‘Who in the world am I?’ Alice asks.

“You’re not working a puzzle,” I said to Peter one day at lunch. “Have you finished already?” (He always does a Sudoku, Wordy Gurdy, or crossword; I always have my nose in a book.)

“A puzzle?” he asked. “Do you mean you?”

I laughed. “That’s good,” I said. “Haven’t heard that one before.”

Peter laughed too. “Neither have I.”

That little glimmer of the old Peter was a peak in an otherwise down day. Our laughs lately are a bit further between, but we milk the ones that come along.

This 500-piece “Alice in Wonderland” jigsaw puzzle was a family Christmas gift several years ago. Over the past weeks, Peter put it together again, with more than a little help from Samantha, Leslie and Martin. I’ve often thought Peter’s dementia…Alzheimer’s…must make his head feel jumbled like Alice’s: “I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”

Indeed.

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Dementia: tragedy, comedy and love story.

“You know I’m not about rainbows and unicorns,” Elaine Eshbaugh, PhD writes in her first blog post of this new year. I’ve been following her “Welcome to Dementialand: Living, Loving, and Laughing through Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias” for some months. She has a “tell it like it is” style that resonates with me.

“If you are one of my regular blog readers,,” she says, “you likely have dementia or love someone with dementia. I am not going to feed you some bullcrap about becoming a better version of yourself or making 2017 the best year ever. For those of you in the trenches of Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, it may seem laughable for me to wish you a smooth path, so I won’t. My wish…is that you have the strength to endure the journey and…know when to ask for help. My hope is that you have a sense of humor to carry you through and a keen enough eye to spot [even subtle joy….”

Wise, but blunt, honest. I like that.

“I wish you hope even if hope has changed,” she says, citing couples who have planned post-retirement adventures that will never happen. Before dementia engulfed us, Peter and I were lucky enough to complete all but one trip on each of our bucket lists. Antarctica was mine, and the Terra Cotta soldiers in China was his. That worked out just fine because he insists he did go to see them, even though it was on t.v.

“Dementia is a tragedy, a comedy and a love story all at once,” Eshbaugh writes in her 12/26/16 post, “Lessons  learned…” She is amazed that families whose lives are impacted by dementia can still find humor in their situations, yet apologize for laughing.  “…They need to stop apologizing for that. No, dementia isn’t funny, but the more moments of humor you can discover on this journey, the better off you will be.”

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Tricky Nobby.

The other morning I laughed at a new trick Nobby, Peter’s dog, managed. Lately, we’ve started blaming him — “Nobby did it” — for the strange things that happen around here. For instance, Nobby often takes his Invisible Fence collar off and hides it; he went to Kroger’s and paid for a Hershey bar with his VISA card; he puts food needing refrigeration in a cupboard and leaves things that should be in the freezer on the basement floor. The most recent trick is the most amazing yet. Somehow he managed to unplug a lamp, take its shade off, remove the bulb and hide it!

Yesterday was his ninth birthday, old in “dog years. ” I chuckled at the twist on the old saying You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I’m here to tell you, an old dog can teach himself new tricks!

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Thanks to Elaine Eshbaugh, PhD, Associate Professor of Gerontology and Family Studies, University of North Iowa for permission to quote.
Header photo: Lisa Frank, 2013 Facebook.

‘Blue skies, smilin’ at me, nothin’ but blue skies do I see…’

If only the lyrics from Irving Berlin’s “Blue skies” were true at our house. Phrases and actions cause repeats — I call them rePetes — in Peter’s brain. Picking up tiny sticks in the yard and endless sweeping on our brick terrace are two of them.

Lately, with November’s crisp weather bringing brilliant skies, Peter has become enamored of the beautiful blue. “Not a cloud in the sky,” he says over and over. “I’ve never seen such a blue sky.”
“Yes, it’s a beautiful day,” I agree.
“Look at that. There’s not a cloud in the sky. Have you ever seen such a blue sky?”
“Mm-mmm.”

I guess there are worse things to be stuck on than the beauty above us.

“Blue days, all of them gone,
Nothin’ but blue skies from now on

Bluebirds singin’ a song
Nothin’ but bluebirds all day long…”
Ah, if only.

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While trying to find the perfect blue sky photo to use above, I came across this lovely little poem and accompanying picture. Thus inspired I thought, why not go outside and take a photo of our “I’ve-never-seen-such-a-blue-sky” sky? So I did, and laughed at myself for taking so long to think of it.

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a bluebird’s wing
by Kathleen Everett
Gray morning fog lifts
revealing the November sky
cloudless
clear
color of a bluebird’s wing
an autumn aster
your eyes

 

 

Header photo: “Not a cloud in the sky” taken by me, 11/14/15.
“Blue Skies” lyrics, Irving Berlin
“a bluebird’s wing” Kathleen Everett, The Course of Our Seasons ©2011-2015
Feather ©Rakkla

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Celebrate ‘Poppy’s hope!’

The Parade magazine in today’s newspaper features a cover that shouts: People Power: how caregivers and advocates are piecing together a better world for people with Alzheimer’s.

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Poppy hopes.

Yesterday I posted about the Alzheimer’s Association’s fund raising event, The Longest Day™,  that’s taking place today. Though a small effort among the hundreds of teams and tens of thousands of dollars that will be raised, Carolynn’s “Poppy’s Hope” challenge has now reached a very respectable one thousand dollars.

 

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The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent,
the art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) Geography III [1976]. One Art.

 

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Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.
— Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) The Bridge of San Luis Rey [1927], last lines.

 

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It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,” the Queen remarked.
— Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland [1868].

 

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
— Buddha.

 

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We don’t know how strong we are until being strong is the only choice we have.
— Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness.

 

Photos: Our gardens at their best.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

When the edge is gone.

Our son-in-law Martin launches into contemplative ruminations occasionally, usually about some subject so obscure that no one knows what he’s talking about. We all laugh and pay him no nevermind. Some eyes may glaze over as he rambles.

Not long ago, Leslie and Martin, Peter and I went out to dinner. Leslie and I chattered about this and that, Martin chimed in now and then, and Peter listened, silent as usual.

Into a gap in the conversation Martin said, “You know, Pete reminds me of a well-loved old kitchen knife. A very good knife, once sharp, but a bit dulled by time and use.” Leslie and I chuckled, and Peter smiled as if he got it, but I know he didn’t. Martin was pleased with his metaphor and, I admitted, it was a good one.

Old knives did all sorts of jobs in the right hands — they peeled apples and potatoes, chopped cabbage, loosened sealed jars, dismembered chickens, even acted as screwdrivers in a pinch. Even when they don’t hold their edges anymore, those knives still hold pride of place in kitchen drawers, for sentimental reasons, if for nothing else.

 

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My great-granddad Tommy’s whetstone and an old knife from my drawer.

Header photo:  Veg for stew or for the compost bin?

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

License to ride.

As Peter’s seventy-fifth birthday approached in 2013, he kept the DMV reminder to renew his driver’s license beside his chair. The family had been nagging me to convince him to stop driving, and I knew I had to do it. He’d gotten lost several times, and was no longer confident behind the wheel. The man who used to drive thousands of miles a year for work could no longer back out of our driveway.

His birthday arrived and he’d done nothing. As gently as I could —I tend to be too blunt — I reminded him his license expired that day and asked why he hadn’t renewed it. “I don’t know,” he said sadly. And it was as easy as that. He gave up. I think I was as sad as he was.

Laughter is a gift.

The driver’s license issue upset me so, that I hadn’t even thought to bake his annual carrot birthday cake. “I’m sorry,” I said.

Peter, 70, Nobby, 3 months.

Peter, 70, Nobby, 3 months.

“If you hadn’t reminded me I wouldn’t have known it was my birthday!” he said. I asked if he knew how old he was?

“How old is Nobby?”

“Five,” I told him.

“Then I’m seventy-five.” He remembered the dog was his seventieth birthday present and he did the math.

For a time I hid our car keys in case he forgot he wasn’t licensed to drive anymore, but then that need vanished. Now I hide them because if he sees them he picks them up, then loses them somewhere in the house.

Next I needed to sell his little sports car, a car he’d bought without considering my views, a car he really was never able to drive well, a car that, as long as he was driving it, he kept washed and waxed so that it glimmered, jewel-like, in British Racing Green splendor. He was not happy about selling it, of course, but he knew it was foolish to keep, though he would never admit it.

The car sat at the end of our driveway, its brilliant shimmer dulled by grime. I’d never driven the car — always a bone of contention — so I certainly wouldn’t drive it to the carwash. Since Peter no longer cared if it was clean or not, I finally replaced the usual FOR SALE sign with one of my own:

FREE! FREE! FREE!
Pollen! Dust! Bird droppings!
With purchase of …

After several months’ trying, with son-in-law Martin’s help, I had a buyer who didn’t mind the dirt. And I cried, not because the car was gone, but because Peter could no longer drive and he seemed not to care.  The buyer handed me his check, then gave me a hug before he left.

The next weekend, I was weeding in the front yard when Peter ran out of the house. “Where’s my car? What’s happened to it?” He yelled, wild-eyed.

Oh no! I’d tried to be so circumspect about selling his car so that it wouldn’t come to this. “Remember, I sold it this week…?”

“No, no, I don’t mean that one,” he said, still panicked, “I mean the other one.”

“Right there!” I pointed to his battered red PT Cruiser in the driveway.

“Oh! Whew!” He went back inside and that was that.

Now I do all the driving, and although I gritted my teeth at first because I had to take him everywhere, it quickly became part of my routine. In a way, I get the last laugh because now it’s Peter who sits in the passenger seat, pumping the brakes. He doesn’t give directions though — I always was the navigator — because he never had a sense of direction, and now he doesn’t know which way to go at all.

Header photo: Nobby, six months old, June, 2008.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist.