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!





The Social Butterfly

12 03 2010

Shop Girl and I took the “twins” on an outing the other day.  Well, they aren’t exactly twins – they are 992 months apart – but there are some remarkable similarities.  I kept getting wide-eyed looks from Shop Girl that made me laugh…looks that spoke volumes without even having to see her mouth form silent screams and “OMG!”s.

The brick path outlining the five-story tropical garden isn’t long but taking time to see all the gorgeous butterflies that were flitting around our heads was worth enduring the suffocating humidity and 80º microclimate.  Managing that space with a stroller and a senior was the real trip.  Reminders to “Watch where you’re going!” and what NOT to touch rang out as if Donny Diva was a two-year-old even though those comments weren’t directed to him.

One of my biggest struggles is dealing with the Mrs. outside of her normal environment.  If it is me, visiting her on her turf and just the two of us – that I can do.  Take her out of that, reacting to other people, in “normal” conversation, managing unfamiliar territory either geographically or emotionally, and I’m stretched.

I remember feeling this way with Best Boy and Shop Girl even though there are 18 months that separate them. In our own space, the normal routines of them playing together, sometimes fighting but generally being pleasant – I really liked them.  There were situations and certain friends where the chemistry between all the components sent the delicate balance into chaos.  They could be asked questions and I couldn’t control how they’d answer.  I didn’t know how they’d react – what they’d say that would embarrass me.  Over-stimulation of easily taxed brains had consequences long after the actual events were over.  I’d breathe a deep sigh of relief to be back in the surroundings that I could control.

That’s how I felt on my return trip after dropping the Mrs. off at her home last Monday afternoon.  A bridal shower and fortnightly Sunday clan gathering was WAY too much stimulation – too many conversations, too many food choices, too much fun…it was time for a nap.

Social gatherings in her company feel like mine fields to me.  I had to find another punch cup for a niece at the Saturday night soirée because the Mrs. was drinking from the cup on her snack tray AND the one my niece had placed beside her own chair on the floor.  We’d laugh if Donny Diva was doing that but it takes a bizarre twist with the older twin.  When asked to give a word of advice to the soon-to-be-bride, she started a tale that went back to when her mother died when she was only 14…then WWII was thrown in there somewhere and her brothers off to war- till I let it twist and turn just a bit more – and chimed in to get her back on track.  Some 36 hours later when we got out of the car at the butterfly exhibit, I noticed she was still wearing the Mardi Gras beads we’d used for a shower game…they were white and looked like pearls to her.

So what I am really dealing with here is both ends of childhood.  The first part is amusing, cute and entertaining.  The other end makes me feel embarrassed and I don’t like that.  I don’t want to be talking down to her – nagging her – always challenging her.  So as a parent of my very late in life child, I’m having to reach back to my own experience and remember that there is still a fragile ego inside of her.  I need to be as tender and patient with her as I am with Donny Diva.  I have to remember that this caregiving gig isn’t about my comfort – it’s about continuing to give her a quality life experience.

With the exception of regular church gatherings and doctor’s appointments, weddings and funerals are about the only other things that become red-letter days on her calendar any more.  So I will do my best till it is no longer practical or safe to be her driver/chaperone.  I feel a little like Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy but the prejudice I battle is neither racial nor religious.  It is the prejudice I carry inside – the one that used to apply to kidlettes that we wanted seen NOT heard and the “inconvenience” of aging and all the unknowns in that future.

Just like that yearly exhibit that is here one day and seemingly gone the next…I need to keep the perspective that Spring only comes once a year.  I don’t know how many more weddings, funerals, births or birthdays are left on her calendar and the least I can do for her is to make it feel like there are lots of candy dishes to sample right up until the very end.





after alice

7 02 2010

“What a curious feeling!” said Alice. “I must be shutting up like a telescope!”

And so it was indeed: she was now only ten inches high, and her face brightened up at the thought that she was now the right size for going through the little door into that lovely garden. First, however, she waited for a few minutes to see if she was going to shrink any further: she felt a little nervous about this; “for it might end, you know,” said Alice to herself; “in my going out altogether, like a candle. I wonder what I should be like then?” And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle looks like after the candle is blown out, for she could not remember ever having seen such a thing.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

I expected to be able to write last week with staying in one place and all but I couldn’t.  I brought the Mrs. here while the Dr. was getting his passport stamped again and thought that simplifying my duties under one roof with caregiving the beasties and the Bubbe-Mrs. that my brain would function.

It was more like Alice’s tumble down the rabbit hole – falling slowly enough to be aware of everything around me but unable to grab hold.

The week was relatively quiet with hours of Fox news, word search puzzles with the glorious switch over to the Dog Whisperer when I couldn’t take the talking heads one more minute.  There was a simple routine to our days and I kept quiet so as not to make her think that I had better things to do and making her feel that she was just in the way.  Obviously there are always a million things to do but if I’ve learned anything from Cesar it has everything to do with the energy one projects to the beasts they are trying to tame – calm, assertive leadership to achieve balance.

Before we knew it – the time had come to take her back home and it was right.  She was ready to be in her own space – doing things that make her feel productive.  Things that I would never dream of doing if I were bored – like washing and drying a china cabinet full of Candlewick.

Meanwhile another kind of tumble resulted in a broken wrist for the F-I-L which complicated his chauffeur duties for the M-I-L who was just about to embark on her second cataract surgery in 2 weeks time.  So with the Mrs. safely and soundly back in her own space, I took to helping them out with some doctor’s appointments.

This last week helping out aging parents, I am more aware than ever of the frustration inherent in the process.  It’s like we are all merrily strolling through life when suddenly we find ourselves tumbling down a rabbit hole without a clue as to what we will face at the bottom.  The Mrs. says she doesn’t know who took her “seventies”.  Suddenly she’s solidly in her eighties and can’t account for how she got here.  I watched the frustration on M-I-L’s face as the audiologist tinkered with the buttons and knobs on her hearing aids.  It’s annoying to have technology that doesn’t always cut the mustard leaving her with the inability to hear and has all but given up that there is any hope for a smooth transition to an in-between place.

So how can I age gracefully?  How do I embrace the natural aging process surrounded by a world telling me a gazillion ways and a gazillion times a day that younger is better?  I loath certain hair styles on balding men.  I vomit a little in my mouth when I see inappropriately dressed middle-aged women. The adds on my facebook page tell me that 54 year old women just like me are buying pink UGGS and am I sure I don’t want a pair? Really?  Can’t we all just act our age?  (Except that this doesn’t count for the 65 year old members of The Who rockin’ out at the SuperBowl right now.)

At the same time,  the internal wrestling match between my hopes, dreams and unmet desires and the fact that getting out of bed in the morning is accompanied by more aches and pains than when I hit the sheets, is a daily reality.

Can I drink the potion and follow Alice?  Can I change and still be the same?  Can I gracefully tweak my expectations of what I think I’m entitled to?  Can I deal with the disparity between what I expected to be mine in this season and embrace the reality of what IS? Will I just telescope down or go out like a candle?

I’m not saying I don’t do the things I can to help improve my situation – it’s called a fist full of supplements morning and night.  Then there is that exercise thing – that I’d don’t do morning or night.  It really has more to do with finding myself looking at the Mrs. and Shop Girl and remembering that I was where she is and she was where I am.  I used to be Shop Girl – now I’m the Mrs.  I just keep looking at the Mrs.,  MIL and FIL and wondering how Shop Girl and Best Boy will treat me in another few years when life is spinning and they’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole with the rest of us.

No telling how that will go but for now, I’m just going to go through that garden gate – I’ve got that little golden key.  It’s all part of the adventure.  You’ll just have to ask Alice when she’s ten feet tall…