‘Who in the world am I?’ Alice asks.

“You’re not working a puzzle,” I said to Peter one day at lunch. “Have you finished already?” (He always does a Sudoku, Wordy Gurdy, or crossword; I always have my nose in a book.)

“A puzzle?” he asked. “Do you mean you?”

I laughed. “That’s good,” I said. “Haven’t heard that one before.”

Peter laughed too. “Neither have I.”

That little glimmer of the old Peter was a peak in an otherwise down day. Our laughs lately are a bit further between, but we milk the ones that come along.

This 500-piece “Alice in Wonderland” jigsaw puzzle was a family Christmas gift several years ago. Over the past weeks, Peter put it together again, with more than a little help from Samantha, Leslie and Martin. I’ve often thought Peter’s dementia…Alzheimer’s…must make his head feel jumbled like Alice’s: “I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”

Indeed.

 

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Nobby didn’t do it!

Peter went with me to get my springtime supply of potting soil. I had to ask a Lowe’s employee to help us get it off the stack and onto a flat cart. Together, we managed to heft it into the car ourselves, but at home Peter insisted he wrestle the monster bag to the backyard himself.

Then, Friday, with only a few more plants to pot, I set myself up under the maple tree with trowel, pots, scoop and…where the heck was the potting soil? I looked in the gardening cupboard, the shed, the basement. Arrgh-h, was it that bag that made the garbage bin so heavy that morning? It had been very difficult to roll to the street and Peter was concerned the weight would be too much for the lifting mechanism on the truck.

“Do you know where the potting soil is?” I asked Peter, knowing he wouldn’t know what I was talking about.

“Potting soil? What’s that?”

“Big green bag, heavy, you lugged it around back for me couple weeks ago. Come help me, I’m probably looking right at it and can’t see it.”

We went to the shed and looked under and behind things. Nope. Storage cupboard? Nope. Basement? Nope. “If it was as heavy as you say I don’t think I could’ve carried it down here,” he said.

I groaned, sure it had been put into the blue bin that had already been collected. Peter often sneaks things into the garbage. We really couldn’t blame that, even jokingly, on Nobby.

I plonked down on the terrace steps, frustrated. In order to finish, I’d have to go get another bag of the stuff. But oh, wait, something bright green beside the steps caught my eye. OH!

“Peter, I found it,” I yelled. I pointed to the bag leaning against the wall. I’d practically stepped on it when I began my search.

He laughed. He hooted. His face turned red.

“I’m sorry! It’s my fault, not yours!” I said, laughing almost as much as he was.

Leslie arrived just then. What’s going on, she wanted to know.  Peter, still laughing, pointed to the very big, very green bag. “Mum tried to blame me…said I threw that away…I can’t even lift it….”

She laughed too, as only she can. Later, she suggested the episode was a post waiting to be written. I, like Peter, always do what Leslie says.

At least Nobby didn’t get the blame.

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Header: Peter weeds the herb garden.

Sort and organize, part two.

Several days ago I posted a list of ideas that could help dementia patients feel as if they had some control in their lives. In the post, I used Peter’s adaptations as examples.

Today, I have a new item to add. This one aimed at those for whom reorganizing the silverware drawer or separating buttons by color aren’t challenging enough.

  • Wrangle grocery carts into types—large, small, ‘kiddy cars’—in the cart corral at the grocery store!

After our shopping trip the other day, Peter unloaded our groceries into the back of the car, then walked off to return the cart. I started the engine, adjusted the mirrors, lowered the radio’s volume, checked my hair, and waited and waited and waited. Where was he?  The cart corral was only three spaces away.

I reversed slowly out of my slot and, whoa, there he was, sorting carts and fitting them together as if they were the high school band waiting to parade.

I tapped the horn. He looked up and waved to let me know he knew I was waiting. Really, the only thing I could do was laugh.

This is Peter’s idea of Organization. Photo, Eroha trollies, 26/6/11

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Header photo: Kroger’s on a Sunday morning

 

‘This high’ with no caffeine.

This morning, Peter and I had our annual back-to-back wellness check-ups, fasting check-ups, no caffeine, nothing to eat. Our stomachs growled menacingly.

For the first time in his life my husband has a “spare tire.” He weighed in at 145.5 pounds, up from a low of 128 a few years ago. (I’d have my other knee replaced if I were guaranteed another miraculous thirty-pound loss like the one, post surgery, in 2013.)

When the nurse asked my height, I answered 5′8″, but I think I’ve shrunk to less than that. When she asked Peter, he put his hand on top of his head and said, “This high.” She laughed and so did I. Then she listed three words for him to remember — “apple, penny, watch” — but he forgot all of them. I only remembered two!

When Doctor T bustled in, he asked Peter, first thing, if he was still walking his dog. “Oh yes, he walks me, twice a day,” he said, as he always does. I explained that they still visit nursing homes once a week. “Good, that’s good,” the doctor said. “Those old fellows must love you.”

“The old ladies love Peter and Nobby,” I said. “They both get their share of hugs and pats.”

“See, if you’d known that years ago, Mr. Clarke, you’d have had women swooning at your feet.” Peter has always had women swooning at his feet.

After our labs were finished, Peter asked where we were going next. “Home,” I said, although I was already plotting where to go for coffee and pastries. He started nudging me to the left like a Border Collie herding sheep. “What are you doing?” I asked, pushing towards my car on the right.

He laughed. “Silly me! I looked at that one and thought it was yours.” He pointed to the sleek black car next to my boxy blue one. Its license plate read C-L-A-R-K, while my plate describes my stern personality.

Later, Peter sipped his coffee and stared at the scrawl on the door across the alley. “I’m trying to figure out what that says.”

“Good luck.”

“Good luck?”

“No, I mean ‘good luck’ figuring out what it says!”

If the doctor had written a prescription for laughs prn, it would’ve already been filled by eleven this morning.

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Better to laugh

They came into the house chortling like twelve-year-old schoolboys. Peter’s laugh lines were working overtime and Bill, his longtime companion, could barely talk he was chuckling so.

“Good grief, what’s going on?” I asked.

Peter tried to answer, but gave up. He said Bill would have to tell me. “Show her your elbow,” Bill said, pulling at Peter’s sweatered left sleeve.

“No, tell her first,” Peter said, “then I’ll show her.” I couldn’t imagine what was coming.

They’d gone to one of Peter’s favorite restaurants for lunch. At the time, our area was under warning for damaging wind and hail. Schools had closed. Just as Peter opened the door, the wind grabbed it and smashed it into him. His elbow, when I finally got a look at it, had born the brunt — skin peeled back like paint on an old house and blood, lots of blood. The restaurant’s management was upset, of course, and offered to cover any medical expenses and pay for a new shirt. The bright blue butterfly bandage Bill applied to stop the bleeding was the only treatment necessary. Mother Nature should get the bill for a new shirt!

When Bill said he figured I wouldn’t let him take Peter out anymore, we all started laughing. The previous Wednesday, when he took Peter and Nobby for their weekly nursing home visit, through no fault of Bill’s, a resident threw a cup of tomato juice on Peter, thus ending the life of another shirt. And the week before that, another episode occurred that…well, um…will be the subject of another post, another time.

Of course the story of the murderous door wasn’t funny — it could have been way worse — but we laughed and laughed.

After Bill left, I cleaned the fairly large wound, about 3″ x 3″, applied a large dollop of antibiotic cream and a fresh bandage. Peter asked what had happened to his elbow.

For all the laughter and hubbub minutes before, I was gobsmacked that he didn’t remember. “A door tried to take you out,” I said. Later on, I asked if his elbow hurt. “No, why do you ask?” he said.

Laughter is often the only answer.
unknownHeader quote: Erma Bombeck

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Forever — is composed of nows —

For my husband to give me a meaningful card for our anniversary was present enough. But coupled with heart-shaped earrings in a beautiful little box, WOW!  With Leslie’s help — she offered him three choices — he picked the earrings and the handcrafted box to put them in. He doesn’t remember our Boxing Day anniversary, nor how many years we’ve been married, but some glimmer helped him choose perfectly.

When I opened the Leslie-wrapped present, he hung over my shoulder to see what he’d given me and why. “Our anniversary? Did I forget?” I said he hadn’t, and that the box and earrings were what he’d given me.

“I did a good job, didn’t I?” he said. “Did you give me something?”

“I did. That card on the mantle…and shoes.”

“Shoes? You gave me shoes?”

I laughed. “Two pair yesterday,” I said.

“Why?”

“Why did I give you shoes, or why did I give you two pair?

“Yes.”

“”Well, shoes because you’ve been complaining you don’t have any, and one pair because it was Christmas and the other pair as an early anniversary present…”

“Anniversary? Did I miss it?”

“No, it’s today, it’s ‘now,'” I said. I held the box up to show him Emily Dickinson’s line.

He shook his head. “I don’t know what that means.”

Hm, Dickinson is sometimes hard to explain. “It means ‘now’ should be treasured and celebrated, our anniversary, for instance. ‘Now’ means the present…right now…’forever’ is made of all our ‘nows.'”

I don’t think my stumbling explanation made sense to him, but he was pleased that I was pleased with “the present” he chose.

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Birdseye maple box, Mike Mikutowski Wood-working. Lapis lazuli earrings above, Cathy Guss

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

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A down day turned up.

Early morning and already there were signs that it was going to be a down day. The salt and pepper shakers were in the butter compartment of the fridge, mustard, in the silverware drawer, and we were nearly out of bread. Nothing gets my day off to a worse start than having to do without toast. Lately, Peter has been eating almost a loaf a day — two pieces of toast, three sandwiches for lunch, and at least three slices with jam at various times during the evening.

Down.

But I eked out two slices from the end of the loaf.

Up.

When Peter came downstairs, he turned the television on first thing, as usual, but the growling that followed was not on “Today.” I ignored him for a few minutes hoping he’d figure out that if he stopped pushing all the buttons the remote would “catch up” to his impatient demands.

Down.

But I gave in. He looked up with a silly smile and continued jabbing buttons. “Um, were you actually going to call somebody? That’s the phone!”

He shook his head and laughed and so did I. Might as well.

Up.

Later I asked if he wanted to go shopping. He was waiting by the door before I changed into my best jeans. My husband is always ready to “go to the shops.” No sooner did I back out the drive than he started asking, “Any news from upstate?” Even though I’d said no, he continued, “Do they have snow?” The same questions six times in seven  miles. I counted.

Down.

I parked midway between TJMaxx and Barnes & Noble. A way to get in my morning walk and finish Christmas shopping in one. I found what I wanted quickly and checked out. We headed in the general direction of the car to stow my purchases. Ah, but where had I parked? Peter really enjoyed that laugh — up — as we sloshed and searched — down.

Version 2At the bookstore, I found what I wanted so fast that Peter was disappointed. He loves to wander at Barnes & Noble. “How about a coffee?” I asked to make up for my quick trip. I ordered a java chip frappacino — up — and asked if he wanted his usual cappuccino? “Yes, whatever that is,” he said. For the twenty minutes we sat over coffee he asked, four more times, “Any news from upstate?”

Down.

When we got home, Peter looked at the clock and yelped, “It’s gone one! Have I had lunch?”

Down.

“No, just coffee, nothing to eat. Make a sandwich.” He liked that idea. I went to the basement to wrap Christmas presents. When I came up, he had his Santa hat on and was working on a 500-piece puzzle. He’d marked out its one-by-three foot dimensions carefully, correctly.

Up.

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

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Puzzling.

A lot of puzzling memory and behavior problems cluster under the dementia umbrella. So far, science knows too little about most of the variations and nothing that can cure any of them.

img_4436On a day-to-day living-with-it level, my husband’s memory issues are baffling to both of us. He’s always liked to do crosswords, and still brags about the time 50 years ago when he won the London Times Sunday crossword challenge. He does the daily crosswords still, but I’m not sure how well. He enjoys jigsaws too, and recently resurrected a 3D castle puzzle.

So I got out several Christmas puzzles we’ve worked many times over the years. Among them, a tiny one depicting a mouse dressed as Santa. I sorted the edge pieces from the rest. and laid out the one small section that was still stuck together. The whole thing is quite small. He got into it quickly. Ten minutes later I went back to see how he was doing. There were a lot more white background pieces than before.

img_4440“Where did these come from?” I asked. He shrugged his shoulders and muttered something about “needing more.” I picked up a piece that had green pine needles as part of the design. “Oh, these don’t go with this puzzle,” I said, “they go with this one.” I showed him the larger puzzle I’d set aside. It pictures wild birds on a feeder that hangs from a pine bough. It was partially put together in the box.

img_4437Peter doubled over laughing at himself. “Well, when I couldn’t find the pieces I needed, I thought they might be in that box,” he explained. He realized how silly that sounded.

“We’ll do that one separately,” I said. “Finish this little one first.”

“There aren’t enough pieces,” he said, grabbing for the bigger box again. He’d instantly forgotten we’d had that conversation, that he’d laughed at himself.

As often happens, I tried to make sense of how he can work on an intricate 3-D 620-piece jigsaw one minute and the next try to fit a 500-piece 12″ x 36″ puzzle into a 100-piece 7.5″ square frame.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Photos: Safari wallpaper

Do I know where I am?

Peter was unusually silent. “Something wrong?” I asked. I was driving along a narrow road so could only glance at him.

The silence lengthened. “Do I know where I am?” he said at last.

Whoa, what?  “Do you mean this instant, here, on this road?”

“Yes.”

“Well, we just left Carolynn and Bill…we’re heading home…we’ll soon be in Waterville…” I paused to see if my words rang his bell. “Remember last week, on the way here, we had to stop for a parade in Waterville?”

Nothing.

I thought back to that Saturday. The long drive north had been uneventful until we got to Waterville (pop. 1,548), where we were blocked by a parade longer than the main thoroughfare. Stuck, twenty minutes away from Carolynn’s front door. I fumed, but Peter said, “It’s a pretty day. We’ve got time.”

“But I want to be there, not sitting here.” 

Forty minutes later we were zooming along the downhill drive to — whoops — Road Closed and Detour signs. “OK, I know how to get there from here, I used to bike along this road.” Several miles later I turned left onto another favorite bicycling road. “Do you remember? We used to ride along here a lot.”

Peter sighed. “You seem to know your way around.”

“We lived here seventeen years!”

“You did. I didn’t.”

A right at the next stop sign, then a quick left and we were on their street. “You sure know your way around,” Peter said again.

“We lived here seventeen years!

“I didn’t,” he insisted.

When I turned into their drive, he sat up straight and smiled. “I didn’t know we were coming here!” His eyes sparkled and when Carolynn and their two Westies ran toward us he chuckled. He knew where he was.

I laughed. “I’ve told you for weeks we were coming to see them…”

“I. Didn’t. Know.”

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Bill and Peter in front of a rock-hugging tree.

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Big Guy and/or It.

Throughout our visit, his usual confusion at being away from home eased a bit. After a couple of nights he was able to get from our bedroom to the bathroom and back without going into their room or Carolynn’s office. He didn’t even try to remember Duffy’s or Lily’s names, calling them instead “Big Guy” and/or “It.” He didn’t understand how to use the Wii remote to play golf or bowl with Bill, but he had fun trying. He could still keep track of the dominos played and plan moves accordingly. Bill took him fishing, golfing, and shopping; Carolynn and I took him to the farm stand; I took him to the Polish butcher and past our old house. He remembered the butcher, but had no memory of living in that house. It does look quite different — terrible — minus the two enormous maple trees in front.

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Bill, Lily and Duffy follow Peter around Moss Lake as if he knows the way.

But now, headed south again, Peter had asked if he knew where he was. I reminded him of all the things we’d done, his outings with Bill, our hike in the Adirondacks with the dogs. He shook his head. “Sorry, I just don’t remember.”

But I do. I remember a visit special for the girl-time with Carolynn and her friend Robin, a visit with friend Lisa, time off from caregiving thanks to Bill taking charge, and the laughs. Always the laughs.

I won’t forget.


The National Society of Newspaper Columnists contest winner, 2016 —

online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category.