Orange is the new faded blue.

Last January I vowed to spruce up Peter’s dreary grubby room. When he was admitted to memory care ten months earlier I did the best I could at the time, but knew I could do a lot better when I was less stressed and he was more settled. The look of his room was the last thing on his mind during those first unsettling weeks…months. And really, just coping was all either of us could manage for a long time.

Last week, I finally “spruced” aided capably by housekeeping and maintenance personnel.

An efficient young woman had already mopped the floor—even behind the furniture, mind you—wiped down doors, cleaned splotches off walls and washed windows and screens by the time I arrived. All she had left to clean was the bathroom. She held up the grimy blue bathroom wastebasket. “Do you want to keep this?” she asked with a shudder.

“No, it was here when he moved in,” I said.

“It’s gone!” she said.

Then two cheerful maintenance men, Smothers Brothers types, arrived to shuffle the furniture around. They approved my plan and the new dashes of color. “Needed a woman’s touch in here,” one said. I chuckled. The old look was this woman’s touch too, though lacking any appeal whatsoever. When they finished, I tidied Peter’s things and cleared the clutter, so pleased to make good on what I’d pledged to do so many months ago.

What an enormous difference the bright comforter, new Mickey Mouse poster and change to the furniture arrangement made. The orange paisley comforter replaced one I’d bought nearly 40 years ago for eighteen-year-old Leslie. That faded blue relic was way past saving.

I didn’t expect—and didn’t get—a reaction from Peter to the room’s new look when he and Mark returned from lunch. He never was one to notice little things I did around the house—husbands usually don’t—but I felt better for having accomplished my January goal.Sad to say, another goal dating from September remains unmet. I’d thought my plan to revive the gardens outside the area where Peter and 15 others live was a done deal. Flowering shrubs, evergreens, scented plants and bulbs were proposed for planting this autumn to head-start growth and be ready for springtime bloom. Unfortunately, that project is on hold until the new year, not because I didn’t fight for it as much as I dared.

Next time I visit I’ll take the tulip bulbs saved since Peter’s February birthday, Leslie and Martin’s gift to him. We’ll plant them in a big pot to brighten the view outside his window come March. There’s more than one way to get a head start on spring.

 

Header photo: Bright new look to Peter’s room.

 

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

 

 

New broom sweeps even better.

Peter clears the litter from the porch.

A nurse sat at the end of the hall when I approached my husband’s room yesterday. “Peter’s outside,” she said as she walked toward me. “He’s had a bad morning…very out of sorts….”

I held up the new broom I’d brought. “He was so thrilled to be able to sweep up grass the other day,” I said, “but he complained he needed a bigger broom. This ought to do it.” She nodded her head and said he’d told everyone that he got to sweep.

She added that she’d just given him his morning beer. I suggested tactfully that a cup of tea usually works better when he’s upset. “Beer with his lunch would be a better idea,” I said. She went off to change the orders—PBR with lunch, Guinness after dinner.

Outside, I saw him at the far end of the garden. When I yelled his name he looked up and laughed. “What are you doing here?” he asked, trotting in my direction. I brandished the new broom. “What’s that?” he  asked.

“You said you needed a bigger broom.” He grinned as if it were the best present ever. “This space really needs to be swept,” I said, as I nudged him toward the porch where we often sit.

Well, that’s all it took! He went right to work sweeping leaves and twigs off the cement and even whisking the seat cushions clean. He also managed to polish off his beer and the coffee I’d brought, before he tracked along the sidewalk with that bright red broom. He was in a much happier mood when I left for my dentist appointment, and so was I.

This morning I learned that Peter’s down mood had returned in the afternoon. Again he asked over and over why he was there? When I got home from the dentist, probably about the same time he had the second meltdown, I looked around at the mess “Florence” had made and wondered how I’d cope on my own without my champion sweeper and all that autumn brings. But my thoughts are selfish compared to those my husband is trying to sort out in his fractured mind.

 

Header: Bittersweet is lush this year.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Wrinkles in time, smoothed.

Peter has been sleeping much later in the mornings, sometimes until ten or after. On the one hand, that gives me time to write or go for my morning walk, but on the other hand, I wait for him to get up so I can do laundry, tidy the bedroom, or maybe run an errand. While I’m glad to have extra time to myself, I’m also testy with him because he sleeps undisturbed while I wait to get my chores done.

Ironing, for instance.

Peter wears long-sleeved dress shirts every day and they need, if not ironing, then at least touch-ups. True, I’m the one who nags him to put his shirts into the hamper, while he insists they’re clean even when they’re so stiff they could walk to the laundry room. If he hasn’t spilled soup on the front, he says they’re fine.

I seldom have time, or more correctly, seldom have the inclination, to iron his shirts, or anything else, anymore. Recently, when he asked if he could help me, as he does several times a day, I suggested he iron shirts. And he did! He does a better job than I do, although he thought eight shirts were too many to do in one afternoon. Humph.

The next time he asked if he could help, I again suggested he iron shirts. Those shirts still hang, wrinkled, in the guest room closet. He doesn’t want to do them and I’ve decided to go on strike. He can no longer do most things around the house, but he can still use an iron and, well, he’s the one who wears the shirts. If he chooses not to iron them, then wrinkled they’ll be.

It isn’t really about the ironing, of course, it’s about all the other tasks that pile up like unmated socks. Another iceberg lurking.

If it were possible to smooth the “wrinkles in time” to squeeze more hours into a day, I’d get the iron out…or ask my husband to do it.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

 

Random kindnesses. Observed. Received.

A young man of twenty-five or so stood in front of me in the quick check-out lane at the grocery. In his right hand he held a plastic bag of groceries, in his left, red roses. When it was his turn he lay the roses carefully on the conveyor. “These are for you,” he said to the checker.

“What about the things in your hand?” she asked.

“No, I already paid for these earlier. The flowers are for you,” he explained. “You said you were having a bad day…”

She was flustered, but picked the flowers up and smelled them. “Really? For me?” She rang them up, he gave her cash and left quickly. She looked at me astounded. “It wasn’t that bad a day,” she said, “but now it’s a lot better.”

Random act of kindness, observed.

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Yesterday, following a week of bitter cold and snow, I was out early shoveling walks and driveway. A young man and his mother walked carefully towards me. He was holding her arm. We exchanged “Good mornings” and observations about the cold, then they got into the big gray pick-up truck that had been parked in front of our house, off and on, all week.

I kept shoveling.

Walks fiinished, I was working my way back along the drive when I noticed the truck had returned to the space carved amidst the plowed-up snow. “Hello again,” the man called out. “I thought I should introduce myself,” he said. “Hope you don’t mind me parking there, but I can’t get in and out of my driveway right now. It’s so steep and icy.”

No problem, I told him. Then he asked if he could finish shoveling our drive for me, and assured me it would be a pleasure to help.

I was gobsmacked. “Thanks,” I said, “but I actually like to shovel snow.” I explained we’d moved here from upstate New York and were used to deep snows. “Besides,” I said, “my husband will be out soon to finish this off.”

“You sure?” he asked. I nodded, he wished me a good day, and walked off.

Random act of kindness, received.

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When I told Peter about the incident, he wondered if I’d told the fellow that I like toDSC00781 shovel snow. “Yes, and I told him that if you didn’t get outside and do your part, I’d bury you in a snow drift and leave you until spring.” I handed him his jacket and shoved him towards the door.

I knew he’d laugh, and he did.

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Two quarts to the gallon.

Today’s post, the first of the new year, is a springtime story in January to honor my resolution: find more laughs to write about. Causing tears isn’t part of my plan.

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Last spring we decided to tackle the wooly adelgid infestation that threatened our lush hemlock hedge. A few years ago it wouldn’t have been a problem for us to do ourselves. Either one of us would’ve been nimble enough to crawl under the hedge to administer the lethal dose of chemicals around the trees’ trunks. And Peter would’ve been able, without paper and pencil, to figure out how many ounces of the stuff to add to each gallon of water.

But heck, when we went to buy it, we couldn’t even get out of Lowe’s without an argument. It’s expensive, that potion, somewhere in the eighty bucks a gallon neighborhood. I, with my laughable math skills, noticed that buying by the quart was actually cheaper. “Look, it’s only twenty-seven dollars a quart. It would be better to buy two quarts than one gallon.”

“Four quarts to a gallon,” my engineer husband said.

“No-o, two,” I insisted.

Four.”

We glared at each other right there in the front aisle at Lowe’s.

A young assistant came along and asked if he could help. I said yes and explained our math issues.

“Well, with four quarts to the gallon,” the whippersnapper said, “you’re better off buying by the gallon.” He helped calculate how many gallons we needed given the height, length, and depth of the hedge, then said, “Can I help you carry this to the cashier?” Humpf, we weren’t that feeble…yet!

Peter carried the two gallon jugs and I slunk along behind him apologizing. He rolled his eyes, as if to say, Leave the arithmetic to me, Luv.

Later I repeated the story to Leslie and explained that not only had I been totally convinced I was right, I also thought it was evidence that Peter’s mind was deteriorating further, faster

She laughed. “Never ever doubt him when it comes to math, Mom,” she said. “His mind will never be that far gone.”

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One, two, three daffodils.

Photos: Spring flowers in spite of ourselves!

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!”

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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.