Thursday, December 1, 2016

You Aren't Gail...

Last year, we were driving down I-5 around sunset, which can be a confusing time of day for Alzheimer's patients. Here's what transpired, as written a year ago:

We were chatting pleasantly about the weekend we had just spent with my mom, who was ailing at the time. We all thought she would bounce back from this one, too (but she didn't).

He suddenly became very quiet and pensive. He looked at me strangely, shyly. "You aren't Gail," he ventured. "You aren't Joanne..."

"No, I'm not," I replied, "Those are your sisters, honey. I'm your wife. We've been married for 45 years." I figured this juicy tidbit of information would serve two purposes:  One, to help him recognize this old lady as the sweet young thing he used to know; and, two, to help him realize how much time has passed.

"Oh, that's right. I was confused there for a second."

"What's my name?" I asked calmly.

"Christiane," he replied.

"That's correct," I smiled.

"Something's going on with my brain. Is that why you won't let me drive?" I was taken aback by this question.

"It isn't that I won't let you drive," I explained, "It's that I think it isn't a very good idea. Just now, you weren't too sure who I was."


"So do you think it's a good idea for you to drive?" I asked.

"No," he said sadly. And it is sad. Very sad. And he won't remember having had this discussion, and we'll have it again tomorrow. And the next day. And again. And again...

And here we are, a year and a half later. The driving doesn't come up as often, thankfully. But his pickup truck sits in the driveway, collecting dust. We should probably sell it, since it hasn't gone anywhere in such a long time. But that just seems so final. I don't have the heart for it.

I Want to Go Home

Back in July, I wrote about how my husband frequently wonders where his mom is. In case you missed that one, here's the link:  Where's Mom?

The question has increased in frequency and has been coupled with, "What happened to Dad?" I usually just say that he's gone, too. That he's with my husband's mom, and my mom, and my dad. Knowing that he'll be emotional at the news anyway, I try to spare him the details of his father's murder. Wouldn't you?

When my mom died last year, I admit that I was a little hurt by his lack of empathy for me. I'd be crying, he'd ask me what was wrong, I'd tell him, and he'd say, "Well, MY mom is gone, too!" At the time, I thought it was a bit unkind of him to dismiss my grief so readily in favor of his own, especially since his mom passed so long ago. But now I think I was wrong in my assessment and that my grief perhaps brought his grief forward.

At any rate, the past few days, he's been asking to go home.

"You are home, honey," I respond, "This is our home. We've lived here for 34 years." Bla, bla, bla, etc., etc.

"No, it isn't! I don't know what you're trying to pull! I want to go home to Redding and see Mom and Dad!" He's pacing, clearly upset, wringing his hands, confused, agitated.

"But your parents are both gone, and so are my parents." I explain as calmly as possible. And besides, we were just in Redding last month. But he doesn't remember that, of course.

"Well, I want to see my friends!" he insists. But the problem is that most of his friends don't live there anymore, either. They've spread out over the country. And the sad truth is that most of his best friends from his growing-up days -- his first girlfriend, his pals from Cub Scouts that he went through school with -- are, well, with our parents.

It's a sad situation. Try as I might, I can't make it better for him or for me. What a helpless feeling. I almost said hopeless. And sometimes it does seem that way, too.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Charging the Battery

Trying to explain something to someone who can't remember what you just said can be an extremely frustrating proposition. It's sad, too, especially when it's your loved one who loses a thought immediately and who seemingly isn't able to manage the simplest executive task. How can he remember what to do next when he's confused about what to do now?

For instance, the battery on my husband's truck is dead. It's a new battery, but the truck has been parked in the driveway for months without being started. Batteries, even new ones, lose their charge when not in use.

"Is something wrong with the truck?" he asks.

"The battery is dead," I explain. This is actually fine with me.

"It needs a new battery," he says.

"It is a new battery," I explain, "May you can charge it up?"

"How do you know?" His tone is defensive and aggressive and sarcastic at the same time.

"We just bought the battery a little while ago. Maybe it can be charged."

I help him to locate the battery charger and remind him how to hook it up. He takes offense at my help, but he clearly isn't able to complete the task on his own.

"You think you know everything!" he snarls, but the charger is hooked up and the battery is charging. It's only been a few minutes. He unplugs the charger and is upset that the truck won't start. He has forgotten that it takes a long time to charge a dead battery, or maybe he thinks it's been a long time.

The process is repeated several times. I don't know how many times, but I am starting to lose my patience a little bit.

"It needs a new battery," he mutters.

"It IS a new battery! You have to leave the charger on longer than five minutes for it to charge!"

"You think you know everything!" he snarls.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Jason Bourne

Yesterday afternoon, we went to see the new film, Jason Bourne. We love Jason Bourne movies and own all the ones that have been released. Like all Jason Bourne movies, it was full of excitement and action and good-looking people with lots of muscles. And car chases. Lots of chases of all kinds. We both enjoyed the film, and he didn't even fall asleep.

When we got home, he sat down in the kitchen as I went to our room briefly. He came to find me almost immediately, because that's what he does now. He needs to know where I am. Perhaps being alone makes him anxious.

"So, are we going somewhere today?" he asked somewhat impatiently.

"We just got home from the movies," I replied.

"Okay, but I didn't see any movies!"

"The new Jason Bourne movie," I explained, hoping this information would help him retrieve the memory. Apparently, I still don't "get it" that his memories can dissipate like vapor.

"Jason who?!"

We went down to the Man Cave to watch some television, as is our habit in the evening. I sat next to him, as I always do.

He looked at me thoughtfully and said, "Where have you been lately?"

Quite often when he asks me a question, I'm not sure exactly what it is he wants to know, so I ventured, "With you..."

"Really?" he smiled, "With me?"

For a moment, all was well with the world. I smiled back and suggested, "Let's watch Bourne Identity!"

"OK!" he answered, "I love those movies!"

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Where's Mom?

Just about every day, sometime in the early afternoon, my husband looks up from the 100-piece puzzle he's working on laboriously (he can still do those with 'a little help') and asks, "Where's Mom?" It's a different question than the "Mom's gone, isn't she?" he used to ask.

This is a relatively recent development. He used to ask about his mom during sundowning time in the evening, not earlier in the day. He also asks about his siblings as though they've gone out without him and are expected home any moment. Or maybe he's expecting me to say they are playing in the back yard. I think he thinks I am one of his siblings sometimes. Or some other random adult.

His mom passed away in 1973 at the age of 49. My husband was 24. Usually, I remind him that his mom is in Heaven with mine and with our dads. Sometimes, he receives this information matter of factly; other times, it makes him very sad and tears well up in his eyes. Which is interesting, because I don't recall that he allowed himself to cry at the time. And it breaks my heart to see him cry. But I digress.

Today, instead of reminding him once again that his mom is deceased, I asked him, "Where do you think she might be?"

"In Redding?" he ventured. This is the area where he grew up, but he hasn't lived there for decades.

"Oh?" I replied, "And how old are you?"

He seemed to be mulling the question over for a moment or two, and I asked again to make sure we were on the same track. He has a tendency to forget what I've said rather quickly these days; but, then, he has a tendency to forget everything rather quickly these days.

"45?" he offered tentatively.

It reminded me of a time when my dad started laughing as I mentioned my age. He said it was impossible for me to be that old, since he was younger than that himself. In fact, 45 is the number he used. He was in his early 90's. He had dementia, you see. A lot of the experiences I am now having with my husband remind me of things my dad said or did. Double your trauma, double your fun (new words to an old jingle. Hum along if you remember it).

I find it so interesting how my husband's brain hops and skips around. I thought memory would be affected chronologically, in reverse. But that doesn't seem to be how it works, necessarily. Sometimes he remembers things, most times he doesn't (even right after they happen), and lots of times the "memory" is an exercise in creative writing.

The human brain is a thing of wonder, isn't it?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Where's Christiane?

I'm standing at the stove, stirring the sauce for our dinner. It's been a very difficult day, and I am anxious for it to be over.

"Are we going out for dinner?"

"No, I'm cooking dinner right now," I respond. We did go out for dinner, but the evening wasn't going well. At. All. I won't go into it, because it's still too raw. I'm embarrassed and humiliated, and we can't show our faces there again. Not today, anyway. We came home without eating or even finishing our beverages. He doesn't remember a thing about our outing (or our other outings today, for that matter), and he's irritated that I seem to be upset with him for some reason.

"Is Joanne here?" Joanne is his sister. She lives in another town and visits regularly.

"No," I respond, "She's at home at her house."

"Where's Chris? Or Christiane?" he draws my name out sarcastically. It's most unbecoming. I'm upset at his sarcasm at my expense, but I've already heard so much of it today that it really doesn't add anything to my irritation.

"I'm Christiane," I respond. I'm dejected.

It's been a very difficult day, and I just want it to be over. He eyes me up and down. Clearly, he isn't convinced that it's really me. It isn't the first time.

"Oh," he sneers, "I thought you were someone else. Where's the guy that was here?"

There's been no guy here. It's been a very difficult day. I just want it to be over.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Non Sequiturs All Day Long

I was so upset, having just found out that a book I got 'direct from the publisher' could have been obtained through Amazon for half the price (and with free shipping). It's taken me years to figure this out so, really, the fault is entirely mine. However, I was sufficiently incensed to write a scathing email to the publisher complaining of the price gouging and requesting cancellation of future shipments, deletion from the mailing list, and so on.

I decided to read it to my husband before sending it. It can't hurt to read it aloud, making sure all the complaints have been included and the tone is sufficiently indignant. He seemed to be listening to me, so that encouraged me to give him all the details and ask him for his opinion.

"So, what do you think?"

"Well, I like this one right here," he said, pointing to one of the coins he had just organized on the table.

That's nice, honey, but what does it have to do with what I was reading to you? I may have actually said this, but I'm pretty sure I just thought it while giving him a blank look. Or what I hope was a blank look.

Later, we were driving to the coffee shop, and I was telling him about a situation at work that was of increasing concern to me.

"Like that gray one over there," he said, pointing at a car stopped on a side street.

It happens all the time. All day long. I'm talking about one thing; he's talking about another. Or perhaps it's more that he's easily distracted. It seems that by the time I finish a sentence, he's forgotten the first part of it. A friend suggested shorter sentences. I'm working on it.

One of the things I miss most is a real conversation with him. I miss the ability to share my thoughts, feelings, or ideas with any expectation that he's processing those and preparing his feedback. There's plenty of talking going on; it just doesn't always make sense.

If you've been in a life partnership for decades as we have, you've probably developed the ability to finish each other's sentences. To notice the same things at the same time and perhaps even to make identical comments simultaneously. Or to not comment at all while stifling your giggles, if that seems wiser. Treasure that.

I Don't Publish Everything

Dear Friends,

It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that I don't, in fact, publish everything that happens. If I did, I would be posting all day long. And oftentimes during the night, too.

There are occasions when the emotion is yet too raw, or the event doesn't add anything to the conversation, or it simply isn't the right time to share. Or I'm too worn down and disheartened. Sometimes writing about an incident brings it into proper perspective, but other times it just makes it seem worse. And so there are a lot of posts on my blog that haven't been published yet. Almost half, actually.

To those of you who have encouraged me to write more often, please know that sometimes I just can't bring myself to do it. Or maybe I'm concerned that you'll lose interest or, even worse, become overly apprehensive. Sometimes it's high drama around here, but other times it's just a sitcom. Maybe it just depends on how you look at it.

I like to hear from you, and I appreciate your kind words and comments. I especially appreciate your prayers as my husband and I walk this road that's sometimes smooth as silk (the sitcom) and other times, without warning, a raging torrent (the high drama).

Thank you for your support, and thank you for reading my blog and recommending it to others. Let's raise awareness together.


The Screwdriver

I look up from my work to see my husband rummaging through the kitchen drawers, obviously agitated and impatient.

"What are you looking for, sweetie?" I ask.

"A screwdriver," he replies, "It needs to be tightened."

"What needs to be tightened?"

"The screw," he says sarcastically as if to imply that perhaps I have a screw loose for not knowing this simple fact.

"Okay," I venture, "What screw?"

"A SCREWDRIVER! You know what a SCREWDRIVER is?!"

"Yes, honey, I know what a screwdriver is. I'm just wondering what you're working on is all," I respond cautiously, fully aware that there's no telling what in the world he is "repairing" and what kind of mess I might have to clean up in a little while. But not mentioning that concern.

"SEE?" He shows he a handful of screwdrivers he has brought from the garage and has found in my tool drawer. "A long thing? With an end on it? To do things with?!"

"Yes, I see," I respond, trying one more time, "I was just asking for more information about your project."

"It's a SCREWDRIVER! You're making me crazy!"

Oh, my darling. The feeling is sometimes so very mutual.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Hearing Voices

"What's the matter?" he asked anxiously as he looked up from the small jigsaw puzzle he was trying to solve. I was quietly standing at the stove preparing tostones (not my recipe, but close enough) to go with our chicken dinner. You have to watch those things so they don't overcook. I like them crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. But I digress.

"Nothing," I replied, perplexed. I turned to look at him so as to gauge the situation. We have lots of situations these days.

"Why are you saying curses?" He was upset, and rightly so!

What?! My heart skipped a beat. I hadn't been talking or singing or otherwise uttering a single sound. Even the thoughts going through my head were those of happy anticipation and eagerness to sink my teeth into one of those tostones! Why would he think he heard me cursing?

All disease is evil. This one is especially so. It robs you of your memories, your thought processes, your skills and abilities. And apparently you also hear things in the spirit realm that are disconcerting, disorienting, and distressing.

You might not agree with my assessment (or the whole spirit realm thing), but is it okay if I admit to being just a tiny bit weirded out by this experience?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

An Alzheimer's Moment - The Laundry

We just got back from a trip. I unpacked and separated the clothing into piles on the bedroom floor, ready for load after load of laundry. While the first load was in the washing machine, I started dinner.

A few minutes later, my husband came to the kitchen, huffing and puffing and complaining of an aching back. He had folded the piles of laundry and put the dirty clothes away in the drawers and the closet.

It hurt my heart that he had done all that work for nothing, but it was so sweet that he tried to help. If only the clothing had been clean...

I resorted everything, left the room, started writing this, and heard some noise coming from our closet. He is hanging up the clothes again. And so it goes. Sigh.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Real Conversation

Yesterday, we decided to take a small road trip to visit my husband's brother and sister-in-law, just for the day. It's only 85 miles away, so it wasn't a major expedition with luggage and all that. Blessedly, there was very little traffic, and there weren't any crazy drivers. That includes the one in our car, me. My husband gets edgy in traffic (who doesn't?), and it can be a challenge to manage edgy and traffic at the same time. So, it was a pleasant drive in mild weather with no fog.

We enjoyed a really nice visit, went out for a delicious dinner, and went back to their place to watch a little television, all with no issues, no outbursts, and no confusion to speak of. It was absolutely fabulous.

In the late evening, we left to return home. It was dark, of course. Traffic was minimal, again with no crazies. We were both relaxed, and there was no music playing. It was just the two of us with no distractions. And suddenly I noticed something.

We were talking. We were having an actual conversation. You know, one person says something, then the other person responds to that and maybe adds another thought, then the first person responds, and so on. I started to cry when I realized what was happening. I don't know how long it's been since we've been able to talk without going off in weird directions that have nothing to do with the subject at hand and make no sense. We chatted relatively lucidly like this all the way home. All 85 miles. Really, it felt like a supernatural, miraculous blessing. And it gave me hope.

In this season of hope and renewal, I wish you many supernatural, miraculous blessings. Happy New Year. Keep your hope on.