Do tell! Or not.

Experts in dementia circles advise that people afflicted with Alzheimer’s or other dementias shouldn’t be told about the virus that is ravaging the world.

As I often do, I went against advice.

The last time I was allowed to visit Peter, March 13, I gave him general information about coronavirus.  He listened intently, the way he always did when he understood I had something important I wanted to talk about. He always gets the message—my evil eye does the trick—that I want him to listen and not make jokes. If he can get away with it, he’ll always joke. He asked questions that told me he understood, at least right then, in that moment.

Before I left him that day, not knowing then that I wouldn’t see him for weeks, I stuck a reminder message on his bathroom mirror: Wash your hands with soap and water. “Why do I have to do that? he asked.

“Because of the virus I told you about,” I said. “Soap and hot water are the best way to keep from getting infected.” He nodded as if he understood. Later I thought of several better ways I could have phrased that.

He probably peeled the message off the mirror within an hour or a day. I believe it was better for him to have heard something about the pandemic than to hear nothing at all.

[Dry erase sticky-back tape, by the way, is available in office supply stores and on Amazon. I’ve used it often since Peter has been in memory care. It’s my way to get a message right in front of his eyes. I don’t know if it’s as effective as I’d like, but it makes me feel better.]

He’d asked questions that day and I answered with words I thought would make sense to him. And when, a few days later, we FaceTimed, thanks to Mark, Peter asked where I was. I thought he was asking why I wasn’t there, with him. But, no, he wanted to know where I was physically. I happened to be walking along the street so I scanned my surroundings to show him. But that wasn’t the answer. “She’s walking in town,” Mark explained

That’s all he wanted to know.

During a phone call several days later, I told him that the sports channels were playing previous years’ best sporting events because no sports were actually being played now. “You can watch them if you haven’t disconnected your television,” I said.

On the one hand it’s too bad the tv in the lounge never seems to be tuned to sports programs. Peter is only one person out of 15 others, most of whom take naps in front of “Golden Girls” reruns. He does have his own television, as do some others, but he  “turns his tv off” by unscrewing the cable connection and unplugging the power cord from the so-called locked outlet!  If soccer, rugby, tennis or golf is on the tube, Peter will watch it. Shouldn’t he be able to watch sports instead of “Golden Girls” in the lounge, where the tv is always on, if everyone else is asleep?

I came across the photo below recently. The activities crew sprayed a table in the dining area with shaving cream and asked residents to make designs in it or just enjoy the feel of the slippery soap. There were a lot of laughs while they mucked about and it smelled fantastic. In a way I’m glad Peter didn’t participate, because I can imagine he might have started tossing blobs of suds! Hm, maybe this should be routine, a way to make sure residents wash their hands thoroughly.

A fun way to wash hands, and it smells delightful.

I was able to talk to Peter on the phone today. He understood without me saying so that I hadn’t been to visit because I wasn’t allowed in. He asked about “this thing,” meaning the virus and, among other things, I told him that Prince Charles and England’s Prime Minister both have the virus.”Charles is safe in a castle in Scotland,” I told him.

“And where’s the Queen?”

“Tucked away in Windsor Castle,” I said. Then I explained that most countries have closed all but the most essential businesses. “But, get this,” I said, “the English were so upset that pubs and fish and chips shops were closed, so they made an exception.”

He laughed. “Gotta have a nice pint, right? Chippies? Can’t close them, can they?”

Header photo: A week before the facility closed to visitors, I walked into Peter’s room to see him sprawled, snoring, on his bed, apparently quite comfortable.

 

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

Bright spots in down days.

There have been upsets in the past few weeks that nearly brought me to my knees. I won’t dwell on the details here, now, because there were bright spots that made the period tolerable.

Weeding, usually a chore, gave Peter and me reason to smile. I looked out his window last week and noticed the flower beds had been invaded by tall, prickly weeds that were about to flower and overrun the space. “Let’s go out and tackle them,” I said. He was on his way before I finished my sentence. We worked for an hour and pulled a huge pile for someone else to pick up!

The next day I mentioned to Peter’s longtime helper Mark that Peter wanted to dig up the beds and plant something nice. That very afternoon, by the time I arrived, they’d shopped for flowers and planted them in a large red pot Mark brought from home. A mini-sunflower, blue balloon flowers, and fushia Million Bells now brighten Peter’s view.

Happy in a flower pot.

Another time one of the aides made me laugh when she said that my husband has “favorites” he pushes along the hall in their wheelchairs. The thought that my husband was pushing the “old dears” (a kindly English expression) absolutely astounded me!

Happy on wheels.

Another evening, as he walked me towards the exit, he stage-whispered, “Watch out for ‘im.” He nodded toward another resident who used a walker to toddle along. “‘E’s up to no good.” The other fellow watched Peter out of the corner of his eye, and when Peter drew abreast, they pointed their index fingers at each other and said, “Pow! Pow!”

Happy are six-year-olds playing cowboys.

Another of Peter’s carers was outside watering plants yesterday. “Look who’s out there,” Peter said. His smile was incandescent.

“I see,” I said, “do you want to go help her?”

“I’m going,” he said, and headed to the door. “Oops!” he said and stopped long enough to kiss me. “Bye, luv, see you next time.” He was gone.

Sometimes even “gone” can be happy.

Header photo: A neighbor’s sunny peonies make me smile.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

 

Remember? November.

Lately, my husband’s downhill run has gotten steeper, faster. When we used to bicycle together, we both preferred climbing hills to zooming down them. The  inherent thrill of a downhill scared both of us. That’s still true, though neither of us bikes anymore, and we don’t really talk about his descent. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for him although he still uses his “braking” mechanism: corny jokes and silly laughs.

We eked out a chuckle the other day. The doorbell rang. As usual Peter wouldn’t answer it though he made sure I’d heard it. A young man stood on the step holding a gorgeous bouquet. A bright beautiful cheery surprise after a trying few weeks.

img_4348Peter was working on the daily sudoku. I walked in holding the flowers. When he looked up his eyes popped, his mouth fell open, and the ruddy color drained from his cheeks. He glanced quickly at the date at the top of the newspaper page. “November,” he said. “That’s not you…is it?”

“Not me what? My birthday? No.”

“Are they for me?”

“No-o,” I laughed, “for me, from Carolynn and Robin. November is ‘Caregivers’ Month,'” I said. He didn’t question that. He doesn’t recognize that I’m his caregiver, and insists he doesn’t need one.

I put the flowers on the kitchen table. At dinner that evening he studied them. “Have those been there all along? You know, for months and months?”

“No, they came this morning.”

“Did I know that.”

I nodded.

Minutes later he asked again, then again, and again.

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Header photo: Colorful November.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Why was I surprised?

“Let’s go see the ‘Art in the Garden’ exhibits…” I said to Peter, “…at the Hort Gardens.”  It was a surprise outing for him.

“Oh, OK!” His eyes sparkled. “We haven’t been there in a long time.”

“Be ready in twenty minutes,” I said, glad he was interested. Wherever we went on our travels, when we still traveled, we would always visit public gardens.

He didn’t mention, or didn’t realize, that I headed the wrong way out of our drive. Carol Lee doughnuts was an important first stop, part of my surprise. I bought six of their lighter-than-air glazed to have with the thermos of coffee I’d brought. From there I took a “scenic route” I knew he’d enjoy — through campus, past the power plant which intrigues him, around the drill field and duck pond, and finally to the Hahn Horticulture Garden.

Leslie and I had already seen this year’s  “Simply Elemental.”  I hoped Peter would enjoy it as much as we had. I pointed out Richard Hammer’s “Glorious Glass Flowers,” but he preferred the enormous hibiscus near the pavilion. I nudged him to examine the NRV Naturalists’ “In a stream near you,” but he wanted to watch the real fish in the real stream or see the spider that had spun the web attached to one of Lauren Collver’s “Bedrock Beetles.” I carried on about the beautiful handiwork of the Textile Artists of Virginia (TAVA) who created the butterflies for “Kaleidoscope Flutters by” in the trident maple allee. He spotted a real butterfly. Why was I surprised he liked nature better than art?

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Floyd Quilt Guild’s colorful ‘Leaf it to Quilters’ tossed in the breeze.

We had our coffee and doughnuts in the arbor. The sun was baking hot, but the air was lovely in the shade. “Isn’t this pleasant?” I sighed.

“Mmm.”

My indignant tsk tsk was loud. Why I was surprised he was noncommittal?

 “Sorry,” he said, “you know I don’t like this heat.”

“Mm-mmm,” I said.

Two women walked by just as I snapped the picture below. “He’s a masterpiece,” I joked.

They laughed. “He sure is,” one of them said.

My husband loves being the center of attention. I have lots of nice pictures from that day, but this is my favorite.

DSC01613

My masterpiece, ‘The essence of Peter.’

Header: One beauty for the “kaleidoscope” of butterflies.
(Click on photos to enlarge.)

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

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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Header photo: Peter always enjoys lunch out.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

‘In November, people are good to each other…’

I’ve always liked November’s skill at blowing the warm months away with icy jabs, but I didn’t know it was special for anyScreen Shot 2015-11-06 at 4.21.38 PM reason other than Veteran’s Day, our granddaughter’s birthday and Thanksgiving. A surprise delivery of flowers from “The Soul Sisters” a couple days ago changed that. The card was inscribed “Happy National Caregivers’ Month, for the woman who defines caring.”

Me?

I assumed sisters meant Carolynn and Leslie, so right away, I took a selfie and sent them a thank you. Les replied she wished she could take credit, but she could not. Later, Carolynn wrote, “They’re from Robin and me, Mom, we’re soul sisters. Leslie and I are are blood sisters.”  She said she’d never heard of National Family Caregivers Month either, but Robin had.

Leave it to Robin. Carolynn’s best friend is probably the caring-est person I’ve ever known. She’s a go-getter caregiver, a whirlwind, a hurricane.

Peter answered the door when the flowers were delivered. I figured someone was selling something so I was shocked to see a pleasant young man holding a bright arrangement of autumn flowers. “Are you Judith?” he asked.

“Yes-s…”

“These are for you. Have a wonderful caregiver’s month.” I managed to thank him before he bounded off.

Peter’s chin was glued to my shoulder when I opened the card. “Who are they from?” he asked. When I said “Carolynn and Leslie” he wondered why they’d sent flowers? “Is it Clarke with an ‘e’?” he asked. “Maybe there’s another Judith Clarke on this street. Are you sure they’re for you?” he pestered.

I didn’t want to get into an explanation about caregivers, which he wouldn’t understand anyway, so I said, “Even if they’re not for me, I’m gonna’ keep ’em.”

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I kept them.

Header photo: November leaf in the woods.Title: line from In November, a book by childrens’ author Cynthia Rylant.
Leaf graphic: Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Oh, IOU!

Funny, the things Peter can remember. He has always had a vast repertoire of quips and come-backs, but recently he’s even added one or two. Several  months ago I was mad at him about something, then later realized I was in the wrong. “I owe you an apology,” I said.

He came right back at me. “That’ll be ten cents, please,” he said.

I laughed because he was so quick and so funny, and he laughed because he was pleased with himself.

Happened again this week. Even though I should never blame him for anything because he can’t remember what’s gone before, I was furious that he’d pulled up a fulsome Black-Eyed Susan that had been flourishing in the corner of my herb garden. “You pulled those tendrils off after I asked you to leave them alone,” I fussed.

“What did I do?” He had no idea what I was talking about. I showed him the plant, withered, literally, on the vine.  “Sorry,” he said, and I knew he meant it, though he still didn’t understand.

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 3.02.08 PMYesterday, after days of pounding rain, I noticed that the plant had revived. Peter hadn’t destroyed it, Mother Nature had. She’d withheld rain for several weeks, then flooded us with it. My Black-Eyed Susan slurped at the puddles .

“I owe you an apology,” I said, pointing at the yellow flowers beaming by the fence.

“That’ll be ten cents,” he said, still clueless, but quick-quipped as always.

Header photo: Our garden fence at dusk.

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.

Screen shot 2015-02-22 at 3.18.13 PM

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. 

My funny Valentine.

By our first Valentine’s Day together, 1975, I’d already learned that my future — seven years in the future! — husband Peter wasn’t going to be the mushy-gushy Valentine type. He often did sweet things, but he disliked intensely having to do something because the calendar or Hallmark demanded it.

I was a bit disappointed he hadn’t even bought me a card, but he redeemed himself when he suggested a walk in the park, in the fresh snow, near my house. He was not a snow-lover like me so he was back in my good graces for even thinking of it.

After we’d walked over hill and dale for a while he told me to stop. I was to stand still and face away from him.  He trotted off while I admired the view. Minutes ticked by.

“OK! Turn around!” he yelled.  He stood some distance away, pointing proudly to a big heart shape he’d paced off in the snow. In the center he’d “written”  I love you. Way better than any card he might have purchased!

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I didn’t expect any Valentine’s remembrance today, and so far I haven’t been disappointed. I stuck a silly card inside the newspaper for him and he laughed. He gave me a hug and kiss to say sorry for forgetting again. “You should have reminded me,” he said.

“What? The big red heart on your calendar wasn’t enough?” I said with a chuckle. “It’s OK, you can take me for coffee.” I handed him some cash.

We went to our favorite spot where I feasted on an almond croissant, he, an apple turnover. The bakery was more mobbed than usual for a Saturday morning. A festively dressed man played romantic songs on a keyboard.

“Do you remember our very first Valentine’s day together?” I asked my husband of now thirty-three years. “It was 1975…we met in May the year before…”

“Did we have coffee here?” he guessed.

No-o, we weren’t even married then, and we didn’t live here anyway.”

“How can you remember that? I don’t even remember yesterday?” he sputtered.

So I told him about the heart he’d made in the snow and how sweet, how romantic, it was. He shook his head sadly and gave me an apologetic smile. Suddenly he brightened and asked, with a nod towards the musician, “Does he take requests?”

“I’m sure he would,” I said.

He sighed. “I can’t remember any romantic songs to ask him…”

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source Pinterest

We haven’t had any measurable snow yet this year, though it is snowing quite hard right this minute, and it’s sticking! Maybe later I’ll repeat the story about our first Valentine’s day, and together we can make a snowy heart in our backyard.

As long as we have memories, yesterday remains;
As long as we have hope, tomorrow waits;
As long as we have love, today is beautiful.

Header photo: Knock-out rose.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist.