carefully slitting the tube open to scrape out the last traces of toothpaste. I thought she was being too particular, but apparently that was the only way she could buy more. The metal was recycled for the war effort.

Even though we have a drawerful of the toothbrushes the dental hygienist gives us, toothbrushes are always on his list too. About once a month he goes to the grocery with me. Grocery-getting is my least favorite of all household tasks because it is so labor intensive. Plus, keeping my husband in sight is like tracking a three-year-old in a toy store. He doesn’t think it’s a problem, so I try not to complain.

When we finally meet up, my large cart is overflowing. Peter’s small one has only beer and a Hershey bar inside. I ask about toothpaste.

“It’s OK,” he always says, “I’ll get it another time.”

Maybe he puts toothpaste on the list to justify the Hersey bar? He used to buy flowers occasionally, but now it’s chocolate for himself. And he doesn’t share.

Even this silly story makes me laugh, sad though it is.

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Tail of a dog.

Almost every Wednesday for the past four years, Peter and Nobby have visited area nursing homes with Bill, Peter’s faithful companion.  Nobby is the star of the weekly events, of course, and he luxuriates in the cuddles.

Last week, Bill arrived on time, as he always does, and Peter was ready, though he usually is not. As they headed out the door, I yelled, “Haven’t you forgotten something?”

Peter turned. “I don’t think so…,” he said.

I pointed to Nobby. “What about him?”

“Oh, is he going?” he asked, as if this were something new.

Well, yes,” I said. “It’s Wednesday.” Peter shook his head, disgusted with his drifting memory. Bill and I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of Peter walking into the nursing home, red leash in hand and no dog attached.


More and more often these days I have to remind Peter — make that nag — that it’s time for Nobby’s walk. This morning, Nobby waited patiently by the basement door. When I called to Peter, he said, “Yes, yes, I’m coming.” Nobby flip-flopped his tail hopefully.

Finally Peter came up from the basement. I heard him fiddling with the leash. After a spate of muttering from Peter and a few yelps from Nobby, I went to investigate. They were in the laundry room. Peter was laughing so hard tears were streaming down his face. “Helped when I put the leash on the right end,” he said, sputtering.

“What, you mean you put it on his back end?”

“Yes, and he didn’t like it.”

“Poor dog! I’m sure he didn’t!” I said. “How would you like a harness around your nether region?”

Peter grimaced. Nobby got two treats.DSC00224_2