Perpetual Calendar

Today I updated my special occasions calendar.

You know the one,

The months and days are listed

But not a year.

You note your special events, birthdays, anniversaries.

Some call it a perpetual calendar

But it is not.

As I added six new birthdays, two new anniversaries

I also deleted ten names

They had died this year, too many.

Yes, they are gone I thought

But only from the perpetual calendar

They remain in my heart.



Have a Madeira M’dear…

Have a Madeira. M’ dear…

…and oh boy did I need it.  My insides were scrambled.    I was scared and my legs were shaking as I gingerly climbed down from the toboggan that had just brought us down from the Botanical Gardens in Madeira. I glanced at Bert and he was peeling his fingers one by one off the bar that he had gripped as he turned a paler shade of white as we descended.  But let’s start at the beginning.

We were on a Transatlantic cruise from Barbados  to Malaga, Spain. We had had a problem on board ship with the water and would be in Madeira earlier and longer than scheduled.   The ship docked at tea time and the island looked so inviting a few of us decided to have dinner ashore.

Four of us were lucky to get Fernando.  My journal says: “taxi driver is Fernando, about 4 ft 2 ins.  and very enthusiastic about his island”.  He was funny, garrulous, a walking encyclopedia of what to see and do on Madeira.  He recommended a restaurant DAVINAS and took us there with a promise to come back for us. This was a seafood restaurant and wonderful, I wrote. I made note too that we had Madeira wine both as aperitif and after dinner drink.

We made a date with Fernando to pick us up next morning for an all day island tour.

The island of Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal. It is small, very mountainous, flowers always in bloom.  However, if you love the beach then do not go to Madeira.  Rocks, cliffs, craggy outcroppings, wonderful hiking routes on the levadas (irrigation channel found only in Madeira) with amazing views are what you will find in abundance but no good beach.

Fernando was magnificent as he took us around the island and showed us all the sights while peppering us with a running commentary that took in history, social mores, politics and everything in between. At Our Lady of the Mountain in Monte church we saw the tomb of Charles the 1st of Austria.  We had drinks at a restaurant in a Pousada which was located at an elevation of 6000 ft. in the clouds. Literally. We stopped for lunch at Marico, El Padrilo which was surrounded by bougainvillea and where for the first time I tasted passion fruit liqueur.

Fernando then sold us on going up to the Botanical gardens by cable car and coming down by toboggan. We were game.  He would be waiting for us halfway up the mountain where the toboggan ride ended to take us to Madeira wine cellars for a talk and tasting.  Sounded good and off we went.  Bert was not too enthusiastic about the cable car as he is afraid of heights but if I am going then so is he and he was looking forward to coming down on a toboggan.  That would be fun he said.

It was this ‘fun’ toboggan ride that scrambled the insides and resulted in the death grip. The toboggan is actually a wicker basket guided by two men in boaters, white pants and special shoes…think of the gondoliers in Venice but on dry land with you in a basket hurtling down a steep hill of many curves with two mad people running behind.  All you can do is hold on for dear life and pray.  It was wonderful to reach the stop and see Fernando trying desperately not to laugh.  He did not say much as he drove us to the cellars.  Wise man.  We tasted and tasted and after enough Madeira we agreed the toboggan run was sort of ‘fun’. My journal says we bought four bottles of Madeira, two bottles of passion fruit liqueur and two bottles of Vinho Verde.  I wonder now if my insides had settled enough to drink any that night.  I doubt it.

The Meander: We have been back to Madeira three or four times, and have encouraged others to do the ‘run’, but for us once was enough.  Travel to discover, to explore and sometimes to dare.

Turtles are Moms too

Turtles are moms too – Costa Rica

It is as if a large tractor trailer has passed over the beach.  But no.  That cannot be.  Your guide points and you turn toward the sea to see a very large oval sprouting appendages climb laboriously from the water over the beach and upward above the high tide line into the soft sand.  A prehistoric creature, silent, quiet, its head slowly pivots from side to side in time with the huge flippers and legs and the stumpy tail. It looks awkward as it crawls aiming upward to choose a place. It is a slow process.

The creature, a leatherback turtle weighing upwards of 1000 pounds finds a spot and begins to dig.  It is the epitome of patience.  You want to help. But you have been warned, be as quiet as possible, observe but do not touch, absolutely no photographs, give them space and marvel at a wonder of nature.

One hundred or more eggs are laid in the large hole. She makes no sound. Just a slight movement as each egg is expelled into the large nest she has built. Her eyes leak tears which run in rivulets down her cheeks to fall in the sand.  Then tail twitching and flippers working the eggs are completely covered with the fine sand. The women hold hands, the mothers relate in an instinctive manner, bonding in the ritual of giving birth.

Job done, she turns and lumbers back to the sea.  There is a joyous flip, almost a jump as she reaches the surf and rides a wave back to the ocean. She rises and falls, now graceful and balletic in movement as the ocean welcomes her again.

We see eight more turtles come to lay their eggs on Tortuguero in Costa Rica.  We wait as we cross paths with one, yielding to her,  giving her space to make her journey above the tide line to build her nest, to lay her eggs, to do what nature says she must.

Her tears are natural.  The weeping is continuous to clear the sand from the turtle’s eyes as she digs and covers up the nest. To every woman they look like the tears, the pain of childbirth.

Moving, touching, incredible sight, UNFORGETTABLE.

The Meander:  When the eggs hatch only about ten percent make it to sea.  By law, indigenous populations are allowed to harvest a portion of the eggs and there are the poachers too. Then as the hatchlings try to get to the sea many are eaten by birds. It is just so.


Caregivers are nurturers in reverse

Caregivers are nurturers in reverse.

Think about the euphoria when your baby  was born.  You held the tiny mewling human being with love and tenderness and you started to plan and to envision a future full of hope and dreams.

This life is entrusted to you, to care for, to direct, to teach all that is necessary to provide a foundation for a life yet to be lived.  You could be holding the next Prime Minister/doctor/teacher/entrepreneur. The possibilities are endless.  You try to conjure up the passages of life: Graduation, marriage, children, success in whatever they choose to do in their life.

Now consider dementia.  You have achieved so much.  You have the children, have enjoyed a satisfying career, have made a name for yourself as a businessman, have loved what you did as work or study.  You have enjoyed pleasures untold, participated in events that are uplifting, awe inspiring. You have lived.  Then comes dementia.

As a caregiver you are given this awesome task to begin  the nurturing process again. To teach, to train, to protect, to guide, and to do the things that you did as you cared for your child.  You remember how to kiss away the hurt.  You plan your life to be there, always there.  You live in two realities.  You think and see and hear and plan and live for two.

When your child is born you look forward with hope and joy.  When your loved one has dementia you look forward with trepidation.  Your child is a beginning.  Your loved with dementia is an ending. You have the complete responsibility for both.  You anticipate the next step with both.  Your parental and caring skills are in high demand for both. The difference is that one was your child, the other is your husband, partner, mother, father, sister, brother, friend. You try to process that and realize the full extent of the chasm that  yawns between the dreams for your child and the imagined nightmare from this time forward.

Those stages you anticipated with love is a progression with your child that you see through 18 years or more.  Your loved one also exhibits stages of progression of dementia which you could be living through for 18 years or more – still with love.

The Meander:  Acknowledging the reality is the first step to coping.  Then look in  your loved ones eyes. See the absolute trust they have in you. Know that absolute trust brings absolute responsibility.  You are their world. Know that you are the most loved person in the world. Awesome.

Travel Language

Travel language

Bert and I are multilingual speakers in travel language.  Bert actually is proficient in seven languages and I can get by in three and a half. Travel language is different in that it means being able to greet, ask a few very important questions and say goodbye in the language spoken in whatever country you are.  Given our passion for travel we have mastered the stock phrases like  good morning, yes, no, please, thank you, where is the bathroom, a beer please, my name is… in many languages.  

Greek is Greek to me.  Here I was throwing around Kalimera,  Efharisto and parakalo with aplomb to our waiter who was so impressed he offered to teach us more Greek.  He showed us what those words looked like written in Greek.  I looked, I saw and decided this was unconquerable. I was reminded of the oft repeated verse of my high school days when I was studying another ancient language.

Latin is a language

As dead as dead can be

At first it killed the Romans

And now it’s killing me.

Now take Swedish.  Please. It has special significance.  We have family there. I love to hear Swedish spoken but I find it very difficult to learn.  My niece and I have a continuous game.  When we are together I have to say sjukhus and she has to say unbelievable.  For some reason those words are unpronounceable to us in each other’s languages.  She cannot get those syllables coming out the correct way and when I say sjukhus it comes out  ‘cookhouse’.  You should know that sjukhus means hospital. Dissected it seems logical,   sjukhus = sick house= place for sick people = hospital. The Swedish mouth says it so ‘Swedely’.  Coming from my mouth it is bizarre to say the least.  If you are sick would you choose to go to a cookhouse?

Our winter in Bali gave us an opportunity to enhance our vocabulary beyond the norm.  The official language of Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesian, but there are over 300 dialects spoken. We were in Bali so we tried to speak Balinese.  One bonus of our diligence is that  as cruisers we travel on ships with Indonesian crew and they are always pleasantly surprised when right away I greet them in their own language. I can also tell the Balinese the order of their birth by reading their name tags.

In South Africa I seem to understand more than I should in Afrikaans but not isiZulu, the most populous language. Afrikaans is similar enough to the Dutch language that although my husband did not teach me much Dutch I can maneuver through it somewhat. I do not speak Dutch but I could find my way around in The Netherlands and, surprise, South Africa.

The Meander: Travel language is minimal communication that brings a great reward.  Say the simplest word or phrase in the local tongue and the smiles get bigger, the help is forthcoming, the warmth spreads and the welcome more expansive. The effort is very much appreciated

Suspicions confirmed

Suspicions confirmed.

“Yes, Mrs. De Ronde, your husband has early to mid stage dementia/Alzheimer’s disease.”

I heard the words. They did not register or perhaps they did at a depth not yet plumbed.  My stomach moved and there was fuzziness in my brain. I saw a long, dark, dense, never ending tunnel.  There was a total absence of light. My heart lost a beat or two then started again.

It was perhaps two years previous that I had begun to suspect that something was not quite right.  Sure, my Bert was older than me.  It was a subject for teasing throughout our marriage.  Comments like ‘robbing the cradle’ would come up now and then always with a laugh.  We often observed that though  younger I would perhaps die first as Bert had the better genes.  Then at his 80th birthday party I noticed that he did not remember our friends’ names and he was asking me to remind him who some of them were. If they were people we did not see from one year to another it would not have made an impact, but these were close friends.

I passed it off as that old age thing creeping up on us and the usual forgetfulness that comes with it, that there was no reason to worry.  He was entitled to be a little forgetful.  Heck, I also suffered from that forgetfulness syndrome too. I had walked into the bedroom from the kitchen and forgotten why I went there in the first place.

Then nine months prior to downsizing, as we were preparing our home for sale, I asked Bert to take some table linens downstairs to the laundry room.  He was gone for about five minutes then he came back to me and asked me where he should put the tablecloths.  I said: “In the laundry room”.  I watched as he walked out of the kitchen, through the dining room and to the living room.  He stopped, looked around, then went along the passage to the main bathroom, looked in then went to our bedroom.  He came back out, went   into one guest room and as he turned to retrace his steps, he saw the stairs, nodded and went down them to the laundry.

I knew I had to get him to the doctor. I had to get him assessed.  Now here we were and I was being told the result of the various assessments.  The words I just heard were not the words anyone wants to hear yet they were not unexpected.

I looked down that tunnel and realized that if there was to be any light, I would have to create it myself. I also knew I needed help.

The Meander: Here was a new journey.  Had all that had gone before in my life in preparation for this?