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Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

Halloween pumpkins

Carved pumpkins a sure sign of Halloween

I have often said the bonus part of being married to Ken is that he was a fun date. Not only was he a fun date before marriage he continued to be a fun date after marriage, but then many of our friends remained okay dates after marriage until the tube took over, turning them into the well-known couch potato. The difference between Ken, who did watch his share of ball games, and our friends was that he continued to be a fun date up until AD became a third wheel in our lives.

Our early neighborhood was mostly made up of young couples with small children, and all but a few budgets were pinched tighter than a size eight foot in a six shoe. Consequently, nights out on the town, or even a movie, were few and far between. However, to keep our social appetites fed, kids in tow, we entertained one another at our various homes taking turns hosting: we bar-b-cued, planned picnics in the parks, or at the beach, and enjoyed Sunday summer band concerts by our city’s Municipal Band – all without spending any money. In addition, a couple of nights a month the neighbors got together for a game of penny-ante with no one going home richer than he came. It was for fun not fortune as all of the winnings went into a kitty until there were enough accumulated funds for everyone’s dinner, plus a tip, which happened every year or so.

And there were parties and celebrations according to the calendar, but perhaps none so outlandish and memorable than Halloween, with costumes required. The 31st, of course, was kids’ night so the adult party was usually held on Friday or Saturday night before Trick Or Treat, but not every year. For those less willing than Ken to dress up as someone-something else was much too much to ask of some husbands on even a yearly basis.

Prior to our just-across-the-street friends Fred and Phyllis adding a family room, all parties were held in the host’s garage. Once we found their new room to be a warm and cozy place without a draft their home became the gathering place during the colder fall and winter months.

So it was that Phil donned in black shorts, black shirt, a cowboy hat and toy six shooters hanging from her hips became a female Paladin (Have Gun Will Travel, a popular TV series at the time). Laughing, she opened the door to let in the party revelers. Fred put on two arm bands, a bow tie and took his place behind his bar as the in-house bartender, which was the costume for many of the men. Ken wasn’t much different that first year matching my Roaring 20s flapper dress with gangster-looking attire, including arm bands.

Other years, and good sport that he was, he agreed twice to wear the other half of Raggedy Anne: Andy with a sailor hat and sprouting red yarn hair. Our faces matched with cherry-circled cheeks, smiling mouths and exaggerated eyes. We wore it to Fred and Phil’s second party and a few years later our duo costumes appeared at other events. There were times when I couldn’t believe he was still such a fun guy and so willing to throw caution to the wind and be just plain silly.

Several years later we had occasion to attend a fund-raiser for a local community service organization. I made Ken a white sports coat out of a piece of left-over polyester knit from years gone by, painted a black mustache on his upper lip and handed him a baton. As Xavier Cugat, he matched my Carman Miranda outfit topped off with a turban headpiece filled with an assortment of fake fruit, including a cluster of purple plastic grapes. We were a hit with friends, but didn’t win the grand prize – not even runner up – which was all right. It was a good time because I had a special evening out with my fun-date husband. I sure miss him.

Even as Ken succumbed to Alzheimer’s, I continued to decorate for the holiday, and the second year of Ken’s illness he remembered about the little ones coming for Trick or Treat. Together we put out decorations making our house look spooky without being scary. Every morning, though, I would find the pumpkins, scarecrows and the friendly, smiling ghosts on the kitchen table. More of a morning person than I wanted to be, Ken busied himself getting the house in order while I slept. “Why did you bring in all of the decorations,” I asked him. “Halloween is over,” he replied. “Let’s put this stuff away.” Explaining that the holiday wouldn’t be over for two more weeks, I asked him if he wanted to help me put the things outside. “Of course I’ll help,” he said, ready and willing to have it all in place when the costumed children came for candy.

We went through the same routine every morning until November 1, when I agreed that we could put Halloween away for another year. It would have been easier for me to just give in the first time he brought the whole array into the kitchen. But I wanted our life to be as normal as possible even if it meant doing the same job over and over, and for several years it worked.

This year in front of our house there is a seven foot happy-faced ghost – possibly a distant cousin to Casper — hovering in the midst of our juniper bushes, surrounded by candy corn lights and spider webs. Ken no longer brings in the decorations during the early morning hours. Sleeping in a hospital bed with full rails his morning activity is limited, as is his walking ability.  He isn’t even aware that Halloween is fast approaching. Actually, I doubt he notices what’s outside, much less the passing of days, one being much the same as the last. Neither is he aware of the leaves turning gold and the hint of another year soon to pass. Alzheimer’s, like a thief in the night or a mysterious, ghostly intruder has stolen away my fun date, and the demon disease didn’t even ask, “Trick or Treat?”

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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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During those first romantic years of early marriage I rarely thought of the state of matrimony as a partnership.  How unromantic was that?  A partnership sounded like some kind of business deal and I thought of “us” as being more than that.   He was the husband and I was the wife.  Husband and wife were the important words as were the titles of Mr. and Mrs. on the outside of some of our addressed mail.  Before we married I remember how exciting  it was to sit and doodle during spare moments; practicing the best way I was going to write my new name.  Flaring the M for the Mrs. part, I then curved the K for Kenneth and looped the R in as many scrolling ways as could be imagained for Romick.  I was going to become Mrs. Kenneth Romick as my doodle paper would testify, and it wasn’t going to be some kind of business arrangement.

The “he” part of our marriage was a G.I. student and I was the working wife, but when we were home, it was togetherness.  We moved into our first San Francisco flat where we cleaned and painted the shabby place — together.   We went everywhere together; we played together; we shopped together, we cooked and ate together — then he studied and I cleaned up: not together. 

 So, perhaps everything wasn’t meant to be together — but still we weren’t ready for a business partnership. Partnership in marriage, we believed, was like what our parents had: tired and worn, yet pulling together for a common goal; not always at their best with one another, but having it not matter; spending a whole evening together exchanging only a few words and that didn’t matter either.  Yes, they were comfortable partners and Biblically speaking, they were  — more or less — equally yoked:  a team.   A team, we noticed, where one member sometimes pulled harder than the other, and then at other times it was the opposite member who pulled the load.

I always believed that our “Honeymoon” lasted longer than most couples we knew, even with the birth of our children, we had our times of romance.  So, it would be difficult to say when during these past five-plus decades of togetherness we became a partnership, but partnership we became — without sacrificing the “us.”   However, I am certain that the younger generation has long-since viewed our marriage as old and tired and as comfortable as Ken and I once viewed the marriages of our parents.  What I have found most interesting during  these years of coping with Alzheimer’s is how much I miss the partnership. 

I had planned a trip to Washington state  in 2006 to attend the 50th anniversary celebration for long-time friends, Julie and Bob.  The couple planned to renew their vows with me as the matron of honor, which I had been, and the best man planned to be in attendance as well.   I explained to Julie that we were planning on coming, but I had to make the decision on a daily basis, depending on Ken’s condition.  Yet, I couldn’t wait until the last minute to make reservations and route our trip.  I pulled up the Internet, punched in motels for our stops and read what was offered.  Several looked good.  I asked Ken to sit with me and help decide where we would stay.  Together we had planned all of our previous vacations.  But with AD he had no idea what I was talking about, especially viewing the screen and listening to the information I read to him; it all meant nothing.  I wanted his input — a discussion, to bounce ideas back and forth between one another, to hear what he liked or didn’t like — to help me choose.   He was incapable of helping and in the end, it didn’t matter.  The chosen motel was fine and the trip went well, but I missed my partner — my husband — my team member.

The motel decision wasn’t all that important, but it was an example of what was to come.  The responsibility of “us” is all mine; we are no longer equally yoked, much less a team and our partnership is in name only.  Our rolls have changed.  I am now the caregiver and he is the patient, and I care for him in much the same way as I would care for a child — a very difficult child — who at times is stubborn, explosive and unappreciative.  Although, every so often he is lucid enough to call me sweetheart.  If I’m fast and ask him for a hug, he complies, wrapping his arms around me as in days of old, and for a few moments we are “us” and we are also partners.

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