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Posts Tagged ‘questions’

I have found the Internet to be filled with information that goes far and beyond email, but we all know that, so it’s usually the email we go to first.  It’s like long ago when we checked the mailbox.  Remember people writing letters?  Now, to receive a personal letter at your front door is unusual — if not downright thrilling.  Most of what the mailman delivers is junk or bills, and email is often like that as well.  No bills, some junk to delete, and at times I’m disappointed to see only forwards.  However, I have come to appreciate even most of those.  Some are LOLs (and that’s the new text jargon meaning laugh out loud, and like or or not it’s here to stay).  Some I read and delete and others are good enough to forward.  They can be funny, inspirational, nostalgic, political, informative, enlightening, spiritual, sights to see beyond description, travels that can take your breath away, and fabulous photographs from all over the world, under the sea and outer space.  Yes, even those pesty forwards can be worth the time.

A special one, which I recently watched and was drawn to immediately was simply titled “The Sparrow,” and could best be described as a Public Service Announcement (PSA).  It was, however, in a foreign language with English subtitles.  The scene was a garden where two men were sitting on a bench.  The younger man was reading a newspaper, the older man just sitting.  Peace and tranquality prevailed with only the rustle of a newspaper and the sound of a bird.  “What’s that?” asked the old man.  “A sparrow,” replied the young man, probably a son.  Again the old man listened and heard the bird.  “What’s that?” he repeated.  The answer: “A sparrow!”  The young man returned to his paper and one more time the old man asked, “What’s that?”   Rumpling the newspaper in annoyance, the younger man said again, his voice resonating with irritation.  “A sparrow.  How many times do I have to tell you?” 

The old man left the bench, went into the house and returned with a book.  Turning the tattered pages, he found a passage, handed the book to his son who read it aloud.  It had been the father’s journal from long ago when his own small son sat with him in a garden and the sound of a bird was heard.  The small boy asked his father, “What’s that?” and the father answered, “A sparrow.”  Sparrow: a new word in the boy’s vocabulary which was soon forgotten until he heard the sound again.  “What’s that?” he repeated.  And the father wrote of the experience explaining that the boy asked about the sound over and over.   “Each time,” the father wrote, “I told the boy it was a sparrow and each time I gave him a hug.”  The grown son, no longer holding the newspaper reached over and gave his demented father a hug.

With strong identification, I watched and a tear rolled down my cheek.  But years of living with Alzheimer’s has added a necessary toughness — perhaps a better word is strength — to sentiment, and by putting a hold on sentiment there might be a tendency toward cynicism.  So as a little of the cynic crept into my thoughts I had to conclude that if the old man remembered his journal entry about a sparrow, he should have remembered the word sparrow.  But I also know that cognitive loss is different in every Alzheimer’s patient, and short-term memory is the first to go.  Long-term memory comes and goes and often plays tricks so I put my cynic self to rest and appreciated the message for what it was.  It was loud and clear and didn’t have to be spelled out:  patience.   Alzheimer’s victims deserve patience.

Mike is married to my husband’s sister, Loretta (also an AD victim).  He and I have often lamented together about how difficult it is to be continually patient with the forgetfulness and constant repetition.  “That’s the hard part,” he says, “the same questions over and over.”    I couldn’t agree with him more, knowing with certainty that the two of us identify with the irritable son even though we strive our utmost to be patient.  

When the father in the PSA wrote of teaching his son about the sparrow, it was easy to be patient for the end result was knowledge for the boy and joy for the father as he watched his son grow to manhood with life stretching before him.  For the grown boy, and for all caregivers of AD patients, there is little joy and no hope for the future of the ailing victim.  However, there is compensation which comes with a good day, a good evening, a good hour, or even a good moment when the patient is lucid and a spark of memory rushes forth, a moment of tenderness or a familiar smile from the past.  Then the caregiver feels gratitude and patience is rejuvenated — at least for a while.

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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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