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After Christmas Sales page

This Alzheimer's caregiver misses the companionship of shopping with her husband at after Christmas sales.

Ken and I used to do it all the time, and I do believe he enjoyed this kind of shopping more than I did.  Always one to appreciate a good buy, he couldn’t believe that everything left over from December 25, was marked 50 to 75 percent off.  “Hang around long enough and it might reach 90 percent off,” I would tell him.  Usually, though, at 90 percent what was left wasn’t worth taking home.

“Look at this,” he called out, attracting every customer within earshot, “it’s only $8.00.”  It was usually a toy he would have selected a few weeks prior for one of the many little ones in our family at twice or more the price. Of course we weren’t the only shoppers looking for future gifts.  No longer under the stress of the Jolly Old Elf’s arrival, we all gently sorted through the bins and shelves finding just the right gift for next year’s “someone.”

So amidst the austere surroundings, when stores deliberately strip their displays down to the nubs and advertise “White Sales” meaning sheets and other linens which are no longer necessarily white, we understand the barren look.  Colorless windows and displays in January usher in the coming of spring just around the corner when shoppers, hopefully flocking in great numbers, will be dazzled by the store’s new brightness and buy the latest in fashion.  However, as post-Holiday shoppers strolling through the bleakness of winter there is at least one counter, or section, that displays the merriment of Christmas just past.  That’s why we were there.  With our carts piled high we set out for the car pleased with our bargains; a small portion of next year’s gift list on the back seat.

Going to the mall alone a few days before the New Year, I did not intend to do what had been Ken’s and my pattern for so many years.  Alzheimer’s manages to remove just about all the pleasantries from life – even shopping for the small children.  I went because I needed a few things.  Items purchased, I strolled among the isles featuring “White Sales,” and stumbled upon the red and green of close-out Christmas.  I couldn’t resist just a quick look, but soon my cart was filled with toys, crafts and games for next year.  The bargain hunter within me is alive and well even if the trip isn’t the same without Ken.  Now it had become merely the practical thing to do.

Gone was the mischief I used to see in Ken’s eyes, glancing around as if he had pulled off a “fast” one at the store; the ultimate toy bargain, not fully grasping how happy the store was to have it all gone before inventory.

I miss the time he didn’t want to settle for just one gift for each child – his grown children included.  “Just a few more little things – like the stocking stuffers when our family was small,” he would coax as I marked my list complete a week or so before Christmas.  For a long while he thought gift buying was like after-Christmas shopping: all fun.  What he didn’t grasp was that serious shopping is often time-consuming and tedious.  “Okay,” I finally told him, “I’ll wrap if you buy.”

Dutifully and by himself, he began his search the week before one of those bygone Christmases only to find how difficult it was to find a bunch of “little things” times three or four equaling stocking stuffers for a couple of dozen adults and children.  “You win,” he confessed after a few days of searching for just the right extras.  I know how he felt accepting that our children are all grown with children of their own – even grandchildren  — and they don’t need any more stocking stuffers.  So he became content with our after-Christmas bargains where one gift for each person is just fine.

Our Holidays are different now.   Still able to be at home with me, spending most of his time content to be in our family room which has become his domain, shared with Alzheimer’s, me, the caregivers, and the cats Ken is as happy as he will ever be.  With Ben and Crizaldo to do the heavy care, I am still the main caregiver; the one in charge, but always allowing them to do their job in their own way.  In his dementia every so often he will ask, “Where’s the boss,” which no longer means much although the boss is me, but I am not who he wants.  Recognition is seldom there.  In all outward appearances he is the man I married – older – still Ken – but not.  I miss my husband, my friend, my fun date, and my after-Christmas-bargains shopping companion.

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2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,500 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Mary Perse rolls potica

Will an Alzheimer's victim remember this treat from the past.

My mother-in-law Rose (and every Slovenian woman in the neighborhood worth her salt) made wonderful holiday bread called potica.  Not “pot’ e ca” – the way it might be pronounced if one put the accent mark on the wrong syllable. Its proper pronunciation is po’ teet sa (po as in potential).

Holiday bread — that’s exactly what it was/is: Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, weddings and any other occasion where there was a celebration – particularly a religious celebration.  Many of the women, including Rose, baked the potica in a turkey roasting pan the day before the event. Best described you might look at it and think – “giant cinnamon roll”– only different: more of a bread filled with ground walnuts and honey than a sweet.  Lacking an oval-shaped roasting pan, the boa-like roll can be cut into loaf-pan pieces and baked individually.

When I met Ken he mentioned – no, mentioned is not a strong enough word – he bragged that he was 100 percent Yugoslavian.  His father, Nick, and Rose’s parents came to America from that part of the world.  His dad was just a boy of 15 traveling alone when he entered the U.S. through Ellis Island in 1906.  Both Ken and his sister Loretta were extraordinarily proud of their dad’s courageous journey to America and their so-called unique “pure” heritage.  I scoffed, telling him that with the world’s dark account of battles and conquest which constantly swept back and forth across the continent like the ebb and flow of endless tsunamis, no one could possibly be 100 percent anything; especially with all the plundering, ravaging and “whatever” which always accompanies the brutality of war. Yet, he persisted.

As our children grew my gene contribution of mixed Anglo-Saxon and Swedish ancestry became so insignificantly incidental I often wondered if my offspring could have been birthed by a surrogate Slovenian woman and I hung around to do the cooking, cleaning and child rearing.  Consequently, and to hang on to my own identity I declared war on making potica, becoming the unnoticed resistance having no desire to make the celebrated bread.  I did have, though, a fabulous recipe for a Swedish tea ring which I made more often than Rose or Ken’s Aunt Mary, who lived close by, made potica.

Our girls, as adults, coaxed the recipe from their grandmother and when they married both of them dutifully made potica, portions of the bread they brought to their grateful father – and me. “Ah,” he would say, “potica — just like my mother bakes.  Her parents were from Yugoslavia, you know.”

Following WWI and the fall of the Austria-Hungary empire more than 20 ethnic groups were thrown together to form Yugoslavia which loosely existed under Communism for many years.  Powerful Marshal Tito managed to extrapolate the country from Soviet-Stalin dominance in 1945, and continued to rule with his own iron Communist fist for another 35 years.  When Tito died in 1980, the Yugoslav government, of which he was the pivotal figure, began to crumble under conflicts and political upheavals.  Countries and regions involved wanted to be who they were before WWI.  Sadly, new and fierce conflicts ensued. Yugoslavia, as we had known it, faded from the map.

Meanwhile, we discovered that Nick was born in a little town in Austria, which had been obliterated by the Germans during WWII, and Rose’s parents emigrated from Croatia.  For a good portion of the century, they had obediently accepted the order of Yugoslavia even though, in their hearts, they knew better.  I teased Ken for a long while, as did my brother-in-law Douglas, about him now being a man without a country which he took, unruffled, in his stride.  After all, my husband is an American: first generation, but still an American.

As for potica, I did surrender after many years and made the delicious bread.  I suppose Rose, herself, might have driven me forward to give it a try when she stayed with us for a few nights after Nick died.  I had baked a Swedish tea ring, and in the morning I brewed her coffee and served a slice of my delicacy.  “Mmmmm,” she murmured, “Who made the potica.”

I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether it’s potica or tea ring.  They are both delicious in their own right.  Nor does it matter whose ethnic background is 100 percent anything.  We are really one: part of God’s family.  Hopefully, someday we’ll all get along so we can enjoy potica and Swedish tea ring at the same banquet in addition to ham, lamb, chicken, sheep heads, beef, squid, octopus eyes, bugs, headcheese, tripe, brains, worms, larva, sea creatures and whatever else is out there for mankind to consider a gourmet delight.

On Thanksgiving Day, our daughter Julie had dinner with Tim’s parents, but on the way they dropped by with buttery sweet potatoes, sausage stuffing and potica.  “I wonder if Dad will remember it,” she questioned, and as curious as I was I decided to wait until the next day when the time was quiet and he could concentrate on what he was eating rather than be distracted with so many other foods and a house filled with company.

All by itself on a plate with a little butter he picked up a piece of his heritage food and took a few bites.  “Mmmmm,” he said, and then he stuffed the rest of it into his mouth without another word or sign of recognition.  Perhaps, though, somewhere in the lost caverns of his diseased mind there may have been a tangled nerve cell groping to identify that little “something” which was so familiar.

FOR YOUR NEW YEAR’S BAKING PLEASURE

Potica

Soak raisins (dark or light) till puffy – about an hour:  11 or 15 oz. box depending on your raisin preference

Potica dough

2 envelopes dry yeast dissolved in ½ cup warm water. Set aside.

2 cups scalded milk.  Allow to cool to tepid.

2 tsp salt

¼ cup butter or margarine

½ cup sugar.

2 well-beaten eggs

7 – 8 cups flour

Add readied yeast to lukewarm milk.  Add next four ingredients.  Beat thoroughly.  Beat in some  flour and mix till you have to change to a spoon.  Mix in remaining flour as if it were bread dough but a little softer.  Place in greased bowl.

Cover with dish towel and allow rising till doubled in size.

Potica filling

1-1/2 pounds ground walnuts (7.5 cups shelled nuts – yes, lots).

1 cup honey

½ cup milk

2 eggs

½ cup sugar

1 Tb. Cinnamon

Sprinkle of salt

Stir together.  Makes a thick paste.

Cover a very large table (dining room table is good) with a clean flat sheet folded in quarters. Flour lightly.  Punch down dough and then roll out in rectangle of about ½” in thickness.  It’s big. Smooth paste over surface, sprinkle on raisins.  Roll entire piece of dough with filling into a giant jelly roll.  Best way is to turn the first edge then let the sheet do the rolling (see photo).  Cut into loaf-size pieces and place in greased loaf pans (or greased turkey roaster).  Cover with towel and allow doubling in bulk and then bake in 350 degree oven.  Remove, rest in pans 5 minutes. Turn out to cool.

Swedish Tea Ring

Soak about 1 cup raisins according to preference, till puffy. (Raisins optional)

Tea Ring dough

2 envelopes dry yeast dissolved in ¼ cup lukewarm water. Set aside.

Blend ½ cup sugar into ¼ cup shortening

1 tsp. salt

2 eggs beaten

1 tsp. grated lemon rind

1 cup milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm

About 5 cups flour

Stir first five ingredients into cooled milk. Beat.  Add enough flour to make batter.  Beat well adding as much flour as possible and still be able to beat dough.  Stir in remaining flour to make a soft dough.  Turn out on lightly floured board and knead until satiny.  Place in greased bowl, cover and allow it to rise until doubled in bulk.

Tea Ring filling

Melted butter

Brown sugar

Cinnamon

Chopped nuts

Raisins or other dried fruit (optional)

Powdered sugar icing with just enough lemon juice to drizzle.  Chopped nuts

When dough is light, remove from bowl and punch down.  Place on lightly floured surface.  Knead just a bit.  Divide into two sections. Set aside 1 section for 2nd tea ring.  Roll 1st section into rectangle about 3/8 inch in thickness.  Brush surface with melted butter and sprinkle generously with brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins (optional) and nuts; amounts in preference.  Roll like jelly roll bringing ends together to form circle.  Tuck ends inside one to the other.  Place circle on greased baking sheet, or round pizza pan.  With scissors, cut circle at 1-inch intervals to near center.  Twist each section under and up. Allow to rise once again until doubled in bulk. Bake in moderate oven (375 degrees) 25 to 30 minutes.  While still warm, drizzle with icing made with powdered sugar diluted with lemon juice and milk.  Careful when adding liquid to powdered sugar; you want to drizzle onto the tea ring, but not have it run off.  Sprinkle with more chopped nuts. Assemble and bake 2nd tea ring.

The Kindess of All Makes up For Christmas Grinch in Oakley, CA

The Kindess of Many Makes up For Christmas Grinch in Oakley, CA

Unfortunately, there are among us a lot of Grinches and Scrooges, and while we would like to believe they all reform at the end of a story, that just isn’t true.  Take, for instance, the good folks who live in Oakley, California, located in Contra Costa County which is part of the nine counties making up the greater San Francisco Bay Area.  For months the “Friends of Oakley,” a non-profit organization, who serve their fair city, had been collecting toys and food donations for those of the community who were down on their luck during these tough economic times; everything to be delivered just before Christmas.

The day after Thanksgiving, all was going very well until the committee arrived at the school where the growing supply of good wishes had been stored only to find that a Grinch had stolen everything.  The empty store room, without nary a can of food left to roll across the floor, told an obvious tale:  this Grinch, more than likely these Grinches, had no intention of returning their cache of goodies.

Of course, the crime was promptly reported to the police department, the City Council and the mayor.  Word of the robbery spread via TV, newspapers, social media, emails, texting and even phone calls.  Many local residents and many throughout the Bay Area wanted to help.  In addition, the “Friends” received word from a retired school teacher living in North Carolina that she too wanted to contribute.  Such outpouring of concern and generosity quickly erased the hanging cloud of gloom and despair.  However, the big question remained:  in less than a month could all the good intentions in the world replace the missing toys, blankets and non-perishable food items that were meant to help and bring a bit of joy to 800 children, 300 families and 100 seniors this Christmas season?

“The response was incredible,” said newly sworn Mayor Kevin Romick. “Wells Fargo Bank joined the effort with a $4,000. gift, Oakley Disposal added an another $2,000. and many other local businesses made like donations.  The weekend before Christmas additional food was contributed by The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties.  While volunteers wrapped and packed, Santa’s helpers in the form of volunteer drivers with trucks checked their lists twice for delivery of two gift cartons for everyone in need.  “There are some wonderful people living among us,” concluded the mayor.  “Probably some are your neighbors”

Thinking about my adult children, including Mayor Romick, it warms my heart to know the apples didn’t fall far from the tree.  Over the years I have been aware of the many charities to which these adults who shared our life and home have contributed both with money and time, their constant support of worthy causes, and their individual efforts to bring comfort and peace to those  in need – you might say to be the answer to someone’s prayer.  And I remember many of Ken’s and my efforts to do the same. I am pleased with my family, all of whom continue to serve their fellow man and if he were able Ken would tell you so himself.  With Alzheimer’s his mind no longer registers the happenings in life, but I know that somewhere deep in his heart he feels the joy.

It is sad to acknowledge that there will always be unreformed Grinches and Scrooges living among us, but the good news is we have wonderful people as well — some of whom are my children – and some just might be your children, or your neighbors and no doubt you.   So, recalling the most famous and most reformed Mr. Scrooge of all time I’ll echo his Merry Christmas, and in the words of Tiny Tim, “God Bless Us, Every One!”

RINGS ON HIS FINGERS

Santa and little girl

Over 50 years ago his rings gave this Santa a way.

Men wear rings for as many reasons as there are men, and then there are some who don’t wear them at all.  There was a family tale told by my father about his wearing a ring during his younger years. In the early1930s it could have been a wedding ring.  Whatever it represented is really not important.  By the time he was rescued from the side of a threshing machine where he hung by that ring, his third finger left hand, and his grappling right hand searching desperately to find a saving hold, the ring was history.  With his feet firmly planted on the ground, my father said he pulled the ring from his finger and threw it as far into the field as he could.  Never again to wear any rings until he had retired and my sister gave him a birthstone ring, which he loved.  I suppose he felt by then it was safe to garnish his hand with an emerald set in gold.  My dad was fortunate, and seriously, anyone who works around machinery or construction should leave the rings at home.

When Ken and I married we exchanged rings which had been engraved on the inside with our initials and wedding date.  Romantic as it was, we never looked at the lovely cursive letters after our wedding day because we never removed the symbols of our marriage until they were near worn through and we bought replacements.  But long before the replacements, I purchased him another ring for his birthday.

I had received an introductory coupon for a jewelry store in another city – not far away – but not in our shopping hub either.  The offer was good enough that I drove the miles to see what I could find as a special gift. With the coupon and my tight budget I found just the ring I knew he would like.  The design was probably quite common and might even still be available.  Engraved in black onyx was the head of a knight in full armor, and at the time I thought it was somewhat unusual and very handsome – just like the soon-to-be recipient.  He opened the box, smiled his approval, and slipped the ring on his finger where it remained until it needed repair.

My husband was really very hard on jewelry.  Not removing the rings when he did honey-do jobs around the house or replaced a fence, mixed concrete or changed a tire is not the way to keep rings looking their best, especially when I noticed the palm view.  “Good grief,” I once said, “they’re both bent out of shape.  He reassured me they could be straightened when the time came.  I suppose he was right and being the busy, active man he was I didn’t fret over his decision.

As soon as our children started school, he was involved in PTA, and in our school’s Dads’ Club as well.  There were dozens of activities throughout the year.  Not only projects for the school – building sets, planting gifted trees — but fun events for the children:  picnics for the Traffic Patrol, Easter egg hunts on the school grounds, Halloween parties and bringing Santa Claus to the Dads’ Club Christmas party.

Our close neighbors John and Fred, and Ken were all involved in working together for the good of the schools and the children.  They were almost like brothers, and when they weren’t working with the school, or some other worthy organization, they were helping one another almost every Saturday.   Being close friends, we were constantly in and out of each other’s homes almost on a daily basis.  It was a wonderful neighborhood for bringing up children, and we loved their kids nearly as much as we did ours.

While pleased with their father’s involvement, the children of our three families found there was also a down side.  “I know their costumes were great, but I can’t judge them the best, nor can we allow Fred or John’s kids to win.  As judges and workers in the club, it would look like nepotism.  People would think they won because of us,” Ken explained.  I knew what he said was true, but it just wasn’t fair.

The following year our daughter Julie wouldn’t allow her father to see her costume and arrived that evening as a tombstone which I helped her put on after we arrived at the school because she couldn’t sit down.  Clad in an oblong cardboard box painted gray with the appropriate R.I.P. lettered across the front which covered her head and body with arm holes so she could keep her balance Julie was unrecognizable and a contender.  It was all right that she didn’t win, but she did receive the well-deserved credit despite her father.

With Halloween over, the club jumped right into preparation for the coming Christmas party. “Hey, Ken,” asked the club president.  “Will you be Santa Claus.”  Well, of course, he would be Santa.  He loved that sort of thing, and not even our own children knew who Santa would be.

All the neighbors were there and during the program part where we sang the wonderful old hymns of the Baby Jesus lying in the manger, Silent Night and Jingle Bells while the little ones anxiously watched the empty chair next to the Christmas tree on side stage. Ken sat with me and the children, together with our neighbors and their children.  Our Kevin was best friends with Steve and Doug who were the sons of John and Fred, and all three were among the anxious little boys waiting for Santa.

Ken had slipped away to get into costume, and as the children clamored and began to form a line to visit with the jolly old elf no noticed his exit.  One by one the children took their a turn sitting on Santa’s lap telling him how good they had been and reciting their list of hoped-for toys to be delivered on Christmas Eva.  Santa gave each visitor a gift and they went their merry way.  Many of the small ones still believed and came away wide-eyed and excited about their experience.  Steve, Kevin and Doug wanted to believe, but they knew better all the while rattling off their list of wants and accepting the small gift.

Later that night as Fred and his wife Phyllis were putting Doug and little sister Lisa to bed Doug whispered to his dad, “I know who Santa was.”  Fred looked at his boy disbelieving, yet smiling, and replied, “No, you don’t.”  “It was Ken,” said Doug. “I could tell by his ring.”  I guess that’s why Santa should always wear gloves.

Many years later, and it was no wonder, the shank on the knight ring broke so it was away to the jewelers for repair.  Other than a few minor chips on the onyx the ring looked almost new when we picked it up.  Pleased, Ken slipped it back on his finger.  There it remained; the knight on the right hand and his wedding ring on the left.

Several years into Alzheimer’s when the mind begins to play tricks, and forgetting is the usual, I noticed he began to fidget with things: rearranging decorating items or taking them, putting magazines under sofa cushions, hiding keys, confiscating the remote control, insisting it was one of his engineering tools – more signs that AD was winning.  He also began slipping the rings off and on his fingers, playing with them like prizes from a gum ball machine.  One day I found the rings rattling around the bottom of my washing machine after removing a load of laundry.  Ken, no doubt, had placed them in his shirt pocket, soon to be forgotten.

A few days later he asked, “Have you seen my rings?”

Reluctantly I returned them explaining where I had found them and suggesting that he leave them on his fingers.  A week later while dusting in the living room I found them looped onto a fern nearly lost among the greens.  Enough, I thought, I’ll just put them away for safe keeping.  I believe he asked about them once.  I told him if I found them I would give them back.  I didn’t, and soon they were forgotten.  Apparently, the sentiment and the value of cherished items had slipped away with so much of who Ken was.  The rings:  Still put away safely until one day, perhaps, one of my grandsons will grow up to be someone’s  knight in shining armor — just like his grandpa – and I will pass them on.

WHAT’S YOUR EXCUSE?

Decorated Christmas Tree

Even something as simple as putting up the Christmas tree could be a great help for Alzhiemer's caregivers.

In my last writing, I touched on attitude from those who might not feel the “necessity” of being part of a loved one or a friend’s journey into and through the Alzheimer’s experience because they couldn’t deal with it emotionally.  My response was simple:  “It isn’t about you.”

However, I thought it might be good to share some thoughts from other people.  I did receive a few comments from those who read what I wrote, and I find it amazing that this “attitude” is so common out there, but for various reasons.  Attitude is often what might drive a wedge through a loving family splitting them apart, or a supportive attitude and effort can pull that family closer together.

I also read an article from The Alzheimer’s Reading Room by Bob DeMarco where he asked several questions as to how a caregiver might feel when confronted with someone near and dear having the disease.  His last question, which really wasn’t a question, went something like, “Your life in caring for someone with Alzheimer’s has remained the same and has been unaffected with no complications.”  The first word out of my mouth was, “Ha!”  I wondered if Bob meant it as a joke or it had slipped by him in error.  More than likely it was a tongue-in-cheek attention getter.  Trust me, it got my attention and my dander standing straight up.  How can anyone who even has a remote relationship with an AD victim remain unaffected?  Then I went on to read some of the comments, various blogs, and mused previous conversations I’ve had with people.  I marvel at how different we all can be given similar circumstances.  The following are some excuses heard by not only myself, but by friends and family members:

     1.  Fear:  Friends or even family members may have some kind of distorted, sub-conscious fear that the disease is catching.  They may also fear that the caregiver might ask them to help.

     2Jealousy:  From a long-ago conversation, “Mom and Dad appointed you to be in charge of their health care, so do it.”  With that kind of attitude, it looks as if Mom and Dad were right.

     3.  Distance:  “I wish we could be more helpful, but we live so far away.”  As a retired couple, Mr. and Mrs. Wishwecould take lots of vacations, and always stop by to visit the folks for a few days and make a big fuss over AD Dad and Mom.  At least, that’s a good thing.  Could they do more?  Certainly. The Wishwecoulds need to extend their vacation for several days and suggest that the caregivers plan a respite during that time while they take on the responsibility of the folks for a few days – or more.  And, the caregivers need to assert themselves and make the suggestion if the offer isn’t forthcoming.

     4.  But I work:  Don’t we all, it’s just that many caregivers don’t get paid.  Even people who work have holidays and weekends.  They might even have some personal time coming, and then there is after work time as well.  I’m sure some kind of relief and/or help schedule could be worked out.  Caregiving isn’t an easy time for anyone.

     5.  But I do help: “Didn’t I bring you up to speed with the latest report on AD research?  Have I not become an expert on the disease?  Just ask me anything.  What?  You mean you want me to help clean him up?  Change his diaper?  Stay here with him while you go to the bank and do a few errands?  No. I’ll do my thing and you do yours.  Did I tell you what I just learned about AD on the internet?”

     6.  But I’ll give you my opinion:  “I really think you should put him in a home.  That’s where he belongs.  I don’t believe you know what you’re doing, and he could be a danger to himself and others.  After all, what experience have you had?  The neighbors think so too.”

     7.  Too educated to help:   “The adult children are either in higher education or have graduated, often appearing to be ‘above it all’ when it comes to actual help.  If they do anything at all, they become short-tempered with me and give me eye rolls at how I’m handling things at home.”

     8.  But what can I do?  When AD is diagnosed, there isn’t much to do, but as time goes on there are any number of things people can do to help.  Several years ago I was doing fine, and then my granddaughter, Katie, asked what she could do for me.  I said, truthfully, that there wasn’t much I needed.  Then she asked if she could help me put up the Christmas tree.  “That would be wonderful,” was my response.  And she did.  Several days after the holiday she called to ask if she could help take it down.  She did that too.  For those wondering what you can do, just offering to do some little thing might be the biggest help of all.

     9.  It’s all about me:  Those remarks I made in the last writing also apply, but they’ve been pretty much covered.  “It hurts me too much to see loved ones ill or in the hospital.  It’s too depressing.  I just can’t deal with it.”

    10.  I’m sorry, I just didn’t realize.  Actually, that’s not a cop-out.  Some people really don’t see the whole picture, so it is up to the caregiver to speak out.  Get beyond being hurt because you’re not getting the help you need.  Sometimes we, as caregivers, just have to humble ourselves and ask.  Furthermore, and after all is said and done, it’s important to be forgiving to those who just don’t “get it.”

I received a beautiful and positive comment on The Rusting Years from Chessa who responded by telling me that she was so glad she was there for her grandmother and now, after grandma has passed, she was able to write, “I often thank the Lord for no regrets of ‘should’ve’s’ ‘could’ve’s’….. only peace in knowing ‘we did.’”

THE RUSTING YEARS

Like an old and abandoned truck, some seniors feel they are in their rusting years.

“The Golden Years my Aunt Tillie,” said Frances as we talked about these last few rungs on life’s ladder.  “They’re more like the rusting years.”  “Well put,” I had agreed as she was in the midst of recovering from a bad face-on-the-ground fall that knocked her into the next county breaking her jaw which had to be wired shut while it healed. Like a flash of lightning Frances could zap out words faster than Quick-draw McGraw could whip out his trusty six-shooters.  Her comments could be loving, kind, happy, knee-slapping funny, profound, glib, and, at times, a bit stinging. Did the wired jaw stop her conversations or even slow her quick wit?  Never.  As long as her tongue and mind worked in unison the tumbling words slid out between her teeth and lips with never a pause.

We had become good-enough friends that every so often I was allowed to say, “Oh Frances…….” when a remark might be a little too biting, too stinging or sarcastic, but most of the time I laughed.  She was very funny.

Frances was a widow, and had been for more than 15 years and even with Ken’s AD she invited us for dinner, and I, in turn, prepared dinners for her.  Ken had been Cub Master and she was a Den Mother when all of our boys were just boys.  The two hit it off famously and became the best of friends with my utmost approval.  Frances always puckered up and gave Ken a quick peck on the lips whenever they met.  Following their amicable kiss Frances would say, “How! Great White Father,” holding her hand up with an Indian greeting in reference to a long-ago Pack Night theme from a sweet, innocent time when we were all young.  Then one day we were no longer young and she was suddenly gone.  I miss my friend.

I’ve noticed that a lot lately; our friends keep dying, or they move away.  “Get some younger friends,” advised another dear friend Sofia who, with her husband Don, have moved away, but not too far, just inconveniently far.

Making “couple friends” is difficult though when your spouse has a debilitating terminal illness.  So I mostly hang out with women who have lost their husbands.  They are widows and I am sort of a widow, but I’m not.  Nevertheless, there is an inescapable loneliness in being the one left behind no matter what your title.  Unfortunately, that feeling of being alone can never be filled by friends or family, even though the need for friends and family remains paramount to the well being and happiness of the remaining individual.

I thought about this the other day when I visited Eva.  She and her husband were the entertainers from Hawaii who I have mentioned in other writings.  He’s been gone for more years than I remember, and now with her AD and circumstances dictating the remainder of her life she lives in a very nice full-care facility.  Walking through the halls I was aware of so many lonely souls sitting in their wheelchairs outside of their rooms, and I wonder who they are and about those who still share their lives.  Sofia’s husband Don has a phrase that I often think about when I visit people with full dependency on a nursing home:  “A mother can care for seven children, but seven children can’t seem to take care of one mother.”  It’s only a phrase, but following that first capital letter and the ending period, there’s a lot of truth in those few words.

I found Eva in front of her room matching the forlorn description of the others. Tiny little thing sitting there by herself, looking lost, lonely and pitiful, and I couldn’t help but feel a stab of melancholy as she scanned the area – searching – waiting.  “Let’s go for a ride,” I suggested, securing the foot rest, and then wheeling her through an open door.  It was pleasantly warm outside, so that’s where we went.  I parked her chair in the shade with ribbons of filtered sun teasing the shadowed greenery.  “Where……,” she stammered.  “What is it?” I coaxed.  “Where is my family?” she asked looking puzzled about her surroundings.  That’s the trouble with AD; the answer has been given, but the question keeps rising to the surface.  “All of your children except for Matthew live very far away,” I reminded her.  “They come when they can, but I know Matthew is here to see you almost every day.  I’m sure he’ll come later this afternoon.”  I think of Eva remembering how she was:  beautiful and vivacious in her brightly colored and fitted muumuus, and so filled with charm as she strummed her ukulele and sang melodies from the Islands and pop tunes of the day.   Now I feel overwhelmingly sad that the life she knew, her home and all that was familiar are gone.

Rather than making small talk I sing to Eva.  To those who know me really well my singing is a joke, but I’m not making conversation, nor do I, for one minute, think I’m the entertainment du jour.  I’m communicating with her spirit.  This I believe.  Eva relates to music so I softly sing some of her favorite hymns and songs I recall from her entertaining days.  She manages to join in with a few words and she smiles, and for that little while she appears to be content.

At 90 most of her friends are gone, others are not capable of travel, but I do believe there is a self-imposed detachment that happens with some friendships – and even some family members concerning these last years. I know with certainty that many people claim they don’t have the capability of coping with seeing their friend or loved one in a care facility, hospital, or even visiting the infirmed or elderly in their home; “Too depressing.  I just can’t deal with it.  It hurts me too much,” I’ve heard people say.  I understand because my father was that way.  Yet, I want to scold and remind them, “This isn’t about you.  It’s about Eva, Uncle John, Rose, grandpa, your sister, brother, your father, or Frances’ Aunt Tillie.” You need to strive to bring some joy and a little companionship into that person’s life.  Forget about yourself.  It’s called love and compassionate service, and the more you participate in reaching out to others, the more you grow as a person.  Pretty soon, you’ll even catch the spirit and you’ll be surprised at how good you will feel when bringing some brightness into another’s life.  I could say all this, but I won’t.  It isn’t my place, but if Frances were here, she would.  She might also tell them a few funny stories about the rusting years.

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