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Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

wedding couple hands

Alzheimer's is just part of "in sickness & health" for this caregiver.

I recently watched a clip on the internet where Pat Robinson talked about advising a man to divorce his wife who was a victim of AD.  Mind you, this is not a criticism of the Reverend or the man’s desire to begin a new life.  We all do what we have to do.

“She’s gone,” the distraught husband had told Robinson.  “She’s gone — just gone.”  Affirming what he believed to be true, the husband was seeing another woman. Understandably, he yearns for companionship, happiness and everything that was once held so dear in making life worth living.  Advising that he remain financially responsible for his wife’s wellbeing, a divorce was recommended.  After all, the man had already left his marriage. With advice from clergy — not necessarily approval — I am certain the husband felt an enormous burden lifted from his shoulders.  Nevertheless, it isn’t my place to be anyone’s judge.

There was nothing said about his age or how long they had been married.  A good while ago we had friends who were a few years older than we – married for a long time.  Happily married with grown  children and numerous grandchildren, Jean and Boyd lived a good life.  Suddenly, Jean became very ill with cancer.  Together, they fought the brave fight, but lost.  Boyd was left alone and not even the devotion and company of his children was enough.   Loneliness is a torturous and demoralizing companion.

Eventually, he married again and for a while the newlyweds were happy.  The new wife, and I’ll call her Sadie, was a good woman who had been widowed, so it was natural for two lonely souls to reach out to one another.  However, the fates were not kind and within a few years, Boyd developed Alzheimer’s.  Coping as best she could, for as long as she could, Sadie finally returned Boyd to his children saying, “I’m gone,” and she divorced him.

I can’t say that I was surprised.  Dedication and long-term caring for a victim with AD is no easy task.  A few years of togetherness, even in a happy, but short, marriage, doesn’t form a good, solid foundation such as one fortified with 40 or 50 years of history which creates the required devotion and “long suffering” it takes to see the illness through to its ending.  I don’t blame Sadie for ducking out.

If all the stats were in, and this is only a generalization, I do believe that women are better at coping and as caregivers than their counterparts, and I’m not talking about Sadie.  Most men are not natural nurturers, whereas women appear to come equipped with budding broad, encompassing wings and caring hearts, bursting into full bloom with the birth of the first child, or some other life-changing phenomenon.  From there on in it just gets better.

And yet I’ve seen friends show by their actions that my observations may be biased, if not downright wrong.  After a year or so caring for his wife Elaine, Arch moved the two from their family home into a cozy apartment in a semi-care facility where they could be independent with help as needed.  He cared for her as she muddled along with mild AD in a most kind and loving way until he fell, broke some ribs and died of pneumonia.  It was then they separated, she going to the home of their son and his wife and finally to a full-care facility, and he to eternal rest.  Perhaps I can again return to the thought that we just do what we have to do, and it probably has nothing to do with gender, nor does it have anything to do with right or wrong choices, but it has everything to do with us as individuals and who we are.

I’m reminded of a sweet email that circulates across my screen periodically.  It tells of an old man waiting to have stitches removed from a minor cut on his hand, and continues something like this:

The nurse watched as he fidgeted and looked at his watch, and then asked if he had another appointment.  He explained that he spent each morning feeding his wife breakfast at the nursing home — something she could no longer do because of having Alzheimer’s.  “Does she know you?” the nurse asked.  “No,” he answered.  “Then it won’t matter if someone else feeds her breakfast just this one day,” she concluded.  “It will to me,” he replied.  No need to wait for the doctor. The nurse quickly removed the stitches and sent him on his way.  An added p.s. reminded us that we all need to learn how to dance in the rain.

“God won’t be angry with you,” said my son-in-law Tim.  “If you need to place Ken in a full-care facility, I’m sure He will understand.” Attempting to ease my worry following a horrendous automobile accident early in 2010 I knew he was guiding my way into options for my return home and decisions which would have to be made.  “It isn’t about God,” I replied.  “It’s about me.”

As it worked out I have wonderful caregivers to help with Ken and I’m glad he’s here at home.  I’m glad I can come and go without guilt, or do busy work and stop in my chores to pat his shoulder and say, “Hi, Hon.  How are you doing today?”  He may mumble something or he may not, but he’s here with me, and that’s what I want – what I have chosen.  I’m glad that I can check on him before I go to bed, tuck in the covers, kiss him on the forehead and tell him once again that I love him. “Through sickness and in health – till death us do part.”  Divorce?  For me – that’s not an option.

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 For the loved ones who have been entrusted to me – my husband’s and my parents (three out of four having Alzheimer’s) and now Ken who is well into advanced AD – I have always endeavored to do my very best as their caregiver.  If that sounds a bit martyrish, I don’t mean it to be.  Sometimes in life you just “gotta do what ya gotta do,” and all in all it’s been a labor of love and devotion.  However, at times I feel as if I’ve lost my identity — my very own place in the world — especially without Ken by my side to help me over the hurdles.  Feeling tired when the weather is scorching doesn’t help either.  Nevertheless, it’s still Ken’s well being that’s paramount, his comfort, nutrition, cleanliness and security – it’s all a part of my long-term goal.  Coupled, though, with managing our rental property, our personal finances and home, assistant to Ken’s caregivers, and all sorts of things that just pop up without warning, there are days when I can’t help but feel, “Hey?  What about me?”  I suppose Thursday was one of those days.

It was hot in San Francisco’s Bay Area. The East Bay, where we live, is several degrees warmer than the City itself.  Usually, weather conditions here are near perfect.  Once winter passes and the seasons get into spring and summer, the days are sunny and comfortable.  However, when the temperature zooms from the 60s to the 80s from one day to the next with no gradual warming period in between, people tend to be a tad terse.  Myself included.

Rental property was something Ken and I thought to be a good idea when we were younger.  It would be a wise diversified investment to our “portfolio.”  The venture has been a good thing all of these years when we both worked together, using our “How To” talents to restore, renovate and rent our real estate purchases, but now that Ken is unable to do any of the work, I find it impossible for me to do it alone.  We have great tenants who keep up the interiors, but the outside of our 4-plex needs constant maintenance and yard work.  Ken and I did all of that as well, but now there is just me and the person I hire.

Thursday is yard day.  With the heat already promising discomfort at 8:00 a.m. I wanted to call my help and cancel mowing, trimming and sweeping, but I knew I couldn’t. We did, though, manage with a minimum effort.  Still, my day wasn’t over.

Tuesday, the tenant in another rental called to report the toilet tank needed to be reworked.  He questioned, “Do you want to rebuild the inside with new parts, or with a crack in the bowl do you want to replace the whole thing.  Mason, my tenant, would do either task after he got home from work.  I opted to replace the whole thing, picking up a new commode at Home Depot (along with some new faucet handles for my deep sink) sometime on Thursday. How simple is that? Help from the store could load it into my pickup and Mason would unload.

“GET THIS TOILET FREE!” announced the sign at the beginning of the plumbing isle.  I found an associate and asked the secret for obtaining free merchandice (i.e. the toilet) still holding the handle of the flatbed I had rolled through the store for its purchase.   “It’s a water company rebate,” he explained reminding me that only certain toilets qualified for the promotion of $50.00 or $100.00 — depending on which water company provided the service — and only certain old toilets were eligible.  We began by examining all the features on the newest low-flow models.  “Do you have the correct measurement from the wall,” he asked.  “I don’t know,” I replied.  Shaking his head, he cautioned, “If you don’t a have a 12” space from the back wall to the bolt holes,  you can’t make the connection.”

Problems, problems, I thought.  Recalling how easy it had been when Ken and I shopped for toilets, I hadn’t realized I needed measurements.  We simply picked out a commode we liked at the right price, loaded our choice onto a flatbed and off we went.  I can’t count the number of toilets Ken has purchased and installed, nor do I remember if he measured for the 12” space, although he may have.  “I can’t answer that question,” I said, wishing my cell was in my pocket.  It wasn’t.  “I’ll be back,” I promised pushing the flatbed, which held the faucet handles I had picked up first, to the nearest check-out.

I drove to the rental, rang the bell and Tara opened the door surrounded by her little ones.  I explained my mission, and with my small pocket tape she stooped (even though she is very pregnant) and measured the distance from the wall to the bolt.  “Twelve inches,” she said.  “Good,” I replied, “Thank you.”

Back in business I waved to the children and drove again to Home Depot, glancing at the clock.  I needed to get home to help Criz with Ken, but there was time enough if all went well. After all, what’s the big deal about buying a new toilet?  My associate saw me coming dragging another flatbed.  Quickly, I made my selection.  After all it wasn’t a fashion statement.  “Let me see if this model is listed to qualify for the program,” said the associate, reminding me again that all styles didn’t.  Checking the computer, he then went to the phone, and then to the printer.  Returning minutes later with several sheets of paper he began to survey the qualifying numbers and brand names.  I checked the time and was tempted to say, “Forget the rebate,” but I didn’t.  The $50.00 was better in my pocket than in an account belonging to the water company, so I waited.  Besides, with water rates going up they would get their money back soon enough.  He studied the list and compared numbers.  Finally, he said, “Here it is,” pulling the box from stock and loading it onto the flatbed.  He handed me a paper with the numbers underlined.  “Take it to the contractor’s register at the end of the store and someone will load it for you.”  Feeling a bit relieved, time still on my side, I rolled the flatbed to the directed check out.

Of course, there was a long line even at 5:45 in the evening, but I was committed so I waited.  Finally, it was my turn. “I need someone to load this onto my truck,” I said to the cashier handing him a credit card.  “Just drive up to the door and you’ll have help,” he assured me.  I parked, climbed out of the driver’s seat  and hurried inside saying, “I’m here.”  Time was running out and I should be home.  Criz may forgive me for being late when he sees I’ve purchased new handles for the deep sink – the deep sink being an important part of Ken’s evening clean-up.

I sat in the pickup waiting.  It was hot and I was getting edgy as time slipped away.  Suddenly, I began feeling angry.  Why isn’t Ken here and why does he have to be sick?  If he were here we could load it together and be gone. Doesn’t he know how much I need him – how much I miss him – and besides, what about me?  Who am I anyway? I’m his wife, but I’m not a wife; feeling like a widow, but I’m not his widow either.   He’s here, but he’s gone.  Why did he desert me leaving me to fend for myself?  That’s how I felt – as if I had been abandoned – the way he felt last month when I wanted to go to the bank.  Here I was left alone, deserted, with no one to touch my shoulder and reassure me that everything was going to be all right.  No one can rescue me and it’s never going to be all right.  I felt my eyes begin to puddle.

Finally, I spotted my desperately needed help as he appeared through the exit doors wheeling the flatbed toward the truck.  Quickly, he dropped the tailgate, and without a hitch the damn toilet was on board.  “Thank you,” I mumbled, holding back the gathering storm.  Inside the cab – with a small amount of privacy — I permitted a few tears to flow.  Not a lot and not for long, just enough to relieve the pressure behind the dam.  Besides, it’s not safe to drive and cry, and Criz is waiting.  One day they will flood out – my lake of tears — when I have the time, place and another frustrating reason to allow for such a luxury as a good, hard, sobbing cry.

At home I handed the faucet handles to Criz.  He smiled.  We had removed the originals a good while back because Ken, when no one accompanied him to the bathroom, always left the water running, at times flooding the floor.  Eventually, one handle became lost and Tuesday the second one fell behind the washer.  Opening the package we found that another customer had “taken” the screws. Tomorrow I will return the set to Home Depot, and buy another.  This time I’ll check to make sure all items are included.  The good part is I will be rested, the weather cooler, and after all is said and done I’ll be fine – until another unbearably hot day and another broken toilet.

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Young hand with older hand

The helping hand of service comes to young and old alike.

“Do I have to go?” whined my 14-year-old son, hanging up the phone.  “Go where?” I asked. “And who was on the phone?”  “It’s that old guy from church.  He reminded me that I’ve been assigned to be his junior companion,” he continued.  “We’re supposed to go visit some more old people to make sure they’re all right.”

Although his description was lacking in cheerful good manners and enthusiasm, I had to admit it was honest and somewhat accurate.  I smiled in spite of myself knowing what he was talking about and I also knew who had called.  In our church, the goal is to have every member visited by another lay member of the congregation, representing clergy, on a monthly basis to make sure that all is well in the home, and to leave the family, or member, with a Gospel message.  The old guy to whom Keith had referred, those many years ago, was about the same age as Ken, and each old guy had a junior companion called to do this “duty” at age 14.

“You don’t have to go,” I reminded him.  “You do have a choice, but you know you should go — and with a willing heart.  It really won’t take very long, and guess what?  When you’re finished you will feel good about yourself because you have extended service to those who may be in need.  Perhaps just your visit and concern will bring someone a bit of unexpected happiness.”

It wasn’t as if he hadn’t grown up doing good deeds and giving service.  He was a wonderfully thoughtful young man.  Helping his grandparents on their little farm out of Sebastopol was service, but it was also something he wanted to do.  Carrying in groceries for a neighbor was what he chose to do.  Being kind and doing favors for others was part of his nature. Being a junior companion was an assignment by clergy, and different from what had been familiar. He wasn’t really certain if it would fit into his comfort zone.  It was also a step up the ladder in extending service.  Nevertheless, he also understood he was free to accept or refuse the assignment.  When the doorbell rang, though, he greeted his senior companion with a smile and a hardy handshake.

An hour or so later he popped back into the room wearing a happy face, and informing me that he “Kinda liked the old guy.”  Then he added, “You’re right mom.  I do feel good and I’m glad I went.”

Whatever the ingredient that makes us feel good following service to others appears to be a mystery; must be some kind of magic that fills our soul and lifts our spirit.  Or, possibly, it isn’t a mystery at all, nor is it magic. Wasn’t Jesus the example for extending service as He healed the sick, paused to give counsel to the wayward, blessed the children, caused the blind to see – the crippled to walk, and cured the lepers?  Could it be that our hearts are somehow touched by His Spirit when giving Christ-like service?

Many are drawn to serving others through career choices: doctors, nurses, health care providers and caregiver professionals just to name a few, but that isn’t the service to which I am referring – although greatly needed and appreciated.  It’s the giving of service without compensation that is true charity: service such as provided by the valiant sisters of the order and Mother Teresa.  While we all can’t dedicate a lifetime to mankind, it’s that spirit of charity which needs to be embraced.  For many, however, this kind of understanding, learning and making it all a part of our lives is a process.

Granddaughter Kristina and her boyfriend Chris had dropped in Valentine’s evening to say hello and stayed for dinner with me and Ken. Then they were off, but not to a party.  Instead the two visited with a disabled couple she had worked for during the past year.  A few days later she told me it was the nicest Valentine’s Day ever.  I asked her what she did that made it so special.  “I spent it with some people I love,” she answered, smiling at me.  I gave her an extra hug saying that I loved her too — and brushed away a tear.

Was her grandfather fun? Was I fun?  How about the disabled couple?  I doubt any of the four of us were a barrel of laughs.  Yet, she felt good about the visits, and I said to me, “She is learning.”  It tells us in Proverbs, “Your own soul is nourished when you are kind.”

So it is as we journey through life we mature and appreciate that our time here needs balance and is made better by many experiences, both good and bad.  It is never made whole with only pleasure and fun.  Actually, it’s just the opposite beginning with some kind of sacrifice —  extending the hand of help and service that helps build our firm foundation – the most important part of us for a truly balanced life.

Admittedly, there are times when we feel we are out of balance.  When the weight of what seems to be never-ending adversity causes us to wonder and ask, “Why me?”  The old axiom, “You have to keep on doing it ‘till you get it right” might be funny when applied to justifying your bank statement, but caring for someone stricken with the likes of AD seems to make one crumble in frustration of doing the same thing day after day wondering if you’ll ever get it right.  Will there will ever be “a time for me “ – a time when this weight will be lifted?  Maybe “yes” maybe “no,” but it’s in that interim where we can concentrate on and accept “what is,” savoring the positive which can come from the negative: the positive being the building of our own strengths and character.  Have I arrived at this destination?  Goodness no, but I’m striving daily in that direction.

Ken and I are into the eighth year in our battle with Alzheimer’s, and I’ve come to accept it as the way of our life for as long as it lasts.  His mind is without memory or reason, but his physical health is very good.  Through these past years I have felt the highs and lows of just about every emotion I can name, gnashing my teeth, shedding tears (I still do), and pounding my fist into a pillow (not anymore) with little changing except Ken’s AD becoming worse. I am certain most caregivers have felt the same anger, frustration and defeat until they reach up to Him who can bless them with peace.

As acceptance became a focal point for me I have learned to be more relaxed, relying on another sage bit of advice, “Let go and let God.”  I strive to do that for I know I am not alone.  I know that my Lord is with me bringing comfort when I despair and guiding me along this rocky path.

I am constantly learning and looking for new ways to be more helpful to the man I married; the man to whom I promised my love through sickness and health, and to care for him in his time of need.

In my role as caregiver, delivering service to Ken who has been my loving companion for more than 5 decades I am reminded, and will quote once again one of my favorite scripture passages.  This one from Matthew when Jesus said, “For I was hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink.  I was a stranger, and ye took me in, naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me. I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 

 Then shall the righteous answered him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee and hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

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