squinting in a fog

6 08 2010

12We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

The Message / Eugene Peterson / 1 Corinthians 13

Squinting in a fog.  I grew up hearing it “peering through a glass, darkly.”

After a Friday night wedding the Dr. and I had attended a few weeks ago, I decided to light the candles that reside in the fireplace during the warmer months and just sit quietly for a bit before pretending to sleep.  At the back of the grouping is a mirror and when I grabbed my camera just for fun, I toyed with capturing some reflections in that dark glass.

Those words quoted above are at the end of one of the most used portions of the Bible spoken at wedding ceremonies and this June and July between the Mrs.’ social calendar and ours – I’ve heard it in a couple of different recitations.  We all know those words so well that even the most casual knowledge of the sacred texts would be able to do a fair job quoting it.  The whole, “Love is this, love is that, love isn’t this and love isn’t that…,” is what  everyone knows.  But the words that come a little further down the page have caught my attention.  “We don’t see things clearly yet…”

Seated with the Mrs. at a banquet table last month, I must have explained a half a dozen times that the little fork nestled at the top of the dinner plate would be used for our cake later that evening.  With each time she asked the same question in a little different way, I felt the others around the circle squirming in their seats.  I know there are those who wonder if I am aware of how she seems to be “slipping”.  Oh, I’m aware that you are NOT aware of the following:

The statistics are sobering:

  • More than 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease today.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the 5th leading cause for those 55 and older.
  • One out of every eight people 65 and older has the disease. And for those over the age of 85, this number jumps to almost one out of every two.
  • One fourth of all home care involves care for an Alzheimer’s patient.
  • Those with Alzheimer’s Disease are three times more likely to face hospitalization and eight times more likely to need skilled nursing care.
  • 75% of care is provided by family caregivers.
  • When baby boomers reach 65 in 2011, these numbers will skyrocket and an epidemic will be upon us.

That’s right…seated at our table of 8, the majority of whom were my age, more than one of us will be in the same boat in the blink of an eye.

Squinting in a fog…is she squinting or am I?  I feel like we need to get a bit of a grip on some of the basics so that we can teach our children how we want to be treated.  Many of us in this present boat are just beginning to enjoy the new role of grandparenting.  Seeing the world through new eyes can be so entertaining – so delightful – and so tiring all at once.

I find infinite stores of patience to wrap my hands around Donny Diva’s as he’s learning to stack blocks, or grasp a spoon, but do I sigh too much when I have to bend over to help her tie her shoes or open that pesky little milk carton so she can have her lunch?  He’s not talking yet – but before I turn around twice we’ll be having conversations about any number of things.  People aren’t generally reserved when talking to pre-schoolers and usually just let the conversation flow where it might.  But I see how easily the elderly, especially those who are known to have “issues” with their memories,  get sidelined from social conversations.

Why can’t that same rule apply?  Just go with the flow.  If she wants to talk about the same thing over and over again – she really doesn’t mind because she’s not remembering it.  If time-machine memory takes her back to her own wedding – let her go there.  If she mixes up the names of the father of the groom with the grandfather of the groom with the groom, just patiently retrace the family tree for her.  It’s just conversation people, it’s not brain surgery.

In the end  – we are all squinting in the fog…thinking we have a handle on life, we have it figured out, we have our course laid out before us and we just have to get down to the business of putting our noses to the grind stone.  Reality is – that we are all squinting to see our own reflections in that dark glass.  To God, Alzheimer’s or not, none of us has a clue as to what we’re talking about.  We do not know what our futures hold.  So while I’m here trying to navigate the pea soup (that’s what Billy used to call fog), I’m going to just do what that sacred text suggests:  while I’m waiting for the completeness, I’m going to trust steadily, hope unswervingly and love extravagantly…even if it means going to more weddings.

Oh, and here’s a great article to help with your next social gathering…and you might want to put a copy on your fridge for your kids to see before you forget!



10 06 2010

Last Saturday, I took Donny Diva and Shop Girl down to surprise the Mrs.  I learned a long time ago that it is best not to talk about plans ahead of time so as not to disappoint if things don’t work out.  Besides, if she would have known they were in the car with me she would have gone to Ace Hardware and bought all the baby-proofing gadgets she could find.

While I did my usual duties around the house and running out to get groceries, etc., they just visited.  I don’t know who was more entertained by the whole thing – the Mrs. or Donny Diva.  The giggles and laughs were about equal when it was all said and done.  It reminded me of some of the similarities that Billy and Tractor Baby shared two years ago (you can read about that here).  Before we wrapped up our visit, Shop Girl sat down at the piano with Donny Diva on her lap.  It took him just a minute or two to get the hang of the physics lesson of action-reaction.  Suddenly he was “twinklin’ ” on the piano – that’s what Billy used to call it when Shop Girl would play.

So I guess that alot of what happens in life is that we end up where we started from.  Sometimes our hands don’t work like we want them to.  We need more naps.  Our view of the world as a whole can be limited to what is happening in our house and our most immediate surroundings.  And more often than not, social gatherings can be intimidating.  When we went to a graduation open house the other day, the best Donny Diva could do was to bury his head in a cousin’s shoulder to help him cope with all the people that wanted to kiss on his face.  Eventually he warmed up and all was fine.  It just took a few minutes.

The Mrs. feels like that too – but there was no shoulder to share.   She was at an open house on the same day and told me later that it all made her feel very lonely.  She was very aware of feeling like the “odd man out” as she puts it.  Surrounded by couples, all old friends, feeling like she didn’t belong.  She missed Billy something fierce.

Hearing about how she felt made me defensive.  It gets my ire up when we routinely plow over the elderly but would never treat a toddler that way.  We are impatient with their inability to move like they used to, their lack of desire to do what they used to or just their general state of “winding down”.  A conversation with her can jump from the 1920’s to 2010 mid-sentence and takes all kinds of special abilities to maintain sanity.  I’ll be the first to admit that  I don’t have the stamina it takes to be Donny Diva’s full time caregiver and I get equally tired when I have to deal with the Mrs. for days on end.  But none of that is like  a friend of mine who is being taxed on a moment by moment basis as she is an only child dealing with her mom’s Alzheimer’s.

So all I ask is that when you are out and about running around in your world with all your fingers working just like they are supposed to and mentally juggling a million things at once – if you find yourself in line behind someone with more gray hair than is on your head – be kind.  Be patient.  Be personal.  You may be the only person that speaks to them all day and you’ll turn around twice in life and you will be that old person.  There is no escaping that reality.  There is a new generation stepping on your heels ready to sit down to take their turn twinklin’ on the piano.

christmas cookies

19 12 2009

The Mrs. was a working girl.  When I was in elementary school she went back to working full time and continued to do so until after she and Billy had put three kids through college and I was married.  Elaborately decorated Christmas cookies were never her style but she’d find time to bake between doing laundry and housekeeping on those weeks leading up to the Holidays.  Mexican wedding cakes, pecan tarts and peanut butter blossoms to name a few would be around the house for snacking and sharing.

This year it was just before Thanksgiving that she started to make noises about getting the ingredients for the peanut butter blossoms – those ones with the chocolate Hershey’s kiss on top.  It used to be Billy’s job to unwrap the candy as she prepared the dough. It goes without saying that lots has changed since those days.

There was a profound bewilderment in her eyes as she said, “I just get all screwed up…I don’t know what’s wrong with my memory.”  She wonders out loud about why a simple recipe that she’s done so many times before with such success seems so overwhelming to her now.  I talk about the realities of aging (I chose to not use the D word – dementia) and motor planning.  I’ve been witness to hundreds of hours of physical and occupational therapy working as an interpreter at a rehab hospital and with wonder been a casual observer of the fragile nature of our gray matter.  Sometimes I’d get to see the lights come back on and other times – the lights were out for good.

She insisted that she’d made the peanut butter cookies and another batch. “You know those ones with the cereal and the melted marshmallows?” I got excited thinking that I’d be soon snacking on rice crispy treats while I balanced her check book, filed bills and spent time on the phone taking Billy’s name off all the utilities and switch over the auto-pay billing to a new checking account we had to open in her name alone.

But she couldn’t remember where she had put them.  I defaulted to what I had told the Fabulous Mrs. T not long ago. “There is always a thread…there is always some logic behind the twisted thinking.”  A few months ago our dear family friend had stopped by for a cup of coffee with the Mrs. and as soon as she got home to her computer – she quickly pounded out an email to me concerned about the confusion in the Mrs. mind about when Billy had passed away, etc.  I could easily explain all the faulty thinking probably because I am a lunatic myself at this point and it all makes perfect sense.  Some call it denial – I call it coping.

Back to the missing cookies – as if I am a a principal actor on CSI, I try to uncover the truth.  She had gone to the store to gather ingredients – the receipt I found proved that she’d found the baking aisle and brought home brown sugar, powdered sugar (enough to make cookies from now until next Christmas) and a box of puffed wheat cereal.  She explained that she’d not been able to find the one that was specifically listed and figured if she just got one of the same brand (Post) then it would all be the same.

I had a hunch…I went to the front closet and there sat a pan of “cookies”.  See, that closet is cold and not insulated and if the recipe says to “store in a cool place”…then why wouldn’t she put the cookies there?  And once I got a look at the pan, there was even more clarity.

There is a fine physics involved in baking.  Baking powder and baking soda can’t be substituted one for the other.  Rice crispy cereal can’t be substituted with a puffed wheat cereal – or at least not without a very distinct result.  I gently reminded her that a Ford Fiesta is not the same as a Ford F-150 truck…but when she doesn’t really understand or comprehend she gets this look on her face and nods with a half smile like you do agreeing with a two-year old about some preposterous statement they’ve just made. To her it was all the same.  And in a way, it’s all the same to me too.

She just wanted to make some cookies for the Holidays.  I learned a valuable lesson.  I need to hear her words…listen to the intent behind them.  I need to stop my busy life and with grace – as much as is humanly possible –  just help her do those things that give her some sense of fulfillment.  I could have avoided this whole mess if I would have taken the time to be with her while she made those cookies she felt she needed to have in the house.  But I live on a teeter-tooter full of tensions…struggling to keep my balance between the things I want to do, should do, have to do and those that are my responsibility to do. Always straddling the center – never really in one world or the other – always somewhere in the middle.

I feel her slipping away – tired of things that once made her excited.  Maybe it is happening to me too – I haven’t decorated for the last three Christmases and if I stop to review I find the thread that I told the Fab Mrs. T about…this time of the year has become sad to me.  One year it was a Dec. 17th pink slip for the Dr., another was a Christmas morning visit with Billy that I called 911 when he couldn’t get out of his chair – (the paramedics were sure it was nothing but I stood there watching him have a TIA), another was spent in the hospital with Best Boy having his gut re-opened.

There will be new memories soon enough when Donny Diva is up and running around and I’ll be that Momo that decorates and bakes. I’ll get it back.  Right now I’m stretched…doing it for the Mrs. makes me not want to do the same here and have two messes to clean in January.  Mine own is mess enough any time of the year.

So here’s a big head’s up to Sister Sib and Nascar Guy about the cookies awaiting them.  Enjoy them with big smiles on your faces next weekend as you sit with her around the tiny little pitiful tree sparkling away in her TV room.  Know they were made with lots of love.  And please let me know if you find the peanut butter blossoms she supposedly made.

doohickeys and whatchamacallits

7 05 2009

DSC_0084For Shop Girl – it is Nordstrom’s Rack.  For me – the hardware store.  Those places where just stepping inside makes your heart race just a little faster as your eyes dart back and forth at all the glory.  I go with a single purchase in mind and come out with something entirely different- even at times forgetting what I went there for in the first place.

It happened like that for me last week while I was at the Mrs.’ place.  Whatever it was I went for, was soon forgotten when, blinded like Paul on the Damascus Road, I mysteriously found myself standing yet again in front of the “Wall of Wonder” – the paint chips.  I never tire of stealing hands full  at a time for no good reason.  Well, I do have my reasons even if I never get around to purchasing a quantity that would fit in a gallon bucket.  Buying those itty bitty sampler jars doesn’t hurt at all and they don’t guilt you into commitment.  Genius – those wonderkins at Benjamin Moore that came up with that marketing ploy.  No wait! – I remember why I am am looking at these colors – a friend who lives 300 miles away is looking for new colors for her livingroom.  Or is it me…?

I blame Billy for my hopeless addiction to hardware stores.  There was nothing he couldn’t fix or at least attempt to fix.  Just last summer there was something wonky with their toaster one evening and I had plans to just toss it and get another one the next day knowing it had probably been around twice its normal life expectancy.  Magically the next morning it was working fine and in commenting on it, Billy piped up claiming to have been up all night, taking it all apart and fixing it.  There was NO WAY I was sleeping THAT deeply on the couch 5 feet away.  Maybe by then, he just did it by some means of psychokinesis – maybe we understand less about dementia than we think.

Regardless, I have inherited the DIY (do-it-yourself) approach to simple home repairs.  Plus, I have a leg-up with YouTube.  What’s not to love?  Or one better – my other addiction to HGTV.  Never mind that what I don’t have are the fifty people off camera to do all the heavy lifting, time-lapse photography that isn’t shown with the time code running, a mobile tool shed the size of Montana, a MegaMillions budget and the yummy carpenters to boot.

Since we seem to have passed the Big Thaw here in the Arctic Circle AND I finally got around to storing the garden hose sometime in Februrary, I have been noticing that the outside faucet was dripping ever so slowly and steadily – wetting the side of the house right where there is a seismic gap between driveway and the foundation large enough to stick my fist in. With my recently acquired first hand knowledge and terror of what water in a basement can mean when it is ignored for years, I was going to put a stop to it immediately.

In less than ten minutes, I had the entire faucet in hand (after shutting off the water valve you idiot!) and was inside my handy Ace-is-the-place-with-the-helpful-hareware-man store.  Lady #1 with the ear piece sent me to the correct aisle  and alerted any staff hiding away somewhere in the bowels of the store sorting penny nails that a customer needed help and let them know my “20”.  I pawed through the wall of cute little bins and waited.  Finally settling on what I thought I needed, she noticed me again and barked into  her mouth piece that the “customer has been waiting a LONG time for help!!!” and would someone please respond.

As I stood there with two gizmos in hand, another red-vested woman appeared and I foolishly thought this was going to be another “dispatcher” – “Are you finding what you’re looking for?”  I just wanted confirmation that I wasn’t getting a boiler drain or gas feed – she looked at the original I held and pointed to the 3/4″ and said “That one!”  I turned it over and over in my hand trying to see what markings had made her so sure.

“How did you do that?  It looks just like the 1/2”?

“Honey, after 31 years of looking at sillcocks – you’ve seen one- you’ve seen them all…you can tell the size just by looking at them!” In that moment, I was overwhelmed with jealousy – I wanted to BE her.

A sillcock!  Yes – this was no ordinary doohickey (Billy’s favorite utilitarian hardware word)…it was in fact a sillcock.  Not  – “outdoor-faucet-where-you-hook-up-your-garden-hose”.  I’m dying to know just how it got its name!

I could hardly wait to get home and the Dr. knew I was up to no good when I stood on the back porch – two sillcocks in hand- with a huge grin on my face.  “Are you proud of yourself?”  Silly boy – of course, I was!  I grabbed my Teflon tape (any girl worth her salt always has a roll on hand) and a few “righty-tightitys” later and a jog to the basement to turn the shut-off valve back on – and we were in business.  But all was not said and done until I asked the Dr. to check to see if his sillcock was dripping.  I love my job!


this again?

17 02 2009


I’ll be the first to admit that I am often stuck in a rut when in comes to creative meals but seriously?  I know…one is the flavor of the day…and the other is an entrée but just seeing them together this way made me laugh.

Billy was a MickeyD’s kinda guy but she’s stepped it up to Culver’s.  Yes, you can tell me how bad it is for her and how she shouldn’t eat one a week – but at 82…if she wants a single deluxe…I get her a single deluxe basket with onion rings, by the way!

It was another daytrip for me – squeezing in my job as a pharmacist, supervisor of water softener salt, garbage man, accountant and grocery shopper- into just a few hours. Another task came my way unexpectedly which delayed my return trip north by a number of hours.

A week ago she had a call from a friend asking about the experience with hospice. Ruth Ann’s husband’s time at the hospital had come to an end and hospice had been suggested. The Mrs. felt good about being able to just share her perspectives on the subject.  

A couple of different times during the past week, she got in her car and drove over to the hospice center see her friend but missed her each time.  I was proud – the courage it must take to re-enter the space where she’d just said good-bye to her life partner of 60 years-to walk beside another facing the same situation. Ruth Ann’s time there with her husband only lasted a week and he died on Valentine’s Day.

So, when I walked into the house yesterday at around 11 a.m. the Mrs. was all dressed and ready to go to the viewing.  She’d mixed up the times and it wasn’t until late afternoon in a neighboring city about 15 miles away.  Anytime I think about her driving more than the 3 miles, in town-to church, I get nervous.  I just have to deep breathe and remember that I’ve lived through this before with young teen drivers a dozen years ago and can do it again. But if I can save myself one ounce of worry by taking the trip with her, I will.

The hours until the viewing were passed with lunch and my buzzing through my list of things to check on.  We got in the car and I was at her mercy to direct me to the funeral home.  She had no doubt how to get there. One of the good things is that Billy taught her to back road.  If there is a county road that goes in the same direction…it is always the preferred route.  That was some comfort knowing that she was going to be driving this route again in a few days for another outing on her busy social calendar.

She’s still sharp enough to know her way around and her directions were impeccable. I let her off at the front door, helped her inside then sat out in a parking lot watching couples in their 70’s and 80’s tetter in – along with lots of single elderly women.  I waited almost an hour before sneaking in to make sure she’d not passed out somewhere.  There she was – sitting with her famous “Lunch Bunch”…all high school friends that try to get together once a month for a gathering.  She was saddened to learn that since Billy’s death, two or three of her friends have also lost their husbands.  It’s a new club…they may all be widowed…or soon to be.  Ruth Ann – the latest inductee.

In the twenty minute ride back to her house, she told me about six different times that two or three of her friends had been widowed since Billy’s death.  I just listened and acknowledged each declaration as if it had been the first.  I knew her brain was on overload.  Then she launched into memories of Billy’s funeral – she doesn’t remember much save staring into the stoic yet tear-stained faces of her grandsons as they stood behind the flag draped coffin. And she remembers being “tickled pink” that her grandkids dragged her outside for a group picture that she cherishes with all her heart.

Our little adventure was over.  I got her back inside and settled for the night before my own return trip north as the sun was hanging low in the sky.  It had been great little detour.  More time to process.  More time to talk.  One less outing that I’ll fret over her taking the car out alone.

This week she’ll be taking those keys in her hand alot.  Today is the funeral, then she’ll skip the burial to head off to a luncheon for the seniors at church. On Thursday, she’ll drive the route we did over the country road another 15 miles to where she’ll meet one of her Lunch Bunch ladies.  They’ll carpool (with the other one driving) to a restaurant where they’ll meet up with the others. 

I’ll try and not stare at the clock all day…waiting for her call late in the afternoon and breathe a sigh of relief that she’s home safe and sound.  She’ll tell me that two or three of the ladies have lost their husbands since Billy died and I’ll act as if it is the first time I’m hearing the news.

So what? Sew buttons!

19 01 2009


I’ll have to ask her where it really came from.  It was painted a minty green in the 70’s – I know that.  It’s always been tucked in corners of the house, not taking up too much room but has always been the safeguarder of all things sewing.  I opened a drawer the other day to find a gazillion pairs of scissors and asked if maybe she could get rid of a pair or two.  “No, they are all good and they are mine.”  Good to know.


As I was falling asleep the other night just around the corner from this little mini-cupboard, I thought about what was tucked in the bottom drawer.  The beloved button jars.  Two vintage glass peanut butter jars jammed with buttons of every shape, size and color.


Early matching game for bored youngster or a chance to count out large numbers – I remember playing with the buttons and feeling like I wanted to eat them they were so pretty.


Now I think about all the frocks they bejeweled…where are they?  What happened to them after they lost some of their sparkle?  Were the buttons saved when the material wore out?  Were the buttons found in the vacuum cleaner bag or in corners of dark closets?  Are some of these buttons hand-me-downs from a Grandmother I never knew?

Yeah, they are just buttons.  A lowly tool we use a million times a day and barely think about.  I learned to never take that for granted when I worked in the rehab hospital and would sit in therapies where people would have to re-learn that skill that for you is barely a blip in your brain.  But it can be lost as I remember all too vividly watching Billy struggle with those “little buggers”.  “How can I be such a nincompoop?”

Like arrowheads tucked into the mud…remnants of lost civilizations, I hereby commit to be the keeper of the buttons.

On the good ship lollipop

9 01 2009


On the good ship lollipop 
Its a night trip into bed you hop 
And dream away 
On the good ship lollipop


Yesterday was another visit to the doctor’s office.  It’ll probably take another two dozen times before I will NOT be overwhelmed with memories of the three of us going…now that we are just two.

Because he takes such good notes, the doctor remembered that she was “due” for another round of the MMSE (mini-mental state exam).  Now that a few more months post-funeral are under the belt, we needed to see where we were at.

The question round began.  The year came off without a hitch.  The month…skipped to February.  Day of the week was answered with a question in the voice then affirmed.  The date went, “the 8th!”, “no, maybe the 9th…no wait…”, “8th?”, “well…maybe, no…”, “yes, the 8th I think”  

“So is 8th your answer?”  “Ummm, yes…no…8th?..yes…8th!”

Some things that were wrong last time – were on the money this time around. Following the verbal directions wasn’t a problem.  Then the kicker…”Remember these three words: pencil, cat and truck.”  She repeated them.

On to the next thing – write out a sentence.  He asked politely that she not tell him where to go as someone last week had followed instructions and in fact had written a sentence reading, “Dr. D, go to hell!”  She wrote her sentence and he asked for those three words.

“What three words?”  “Those three words that you repeated.”  “I don’t know what three words you’re talking about…can you give me a hint?”   “No.” “Hummm, I don’t know.”  He said them aloud and she just shook her head like he was speaking Urdu.

On with the other tasks – spelling world backwards (skipped a letter, self-corrected, repeated with affirmation), copying a drawing, following written instructions to close her eyes, naming objects he pointed out (“well, that’s a telephone – that’s a pen,” chirped out with a hint of “you fool” in her voice).

All told – we are right where we were a few months ago.  Six shy of where I wish we could be.  We need to change up some blood pressure meds next week. What she’s been on since October isn’t really doing the trick.  Her pulse is low.  She cried a bit talking about their anniversary coming up next week (even tho in trying to remember what month we were in – she’d forgotten that she’d not yet celebrated her birthday/anniversary).

On the way out, I stopped to make her next appointment for early spring when we will start on what we call “memory meds”.  I can’t let the dreaded words out of my mouth yet…we still have Billy war-wounds that are a tad raw.

I laughed as I helped myself to a big huge cherry sucker in Billy’s honor…he would have grabbed a handful and the nurses would have just snickered. There is still a stash at the house in case any “little ones” come by.

On the gray two hour drive home, with that taste reminiscent of Luden’s Cherry Cough drops in my mouth…I tried NOT to feel like I was headed into a storm though the clouds were low and pregnant.  After all, we ended up on the “easy” scale with Billy.  He never wandered, never had to be fed, never forgot to call me “the Boss”…his ticker just quit first.

So just like Shirley’s sweet little voice reminding us that a good dose of dreaming can help us out…I took my time with that lollipop and never bit down on it.  I need to just take it for what it is ‘coz I don’t know what’s next.