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Posts Tagged ‘memories’

home library with books

Cleaning out the study of a loved one with Alzheimer's is just another difficult task for caregivers.

Today I started cleaning the office.  While it has a corner for my computer, it has always been Ken’s room – his den – inherited when the last of our boys left home.  It’s filled (as I have mentioned before) with his things: collections by the score, memorabilia from his youth, school, Navy days and of course his Marathon and fun run awards.  And books; we can’t forget the books: college books, history books, WWII books, a few novels, lots of Navy books, and binders filled to overflowing with what was important to him.  They all seem to look down upon me as I work, perhaps asking, “What now?”

Alzheimer’s is such a perplexing disease.  Our son Kenney dropped by to say hello this afternoon.  Reaching out to shake his father’s hand, Ken didn’t even look at him, but said, “No.” I tried to get his attention so he would at least glance up and smile at his son, but he didn’t.  “He looks good,” said Kenney.  And he does.  Other than that disconnected gaze often found in their eyes AD patients look very good, and normal.  So normal in fact that as I began cleaning the thought raced through my mind, “What if he wakes up tomorrow and the AD is gone.”  What if he came into the office remembering everything and asked what I had done with his engineering books, his drafting and building books, his Architectural Graphic Standards?  What would I say?  I know it’s never happened: a return from the bottomless pit of Alzheimer’s, nor do I believe it will happen, at least not in our lifetime.  Nevertheless, I sometimes find myself wondering “what if?”

Is that the reason I’ve delayed for so long to sort through a lifetime of collections and dispose of what will never be used again – even some personal items — at least not by Ken, and then asking, “What can be used by someone else?” Questions we mull over and over when downsizing. I glanced at some of the publication dates knowing full well the books were obsolete, and even if he were still Ken, most likely they would never be opened much less read.  Even he would have to admit they were outdated.  But they were his and he liked seeing them on the shelf – they were part of him – who he was and what he did.  The drafting books?  Even I know drafting is all done with computers – CADs as they are called – computer-aided drawings.  So it was almost with force that I persevered and sorted out that one section of books – with more to happen at a later date.

My friend, Bob, who had visited the earlier part of the year as he celebrated the life of his deceased wife Julie with all who knew her, called to say that he was home and his journey was complete. We talked about all of these chores that needed our attention, and Bob said that his next goal was to simplify his life.   He planned on sorting his books; technical books from his past, just like Ken, which he had always planned to review or read again, but now he needed to be honest with himself knowing that he never would.  So he planned to take them all to a place where they would be shredded and sent on to be recycled.

In our area of California we have a recycling program, and I knew that if I put the books into the recycling bin, they would be shredded and made into new paper – or whatever.  So into the bin went Ken’s tech books.  A scene from an ancient movie popped into my mind as they clattered to the bottom.  As a youth I watched the screen in a darkened theater as countless books were dumped into a burning bin because Hitler in his madness had ordered obliteration of a good part of the past in his march to world domination, and books held vast treasures of knowledge and history. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always loved books and felt a desire to protect them — treating them with great respect — wanting them to be there for future generations.  Now I was sending some of them away for destruction.  Even though I know it’s really all right and recycling is for a good purpose I felt a little guilty, consoling myself that a modern world has no use for obsolescence.

Ken loved books as well.  I suppose that’s why he had so many, but Bob is right about simplifying. I need to repeat that word over and over as I continue sorting through Ken’s and my lifetime of stuff.  The one thing I have found is that beginning is the hardest part, and once started I know with certainty that Ken isn’t going to wake up in the morning and ask what I had done with his engineering books. Alzheimer’s never pardons their prisoners.

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yellow rose

Clipping the climbing yellow rose brings back memories.

I trimmed roses today.  The trellis had been filled to overflowing with yellow climbers; each blossom spilling onto the next until there was hardly space for the leaves and branches.  Each year they open in their entire splendor for Mothers’ Day.  Picking that first bouquet I buried my face in the aroma and smiled as my heart filled with joy. I wanted to tell them not to bloom all at once – to save some beauty for June and July — but they never seem to listen.  My consolation: they bloom again in September as if to bid a fond and colorful farewell to summer.

Many years ago Ken’s mother and I browsed through a nursery admiring, touching and taking in the fragrance of flowering plants. “Pick out whatever you like,” she said, “for your birthday.”  I selected the yellow climber, and it must have known right from the beginning how special it was because once it started to climb and the first blossoms began it produced a grand showing twice a year.

Even as a child I was fond of yellow roses remembering my grandmother’s farm in eastern Utah.  During a summer’s visit when I was eight Grandma taught me how to make tiny flower dolls with billowing skirts and bonnets from hollyhock blossoms, and whistles from the leaves of a cottonwood tree, but it was the yellow climbing roses covering her fence which I thought to be especially beautiful – and memorable.  So much so I had once began, one day to finish, writing a poem:

My grandmother’s house was set back from the road,

as much as my mind discloses,

And next to the lane was a long, long fence

filled with fragrant, yellow roses.

There were other pleasant memories pulled from the past as I clipped away under and over the trellis following a few days of playful breezes which had covered the patio with golden velvet petals.  My friend John had once said how much he liked to work with growing things and the earth, “It’s good for my soul,” he said.  “Well put,” I agreed.  And today, my soul felt good.

With Ken inside resting and comfortable under Crizaldo’s excellent care I felt warmed by the sun and relaxed, putting worries about Alzheimer’s momentarily out of reach.  However, thoughts of AD are never far away.  After all, the disease has been in and out of our lives for more than 35 years.  Even the yellow climber reminds me of priceless time lost, and the once-solid lives AD has stolen from our family.

My mother-in-law’s name was Rose, Rose Mary, but her husband Nick called her Rosie, and sometimes Roses.  Ken brought me home to meet the folks on our second date, later telling his mother that one day I would be his wife.  The bumpy road to romance was just that, but eventually we did marry and Rose became my mother-in-law.  In many ways she felt I was the best thing that could have happened to her son, yet in other ways I wasn’t, but we skipped over our differences and had a great, though a bit guarded, relationship.

She adored her grandchildren, felt privileged to babysit for us, and if we needed help she and Nick were there.  Eventually, we would be there for them.

So much of what we believe we know about Alzheimer’s is speculation.  It was during a melancholy time for Rose when her doctor, caught up with the hype about the new marvel drug, prescribed Valium.  “Calming with absolutely no side effects,” was the claim; so with her doctor’s permission, Rose would gulp down a pill as if it were candy whenever she felt blue.  Years later we wondered if the remedy triggered her entrance into AD, added to it, or if it had any effect at all.  Nevertheless, AD with all of its mystery and newness became a part of our lives. 

Nick was having times of odd behavior as well, but we never really knew which of the two was worse off, or whose odd behavior was actually a symptom, and the medical profession was of little help.  In retrospect it seems as if the couple was in a race with one pulling ahead and then the other coming from behind would be in the lead.  The one thing we did know with certainty was they needed help.

Both Rose and Nick had been avid gardeners; Nick was best known for his fruit and vegetables and Rose for the array of flowers she grew, specializing in gladiolas and roses.  Whenever they came for spring and summer visits her arms were filled with a bouquet of either – at times both.

I suppose their garden (or lack thereof) could have been one of the first symptoms of AD.  Somehow, digging the earth and growing things fell by the wayside as they became tired and forgetful.  Not working outside of our home allowed me more flex time than Ken or his sister Loretta.  I came often to my in-laws’ house where I cleaned, watered, mowed the front lawn, shopped, took them to doctor appointments, to the bank, and often cooked a few meals.  With not enough time, energy or hands to do all the chores, the vegetable garden turned to weeds, but the trees continued to produce even with little or no water – for a while.

“Do you know you have peaches on your tree?” I asked one day as I surveyed the yard.  I picked a few to show Mom and Dad, and then sliced some for lunch.  “Are you going to ‘can’ fruit this year?” I asked Rose knowing full well it was beyond her present capabilities.  “I’ll try,” she responded.  “Would you like me to help?” I continued, allowing her to believe in herself.  She was pleased and remembered where she had stored the lids, jars and bands.

I picked the peaches while she gathered everything we would need.  Together, we peeled, pitted and sliced the succulent fruit and chatted as we filled the gleaming jars for the cold-pack canner.  Her mind seemed to have cleared a little and we talked with the ease of good friends.  Laughing together, Rose told me stories about her “Buddy” and what a near-perfect young man he had been.  I chuckled quietly, knowing the whole story having heard it from the rascal “Buddy” himself.

Maybe, after all, I was everything she had wanted for her son.  Perhaps it was no more than a fleeting thing — as with many mothers — remembering my own feelings as I cradled all of my babies in my arms thinking how perfect and precious they were.  I suppose it was all about wanting the very best for our children, including a perfect and precious mate when they were ready for marriage.  Hopefully, Rose had allowed our differences and accepted me for who I was, not who she wanted me to be.

The following spring there was no fruit on the struggling tree and not much to be said about the gnarled rose bushes.  Furthermore, Nick and Rose’s Alzheimer’s had grown worse.  As a family, we knew there would be tough decisions to make – probably soon – possibly later — but all of that was long ago.

My task finished for the day I put away the ladder and clippers, and swept away the petals.  I would go inside and see how Ken was doing, all the while treasuring my afternoon in the sun basking in lovely recollections, yet recalling my first introduction to the Devil’s dreadful disease when it forced its way into the contented lives of Rose and Nick.  I also thought how interesting it is that time dulls the pain of difficult memories, yet remembering the happy times still brings joy to the heart and smiles to our lips in much the same way as a bouquet of fragrant, yellow roses.

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Ken, Mabel and his daughters Julie and Debbie and daughters-in-law, Mary and Sabina at his 80th birthday 2005

This is, possibly, my last guest post. My mom should be back here writing next week – or soon thereafter.  Debbie Schultz

One of the blessings that came from my turn at caregiving was a chance to become reacquainted with my dad. Obviously he is not the strong, but gentle man, who raised me, helped me through a divorce, get back into school, and proudly watched me graduate from college at the age of 41. This man is definitely different, interesting in his babbling, making sense only in fragments. He was always a great storyteller, but even that aspect is gone from his tangled brain. I see his personality in layers. Some of the facial expressions I remember as a little girl, the mannerisms are still there. When I first arrived here from my home in Utah, he was lying in a hospital bed, mumbling in heavily sedated sleep. He seemed so very old and vulnerable to me. I softly stroked his head and muttered my good byes, thinking that might be the end. But like my mother, he has a tremendous will to live, and two weeks out of the hospital, he is gradually becoming his old pre-accident, self.

The disease is horrifying, taking a person a bit at a time, but in a somewhat detached way, it is also fascinating. What makes a personality? What bits and pieces of one’s history stick, and why do they stick? What jogs memories? Why do some things stand out, while others are forgotten? When asked, he will say he has no children. He confuses me with my mother, but I correct him and tell him that I am his daughter and I love him. I  especially use the technique when I am doing things he doesn’t want done, like showers. Looking in his eyes and telling him seems to calm him. I call it speaking spirit to spirit. And when my daughter goes to move something of mine, he says, “Don’t touch that, it’s my daughter’s.” For a brief moment I am remembered.

He knows he was in an accident. The first few days he was home from the hospital he complained about being stiff and sore. He told me that he hurt because a truck hit him. He knows, when he remembers, that my mother is in the hospital. His love for her, despite the forgetfulness is so evident. Besides often asking where his wife is, there is wistfulness in his wanderings. He sleeps on his side of the bed, waiting for her to come. He asks me if she is working and if so, when will she return home?   Although my voice may sound the same, my reactions are different than hers. He is confused by the similarities.

I am grateful for the opportunity that I have been given to get to know my father all over again. I have more feelings for him as I have served him these past few months. I miss the man that he once was, but I love this frail, funny, shuffling person he has become. Who knows why we go through the things we do in this life? As hateful as this disease is, it often brings out the best in the people that it touches. I have gained a new appreciation for my mother and all she has gone through as she cared for the other members of our family, who were also struck down by Alzheimer’s. The positive side of this negative situation is the opportunity I have been given to serve my father and make some effort to understand what has happened to change him. Without caring for him, there would not have been the reconnection I have felt.  When he is truly gone I will not only mourn the man my father was, I will also mourn who he has become. I am indebted for the chance that I got to know that other man.

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