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.

Header photo: Walk in the Adirondack Park.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

‘Try to remember and if you remember then follow.’

Peter held up handful of baby carrots. “These are cold,” he said.

“You just took them out of the fridge.”

“Yes…but…feel them.”

Uh oh, the fridge was playing tricks again. Sometimes the crisper drawer turns its contents into veggie popsicles. “Here, I’ll put them in the sun on the windowsill,” I said.

Peter carried on making his lunch which never varies: beef or pastrami sandwich with splotches of Coleman’s mustard and margarine, plus a few carrots, a pile of crisps, and any fruit I sneak onto his plate. He reached into the bag of carrots. “These are cold,” he said.

“Yes, look, some are thawing.” I pointed to the cup sitting in the sun.

“What would I do without you to keep me straight?” he said, shaking his head and laughing.

“I guess you’d be eating a lot of frozen carrots,” I said.

As a learn-by-doing caregiver, I try to make my husband continue to do whatever he can. If I were to let him slide, his downward progression would be much faster I believe. Friends are amazed that he still walks the dog — “Nobby walks me twice a day,” he says — and that he  mows the grass, also twice a day sometimes. And he continue to pick up sticks and comb the rugs’ fringe with whatever implement he can find.

Yesterday I caught him using an antique silver meat fork for the job. Not only was it too hefty for the aging fringe, I didn’t like the idea of using a pretty old fork on a rug. I yelped. He stormed off. I immediately felt guilty. He was back within minutes to ask if I needed any help.

“Why don’t you walk Nobby?”

“He walks me twice a day.”

“I know. He’s ready to take you right now.” The dog flopped his tail hopefully.

“Oh, wait, you could get fish while you’re out,” I said. I’d written down what I wanted from the fish ladies.

“Where are they now?” he asked.

“Across from the rugby field…”

“Right, I remember. What do you want again?

“It’s on that paper. Take it with you.”

“Don’t worry, I will. Where are…?”

“Across from the rugby field.”

“Right.” Nobby led Peter out of the house. The door slammed.

I sat down in front of the computer. I had a few minutes to write! The door slammed again. I heard Peter behind me. “Across from the rugby field,” I said without waiting to hear the question. He chuckled. The door slammed.

Keeping my cool is nearly impossible sometimes, but when I think how frustrating it must be for him to try to remember simple instructions, I simmer down.

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Carrots thaw, Peter mows, and in his right hand, he holds a bunch of sticks.

Header photo: Carrots in the sunshine.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Mow and mow and mow the grass.

Keep him doing chores that he can still do is my motto. Gives him a sense of purpose and helps me. My husband can still empty the dishwasher, clear up after dinner, sweep the terrace, mow the grass. He no longer hauls the garbage bins out to the street because he forgets which way they face. Easier for me to do it than to explain.

Each  of his chores has become problematic for both of us. When he empties the dishwasher I put away the odd things he doesn’t recognize — juicer, salad spinner, flour sifter — and after we eat I must put leftovers away or he’ll throw them out.

Version 2

Cotton-tailed trimmer.

Mowing the yard has become an all-day event. If I remind him that the grass needs cutting, and if he’s in the mood to do it, he’ll mow front and back, come in complaining how hot he is, take a shower, then go back outside and start to mow all over again. When I catch him to tell him he already mowed, he argues. I point out the freshly manicured lawn, but he doesn’t believe me. He is hot though, so he showers again, and tries to mow a third time.

Or not.

A week ago I couldn’t get him to cut the lawn at all. When the grass was nearly at mid-calf, I threatened. He mowed the outer edges of each section, but left the middles. He put the mower away. I asked him to finish mowing. He would not. Suddenly, he went out and started the mower. He was going round and round the front when it started raining. Blinding sheets of rain. He would not stop. He kept going and going and going, an Energizer bunny. He was drenched. “No reason to quit once I got so wet,” he said with a silly smile when he came in the back door.

He headed upstairs to take another shower.

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Perfect do-nothing day.

“Do you want tea or coffee for ‘second breakfast’?” I asked my husband. “I’m fixing waffles.”

“What? Tea or coffee? What are you having? What are we having?”

“I’m having tea, we’re having waffles…and fruit, lots of fruit,” I told him.

“OK, tea then. What’s the occasion?” Peter asked.

“It’s Father’s Day.”

“You’re making me waffles?”

“Mmm-m,” I said, “it’s Father’s Day.”

“What can I do to help?”

“Nothing. It’s Father’s Day, do nothing until I tell you it’s ready.”

“I’m good at doing nothing,” he said.

“Yes, you are,” I said.

This day is perfect — a Crayola box of colors, balmy air, bright sun. I set the table outside, made a pot of tea, washed raspberries, blueberries and a peach, got out real butter and real maple syrup, and popped a whole package of frozen waffles into the toaster.

Peter ate as if he hadn’t had a meal in days. “I would like to have two birthdays every year…” he said, smacking his lips.

“This isn’t your birthday, it’s Father’s Day.”

“Not February? What is it then?

“June. It’s never warm like this in February,” I said.

“Well, I’d like two birthdays like this. This is good.”

“It’s still Father’s Day.”

“Are we doing anything special later?” He made a silly, little boy face.

“Yes, Leslie is taking you…and me…to a movie and dinner.”

“Wow, I’d like another birthday like this.”

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UnknownA card arrived from Carolynn yesterday. On the front, the unmistakeable silhouette of Mickey Mouse, Peter’s hero, and a “Hooray for Dad” message. He looked at it again and again, then put it next to his chair. When I looked at it this morning, I realized why he’s confused about today. The message says:

As far as dads go,
there’s not a more classic
character than you.
Hope your birthday’s
as special as you are.

Beneath that she wrote, I know you can’t remember all the cool things you did with Leslie and me…but we do! Happy Father’s Day!

Birthday? Father’s Day? Doesn’t matter. He’s loved by “his girls” and he’s happy.

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Mickey Mouse webgrab/Pinterest

Header photo: Crayola box colors in the garden.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

There’s always something worse.

Peter asked his usual question, “What do I order here?” I gave my usual answer, “Beef.” We were at Lefty’s, a favorite restaurant, and we were hungry. I wasted no time ordering steak au poivre for him, Asian chicken salad for me.

He gazed out the big windows. “Looks like afternoon,” he said. “The sky is so blue.” Cloudless skies delight him.

“Technically, it is afternoon,” I said. “It’s not even five-thirty.”

“I never know what time it is anymore.” He looked at his watch. “Looks like daytime,” he said.

“It is daytime,” I said.

He followed the script engraved on his brain. “Any news from ‘upstate,’ or have I already asked?”

“Well, yes, you have, and, no, no news.”

“Any good movies on?” He realized that was another routine question and he smiled when I shook my head.

He looked at me, eyes questioning, mouth downturned. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Oh, just thinking how I am now and how I used to be. I can’t even talk anymore.”

“You never talked,” I reminded him, “and besides, you’re doing OK, a lot better than some. There are worse things.”

“Worse for you maybe,” he said, with a teasing smile, “but not for me.” For some reason, that made us laugh and his downcast moment was erased. Forgotten.

When our meal arrived, he reached for the salt and pepper. As always, he salted and peppered liberally without first tasting his food. One of my pet peeves.

“You are peppering your steak au poivre,” I said.

He shrugged. “So?”

“It is pepper steak,” I said.

He laughed, I sneezed, we laughed together.


Unknown

Header photo: Willow glows at dawn.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Keep on the sunny side of life.

For years and years, long before dementia took control of our lives, if I asked Peter to take the garbage images-3out Thursday evening he nearly always refused. His argument was, no one else had theirs out. Only one other house on our block has front curb pick-up, so it isn’t a contest. Finally, I started doing it . It certainly isn’t difficult, and my nagging was nagging at me.

images-2Before daylight one Friday I noticed the blue bin was in the carport. I was positive I’d taken it out. Did the truck go by already? Did our neighbor bring it back? I went out and peeked inside  — full. Blast!

Peter must’ve rolled it back the evening before thinking it was empty. He didn’t notice that “empty” was very heavy — the week before we’d had a lot of snow so there’d been no garbage collection at all.

Whether garbage is in or out isn’t a big problem, but it’s a worrisome symptom.

A few days later I was in the pantry when I heard Peter and Nobby come back from their walk. “Knock, knock?” he said, peeking around the door. “Oh! I didn’t think you were here.”

I’d been pouring kibble into Nobby’s metal bowl. “Didn’t you hear the racket?” I asked.

Peter shook his head and pointed toward the carport. “Your car isn’t there.”

This was a Sunday. My car had been gone since Thursday evening. Leslie traded cars IMG_0461with me so she and Martin could take mine to a family ski weekend in West Virginia. “You haven’t noticed my car was gone? We ran errands today in Leslie’s car, remember?”

Of course he didn’t remember. But he’d laughed at me trying to adjust her seat and mirrors while complaining I felt like I was sitting on the road in her much lower car. Even after all this time I can’t seem to remember that he really can’t remember.

Peter no longer fixes meals. He used to make Indian dinners, bubble and squeak, and he always cooked fish. He still makes the best fried eggs. He does them, with supervision. I get out the skillet, eggs, oil, spatula, and put the frozen chips in the oven. I tell him when to start the eggs.

I watched him a few nights ago so “I could see how he did it,” I said. When they were just right, he slid the skillet off the burner, then reached through the grate. “NO-O,” I yelled when I realized what he was doing. He singed his fingers before my yell penetrated. He said he  thought he had to twist the “thing” (burner cap) to put out the flame. He wasn’t burned badly, thankfully.

Days like these, “Keep your sunny side up” are words to live by.

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Random thoughts, not remembered.

Peter has trouble expressing himself more and more frequently. The other evening he was trying to explain something, but his words were jumbled. I leaned closer hoping I could catch a few words and make sense of them. Instead, he smacked himself on the head and said, “My thoughts just won’t stay in one place long enough for me to remember what I’m trying to say.”

We both laughed, but that in itself was quite a mouthful for him these days.

APHASIA (uhfey-zhuh) noun, Pathology.
The loss of a previously held ability to speak or understand
spoken or written language, due to disease or injury of the brain.

It’s so difficult for those of us whose thoughts do stay in one place to imagine what it would be like to have some form of dementia. Peter falls back on his sense of humor to get by, and I borrow on that a lot. At times, though, it’s exhausting, probably as much for him as it is for me.

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©Dan Murphy cartoon, 6/18/95

Later Peter asked, “Did you know me before my mind got like this,” he waggled his hands above his head, “before my bike accident?”

“Of course I did, silly,” I answered. “That was in 1980. We met in 1974. Besides, your mind didn’t get ‘like this’ until a few years ago. ‘”

“How do you remember all that?”

“‘Elephant brain’,” I joked. “Important stuff. How could I forget?”

“I did,” he said sadly.

 

Header photo: web grab

‘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

Is it Wednesday?

There have been several movies showing locally in recent weeks that answered my husband’s repetitive, “Any good movies on?”

Last night we saw “A walk in the woods.” Loved the book — one of my favorites by Bill Bryson — and we liked the movie. Lots of laughs and, of course, the scenery was outstanding. The opening scene was filmed at McAfee Knob not too far from here, and the rest of the Appalachian Trail views were reminiscent of its path through southwest Virginia, though it was shot near Atlanta.

We ate at a favorite restaurant, Gillies, before the 7:00 p.m. showing. A stutter in Peter’s brain kept him glancing at a table card that reminded patrons Wednesdays were “Dinner and movie at The Lyric” nights.

“What day is it?” he asked over and over. “Wednesday? Is it Wednesday?”

Each time I nodded, his eyes sparkled because we’d chosen the right evening to go out. Suddenly, unexpectedly, he knocked his water over. It flooded across the table towards me, rained down into my chair, then onto the floor. The waitress tossed me a towel and I grabbed extra napkins to mop up.

Peter was bewildered. “Did I do that?”

“It was an accident. How many times have I done the same thing?” I asked to remind him that I’m the real klutz.

He shook his head and looked down. I would’ve been embarrassed, but he wasn’t because he didn’t remember he’d caused the mishap. He was very upset. I continued to sop, trying to stem the puddle spreading under the table and toward the feet of the woman sitting behind Peter.

DSC00709_2Suddenly, his eyes brightened again, “At least I didn’t spill this,” he said, holding his beer up. “That would have been awful, wouldn’t it, eh?” He watched carefully to make sure I got his joke.

I did.

 

Where the laughs come from.

“Take off everything but your underwear,” the nurse said, handing Peter a gown. We were at the dermatologist’s office and she’d just finished asking him a list of questions. The only one he could answer was his birthdate. “Oh, I get it, you brought your wife so she could answer the questions for you, didn’t you?” she laughed. “Doctor J will be in shortly,” she said as she left the room.

Peter looked at me. “What am I supposed to do?”
“Take everything off except your underwear,” I told him.
He took his shirt off. “Is this enough?”
“No, everything but your underwear.”
As he stripped off his trousers he said, “Good thing I wore underwear today.”
I burst out laughing. I never know where the laughs will come from, only that they’ll come.

Next he took his shoes and socks off. As he bent down to put them under the chair where he’d draped his clothes he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror on the door. “What the heck?” he said, grabbing his shirt to hide behind. “Oh, I thought that was a window. I was going to cover myself up,” he sputtered, laughing at himself.
When I stood up to tie his gown in back, he said, “I guess that’s why you’re here, to tie this thing. What do people do if they’re by themselves?”
“They either bring me along or let it all hang out,” I told him.

Doctor J came in and examined Peter carefully. He has had several suspicious spots removed in the past several years, as well as a large squamous cell carcinoma. Peter always asks, “What causes them?”
“Sun damage mostly.”
“Pfft, I’m never in the sun,” my husband will scoff, blowing off the expert opinion.
After the doctor zapped a couple places, he pronounced Peter good to go for another six months.
“Six months? I have to come back in six months?” He couldn’t believe it. “Why?”
“Because you have precancerous spots,” the doctor explained. “We need to keep a check on them.”
“What causes them?”

After he dressed he looked down at his shoes and asked where his socks were. I looked at him and hoped for the light bulb moment. “They’re in you’re shoes,” I said finally.
“Wasn’t that clever of me to put them there?” He watched me to see if I’d laugh. I did.

Header photo: Peter walking, not in the sun.