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Posts Tagged ‘normal’

Turkey

Sometimes the familiar will help Alzheimer's victims glimpse normal

Living with Alzheimer’s there are seldom days, or even periods of time, when life is “normal” – or I should say the way it was – or seeming to be the way it was.  Nevertheless I strive for “normal” as a goal – possibly that we could live our lives in the same manner as we were before AD even if for only a moment.  Certainty the day-to-day care and the fluctuations which occur to the mind and body of anyone with a severe terminal disease are to be expected. Yet a portion of a day can still appear almost like old times.  I suppose it all depends on many factors: influences from within the AD victim and outer influences, noise or silence, visitors or none, cooking aromas, weather, music, sports on TV, the voices of children – any of these may or may not set the stage for mood swings.  Optimistic that Ken would be in a good mood, I set his usual place at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

It’s always a gamble to eat with Ken.  At times he’s been known to reach over to my plate and help himself to something that appeals to him.  Something like those long-ago times when our toddlers were tied with a dish towel into a chair stacked with books when no highchair was available. It was comical to see the adults pulling food and plates out of reach as the small hand stretched at arm’s length to acquire what might satisfy his curiosity as well as his tummy.  So I wondered how Ken would react to a table filled with other people and food in abundance.

I have mentioned before how social Ken had always been, and he responded well yesterday as company arrived.  He seemed more aware, warning the children not to go out a certain door leading to the backyard (which was pretty much ignored) and shaking hands with the adults when a hand was offered.  He even managed a smile or two.  The real test, though, would be dinner, and I did have a back-up plan.  Hopefully I wouldn’t have to use it.

As all of the prepared food and turkey culminated into a feast, Crizaldo and our son Keith guided Ken into the dining room where his chair faced away from the table into the living room where everyone had gathered.  “When dinner is served and his food is in front of him, you two can pick up the chair and turn it around.  That way he won’t be distracted by an empty plate.”

Ken was happy to be part of the group as Keith welcome everyone asking Bob to say a prayer of thanksgiving and a blessing on the food.  As the room became silent I counted my own blessings: years of good living with this man I had married and his prudent financial preparation for our retirement and the possibility of needed care beyond what either of us might be able to do for the other, and for the caring men who provide that additional need.  I am grateful for not only the surrounding family, but for those of our family who had other obligations and those scattered throughout the country; grateful for Liz who, after nearly two years of world travel, had her two feet gripping the ground of New York City and was on her way home.  We are truly blessed.

Following the final “Amen,” Keith and Criz picked up Ken in his chair and planted it directly in front of a plate filled with food.  Without as much as a skip of a heartbeat he picked up his fork and began to eat.  Not the way he often does, barely chewing before another fork full goes into his mouth, but casually, chatting the way he always did before.  I suppose it might be said that old things bring back old ways, and gathered around the dinner table could have triggered a memory from the past. Tuning in every so often it was nice to hear he was engaging as best he could in somewhat of a conversation, and I was pleased.  Nearby the children ate at a smaller table where they were more interested in getting finished and back to playing than they were in Thanksgiving’s bounty.

Another year has passed since we all gathered to celebrate our blessings and offer our thanks to the Almighty.  So as evening approaches I sit quietly and glance around the table at my ever-growing family.  I see Ken at one end of the table and me at the other: matriarch and patriarch of this wonderful group of people, and it all appears incredibly normal — almost like a Norman Rockwell painting.  Today, I am grateful beyond expression and content in these happy, captured moments.

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It’s the 22rd of December and, as always, there are a few things I needed to buy.  Early evenings are a perfect time to shop.  Everyone — at least a lot of people go home for dinner.  We shopped, stopped for a quick bite to eat and were home before 8:00.

It didn’t work that well on December 23.  The parking lot was packed, the stores crowded and the lines long, but we endured.   Another man standing behind us in line, much younger than Ken, began a conversation asking what he did before retirement.   In no time at all, Ken was telling him about his former work — high rise construction — then moving to a company that made locking devices for jails.  Our in-line time passed quickly and our fellow shopper was totally impressed by Ken’s career;  “so interesting and diversified,” Ken’s new friend had commented.

I was absolutely amazed that my husband remembered so much.  Is there a magic door to memory which can be triggered to open with certain words, certain times or places, questions?  I don’t have the secret key which periodically unlocks that mysterious entrance. It just happens with no explanation.  More often than not Ken glances at me when asked about his life’s work pausing at the stranger’s question and looking a little bewildered.  When that’s the case I fill in a few of the important spots hoping to jump start some recall from Ken, adding jibs of encouragement such as, “You remember that, Hon.”  At times it worked, but other conversations ended with me explaining that he had Alzheimer’s.  “Sorry,” was the usual reply.  But not this night.  It’s been such a long time since he was able to speak of his career, to tell his own story, talk about himself and what he had accomplished with his life.  I was not only amazed, I was delighted.  For a small space in time I had my husband back.

We didn’t stop for dinner this night, but broke away from the crowds and came home to eat.  As we neared the house Ken said, “This is where I live.  I wonder if my wife is at home?”  Memory vanished just as quickly as it had appeared.

I felt it wise to leave our packages in the car and he didn’t notice in the dark which is good.  If I bring in several purchases, some of them disappear.   One night I noticed he looked into a bag containing several battery-operated candles.  “These are mine,” he stated.  I didn’t challenge him, wondering if he had plans for them or even if he knew what they were.  Quietly I followed him down the hall as he went into our bedroom.  Peeking around the corner I watched where he hid them; up on a shelf in his closet.  I would get them later.  Possession for Ken means ownership.  In the confusion of his AD Ken seems to believe everything we buy is for him.  We play hide-and-seek — he hides and I seek — searching for my son’s shirt and books for the grandchildren.   We play this game often, but AD isn’t a game, searching has become a necessity.  So it’s just easier to leave as much in the car as possible until I’m ready to wrap and put them under the tree. Interesting that he doesn’t bother a wrapped gift.

I’m grateful for moments like standing in line, when he’s lucid, even if it’s only for a little while.  During that time we are a couple — a husband and wife — out buying Christmas presents for those we love, and it feels so good — almost like being “normal.”

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This is who I am: Ann Romick or Mrs. Kenneth Romick as I appear on the bill from Macy’s. However, my birth certificate reads differently with the name Mabel preceding Ann. For many years now, I have used my middle name, Ann, as my pen name.  The trouble with being Mabel is that it is a very difficult name to live with, and I have found that Ann, being a bit on the bland side of the rather zesty innuendoes my first named often generates, makes introductions more comfortable.  Besides, I have found that “Ann” is more reader and editor friendly. Yet, I am who I am, and if I were nameless I would still be me. 

That said, my writings are not about my name, but about living with Alzheimer’s disease which will not only include both me and Ken, but generations of family.  Remembering and appreciating the past and learning to live with, understand and accept the present can bring both joy and sorrow. The writings, memories and musings involve our parents, friends, aunts and uncles, and our children, and a glimpse of the circumstances which tie us all together.   

Ken and I have been battling his Alzheimer’s since January of 2004. Actually, I have known of its high probability for much longer as both of his parents were victims as is his sister, Loretta. I first noticed signs of Ken forgetting in the late 1990s. There were small indications: forgetting things we had done, some of the places we had been, but the glaring forgetfulness was his inability to find the homes of our children who had lived in their same houses for years. Somehow, he couldn’t remember how to get there without my help.

Finally, we visited a neurologist. I shared what I knew, but added, “Perhaps we can just say he is forgetful.” So for a year we pretended nothing was wrong. In 2005, the diagnosis was confirmed: my husband had Alzheimer’s. Even though I could see it was coming, it was an awful blow; no longer was it “maybe” Ken has Alzheimer’s. It was now chiseled in stone.

My life had become a constant struggle, and this will be somewhat of a journal which I will write on a regular basis.  Writing is therapy for me which allows me to read my own thoughts giving me a broader perspective of caregivers who are caring for their loved ones no matter what the disease.  Some days, thank goodness, are rather uneventful.  Meanwhile, and on good days, I will look for, appreciate and count each and every blessings.

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