A recurring theme in Cheryl’s head is “when are we going home?” I try at first to answer this by saying that’s good because we are already there. This rarely works. Sometimes it merely makes her angry with me.
The conversation is confusing when we reach this point. I can say to her, okay put on some clothes and we will get some lunch and come home. So, how would you find clothes for you in a place where you did not live? This is the first confusion but she accepts the fact that she has all her clothes here without accepting the truth of “home”. Even I am confused.
Later today, she is dressing now, we will go find some lunch somewhere and come home again.
Physical therapy is on the schedule for later this afternoon. Hopefully she will be tired after this activity.
Cheryl was going through a bit of confusion as I put dinner on the table. She kept getting up to look for her deceased sister Janice. (She called her Janice instead of “Jan.”) Eventually she was satisfied that Jan was not here to eat with us. She became interested in food and ate what I had cooked. (Chicken, noodles, green beans and broccoli)
I had put some music on the radio to play quietly while we were eating. Jimmy Buffet and “Margaritaville” came on when we were finished with the meal. I asked her if she wanted to dance. She said yes. We did.
For a few minutes we were young at a dance with Jimmy Buffet. Our dancing these days is more of a swaying-in-place but it is fun anyway.
The one who I could tease a little. The person who when I would toss a teasing barb at her would toss it right back and then some. Fifty plus years of marriage let you do that to each other. We had some great times. We had a lot of fun times. We always wish that the kids will have as great a time and Cheryl and I had along the way. We were never rich financially but there was always enough to make it work out. We were and are rich spiritually, socially, romantically and personally. I suppose that is what makes her mental state so disturbing and frustrating to me in this part of our life.
I can go back and forth, staying present and grieving what is lost to us. As I think of these things and reminisce I think of the song, “As Time Goes By.” There is a British TV show of the same name with Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer. It was one of our favorites. We rarely sit for long enough to watch any TV show. Any plot line makes little sense to her so she loses interest and gets up to go organize her office. It is her form of something called punding which is a useless and senseless activity that many in her situation do.
Cheryl was the one who was super organized. She kept the check book. She paid the bills. She was hawkish about getting and keeping and filing receipts for groceries and gas and any other expenses. She preferred to pay cash for stuff. If you did not have the cash in your hand, you did not buy it. When the kids were small we went to the grocery once a month and filled the larder. When it was gone you had to wait for it to come around again. There were some exceptions of course for milk and eggs and bread but generally you had to wait. The kids learned to be frugal. They were allowed to pick their own special things for school lunch and they learned how to make it last. Even when the children moved out to have their own lives we still shopped mostly once a month.
Cheryl knew how to use a screwdriver and still does but somethings that were second nature to her are now befuddling. How to open and what to do with an email. She once put all the family information into an Access database to print addresses for birthday cards, Christmas cards and anniversary cards. She knew how to drive that simple data system. She was used to putting together other databases and accounting systems for the clients she and others had in their small computer services company. It is hard now for her to wake up Microsoft Word to write a letter these days.
She was the one who did most of the household chores. I do that now and I do not mind doing it but she would if she could stand up long enough to do the laundry, make the bed, cook dinner, bake a cake or pie or simply vacuum the carpet.
Both her motor control and mental agility are greatly diminished and she is aware of those diminished abilities and it frustrates her.
She is the one who loved to hike. My favorite memory of this is a ten mile hike we once took in March many years ago. We hiked around a lake in a Kentucky State park. It was an eight mile loop and a two mile hike to the trailhead and back. We surprised some badge earning boy scouts about five miles from no where as we sat for a bit to enjoy the view and soak up the unusually warm March sunshine that day. It is a wonderful memory. We slept well that night.
She wants her old self back too. Who wouldn’t? Her sister passed way in the pandemic. Her sister also had Parkinson’s disease. Jan had other things going on that kept her from surviving the Covid wave in 2020. She still sees and talks to Jan. Tonight she sent her a text message. Tonight she does not understand that Jan will not answer but I might be the one who is wrong about that. Jan might answer. She often does – answer Cheryl when Cheryl talks to her.
Cheryl saw Jan at the table when we sat down for dinner tonight. I have no doubt that Jan was real to her. We discussed it. She decided to send her sister a message.
It is a powerful thing to see how strongly she was certain Jan would answer. It was moving to me. She went into her office to partake in a zoom meeting with some friends. She gave me her phone to hold in case Jan would call back or return her text above. These things sometimes break my heart. I try to keep them inside.
There is still time for new memories. I am sure of that. None of us knows when we are leaving this Earth. The best thing we can do is look for the good things, look for the humor in today’s situation. It is, however, difficult on some days.
An update after I published this about an hour ago. She came back from her Zoom meeting and remarked that she had not been out this late for a while. She wondered aloud how she would get home. I smiled and said that is the magic of Zoom, you are home. I gave her a tour of the condo.
Some days things just seem to go better with pie. If you want to lift your spirits a bit, make a pie. Whatever kind of pie you want, just make one. You can buy a pie of course, and that will settle the need for a sugary delight, but if you want to ignore the world around you for a while, make your own pie. It might turn out ugly but it is yours and it will taste scrumptious.
I have been down on myself for a few days. I think I worry for the folks in Ukraine. I do not know anyone in Ukraine but it is kind of stinky that a short guy with big army and navy can just drive over the fence and poop on the short guy without a big army and a navy with only one boat. That situation just sucks.
This is an ongoing conversation in our house. Cheryl struggles enough with day to day things. She fears for those mothers and children showing up at the Polish border behind the reporters that flew there in order to record the history of the short guy beating up the other short guy. From the news reports it looks as though the partisans are taking root in Ukraine and in Russia they are taking a nap. The world markets are yinging and yanging around and today I paid $4.999 a gallon for 12 or so gallons of gas to fill up my car. It was the first time I have spent more than $50 to fill up a car. That situation just sucks.
Time to make pie and eat it.
This particular recipe guidance is a favorite one. As you can see specific types of apples and the resulting pie has been noted by Cheryl. When she drug me down the cooking road a couple years ago I picked up what we call the “Big Green Cookbook”, so called because it is about two inches thick and has a green cover, to learn how to do pies. This book reads much like my grandmother’s cookbook that is a collection of church ladies’ recipes entitled “Culinary Cullings” from a farming community in Rich Hill, Missouri.
“6 apples” but no reference to general size. “1/2 to 2/3 cup”is the same as writing some but not too much. It makes me smile to read these measurements. (1 recipe plain pastry — but no hint about where to find that.) I have modified and added to the instructions myself. Since it is unspecified I use dark brown sugar with my teaspoon of cinnamon. I also add a couple tablespoons of tapioca. I got this last one from my mother who learned how to make pie from my grandmother. I think I got my bravery to adjust ingredients and try new spices from Mom. She was pretty damn good cook and liked to have a gin and tonic while doing it. Perhaps I will try a gin and tonic with my next pie.
So today is PIE day. A little early actually because the math enabled folks celebrate 3/14 as pi day. But I digress.
For a short time this afternoon I have bumped Cheryl off of her worries and anxiety about world idiots.
After the pie got to the condition shown above I went of to find the big round Tupperware pie saver we have owned since about 1975. Gone. I was worried that Cheryl had put it in a special place so that it would not get messed with by the little girls that live in her head. I put out a text query to the kids and found out I had left it at our son’s house. I probably took a pie there.
Recently I read a book entitled – Dementia Reimagined by Tia Powell MD. It was a disappointment to me personally because I believe that I judged this book by its title. I was hoping for some sort of expert thoughts on how I can deal better with my personable anxiety, emotion and smoldering anger with Cheryl’s disease of Parkinson and her accompanying dementia. I was hoping for; when this comes up, do this. Life is not that easy but my engineer training wants to make it so.
Dr. Powell’s book is a good argument for changing the way government programs, insurance companies and the like perceive and fund help for those with dementia. I know that the funding albeit private or public is screwed up. A few months ago I met with a lawyer to discuss end of life issues especially since I felt certain that Cheryl’s chronic illness would eventually bear a heavy toll on our family finances. He asked why I still lived in Ohio.
All states are different.
No Help There
That does not really help me. These tips on dementia (copied from a website somewhere) do seem to be useful:
Always approach from the front. – or do that as much as you can. When I first read this it was not meaningful to me but I have noticed that Cheryl startles easily. Her startle reflex shows itself at seemingly random moments. If we are traveling somewhere in our car, she will react to other drivers with jerky motions or a surprised little noise from her lips. I used to point that out to her and she reacted with both embarrassment and a little anger. I have learned to ignore these little things but it is hard for me to do.
She no longer drives a car having given up her license several years ago.
I have noticed that she will jump if approach her while working on something in her office which causes her to face away from the doorway so that she does not see me coming. I am not moving quietly when this has occurred but I may be mistaken about that idea. I may be more stealthy than I think myself to be. We are both older. Our hearing may not be as acute as in our youth.
Watch your body language and tone in addition to the words you use. – frustration or surprise at the immediate situation may easily be interpreted as anger. This is the hardest concept for me personally to deal with. I am concerned for Cheryl’s safety and I also hate to clean up messes. I apologize a lot and she apologizes a lot for making a mess even though I tell her that no apology is necessary.
I recognize that I am perceived as angry by her when one of these situations occurred. The aweshit reflex is strong in students and practitioners of engineering. So far I have been able to tone it down to oh-poop but it is a work in process with some small progress. I keep telling myself it is anger with this disease and what it has taken from her. I cannot tell you if there is truth to that statement but I keep repeating it to myself quietly at night when a combination of sun-downers and dreamy illusions and hallucinations creep into her perception of the world.
Sometimes I merely lose it, however. I can be mister cranky pants in the middle of the night.
Smile and wait until they acknowledge your presence before touching them. – Hugs are always welcome but Parkinson’s patients may be unsteady, so be prepared to steady her and accept some weight change. Hugs are always smoother from the front than from the rear. (see startles above)
Regardless of acknowledgment touching, hand holding, hugging are preferable to distance. The combination of Parkinson’s and dementia are frustrating, depressing and scary. Cheryl has expressed this to me often in moments of perfect lucidity. Those moments are still there. Savor them like fine wine or life as it used to be.
Validate their point when they are upset even if they are wrong. – and be aware that it is not important to correct anyone’s perception of things. Never start a response with; you are wrong, dear. … and continuing with the rest of it.
Let’s face the fact that “you are wrong” is a manifestly stupid way to start with no dementia present. Relax and take a deep breath and decide between two things, is it important to correct her perception or do you merely have a need to be right. Try, yes, that could be true… and go from there if concepts are way off and you want to help her find the way back. Or just ignore it, after all, her memory is not very good any more. She will not remember that you are right but she will remember that you angrily corrected her.
Say you are sorry at the first sign of their frustration to keep situations at a minimum. – I say I am sorry a lot because I am sorry that I tread on her heart. This disease is frustrating for us both.
Cheryl sees a nurse practitioner a couple times a year. Maureen is pretty practical when it comes to nuanced care partnering. These are her words;
I get lots of questions on how to deal with dementia. I could give you a list of resources to look up on the internet, workshops to attend, books to buy. All of that takes time which most of us have too little of. A great caregiver website, caregiving.com, offers these 5 tips for dealing with dementia.
PRACTICE PATIENCE – This can be incredibly difficult to do. Try to remember when you were dealing with your children when they were young, especially the toddlers. You probably had more patience then, than now. Remember those days of taking a deep breath before saying something. With practice, it will get easier.
PROMOTE PHYSICAL HEALTH – This is for both the care giver and the care receiver. The care receiver can benefit from practicing chair yoga, dancing, gentle stretching. Since the pandemic there are abundant resources on You Tube which can be helpful for both the care giver and the care receiver. A walk outside in the fresh air can help clear the mind for the care giver and give a person a brief respite.
USE PHYSICAL TOUCH – Touch is a powerful form of communication and connection. It can also be a valuable expression of reassurance particularly to someone living with dementia. All of us need a hug now and again. My own mother would remind me I forgot to kiss her good night!
FIND RESPITE – If you’re focusing most – if not all – of your time, energy, and resources on caring for a loved one with dementia, you may find you cannot sustain doing so over the long-term. With proper self-care, you can relax and recharge, manage caregiver stress, and become a better and more effective caregiver. Consider sitting on the porch and reading a book, a brisk walk, a cup of Starbucks, an ice cream cone, a massage, a warm bath with soothing scents. These things need to be done regularly in order to maintain your own health.
REDUCE WORKING HOURS – If you are still working full time, care giving becomes a second full time job. Consider scheduling a meeting with your human resources manager to propose temporarily working from home, flex-time opportunities, job sharing, and/or even paid leave due to your caregiving demands. You may be pleasantly surprised by the accommodations your employer is willing to make.
Maureen is a wonderful practical person. (I also wish she was not in our life because then there would be no disease of Parkinson or dementia.)
Cheryl does not drink coffee. She never has. I do. When I make a pot of coffee I ask her in a teasing fashion, do you want some coffee? I made a pot. She says, nope. No coffee for me thanks. it is a conversation we have had for fifty plus years. I love her. Sometimes she will ask for something else; tea, juice, Coke and I will get that for her instead. She seems to be back in this time and place now. Earlier she was not.
This morning that seemingly innocent exchange stuck with me. Her early morning sun-downers syndrome was staying with her and the sometimes accompanying hallucination was staying with her. It made me nervous. I had purchased a couple apple strudels from Marx Bagels the day before and kept them aside for a breakfast treat. Lately she is only interested in doughnuts for breakfast. That part of the breakfast was okay but she kept offering some to someone named Tim. Tim who? I asked as I had not heard that name before. Tim Fiebbig, I go to school with him, she said.
She thought the strudel was okay but she was hoping for doughnuts. I told her that if she really wanted doughnuts I would get some but do not leave until I get back. I zipped out to a nearby UDF for a couple doughnuts and some coffee. Back in a record fifteen minutes with three doughnuts and fresh coffee. While I was gone she sat with Tim in her office to chat until the doughnut man returned. She broke one up into little pieces and offered it to Tim.
In an effort to understand where she was in her mind I quizzed the siblings. This was (is) an elaborate illusion for Cheryl to set up a chair in her office so that she could converse with Tim her imaginary friend from her childhood. She did not seem puzzled that he was in her office. I hoped that it would pass and left her to talk to Tim for a bit. After a conversation of several minutes she came back out and sat with me to watch the morning not-so-newsy news program on CBS.
It is later in the day as I write this and she is still struggling a bit with the images and memories. Those seem to be easing and she went to shower and put on clothes. She seems to be back.
Some is, no doubt, grief caused by family circumstances. Paul Welch, our son-in-law’s father passed away yesterday. He had Parkinson’s disease/ Lewy body dementia also. An incredibly aggressive version apparently because he was only diagnosed about two years ago.
As we head down this road of Parkinson, it is helpful for me to understand what she is remembering. I am often unsure of what to do with that information. Sometimes I turn it into a conversation about that time in her life and let her reminisce for a bit. Sometimes it works and she gently realizes that she is reliving a memory. Sometimes it does not work.
It is a twisty-turny journey. My training many years ago as an engineer has been poor preparation for this time in my career. Spiritually it is a challenge. Engineers want to fix things. This appears to need a total redesign by the Chief Designer.
The puzzle is completed. Hallelujah! Kill the fatted calf. The Christmas 2017 puzzle is complete. So, now the question is what to do with it? I suggested that she break it into the tiny little pieces she started with and pass them on to her sister Nancy. She is still thinking about it but that is probably what will happen.
Who knows maybe this is a new hobby. It certainly is an occupation once it starts. Cheryl seemed very content while this whole process was happening. Cindy is an enthusiastic cheerleader and champion during the activity. I was not gone for a long time but when I came home they were puzzling away.
I started dinner. I had been out in the rain that we had ahead of the icy wet snowy crap that came today. While out I decided it was a good day for stuff soup.
2 small onions chopped
several (5) carrots pealed and chopped
several (4) small potatoes pealed and quartered
several (5) stalks of celery chopped
a head of broccoli chopped – the stems are good in soup the flowers tend to disintegrate like peas.
the end of the bag of frozen corn (maybe ½ C.)
half a cup or so of frozen peas.
½ lb. of mystery beef – bought out of the get rid of it soon shelf at IGA – chopped int ½ in. cubes
some whole wheat pasta for health reasons.
In a dutch oven put about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and dump in the onions. Stir them when they start to sizzle. Rinse the carrots and celery and when you are satisfied with the onions, let them brown a bit, dump in the beef. Brown the beef for awhile and enjoy the aroma. When the kitchen smells like a good diner, dump in the celery and carrots. Stir it up for a bit and put the lid on and give it a few minutes. This is a good time for a little salt and pepper to taste.
When you are ready dump in a box (32 oz.) of whatever broth you like. I used beef broth here. Bring it all to a boil and start the oven set to 300F.
Dump in the frozen peas, corn and chop the broccoli into small pieces. When it starts to boil again, dump in the broccoli and put the lid back on and stick in the oven for 30 minutes or so.
Add the healthy pasta at the end of 30 minutes and set the timer for 10 minutes more. Set the table and find some rye bread to go with everything. Put out the butter, bowls, silverware, etc.
Sit down in the kitchen to eat so that the puzzle can be viewed from afar. It is better to leave the dining table undisturbed. Speak to the small children attempting to mess with the puzzle even if you cannot see them.
Maybe I should look for the special table to build the puzzle on. I kind of liked having dinner at the dining table. We sat closer to the little apparition girls and I could chase them away as necessary while eating. The little girls seem to show up a lot at dinner time.
These days Cheryl is certain that we are not home and wonders when we are going home.
In the background she knows she is home.
But maybe not. Cheryl has lost most concept of time. Calendar time, Day of the week, hour of the day, time until the next event, how much lead time to get dressed or ready; all of these time conceptions are gone. She becomes angry with me reminding her how much time she has left. Maybe I am doing it wrong. She talked (and talks) in implication and inference but my conversation is direct. When she says she is going to do something I assume that she going to do it and I will reminder of her conversation, even help steer her toward her goal that seems to anger her sometimes. It is not my intent to anger her but merely to remind her what road she started out with and keep her on it to completion.
Little girls seem to come and go. The woman who takes care of the little girls seems to come and go with them. Others seem to move her stuff around. And then daylight returns.
It was a miserable eve. Cheryl has had her meds adjusted a bit to help with creeping dementia issues. The doctor has been slowly increasing the dosage to creep up on the optimal dose. The most common side effect is nausea and vomiting. The new prescription is at the optimal dose and it appears Cheryl cannot tolerate it at that level. She has been sitting on the bathroom floor on and off for most of the afternoon.
As she was building up to this dose for the past several months, I expected to see some behavioral changes. I have not. As the situation got worse I terminated giving this med to Cheryl.
But last night (New Year + 1) was very difficult and very different. I thought that perhaps this drug did not work for her but it did reduce and eliminate the strange compulsive behavior that she exhibits. She also became delusional. She was certain I did not belong here.
On the next day, Monday, I called the doctor’s office and got her nurse practitioner on the phone. It is hard to explain how excited I was to have someone call back that knows Cheryl and her condition and has seen her on a regular basis. I explained what Cheryl was going thru and that I had discontinued the medication to relieve the symptoms. The NP recommended that I adjust one of the meds she was already taking with no ill physical effects and perhaps Cheryl would sleep solidly through the night and do better the next day. It worked.
Still searching for clues at the scene of the crime (Joe Walsh).
It’s a new day. Today is football day. Seems like everyone everywhere is tuned to some kind of football game. It used to be, many years ago, a time to visit our in-laws. Our niece’s birthday was January 1st. She died a year or so back not from the Covid dilemma but from other health issues. She had not been well for some time. We have not celebrated her birthday for some time. Families are complicated and estrangement is often part of the complication.
It’s a new month. January is often cold but it seems to take winter some time to get started. This January is no different. It is rainy and poopy outside today and the temperature is expected to drop into the upper teens overnight. I am so glad we live in the times we live in. It will not be necessary for me to add coal to the fire for overnight nor will it be necessary for me to huddle underneath a buffalo skin.
The current federal administration authored a congressional bill referred to as “build back better”. The previous administration had a motto of “make america great again”. Both of these are ludicrous. Both imply that there is something not quite right with now. That is absurd. Nothing is wrong with now. We are not heating with coal or huddling under buffalo skins. Slowly, ever so slowly we are converting to electric powered transportation.
Now is not perfect, of course, but it is greatly better than what was. We often think what was is better that what is. Still searching for it, clues, that is. Try to enjoy and be in the moment.
It’s a new year and thank God for that.
Resolutions? Yep. Do better at living now not ago. Try to not get fat living now.
The little people who used to visit are back. That is my own little joke. The little people never really left our home. I was merely ignoring Cheryl’s behavior.
They were back in a vivid sense to Cheryl. This chair arrangement is left over from their visit. She was showing them the pictures on the frame. She went into full on grandmother mode describing the picture to the kiddos.
I asked who was there and she replied Natalie and Max.
We left a little while later to got to our support group meeting. While there she asked if I had called home to make sure the kids were all right. Apparently they were more vivid than at other times in her head. When we returned home she looked for them.
We sat and watched Bob hearts Abishola which is her new favorite show. The kids seemed to be gone for now.
When I tell her that there is no one else here except us I feel as though I am standing in the back of a crowded room saying this to her.
Today, earlier, she asked me to rub her hair conditioner into her scalp. I do this once or twice a week when she asks. She referred to me as “Mom”. I had a little petulant moody reaction and said “I am not your mom.” She said, “No. You are my dad.” I replied that I was not her dad either, I was her husband. To which she said, “But you are the one I love.” (AHA! Edie) She merely could not pull the name and relationship out of her head.
It was another Aha-moment in our life together. It was a very important moment. All of my life as an engineer words have had a very specific meaning to me. Perhaps the words should not when understanding Cheryl’s needs.
Carpe diem — hunt for the special moments of insight and empathy. Those are special. If you miss them they may be gone forever.