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Posts Tagged ‘shopping’

car keys

Giving up the driving privledge can be difficult for some Alzheimers' patients.

Rose had stopped driving on her own volition relying on Nick’s ability to see that the two of them got to whatever destination was necessary. She made a list of needed groceries and told him he could do the shopping as well.  Forgetting to refer to the list, his selections alone should have tipped us off that he wasn’t thinking sensibly.  More often than not he came home with what he believed to be essentials: peanut butter, bananas, milk, bread and Sweetie Pies.  The pies, consisting of a large 3” cookie covered with a marshmallow of equal size and held together by dipping the treat in chocolate, had become his favorite dessert.  Sealed in individual packets of cellophane, his choice came 12 to a box, and he always bought two boxes.

That all changed when his driver’s license came up for renewal.  He didn’t do well with the written test, but the examiner believed his reading skills might be off, so the test was given orally.  He passed, but for his age he was required to take the mandatory driving test.  He didn’t think it a problem, but asked Ken to go with him.  Alone in the car with the examiner, he made a poor choice resulting in a near accident.  “Stop the car,” bellowed the examiner.  Shaken amidst honking horns and cursing drivers, the examiner drove Nick back to the DMV where Ken was told, “Your father is not capable of driving a car.”  Nick was outraged, insisting he had been tricked.  “The examiner was prejudiced against me,” he lamented, “because I’m old.”  His anger, however, didn’t last more than a week or so when he found that I would drive him and Rose anywhere they needed to go.

It all came together about the same time: their growing list of needs and my availability.  Nick still liked to do the shopping, but with me by his side, we bought a lot more “real” food which Rose continued to cook, but he still was allowed his Sweetie Pies.

Later, at another time and place I found that relieving my mother, Irene, of her driver’s license posed no problem.  Like Rose she just stopped driving, allowing the license to expire.  Dad was the driver and had been for years.  Always a one-car family, he took it to work and she used San Francisco’s public transportation or walked during those mid-life-plus years. She applied for a license only when they moved to Northern California’s Sonoma County.

It wasn’t as if she didn’t know how or had never driven a car.  In the farmlands of eastern Utah Irene had cranked and bounced their old truck over mountainous, rutted roads without hesitation.  It was city traffic which kept her in the passenger seat.  After their move to a more peaceful landscape, and knowing her capabilities Dad insisted she get her license.  He was not happy about being her chauffeur whenever she wanted to go somewhere.  Country living did not provide the same transportation convenience she had enjoyed in the City.  A little study and a little practice and my mother earned her license, driving herself when my father couldn’t – or wouldn’t.  It was as simple as that, but after several years of additional age and recuperation from a broken hip she decided her continued driving just wasn’t important.

I’ve always been grateful that family, which included me, didn’t have to be the bad guys when it came to taking away the car and the car keys from any of our parents. Even at 88 my father (who had no sign whatsoever of AD) handed me his car keys because my driving both of them answered all of their needs.  Willingly, he surrendered the keys, but not the car.  We always traveled in his big, roomy Chrysler which, next to Mama, was the love of his life.

Sometime before Ken was diagnosed with AD there was a close-call incident for us and three pedestrians which gave me cause to question his driving responsibility and understanding of the laws – let alone common courtesy.  He needed to make a right turn.  We had a green light and so did the three pedestrians who were midway through the cross walk.  Rather than wait until they were safely on the sidewalk, he right-turned in front of them allowing less than three feet of space between them and our car.  They yelled at him, not cursing, but probably wanting to, and his remark was, “Stupid people.”  After I closed my shocked mouth, I reminded him they had the right-of-way.  “I had the green light,” he snapped.  “So did they,” I returned, “and you know the law: The pedestrian ALWAYS has the right-of-way.”  That led to a ridiculous debate about jay walking and all of the other possibilities where the pedestrian was still in the right when it came to an automobile vs. a human being.  We argued until we reached that moment of agreeing to disagree, but his change in attitude was troubling.

The entire episode had surprised me because if anything, Ken was a good, courteous and responsible driver with quick responses.  I suppose in retrospect I should have listed the incident with the other occasional happenings which were proving to be more and more suspicious.  In my heart of hearts I knew that Alzheimer’s disease would be part of our future, and I needed to begin thinking about how he would respond to having his car keys taken away.  Furthermore, how would I manage the dirty deed without making him furious with me?

Actually, the surrender of his keys was very smooth.  Once diagnosis was made, our neurologist said that he must report his findings to the DMV.  He did. Three months later Ken failed the scheduled written test so miserably he was disallowed taking the driver’s test.  Shortly thereafter, we had a follow-through appointment for a personal interview where a final and absolute decision would be made.  Ken was asked many questions; some having to do with driving, others just about the world and life in general.  In conclusion, the DMV examiner stated, “I’m sorry, Sir, but you shouldn’t be driving.  Your license is revoked.”

Ken, the affable person he always was, reached over and shook hands with Mr. Spoiler wishing him a nice day.  Ready to cry, I turned and left the room.  Disappointed and furious at hearing the decision I was angry with everything: the world, the examiner, his biased questioning, the DMV, life and its unfairness, the rainy weather, the negatives that came with getting older and Alzheimer’s – and the list went on.  I suppose much of what I felt was the weight of overwhelming responsibilities which were falling on my shoulders one by one.  Now I had to be the driver in addition to everything else.

Time, they say, is the great healer.  As Ken’s disease became more and more evident, I realized that I was grateful that Mr. Spoiler and the DMV had, once again, been the bad guys in taking away his license and car keys – his privilege to drive — having spared me telling him that he was no longer capable of operating an automobile.  How does one tell their loving husband, or their mother or father who have become victims of these horrible mind diseases that they have become incompetent, useless, bungling, inept, ineffectual, unskilled and are no longer of value?  You don’t.  Of course you don’t.   Instead, you just take possession of the keys and remind these same exemplarily people who were once so amazing, so talented, so wonderful, so needed and so full of life – who had contributed so much to our society — that they are still cherished, respected, and most of all – they are loved.  And you tell them often – even when you believe they no longer understand or hear what you are saying, you keep telling them.

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It was still daylight when Ken and I left our house to do a bit of shopping on that brisk Monday.  Daylight, yes, but darkness comes quickly in winter.  I had hardly parked the car in front of Radio Shack as dusk fell.  I needed only two small items: a new cord for one phone and an extension line for another, and then we were off to enjoy dinner with our friend, Jayne, at 6:30.

Getting Ken ready and out of the house to go anywhere was becoming more and more difficult as he slipped further into Alzheimer’s.  Nevertheless, he always liked getting out once he was dressed.  I believe winter is often a problem with dementia and related illnesses, the season having so much gloom — so few blue skies and sunshine.  The world had been very gray this season with lots of rain, which California has so badly needed, but the storms came one following another, often without a break.  Ken does better when the days are long, light and bright.  Each year, it has become more of a struggle getting through the dark months.  I’ve often said that December 21, is my favorite day of the year because the sun begins its return journey “home” to our house.

I looked at the time — a little before six — time enough to stop a few doors from Radio Shack and pick up a few more items at CVS Drugs.  While we were out, we might as well get everything on my list, I thought to myself, and no crowds.  I’ve always liked to shop during the dinner hour.  Nearing the checkout and with no one in line I noticed a bargain I couldn’t pass up: sugar and flour at an amazing price.  Placing two bags of each in our cart, we were still nearly alone in the store.  We paid for our purchases and moved quickly outside to the car.  

Inside our older 1995 Ford Explorer I buckled my seat belt.  “Do you have your seat belt on?” I asked Ken.  “Yes,” he answered, pointing to the belt around his waist.  When his focus is on the belt holding his pants in place, I know I can’t change his thinking.  I don’t even try.  Unbuckling my own seat belt, I leaned over to him placing my right arm around his back and the other in front of him.  Handing my left hand his seat belt I then guided the locking piece into its slot.  Moving back into my own place I rebuckled my own seat belt.

I made ready to exit the parking lot, waiting until traffic from both directions had cleared, and then began my entrance into the intersection.  Crossing the clear west-bound lane, I passed easily into the medium strip turning into the inner east-bound lane.

From the corner of my eye I had noticed the solid double line of cars coming from the direction of the freeway.  How odd they looked in the blackness — almost surreal.  Blending together in my glance the moving vehicles appeared to be a horde of great prowling beasts with enormous yellow eyes, appearing almost liquid in their pack-like movement.  Suddenly one of the automobiles — a maverick of sorts — pulled away from the mass of cars, crossing into the medium lane.  Puzzlement ran through my mind.   Was he getting ahead of the other cars using what was an illegal passing lane?  But noted he hadn’t made the necessary hard-right turn which would have placed him parallel with that line of traffic; possibly a left turn?  In any event, he was pointed in a diagonal path toward me.  I was not concerned as I believed he had time to correct his direction.  Convinced he would make the adjustment, I focused on my own traffic lane.  Within mere moments my world went black.

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My friend, Kenny, (not to be confused with my son Kenney nor my husband, Ken) loves winter and everything about it: the cold outside and the warmth inside, the threatening storm clouds filled with buckets of rain, and a blustery north wind eventually pushing him home for a cup of steaming hot chocolate, but most of all he loves Christmas and all that it represents.  And one of his favorite Christmas songs is “Silver Bells.”  No doubt written long before he was born, he hums the melody and chants the words reminding me of another time and place when Ken and I were young and living in the “City.”  The city for us being San Francisco.

We lived in a one-bedroom flat just north of Twin Peaks and three long blocks up the hill from Market Street.   Then it was down the hill to Market Street where we would catch any street car taking us downtown to shop.  Unlike my friend, Kenny, I never did memorize all  of the words to “Silver Bells,” but bits and pieces spring to mind when I think of me and Ken shopping for our first Christmas in the city.  Let’s see, what were some of the words?  “City sidewalks, busy sidewalks dressed in Holiday style……….”   Then it spoke of “children laughing, people smiling….,”   and somewhere it told of shoppers hurrying home with their treasures —  and the bells —  “Ring-a-ling, hear them sing….soon it will be Christmas Day….”  It is such a joyful song and the lyrics tell it just the way it was — and possibly still is — somewhere.   

I remember the two of us being part of the happy crowds along Market Street, dodging raindrops as we wandered from one department store to another until we reached the Emporium which was our favorite.  The windows were a panorama of Christmas, mostly winter scenes with colorful lights and delightfully animated.  Everywhere you could see the Salvation Army bell-ringers next to a donation kettle and when you listened you could hear “Ring-a-ling.”   Whether the writers of the song were thinking of the donation kettles we never knew, but it didn’t — and doesn’t — matter.  That’s who we always thought of when we heard the song — and to this day it’s their image — the bell-ringers for the Salvation Army that enters my mind when I hear “Silver Bells.”

A week and a half before Christmas when Ken and I walked through the neighborhood to see the lights and he remembered he hadn’t done any Christmas shopping, I promised him we would go the following week.  Of course, he didn’t remember his remark, but we went shopping anyway.  My list had a few empty spots so we drove to the Mall three nights in a row; short trips so Ken didn’t get too tired.  

I like the Malls.  They are warm and dry and convenient, but this year, somehow, I missed getting wet and I’m not sure if I noticed as many smiling faces and laughing children, but most of all I missed the bells.  In front of the Post Office, there was a bell-ringer and a donation kettle, but I don’t believe I saw any others.  I doubt that San Francisco’s Market Street would be any different.  The Emporium has long since been absorbed by Macy’s, its glory days gone, the display windows dark  and forgotten.  I miss that almost innocent, joyful spirit  from long ago — you know — the way you feel when you watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,”  and I wonder if the bell-ringers and the donation kettles are as few and far between in San Francisco as they were here.    Not having them  …….”on every street corner”…… with their silver bells somehow diminishes the celebration of the Season and sharing our abundance.  

The year 2009 is now a Christmas past.  The hustle-bustle is over and so is the cherished music of the season.  I doubt we’ll be hearing “Silver Bells” any time soon and the donation kettle in front of the post office is gone.   

Our Christmas with family went very well and Ken was fine.  However, his AD has advanced considerably since last Christmas.  Opening gifts was meaningless to him even though I coached him through the procedure.  Our daughter-in-law, Sabina, and our granddaughter, Jessica, baked him some cookies.  He was impressed with that gift.  “These are mine,” he proclaimed.  I thought to myself, “A bit of enthusiasm, how nice.”  While each passing year comes with a little more melancholy, I still acknowledge that I have much for which to be grateful, and I periodically pause to express my thanks to the All Mighty.   

Tomorrow, though, I think I’ll go to the Mall and pick up some silver bells at one of the big “After Christmas Holiday Decoration Sales,” but, I won’t be packing them away.  Instead, I’ll keep them close by and ring them joyfully to remind me to keep counting my blessings and that in spite of AD, life is good.

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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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