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Posts Tagged ‘birthdays’

Father's Day gift

Most times the best present of all is a visit from a loved one.

“What should I get for Dad?” seems to be one of the most-asked questions falling from the lips of all children whether they are adults or still youngsters.  I recall Ken asking his mother, Rose, what we could get for his father as the arrival of either his birthday, Fathers’ Day or Christmas popped up on the calendar. I wasn’t any better with my dad.  The needs of these two men were next to nothing – minimal – and even minimal was too much.  They had everything they wanted and if they wanted or needed anything else, it seemed they just went out and bought it.  So much for gift ideas!

Nevertheless, we tried, and our children tried.  We might upgrade Dad’s hammer or get a new set of screw drivers, but how often could we do that.    Ken’s father was so funny about gifts.  He loved having us congregate for his birthday and other special occasions or for no occasion at all. But on present days we wanted so much to find something special for him; something he would remember and enjoy – from us.  Nick was an appreciative man, and when he opened our gift we were certain we had selected the perfect item.  Gushing with enthusiasm, he held it up for all to see exclaiming loudly, “Thank you very much.  Thank you very, very much.”  And he was sincere.

He blew out the numerous candles on his cake, and then Rosie served slices of her yummy chocolate confection with ice cream and 7-UP for all.  He was the life of his own party even if they were always the same. 

Lovingly, he would stand at the door as we left expressing how much he appreciated our coming and thanking us over and over for the gifts.  Then he would say to one of the older boys, “Why don’t you take this home?” handing him the after shave lotion which was the gift from Loretta.  To Ken he offered the screw drivers our children brought, and Loretta got the hammer. “Please,” he coaxed, “take these home.”  Now we, the guests, were the ones saying, “Thank you.”  Every gift-giving session with Nick ended in the same way.  “And thank you too,” we all called back relieving him of his just-opened presents. It was useless to object.  No matter what we brought to him, he gave it back to us, or to one of the other guests.  We all just shook our heads and laughed.  I suppose the gift he wanted most, and received, was having his loved ones near: our presence was his present.

My father wasn’t much better although he did keep everything.  He was a handyman so he used the tools, but when they moved and we cleaned the medicine cabinet we tossed the old after shave lotions with the seals unbroken certain the fragrance was long gone – or worse – drastically changed.

Ken was different, truly loving everything given to him.  His interests and collections covered many bases.  A kid at heart, our children and grandchildren knew they could even buy him toys, which the children were allowed to enjoy, but only with Grandpa.  Furthermore, he never gave any of them back.  He was not like his father.  Having once worked for the railroad he was the recipient of a phone shaped like a train locomotive, a miniature train and railroad station which in reality housed a clock announcing the hours with train whistles and a conductor shouting, “All Aboard.”  Grandpa was showered with trains of all gages from “N,” and “HO,” all the way up to match the train he had as a boy. The shelves were lined with miniature cars, trucks, semi cabs with trailers, and heavy equipment.  As a Navy man Ken enjoyed the tiny replicas of WWII battleships, cruisers and PT boats, “The Lone Sailor” figurine standing watch, and to hold up a section of Navy books our son had given him anchor bookends.  One year I asked our daughter-in-law Peggy to finish a hooked rug bearing the Navy seal which Ken had started but never finished — being the great procrastinator.  She did, and he was thrilled as we hung it on the wall. Ken even let everyone know he collected teddy bears.  His home office was the envy of all the grandchildren looking more like a shop filled with collectibles than a serious spot where the man of the house wrote monthly bills and figured his taxes.  After all was said and done I found it to be an endless chore to clean, and a pain and a half to dust, which I did, but only if and when Ken was willing to help.

He also enjoyed new shirts, new wranglers and new ties.  His first gift tie came from our daughter, Julie, when she was 9.  With white-elephant donations through the PTA and a two-day sale, the children were able to purchase affordable gifts for dad come Fathers’ Day.  Selectively, Julie chose the prettiest tie in the whole lot — a wide, hand-painted number sporting a garish Hawaiian sunset that was certain to blind onlookers.  He wore it all day — even to church.  “Nice tie,” commented the brethren – knowingly — “Fathers’ Day gift?”  He nodded and they all smiled.

As Alzheimer’s took his mind, it also took his happy spirit, his joy, and his sense of humor.  His curiosity about a colorfully wrapped package slowly ebbed until there was no longer any interest.  Even the greeting cards that were enclosed are now without meaning – just something to look at and toss aside.  So here it is again: Fathers’ Day, and the question still arises, “What can I get for dad?”

Whether it’s Dad’s Day, Mom’s Day, or Aunt Elaine or Uncle Tony’s birthday, or anyone else’s special day who is stricken with any of the vicious mind diseases the answer is usually the same.  “He/she really doesn’t need anything,” or the caregiver may say, “How ‘bout some new sweat clothes,” realizing the uniforms of the day are looking a bit shabby.  The only real need the victims may be aware of is a need to be fed when they feel hungry.   A plate of cookies brings a sparkle to Ken’s eyes and he might say, “Those are mine, thank you.”  So cookies are always a good gift, or candy; both can be rationed if there is a health problem.

Other than sweets and treats one suggestion as the best of gifts for the afflicted, and the caregiver as well, would be time – your time – time in the form of a visit given by friends and time given by family.  Not a lot, stay for just a little while and then you can leave, but please come again.  From what we, as caregivers observe AD has stripped their memory of everything once held near and dear.  Ken’s face is usually a blank wall as he stares up into the face of a visitor.  Perhaps, he may shake hands – or not.  Typically, there appears to be no recognition, nor does he make much of a comment as he did during the earlier stages of the disease.  At times Ken is chatty, or he may ignore the visitor altogether, or take a nap.  There is no “best” time for a visit.  Most of the day he is unpredictable; at times dozing off while the visitor sits nearby wondering what to say next.

Later, though, after someone has come and gone, and toward the end of the day Ken seems a bit calmer, more pleasant, happier if that’s still possible.  Prehaps deep in his soul the voice of the “stranger” works its way through the slime covering the brain and settles in a place that brings him the most comfort: in his heart where he may feel the reassurance that he is still cared for and loved.

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My sisters and I have unusual birthdates.  Not because 2, 6 and 9 are unusual, it’s that all three numbers are in March, and had I not been born in a leap year, the day of my birth would have fallen on March 3 instead of March 2.  That one day would have made the three of us three years, three days apart.  Even without me messing up the numbers by arriving a day early, the closeness of the dates is still rather unusual.

Consequently, my middle sister, Janet, and I often shared a party:  a few of her friends and a few of mine.  This was acceptable until we outgrew parties with little friends, “Pin The Tail On The Donkey,” and the need for a party.  But do we ever outgrow that need for a day of celebration and recognition for our arrival on planet Earth?  Thinking about it in that manner, birth is really a very big deal, as is its yearly anniversary.

The first year of our marriage, Ken prepared a special dinner for my birthday.  As a former Navy cook, he liked to cook and had a lot of experience, serving me an entree of stuffed pork chops with complemenary side dishes.  What the side dishes were I don’t recall, but I will always remember the delicious pork chops.

Our old movie  camera and 35mm snapshots recorded the Kodak moments of our children’s parties with the neighborhood kids as guests.  All of them dressed in their Sunday finery, arriving through the side gate to celebrate each gala in the back yard where spilled drinks, ice cream and cake could be washed away with the garden hose.

Then as the old film commercial crooned, “Turn around, turn around…..” ending in something like “…with babes of their own.”  In agreement, it seemed that as quickly as our babies came into our lives, all of them grew up into adults and now have families — “babes of their own,” but the birthday parties continue, the family having extended into four generations.

Our daughter, Julie, entertainer extraordinaire, with Ken’s input and help, took it upon herself to host my birthday celebrations with lovely dinner parties at her home.  When that didn’t happen we went our for dinner; birthdays being something to place in a fond memory bank.

This year, my birthday was two weeks after the accident and was spent in the hospital.  Family came for a visit as did friends.  One of my younger friends, Christine and her husband John — a beautiful purple orchid in hand to mark the occasion — assured me that my neck brace would take away any signs of a double chin, or chins.  Of course, she lied, but I loved her for it.

“We’ll have a bar-b-cue at the ranch when you’re better,” promised Keith.  “My birthday is in May,” added our friend Don.  “We can celebrate together when the weather is good.”  “That will be something for me to look forward to,” I replied.  I needed that — a  happy time to think about beyond the neck brace, broken ribs and bruises.  So for the first time in my life, and with warm weather prevailing I celebrated my winter March 2, birthday in late spring.

In all the years of our marriage, there has always been a party for Ken.  June 10, is his birthday, or as some purest say, “the anniversary of his birthday.”  Some parties were smaller than others, but the important people were always there:  our family.  Other years, especially when time ticked off another decade, we had “grand” parties inviting lots of friends, as well as family.  Some were surprise parties, others were not.  In any event, he was definitely “the birthday boy,” finding joy in the celebration.

“Are you going to have a party for Ken’s birthday,” asked Ben, Ken’s caregiver of four months.  For a moment I was left without an answer.  Ken no longer knew “up from down,” nor did June 10, have any meaning for him.  Furthermore, he no longer had “wants” and all of his needs were met.  “A little party,” I answered, seeing that Ben didn’t understand my lack of enthusiasm.

Ben brought a party bag with cookies inside when he came to work on June 10, and I gave Ken a card and more cookies.  Our children called or dropped by.  If  it was convenient and the phone was close he would speak to them.  If he had to get up to answer, he didn’t bother, saying, “No.  Not now.”  They understood.

At dinner we sang “Happy Birthday,” presented him with a flaming candle stuck in a scoop of ice cream and cookies, and presents.  “Blow out the candle,” we coaxed.  “You blow it out,” Ken grumbled, not interested in the silliness of the exercise.  If birthday wishes were meaningful to him, it was hard to tell.  He opened the cards, read them aloud and tossed them aside. Quickly forgotten, he ate his ice cream and cookies.  Birthdays had lost their charm and  meaning.  Like all of the other pleasurable things in life, Alzheimer’s had taken away that last bit of joy.

However, in the midst of being sad about memory lost, I remembered a few lines from one of my favorite poems:   “Intimations of Immortality” by Wordsworth: “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting, the soul that rises with us, our life star, hath had elsewhere it’s setting, and cometh from afar…………”  Believing we have always been “us” — individual spirit children of God — living before in a pre-mortal state of being makes us eternal.  What’s more is that I continue to believe the same “us” will  go on existing after this life.  I find comfort that somewhere in time and in another place, Ken will remember and celebrate his day of arrival in that future place.  I doubt it will be known as a “birthday,” but it will be a day to commemorate which, surrounded by loved ones, will bring him, once again, joy.

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