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Haunted House

When an old house creaks, it may be haunted or not.

“Your house is spooky, Grandma.”  The statement did not come from one of our younger posterity but from our 23-year-old grandson Brian.  Several years ago, before Ken contracted Alzheimer’s we had asked Brian, recently returned after a four-year stint in the Marines, if he would stay in the house while we were on vacation; look after the dog, take in the mail, water and cut the grass and keep everything ship-shape until we returned.  We also agreed to pay him a tidy sum for his efforts.  He happily accepted.  When we arrived home we found that he had been more not here, than here.

“I just couldn’t stay in your house after the first night,” he explained, expounding on every creak and groan he heard or imagined. “I think it’s haunted!”  I turned to this brute of a man and asked, “How old are you, Brian?  How tall?  And how much do you weight?”  If he looked a bit chagrined, it didn’t change how he felt.  “You house is spooky,” he repeated “really spooky.”

He then proceeded to detail his night in our so-called chamber of horrors.  “This place has bumps in the night, stuff moving in the shed next to the house and in the wood pile and in the backyard,” he confided.

“Probably a cat,” I explained. “Or it could have been a rat – or a possum,” none of which eased his mind.

“The floor creaks,” he continued, “like someone is walking.  So do the walls and I can hear the roof in the family room going snap, crackle, pop, and I believe there is something living in the attic making a rasping sound.”

Reliving his night of terror seemed to add to his vivid and out-of-control imagination.  He had verbally tagged everything except the foundation and windows, but I couldn’t really remember any of the strange sounds except the time when we did have mice in the attic.  Explaining to this gentle giant that our house was an older home and no doubt had settling noises, I also acknowledged that after a hot day the flat roof on the family room addition contracted making it sound like the bowl of Rice Crispies he described.   That wasn’t enough.  Unconvinced, Brian insisted the house was haunted even though I pooh-poohed the whole idea.  He did, though, express regret for abandoning his house duty, but assured me that the dog had been cared for as were the yards and mail – all accomplished during the safety of daylight.

Perhaps the sounds were there and Ken and I had just grown used to them so we didn’t notice, but our conversation reminded me of another dark night and an unexpected noise from long ago when our children were young, the house was fairly new and there was no Emergency 911.

I believe both Ken and I were awakened at the exact same moment by the click of a door latch as it snapped into its slot, and then nothing.  That one sound had brought me into wide-eyed wakefulness.  Lying in our bed I could feel that he too had heard the noise and was no longer sleeping – hardly even breathing – yet I managed to murmur, “Did you hear that?”

“Someone just closed the kitchen door,” he whispered back.  “We have a burglar in the house.”

“Call the police,” I uttered.

Quietly, he reached over and picked up the phone setting it on the floor to muffle as much sound as possible.  Feeling the rotary wheel he placed his forefinger into the “O” and pulled it to near full circle until it stopped, and then he let it go. The clicking as the dial returned to its place almost matched the thumping of our hearts.  “Operator,” a woman answered.  “Someone is in our house.  Call the sheriff,” Ken said, barely audible.  Within seconds a man’s voice was heard, “Sheriff.”  Ken quietly explained our situation and gave him our address.   We were assured that a squad car was on its way even as we spoke.  Ken hung up the phone and we lay there staring at the shadowed ceiling.

On the clock possibly a minute and a half had lapsed since the kitchen latch had pulled us both from our slumber when suddenly I exclaimed, “The children?”  Leaping silently from my bed I rushed to the boy’s room.  From the light cascading through their window I could see that all was well.  Slipping down the hall with Ken close behind I opened the door where our girls slept.  One bed was empty.  “Julie is not here,” I declared.  Adrenalin pumping and as quiet as the proverbial mouse Ken cautiously opened the kitchen door and tiptoed into the darkness armed with a baseball bat which he had picked up from the boys’ room.  Bravely, he called, “Whose there?”

“Daddy?” a small voice returned.   “Julie?” Ken questioned, “Is that you Julie?” he repeated placing the whiffle-ball bat on the seat of an adjacent chair.

Snapping on the light we saw our frightened little girl, ghost-like in her nightgown, peeking around the darkened corner.  “I had to go to the bathroom,” she explained.  “Why didn’t you use this one?” Ken asked pointing to the one right across from the bedrooms.  “I didn’t want to wake you,” she continued, “so I used the one in the laundry room, and then I heard noises so I stayed in there.”

Tucked back into her bed with an extra kiss, we said goodnight to our sleepy child and returned to our bedroom.  Ken picked up the phone a second time and dialed the operator who connected us once again to the Sheriff’s department.  Apologizing and asking that the car racing to our house be canceled, Ken explained, “There is no intruder.  It was a child.”  “Whose child?” grumbled the officer.  “Ours,” said Ken sheepishly, “and she’s fine.”  With that I could visualize the sheriff smiling as he said to Ken, “Have a good night.”

As the fall of another year edges its way into earlier darkness causing the evenings to become longer and longer – especially after the caregivers leave –I find that it’s really a good time for me.  At the end of the day Ken is very tired.  Alzheimer’s seems to sap his energy so he is soon asleep and I have several hours of free, uninterrupted time.  I write, or catch up on bills, or do other busy work, or treat myself with a CD to watch.  Then it’s off to bed where I read until sleepiness blurs the print. I can lose myself in a good book.

The house is silent.  Every so often one of the cats will gallop down the hall before jumping up on the bed – a familiar thumping.  Turning the page I hear another sound.  Pausing to listen I ask myself about the bumping coming from the shed, a thud as a log tumbles onto the bricks from the woodpile.  “It’s probably a neighbor’s cat,” I say to me, “or a rat, or a possum.”  I listen to the relaxing of our half-century old house as it yawns and settles in for the night.  If Brian were here I would say, “No, Brian, the house isn’t haunted; like me, it’s just tired and our joints creak.”  But if I do see an apparition I will take the advice of psychic Silva Brown from one of her books, “Just tell the ghost to take the first door on the right and go home.”  Then I’ll add, “And on your way, please don’t let the latch click.  It might wake up Ken.”  That’s when I close my book, move the cat, turn off the lamp, snuggle under the covers and go to sleep.

Photo courtesy of  country-boy-shane http://www.flickr.com/photos/shanegorski/

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I noticed I had a comment on my blog, which I thought unusual as my posts are very new in this field of written communication.  It was from Doctor David.  There is more to the title of his blog: David is a phychiatrist by profession, he knits and crochets, and is seemingly much too young to be stricken by anything related to AD.   I delved  further into his link as well as some of the others to investigate Lewy Body Dementia.  I have never heard of LBD and I visited several sites including one about a woman taking care of her father.  Reading, it appeared to me that she might be from Australia just noting references to “mum” and other words that appeared to be foreign to USA English preferences.  How different we probably are, but battling the same awful diseases we can’t help but share in this miserable  journey.  Thanks for being there people.  I’ll tune in again.  Right now I’m so busy.  My friend, Madalyn, whose husband died last year from unrelated causes, but was into full Alzheimer’s gave me her “reference” book:  The 36 Hour Day.  And days often seem to be that long, but even with 36 hours I still can’t get everything done.  Often it feels as if I take three steps forward and by the end of the day have dropped back three miles.

My husband Ken and I have been in this battle for the past five years, with each year becoming worse.  However, after reading a bit here and there I find that I am basically very fortunate.  I do count my blessings and give thanks daily for the health and strength we have.  I am so glad that he can still perform all of his daily tasks regarding his personal needs.  The accidents have been very few.  I’ve also noticed that every movable item is of extreme value  to him, and often he’ll take things from any room, but especially from the bathroom relocating a razor or  toothbrush elsewhere only to be angry the next day when he finds it missing.  I realize that’s the least of our problems, and nothing compared to what other people are experiencing.

It is frustrating, though, when he doesn’t remember me and wants me to get out of  “his” house, often getting very angry and at times threatening.  When he is insistant upon my leaving I have locked myself in the “office,” which makes him even more angry.  He pounds on the door and yells at me, but after a time returns to the family room where the TV has been entertaining an empty room.  After a while he has forgotten the incident.  At times he remembers me and other times he doesn’t, and not remembering makes up the majority.   I have grown so used to the see-saw relationship, it has become the norm.

We still have our daughter’s dogs.  Ken enjoys them and misses having a devoted pet.  He doesn’t remember that our two dogs have been gone for a few years and often goes to the back door and whistles for them to come in.  I am saddened by that action and I’m also sure he would enjoy the loving company of a another dog, but I have as much as I can handle caring for him.

Individually, our hairy coated guests are very nice, but with three they seem to conspire.  Each morning I find that one of them has been naughty.  Sitting on the floor, all three  in a row, they look up at me with such innocent faces as I accusingly look at the puddle in the middle of the floor, and then at them.  Following my gaze our eyes meet and all six eyes seem to say, “It wasn’t me.” 

 Tonight one of three got behind the Christmas tree and tipped it over.  Oh, well.  Time to take it down anyway.  There were several ornaments on the floor with the three sitting silent — watching — their sweet faces taking on that look of sincere innocense once again.  “I won’t even asked,” I said to the trio.   I quickly picked up the tree, righting it as best I could, and then gathered the tempting objects scattered across the floor as I was certain they would be the chew toy choice for the night.   My resolve:  no more dogs.

For the past few days, our son Keith and his wife have taking the dogs down to the bay for some good running exercise.   How I do appreciate the peace and quiet, as well as their small, thoughtul favors.  Now I’m looking forward to one happy day next week when canine triplets go home.

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It’s a few days after Christmas and I have a terrible cold spending as much time in bed as possible.  Surprisingly, and considering where Ken’s mind is he has been somewhat cooperative, allowing me to remain in bed in an in-and-out sort of way.   It’s a rare time when I feel bad enough to stay in bed, and it feels really good.

Apparently, there is something remembered within Ken’s Alzheimer’s which allows him to be more responsible if he can grasp the situation:  my wife is sick, or that person is sick.  He then appears to rise to the necessity — and is Ken most of the day — well, somewhat Ken.  Too bad I’m not able to run my world, pay the bills, do the shopping, attend to all of Ken’s needs, and all of those other requirements of life from under the blankets.

We are still taking care of Julie and Tim’s dogs, and I’m concerned about Cody, a pretty Border Collie who likes to run away if she can get through an open door.  I suppose she would come back eventually, but not having street smarts a lot of bad things could happen during her stolen adventure.  How to solve that problem with Ken doing his constant patrol checking from the porch and leaving the door wide open as he surveys the neighborhood is a worry.   I have mentioned my concern to him repeatedly, but to no avail.  I remind him that it isn’t just about the dogs: an open door allows the cold air in — or the warm out — whichever it happens to be.  In any event he remembers none of the instructions as he opens wide the door allowing the house temperature to drop flipping on the furnace.

For Ken cold is good and he feels very comfortable when the gage reads 65 degrees.  I am comfortable at 70 degrees — and higher.  To solve the furnace problem, I have finally decided to just wear more clothes which will keep me warm and the furnace off.  This will make Ken very happy.  However it doesn’t help the escaping dog problem.

My first approach was to put our kitchen bench in the dining room barricading the folding doors in a closed position.  (That also helps keep any heat that may have accumulated in the family room in that section of the house.)  I put a big note on the doors advising Ken to use the “other door” adding, “Don’t let the dogs out.”  That seemed to work.

To make it totally secure so I could stay in bed for a while with absolute peace of mind it was prudent to lock the dead bolt, which is keyed both sides, keeping the key in my pocket.  Of course it troubled Ken that he wasn’t able to open the door until I explained Julie had the key, and when she and Tim picked up the dogs she would unlock the front door.  So far, so good.  He’s happy and I’m back in bed.

Lately, Ken is finding it difficult to understand about actually “going to bed.”  I give him Tylenol PM at 8:00 and by 9:00 he is usually tired and sleepy.  I switch on the TV, a nightlight, lay out his pajamas and turn down the bed.  When I come back he is still fully dressed, the pjs are folded neatly and placed under the pillow and the bed is remade.    I don’t understand his thinking, but then I don’t understand AD either.  Last night I went in to see if he was in bed, and found him unhooking all of the electrical stuff:  TV, lamps, taking out light bulbs and removing shades as if it were his chore to do before he could settle in.  It appears that’s where he is heading again tonight which means another midnight to somewhere near morning for the two of us.

I have noticed that the more active he is the more alert he becomes.  Moving around the house — looking into this and that — gets his juices going — stimulates what I am striving to subdue, and when he reaches  a certain stage of anxiety he isn’t about to go sleep.   I would really like to get back to bed and nurse my cold — and I’m sure it will happen — somewhere in the wee, small hours of the morning.  At least the house is warm and the dogs are asleep.

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For a generation or more we have spent Christmas Eve with our daughter  Julie and her family.   In addition to her brothers and sister, with their families, there has been other in-laws, friends, cousins and anyone else who needed a place to be for the Holiday.   In the past Julie’s house has been noisy, crowded and filled with merriment.  However, as children grow up, get married, move away and are caught up in careers or have other new family obligations, our traditions are in a state of flux.   

Last night there were only five little ones under 10 plus  an adorable baby, Rylie Ann, moving from the crawling stage to the standing stage, and two young adult grandchildren.  Their contemporaries were 800 miles away visiting their parents, brothers, sisters and extended family.  It was that distant house filled with the sounds of Christmas we had been so accustomed to hearing: the very joyful sound of lots of children and young people. 

Ken’s Christmas benchmark was noticable this year.  He has become somewhat frail looking, and moves like an older man with faltering footsteps and waving arms rather than the robust mature person he was before AD.   As we approached the steps to Julie’s house I noticed he was fearful of venturing onto the stone-laid walk.  Even though he was supported by two of his sons, he felt along the stones with his feet wanting to be certain they were solid.  Once inside the house, I noticed he was much more subdued during the evening — almost like a shy, clinging child in new surroundings.   It’s times like this when I say he is like Velco. 

Later on, Ken felt more at ease and decided to get a drink of water in the kitchen.  Carefully, he meandered his way between the glass coffee table and the couch.  He did well, but on his return trip, he took a quick right turn at the middle of the clear table top.  (He has macular degeneration in his right eye and his poor vision is now even worse.)  Blindsided and in the dim lights of Christmas he thought the way was clear.   Suddenly, he was falling right onto the glass and into the sofa on the opposite side.  I could see him grimace as he went down.  Immediately, I worried that he might have injured his artificial hip.  The men who were close by leaped to his assistance, but being the stubborn, independent man he is Ken wouldn’t allow the help.  Instead he struggled to right himself.  Although the glass is about three quarters of an inch in thickness we were all concerned it might be broken.  If it wasn’t, the possibility of more pressure on its tilted position  against the base might be the final insult causing it to break and really do him injury.   Still refusing help, he managed to climb over the glass and pull himself erect.  The men picked up the top placing it back onto the supporting base.  No damage and no harm done except for Ken’s shin bone, which was pretty well skinned.

Within a few minutes he had forgotten the accident and settled down next to me.  All evening long he asked,  “Whose house is this?”  Repeatedly I answered, “Julie’s house.”  Not once, but it seemed like a hundred times.    Comparing benchmarks, I could see considerable change during the past 365 days.

We had dinner, opened gifts, exchanged small talk and everyone went home.  As soon as I entered the house I slipped him two Tylenol PM tablets.  He had been sleepy in the car, but by the time we got inside took the pills and brushed his teeth, I could sense him slipping into one of his other characters.  It could have been 12-year-old Buddy, who guards the house like a stockade with the Indians circling.   It was midnight and I was so ready for sleep, but wanted to wrap a few more packages.  He began pacing, rattling the outside doors to make sure they were locked.  After three or four rounds, I lost my temper and he ordered me to leave.  When he does this lately, I lock myself in the computer room and let him pound on the door while I busy myself with “whatever.”    He finally settled down and I wrapped my gifts.   It was 3:00 a.m.

When I woke on Christmas morning, it was 10:00 a.m.   Feeling somewhat refreshed, I quickly got up, dressed and spread out a small morning buffet to munch on when Keith, Sabina, granddaughter Jessica, and Kenney and Peggy came.   I wondered if I would feel up to driving to Antioch with the gifts for Sean and Lani and family.  That decision would come later.  The late-morning visit with two of our sons, their wives and Jessica was lovely.  I was glad they came.  Jess is such a sweetheart and had made me several gifts. 

Approaching 3:00, my morning family had other places to go and friends to see.  A little late for us to be leaving for Sean’s, but if we left right then, opened the gifts and had a bite to eat, we could be home by 9:00.   In addition, we needed to be home when Tim (Julie’s husband) brought their three dogs for a half week’s stay.  They were off to Atlanta to visit their son Pete, ReNea and their four-year-old son, Mason.

It’s been about three  years since we lost our last dog.  Even though I miss not having an animal in the house, I don’t miss having to clean up the piles of hair that seem to float in the air landing on and under everything.  Nor do I miss the compulsory yard duty clean-up brought about by their presence.   It will be interesting to see how Ken does with three spunky dogs.  Meanwhile, Happy Holidays.

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