Family, friends and anyone receiving mail from me know that my usual signature is ‘Hugs’.  Sometimes it is ‘love and hugs’ or ‘lots of hugs’ but somewhere the word ‘hugs’ will appear. It was our younger son who turned me on to hugs and in whose memory my signature is delivered.  In fact, when I hear of something particularly happy or sad, or needing that little bit of extra, you not only get my hug but a ‘Damien hug’ also.  Close friends will call and tell me that they need a Damien hug when they encounter one of life’s more challenging moments.  Damien hugs are special.  He gave the best hugs.  They are happy hugs and also healing hugs.

Hugs are wonderful.  You cannot give one without getting one in return.  Talk about a win-win situation. I am so in love with giving hugs that I almost got myself in trouble because of that.  I give them freely, often and always with a smile.  When I cannot give them in person I send them in snail mail,  emails and messages. Even my voice mail ends with a suggestion to hug someone.  One unexpected and dear friend I have is a result of an email hug.

Here I was sweating over a letter asking for support for one of my community volunteer projects.  This was perhaps the tenth iteration of this most important missive.  I wanted it to be the best ask ever.  Outline the project, say why I believed this person was the most appropriate for the task, show a commonality of purpose, emphasize the positive, and predict a most favourable outcome and personal reward in helping to make the project a success. It also had to be grammatically correct, persuasive and not overly long. Phew.

I had been told that all I had to do was to put the request in writing and forward via email it to a particular address.  Once I decided on the final version,  I took a deep breath and clicked ‘send’.

Feeling good about a task accomplished and reasonably done well I decided to print the letter and put it in the relevant file. Yes, I keep hard copies.  I have no idea where that paperless society is.  Smiling complacently, I looked at the printed copy and gasped.  My wonderful painstakingly written, grammar perfect letter boasted ‘Hugs’ above my legible full signature.

After the moan, the groan and swear words in English and languages I did not know, I could only become philosophical.  I rationalized that I had aimed too high, that I would not have received a positive response in any case and so this mistake was from the philanthropic gods preparing me for  the let down.  I resigned myself and began to winnow my lists of contacts to select a second choice.  Well, I reasoned, I already have a letter that I can  edit, I would not have to start again from scratch. Faint consolation.

Surprise, surprise!  Almost one week later I received a call.


“May I speak with Paula de Ronde”

“This is Paula”

“Ahem, do you always close your letters of requests with hugs?”

Omigosh, here we go. Do I tell the truth? As I hesitated, I heard a laugh.

“It’s OK.  I really needed a hug that day and then came your letter and my day brightened immediately.”

A huge sigh, and in my relief, I gushed: “I wanted the letter to be perfect and was totally distraught.  I could hardly believe my eyes at what I had done. I thought this was it, a harbinger for me to prepare myself for a negative reply.”

“That’s interesting, as I thought this was an omen that I should say yes to your request.  It is yes, and by the way, you may send me hugs anytime you wish”.

We have been sharing hugs whenever and wherever we meet and our messages always end with ‘hugs’.

Among Damien’s personal effects was this laminated card.  It says: FREE HUG COUPON; Good for a minimum of one HUG; Redeemable from any cooperating HUMAN; A Hug improves anyone’s appearance; (and the small print reads) “Greet one another with a holy hug” Romans 16:16


The Meander:  The reverse of the card is an article entitled Hugs Called Good Medicine . The social scientist lists many benefits and says: “You need four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance and 12 for growth.”   Here is a hug for you.  Now you only need 11 more. Oh heck, here are some more…



Now we are nine

It is a universal truth that we will die, but as a caregiver that reality takes on an immediacy that is incomprehensible to those who do not travel this journey.  Yet it is still shrouded in mystery.   It is a wallpaper always in the background of every new observance of slow deterioration. Yes, we will die and yes, we are caring for someone who is slowly dying.  There is a reason that Alzheimer’s disease is referred to as a ‘Slow death’.  Yet, like all of us we do not know when or how or even where.

Current statistics state that 80 percent of caregiver’s will suffer from depression. Not documented is the percentage of caregivers who die before the one with dementia.  That happens and I would hazard a guess it occurs more frequently than reported.  My Lifeline Group often voice the sentiment that they do not want to die before their spouses.  We all want to care for our loved ones until the end.  Yet we know we have no control over that.  This fear is just one of the rungs on the ladder of depression.

The fact is that Alzheimer’s disease leads to death.  We acknowledge that but when it happens it is no less traumatic than any other passing of a loved one. So we experienced a deep sadness when our Lifeline Group of five couples was reduced to nine. One in the family had died.  We mourned together.  We could not help but wonder who would be next.

When I got the news a year ago today, it hurt.  I had to mark the moment somehow so I sat and wrote:

Now we are 9                                                                                

We met by chance but perhaps not

We ten self-selected from a disparate group

United by the ever mutating forgetfulness

Of partners here but not here; changed yet unchanging

Living in two worlds; alternate realities.

We ten bonded deciding to share, to care, to laugh, to love, to live.

There is just one escape, we know it

It is the same for all – the ultimate equalizer.

We refused to speculate or predict

How could we?

Each day, learning, all effort focussed on doing, doing, doing.

Each day new, unexpected, mysterious, unknown, surprising,

Each day its own journey within the journey

Now the news – one is gone.

We contemplate the expected unexpected and wonder

We are sad for the death and sadder for the living.

We mourn the loss

We – the Ten that are now

The 9.

The Meander: It is good we do not know the future and it does no good to speculate.  One day at a time is the way we must live as each one is new, different and unique to each of us.  We carry on, we share and we continue to care for each other.  Today my heart sighs for the two who is now the one.

Alzheimer’s University


Alzheimer’s University

My Lifeline Group is very well educated.  We are all geniuses.  It is a requirement if we are to be successful at Alzheimer’s University. The tagline for my blog is Standing Still is not an Option.  At Alzheimer’s University failure is not an option.

Truth be told I think we are still at the first year level, so arduous and complex is this University.  At this university first year may span one year or four years or more.  An Alzheimer’s degree is a multi-disciplinary degree with many courses.  No specialization offered as we have to do every course no matter how arcane it seems or whether we have an interest in the subject or not.  We must slog through the many topics. So with tongue firmly in cheek, here are a few of the courses:

Mastering questions – the same ones at least five times in thirty minutes in year one.  By year three it may be ten in ten minutes.

Seeking Logic in the illogical -Advanced Seminar that may have you being five persons, literally.

Confronting stigma – this is a much needed course to face the world and explain: “It’s a disease”.

Comedy unCentral – seeing the ridiculous in clearly highly emotional and terrifying moments.

Continuous patience module – you are required to show more and more patience in increasingly  stultifying and incrementally frustrating moments and which will include seeking divine intervention!

Living in two worlds – a core subject in which you learn to identify the real and Alzheimer’s world and find the ability to move between the two seamlessly.

Therapeutic lying, master’s level– a practicum

Creative thinking and solutions to banal issues like hiding the tooth cup or spraying the alligator away.

Accepting the abnormal as normal as in looking for the bread basket in the laundry room, in the washer.

Putting yourself first – a required course for caregivers. Success in this gives you a Ph.D degree.  This one is taught every semester for as long as the journey lasts and is almost unattainable. As I write this I can imagine fellow caregivers proclaiming sarcastically: “As if’!

Eliminating Tiredness – a professor is still being sought to teach this course. Qualified applicants may apply here!

The Meander: As the journey unfolds each of these ‘subjects’ will have a post or two.  Each day brings new insights.  I will share them willingly in the hope it brings a smile or some new understanding of this special path we caregivers travel together. (Illustration courtesy of Pixaby)


Earthquake! Terremoto!

Earthquake!     Terremoto!

February 27, 2010 at approximately 3:35 a.m. the bed rocks. I wake up. I put my hand out to Bert: “Did you….” The walls shift to the right. The bed rolls …”feel that?”

Bert leaps straight from sleep and grabs the 21 inch T.V. from its stand. It is as if it was only a toy.

“It’s an earthquake,” I scream.  He slams down the T.V. on the bed and races into the living room.

The gut clenches. Fear is a building that moves and shakes and trembles and floors that undulate. We are on the topmost floor, the sixth.  The ceiling seems to be moving in concert with the walls. That seems good, somehow.

Pure terror grips me and I know viscerally that we will die.  Extraneous thoughts intervene:  Wills are made and our friend Maureen,  knows that if something happens to us, to give the envelope to Harry.  Oh son, oh darling, your parents are going to die here in Santiago. We love you. We love everybody!

Crash.  Sounds of breaking glass. Bert cannot find his footing as the floor does another dip and shimmies as it falls back in place. He bellows: “We have to get out.”  There is a complete discrepancy of feet as the floor rises, falls, dips and jitterbugs in a danse macabre. More sounds. This time an eerie cacophony as the entire building screeches in protest. The curtains race to the left of the track then race back.  The lights go out!  Another crash! Terror made more terrible in the darkness. There is bewilderment as the building seems to belch while steel and concrete rolled then shifted and I know it will crack wide open. Another heave. A waltz of death. How long can this last? A lull, but no peace nor release from fear.

Shouts. The security guard is knocking on doors. Terremoto! “Get out, get out”. We open the door and he screams at Bert: “Put on your pants”. It is all in Spanish.

“What is he saying?” Bert asks.

“He says you are to put on your pants and we are to leave the building”.

“I told you we should get out. Come on.”

Confusion. Is this a dream?  I seem to watch myself put on a robe. I want to go back to bed but Bert grabs my hand.  We get to the door and use the light from my cell-phone to go down six flights of stairs.

People are milling about. Some are crying, some are swearing never to go back indoors, all are bewildered and frightened.  Pandemonium reigns. We go across the street to the hotel lobby to look for three Canadians we met at breakfast.

“Go outside!” is the shouted instruction. We obey. “There they are”! Our new best friends were looking for us as we were looking for them. Jim is off to the left near an unoccupied home which is said to belong to the Allende family.  Why?  He thinks it is low enough so when it falls he will not be under it!  We join him. Wife is nowhere to be seen. We ask for her. Jim tells how she wanted to be properly dressed. Then even as he panicked she declared she had to brush her teeth. He told her to go ahead but when they came for him to identify the pieces and asked him what happened he would just tell them: “She had to brush her teeth”.

Then mother in that ‘Mother’voice that was a mixture of love, fear and exasperation for a recalcitrant child said: “Can you imagine, as I rushed towards the stairs I saw her brushing her teeth!”  We roar with laughter, the merriment heightened to near hysteria fueled by the recent panic and still present fear. Linda appears. Teeth brushed, dressed, clutching her toothbrush and cosmetic bag.

I hear one young woman telling her husband in no uncertain terms that she is not returning to the apartment.  When he tells her she had to return she says: “After what  just happened I do not have to do anything I don’t want to ever again”!  It sounds funnier in Spanish.

Still no lights. Sound of a bullhorn. Providencia (our community) Security is giving information about first aid stations, social service help, medications as needed and to watch out for thieves and vandalism. Amazing as this is within a about 15 minutes of the earthquake. We are outside.  We are told to wait for at least two hours before going back into the building.

We mill about, we talk and decide we could go back even though it is only one and a half hours since the big quake.  There are no strangers tonight, only people sharing a traumatic event. I look around and observe that people wear the weirdest things to bed or dress in a most amazing assortment when panic strikes. Then I look at myself. I am in a very nice area of Santiago, on the street, in a Chinese silk robe over a cotton nightgown, two different shoes on my feet and oh my goodness, no bra. Bert who combs his hair at least fifty times a day has a lock falling over his eyebrows and tufts of hair at the back that looks like a backwards cock’s comb, kitty corner to his left ear.

We go back to the apartment still in the dark. There are constant tremors. No T.V., no lights, no water. At 5:05 a.m. the lights flicker on and then off again. Fear makes you do strange things. I know there is broken glass and in fact I think all the dishes and glassware must be lying broken on the floor, but Bert gets busy in the kitchen.  I plead with him to come back to the bedroom where things are all in their places except the T.V. which is askew at the foot of the bed where Bert dropped it.

Bert is reporting from the kitchen: “There’s no glass on the floor. Oh, here is a tomato” “Ah! I’ve found three apples.” “There is another tomato and the plantain and a banana…….”.  All this he is doing in the dark crawling on all fours. He says he has a headache and he is giving me one as I remember the terrible crashes I heard. I think he is not going to die under a heap of rubble but from loss of blood when he steps in the broken glass. It is unreal.

Finally at 6:15 a.m. the lights come on, the water is on and the living room T.V. comes on.  The earthquake is the news wherever you look.  This is the ultimate breaking news.  I reconnect the bedroom T.V. after my personal Superman puts it back on the stand and now we have both televisions going. Bert is right, the crashing sounds were two wine bottles on the living room bar falling and breaking, some bottles and the flower arrangement falling in our bathroom and the pots and pans crashing against each other as the building rocked and rolled.  Everything else is intact. I can hardly believe it as I notice the wall to wall mirror in the bathroom is totally whole. Not a crack in it.

It is now 7:30 a.m. so we decide to get properly dressed for the day. The building does a shake, rattle and roll and Bert shouts: “Oh *#^! It’s another one. Don‘t tell me I have to walk down and up those stairs again!”  I am thinking I need to put on a bra. It is a big aftershock. We shower and dress.

Our Brazilian friend got through at 8.a.m. He has been trying to reach us. Finally his cell phone is working. He tells us how he and  his wife, were terrified and are still shaking.   We have a hysterical laughing fit as he tells of a co-worker living in his building who ran down 15 flights of stairs, scaled two walls, leapt over a fence, ran around two swimming pools only to get to the front lobby and realize he had left his keys in the apartment and he was naked except for very tight, tiny briefs. He was the comic relief for the crowded foyer as they opened the door for him. Then there were the four who were driving around Santiago and when asked where they were going said: “We don’t know. We just want to go home to Brazil”!

Bert, a Chilean, a Peruvian and I, all guests, acted as restaurant crew, setting out trays of food as the chef fills them and clearing the dishes. The restaurant staff is en route trying to get to work using any means available. They do get in and in no time have everyone settled and eating, all of us extraordinarily grateful to be doing that so very normal, everyday thing – having breakfast. There are no strangers here. Only friends.

I feel the earth shake. The hotel receptionist calls it a tremor. I look at her with sarcasm dripping from every pore. Soon comes a news report that there has just been a 5.6 aftershock. I look at the receptionist with an “I told you so” look.  I am to learn that I have become a human seismograph. I feel every tremor, every aftershock. I feel the slightest movement of the earth!  I am to learn that there were 17 tremors in the first 24 hours but I felt 21. My number is the correct one, I am positive.

I breathe. I am breathing.  Life is good!

A few facts

The epicenter was in Central Chile approximately 100 Kms south of Santiago

It was measured at 8.8 on that famous Richter Scale (Hah! More like 8000 on my scale)

Sadly, approximately 500 died most near the epicenter.

The tsunami warnings were issued but did not turn out to be as devastating as feared.

Massive infrastructure damage of bridges, overpasses and highways. The airport was closed.

It was felt as far away as Buenos Aires and Sao Paula (Poor those engineers fleeing to Brazil). It lasted approximately 3 minutes.  Eternity is three minutes long.  Who knew?

The meander:  I have a great admiration for President Michele Bachelet.  Within half an hour of the earthquake she was helping to staff the Central Emergency Post, calling for calm, being a leader and reassuring her people. Chile has one of the highest anti earthquake building codes in the world. Our friend the engineering expert tried to explain how the buildings are on rollers or some such thing.  Some things you do  not need to know, right?  Oh, yes. In 2011 we spent the winter in Chile again.