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Posts Tagged ‘Gifts’

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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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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My friend, Kenny, (not to be confused with my son Kenney nor my husband, Ken) loves winter and everything about it: the cold outside and the warmth inside, the threatening storm clouds filled with buckets of rain, and a blustery north wind eventually pushing him home for a cup of steaming hot chocolate, but most of all he loves Christmas and all that it represents.  And one of his favorite Christmas songs is “Silver Bells.”  No doubt written long before he was born, he hums the melody and chants the words reminding me of another time and place when Ken and I were young and living in the “City.”  The city for us being San Francisco.

We lived in a one-bedroom flat just north of Twin Peaks and three long blocks up the hill from Market Street.   Then it was down the hill to Market Street where we would catch any street car taking us downtown to shop.  Unlike my friend, Kenny, I never did memorize all  of the words to “Silver Bells,” but bits and pieces spring to mind when I think of me and Ken shopping for our first Christmas in the city.  Let’s see, what were some of the words?  “City sidewalks, busy sidewalks dressed in Holiday style……….”   Then it spoke of “children laughing, people smiling….,”   and somewhere it told of shoppers hurrying home with their treasures —  and the bells —  “Ring-a-ling, hear them sing….soon it will be Christmas Day….”  It is such a joyful song and the lyrics tell it just the way it was — and possibly still is — somewhere.   

I remember the two of us being part of the happy crowds along Market Street, dodging raindrops as we wandered from one department store to another until we reached the Emporium which was our favorite.  The windows were a panorama of Christmas, mostly winter scenes with colorful lights and delightfully animated.  Everywhere you could see the Salvation Army bell-ringers next to a donation kettle and when you listened you could hear “Ring-a-ling.”   Whether the writers of the song were thinking of the donation kettles we never knew, but it didn’t — and doesn’t — matter.  That’s who we always thought of when we heard the song — and to this day it’s their image — the bell-ringers for the Salvation Army that enters my mind when I hear “Silver Bells.”

A week and a half before Christmas when Ken and I walked through the neighborhood to see the lights and he remembered he hadn’t done any Christmas shopping, I promised him we would go the following week.  Of course, he didn’t remember his remark, but we went shopping anyway.  My list had a few empty spots so we drove to the Mall three nights in a row; short trips so Ken didn’t get too tired.  

I like the Malls.  They are warm and dry and convenient, but this year, somehow, I missed getting wet and I’m not sure if I noticed as many smiling faces and laughing children, but most of all I missed the bells.  In front of the Post Office, there was a bell-ringer and a donation kettle, but I don’t believe I saw any others.  I doubt that San Francisco’s Market Street would be any different.  The Emporium has long since been absorbed by Macy’s, its glory days gone, the display windows dark  and forgotten.  I miss that almost innocent, joyful spirit  from long ago — you know — the way you feel when you watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,”  and I wonder if the bell-ringers and the donation kettles are as few and far between in San Francisco as they were here.    Not having them  …….”on every street corner”…… with their silver bells somehow diminishes the celebration of the Season and sharing our abundance.  

The year 2009 is now a Christmas past.  The hustle-bustle is over and so is the cherished music of the season.  I doubt we’ll be hearing “Silver Bells” any time soon and the donation kettle in front of the post office is gone.   

Our Christmas with family went very well and Ken was fine.  However, his AD has advanced considerably since last Christmas.  Opening gifts was meaningless to him even though I coached him through the procedure.  Our daughter-in-law, Sabina, and our granddaughter, Jessica, baked him some cookies.  He was impressed with that gift.  “These are mine,” he proclaimed.  I thought to myself, “A bit of enthusiasm, how nice.”  While each passing year comes with a little more melancholy, I still acknowledge that I have much for which to be grateful, and I periodically pause to express my thanks to the All Mighty.   

Tomorrow, though, I think I’ll go to the Mall and pick up some silver bells at one of the big “After Christmas Holiday Decoration Sales,” but, I won’t be packing them away.  Instead, I’ll keep them close by and ring them joyfully to remind me to keep counting my blessings and that in spite of AD, life is good.

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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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