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Posts Tagged ‘laughter’

B movie Poster

The theatrics of a 'B' movie can be likened to Alzheimer's patients.

Ken and I are from the era of double features, short subjects, news reels and cartoons: the old Hollywood when studios had the last say about which mega star was contracted for the lead role in the latest “Big” movie.  Other hopefuls were sent down to the “B” studios.   Those were the days of block-buster pictures with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, or John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, and the low budgets with – who remembers.

Not only were the unknown actors soon forgotten (unless they became STARS), but so were the “B” movies.  However, a few of the ploys in the plot, seen time and time again, were snickeringly remembered.   Actually, a few have become legendary. The one I recall most vividly, used by the good guys as well as the bad guys, was a scene where a captured person stood with his hands high above his head facing in the direction of a door – opened or closed – it didn’t matter.  The guy holding the gun was in charge, and could either shoot his captive (bad guy), or handcuff him and cart him off to jail (good guy) depending on the script.

Sometimes, though, just as the final chip was down the captive would say something like, “Look out behind you!”  and the gun holder would glance behind him – just long enough for the captive to reach forward grab the gun and take charge.  Or, there was someone actually there to relieve the gun from the gun holder. The scene was used so often in “B” movies it became laughable.  That must be the part Ken remembers.

Dear Ben is so faithful in his caregiving duties, and Ken is usually so unappreciative. “Ben is your friend,” I croon as the three of us head for the shower.  “Him? He doesn’t know anything,” Ken replies.  “And you, you don’t know anything either.”

Before long Ken will slip into the imagined scene.  He looks at Ben and threatens, “You’ll get yours.  Just wait till my friends get here.”  Then he calls out through the open door.  “Get him guys,” or, looking at Ben, “Watch out behind you.”  I can’t help but giggle a little, telling Ken that people don’t fall for that line any more, but I know in his limited mind it makes sense to him. He can also take on a military roll: standing near attention he glowers at Ben and says, “You are dismissed.”  Never an officer I ask myself, “Where’s that coming from?” Probably some old movie he had seen before he met me.  Other times he’ll look directly at me, nod his head toward Ben and say, “Call the police.”

Or he can be very angry with me wondering who I am and why I keep bouncing in and out of his mind, he’ll request, “Hand me that ax, I’m going to whack off her foot.”  “Ouch!” I tell him.  “That’s not very nice of you to say things like that.”  Puzzled he responds, “What did I say?”  Like pushing the wrong button on my hand-held calculator all kinds of jumbled and incorrect numbers appear on the screen.  His mind seems to break down information and then scrambles it, sending thoughts and words in every which direction.

Ken’s Alzheimer’s is now very advanced, but I can sometimes read him through his eyes or changes in his facial expressions.  He can also be very cunning – liked a frightened, trapped animal.  So he doesn’t hurt any of us during clean up and shower time, his hands are temporarily restrained, but it is amazing how quickly he can “throw” an elbow into Ben’s or my ribs, get a knee high enough to make a definite impression in someone’s groin area, or bring up a foot for a well-placed kick.  Whether it’s a calculated plan or an instinctive defense I’ll probably never know.  “Whaaaaattttt?” he questions when caught in the act, followed by “I didn’t do anything.”  “You punched Ben with your elbow,” I tell him.  “I didn’t do that,” he insists, his eyes looking innocent.

Yet, there are times when Ben is helping him and he’ll take on a new roll and say, “I appreciate everything you do for me.  Thank you.”  That could be from any of Jimmy Stewart’s movies. Ben responds with a smile and says, “You are welcome, Sir.”  Good manners don’t last long.  Other times when Ben turns his back Ken will scrunch up his nose and stick out his tongue.  I’m surprised he doesn’t give him a loud, spit-filled raspberry to go with it.  Instead he’ll look over at me and wink as if he knew exactly what he was doing.  With Ken’s threats coming from the “B” movies, the niceties spoken by STARS such as Cary Grant, and  those naughty mannerisms are probably coming from his watching too many “Our Gang” comedies when he was a kid.  That favorite was later adapted to TV and became a beloved half hour for our kids after being edited and relabeled as “The Little Rascals.”

Of course we don’t know how much memory Alzheimer’s is covering when we observe parts and pieces of the past sneaking out through the tangles and plaques covering his brain.  It’s all such a puzzle with impossible pieces to fit together, but moments like this can make an interesting and funny happening.  That’s why we take comfort in learning to laugh at some of Alzheimer’s silly situations — so much better to laugh than cry.

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Assignments from God are there to help us grow.

I miss Erma Bombeck.

While sorting through files recently I found a scrap of newsprint which I had clipped from our local paper.  Turning it over my thoughts raced back nearly 20 years when her column “At Wit’s End” was a twice weekly must read.  For those who never had the chance to become acquainted with Erma’s charm and wit, she was known, and probably still is, as a great American humorist.  I’m not sure if that adequately describes her, but it’s a start.  No doubt she was a devoted wife and loving mother because her mainstay was poking fun at child rearing, homemaking and living in suburbia.  Much of what she wrote began with a good laugh and often ended with a few tears, or she could reverse all of it leaving the reader chuckling the whole day.  Or you could just be filled with the profound and clever wisdom of it all.

The column I had pulled and filed away was so very poignant.  I suppose that’s why I tore it out and kept it all of these years.  Erma loved to play God and she was very good at it.  Well, maybe not play God; she was more like a reporter standing next to an assistant angel watching them at work.  She wrote about humanity’s relationship with God fairly often, which made us think, ponder, smile and feel good.

Special motherhood was the subject matter of my yellowed copy as Erma visualized God hovering over the earth deliberating which mother would get which spirit child as God and an angel made notes in a giant ledger.  The day’s work also included assigning an exceptional patron saint selected because of his or her strengths.  “Give her Gerald,” God instructed the angel, after assigning twins — probably two adorable, rambunctious, high-spirited boys — “Gerald is used to profanity.”

Progressing nicely in their labors, God passed a name to the angel and said, “Send her a handicapped child.”  Puzzled, the angel asked, “Why this one God?  She’s so happy.”

Explaining, God said it wouldn’t be proper to give a handicapped child to a mother who didn’t know laughter.  “That would be cruel.”

Continuing, God listed the qualities this woman had:  Patience – but not so much that she would drown in despair feeling sorry for herself.  She won’t have time for a pity party.  “Once the shock and resentment wears off,” assured God, “she’ll be fine.”  Then he told the angel how He had noticed her feelings of independence and self-worth that He found rare, yet so necessary in a mother.  The special-needs child required a mother who could do for the child what was needed and still be her own person.

With caution the angel informed God that this independent woman didn’t even believe in Him.

God just smiled, assuring the angel that He would take care of that.  “She’s perfect, with just enough selfishness.”

Stunned, the angel asked, “Since when is selfishness a virtue?”

God nodded to the affirmative, explaining that she would have to separate herself from the child on occasion, or she would never survive.  Then He went on listing all of the blessings that would come with this child of need.  How the mother would never take for granted the growth of her child, how just hearing that first, “Mama” would be a miracle, and how generous these children are with their love.  “I know that she would teach the child of my creations, seeing and knowing them as she had never seen them before,” confiding in the angel that this child would be blind. The angel agreed, and God concluded, “She will never be alone, for I will be with her every minute of each day.”

Curious the angel asked about the patron saint.  “A mirror will suffice,” God smiled.

All of this, of course, gave me cause to wonder about His assigning caregivers to an ever-growing number of people with Alzheimer’s.  For sure, there are countless members of the human family with special needs even if that need doesn’t appear until later in life.  Previously, I have talked about my friend, Madalyn.  Light heartedly, we remind one another that we don’t remember signing up for this job.  And yet, the assignment was/is ours just as parents with children having special needs learn to accept and live with what’s given to them.

So what are some of the hoped-for character traits which God might have seen in us?  Wow!  I wonder if He remembered that most of us – whether caring for aging parents, other relatives or our spouse – aren’t young anymore.  We used most of what were the best parts of “Us” bringing up that batch of children He sent to us early on.  So, now we’re running on leftovers?  No matter though.  Let’s see what those leftovers might be and what worn-out qualities we’ll have to reorder.

  1.   Patience:  Not a lot left, but I’m slowly acquiring more.  I no longer plead, “Give me patience and I want it right now.
  2.   Strength and energy:  The tank is pretty near empty, but I’m surprised how much I can muster up when required.  However, I have been known to sneak away and take a few naps.
  3.   Wisdom:   I didn’t have all that much when I had our first baby, but I managed to gather some by the time they were grown.  Whether it was enough I’ll never know.  My mom used to say, “It’s a shame that age comes so quickly and wisdom so slow.”  But what I did learn applied to children and young adults.  Now I must begin all over again gathering applicable wisdom for an adult with special needs, and it’s different.  I can’t sit down and reason with Ken about his attitude and how it might have a negative effect on his future, and then remind him he should make every effort to change his thinking.  If he listened at all he would probably say something like, “YOU!  You don’t know anything!” Any new wisdom I might receive will have to be applied to me so I can become a better caregiver.
  4.  Sense of self and independence:  I believe I still have that.  Being my own person has always been a blessing.
  5.  Tears:  God didn’t list them in Erma’s column, but tears go along with empathy, sympathy and love.  Besides, living in a state of perpetual mourning tears are commonplace, and are necessary as part of venting.  I’m sure most women, including mothers of special-needs children have a goodly supply of tears.  Typed on the prescription bottle is, “Use tears as needed,” but they often spill out during unexpected splashes of joy, and random acts of kindness.
  6.  Selfishness:  Yes.  I have my share of selfishness too.  And God’s reasoning is so good.   It is prudent to have some kind of life away from our needy charges no matter what our age – without any guilt.  We do have to take care of “us,” or we can’t take care of them.  Just as the instructions on the plane tell us: “Place the oxygen mask on you first, then the child.”  “ME FIRST” is a must-have attitude.  That advice belongs to all mothers and caregivers alike, but never “Me first and only me.”
  7.  Vanity:  That wasn’t listed either.  I would say to the angel that in this case, like selfishness, it is a virtue, and one of dire importance.  Not a narcissistic kind of vanity; I’m referring to humble vanity.  (Now, isn’t that an oxymoron?)  Nevertheless, when we look our best, we feel and do our best – at least we do better while striving for best.  Motto of the day: comb hair, brush teeth, touch of makeup and put on a clean shirt.  Get dressed every day and no sloppin’ around the house in a bathrobe.
  8.  Laughter:  I believe a good hardy laugh shakes down the woes leaving room for joy and other good feelings.  I have always tried to be best friends with laughter.  If it has slipped away, renew the relationship. Find where it’s hiding and bring it into the living room so it becomes part of the family.
  9.  Acceptance:  It may take a while, but no one can fight “what is.”  This is where life has taken me, and many of you, and there is no escape for the dedicated.  Might as well sally forth into the tomorrows and make them as good as possible.  Besides, nobody knows how many tomorrows are left.
  10.  Call home often:  God was certain we could do the job, and whenever we need to talk, He’s there.  He said so in Erma’s column: that he would be there every minute of every day.  Not only because he loves us, but He so appreciates us for doing some of his work, and caregiving is God’s work — especially when it’s done with a glad heart.

Oh!  And by the way, I believe Patron Saint Gerald has been reassigned to me for those times when my patience tank is running on empty.

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When I’m thirsty there is nothing more refreshing and satisfying than a tall glass of water with lots of ice, but after the accident both were temporarily denied, and for good reason.

Once stablized I asked for two things: a few extra blankets for warmth and some water.  “I am so thirsty,” I pleaded.  The blankets came immediately, but not the water.  Someone explained that I shouldn’t have anything to eat or drink until further examination to make sure I wouldn’t choke.  Nevertheless, I was still thirsty and begged for water.  Finally, Nurse Keven relented saying, “Try giving her a little ice.”  The droplets trickled down my throat like fresh summer rain on a hot afternoon; cool and gratifying.  I felt rejuvenated — until the next thirst — requesting more ice.

Care couldn’t have been better than in ICU, but the family decided one of them would be with me 24/7 despite the assurance of staff that my needs would be met.  All the same, it was agreed there would be a schedule of six-hour shifts so I was never alone:  My caregivers main function:   watching me sleep and feeding me ice.  Looking back I must agree with staff:  My physical needs were taken care of very well.  However, without Ken sitting near my bedside, there is nothing that fills the vacancy or heals the spirit more than family.  Kevin, our first boy and third child is big and burly like my father, and like his brothers is very good looking.  Casual, laid-back, and a bit detached; at 18 he too had experienced a life-threatening automobile accident.  “Mom,” he asked, “Are you trying to outdo me?” all the while trying to make light of a serious situation.  Kevin’s shift was taken from part of his work day and busy political life.

Kenney, our youngest, is the comic, covering the hurts of life with something amusing or a joke.  He made me laugh even with broken ribs, and despite the pain it felt good to laugh reminding me that life could still be funny.  Yet, my son can be serious and thinks deeply, philosophizing about everything from work to our messed-up world.  He and Keith are in business together.  Kenney came in the evening and stayed until Keith arrived.

Keith is a no-nonsence kind of guy, the middle son, the fixer, the silent one who steps forward to calm the storm.  His shift finished the night and as soon as his wife, Sabina, dropped off their daughter at school, she relieved him.

I slept most of the time, awakened periodically by staff or by thirst.  “Ice,” I would ask, and before me one of my caregivers appeared, a cup of ice in one hand and a spoon in the other.  Gently, the crushed refreshment was placed into my open mouth.  Usually, three spoonfuls were enough and I would  return to sleep.

In my dreams I could see a nest in a tree and in the nest was the most pitiful looking bird imaginable.  It remained seated in a half-broken shell, looking upward; the feathers — lots of feathers — were still wet and stuck together forming a scattering of points sticking out from its skinny body.  The head was round with human eyes and a demanding beak-mouth which was always open.  I thought of the creature as me, constantly calling for ice, and constantly fed.  In retrospect my sons and daughter-in-law would have made wonderful bird parents.

In the darkness I was aware the shift had changed.  Kenney was on his way home for a few hours of sleep before beginning the day.  Keith was the papa bird feeding me ice.  “Mom,” he said, making sure I was awake and listening.  I mumured a soft acknowledgement.  “Mom,” he said once again.  “You need to know that everyone here is working extremely hard to make you better and you’re not cooperating.”   I looked up at him silhouetted against the light from the hall; not even seeing his handsome, troubled face I could hear the worry.  Recognizing that he was scolding me as if I were a naughty child, I still didn’t understand why.  A touch of irritation in his voice caught my attention as he whispered, “You’re not breathing the way you should.  Breathe, mom, breathe — really deep.”  “Hurts,” I burbled.  “That’s why you’ve  got to take the pain medication then it won’t hurt so much.  Now take a deep breath.”  “Okay,” I mumbled.  “Tomorrow.”

With my thirst quenched and the scolding over, I drifted back to sleep; the needy, pitiful bird with its enormopus mouth once again filling my mind.  Yet, another thought continued to nag, and somewhere in that misty place between conscious and unconscious I reasoned that I had better cooperate and begin to breathe deeply because if I didn’t there remained a strong possibility that Keith might not give me any more ice.

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