Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Picking Apples

Delicious apples from our garden!
Last year at this time, my dear husband brought buckets and buckets of apples into the house for me to process. Even the teeny, tiny, one-inch-wide ones. He saw them on the tree, they were (thankfully) ripe, so he picked them for me.

I was slightly aggravated that he thought I could take care of them all at once like that on top of my other duties, which, on that particular day, included my job (I was still working then). I had already picked the ones I planned to use for the first batch, and leaving some on the tree for a couple of days wasn't going to hurt anything.

Today, a Facebook post reminded me that the apples might be ready, so I went out to check on the tree. Sure enough, beautiful, juicy Gravensteins teased me from the upper limbs. I got a box and a short stepladder, and I started picking as my dear husband looked on distractedly or wandered around the garden. Up and down the ladder I went, depositing the apples in the box.

As I graduated to a taller ladder, he asked if he could help. Climbing up a shaky ladder is probably not the best idea for him (or for me, come to think of it), so I started handing the picked fruit down to him, asking him to place it in the box for me. This he mostly did, when he wasn't distracted or bringing apples back to me or putting them in his pockets or wandering off.

This is a small, not-very-significant thing, I know. But it's a demonstration of a couple of things: First, be thankful in all things. For instance, in retrospect, I should have been thankful last year when he picked apples on his own. Second, life can change dramatically in a very short time. In some cases, instantly. Live each day as it comes. See the first thing. Repeat.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Don't Kick Me When I'm Down

When this disease pops up, each "new thing" is a fresh trauma. You don't know if it's a one-time thing, if it's going to happen repeatedly, or if it's going to get worse. You just know that, for you and your loved one, everything is now different. Maybe not dramatically so yet, but definitely traumatically so.

And if you've had a parent or other relative who's had Alzheimer's, and now your spouse has it, you can't help but remember and compare (though, to be fair, there is absolutely no comparison between caring for a parent and caring for a spouse). So, even though your spouse might just have some beginning symptoms, you relive the trauma you felt when your parent did the same thing, and you project your current situation down the road to its logical conclusion. It's a hard thing, because you know what's probably coming. You hope it won't be the same, but you know it definitely might. And the thought of it brings you to tears as you quake inside in desperation.

Those who are farther down the path or have seen it before might discount what you're going through presently; however, it's important for them to realize that, for you, this seemingly minor thing that's happening is confirmation that your life has changed. And not for the better. Your dreams have been deferred or extinguished, though you might not want to admit it yet. Your future is not what you'd imagined it would be. Is that dramatic? Sure. But this disease is a dramatic thing, a thief that laughs at you and kicks you when you're down.

If you're currently tempted to downplay the upheaval that's going on in a friend's life because it just doesn't seem that bad to you, please rethink your reaction. Your friend needs your understanding, not your bromides and platitudes. Maybe you know how hard it's going to be for your friend later. Please don't say something like, "Just you wait. You ain't seen nothing yet. My uncle used to (fill in the blank), and you can't even imagine what my aunt went through!" That is not helpful; it's demoralizing and insensitive. Your friend is hanging on by a thread and needs your encouragement. Your friend already knows, deep down inside, that it's going to be worse. Much worse. Pointing that out makes you part of the problem, not part of the solution.

When my mom learned that my husband had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, I could see that her heart was breaking for me. My dad suffered from Alzheimer's and had passed away just a couple of years before. "Oh, darling," she said to me, "I am so sorry for you. At least with your father, I didn't know what was ahead of me."

There's something to be said for her reaction. She expressed caring and compassion, and she acknowledged that, for me, the journey might -- and probably would -- be more traumatic than it had been for her. She hadn't known what to expect. I did.

I still hope for a cure, a new medication, a miracle, a better outcome. Not in the cheerful, expectant way I once did, though. More in a quiet, reserved way.

You might wonder if my faith is still strong. As my friend Rob would say, "But...God!" And that is where my hope lies. God is kind and good. He is loving and a good Father. He is my refuge and my strength. When I am down, He lifts me up. He keeps me going and fills my heart. So, the answer to your question is, "Yes!"

Saturday, June 3, 2017

I Wanna Play My Harmonica

Photo by Chris
Music is transcendent and therapeutic. It goes deep inside and stays with you. My husband has always loved it, though he hasn't played an instrument since he was a boy.

A number of years ago, I purchased a couple of harmonicas for him. He was still hunting then, and I thought he might enjoy learning to play some tunes by the campfire. It was probably more wishful thinking on my part than a desire in his heart, and the harmonicas and how-to-play books gathered dust, forgotten.

I found the harmonicas the other day and showed them to him. We both played with them a little, and I encouraged him in his gleeful efforts. "Wow! That sounds fantastic, honey!"

Much to my delight, he has been carrying the harmonicas with him everywhere, experimenting with making music (sometimes inappropriately, such as during a young lady's solo of the national anthem at a graduation ceremony). The tunes are nothing that anyone would recognize, of course, but it seems to bring him pleasure every time he "discovers" a harmonica in his pocket and starts to blow into it. I'm ecstatic about finding anything that elicits interest in him, no matter how fleeting.

On our drive home today, I was playing some "golden oldie" CDs in the car. He whipped out his harmonica and started "playing along" enthusiastically. The harmonica he was using was in the wrong key, and the "tune" he was playing bore no resemblance to the song on the CD. No matter. Anyone else in the car might have been driven insane by the dissonance, but it was beautiful music to me.

It delights me to see him happily enjoying something. Will this be an ongoing interest? We'll see. But today, it brought an hour or two of relief for his nervous energy. Kind of like a fidget spinner for the soul.


Happy Birthday!

"Today is your birthday. Happy birthday!" I've been wishing him a happy birthday all day today, and now it's evening. It is his seventh birthday post-diagnosis.

"It is?! I'll be darned," he exclaims happily.

"You didn't know?" I ask casually.

"I did not know," he responds with a smile.

"How old are you?"

"Harry," he replies confidently, "Why?"

"I was just wondering if you know how old you are now."

"I told you. It's Harry," he says. This has been his answer to "How old are you?" all day.

"Well, Harry, you are ___ years old!"

"I am?!"

"So, how old are you?"

"___ years old, just like it says here," he says as he proudly holds up the crayon he's been working with and shows me how long it is. It does not, of course, have any numbers on it.

"How old are you today?"

"Harry," he answers. Okay, then.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Don't Judge

Today was a not-so-good day. I was reminded of something as I was having a heart-to-heart with God.

Years ago, my husband's Uncle Joe (who has since passed away after a few years of dementia) told me a heartbreaking story. He was quite a storyteller, Uncle Joe. He enjoyed regaling us with detailed accounts of submarine life in the South Seas during World War II, mostly, but he was always willing to entertain with other yarns of wisdom I'm sure were spun from whole cloth most of the time. But I digress. Again.

Uncle Joe once told me of an elderly couple he knew from the dances he and Aunt Helen went to once or twice a week at the Hall. The wife had been suffering from Alzheimer's for some time, and the husband was her full-time caregiver. They were in their 80's. Maybe he didn't have help, or perhaps he didn't have support from family (so often, children move away for work or whatever, and they just can't be there as they would like to). Anyhow, the husband and wife went for a drive one day. She loved going for drives and was often calmed by the once-familiar scenery in the beautiful countryside that is Northern California. Was it an accident? Was it on purpose? Their car ended up submerged in a pond, and they both drowned. Uncle Joe said he was sure the husband had come to the end of his rope, and this was the only way he could think of to end their suffering.

At the time, I thought this was a sad tale indeed, but I really couldn't understand how anyone could lose hope like that. How could I? I was younger and hadn't personally experienced the kind of hopelessness and despair that comes with the loneliness of trying to deal with this disease. I get it now. Even when surrounded by friends, it is lonely. Because, no matter how hard others might try, and no matter how sure they are that they understand, they can't. It's easy to judge others when you don't really understand what they're going through.

Today was a not-so-good day. That will happen sometimes (increasingly more often than not), and if you're going through this too, please take heart. Not every day (or every hour, as the case may be) is going to be like this. Please don't lose hope. I know it's sometimes hard, but hang in there. Please.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sorry Peaches

This morning, I was doing some potting in the back yard and noticed that the oleander bush on the hillside was huge and had encroached on our small peach tree, which is close to it. So I decided to prune the oleander back a little.

I was working away, and my husband was keeping me company, "working" alongside me. Too late, I realized that he had removed several fruit-bearing branches from the peach tree. Happily, he didn't hurt himself; however, there will be very few peaches this year. (They are extremely juicy, sweet, and delicious peaches. This will be a privation difficult to bear.)

In the scheme of things, this is not a big deal; however, it's just one of a long string of daily occurrences that are a constant reminder to me that so much has been lost. Our life is a dim reflection of what it used to be. Our relationship roles have changed dramatically. Where, in true partnership, I once bore responsibility for some things and he for others, the onus is now all on me for every decision.

Seven years from diagnosis down the road, the weight of it all is sometimes difficult to bear. And there's a long way to go.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Under the Weather, Part 2

I am still feeling under the weather, and a dear friend's amazing husband has taken The Old Man out for a couple hours so I can rest. When friends offer this kind of help, please don't turn them down as I did at first, embarrassed. Say "Oh, yes! Thank you so much!" Trust me on this one.

Three hours later, I hear the doorbell. My husband has asked our friend to bring him home, and his face brightens when I open the door.

We go to the kitchen. He sits at the table, looking at me tenderly, and I start to prepare yet another cup of green tea with lemon and raw, local honey and a tiny bit of cayenne pepper. He asks me a question. I attempt a response, but I start to cough uncontrollably and try to explain, between coughing fits, that I can't talk very much right now. His hands cover his face as he rests his elbows on the table, his expression sullen and dejected. Is he crying?

"Honey," I ask, concerned, "What's wrong?"

"I just like you so much."

He just likes me so much. It makes him sad that I am sick. I go to him and give him a hug. This is a moment to remember. Can you blame me for having tears in my eyes?