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. 

 

 

The little things are getting bigger.

It’s him asking over and over “why they’re digging up our driveway?” It’s not understanding that the plumber’s crew aren’t “looking for” anything. They’re replacing our sewer line, collapsed and choked by roots, after 60 years.

It’s knowing that telling him something will make no impression, as if I never said anything at all. It’s knowing that he won’t even see my note, underlined in red, that I’ve left to remind  him of an event, a date, a task.

It’s putting a shovel in the ground exactly where I want a hole dug for the azalea that was yanked out last week, knowing the shovel will be put away before the task is even started. It’s knowing he’ll ask why the azalea, jammed in a big flower pot, was sitting next to the shovel.

It’s me YELLING because once again he managed to confuse our so-called “smart” tv by pushing the wrong buttons on the remote. I’m not smart enough to know what’s wrong, so I can’t fix it.

IMG_3266I thought I’d come up with a brilliant way to avoid telling him things he’d forget, or writing notes he wouldn’t understand: I suggested he write a note to himself about how to turn the tv on and off, for example. He liked that and labored over the words. His own message worked for 24 hours. We’re lost without the tv, Peter because he watches anything, anytime, and me because he’s content and calm when it’s on.

It’s me begging him not to move the plumber’s drainpipe extension because it helps direct rainwater away from our not-yet-resurfaced driveway. I growl when I see that he’s moved it to where he wants it again. I had him insert metal garden stakes along the pipe to hold it where it’s supposed to rest, thus reminding him that it shouldn’t be moved. Worked so far.

It’s me, arguing when he said he did not fill in the hole he’d just dug or “plant” the weeds I’d just pulled. I know better than to argue.

Yes, I look for laughs every day, but days like this, there aren’t any.

IMG_2818

This is where the azalea once lived.

Header photo: The big dig.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Joy ride.

“It’s the little things,” was another of my husband’s “old granny” sayings. Peter repeated the phrase often as a way to dissect any quarrels we had. We’ve never argued over the big stuff, but his whiskers in the just-cleaned bathroom sink sets me off, and he hates the way I coil up the garden hose.

Nowadays it’s the little things we do that he enjoys, although he doesn’t want to do anything that will mess up his routine. Our horizons have become limited.

Yesterday I forced myself to do errands, really boring stuff — buy dog food, find special batteries, get wood to replace clothesline poles. I figured Peter would want to go with me and, yes, he was ready within minutes. He misses being able to run the errands himself, and I miss that he can’t do them anymore. Even though I would’ve liked to come home after the last stop, I took us to lunch at a restaurant where he’d never been. That threw him for a loop because the menu was unfamiliar, as were the beer choices. I encouraged him to order a burger. Good thing it was excellent, because the beer I suggested was only so-so.

After lunch, I realized we were just around the corner from a car wash, so I whipped in there. Peter’s eyes were like a kid’s at Christmas. I had to laugh. I pulled the moon roof back so we could watch the giant mops swish over us. After his initial, childish delight, his engineering persona took over and he marveled how the washing system was set up. “How’d they do that?” he asked, as he always does of anything that smacks of good engineering.

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 10.24.43 AMFor Peter, it was a perfect day out. For me, I’m glad such a little thing made him happy…I still hate to run errands though.

 

There are two types of people in this world, those who would take an Alzheimer’s patient on a joy ride and those who would say it was
a waste of gas.”

Header photo: My sun roof gets washed.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Note: A good time to laugh is anytime you can.

Adventures. That’s what my friend Joanne and I called our treks to out-of-the-way places for lunch, sight-seeing or shopping. Sometimes we were gone most of the day. That stopped when I realized I couldn’t leave my husband on his own for so long. So one day Jo and I decided we’d walk right around the corner to Lefty’s for lunch.

“Peter, come with us,” Joanne said.

“No, no, I’m good,” he said. I knew he really didn’t want to listen to us chatter the way we do.

The restaurant is quite small, so we went early to beat the lunch crowd. Our mouths were going faster than the traffic outside when I, facing the street, saw Peter walk past.

“Wonder where he’s going?” I said. I wasn’t worried because he often walks to the grocery a block further. We took our time over lunch. When we got up to leave, I glanced at a table a few feet away, and there sat my husband, his back to us, with a beer in front of him.

Neither Joanne nor I saw him come in. We sidled over to his table and I slid into the chair beside him. “Can I take your order, Sir?” I asked.

He was startled. “I’ve already eaten,” he said, straight-faced. Joanne started laughing.

“I saw you walk past an hour ago.”

“I came back…!”

“Didn’t you see us?” I asked.

“No, didn’t you see me?”

“No, but you must have looked right at us when you came in…”

“I didn’t see you.”

That shouldn’t have surprised me. It isn’t unusual for my husband to come into the room and not see me sitting on the sofa. I wasn’t surprised that we hadn’t seen him since we were at a right angle to his table and his back was to us.

Screen shot 2015-04-17 at 12.23.43 PM

Artist Rebecca Murtagh’s, Post-it notes installation, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY

A few weeks later, our friends Jerry and Shelia were here. We were going to Lefty’s for dinner, and I told them about Peter not seeing Joanne and me there one lunchtime. They laughed, as did Peter, though I was sure he didn’t remember the day. I stage-whispered to Jerry, “Good stuff for my blog.” He nodded. I should have made a note.

We went around the corner, and while we waited for our food we amused ourselves trying to identify the photos of famous lefties beside our table. We knew da Vinci and Rembrandt, Einstein and Edison, but were stymied by a man I thought was Woodrow Wilson (Henry Ford), and a woman who, we found out, was Helen Keller. Peter joked he’d never met any of them.

As we carried on like the old friends we are, I suddenly thought, this is good stuff, too, but the idea I’d had a few hours earlier hadn’t stuck. I asked Jerry if he remembered my idea.

“Unh uh…oh, Lefty’s!” he blurted.

IMG_0461

Shelia hooted. “You two can’t remember the story and we’re in the restaurant where it happened!” She looked at my husband and laughed. “Pete, who has memory problems now, hm?”

Shared laughs are the best.

 

Screen shot 2015-04-10 at 3.17.56 PM

 Screen shot 2015-04-18 at 1.02.30 PMArt Fry, co-creator of Post-It® notes, started using the “light tack” notes — 3M’s “solution without a problem” — to mark his hymnal at choir practice. Art’s bright idea is one I use to help Peter, and should use to help myself!

 

Header photo: Rainbow of Post-It notes.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Always something new to remind him.

A bubble flood in our kitchen several years ago started a sticky note tide in our house. That sudsy event showed me that I needed to be more vigilant. It was time, past time really, to attach little reminders around the house for Peter. First were the under-kitchen-sink soaps. Then came notes on certain light switches, followed by color-coding to match keys to doors — red for one set, purple for another.

Soon, tv remote, wastebaskets, dog food bag, garbage disposal switch, bottle of hand soap, toothbrushes all had instructions stuck on or  near them.

A small dry erase board propped near the coffee maker each morning announces the day, DSC00769_2date, and year with reminders about activities and appointments for that day. Several years ago I tried an extra large calendar for Peter to fill in, but he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do it.  Calendars were useless, he complained. In truth, in years past when he wanted to keep track of things or plan a trip for instance, he did an engineering timeline. Fair enough, I never understood his timelines anymore than he understood calendar squares.

Now, once again, a large calendar resides on the kitchen counter. Difference is, I fill in the spaces and I outline significant dates in red — birthdays, Valentine’s day, Christmas, our anniversary. Waste of red ink, that idea.

Every few days Peter asks if I need something from Kroger’s. He’s always Screen shot 2015-01-17 at 4.03.05 PMliked grocery shopping and he can walk there with purpose and, more importantly, he doesn’t get lost. I give him a little sticky note, even if there’s only one thing on it. Three items are his limit, but even so, most of the time he doesn’t remember he’s got a list and will come home with an odd assortment he thinks we might need — yogurt, a few bananas, a Hershey bar. He always insists the latter must have fallen into his bag because he certainly didn’t buy it. I laugh at the thought of all those Hershey bars jumping onto the check-out conveyor and sliding into his bag.

Now, I’ve started putting bright notes inside some of the kitchen cupboards to remind him where certain things go. The salad spinner for instance. I use it several times a week. It lives conveniently in the cabinet toDSC00756_2 the left of the sink. Peter always empties the dishwasher, but lately he’s started stashing the spinner wherever he sees an empty space — in the cupboard where seldom used things reside, or maybe in the laundry room pantry. When I’m fixing dinner I do not want to look all over to find this essential tool. One day I’ll break something with all the door- and drawer-banging that accompanies my searc

I do know that washing lettuces for a tossed salad is significantly less of a problem for me than trying to cope with his tossed mind is for Peter. I try to keep that thought in my mind when I get frustrated with him over something so silly as a salad spinner.Screen shot 2015-01-17 at 3.58.28 PM

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist.