‘A good time to laugh is any time there is.’

“Any news from upstate?” Peter asks. It’s dinnertime and that’s the question he repeats over and over during our meals.

“No,” I say.

We listen to the evening news while we eat, me grumbling at the goings-on in Washington, Peter listening carefully to the weather report.

“Any news from upstate?” he asks again.

I start to shake my head, but instead, decide to try a different response. “No,” I tell him, “but Leslie and Martin spent the weekend at the river.”

“Really? In this…?” he asks. He nods his head towards the fog outside, the rain-streaked window. “What did they do?”

I laugh. “We were there, too,” I say. I’d hoped he might remember the two days, the cozy fires, the good food, log-wrangling with Martin, Leslie and me laughing hysterically over nothing at all.

He shakes his head disgustedly, but recovers with his usual line, “Oh, well, that was a long time ago. I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast.”

I nod, laugh, frown.

Laughter in the face of reality is one of the finest sounds there is. In fact, a good time to laugh is any time there is.”  Linda Ellerbee


2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest, second place, blog category.

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Cure for common cold!

On New Year’s Eve, with no bubbly in sight, my husband started hiccuping, or hiccoughing as he would spell it. Uh oh, I thought, he’s getting a cold.

I dosed him with vitamin C in the form of Clementines, cups of sweet, hot tea, and homemade elderberry cough syrup. He grimaced and muttered at all my attempts, so I gave up and went to bed. Later, I was awakened from a sound sleep by a cacaphonus hiccup accompanied by an echoing, hacking cough. “Arrrrgh-h-h-h!” I groaned.

“Sorry,” he whispered. He always attempts to be very quiet so as not to wake me. He twisted and yanked at the covers and  finally settled onto his side. “HUH-HUHH-CK,” he said. “Sorry.”

He was asleep instantly, but the staccato sounds continued. I pulled my pillow over my head. “Try holding your breath.”

“Why?”

“To stop your hiccups,” I said, though from experience I knew it would not.

He didn’t even try. The bursts continued until I suggested that he might sleep better if he went into the other bedroom.

“Why would I sleep better there?”

“Because I won’t poke you all night!”

He clomped down the hall and I drifted to sleep. I knew I hadn’t handled that well, but, I rationalized, no one dies from hiccups.

Later still, Peter got up to use the bathroom, but forgot he was sleeping in the guest room. He returned to our bed, grabbed for the covers but instead got my arm which I’d flung across to his side. Both of us yelped. “What are you doing?” I said.

“Coming back to bed…I thought you were sleeping in the other room…”

“No, you were!” He plodded back down the hall.

Sunday morning, froggy-voiced, weepy-eyed, drippy-nosed, and still hiccuping, he croaked, “Good morning.” His voice was in the basement.

“How do you feel?” I asked. He patted himself all over and grinned. I rolled my eyes. That’s always his answer to my how-do-you-feel question.

His symptoms continue to this moment. He’s in the next room watching television, hacking and sniffling and still hiccuping endlessly. When I asked how his cold was this morning, he shook his head and said indignantly, “Cold? I don’t have a cold. Sneezing a bit, that’s all.” He coughed hard enough to untie his shoes and knock his socks off.

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And that, Readers, is how I discovered the cure for the common cold, at least at our house. Dementia, dementia,  that’s the cure. Peter insists he is not sick, does not have a cold or a cough or a hiccough. Since he doesn’t have a cold, there’s nothing for me to catch.

Knocks the achoo right out of the Kleenex™ factory, doesn’t it?

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest, second place, blog category.

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Say a lot in few words.

When our friends Jerry and Shelia visited, Shelia took me aside to  ask, “Does Pete worry about anything?”

“No,” I said.

She smiled. “He doesn’t have to, you take care of everything. He has no worries.”

I nodded and she gave me a hug. There was nothing more to say, and for effervescent, talkative Shelia, that in itself was saying a lot.

 

 2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest, second place, blog category.

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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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2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest, second place, blog category.

Another good thing.

Periodically, over several years writing this blog, I’ve posted about the occasional “good things” that are a part of our dementia journey, my husband’s and mine. Another became apparent two days ago.

In addition to being totally flattened by the outcome of the presidential election, I was steamrolled by an intestinal bug. As we sat at the dinner table Friday evening, Peter started making silly faces at me. Apparently I was lost, thinking dark thoughts while waiting for him to finish his pork barbecue and cole slaw. It hadn’t taken me long to eat half a baked potato.

When he finally got my attention he asked, “What’s wrong?”

I’m sure I sighed. “Just thinking about the election,” I said.

He nodded. “What will happen?” he asked.

“I dunno’.” Another sigh.

“Do you think he’ll win?”‘

screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-1-21-34-pmWhat? Wait! Really? Admittedly, my English husband never got his U.S. citizenship, has never voted here, but didn’t he understand the election was over?  He did not. All my ranting and carrying on in recent months, the enormous photo of the president-elect on the front page Wednesday morning, the endless news reports I’d watched, us watching Secretary Clinton’s concession speech together, none of that had soaked in?

But see, that’s a good thing. He doesn’t remember while I wish I couldn’t.

 

The National Society of Newspaper Columnists contest winner, 2016 —
online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category.

 

Apples and pears…stairs.

Peter looked at the lunch I was fixing for myself, my usual apple, chunk of Cheddar cheese, glass of milk. “Where did you get the apple?” he asked.

I pointed to the old wooden bowl that has always occupied our kitchen, that is always filled with fruit, and the occasional veg.

“Oh, I didn’t know that was there.” He picked out a piece of fruit, came back to the sink and turned on the water.

“That’s a pear,” I said as he washed it off.

Instantly, he collapsed laughing, his face as red as the apple’s cheeks, eyes twinkling. He hugged me. “I know it’s a pear, silly. I’m not that far gone.” I laughed with him and savored the hug.

That far gone, no, but he is more and more confused by the day, less and less able to find words or remember the simplest things. Still, I was grateful for the moment, the laugh, and the hug!

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Fruit with acorn squash.

The National Society of Newspaper Columnists contest winner, 2016 —
online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category.

Play the cards you’re dealt.

My husband has taken to putting decks of cards in order, by suit, probably related to his need to control anything he can, however unimportant the activity seems to me. This latest obsession was especially noticeable when we visited Carolynn and Bill for a week.

Carolynn and I had put two decks of cards, a pad and pencil on the picnic table under a tree before lunch. The two of us were ready for an afternoon of canasta, part of our ritual weeklong championship.

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After we ate, Peter picked the cards up and began to lay them out, face up. He shook his head and frowned. “How do you know which deck to use?” he asked.

“We use both decks.”

“But they’re alike.”

“Doesn’t matter. Canasta is played with two decks, plus the four jokers.”

He continued sorting. When he finished, he knocked each deck sharply against the table and slid them neatly into their boxes. Even though Carolynn and I shuffled them over and over, the first hand we played after he’d organized them wasn’t well mixed. After she won that game too, we gave the cards back to Peter to organize all over again. He was happy.

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The joke is on me because later, when I Googled “organizing cards,” thinking I might learn another tidbit about dementia, I discovered instead that people around the world engage in contests to determine who can organize cards the fastest.  A young Canadian man set a record set a few years ago when he sorted a pack of cards in 00:22.60. There were no jokers in his deck though.

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The National Society of Newspaper Columnists contest winner, 2016 —
online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category.

Photos: Safari wallpaper

We soldier on.

One of my husband’s culinary successes has always been perfect fried eggs. And one of his favorite meals is egg and chips. Nowdays it’s my fall-back meal when I’m too tired to cook, even though I’ve never been able to fry an egg. Take last night.

I got out the eggs, skillet, oil, plates for him. I put the frozen chips in the oven and called Peter to fix the eggs when the chips were nearly done.

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Egg and soldier.

I sat down to read for a few minutes, but his grumbling got me up to see what was wrong. “These eggs are no good,” he growled. “I can’t get them out.” He had an egg in his left hand and was trying to peel it with his right, as if it had been soft-boiled for soldiers.

“Shall I do it?” I asked and cracked another against the skillet. In the meantime, he dumped the raw egg he’d scrambled in its shell into the skillet too. Except for that one, my eggs were done perfectly — first time ever! — and the chips were as good as frozen ones ever are.

Afterwards he thanked me and said he enjoyed our little snack. “What’s for afters?” he asked.

“Applesauce.” He was blank. “Stewed apple,” I translated.

Lately I’ve been helping him clear up after we eat. He just can’t seem to manage the task anymore. But this was a simple meal, with just plates and silverware for the dishwasher and cookie sheet and skillet for the sink. I went to watch the news.

“How am I going to get this stuff off?” he yelled. He was poking at the submerged cookie sheet which appeared to be floating on an oil slick.

“What did you put in the water?” I asked. He didn’t know, but I suspect he either dumped in the canola oil out of the skillet, or poured some straight from the bottle in lieu of dishwashing liquid. “Did you put the Dawn in?”

“Didn’t know I was supposed to,” he said.

Deep breath. “You go have your tea. I’ll take care of this.” I sopped up as much as I could and hoped all that oil wouldn’t glom up the drain.

It didn’t, but this morning when I came downstairs, the eggs in the refrigerator were soft boiled. The fridge had gone on the fritz in the night and warmed to 70°.  Not a laughing matter.

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Glossary of English vs American terms:
His chips are our French fries (Crisps, btw, are potato chips)
His stewed apple is our applesauce
Soldiers are strips of crustless buttered toast, dunked into soft-boiled eggs, (pointy ends removed neatly), that are placed in an egg cup. Why “soldiers?” Don’t ask me, I’m an American.

The National Society of Newspaper Columnists contest winner, 2016 —
online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category.

Header photo: Frambled eggs, photo courtesy Epicurious.

Do I know where I am?

Peter was unusually silent. “Something wrong?” I asked. I was driving along a narrow road so could only glance at him.

The silence lengthened. “Do I know where I am?” he said at last.

Whoa, what?  “Do you mean this instant, here, on this road?”

“Yes.”

“Well, we just left Carolynn and Bill…we’re heading home…we’ll soon be in Waterville…” I paused to see if my words rang his bell. “Remember last week, on the way here, we had to stop for a parade in Waterville?”

Nothing.

I thought back to that Saturday. The long drive north had been uneventful until we got to Waterville (pop. 1,548), where we were blocked by a parade longer than the main thoroughfare. Stuck, twenty minutes away from Carolynn’s front door. I fumed, but Peter said, “It’s a pretty day. We’ve got time.”

“But I want to be there, not sitting here.” 

Forty minutes later we were zooming along the downhill drive to — whoops — Road Closed and Detour signs. “OK, I know how to get there from here, I used to bike along this road.” Several miles later I turned left onto another favorite bicycling road. “Do you remember? We used to ride along here a lot.”

Peter sighed. “You seem to know your way around.”

“We lived here seventeen years!”

“You did. I didn’t.”

A right at the next stop sign, then a quick left and we were on their street. “You sure know your way around,” Peter said again.

“We lived here seventeen years!

“I didn’t,” he insisted.

When I turned into their drive, he sat up straight and smiled. “I didn’t know we were coming here!” His eyes sparkled and when Carolynn and their two Westies ran toward us he chuckled. He knew where he was.

I laughed. “I’ve told you for weeks we were coming to see them…”

“I. Didn’t. Know.”

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Bill and Peter in front of a rock-hugging tree.

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Big Guy and/or It.

Throughout our visit, his usual confusion at being away from home eased a bit. After a couple of nights he was able to get from our bedroom to the bathroom and back without going into their room or Carolynn’s office. He didn’t even try to remember Duffy’s or Lily’s names, calling them instead “Big Guy” and/or “It.” He didn’t understand how to use the Wii remote to play golf or bowl with Bill, but he had fun trying. He could still keep track of the dominos played and plan moves accordingly. Bill took him fishing, golfing, and shopping; Carolynn and I took him to the farm stand; I took him to the Polish butcher and past our old house. He remembered the butcher, but had no memory of living in that house. It does look quite different — terrible — minus the two enormous maple trees in front.

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Bill, Lily and Duffy follow Peter around Moss Lake as if he knows the way.

But now, headed south again, Peter had asked if he knew where he was. I reminded him of all the things we’d done, his outings with Bill, our hike in the Adirondacks with the dogs. He shook his head. “Sorry, I just don’t remember.”

But I do. I remember a visit special for the girl-time with Carolynn and her friend Robin, a visit with friend Lisa, time off from caregiving thanks to Bill taking charge, and the laughs. Always the laughs.

I won’t forget.


The National Society of Newspaper Columnists contest winner, 2016 —

online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category.

‘So far, so good.’

The insurance company nurse comes twice a year to assess my husband. One of her questions is, Can he bathe himself, brush his teeth, toilet himself? She asks Peter, but looks to me for answers.

I know he scoffs silently at the mere mention of the topic.  My answer is always an enthusiastic yes. On that point I am — we are — way luckier than many who live with any form of dementia.

Peter has been taking multiple showers a day for the past year or so. This wasn’t always the case. I used to have to remind him he needed a shower, but now, if he sweats even a tiny bit, he reacts as if he’s been dipped in pond scum. “I’m all sweaty,” he’ll say as he races through the house and up the stairs.

He almost never puts on clean clothes afterwards. I don’t understand, but I don’t question, glad that I don’t have to help him bathe nor wash piles of clothes…yet. For some reason, wearing a shirt that is damp and stinky doesn’t bother him. It’s the sweat itself that is his bugaboo.

The rest of the personal hygiene issues aren’t issues yet. From the articles I’ve read, I know what’s coming.

Peter always says, if asked how he is, “So far, so good.”

“It could be worse,” is what I say if anyone asks me.

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National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest winner, 2016.