Birthday Appraisal

I have just celebrated a birthday.    On the morning itself I turned to my Bert and said:”You can wish me Happy Birthday”.  “Oh, is it your birthday? “Yes”.  “Happy Birthday, Sweet Pea.”

The telephone rings and it is the first greeting of the day. “Who was that?”   “That was our son and daughter-in-law.  They were singing the birthday song to me.”   I begin to sing and he joins in.  “ Are they coming today?”  “No.  The family celebration was on Monday.  We had a lovely meal and you really enjoyed your shoe-string French fries.”  “Oh”.

My birthday was wonderful and different. It began with a Caregiver Wellness programme which included Dancercise, Music Therapy and Meditation. There was a fabulous lunch, then dinner with friends at a Japanese restaurant.  We sat at the Teppanyaki Bar.  My Bert exclaimed as the flames shot up towards the ceiling: “Gosh, I am HOT!”  Naturally everyone seated at our station laughed.  The evening was filled with laughter.

My birthday is a time of introspection; of reviewing the past year and looking with hope towards a brighter year.  That has not changed.

However, this year my astrologist friend told me that this was a special year for all who are born on March 21st.  She referred me to an entry in Google quoted here:

Your horoscope for March 21 to 27, 2019. This is no ordinary change of season. Spring has sprung on a super full moon in Libra and with the sun in Aries supplying added life force to Chiron in Aries, a transit that happens once every 50 years. … Aries is the sign of new beginnings, fresh starts, and action.”

I kept on reading the lengthy article as I was curious.  It proved interesting until I got to such deep astrological pontification on ‘Solar Return’, ‘square aspect’ and ‘Mars-North Node aspect’ the latter supposedly having great impact on my relationships and love life.  I am a caregiver for my Bert.   I can teach all aspects, astrological or not about love.  I gave up on the long form and with tongue firmly in cheek parsed the above short version specifically for ME, the birthday girl.  Here goes:

“This is no ordinary change of season” – It never is in Canada.  Snow in May and golfers teeing up in December are par for the course. Groan.  For me the seasons change on a daily basis and they are: a good day, a bad day, a day when brain cells die, a miracle day of almost normal.

“Spring has sprung” – Hey, hold your horses.  It is still only March!   Meteorologists will tell you that spring arrives on March 1st.. Huh?  Yet March does bring hope for warmer days.  I can feel that spring is in the air and I celebrate the fact of life, new life, my life, my day.

“A super full moon in Libra”- I did see the super full moon.  It was heavenly! (Geez!).  I did not care that it was in Libra or Libya or wherever.  It was full.  It was bright.   I was happy to see it.

“The sun in Aries”- If I had the power the sun would always be in Aries and every other Zodiac sign.  I am a child of Light.

“… supplying added life force to Chiron in Aries…every 50 years”:  Yes, the sun is a life force.  The rest being Greek to me I went to Google.    I found this among other soon to be forgotten tidbits:

In astrology, Chiron is referred to as the “wounded healer,” and on Feb. 18, this strange, and oh-so-unique, comet will conclude an eight-year-long transit through the dreamy sign of Pisces, and slide into fiery Aries until the year 2027. Naturally, this asteroid’s energetic influence will play a role in both our lives, and in the collective overall. So, yeah, this is definitely a big deal.”

No big deal to me as I will be long dead before this fascinating phenomenon comes around in 50 years.  Neither does being on fire for the next eight years inspire jubilation.  Also, since being sidetracked is an ever present danger when on the internet I also found out that Chiron is a comet, a key, the biggest superpower we have which helps us unlock our greatest gift from the heavens.    Somewhat oxymoronic for a “wounded healer” I thought.

The best was last.

“Aries is the sign of new beginnings, fresh starts and action.”  Every day is a new beginning.  For my Bert I could say every minute is a fresh start.  As a caregiver I am always doing.   I saw this as being given permission to be positive, to never give up.

The Meander:   Astrological prognostication or not, life is not dictated by our stars but by ourselves.   We can choose how we will overcome the vicissitudes thrown in our path.  I choose that no matter how dark the day I will try to face the challenges with a positive attitude for the rest of the journey.  We will make it with a little help from our friends… and astrology.

A Darker Day

Alzheimer disease has been called The Long Goodbye.    It is also The Long Grieving.  Over the last few weeks I have watched my Bert lose some more brain cells.  Now I am more instantly aware that it is happening.  That was not always so.  Prior to this it would take some prolonged period of imperceptible change for the loss to be noticed.

One morning he had his yogurt after his sandwich as usual.  The next morning he does not eat it and I ask: “Don’t you want your yogurt today?”

My Bert looks at his plate, his cup, and his knife then picks up the banana peel and says:” Oh, yes, I do.  I want my yogurt.”   He begins to put the peel in his mouth.  I stop him and give him the yogurt.  I do not wait for this to recur.   I know yogurt is now another item that befuddles his mind.  His brain no longer recognizes that so familiar item which has been a part of his breakfast for as long as I can remember.

My Bert now tells me goodnight and says he is going upstairs to bed.  There is no upstairs in our home.  In fact we live in a condo and have always lived in bungalows.  He needs to be reassured that yes, this is our bedroom, yes, this is our bed, yes, I will be sleeping in that same bed, yes we will be sleeping together and yes, Jan, Gerard, Ossie, Wendy, Marg, Meintje and a few more people, all who are already dead will be sleeping with us too.    I offer no correction nor explanation.   If my Bert is less anxious having them with us, well, come on in.

Each day my Bert tells me repeatedly how much he loves me.  I wonder if he is saying it to reassure himself.  Maybe it is just that familiar phrase he has been saying for so long and so often.  Maybe he likes the smile it brings and the:”I love you too.” I know it has not lost its meaning for him nor for me.

I sometimes catch a vacant look, accompanied by an unintelligible mumble.  I wonder what is going on in his brain.  Do the amyloid plaques cause any sensation as they fill up and kill off another cell?   What about the tau tangles? Do they emit any sound as the deterioration accelerates?  There is no indication of pain but I wonder if there is anything, any sensation that tells my Bert something is amiss.  I will never know.

My Bert is entering the late stages of dementia.  I am in the beginning stages of grieving.   

To see the Light you must live in the now, yet I cannot forget what was.   I remember the good times, the fun we had, the amazing life we lived but I am remembering in the past tense as if my Bert is the past.  I censor myself.  My Bert is still here.  There are still moments of absolute clarity and I can see what used to be in the here and now. 

Now I understand the ambiguity of memory.  It can be soothing and at the same time cruel.  Memory is the handmaiden of grief.  The mind of its own volition brings up memories and by definition that means the past.   I am remembering the then, the before and it is making the now unbearable.  The mind and my memories are not static or finite.  Therefore, neither is the grief.  I am grieving the loss of yesterday, last year, our beginning and yesterday.   My memory meanders with the mind’s stream of consciousness, skittering hither, thither and yon and grief is its partner.

My Bert is slowly leaving me.

The Light dims as I contemplate the inevitable.

Imagining the after is unendurable.

There is still some light.  The loss is not complete.  I grieve but do not yet mourn.

Not yet.

The Meander:  My respect and admiration for caregivers is immeasurable.   No matter how special this particular challenge is, the journey is heart breaking.  It tests the will.   It is an obligation made bearable by love.   You have no choice.     I know.  I love.  I hurt.  I am a caregiver too. 

Storytelling in Motion – Bodrum

We flew to Istanbul one week before the cruise began so we could explore that ancient city at leisure.  It would be our third exploration but there is so much to see and shopping in the Grand Bazaar deserves a trip in itself.  Our hotel surpassed our expectations and then here we were ready to board our luxury yacht. 

Yes!  As fans of small ship cruising we were about to board a five-mast staysail schooner, one of the largest sailing cruise ships in the world.   No, I am not a sailor but that is the description of what would be our floating hotel for the next seven days.   The number of passengers on board was a mere 294.  

The first exquisite experience was to watch as the computer operated sails were raised with coordinating music.   Istanbul slowly faded.  We saw other ships and boats but none compared to ours.  I knew this cruise would be special

We arrive at Bodrum, the only maiden port for us on the voyage so off we go to explore.  I had done my research on Bodrum so my head was filled with Halicarnassus, Herodotus and events that occurred in years that were followed by BC, and The Mausoleum.   

I like to think that Bodrum is famous because of ostentatious love.   When the Satrap, or ruler, Mausolus died in 353 BC, his wife had an enormous white marble monumental tomb built.   The top was a stepped pyramid and was such a wondrous accomplishment that the Greek historian Pliny designated the Mausoleum as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.   It was designed by the great Ionian architect Pytheos.  Not only was it the largest tomb ever built by the ancient Greeks it was also well built as it stood for 19 centuries until an earthquake destroyed it around the 14th century.  Only the massive foundation remains though some artifacts can be viewed inside the Castle of St. Peter.

With my head filled with all this antiquity and the romance of a bygone era, I was so surprised to see the modern, clean city nestled on the sunny bay and surrounded by spectacular scenery at every turn.   The only discordant note was the proliferation of vacation villages and timeshares cluttering up the shores.  It reminded us of the Costa del Sol.  I thought of it as the Marbella of Turkey.  Despite this, it still had the ambience of being a step back in time.  It would not have surprised me to see Anthony and Cleopatra holding hands and strolling through the Theatre of Ancient Halicarnassus.

Yet the best was yet to come.  On arriving back on our yacht we were informed that a dancer, an expert in both the history and art of belly dancing was on board to entertain.  We debated going but curiosity won out.   There was an introduction and history of the art by an emcee who informed us that the dancer would perform four stories in dance.

Oh, what a treat.  This gorgeous Turkish woman came out, gave an elegant bow and the music started.  Within a moment we knew we were experiencing something special.  This was pure artistry.  She was grace incarnate.  She moved in fluid, sinuous, sensual patterns, undulating from her toes to the ends of her hair.  The tiny musical coins sewn into the costume added to the mystique.  The movement of her eyes, the flutter of her lashes and the placement of hands and fingers and the ripple of her undulating torso and hips were all integral to the telling of the tales.   We were in awe. 

I looked over at the resident dolt, yes, there was one.  He had a beer bottle almost at his mouth but he did not take one sip, so enthralled he was.  That was the greatest compliment.  She danced as if she was engaged in intense communion in a separate interior place.   Yet we were totally engaged.  Her dancing was a most eloquent language. Mesmerizing.

You know an outstanding performance by what happens when it is over.  Here, there was a long moment of complete silence, a collective letting out of breath, and sighs of wonder broken by: “Oh, what a performance.”   We rose as one and the sound became a cacophony as we each tried to find the words to articulate our admiration and appreciation of what we had just witnessed.

Nearly every guest had seen belly dancing performances prior to this one but we all agreed that they fell far short.  My Bert kept asking: “How did she do that”?”  He was not the only one.

The Meander:   We try to find pleasure in everyday small miracles.  This was a miracle, not so everyday and not so small.   My memory is packed with travel miracles.

Progressing to Regression

The doorway going into the main bathroom was the measuring post.   Every now and then we would catch a child as he rushed hither and thither and announce cheerfully:

“Let’s see how much you have grown.”  Then out would come the measuring tape and a new pencil mark would be placed on the door jamb.

“Hey, you have grown another inch.”

As our boys grew there were other measuring tools.  Next grade in school, clothes and shoes that were outgrown far  too quickly.

There are no boys in the home any longer but I am still measuring.  It is a different kind.  Now I measure the regression.  I notice a similarity.  The boys had growth spurts; the regression also has spurts.   For a month or three I am relishing the pause of a good plateau and a manageable routine, and then:

“Paula, I got three.”   My Bert is lying in bed.  The sentence catches my attention as the tone has a certain timbre that tells me this is not a welcome ‘three’.

“Three what?” I ask.

“Three!!”  There is a note of impatience.

My Bert puts his thumb and first finger together to form a circle and says, even more impatiently:

“Three.  Three of these.”   I look at him and calmly say:

“Three round holes?  What do you want to do with them?”

“I don’t know.”  Now he sounds agitated.  I remain calm on the surface.   This is totally out of context and beyond the norm.  This is entering Alzheimer’s World. 

“They are just holes.  Don’t worry about them.  Just ignore them and go to sleep.”

“I can go to sleep?  Do you have them?”  He shows me the round holes and I make as if to take them away as I open his fingers.

“Yes.  I have them.” I say with a smile.

“OK, good.  Goodnight, Sweet Pea.  I love you!”

“’Night, ‘night.  I love you too.”

That is not all.  I now regularly sleep with a variety of people that only my Bert sees.  They are real to him.

“Paula.  They are there.”

“Who.”

“You know, them.  The ones, who um, but they go to sleep.  They sleep with us.”  He chuckles: “They are going with us.  They are…see… and we need cheese.”

I grasp onto that: “Tomorrow I am going to the Dutch shop and I will get cheese for your breakfast.”

“What cheese?  I want to sleep.  Take care of …mumble.”

“OK.  I will.”

We are preparing breakfast.  My Bert is painstakingly building his usual cheese sandwich.  He puts the cheese away and looks at the sandwich.  He is not satisfied and I notice a spot where the bread is not covered.   I know that will not do.

“I see an empty spot”, I say.

“Oh yes.  Give me the shoes.”

Without the least hesitation I pass him the cheese.  He takes it, covers the naked spot.  He looks at the sandwich and smile.   Should I have corrected him?  Why?  I am in Alzheimer’s world and I speak and understand Alzheimer.

In less than 12 hours I have witnessed a bit of anxiety, aphasia, confusion and hallucination.  I think we have just fallen off the plateau.  There will be another and I will have to adjust.  I know there will be more work, more care, patience and love needed. 

I have received notice of the new plateau.  Now after eating I surreptitiously stack the dishwasher.  Yes, my Bert wants to ‘help’ me by doing the few dishes but he has forgotten how to get hot water.  The kitchen tap is a single faucet.  You turn the lever to the left for cold and right for hot.  My Bert, until two weeks ago had no difficulty.  Now he calls to tell me there is no hot water.  I notice he is pulling the entire faucet forward and my Bert is strong.  I can imagine the plumbing bill should he wreck it.  So as soon as we eat I collect the dishes and put them directly into the dishwasher.  I tell my Bert we are letting the dishwasher do its job so we can have time to play,  listen to music or dance.   Usually he opts for music and promptly falls asleep in his chair.  Many times he will just decide to go to bed.  That works for me too.

The Meander:   “The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

Thank you, Lewis Carroll for nonsense verses like The Walrus and the Carpenter.  I smile and think Alzheimer’s World is in truth Through the Looking Glass.  Perhaps my Bert is the Walrus and I the Carpenter.  Maybe the next plateau will be pigs with wings.