‘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. 

‘Orange juice for the ear.’

This observation about the late Oliver Sacks’ book Musicophillia (2007) struck just the right note when I read it:

… music can animate people with Parkinson’s disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people whose memories are ravaged by Alzheimer’s or amnesia.”

Before Thanksgiving last year, I mentioned to our grandson Miah that I’d been searching for a very simple device that would enable his granddad to hear his favorite music. A few weeks later, he posted an article on Facebook that explained  the positive effect of music on the brains of people with dementia. Carolynn saw our Facebook exchange and within few minutes she forwarded a link to me. She was excited. “I think this would work for Poppy,” she wrote.

Fifteen minutes later I was in The Alzheimer’s Store and, yes, she’d found the perfect solution. The Simple Music Player is a reinforced, sturdy little thing with the retro charm of the radio that sat on my nightstand when I was a teenager. Lift the lid to start the music, push the big black button to change to another song, and shut the lid to turn it off. It comes loaded with familiar 1940s big band sounds and songs. Plus, a USB cable is included so that the caregiver can add favorite music. And, I should add, it’s Made in England.

Before I went to bed that night, I’d ordered the player. A few days later it was on my doorstep. Quite honestly, I wanted to keep it! The sound is outstanding, it is very easy to use and, best of all, neither I.D. nor password are required to use it. But I did put it under the Christmas tree for my husband.

Unfortunately, I have yet to download Peter’s favorite old albums, but I’ve got his extensive list at the ready: Jazz that the world forgot, 1920’s classics; The best of Jelly-Roll Morton; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Louis Armstrong, The Hot Fives; Absolutely the Best of the Blues; Count Basie One O’Clock Jump; Bessie Smith; Cab Calloway Forever Gold; Armstrong and King Oliverto name just a fraction of the hundreds in his collection.

Christmas night, I managed to entice Peter to dance to one of the oh-so-danceable songs. It was the first time in years that we’d “tripped the light fantastic.” Our intent was good, but our feet were laughably clumsy.


Be sure to turn sound up.

Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears—it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more—it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.” Oliver Sacks (1933-2015)

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

 

 

 

 

‘When life gets you down … just keep swimming!’

Dory, the brilliant blue, wide-eyed tang fish who stars in “Finding Dory,” has a problem with memory loss much like my husband does. I’d forgotten that Dory was a supporting player in “Finding Nemo” (2003), so I didn’t realize forgetfulness was key to the storyline for the new movie when Leslie took us to see it.

Peter didn’t remember Nemo at all, even though we saw the movie in a theater and have watched the video several times. Nor did he remember “Finding Dory” on the Thursday after he’d seen it on Sunday. But he liked it all over again.

Dory, who hasn’t seen her parents in years, remembers the importance of family, but little else. We just enjoyed a week with family that was filled with raucous laughter and good food. Peter hasn’t forgotten the good times we’ve all had in the past, though specific memories have faded. He can’t even remember much about the past eight days.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 5.17.39 PMAnytime either of is down in the dumps, I look for reasons to laugh. According to Dory, swimming would help too…if Peter knew how to swim. He can’t even float, except two feet below the surface. That’s always makes me laugh, though he doesn’t think it’s funny at all

Credit: Disney•Pixar “Finding Dory” (2016)

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘I’m still here, but yet I’m gone…’*

At Leslie’s birthday celebration, one conversation centered on movies that induce tears. Granddaughter Samantha, a real ham when she wants to be, told us about a “romantic comedy” she’d seen that had a horrific ending.  She was indignant. She sobbed. When Leslie’s friend Kenna added her observations and her tears to the story, the rest of us howled.  I seldom cry, and “Lassie come home” and “The Fighting Sullivans” are the only movies that moved me to tears, ever.

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 3.02.42 PM“I’ll be me” is the 2014 film about country singer Glen Campbell and his Alzheimer’s-inspired farewell tour. It has been in theaters, but I found it on Netflix.

I watched it secretly. I didn’t want Peter to watch me watching it, even though I don’t think he would recognize himself in Campbell. I’ve slowly come around to admitting to myself that my husband has Alzheimer’s, though I say “dementia” to him if he questions why he can’t remember things. Dementia is an umbrella, Alzheimer’s, a hurricane that turns the umbrella inside out.

When Campbell was diagnosed in 2011, he chose, with wife Kim’s encouragement, to have his farewell tour filmed. He wanted people to know he had the disease, but could still sing and play guitar. “Hell, I’m not done yet,” he said.

A camera was there to follow him as his brain was scanned using the newest and most definitive diagnostic techniques. The camera was in the doctor’s office when he and Kim heard the dreaded words: “Highly probable that you have Alzheimer’s Disease.” Cameras followed him on his final tour that was to be three to five weeks, but turned into 151 performances worldwide. As long as the singer could keep going without too many hiccups his wife, children, and musicians thought he should continue doing what he loved.

My husband can’t sing, though he thinks he can, and he doesn’t have an entourage to bolster him. But his sense of humor — wacky, corny — is like Campbell’s.  Peter is handling his downward spiral the way Campbell does: hiding behind stoicism, silliness, and wild excuses. Bluffing, in other words.

Campbell is 78, a year older than Peter. The singer can no longer put words together intelligibly — aphasia — though he still plays his guitar. Peter has a hard time finding words and seldom says much, especially in a group. He’s never been a talker, so his lack of conversation is nothing new to those of us who know him.

The film was a Bandaid to my soul. Seeing that Campbell continues to clown around the way he always has, using goofiness to camouflage his fading memory, was like watching my husband. Peter’s clowning not only saves us — it’s impossible not to laugh — but it lets him think he’s fooling me and anyone else who’s around. Occasionally, a look crosses his face that says, I know I’m being silly, but it’s all I have left.

Some of Kim Campbell’s asides resonate. In two scenes, there are shots of the singer holding up plates and licking them clean. In a cutaway, she says, “I get so mad at him when he does that…I tell him it’s bad manners…I go into the pantry with my plate and sit on a stool to eat.” Later, she says tearfully, “I know he can’t help it, but I don’t like to see him that way.” Her words helped me feel better about my own reactions to  my daily triggers.

The singer now calls his wife of 32 years Mrs. Campbell. Her laugh is sad.

“I guess my message to caregivers is, stop to look on the bright side …. Make the best of a bad situation.…” When asked about the message, she said, “This film is funny…uplifting. Yes, it deals with Alzheimer’s, but it’s not a downer…not depressing. You learn a lot and it’s very educational. … We want people to know that it’s just full of laughter. Because people might go ‘Oh, it’s about Alzheimer’s. I don’t want to go see this film.'”

“I’ll be me” is funny, yes, but I confess, it’s now on my list of movies that make me cry. It is a must-see.

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 2.54.27 PM

*First line of “I’m not gonna miss you,” the last song Glen Campbell recorded.
Songwriters: Julian Raymond and Glen Campbell.
Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., BMG Rights Management US, LLC
“I’ll be me” directed by James Keach; produced by Trevor Albert and James Keach

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

 

 

 

 

‘The stuff that dreams are made of.’

“Any good movies on?” Peter asked. That’s one of several questions he repeats every single day. “No” is my usual answer because most movies these days, especially summer releases, aren’t our cups of tea. We watch Netflix a lot which suits me — the popcorn is better at home. Recently though, after a stressful week, I surprised him. “Let’s go see ‘Jurassic World’,” I said.

We headed to the huge new movie/bowling alley/arcade/restaurant hub with a stop at Wendy’s first. We snuck into the complex, chocolate Frostys tucked close, and huddled in the gloomy lobby to eat them. The place was a madhouse. And we had to choose seats and buy tickets on a touch screen computer thingie. Ack.

When we entered the theater I burst out laughing. News of summer’s blockbuster hadn’t reached our little burg — only one other couple was there. As the lights dimmed, piercing music jarred us upright in our reclining seats. We plugged our ears and wished we could mute the previews for movies we’d never go see.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 11.43.30 AMWe’d liked the original “Jurassic Park,” but this fourth iteration was at least two too many. The story line was weak and the characters were shallow. “Claire,” the park’s operations manager, raced from one catastrophe to the next wearing a white linen suit and pumps — no dirt, no muck, not even a wrinkle. If the wardrobe designer had any Oscar dreams the white shoes helped dash them.

The evening was the stuff of nightmares.

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 8.26.56 AM

Sam Elliott and Blythe Danner dream.

“I’ll see you in my dreams” was playing at our lovely restored Lyric theater downtown last week. We had chicken kebabs at a favorite restaurant, got frozen yogurt up the street, then walked to the Lyric. In its pleasant, well-lit lobby, we exchanged hellos and hugs with several friends. Civilized. Perfect.

I asked Peter to hold my yogurt cup while I bought the tickets at the quaint old kiosk. Charming.

The refreshments stand often has homemade baked goods, but theater management doesn’t mind outside treats brought in. I was looking forward to my frozen yogurt. I savor it slowly; Peter finished his before we walked in the door. Tickets purchased, I looked around and saw him leaning against the wall scraping out…wait…my cup!  I knocked people aside to grab it. It was two spoonfuls away from empty.

“That’s mine, you bugger,” I yelped. Heads swiveled in my direction. Oops. There were enough Brits in the lobby to have heard my naughty “B” word. Poor Peter’d forgotten he’d finished his yogurt and that he was holding mine. He was bewildered by my carrying on, but he suggested sweetly that we run back to the shop to get another. “Not enough time,” I grumbled. “I’ll get one on the way home.”

When the movie started — absolutely delightful, by the way — I stopped whining. Nothing better than a romantic comedy to encourage sweet dreams.

My husband is the one with the failing memory, but I’m the one who forgot all about a replacement frozen yogurt after the credits rolled. In the end, Peter had the last laugh.

Header photo: Jurassic Park memory.

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!

Screen shot 2015-02-14 at 3.47.50 PM

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…”

Screen shot 2015-02-14 at 3.54.02 PM

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.