Archive for the ‘sailor’ Category

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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