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Archive for the ‘rain’ Category

Lightening Flashes Over the East Bay Hills

It’s unusual to have thunder roll over the East Bay hills from across the choppy waters of San Francisco’s bay, but it did the other night, and when the lightning flashed did Ken notice his darkened room glow for a brief moment? Did he hear the soft rumble as the storm moved on? Did he wonder what it was? Was he frightened? Lost in his dungeon of disease does he understand rain, or is it just wet? Are the elements nothing to him? He knows cold and seeks out warmth from the furnace to escape from the discomfort of feeling cold, but cold and warmth make no noise, and rain is only a whisper.

Ken doesn’t like loud noises. If I make too much clatter with pots and pans while cooking, he calls out asking, “What’s going on?” What’s all that noise? A door slamming, the shattering of a breaking dish causes him instant anger. I’ve wondered if it’s the suddenness that startles him. Perhaps it’s his inability to identify the noise that causes him grief, and thunder coming from nowhere might add another dimension of mystery to his already confused mind.

When he was well Ken would wake me — if the thunder didn’t. “Listen to that,” he would whisper, nudging me until I acknowledged him. “That’s thunder! Did you hear the thunder?” “I do now,” I replied, eyes wide open. The window shades were up in the bedroom so we could just lie there in the comfort of our pillows and blankets watching the sky flash and hear the thunder clap. Listening to the rain on the roof we knew the storm was passing as the sounds diminished and sleep retuned.

Perhaps, it was because we don’t live in mountain country that we have always found the occasional production of electricity by Mother Nature in our geographical area to be so incredibly fascinating, but we did.

Remembering one year when we took our boys backpacking in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, we noticed the quickly gathering clouds and decided it was time to pitch our tents because rain was inevitable. Good thing they were the fast, pop-up tents as we barely got inside with our gear before the downpour began. It was late afternoon so we didn’t always see the lightning, but the thunder was the kind where you wanted to pull your head in, zip up the sleeping bag and repent for surely the wrath of God was at hand. Great deep rumblings and cracking sounds filled the forests around us and the grassy meadow bowed before the driving rain — and then it was over. Summer mountain storms are like that; quickly gathered, quickly gone.

Captivated, we all watched the grand finale through the flaps of our tents, our boys just a stone’s throw away. Wind pushed away the clouds allowing light to fall against the last rain showers and flood the meadow with sunshine so brilliant we squinted to see a rainbow arching across the dazzling-blue sky. Our show continued as billowing clouds edged in gray circled the horizon – a canvas yet to be painted. Director Sun was not finished, but had to move quickly – his light was fading. With a wizard’s brush and pallet he continued splashing shades of pastels against the patchwork vapors of white: orange, yellow, apricot, pink, blue and lavender – hues and tints constantly changing, dimming as the day ebbed and dusk settled ending nature’s remarkable display of talent. The tent critics’ review: Bravo! Outstanding! Extraordinary! Stunning! Magnificent!

Life with Ken has always been an adventure. Even now as we sally forth into the fog of AD, it is still an adventure – not one either of us would have chosen, much less sally forth into – but nonetheless an adventure. If he had reason, if he had knowledge – a memory – we could have shared the recent rain storm and thunder – a privilege not granted. However, in the future when I hear its distant growl, and the rain begins to fall I will be glad, being more grateful, for the good times we have enjoyed.

Someday — somewhere — in our eternal journey, we will meet again, and he can tell me how much he has missed the rain, the lightning, the thunder, and me. And then we will once again sally forth — happily — into our life-after-life adventure.

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Valentine's Day is a celebration of love, remembered or not.

There it was, much to everyone’s excitement, in all of its gaudy decorated glory: the Valentine’s Box sitting proudly in the back of the classroom.  Covered in finger-scalloped crepe paper and shiny hearts of red, white and pink by a few of the teacher’s artistically talented students, its message was clear.  The ordinary, newly transformed cardboard carton became a treasure trove  for valentines: small tokens of affection from one student to another.

At home you either made cards, or your mother bought a couple of books filled with “punch-out” valentines printed on both sides, or a package filled with 36 cards and envelopes for all your little friends – plus one for the teacher.  The day before the 14 of February, as you walked out of the classroom door with your lunchbox, books, papers and coat, the teacher stuck one more printed paper into your outstretched hand which included names of every single boy and girl in the class.  That was her way of saying, “Make sure you give everyone a card.  We don’t want any student to be forgotten.”  That was Valentine’s Day in elementary school.

In high school, they dispensed with such childish frivolities as elaborate Valentine’s Boxes, the day being just another school day, except that everyone was looking forward to the coming Friday night Valentine’s Day dance held in the boy’s gym.  The other exception was the special cards stuffed through the vent slots of certain lockers by handsome young swains and adorable girls, most being part of the popular group — the cliques – the in-kids; then there was everyone else.  That was my group: everyone else.

However, that exclusivity didn’t stop “the-everyone-else group” from having crushes on certain members of the opposite sex with whom no one outside of the cliques had a screaming chance.  For many of us, we took our non-couple status and dared to pursue the unsuspecting hunks on this special day of love by stuffing our own cards through the vent slots of their locker.  

My carefully chosen small token of affection for the dark-haired quarterback, which I signed with a question mark, was a sad-looking street urchin sitting on the curb.  The cover caption read, “Gee, Valentine’s Day ain’t no fun……,” continuing inside with, “…… ‘specially if you don’t got cha one.”  Other than having my English teacher suffer with an acute anxiety attack had I permitted her to read the grammar, the card was a total bust.  Mr. Football Star never knew I existed, and certainly didn’t much care who the unfortunate one might be with a name like question mark.  And that about summed up Valentine’s Day in high school.

Then I grew up, got married and in the doing I acquired my very own permanent and forever Valentine:  Ken.  We continued the romance of Cupid’s work with small tokens of affection on February 14: cards to one another, and cards slipped under everyone’s plate at dinner time when the children were small – and not so small — or a handful of candy hearts in their lunch box – just to say “I love you.” In return, their handmade cards for us were taped to the living room window for all to see.  And then the children grew up, married their own Valentines and moved away leaving just the two of us once again.

One year, while driving in the car I heard a radio DJ announce a Valentine’s Day contest with first prize being a get-away weekend for two at a romantic resort up the coast from San Francisco.  To win, all the contestants had to do was be the maker of the most original Valentine.  “Just mail your entry to the radio station where it will be judged, and the decision of the judges is final.”  “Simple enough, I can do that,” I said to me. Based on a childhood poem about a tin whistle, I cut up some tin cans, fashioned them into a greeting card with my own original “tin” verse and sent it to the radio station.

Did I win the weekend for two at the quaint romantic inn on the coast?  No.  But I did win 3rd prize:  A champagne basket and a dozen long-stemmed red roses would be delivered to my Valentine at his work the Friday before February 14, which was Saturday.

Wouldn’t Ken be pleased to have such a surprise Valentine delivered to his office?  I was excited.  However, on that very Friday, February 13, I received a second call from the radio station telling me they were soooo sorry, but deliveries were limited to San Francisco only.  No deliveries to the East Bay where we lived and Ken worked.  My surprise bubble had been popped. “But you can come over and pick up the basket yourself,” encouraged the DJ, still apologizing.  I agreed that we would do that.

It stormed 24 hours straight on Valentine’s Day.  Nevertheless, we sloshed across the Bay Bridge, meandered up and down Market Street through sheets of torrential rain finally spotting the florist where the prizes were displayed in the window.  Ken pulled into a vacant place next to a flooding curb – into which I could not avoid stepping.  He waited patiently in the car while I dashed through the rain into the shop where I picked up my prize – his small token of affection from me.  “Happy Valentine’s Day,” I crooned, handing him the beautifully filled basket — me and the prize dripping wet.  I’m still not sure if he felt the water-drenched trip was worth the Valentine, but he gave me a quick kiss adding – almost grumbling — “Thank You,” as we began the soggy trip home.

He gave the champagne to our neighbor while I rearranged the long-stemmed roses.  They were lovely on our intimate table in front of the fireplace where I finally surprised him with a cozy dinner for two.

There have been many other days celebrating St. Valentine, other dinners and other roses –with  none quite as memorable.  Never, have I made a more supreme effort to say “I love you” than with that small token of affection.  Nor, do I suppose, has he ever ventured out in such miserable weather just to make me happy while I was striving so hard to make him happy.  A paradox, you might say?  Probably — but such are the Valentine’s Days of devotion to someone you love — and to long-term married life.

Presently, I do believe Cupid’s quiver is empty at our house, but the cute cherub still hangs out here reminding me that small — and large — tokens of affection aren’t always tangible.  Nor do I need to get shot with one of his tiny pointed arrows to remind me that I do love this man.  I don’t love the strangeness that makes him who he is not — stealing him from me —  or the demons who keep him imprisoned within himself.  It’s Ken, who is losing his battle with AD — who has fought so hard for so long, that I love — and such is Valentine’s Day when you live with Alzheimer’s disease.

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A block print by Irene Weeks, the mother of Ann Romick who also suffered from Alzheimer's

Last year, a week or so before Christmas, I flipped through our church magazine stopping at an article titled, “Be The Answer To Someone’s Prayer.”  Captivated by the thought I read the article through.

As a woman of faith and active in my church I have always striven to do those requests asked of me, but never have I through of my acts as being an answer to someone’s prayer.  I believe in prayer, that prayers are answered, and yes, I believe “angels” help many people.  My favorite Christmas movie is “It’s A Wonderful Life,” but “me” as an answer to a prayer – it’s never even been a consideration.  So my answer would have to be – I’m not sure.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I believe I am, for the most part, a charitable person donating to many worthy causes, dropping money into the Salvation Army’s kettle, helping others, and I loved all of the old TV angel programs often to the point of shedding a few tears at the happy endings.  I have also been known to hand money to a guy carrying a gas can who asks for help in getting his car filled and the family back home.  “It’s a scam, Mom,” I was repeatedly told by any one of my adult sons.  “That’s all right,” I have answered.  “If it is a scam, then he has a problem, but I did the right thing in helping.”  Is that an answer to someone’s prayer – again I’m not sure – or am I a sucker for a scam?

I also received an email about a hospice physician living in Colorado who was forced out of a rainy evening’s traffic into a gas station because his car kept stalling. (I’m not sure if the writer was a man or woman as it was written in first person, and it really doesn’t matter.  However, for the sake of clarity I’ll refer to the person as male.)

Somewhat exasperated he looked around only to find himself stalled near a very troubled woman who appeared to have fallen down next to a gas pump.  Asking if she needed help, the tearful, haggard woman said she didn’t want her children to see her cry.  Our Good Samaritan noticed the older car filled with stuff and three kids in the back – one in a car seat.  Summing up the situation he took his credit card and sliced it through the machine nearest her gas pump saying, “I’m the answer to your prayer.”  She looked at him with surprise, and he followed with, “You were praying, weren’t you?”

As the car filled he went next door to a McDonald’s coming back with two large bags of food for the kids and a cup of coffee for her.  The kids tore into the burgers and fries like young wolves.  The woman shared her story of being abandoned by a worthless boy friend, and was now hoping to make a new start by returning home to her parents with whom she had been estranged for more than five years. They were looking forward to her and the children with open arms, and offered to help until she got back on her feet.

Feeling much better, she thanked her benefactor, and then asked, “What are you – some kind of angel?”  “No,” he chuckled.  “This time of year the angels have a lot to do, so sometimes God has to use regular people.”

He was the answer to her prayers.  And by the way, when he tried to start his car the motor turned over immediately and purred like a kitten.

Christmas: the time of year when we begin to think about being kinder, more charitable, more aware of mankind and their problems, and thoughtfully wonder, “How can I help others?”  And then we get busy writing cards, shopping, wrapping, getting presents ready for mailing so loved ones will receive their packages on time.  In a whirlwind of doing good, we often find excuses for not taking the time to think of doing “more good.”  Such was the case one blustery evening a week before Christmas last year.

It was near dusk, but light enough outside to see the wind blowing the never-ending rain of leaves from our trees when the door bell rang.  Before me stood a man in his 30s holding a rake; he spoke with an accent, but his English was good.  “May I remove the leaves from your lawn for a donation?” he asked.  My thoughts were not kind. Ken was in a bad mood, and I was busy trying to prepare dinner, needing to get back into the kitchen before something burned.  “Oh bother” I thought, “I just raked them yesterday, and I’m busy, and my husband has Alzheimer’s, and I need to see if he’s getting into something, and you’re here to rake leaves?  Why now?”

I all but said, “No thank you,” just to have him gone, and then I remembered the magazine article and the email tale of the physician and the down-trodden woman – whether it was fact or fiction – it didn’t matter — it was a beautiful story.  Before I could speak my uncaring thoughts, sending him away with his rake, a kinder, gentler thought raced into my mind.  “Perhaps you can be an answer to his prayer.”

“Sure,” I said. “Go ahead. There’s a recycle can next to the house.  Put the leaves in that.”  Suddenly, I felt better, less harried – less annoyed – a little more in tune with the season.

From my purse I took two matching bills placing each in a front pocket of my jeans.  If he did a sloppy job I would give him one, I decided.  For a good job he’d get both.  Returning to the kitchen it wasn’t long before the bell rang once again.  It was darker now, but still with enough light to see the lawn was perfectly clear except for the still-fluttering leaves falling to the ground.  With both hands I reached into my pockets and handed him the two bills.  “Good job,” I added.  “Thank you,” he said with a broad smile, “and have a Merry Christmas.”

In the realm of Sister Teresa’s life it certainly wasn’t a big deal, but maybe he didn’t need a big deal.  Perhaps he needed just a few more dollars – for whatever.  Was I an answer to his prayer?  I don’t know, but I felt good.

This year of 2010 has not been my favorite year.  There has been illness and death among our friends and family.  Ken’s Alzheimer’s has continued to plateau downward making his care increasing difficult, and the automobile accident in February which nearly took my life are not experiences I would like to repeat  Yet from the ashes of sadness and disaster I have found blessings.  And yes, I must acknowledge the abundant answers to my prayers through – not only God’s angels – but through the human angels He has sent to answer not only my prayers, but the prayers of those near and dear to me.

What better example is there about being the answer to the prayers of others than words from the Lord Himself as he reminds his disciples in the Bible (King James) —  Matthew 25:35-40 when he says, “For I was hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; Naked and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.'”

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There’s seems to be one strong emotion that remains in the psyche of Alzheimer’s patients long after many of the others are gone.  Well, actually a few more than one remain.  Of course, anger is there – front and center – demonstrated often when Ken is frustrated or confused, but that’s not the one I have in mind.  I’m not certain if he experiences or even understands happiness or sorrow at this point in time.  Nor am I very sure about love even when he knows me he is reluctant to be close.  He might allow a quick kiss or let me to hold his hand once in a while, but there are no hugs, no passion, no embraces spurred by memories from long ago, and there appears to be no tenderness or compassion.  Outwardly, he seldom laughs, which is sad, because he was a great laugher and truly enjoyed a good joke. Even watching “America’s Funniest Videos” he sees no humor.  There are times, however, when he chuckles while talking to himself, or at night when he talks in his sleep he might chuckle again. What he does possess more than anything is feeling independent, and I’m not even sure if independence is considered an emotion.

He often refuses to do something just because it’s been requested.  “Ken, come and have breakfast.”  “No,” might be the ready reply followed with, “I’m tired of you telling me what to do.”  So we try another approach, showing him the plate filled with food asking him if he would like to eat.  Not waiting for a reply, choices follow.  “We’re going to put your breakfast on the table and you can eat it or not.  It’s your decision.”  Then we step aside, but ready to help is the need arises.

It’s usually Ben or David preparing the meals, but when I hear him demonstrating his stubborn streak I step in making an effort to help and encourage Ken to do what is best for everyone, and whatever works.  

We all like to be independent, to make our own choices, to master our own ship so to speak.  That kind of tenacity for freedom, that self-determination doesn’t necessarily wait to appear in old age.  Often it begins with a baby’s first step – or before — or anytime thereafter.

The first word out of the mouth of our granddaughter Elizabeth was, “NO!”  I wasn’t there but I imagine her first sentence might have been, “Me do it.”  From the time she managed to wiggle into a tee shirt and pants she insisted on dressing herself, not only dressing, but choosing the clothes.  The haphazard combination of choices pulled from her drawer was often laughable, and worn any which way — inside-out or backwards — or both.   Elizabeth’s original “look” would never appear in a fashion layout even for most avant-garde of children’s wear.  Her selections were adequate for home and playing in the backyard sandbox, but there were times when Mom and Dad wanted this beautiful tow-headed child put together as if someone cared.

Waking from her nap one afternoon, Mom already had the outfit laid out.  “Here,” said Mom, “put these on.”  “NO!” came the quick answer as Elizabeth ran to the dresser pulling out whatever came first. “We have to hurry,” advised Mom.  “We’re going to your brother, Sean’s, Little League game.  Let me help you.”  It was a tussle, but Mom won.  Elizabeth was not happy.

At times you don’t try to reason with a three-year-old, you just firmly do what needs to be done.  Into the car filled with waiting family Elizabeth continued to cry grabbing at the tee shirt and shorts, “Dod like deeze.”  Minutes later she was still making a fuss as they pulled into a parking space at the ball park next to the stands.  “Let’s go,” instructed Dad, “everybody out.”  “No.  Not going,” the child protested with tears and sobs still evident.  “Let her cry it out,” instructed Mom.  “Elizabeth knows where we are.  She can see us and we can see her.”

The game had started: fouls, tips, a few hits, dropped balls, over-ran bases with few scores and lots of outs while the crowd roared as only Little League parents can cheer.  Suddenly the rooting stopped and the air was filled with laughs, giggles, and a few ahhhhs. Leaving Mom’s choice of clothing in the car Little Miss Independence had stripped down to her birthday suit and was on her way to sit with the family wearing a smile and exactly what she chose: nothing.

I often think of Liz and her I-can-do-this-myself attitude when it’s clean-up time for Ken.  Not that independence is something new for him.  After all, he left home to join the Merchant Marines at age 15, sailing the South Pacific in a sea-going tugboat at the begining of WWII.  A little less of that self-sufficiency would be helpful at this point in time.

Clean-up is a two-person job, and our previous care helper, Mel, was fortunate enough to find full-time work.  Good for him, but not good for me and Ben.  However, I felt sufficiently recovered from the accident to take Mel’s place as helper.  Ben does the hard part, while all I do is hold his already restrained hands to keep him from clubbing Ben with his fists if he’s in a combative mood.

Once Ben gets him into the shower Ken is content.  Unrestrained, the water runs over him like warm rain, and he almost purrs, “That feels so good.”  Mission accomplished, Ben hands him a towel.  Dripping wet, Ken looks for arm holes and a place for his head.  “No, no, not a shirt,” Ben instructs.  “It’s a towel, dry yourself.”  Eventually Ken gets the idea and dries himself finally wrapping the towel around his waist, tucking in the end to hold it in place; a guy thing and something he has done all of his life.  Handing him a sweat shirt, Ben continues, “This is your shirt.  Put it on.”  Stubbornness kicks in once again and he throws the shirt into the hall.  “This is not my shirt, and I’m not going to wear it.”

True, it isn’t the type of shirts he wore in the past; the ones with a collar and buttons down the front, but the sweat shirt is practical for the caregivers; easy on, easy off and easy to wash and dry.  So the uniform for most days is sweat clothes.

Eventually he accepts the shirt looking at it as if for the first time, he asks, “Is this mine?”  “Yes,” we both agree, “put it on.”  That he can do all by himself, but requires help with the rest of the clothing: “underwear,” baggy, high-water sweat pants, white socks and moccasins.  His glasses were resurrected from the past: heavy horn rims from another era replacing his newest ones lost in the accident.  The big ugly ones are held in place with a thick red elastic rope coming from the ear pieces to the back of his head.   He doesn’t look at all like the suave Ken, tall and slim with a flat stomach, who wore Wranglers, a good-looking shirt, real shoes, and totally cool glasses.  “Grandpa looks a little dorky,” comments Kristina, who lives with us.  “I agree,” I tell her, “but there are times when we have to settle for sensible.”  However, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one day he grabbed at the dorky clothes and said, “Don’t like these!”

And Elizabeth?  From one sailor to another, Grandpa would be so proud of her.  Liz has been grown up for a number of years, finished her education and is now sailing the Mediterranean as part of the crew on a private yacht.  Tall and graceful as a willow wand, she still has hair the color of golden flax, puts herself together like a fashion model, and remains Miss Independence to the “enth” degree. You might say she inherited that from her grandfather.

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