Deck Encounter

We sat on deck, looking out on a calm sea that shimmered in the moonlight.

We were six, two couples plus a mother and adult son.  We had met on a cruise eight years before and we had been travelling together ever since.

We were a compatible lot and conversation never lagged.

This night was the Captain’s welcome reception and dinner.  We had all dressed up, joined the line to meet the Captain, drank the champagne and had a very nice dinner. 

We sighed in contentment. 

We were rehashing the jokes of the entertainer, a comedian, who was quite good when a young man came in sight.   Wow!

He was tall, dark, and handsome with full sensuous lips, deep blue eyes, a high forehead from which his hair fell in soft waves to his shoulders.  Yes, all the clichéd descriptions of the hero one could find in Mills and Boon and Harlequin romance novels were rolled into one eye-popping package and walking towards us.  He was the epitome of male pulchritude.

“Oooh! I would never say no to any request from this one!” Pat remarked sotto voce.

“MOTHER!” exclaimed Francis in such a shocked voice we all burst into laughter.

The young man turned and said: “That must have been a good one.”   With uncharacteristic boldness I said: “Come over and join us and we will share it with you.”

“Thanks, I will.”  He pulled out a chair came over and said: “Hi, I am Sean.”

We introduced ourselves.  Gary, the only smoker in our group had noticed the cigarette case Sean had pocketed before he accepted our invitation.  He suggested they have a smoke.

Sean accepted and he and Gary moved closer to the rail and ashtrays.    We surmised Sean had come out for air and a smoke before returning to his date/fiancée/wife/partner.

Cigarette done, Penny, Gary’s wife told Sean about our plans to go listen to the Jazz trio in the Piano Bar.  She invited him to join us.

There was a slight hesitation before Sean confirmed he was waiting for someone but maybe they would accompany us to the Piano bar also, if we did not mind.

Pat, our master of sotto voce whispered to Penny: “I should have known that someone who looks like that would be not alone.”   It was said with such a mixture of regret, desire and a hint of peevishness that Francis uttered a groan.   

The conversation flowed and then Sean told us he was waiting for his parents.  He explained that they all had early dinner together but his parents liked to go to relax with a cocktail before catching the later show.  He was quite happy with that arrangement because then his mother could pretend he did not smoke and he could have a cigarette without her telling him what a nasty habit it was.

“I am with your mother.  Gary is the only smoker in our group and he gets the ‘nasty habit’ lecture on a daily basis even from the former smokers here.”

He smiled and said: “Well, then if you tell me not to smoke, I won’t.”

Before I could reply, a door opened and the first people coming from the late show drifted towards our corner.  Sean got up, went towards the door and said:”They’re coming.”

He looked downwards, we looked up.

Coming towards us was the most striking couple.

Little people.  Very   Little   People.

Both were resplendent in their formal wear.  Both had the biggest smile when they saw Sean. Sean bent down, hugged both and said: “Mum and Dad, I want to introduce you to some people.”  They came forward hands held out.

“Hello, I am Mary and this is Hector, my husband.  You have met our son Sean.  I bet he was out here grabbing a smoke.  Nasty habit that.”

How gracious and how adroitly she had put us at ease.  Yet, we could not help it; we gaped even as we smiled.  I looked up at Sean and looked down at his parents in wonder.  I knelt, opened my arms and hugged them.  I was immediately embarrassed.  I thought I had committed a faux pas that I should not have done that.  As usual my Bert came to my rescue as he said: ‘”Don’t mind her.  She is a hugger.”

 “That she is,” said Penny.

“So are we,” said Hector.  He and Mary were so gracious. They hugged back.

The moment passed. We moved to the Piano Bar.

The Meander:  I have often said that our travel experiences have been so varied that should I write them all out I would need to create a number of books.  One would be about the people we have met.  Sean was 6ft 4 inches tall.  His Mom was 3ft 8 inches and his dad 3ft 11 inches.   They taught us so much!

I will not forget the sight of Sean dancing with his Mum.

We were shipboard companions only and after that just ships that passed in the night.  It is often like that, but for a moment in time the stars aligned to hand us a remarkable travel story.

To Wander

When I think of wandering it is Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud…A host of golden daffodils”.

There is a happy aimlessness, a feeling of discovering something new, exciting and surprising.  I think pleasant thoughts when I think of wandering.   I think of freedom, to just be.

As a caregiver ‘to wander’ takes on a whole different meaning.   To the wanderer, your loved one with dementia it is a different kettle of fish.   To your care team wandering is a huge red flag that signals a myriad of issues.

All the nuances of the meaning were brought home to me recently.  I must confess that my definition did not undergo a sea change; rather it just expanded in meaning to incorporate the alternate reality in which I now live.

So what happened?

My Bert asked me to look at his belt.  He thought it was twisted.  It was not.   “Good,” he said then told me he would go and sit in his chair for a while.  That usually means he is going to take a nap.

I went to the computer, replied to three messages and began to read a news editorial.  I was perhaps one third of the way through when I heard a slight commotion at the front door and my Bert saying ‘”Thank you.”

Nothing to worry about I thought as I know my Bert loves to answer the door and my wonderful neighbours do come with offerings of goodies on a regular basis.  I got up in no particular hurry intending to see which one had brought an offering and to add my thanks.

Surprise!   It was a neighbour, but instead of cookies or muffins, she was bringing my Bert back from the end of the hallway while telling him: “See, you are home.  Here is Paula.”

My Bert was ecstatic.  He kept saying thanks and how it was a good thing she knew where he lived.  He hugged me, kissed me and blurted: “I was lost.  She brought me back.” Then he got teary eyed.

My brain went into overdrive.  Wandering has begun so I need to secure our home.  I need something on both front and balcony doors to deter or prevent easy exit.

The sucker punch of my Bert not recognizing me was nowhere to be seen or felt.  It was pure analytical thinking with a heavy dose of organizational skill that was foremost.   Problem solving mode kicked in.

Whenever there is major change or activity developing in your loved one you must report it to your professional team.  There are four people to whom I report.  Each one expressed a deep concern at this new behaviour.  The seriousness of it was unmistakeable in voice, concern expressed, mannerisms and instructions meted out.  All remarked on how ‘dangerous’ this behaviour is.  I was a little amused.

Sure, wandering is very serious.  There are a number of pamphlets about it.  It is a major concern.  I know that, but coming after my Bert not recognizing me deflated its significance.  Also, I could do something concrete about this.  I had some control and a plan going forward.  This was relatively speaking a piece of cake.  

My perspective and that of the professionals were quite different even though we all started from the same place:  When a person with dementia begins to wander it is perhaps the most sombre indication of major decline in our loved one.

What is the difference?   My professional care team is wonderful, caring, and observant and works with me to give my Bert the best quality of life possible.   I am grateful for their help, advice and guidance.  I know I can depend on them.  However, they are not deeply, emotionally, intrinsically involved with my Bert.   They do not share hearts with my Bert.  They deserve high praise for the great job they do.  I know they are in our corner.   That is more than enough.

I have proof that emotional stress is far worse than physical stress.  I am physically bone weary, but I can hope for relief.  I have proof that the deeper the love, the deeper the hurt.  There is no relief for that. Love’s open door is not for escape but to draw in and enfold.   I do not need any lock or alarm on love’s door.  That remains always open and endures the kicks, the punches, the heartaches.  It is the physical door that needs to be secured.

The Meander:  Our home is now secure.   It is such a simple gadget a toddler can open it.   I am the one deficient in know-how.   The first time we are leaving I was about to swear in frustration (no!) when the door would not budge.   Then the penny dropped.  I had not slid the tiny lever on the gadget as I should have done.  No, really, believe me, a three year old would have no trouble!

Floundering

 “Good morning, love.”  I move around the bed to help my Bert out even though he can manage by himself.

“Who are you?”

“Same old me,” I say with a smile.

“Do I know you?” He is teasing me.  He is a master at that.  I laugh and look up.  He must want a hug.

My Bert looks back at me.  The vacancy in his eyes seems more evident today.  More apparent that he sees without seeing.  Perhaps the macular degeneration has progressed, I surmise.  I reject that thought.  His last check-up was better than the previous one. 

I hug him.  “OK now, chop chop, it is club day and Tee will soon be here to get you ready for the day.”

There is no response, no return hug, and no acknowledgement except for a querulous, questioning anxious look.  

Reality is a sucker punch.  I do not want to believe what is slowly dawning. 

My brain is lethargic, refusing to process.  No.  This cannot be.  It is too soon.  My Bert’s brain is being ravished by Alzheimer disease but he is still here.  He still makes me laugh.  He is steadfast, true and reminds me so often that he will love me forever.   Is there love without memory? Forever is not, cannot be today.  Please, not today.

I am a fish, a flounder, perhaps.  There is no graceful sinuous, gliding, smooth movement in my usual element.  There is no buoyancy, rather, I am beached.  Floundering.

I am an open wound.   I am hurting, mentally, physically, emotionally.

My learned mantra which up to now has helped me navigate the Sturm und Drang of caring for a loved one with dementia is a platitude.  That formerly helpful phrase: “It’s the disease; it’s not your loved one,” has become a cliché that has lost all its weight and substance to console.

This is my Bert.   How can my Bert not know me?   In rapid rewind motion I see our entire life together.  The highs and the lows, the ordinary and the extraordinary experiences of lives lived well.  So rich a life; such an interesting journey; I must hold on to that or lose my very self.

My brain tells me this is the natural progression of the disease.  My heart refuses to understand.  My hearts does not have room for this new phenomenon.  I am floundering.  A spectre hovers.  It walks with me and whispers: “Yes, this is your new reality.”  I am walking covered in a veil of sadness which seems firmly attached.   There is no escape.  I fear this will be my constant companion.  It is called grieving.

Another cloak has descended on my shoulders.  I must know me for my Bert to know me.  Even as I note the convolution I realize that as I have been living for two now I must also love for two and be a mirror of myself for my Bert.  It will be a show and tell of our love, our life, our togetherness.

My ship has listed, my world tilted.  The shadow grows.  The light is dimmed.

The Meander: Today my Bert is my Bert.  I am exactly who I am and should be.   All is well. Tomorrow?  Well ‘tomorrow is another day.’  I may be me or who knows?  I may be someone else or no one, whatever the disease chooses.   I know in my Bert’s heart I am forever his Paula. That certainty is my ballast.

Remember: “It’s the disease, not your loved one.”  “It’s the disease, not my Bert.”  Repeat.

Chatterbox

I have been called many things over my lifetime but chatterbox is not one of them.  Yet lately that is what I call myself, to myself.  Why would I do that?

I am Canadian so I will blame the weather.  This has been a particularly harsh winter.   There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth (mine) as my Bert, whose only contribution to our travel adventures was: “Where are we going next?”  uttered before we had unpacked the bags from our last trip, is no longer allowed to travel. I had no idea that I would miss our travels, our winters away in some warm place or on a ship so very much. So here we were stuck in winter in our wonderful but COLD country.

My Bert would often say that Canada is the best country in the world except for the weather. I agreed, but would temper my enthusiasm with the thought that if Canada had  perfect weather it would be perfect and there is no such thing.

Here is another observation that my Bert would voice often: “Paula is always telling me that I talk too much but she talks too.”  “Yes, I talk but not anywhere as much as you and in any case you are such a talker, someone has to be the listener” I would answer. Then with a laugh he would say: ‘That is why we have the best marriage. I talk and you listen.”  That was said with a tone to make it unbelievable.  Yet, all that was true.

My Bert is really an open book and loves to talk.   Many a time we have been to a restaurant and before dinner is completed the entire wait staff knew more than they should about us, from how we met right up to our present situation. I would be kicking him under the table to tell him to be quiet to no avail.  I would be ignored.  I would then have to become the interpreter, rephrasing or correcting or echoing my Bert’s pronouncements and also becoming a listener.

Oh, how we talked together.   My Bert had such stories to tell!  We are both curious about our world, our country, people, places and things.   My Bert devoured news and current affairs.  I read and we talked about everything.   Our conversations encompassed silly things, weighty things, family things and couple things.  We agreed, we disagreed and agreed to disagree and we laughed.

Oh, how I miss that talking together.  Now, trying to have a conversation is a Herculean task.  I give up any thought of having a sustained conversation.   In the absence of that verbal communion I have become the chatterbox.  The sentences are made up of the basic noun and verb.  Heck, it could be just one word.  I get back one word in return and sometimes the word returned is completely out of context.  When my Bert attempts to express a thought it ends abruptly halfway and I try to finish it.   Sometimes I succeed but that is becoming more difficult as time passes. It is difficult to enter Alzheimer world when a thought is unfinished.

The inanity is mind numbing.   When does speaking become just noise?  When does it lose its main function of communicating? It tests my patience and it saddens me to see him struggle to find the words.  I think he knows what he would like to say but it takes a valiant effort to get it out.  Sometimes he just gives up.  The frustration is apparent.   He begins to pick at his fingernails and mumbles.

How can I relieve the anxiety?  I say: “Don’t worry.  Tell me tomorrow.”   Then I will rub noses or give a hug.   These now are the best communication tools.  There is no need for words then.

The Meander:    Should anyone be looking for ‘tomorrow’, ‘soon’, ‘later’ please check with a caregiver for a loved one with dementia.  We have usurped them.  We are wearing them out completely.  “When do we go to Breda?”   That is Bert’s birth city in The Netherlands.  “Tomorrow.”    “When are the kids coming?”  They left maybe ten minutes prior.  “Soon.”  “Are we going to bed now?”  We have just finished lunch.  “Later.”   A loving touch, a smile, a hug and holding hands are enough to relieve his anxiety.   We still ‘talk’.

Monuments

A friend sent me a message: “Go to news. Notre Dame is on fire.”  I leapt up from the computer and for the next two hours or so I was riveted to the T.V screen as I watched the Cathedral, the heart of Paris burning.  I was saddened.

My Bert and I have had the privilege of visiting famous monuments and landmarks around the world.  They remain in my memory, in my psyche, and yes in my heart.

On separate occasions I have cried, laughed, cried and laughed at the Berlin Wall.  I even own a small piece of it from when it was torn down. My Bert and I raced from Amsterdam to Berlin to witness the ‘unzipping’ of the refurbished Brandenburg Gate by President Bill Clinton.

I got goose bumps the first time I saw Westminster Abbey, The Blue Mosque, The Great Pyramid of Giza, Notre Dame de Paris, The Taj Mahal and so many more.   There are entire cities that I consider to be monuments.  Jerusalem, London, Paris, Athens, Rome, The Vatican, Amsterdam all come to mind.

Whenever I think of Denmark the small sculpture of The Little Mermaid brings a smile as do the Manneken Pis in Brussels which dates from 1388.  They are beloved symbols that give a unique identity to a particular place.  They are more than interesting sculptures.

The Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado means we are in Rio de Janeiro.  Going to the opera at the Sydney Opera house is one bragging right I hold dear. And you know you are in Australia.

As I looked at Notre Dame I was grateful that we had toured it as a couple, as a family, and with travel companions.  I wondered if we would live to see the ‘after’ even if only virtually.

As the fire burned my thoughts were turbulent.  I was filled with dismay and sadness.  I am not Roman Catholic.  That did not matter.  I am neither a Parisian nor French.  That did not matter.  I was looking at an iconic symbol.  That is what a monument is.  A symbol that is universal that can appeal to anyone. 

Great literature, art, music, dance, drama, architecture are ways in which we showcase our creativity, share our talents and demonstrate the human need for beauty that transcends the mundane.   They speak to the soul.  Monumental works like Notre Dame validate that need and give credence to Keats’: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”

When we toured Notre Dame the fact that it was the keeper of the Crown of Thorns was awe inspiring.  I enjoyed seeing the art, the craftsmanship that went into the building but uppermost in my mind was the history.  The same words I said then came back to me as I uttered them again: “If only these walls and stones could talk.”  Notre Dame burned at the beginning of Holy Week.  Ironic, isn’t it?

I wondered if the egotistical Napoleon was turning in his grave recalling his glory when he crowned himself Emperor of France in Notre Dame.   He had no great love for either the Pontiff or religiosity so he may have some ambivalence about this destruction.  As the spire fell I wondered if all those nobles who travelled past its doors in tumbrels to be guillotined found some macabre similarity to their own fate.  They lost their heads and now Notre Dame was losing its own.

As I mourned the passing I wondered if some were cheering that this was a symbol belonging to ‘the other’ not to them.  History, literature, religious fervour, art, music, wars, and love are all part of Notre Dame and they were fighting for space in my thoughts as I watched.   That is a monument.  It means everything to some and something to everyone else.  You may be indifferent to it but it cannot be ignored.

The Meander:   Over one billion Euros were donated within forty eight hours for the restoration of Notre Dame.  Extraordinary!  I cannot remember any human disaster that raised so much in so short a time. Hmm…

Experts estimate that it will take up to fifteen years to rebuild Notre Dame. With utter conceit I looked over at my monument, my Bert, and wonder if it will take up to fifteen years for his spire to topple.

Howsoever long it takes, if I am still alive, I will rejoice for one and mourn the other.  The Light and dark together as ever.

Shoehorns

My Bert puts on his shoes using a shoehorn.  It has always been thus. 

The only time a shoehorn gets near my feet is when I am being fitted by a sales assistant.   My thumbs work for me. Always have.

My Bert is so dependent on a shoehorn that if there is none around he will fashion one from a magazine, folded paper, the handle of a spoon, a credit card, or my thumbs.  He is inventive and adept whether sitting or standing.

Shoehorns now for me have become analogous with my Bert’s aging and Alzheimer disease.  When his knee became arthritic he had to abandon the short stubby shoehorn and get one longer.  After his knee replacement the shoehorn became even longer so he could put on his shoes from a standing position. 

Among the travel essentials was the shoehorn.  We have forgotten them in places like the River Jordan and the Dead Sea and other places where we had to take off our shoes on our sightseeing explorations.     I still remember scouring a market in The Gambia looking for a shoehorn!

I have helped my Bert with his shoes and in disgust have discarded the shoehorn and resorted to my thumbs.  They work.

We are in the shoe store.  I have three pairs for my Bert to fit.  Every shoehorn is long.  My Bert is sitting on a padded bench and trying to get a shoe on.  The shoehorn only gets in the way.  An assistant comes by and suggests he stands up to use it.  I become the supporting post.  This is not working.  The assistant tries to help.  Bert hangs on to me and he thinks we are dancing.  He has completely forgotten the reason for us being upright.  He giggles and tells me there is a woman fiddling with his foot.

The bad shoulder begins to hurt.   My Bert wants to dance.  The assistant is sweating and I am sure the mumble I hear is not fit to print.   It is a Herculean task but finally one foot is in.  It is declared to be ‘good’.   I choose the opposite foot from another box and with equal effort gets it on.  My Bert walks around a few times and declares that they both fit and are ‘good’.

I buy both pairs.  I am never doing this again.  It is hazardous to my health!

“Paula, do you have a short shoehorn?  This one is too long to use to help Bert with his shoes.”  The question comes from our wonderful helper who was on her knees, valiantly struggling to use the shoehorn.  The shaft came up to my Bert’s knee and she was working awkwardly with the curved portion at his heel.

Laughter burst out of me as I thought my Bert is like the shoehorns.   I decide I better give an explanation for the mirth before she decides to call in to her office to say she has two clients on her hands and to please send in the emergency squad.

“Your question has reminded me of that old phrase ‘Once a man, twice a child.’   I am thinking how Bert is living his second childhood in conjunction with his shoehorns.   First it was the tiny shoehorn which with age gradually grew longer and longer.   Alzheimer disease has set him back to the tiny shoehorn which he can no longer use by himself.”

The laugh was bittersweet. 

Helping my Bert with his shoes is agonizingly slow.   He has to be in a standing position. I direct him on each step of the process while he holds on to the wall.  Sure, I could still use my thumbs.  It is the getting down to the floor which has become the problem.   Actually, I could get down but how would I get back up?  Calling 9-1-1 is not an option.   I smile to myself again.   I am thinking about having a crane on call.  Nah!

I can’t help but wonder how we will cope when he can no longer stand by himself.

The Meander:  My Bert and a shoehorn.   It is not such an odd juxtaposition.    He has been known to put on his slippers with a shoehorn. Then again, I am the one who sees the sublime in the ridiculous.  Only problem is that in this case what is sublime?  What is ridiculous?  I can only laugh.  Laugh with me so I do not cry.

Time for Sale

I am dreaming.  I am in a hurry.  There are others also scurrying here and there.   I look at my wrist but there is no watch there.  I call out that I need to get a watch but they should carry on.  I am in a car driving fast down a hill.  I pass a large crowd and shout: “I have to buy a watch and time!” I wake up.

The remnant of the dream remains and disturbs.  I take a few deep breaths and think how wonderful it would be if one could buy time.   Every caregiver would want to be first in line.

The dream has dredged up the watch seller we met in Gibraltar.  What a character he was!

His stand was in a prime location.  Going or coming you had to walk by that stand.   There were all kinds of watches for the amazing sum of ‘$10 dollars each or three for $30!’ he would holler.

It was a bargain and a smile in one short sentence.   However, that was not all.

What drew and held a crowd entranced was the non-stop patter of the seller.  He had an English accent which I thought was Cockney.  I asked him if he was born within the sound of the Bow Bells to which he answered:

“The sound of the bow Bells? Darling, mi pregnant mum was at church and when the darn thing rang she jumped so high that out I popped.  I tell you, love you canna get more Cock(pause)ney  (wink, wink) than that.”   Groans and laughter ensued.  It seemed he had an endless number of jokes, sly remarks, double entendres to keep us entertained and buying his watches.  Purchasing a cheap watch in Gibraltar suddenly became de rigueur

I bought three watches.  My rationale was that as frequent travellers it was good to wear these cheap versions for sightseeing.

The next year we happened to be back in Gibraltar.  Our watch seller was at his post.  His patter was loud, persuasive and entertaining as usual.  He looked out, saw us and shouted: “Aye, there’s mi customer, come back from –where you from mi darling? ‘Canada’ all the way from Canada to buy mi watches.  Want another three mi love?” 

We walked the main street for a bit and returned just as he was turning over the stand to his son to take a break.

“Good line you use about a returning customer,” I say. He looked at me and said:

“I do remember you.  Your husband got in on my act and actually persuaded people to buy the watches telling them the spiel alone was worth the money.  Then you bought three watches I am sure you really did not need and for Chrissakes, it is sorta hard for you to disguise yourselves.  Stuck in my head is the fun loving, happy, odd couple.  Come, have a cuppa and a beer for you my friend?” We comply. Bert won the paying the bill battle.

We are back in Gibraltar.  This time I am on a mission to get a good watch.  Gibraltar is a duty free port so prices are better here.  I am happy with my purchase.

We stop at our favourite cheap watch seller.  He hails us again, he tells people to ask us about the fabulous bargains we have made and how we come specifically to Gibraltar to buy his watches.  The patter is non-stop as usual and entertaining.  He beckons us over and says: “OK, which of these are you getting this year?”   “This year, I am not getting any.  I just bought a lovely one just down the road.”  I point in the direction of the shops.  He laughs, tut-tuts, shakes his head, and in a loud voice says:

“Oh, you did, did you?  Let me tell you something, darling, you got snookered.  I bet you paid more than ten times what my beautiful watches cost!  Come here mi luv; let me tell you a little secret.  That expensive watch you bought tells exactly the same time as mine.”

Amid the laughter I hear ‘true’, ‘that’s fer sure’.  I think Bert and I are laughing the hardest.

It is about five years when we get back to Gibraltar.  We make a beeline to our cheap watch vendor.  No, I do not need a watch.  We just want to say ‘hello’ and listen to the patter.  His son is at the stand.  Bert asks after his father.  He has died.  We offer our condolences.  We are sad.  An errant thought: He ran out of time. He would appreciate it. I bought a watch in his memory and walk on under a suddenly dimmed sky.

The Meander:   A thief snatched my watch as we were walking back to our hotel in Santiago, Chile.  After the anger, feeling violated and acknowledging with thanks the care of the good Samaritans who came to our aid, I turned to Bert and said:   “He will be so disappointed that the ‘gold’ watch is a ten dollar Gibraltar special.”  We begin to laugh hysterically.

Our good Samaritans slowly leave and I think they are still debating whether we were happy to be unharmed or that the incident had been so traumatic as to leave us unhinged.

By the way, those Gibraltar specials lasted from 18 months to over five years and kept the same time!

Friendship

This is not friendship day or week or month.  It seems to me that I get a beautiful, sweet message about friendship and friends almost every week and they all end with an order to send it on to my friends because it is friendship day or week.  If I should add them all up there would be a thousand weeks in a year just for friendship.    My friends know how much I value them so I do not mind getting friendship messages but I need no reminders.   My friendship is on tap every day all year.  And it is a two way street.

My friends cross all boundaries, cultural, religious, social, and economic.  There are friends I have not yet met.  I have often opined that I was not blessed with a large family but I certainly made up for that lack with a host of dear friends.  Better yet, I get to choose them even as they choose me!   My friends live all over world and all are dear to me.   My friends fill that need of humans to have companionship who share a commonality of purpose, desires, mores and love.   There are all occasion friends and special event friends but they are all friends of the heart.  I laugh with them; cry with them and the hugs are wonderful.   My friends are full of kindness.   I write about one of my darker days and I get a beautiful bouquet with this card enclosed.

I laughed!   What a friend.    I have been sustained by the outpouring of love since that post.  I was refreshed. 

So it is with a full heart that I say “Thank You” to my friends.  Thank you for giving me strength, love and courage to carry on.  Thank you for sharing the ups, the downs and the in between.  Thank you for being by my side to laugh, to cry, to rejoice at successes and to commiserate with me at disappointments.

Thank you for bringing me back to the light when I have those dark days.  Thank you for the laughs, for laughing with me and laughing at me. 

The Meander:  My friends make the anguish less and me more.  Thank you!

.

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.