This is such a good story I am unsure where to start. Had I been more alert to how Cheryl treated this book I could have foreseen the difficulties that eventually came to her and became much of my daily life. But seeing how she treats it now is unimportant and I flatter myself into believing I could helped her if I had been paying careful attention at the beginning.
About three years ago – certainly prepandemic – Cheryl was struggling with her birthday card organizational techniques. She had several old books of names. One of these was left to her when her mother had passed from this life to the next. When a new month was approaching she would collect these to her in her office in the evening to make a list of folks whose birthday was coming to buy cards.
When her mom was still alive she would take Elaine to the Dollar Store to buy cards to send out. She took this over in time for her mother and eventually kept it up after Elaine passed away. She did this, of course, in addition to her own birthday card list. So, one evening I noticed she had several old handwritten books that she was looking through to discover whose birthdays were coming next month.
She had entered much of this same information into an Access database that she had created during her working career to help her and her mom keep track of things in an organized and businesslike manner. Cheryl was an extremely organized business woman. The most disheartening thing for me to watch as this disease progresses is her loss of organization and control. If the disease was merely physical it would, I think, be easier to deal with.
Nevertheless I put on my engineering hat to help with different methods to enhance and at the same time add ease to the organization of the birthday cards. In a second career as a high school science teacher which never completely panned out, I discovered a wonderful organizational tool that teachers use and might very well be adaptable to Cheryl’s needs. Teachers use a weekly planner to help with organizational tasks and as I discovered with my small experience, to keep track of how far behind you are with the course material. Usually these are dated with the year but at Staples I found a wonderful version that in addition to having only two days per page was lined and printed in a 8.5 by 11 format had no year printed. It could be a yearly calendar of birthdays, anniversaries and other information without concern for the year or day of the week.
The doomsday algorithm would give you the day of the week. Look it up. It is pretty neat.
She had been struggling with organizing the birthday cards. I suggested she use this yearly planner. In the store, she agreed that it could be a useful tool to organize the activity. I was proud of myself for finding such an elegant solution to her dilemma. Being the ever helpful hubby I produced from her Access data a list that I could put into Avery’s online printing tool and produce the information for the dates that were known. New information would come along with use and could be added by hand as the years evolved.
Almost a good idea but my idea therefore NIMBY and NIH reared their ugly heads in unison. And I, not to be defeated, began to defend my method to a woman who spent her working career in computer databases and systems analysis, as she, slowly crept into memory loss, confusion and dementia. What a hoot! I completely and totally missed the AHA when it went by about two years ago.
How to help without helping? I continued for many months to reconsider and think about how to make the Big Black Book useful to her. In her old multi-book system she looked at a single page to discover who had a birthday that month. An index my engineering mind shouted at me. You forgot to make an index. I thought about that for awhile and realized that the planner was organized by month, not day-of-the-week, not year, only day of the month mattered. It was self indexing. I was at a loss as to how to fix her thoughts.
I quit concerning myself with instructing her on how to use it. I just rolled with her confusion.
Over time the preoccupation with getting out the birthday cards dissipated. Other thoughts of how to help her organize it left me. I became an observer. She always tells me, if I don’t do it myself I can’t improve. She is right. I am merely her aide.