‘Will I see you tomorrow or the day before?’ he asked.

These days Peter often wears two shirts because he doesn’t remember he already has a shirt on. Sometimes he wears two socks on one foot, sometimes no socks at all. The other day he fished around in his pocket and finally pulled out a cracked white plastic spoon, a mechanical pencil and a tan sock with red, white and orange stripes. He studied the sock, shrugged, then used it as a handkerchief. I couldn’t help it, I laughed and laughed and he did too.

Sometimes laughter is all you’ve got.

I knew his hankies were well past their use-by date, so I bought new ones. When I took them to him he was as thrilled as if they were woven with gold threads. A day or so after that, he pulled out all eight of the new handkerchiefs, still neatly folded. Maybe now he’ll put the socks on his feet, rather than in his pocket, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

As days go by my husband loses more and more words and his voice is fading, not that he was ever very loud or even very vocal. He’s long since forgotten my name, as well as family and friends’ names. That makes me sad, but it wasn’t unexpected. Now though he doesn’t know his dog’s name—Nobby. That’s very sad. Even more surprising, he can’t remember the name of his favorite Disney character either—Mickey Mouse!

Laughter can make sad things better…sometimes.

When I walked in Sunday Peter was sitting in the lounge holding a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. I’d brought his favorite McVitties Chocolate Digestive biscuits to have with tea. “Do you want to finish your beer and wait awhile before I make tea?” I asked.

“I don’t have a beer,” he huffed.

“What’s that in your hand then?”  He doubled over laughing. I suggested he set the dominoes up while I fixed tea.

“OK, but I don’t know where my room is, do you?” He was surprised when I said yes. We only played three hands. Generally he plays well enough with a little prompting, but he was struggling.  He seemed tired.

“Let’s finish this game next time,” I said, gathering my things. “But remember, you’re ahead by thirty points,” I told him.

“Will I see you tomorrow or the day before?” he asked.

“Today is the day before,” I said. He smacked his forehead and laughed again.

“Good thing you don’t make calendars,” I said. He shook his head and waved me off.

Sometimes laughter really is all you’ve got.

Header photo: Peter holds his beer.

 

 

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Moments shared.

A few months ago I muddled through a string of down days. Nothing specific was wrong, but nothing was right either. I sought help from family, friends, doctor, therapist. I grabbed myself by the scruff of the neck and gave myself a talking to as well. Then, I had an “aha!” moment.

Peter was watching tennis when I left him that day. He waved me off and stayed in front of the tv. He didn’t mind that I left. The next day, when I picked him up to go on a picnic with Leslie and Martin, I suddenly, aha, got it.

You see, when I collect him to go for coffee or to the car wash or lunch, I feel guilty because when I arrive the other residents are usually parked in front of the tv or tottering up and down the hall aimlessly. Many don’t seem to have visitors very often, if ever, although there are a lot of hours when I’m not there so I don’t really know.

Peter and I go out the locked door leaving them behind—it’s like picking one puppy over another, I think. Guilt swamps me because I can’t take them too, yet sometimes I can barely deal with my own husband, much less with someone else.

But Sunday when I walked in the residents—Peter included much to my surprise—were batting a balloon around and laughing hysterically. What could I do but laugh with them? Always the clown, Peter tried some of his practiced soccer maneuvers while sitting in a chair. Activities like this may happen often, but this was the first time I’d witnessed it. Aha, I thought.

No sooner had the balloon floated away than a man came in, pulled the piano to the center of the room and started playing and singing familiar old songs: You are my sunshine; Row, Row Row Your Boat; Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do; Shine on harvest  moon and on and on non-stop for nearly an hour. The nurses and aides clowned to the music, chair-danced with the residents, and everyone joined the singsong or tapped their feet. I even got Peter to dance with me. He remembered those moves too, although he said he wouldn’t try to “dip” me. Funny, he seemed to remember he’d dropped me once.

Two days earlier the activities personnel had organized a fall festival, complete with games and food, crafts and music, baby animals and even antique cars. Fun-filled late summer days! Moments to remember…

January to December, we’ll have moments to remember…
the New Year’s Eve we did the town…
the ballroom prize we almost won…
though summer turns to winter…and the present disappears…
the laughter we were glad to share…
will echo through the years…

Excerpted lines from “Moments to Remember,” Al Stillman and Robert Allen, music and lyrics, 1955.

Header photo: Peter and Nobby walk in the mountains, 2015.

 

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

‘Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!’

My high school prom in 1957 — in June or was it May? — is a foggy memory. I don’t even remember who I went with. But April 10, 2019 is a prom date I’ll never forget. I was a bystander at a prom last Wednesday that was memorable for so many reasons. There was fantastic food, live music, corsages, boutonnieres, a big crowd. Kings and Queens were crowned. Many of the prom-goers were in wheelchairs, and most of them forgot the fun and laughter even before the music faded.

That evening, Sigma Kappa sorority and The German Club of Virginia Tech sponsored The Great Gatsby Prom for residents of the facility where Peter lives. When I heard about the event just a day earlier, I dug out the green velvet jacket Peter made for himself years before I knew him. I found his orange and purple bow tie too. Carolynn, here for the week, helped wrestle him into his finery. Typical theatrics ensued as we convinced him to participate: What is a prom? Why do I have to go? I’ll just stay here. We held hands as I coaxed him along the corridor.

Black, gold and white balloons and streamers festooned the dining room, the ladies wore their best attire fancied up with beads and glitter, and the men went along with everything, much like they probably did for their high school proms. The staff were all dressed in 1920’s attire to go along with the Great Gatsby theme.

Didn’t take long for Peter to get revved up and charm the ladies. In his element, he flirted, he danced, he caroused, he was his silly, wacky self. Old pals who remember the Peter of days gone by would have been shocked to see him drinking not one, but two Cokes. Yes!

Carolynn and I giggled hysterically as he entertained his admirers, many of them sorority girls younger than our granddaughter. He teased and made faces and beamed ear-to-ear. I’d figured we’d stay to escort him back to his room, but he was having such a good time we snuck out. The hours for this prom were 6:30-7:30, no all-night after-prom activities for this crowd. By the end, Peter was still cavorting. He didn’t need me nagging him to leave as I used to do. He didn’t even need me at all and I was glad to know that.

As I watched the evening unfold, I realized I’d made the right choice, heartrending as it was, when I moved him into memory care a year ago.

Title quote: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Don’t deal him out.

When I left Peter one afternoon, I stopped to chat with the wife of another resident. We compared notes, as we’ve done before, and agreed that the year just past, for both of us and our spouses, had been terrible. She’s a woman who tries to look on the bright side too, so we’ve shared laughs over the months as well.

I told her I’d just reintroduced Peter to cribbage and that it had been more successful than I expected. “He remembered enough about the game to play fairly well,” I told her. “I never could play very well, so he’s at my skill level now.” 

“Well then, what did you think about our husbands’ poker game last week?” 

“Poker? Peter doesn’t even know how to play!” I was astonished. At Christmas the family poker players drag him to Leslie and Martin’s kitchen table and coach him.

She explained that our husbands and another resident had played one afternoon. “They had beer, chips and dip, laughed and carried on as if they’d been pals for years. They seemed to know what they were doing.”

“Could they hear each other?” 

She shook her head and laughed. “Didn’t matter, they had a terrific time.” 

“That’s wonderful! I hadn’t heard about it, but you just made my day!” I drove home with a big smile on my face.

Ol’ Poker Face Pete looks like he’s ready to ‘fold.’

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 
 
 
 
Header photo: freepik

Two points for a pair.

Sir John Suckling invented cribbage in early 1600s England. The game, still popular in pubs, is played with one deck of cards, a cribbage board and colored pegs with which to keep score.

Cribbage is somewhat complicated, but even more than the game itself, the odd terms and conventions confuse beginners. This isn’t surprising considering that the country of origin gives its villages such whimsical names as Pucklechurch, Nether Wallop and Great Snoring. Cribbage terms—his Nob, box, the crib, right Jack and Muggins—confuse as well.  A Muggins, for example, is called when a player doesn’t calculate her score correctly— the difference in points is awarded to the opponent. Good thing for me we’ve never followed that rule.

Peter and I used to play a lot of cribbage. He teased relentlessly when I forgot whose turn it was to play after a “go” or whose turn to cut the cards or, for that matter, even to remember when to cut the cards. In my never ending attempt to keep him engaged now, I wondered if he would try to play again. He surprised me.

Without going further into the myriad details and quirks of the game—this isn’t meant to instruct after all—I’ll just say that Peter plays way better than I thought he would. He remembers to offer the dealer, me, a chance cut the deck and to cut for the “turn-up,” while I remember which direction to peg. He never remembers which color is his and often—on purpose I’m sure—moves my red peg ahead if he and his blue peg are behind.

At first he didn’t seem to remember that a hand with four ten-count cards, a five, and a five turned up was an “even ‘doz,” his words for 12 points. But when I used the phrase I saw the tiniest spark in his eyes that said, oh-h, yeseven ‘doz

Mickey M  kibitzes.

When I forget to add extra points for a hand that is all the same suit (four) or that also matches the turn up suit (five) Peter reminds me with a sly look. I never have been able to remember that when “his Nob” is turned up the dealer gets two points.

He’s remembered the custom to knock sharply on the table to signal either that he can’t play or doesn’t want to cut. Another niggly convention I seldom recall.

It has worked out that whenever we play one of us remembers what the other forgets. Peg two points for the pair we are!

One day I suggested we play Rummy for a change. Nearly every hand, Peter forgot he needed to lay down at least a run of three or three of a kind. It confuses him when I remind him that he can draw from the discard pile if he wants a certain card and is able to play it with something in his hand. I’d just discarded a queen when he asked, “Can I pick that Queen up?”

“Yes, but you have to play her with at least two other Queens, or the King and Jack of hearts.”

He studied his hand then, with a flourish, spread four Queens and three tens across the table.  “OUT!” he said.

I sputtered. “You fooled me again, you cheeky bugger.”

He loves to make me laugh and I love that he still tries.

Header: Peter and Nobby are featured on cards we use.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Channeling Henry VIII.

This bit of gallows humo(u)r is, well, an interlude in our own Shakespearean tragedy.

Sunday’s visit with my husband was difficult, especially since I’d gone to see him after a pleasant few hours’ brunch with my friend Karolyn. She and I had empathized and giggled over our similar lots in life. When I left I was in a good mood, but when I arrived at the facility where Peter lives and headed toward his room a nurse coming towards me shook her head. “Peter has done even more packing up this time,” she said.  And good morning to you too, I thought. I let that slide for the moment.

Peter was in the dining area, just finishing lunch. He did his usual surprise act when he saw me. “Oh, it’s you!” he said. “Where did you come from?”

“Out there.” I pointed to the entryway. “Are you finished? Have you had dessert?” There was still food on his plate, not surprising since he doesn’t like the meals.

“Oh, yes” someone said,”he had a scone with a beer in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.”

“A scone and a beer? What would your old granny say?” I asked. He shrugged and gave me his exaggerated fake wink.

It was a pleasant day so we went outside to the gazebo. After a few minutes of idle chat, I took a deep breath and prepared to have another Talk with him. A month ago he’d asked if he would ever get out of “this place.” Since he’d  asked directly I answered as plainly as I could hating, hating, that I must do it. I explained again that because of his falls, plus his wandering and getting lost, I couldn’t take care of him at home anymore. “I can’t lift you when you fall,” I said, “and I couldn’t always find you when you got lost.”

“But I don’t fall,” he said, “and I’ve never gotten lost.” I raised my left eyebrow. “Well, I don’t remember if I did.”

“I know you don’t remember, but that’s part of the problem. But you can’t help it.” I put my head on his shoulder and patted his knee. “I know you don’t want to be here and I don’t want you to be here either. But this is the best answer to a bad situation.” He was quiet. Tea, I thought. A cuppa cure-all. “Let’s go in and I’ll make us a cup of tea,”

I was shocked when I opened the door to his room. The nurse was right. He’d created even more mayhem than usual. This was the day same he’d gone so far as to hide his tv set. I bit my tongue to keep from saying what was on my lips. “I’ll make tea after I tidy up,” I said.

“I’ll help! What shall I do?” he asked. I nodded towards the bed where he’d stacked every single thing that that would fit. “I’ll put these clothes away, shall I?”

“Good idea,” I said. He hung up his shirts neatly, making sure they were buttoned and straight, while I put everything else away. Forty minutes passed before I fixed tea.

Peter frowned while he sipped, lost in thought. “It’s funny,” he said finally, waving his arms around, “I’m healthy all over the rest of me body. It’s just me head. I can’t remember anything.”

“We could chop off your head!” I said.

As quick as ever in his best Cockney accent, he said, “Off wif ‘is ‘ead!” And with no hesitation, he began to belt out,

I’m ‘Enery the Eighth, I am,
‘Enery the Eighth I am, I am!
I got married to the widow next door,
She’s been married seven times before
And every one was an ‘Enery
She wouldn’t have a Willie nor a Sam
I’m her eighth old man named ‘Enery
‘Enery the Eighth, I am!

We laughed and laughed and, for the moment, nothing else mattered.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

 

Two laughs are better than none.

Laughs have been scarce lately. Stress, angst and tears blot out any chuckles my husband’s quick humor would usually egg on.

Twice this week, laughs ruled.

I visit nearly every day, in spite of advice from daughters, doctors and friends. As soon as I walk in — I know I shouldn’t do this either — I immediately begin to put the place to rights. I grumble, yes I do, as I put his clothes away, plug in t.v. and lamps, remove socks from his toothbrush holder, and find missing photos, pencils, and domino’s score pads.  Wednesday, in addition to the usual chaos his nightly dismantling causes, the comforter was turned so that the ends were dragging the floor off the sides of the bed.

“Did the aides make your bed or did you?”

“Is it right or wrong?” he asked.

“It’s the wrong way ’round,” I said.

They made it,” he said quickly.

We laughed like we haven’t laughed in weeks.

The next day, his new doctor visited. “I’m Dr. K,” she said. She held out her hand asking, “Would you like me to call you Peter or Mr. Clarke or Dr. Clarke?”

“Hm-m, Dr. Clarke, I think. Sounds good.” She laughed and we did too.

A second laugh in two days, wow! Can’t beat that with a stick, as his ol’ granny might have said.

 

Header: Peter wore his Union Jack necktie to watch the royal wedding May 19. He enjoyed the tea and biscuits as much as I enjoyed the wedding.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

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. 

 

 

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.


Header: Peter weeds the herb garden.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

 

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.

img_4789

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?

Header photo: Close-up of Peter’s moth-eaten, raggedy wool sweater.

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist.