When the children were small we began a tradition of making a trip to Myrtle Beach about once each year. The company that I worked for at the time used a pair of common vacation weeks which always landed at the end of July and the first week of August.
The company paid us salaried folks every four weeks called a period. The vacation weeks were the middle two weeks of the eighth period of the year. There were thirteen periods in a year and every few years a week was added to the thirteenth period to correct alignment with a normal calendar year. The Roman’s and later on the Pope would have been proud of Cincinnati Milacron.
Every year for 15 years or so our family went on vacation in the hottest part of the Ohio summer. Since my father worked for Milacron the memories of this vacation time goes back to childhood.
Cheryl liked to hike and walk. Not being an especially athletic person she substituted hiking and walking for any other athletic endeavor. At Myrtle Beach we would get up early hike the empty beach. It is where I first saw the green flash that occurs when the sun comes up over the ocean.
On other vacations over the years hiking was a big motivator. In every state park or national park or area that we stopped in walking and hiking was a major part of the experience. Maps were collected upon arrival and put to good use during the stay. In one Kentucky park our hike was about ten miles. It is without a doubt the thing I miss most with the onslaught of Parkinson. Her struggle to walk freely and move easily is disheartening. It was in many ways our main entertainment.
Conversation, discussion, debate, points won, points lost were all accompanied by a satisfyingly long walk. I think I miss those more than I can easily express.
Today my daughter and her husband took a long walk down the beach together. I was envious.
This time at the beach I am pushing her here and there. There are special wheelchairs for the beach and they are free. There is good ice cream across the road. I pushed her there too.
Last evening as we drove to our granddaughter’s high school graduation it became apparent to me that although Cheryl knew who I was she did not really know who I am. She started talking about events in the past that we had done or children and grandchildren, sometimes mixing those together. Her discussion might start out as Paul and I did this or Paul and I did that or Paul told me etc. It makes one wonder about the complexity of the human mind.
In one of these conversations, an incredibly lucid one, she said to me that she thought her Parkinson disease was getting worse. (AHA) She went on to say that her memory was very bad at times. I just took a deep breath and let her continue. She explained that she was having a harder and harder time remembering names and relationships (she said “who they belong to”) and that thought bothered her. Throughout the rest of the evening at the graduation ceremony, pictures in the courtyard outside the high school and on the way home, this failure to remember names and relationships was forefront on her mind.
This information is very important to Cheryl. Embarrassment or shyness keeps her from merely asking, “who are you?” I told her that she can always ask me who the other people are and I would tell if I knew. I am not shy. I merely say, I’m sorry I’ve lost your name in my head.
Most times these drive along conversations fall into the category of prattle and I can respond with, ugh-huh or yes that is probably true or I don’t know about that but, yesterday evening it was more serious than that. Last night it affected her sleep as she began to worry about how everyone fits together. She could not find those relationships in her head to her satisfaction. She spent the three hours from eleven PM to two AM speaking to herself in a low voice and fidgeting with her hands. Fidgeting often accompanies her discussions with herself as well as others.
There was a lot of hugging and reassurance that I would always help. She on the other hand is aware of her memories dissipating into the ether and it scares her.
Indeed, her disease is getting worse.
Living in the present is all that is left when one cannot plan ahead nor remember past experiences. Disappointment was rampant in our drive along yesterday. Regan’s graduation ceremony, however, was well orchestrated. She is on to the next thing. (Smartphones take really crappy long photos but here is some from the ceremony.)
Birthdays are a big deal to some. Not so much to others. Cheryl got several cards from friends through the mail.
This vase of flowers magically appeared on Cheryl’s birthday with Natalie when she came to clean. Her sister Nancy had sent flowers for her birthday and Natalie selected them.
In the evening we went to a little cafe nearby to celebrate Cheryl’s birthday with our daughter, granddaughter and her brother. As I was putting Cheryl’s walker out of the aisle in the crowded little restaurant, a woman seated by herself remarked that I was a good husband. She had watched me guide Cheryl into the booth near the window. I told her that I try to take care of Cheryl as best as I can. She told me her husband had passed away a few years previous and she missed him greatly.
When I paid our tab for dinner I paid for her dinner also.
Today is Cheryl’s birthday. She is not sure how old she is and that is a good thing in many aspects. When I remind her, her answer is, “Really?”
Tonight we will go to dinner to celebrate. It was a spontaneous decision on my part. Some of her family will come too. With parkie’s many decisions are spontaneous. One has to determine how the day is going.
Her sister Nancy sent her some spontaneous flowers. Our niece, Natalie, brought them with her when she came to clean our condo today.
Spontaneity is the spice of life and living in the moment is something we all need to do more often.
Cheryl was moving slowly this morning but she said yes when I asked if she wanted to go to exercise class. I asked her if she wanted her blue shoes. She said, no, I want the pink shoes.
An old do-wop song jumped into my head.
It is amazing the crap flying around in your brain. I wonder how that works.
In Cheryl’s case it does not work as well as it once did. Her memories are jumbled up. She remembers that our granddaughter Laurencia is about to be graduated from The Ohio State University but mixes that memory with her mother’s teaching career. I used to correct the story but I no longer do.
Our granddaughter Regan is finishing high school and will move on to attend Ohio University at the end of this month. That idea is jumbled up with our grandson Max who graduated last year and is going to Miami University. When Cheryl tells the story we have three graduates. One of whom has been teaching for a couple years.
She wore her pink shoes with gray shoelaces, a flowered shirt and man oh man…
Cheryl and I gathered last night at a place on a little river nearby with most of her brothers and sisters to celebrate nothing in particular. They just wanted to be together for a bit and share dinner.
The conversation swirled around Cheryl and a small child in the next room was testing her lungs on the building acoustical characteristics by screaming. She was probably about three years old and comfortable in her own skin. No one was scolding her.
Tari had her bluetooth cicada stuck in her ear in case there was an emergency and drank a very white pina colada. (I always saw them as yellow sometimes pink if they had a maraschino cherry garnish.) I put my cheap cellphone on the table in anticipation of Cheryl’s 7PM medication but forgot to check if the alarm was set. Nancy has gotten Gene to drink amaretto sours which is the only thing she will drink other than water. Gene usually drinks only water. Cheryl had a Pepsi because they did not have Coca Cola. Ken ordered a Captain and Sprite which I suppose is another Pepsi product. Jill drank water no ice. I had a dark colored Budweiser tasting beer (beir) on tap brewed locally by some mystery brewer specially for this restaurant. It was okay bier.
The food was excellent. The Deutsche themed restaurant offered schnitzel which I have not had for some time. Kartopfelpfannkuchen came with it. I ordered that. It was perfect. Cheryl ordered chicken tenders with the signature bourbon barbecue sauce, broccoli and apple sauce. She ate most of it which meant she both liked it and she was hungry. Barbecue chicken of some sort was the majority dish for the rest of the table. Others had a rib-eye steak and chicken cordon bleu. Those decisions made the conversation continued loudly. Cheryl had her parkie voice on which is very quiet.
The room was decorated with models of tanks and other weapons of war. Above the two marines in the front window there hung a bazooka the nemesis of tank warfare. It did not appear loaded. The current Abrams (M1) tank did not have a model present as did not the Bradley fighting vehicle. I think there was a Patton on display.
This is the sort of gathering that Cheryl’s mother Elaine would have enjoyed and as we were driving away it became apparent that Elaine had been there. She began to worry that her mom would not get home. That was our job most of the time when her mom was still alive. I assured her that her mom was where she lived now and would not need a ride. Cheryl reminded herself that her mom had passed onto another plane.
When we got home we watched TV for a bit and as it got closer to bedtime and she was more tired, she was also more confused. We talked some more about Elaine and as she remembered that her mom was in heaven, she asked, “Was there a funeral?” I replied, yes. Do you not remember? No, I do not she told me. So I started down the road of jogging her memory. Nancy got up and read a wonderful eulogy about your mom. Do you remember? Oh yes I remember that now. She talked about Bob and Mom. (Nancy did not but did a very respectable job of eulogizing her mom.) It is hard to keep calm and composed when your parkie wife wanders off into the memorial weeds. I merely acknowledged that and reminded her that we had a little luncheon in St. Clement’s lunch area. She remembered that pretty well.
She calmed down and called our son Scott with the news that we were home downstairs of grandma. After she finished her call with Scott she asked, “Is grandma not upstairs?” Her thoughts will bounce around for awhile after a big group gathering. She eventually remembered that her grandmother had passed away but became anxious for a bit that she could not remember any of it. Her grandmother’s funeral was early in our married years. I could not help her remember but we did settle on her calling her cousin Barb to find out what happened to grandma Moeller. (Today as I write this I notice that any and all of that anxiety is gone.)
Trying to keep up with conversation with her siblings is exhausting for her. They are catching up and joking around. This activity takes her back to her childhood and young adulthood. The small child screaming at random intervals seemed to add a nuance of grandchild. Her mom was there too. She was in the house on Phillips Avenue and we went home downstairs to where Aunt Jean lived. These were confusing thought patterns.
And eventually we both went to sleep.
Today after I took her to exercise class, Cheryl ate the leftovers that she brought home for lunch . She suggested that we go back there for dinner or lunch again. We will. They have food that Cheryl likes. Suggesting that we go back is a big endorsement from Cheryl.
I might get a different bier though.
Sadly this room was decorated with weapons of war or krieg as the Germans would say. All in all a good family visit.
Yesterday (a few days ago actually) was Easter Sunday. Like many families we gathered to celebrate it and simply be together.
Grandpa made a ham and all the kids showed up with food and drinks to provide sustenance.
All of the grandchildren, save one, are teenagers or older anxious to get onto their lives. As I looked around the room and watched Cheryl light up and become mom for awhile I wondered who they would all turn out to be.
The oldest soon to be graduated from the university will remain in the same city. After having accepted a position with a business consulting firm there, apartment hunting is the main concern. Frugality seems the overriding criteria although location is also important. There is a gap between starting the new job and commencement at the university so there is time for vacation with family and trips with friends before starting the new career. This time of life is exciting. It was for me. I can understand a little about how this grandchild is feeling. She was such a cute little one growing up. We have many great memories of her. I pray she will do well in life.
Her younger brother is in his first year of university. It is the transition year. He is looking for himself. He is attending classes at the same school that I was graduated from 50 years ago. The fact that he is attending my old school probably influences how I think about him. He will do fine in life if he becomes aware of other’s needs. He is attentive to his grandmother. I remind him when I get the chance to take classes in topics that he may be interested in. He is actually a pretty good family storyteller. He found some old videos from his family’s younger years and strung them together in a competent narrative. I suggested journalism might help with his nascent storytelling talent.
Behind him in age is a younger sister who after becoming an early reader and chocoholic like me, flashed by him in high school math classes. She ran through the math available at her high school and takes college level classes. She has learned to fly and is interested in attending the Air Force Academy in Colorado. Her mother wants her to have a backup plan if she does not get into the academy but I think her heart is set on Colorado. She is so young. Her entire life stretching before her. She is a wonderful dancer and a part of her high school’s competition dance team. She will accomplish her goals.
The baby sister in that same family is clever and crafty. She is a child that has been and is always interested in many things both arts and crafts. She has her own workroom in the basement of their house were she can pursue her interests without disturbance. She plays in her high school band and seems to love it. Just a few months from driving age and the freedom that driving yourself to activities and friend’s houses, she too has limitless horizons in front of her.
Her cousin is an avid swimmer and swims with his high school swim team. He is ahead of his younger sibling by eleven years in life. Their relationship is special. At grandma’s house he often sits quietly somewhere with his earbuds in, futzing with some game on his phone. Like many kids his age (and his Dad) he is an avid gamer. He does not isolate himself though, if you address him directly he responds. He has a couple more years until he needs to think about university or other. I hope he gets his driving license soon. I could hire him to take me places. He is a good student and will do well.
His tiny brother is eleven solar circuits behind him. His happy face lights up the room and makes my heart smile. Grandma got down on the floor to help with the marble track. Oh, to be young again.
Another grandson and the oldest of his family group is still searching for himself. He has come to the conclusion that driving pizzas for a living, although okay for now, is not a career goal. He is a wonderful photographer with a high skill for composition that I think he should pursue. But I am grandpa. I am not a counselor. He is still searching for his dream.
The only one of the grandchildren missing is his sister. She graduates from high school next month and has her sights set on a university in southern Ohio. She is president of her high school class, an avid volleyball player and has her sights set on bigger things. She will do well in life.
It was a wonderful visit and I hope a good time was had by all.
There is a sameness to our daily life with this disappointing disease of Sam Parkinson. On many of these days I am saddened by the fact that he described it but was unable to say, “Aha! Here is a cure.” Early on few have been able to describe all of the other features of the disease. From my perspective, preparation is a big part of success in future endeavors. All of these kids I have described know this. Some learned it early, some learned it later but all of them recognize preparation is important. I want to be prepared for what the future brings Cheryl and me. So many aspects of Parkinson disease are unknown. Every day is new. Every day is the same. Easter, however, was special. Most were here.
What Rose Forgot is a novel by Nevada Barr. Rose, the main character, is struggling with mental illness and memory loss brought on by some unseemly characters in her family. Her granddaughter helps her through the dilemma that she finds herself in. But one line early in the novel stuck out – memories fell into her head like random boulders from a bucket high up all jumbled with no relationship to each other.
Cheryl’s conversation, especially in the evening, is much like that. Kathy came to visit her today and I noticed that her conversation and memories are like that during the day also. Kathy ignored any incongruities if she knew they where there. Had I been sitting near Cheryl I would have had to correct her memory of people and events. It is really, really difficult for me to not jump in to the conversation to fix things.
But I am getting better at it.
I am not certain that I got the quote right but the image is there. Random chunks of memory come into Cheryl’s head. It makes me sad. Sometimes she realizes that this is happening.
Tonight when we came back from getting ice cream at our favorite ice cream store, she went off looking for her Mom in our condo. I did not stop her or correct her impression. And, to her, perhaps, Elaine was there.
I am in pursuit of her calmness of mind. And I admit it makes me anxious.