Surrounded by Wonderful Loving People

“Feeling blessed” – is a phrase I associate little with this disease of Parkinson but I am learning to understand the meaning of that phrase with respect to helping others and help from others. Cheryl used to tell her mother that there is grace in accepting help from others. (:-0) Once in a while I say this to Cheryl when she resists my aid.

It is easy to get caught up in “why me?” It is easy to not take note of all the kind and loving ways that people around you are willing to help in some small way. Most do not even hesitate. Wear your gray hair to the door of a restaurant and the guy coming the other way will hold it for you. Carry a walking aid or a cane to the same door and kids will jump up and open the door.

In our life with Parkinson we experience these small helps a lot. Cheryl wants to do for and help others even when they are helping her. There is goodness in everyone. Even when one is certain that the other person has not applied themselves and therefore did not achieve the expected benefit help is given without expectation of gratitude.

From the point of view of “little helps” everywhere often spontaneously offered to us, we are blessed.

Our friend Jane is a great help to me. She has organized a network of care around Cheryl and me. She has contacted many of the group of women that she and Cheryl used to play bridge with. Cheryl is unable to play bridge any longer. The game is simply too mentally taxing for her. We used to play Scrabble in the evening and I did not want to play because Cheryl would always, often anyway, kill me score-wise. With Scrabble and Bridge and other competitive thinking sorts of games, she excelled. Her math and logical brain rose to the challenge.

Jane and the rest have organized themselves into Wednesday visiting parties. Jane comes across the hall on Monday so that I can ride my bike or do whatever. Barb comes on the last Thursday of the month to take Cheryl to lunch. Cindy has been coming over on Thursday in the afternoon so I can go do whatever. I usually ride my bike in the warmer months. Linda has been coming on Wednesday but her sister is very ill and she needs to be with her. (She may not be with us much longer.) Jane is a blessing to us. As is Linda and Cindy and everyone of Cheryl’s friends.

Family …

My son and daughter-in-law have been a focus of my need to get Cheryl out away from our little condo on the weekend. David and Melissa are almost always available for a weekend visit. They live nearby in eastern Indiana. The drive to their place is such that I takes us through the fringe of the city into enough rural properties that here and there are planted corn and soybeans. It seems like a long trip to Cheryl. When we get home her reaction is much like coming home from a long trip.

A few evenings ago I invited a couple of Cheryl’s cousins for dinner. It was a great time. Steve and his wife Marisa sent an email just checking in on us a few weeks ago so I invited them for dinner. Cheryl insisted that I invite Lois who is another cousin from a different direction. 🙂 Lois, Steve and Risa did not know each other except through inference by family name(s). Lois and Steve are cousins to Cheryl but not to each other. Nevertheless the dinner was great. They found common reference by neighborhood. They physically do not live far apart.

Cheryl talks about Lois a lot and her mom Aunt Jean (great aunt). In her childhood she got a lot of hand me down clothes from that direction. Lois is a couple of years older. I may have mixed up the story a little. I am merely trying to track down some of these childhood stories before the people in them are gone. Marian and Tom, Steve’s mom and dad, are gone from this world. Their family is younger. I remember Steve as a boy coming to some of the long ago family gatherings at Sharon Woods Park. Lois is the last, I think, of her family. Her sister Maureen we used to see occasionally at Macy’s in Kenwood doing her supervisor shtick. She is gone.

As we move on and Cheryl resides mentally in her childhood, I have taken it upon myself to reconnect with these people. Many of whom I do not know personally except by my wife’s stories. And her memory is failing her in bits and pieces and fits and starts. I think it is becoming more urgent for me to do this and I do not know why I feel the need to do this other than it brings her great pleasure to talk and reminisce with her cousins. Her most pleasurable stories seem to revolve around the many large family gatherings and smaller group visits.

On my never ending journey to help Cheryl experience the best of her days even though Parkinson is trying to steal the memory of them from her.

Carpe Diem.

It was a Good Breakfast, Dear.

It is important to try making it into a nice day. A few weeks ago another Cheryl wrote on her blog – just let it go – or words to that effect. As we move further down this road of Parkinson I find ways to simply make life more enjoyable.

Cheryl likes egg bread. It is a memory from her childhood. My mother always called it french toast. I do not know what the French call it which sent me on a quest for knowledge from the internet of all knowledge. They call it pain perdu and that translates into lost bread. French toast (pain perdu) is always better if it is made with stale bread. It is better in my opinion if it is made from stale sourdough bread.

This morning I coaxed her awake with the thought of french toast with blue berries and a little whipped cream. This is a picture of mine. She was already eating hers when I decided to take this picture. She had slept late today but it is a good day.

French toast (aka eggbread)

“It was a good breakfast, dear”, she said to me as I was loading my plate into the dishwasher. We have no real plans for today. Perhaps I will take her for ice cream later in the afternoon. Perhaps not. We will just go with the flow today.

Carpe Diem

Reminders

Today I have taken notice of the necessity to remind Cheryl what she is doing and where she is going. On this particular morning I have reminded her that she was going to change clothes for exercise class three times so far. Once she is away from other distractions I relax a bit and wait for the next reminder time.

Today’s list of events

Starting sometime in May after I was into my care partnering seminar I started to post the days events on this handy piece of white plastic left over from some project. I read an article that gave some tips for helping those who are struggling with dementia. It spoke of using a small erasable white board to post events somewhere. There is one on the wall of every hospital room I have been in for twenty or more years.

I had this and it works for me. I even had dry erase and wet erase markers leftover from my teaching days. They were not dried up yet, so, I was set for awhile. Since May I have had to order more markers. This one is near the end of its useful life.

The family calendar became less and less meaningful overtime. Cheryl is no longer able to discern what week or day is applicable to today. I started transferring the days events onto this board the night before I went to bed. She reads it the next day and looks through the newspaper. Even though the date is printed at the top of the newspaper she cannot relate it to the date for today.

Dementia, confusion and memory loss is annoying to be sure but the silver lining is every day is new and fresh.

Carpe Diem.

Bump and Run

Interestingly to me anyway yesterday’s plan works today.  I suppose that overtime I will come to understand that what I want her to do and the speed I want her to do it are not hers so it can never be.

Today’s class is sitting cardiovascular motions.  I features the Beatles and the Righteous Brothers as accompaniment. Nice.

Spirit in the Sky

Carpe Diem.

bump-n-run

It Seems Counter-intuitive

Cheryl has some dementia which is a nuisance with her decision making process. Any attempt at speeding her up doesn’t seem to work well. She merely gets angry and frustrated with her husband. And it is hard for her husband to not speed her up. That must be fifty-two years of helping getting in the way of care partnership. (Smiley Face)

This morning I tried to move her along without being pushy. Yes, I can be and have been pushy.

She wakened several times overnight to go to the toilet. I got up to help her once. So, when the seven am medication alarm went off, she ignored it. I got up to remove that annoyance from my ears and get her first dose of stuff for the day. When I returned her snoring indicated disinterest in arising for the day.

I laid back down to see if she would stir again. When I awakened it was eight am. I must have been tired also.

Eventually I left the bedroom to make coffee, get the papers and turn on the news to discover which part of California is on fire. An hour or so later I kissed her awake and she asked me when church started. I told her that she had exercise class at noon. I left to drink more coffee and to listen to the interesting fact that no toilets could be flushed in Mississippi. I returned for another gentle nudge and she got up.

I suggested scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast and she readily agreed. I continued with gentle nudges and quit concerning myself with whether she would be late for her class. She was not late.

The exercise classes she takes at Parkinson Community Fitness are a benefit to her so I make every attempt to get there on time but today I tried a not pushy technique. I call today’s strategy “bump and run.” I would engage her and nudge her thoughts and then leave. I came back a few minutes later for another bump and run. It worked and neither of us was upset when we left.

Today’s class was led by Paige and Jenna. Jenna’s notes are here. The rowing person is excited to do the exercise.

Carpe Diem.

More Things that I Have Learned

  • If you are going to try to get your PwP to speed up to go somewhere make sure you have your act together first.
  • What ever schedule that you have in mind is busted, so, move on.
  • Some people sleep in occasionally. It is not apathy, just the ordinary need for luxurious life.
  • “Church” is merely another name for going somewhere. Just repeat the answer to: Where?
  • Do not panic when she asks where we are sleeping or asks if we are going home tomorrow. Tomorrow she will not remember.
  • Read her email once a day.
  • Casually look in her disorganized office once in awhile to get a feel for where things could be when “I can’t find my…” comes up.

This is a continuing list and when I stop to think about it and all the things I have had to learn and do it makes me smile. Frustration creeps in sometimes but I think that most of the time I can push it away. The times that I cannot are about what this disease has taken from her.

Carpe Diem.

Decision Making is Hard

In Cheryl’s case,  decisions can be remarkably difficult. They are made worse by deadlines. Lack of understanding of the day or next event add on difficulty. The decision to day is – what to wear?

Parkinson is a big enough trial when it is only a mobility issue.  When cognitive function is affected. It is just plain harder. You as a care partner can help with calmness or not. That thought sent me off into mindfulness and discernment about how to help by not emphasizing the time.

Today is the date of the Sunflower Rev it up for Parkinson’s symposium.  It is an information and exercise presentation by UC Health in Cincinnati.  And we are getting a late start.

Although we had talked about it last night before bed and I had emphasized getting to bed on time, so that we could get up on time. Admittedly this morning I cared little about going to the symposium but it is a useful thing to Cheryl and occasionally I learn something new. When the alarm went off she awakened but showed little interest in getting up. After some reluctance I encouraged her to get up and have some cereal to get started.

The wild enthusiasm for life, a better life with Parkinson can be intimidating to those of us who through our new duties of care partner and might have been hoping for a more relaxed environment in later life. So when Cheryl started hinting at not feeling up to going I seized on it but perhaps a little to enthusiastically because she changed her mind with little time to spare and we left. But not before I gained the opportunity to point out the lateness of the hour.

Thank God for the great science interspersed between the impromptu exercise. The lecture portion is familiar and reminiscent of many college courses from my earlier years. Bliss.

In a presentation about new chemicals and old standard chemicals I notice that most have the same set of side effects.  The side benefits seem to alternate between diarrhea and constipation, insomnia and narcolepsy, yadda yadda yadda. Of course the doctors and scientists would prefer that patients not focus on the side benefits but those are still there whether you ignore them or not.

A gentleman told his personal story about PD and his journey. Being an ex-football player and wrestler in college he was attracted by the various boxing style PD programs. Rock Steady Boxing was founded in 2006 to empower people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) to fight back through a non-contact, boxing-style fitness regimen and emotional support. The program started in a tiny gym in Indianapolis, Indiana. His coach told him – If it is to be, it is up to me. (Inspirational) He and some others have formed a group – Romeo (retired old men eating out).  Social gatherings are important . One can never give up.

There are things you can do that will make things easier like, no button down shirts.

There’s no hope without data reported Kim who is a research scientist. I like the science. I hate the disease. I do not know where my attitude is today. Perhaps it is still in bed thinking about a Saturday sleep in and then a visit to my son’s house for the fantasy football draft festivities.

But it was worthwhile going.

Carpe Diem.

To My Cousin Frank (aka Butch)

Frank, I know you are not with us any more and have not been for awhile but I suspect that like Google and Facebook you can watch us, so here is what I want to say to you.

Thank you ever so much for marrying Linda all those years ago when we were young. These days she is an immense help to me and a good friend. As you are aware, her simple act of kindness to Cheryl and me comes in the form of being with Cheryl while I go do something else. Lately that has been riding my bike around Lunken Airport.

When she first started doing this for us I had signed myself up for a care giving class which put great emphasis on making sure that you take care of yourself as a care partner. I asked if Linda could be with Cheryl during those class times and she agreed. I took the “take care of yourself” message to heart and make an extra effort to find help so that I can be on my own for a couple hours.

Since I am seeing Linda more these days, prior to this as you know we met for pizza Tuesday maybe four or five times a year, I think often about our conversations and ponderings in Aunt Dorothy’s kitchen. Do you remember some the questions we posed? How does one determine if sour cream is bad?, for example. I had not thought about it at the time but it was the same sort of thing that would puzzle my dad and I am guessing his brother, your dad. Sometimes small people would run through and we would wonder who they belonged to. Those are good memories. That entire older generation of our family is gone now. Aunt Bert passed away last year. But you know that. Have you talked to her yet? Does dementia go away when you get to heaven?

So, here is a couple questions for you. How are you doing in heaven these days? Is heaven a no smoking area? Is there a smoking section? Or did you give that up?

Did you know grapes are better when they are frozen? I learned that from Sarah’s Luke.

Ray and Shirley passed through town a few days ago. We gathered at Sarah’s house with as many folks as we could conjure up. Not all of your kids were there but some were. Betty and Herb came from Brooksville. Andy was not there but Kyle and Julie were. It was a great time. Ray took a picture:

the gathering

Good talking to you.

Carpe Diem.

Overnight at the Lodge

A few days ago the kids and grandkids camped at a nearby state park. Cheryl knew about it.  They had exchanged text messages back and forth while the planning went on. I did not talk seriously to Cheryl about it until the day before. If I give her too much to think about she becomes anxious with the planning activity.

I suggested we could stay overnight in the lodge there and visit the kiddos at the campground. She readily agree. I called the lodge desk and THEY HAD HANDICAPPED ACCESS rooms available. I did not ask about their cancellation policy. I was hopeful that Cheryl would still be interested in visiting the kiddos campsite when she woke up tomorrow.

The next day we went. It was a great day. I got the big bed pad out and packed it on the bottom of the big suitcase with extra incontinence solutions so that Cheryl would not have that anxiety all day long. On top of that she packed clothes for a week. Girls need choices. I packed a change of clothes in the little bit of space left in the suitcase.

We got there about 3:30-ish and found the room. I texted David and found out where their camp sites were and cruised through the campground twice after misreading the signs the first time through. We found them unloading coolers and tables and chairs and other stuff. Everybody was busy with something so I parked in an empty campsite across the little drive through the camping area. Luke was loading a cooler with soft drinks. Anna, Laurencia and Virginia were making quick work of erecting a couple tents.

Good times were soon to be had. Frisbee games were unloaded. Eric and Max tossed a baseball back and forth. Corn hole was set up. It is not camping if there is no corn hole set around.

There was great camp food. Our son, David, with Cheryl’s help, current veggies and sausage packets to place on the fire. Cheryl had a great time participating in the food preparation. For a short while she was Mom again. She was talking and cutting. Dad was hanging out with the grandkids and the other adults.

We had some great conversation around the campfire.  Parkinson disease interlaced with dementia takes most of the spontaneity out of our living activities these days. I had forgotten about that. I am sincerely grateful that Cheryl was feeling good that day and evening. We both miss the spontaneity of retirement.

And grateful that some of our hoped for spontaneity in retirement was there that day. Twenty-five years ago we would spontaneously decide to disappear on the weekend and hike in the woods or explore some little town we had not been to before. Once we stayed overnight in a bed and breakfast in Chilicothe, Ohio and the B & B was being run by others because the owner was going to Columbus overnight for a cancer treatment. So, we stayed overnight with strangers in someone else’s house. It was amusing and fun and spontaneous.

Carpe diem

The Art of Marriage and Care Partnering

An empathetic and caring atmosphere for your partner with Parkinson and dementia, like a good marriage, must be created. In the art of marriage the little things are the big things. The same is true for care partnering. Small things are meaningful to both.

It is never being too old to hold hands. Physical touch is a comfort. Holding hands and helping someone you love up a step or into the car or into a chair at the restaurant is a sign of love. Doing those things without complaint and without request is a sign of grace. Look for grace in your life.

Remembering to say, “I love you” at least once each day to a spouse who is also graced with a chronic disease is reassuring. She did not ask for this disease. Reassure her that she is not an annoyance to you by saying this often. As a care partner there will be times when you do not feel that way in that moment, breathe deep and remember how it was and use those thoughts to see her as she is now.

Never go to sleep angry. Anger is available every day. It has no place in the bedroom at night. (This may be the hardest lesson to learn.) Just remember that everything seems worse at night. Sleep later into the morning hours. There is always light after the darkness.

Discussing and having a mutual sense of values and common objectives that are important to the partner who is burdened with Parkinson is essential for helping her to manage the disease. Occasionally anxiety creeps into my thoughts and voice. When that happens I become a naggy care pusher and not a helpful encouraging care partner. If you can, resist becoming a naggy care pusher.

We are standing together facing the world. This is a joint effort. (A platitude – many hands make for light work.) Care partnering is forming a circle of love that gathers in the whole family. It gathers in your circle of friends. It affects the person with Parkinson directly both physically and sometimes mentally. Parkinson is a change. Parkinson is not a purgatory.

Care partnering is speaking words of appreciation and demonstrating gratitude in thoughtful ways. These words are exchanged in both directions. These words are not expected. These words are freely given.

Care-giving has the capacity to forgive and forget. Give each other an atmosphere in which each can grow. Share your thoughts and ideas with each other.

Find room for the things of the spirit. And when the spirit moves, search for the good and the beautiful. Keep on the lookout for those “Aha” moments to learn from.

As it is with marriage, care-giving is not only partnering with the right helpmate. It is being the right partner. Parkinson’s sucks is the phrase Michael J. Fox uses. By helping each other PD sucks less.

Carpe Diem.