Archive for August, 2008

It’s A Dog’s Life

Madison here. Sorry I haven’t been able to blog yet, but I’ve been very busy. In addition to my job of keeping the sofa warm when nobody is looking, I’ve been helping around in the office.

When you call and are put on hold, that’s me. I hold the phone. Literally. The soft breathing in the background is not Mom or Debbie, it’s me. While they’re using their hands to find things, I make it all possible.

They used to use the hold button that comes with the phone, but I am very much more reliable. Every once in a while I do goof up. It happens. I’m sure you’ve heard of dropped calls. But hey, I do my best.

 I also type up orders, but I let Debbie fill them as the sticky stuff on the flaps of the priority envelopes is hard for those of us with fur. I take messages and paper notes back and forth from one office to the other. I am a Four-Legged-Fax.

I am present at all meetings. For standing meetings I lean against Mom or Debbie. For those that occur sitting down, my place is under the table. I no longer attend board meetings because they are, as the name implies, boring.

I also get stuck doing all the chores nobody else wants to do, like cleaning the computer monitors. It’s a dog’s life.

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August 31, 2008 at 8:13 am 14 comments

Every Year, Around This Time…

Every year at around this time, a certain flower blooms at the corner of our garage. As we drive in or out, the huge blossoms always take us by surprise. It’s a combination of their beauty, their size, their fragility, and the realization that the summer is almost over.

I don’t know what internal structure supports their mammoth size, but it must get worn out by the end of the day. By dusk the petals are withered and drooping. The next morning those blooms, or maybe different ones, are open again drinking in the sunshine and defying physics. Buds are in line behind them for a show that will last several weeks. And then they’ll be gone.

This plant always begins to bloom when Steve is ready to go back to school, about the time I’ve forgotten that he’s only home in the summer. While he goes in to get his room ready practically from the time he leaves it in June, I tend to forget that vacations, lunches out, running errands together, and watching TV past 9:30 p.m. aren’t the norm. Just about the time I get used to having him home, he’s back to his classroom full-time. You’d think after 31 years of marriage I would be more in tune to the pattern and I wouldn’t be so surprised, but I’m not. You’d think I’d hate this time less, but I don’t.

When the flowers come I find myself asking: Did I make the most of it? Did I cherish our time together? Did I wring out every drop? I always want more time.

This year, and for every year that follows, the beautiful plate-sized flowers with their translucent petals will have another meaning too. Mom fell five times since spring. No broken bones, but with each trauma the Alzheimer’s took a little bit more. She’s forgotten how to move her feet to walk and what balance feels like. Even if her brain could remember, her muscles have lost their strength. The words she speaks are adrift in a sea of strange syllables. Her understanding of the things around her grows dimmer. Some days she won’t sing. Hospice has begun. She seems as fragile as the paper-thin petals on the blooms by the garage.

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August 26, 2008 at 9:49 pm 32 comments

Sidewalk Sale

What's wrong with this sign?

What’s wrong with this sign?

I love stuff like this.  Notice the location of the sidewalk sale: INSIDE.

Doesn’t having it outside in front of your store make it a sidewalk sale? If it’s inside it’s just a “sale,” right?

I could understand if it was raining, but it was a nice sunny day, each of the two days I happened to see this sign. They’ve got the sign up again this week too.

And I’m not going to complain that “IN SIDE” is all one word. I’m not going to complain about anything. I am nothing but amused.

August 19, 2008 at 8:18 am 3 comments

A Sink Is A Sink…right? Maybe Not.

Normal Sink

Looks good from this angle.

Looks like a pretty normal sink, right? No surprises here. (The rest of the room in which I stayed on a recent teaching trip was just fine.)


Very dumb choice for a handle.

…hit the drain without getting the handle first! What were they thinking?



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August 17, 2008 at 8:15 am 3 comments

Duct Tape On Airplanes: A Big No-No

On a recent trip, I flew a small regional airline that I don’t often fly. I was reminded again why that is.  Hello out there….! Having duct tape and  a “DO NOT USE” sign anywhere NEAR the emergency exit on an airplane is more than a little disconcerting to those of us who might think your sign refers to our way out in an emergency. The “mending job” was on BOTH emergency exits by the way. It was only after very close examination that I saw that the duct tape was holding the window shade in the UP position, but at first glance doesn’t it look like the sign and tape refer to the window exit?! Shame on you for using duct tape to mend anything that flies. Fix the shades for crying out loud! 

And apologies to the nice man sitting in the row 5. In order to take the pictures I had to slide my arm between the seats in the row in front of me and into your space to take the picture. You were sleeping at the time. Thank you for not waking up.

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August 15, 2008 at 8:17 am 8 comments

Holding The Baby

Mom’s life is moment to moment. Literally. Her short term memory is very nearly gone. She doesn’t remember any events of her life, she can’t make sense out of her surroundings, she can’t repeat what she just said or hold in her consciousness anything that anyone else has just said or done. Even the simplest tasks elude her.

I often bring food for her to snack on. She long ago lost the ability to take the food from my hand. It was as if she couldn’t focus on what part of the thing in front of her she was supposed to grasp. She often grabbed 6 to 8 inches in front of my hand to take what I was offering, or she’d grab my finger instead of what I was holding. It’s not her eyesight. It’s the Alzheimer’s scrambling her brain so she can’t make sense of what she is seeing.

So, I started putting whatever I brought for her to eat in her hand. A cold, wet grape. A big, fat strawberry. She could find it in her hand and eat it.

Now she is having trouble taking something out of her own hand. She’ll try to pick up her own finger. I can see the gears turning, “No, that’s not it.” Sometimes she’ll try to pick up something that isn’t there, at a spot close to where the item is that I’ve placed in her hand. She’ll bring her fingers to her mouth and “taste” it, and say “mmm, delicious” but all she’s picked up is air.

Now I place the food against her index finger and watch her thumb move over to hold it in place. I sometimes have to tap it against her index finger before she’ll take it. I feel like an operating room nurse, slapping the surgical instruments into the doctor’s hand.

My job is to fill as many moments in Mom’s life as I can. We cuddle, and sing, I wash her hands and brush her teeth, I bring food to eat, we listen to music and play with the dog. We wind yarn, and I give her hand and foot messages. I tell her how much I love her, and we make moments together. I try to come every day that I’m not on the road teaching because the thought of her alone in her own head breaks my heart.

If it was a choice of “nothingness” or “happiness” that would be sad enough. But Mom seems to have random thoughts that frighten her. Perhaps they are dreams, or they are fleeting fragments of memories from long ago, or she has simply heard something one of the other residents or staff has said and misunderstood it. She has relived the death of her own parents many times, has truly believed someone was trying to hurt her or take something from her, and she is remorseful for something she has done “wrong.” It’s hard to know what triggers these emotions, but her sorrow, fear, and anger are real. And she acts on them.

That is the only explanation I have for her uncontrollable crying, cursing at the top of her lungs, or crashing her walker into people and furniture.

I am always looking for good moments to give her. The other day one of the other residents left her baby doll on the sofa in the common area and I sat Mom down there and asked if she wanted to hold the baby. She demurred. The last time I suggested it (several months ago) she quipped, “Why the H would I want to play with a GD DOLL!?” This time I think she thought it was real and she might do something wrong. I told her it was OK, maybe she could show me how to rock the baby. She picked up the life-sized doll but didn’t look like she knew what to do. I suggested burping the baby and she carefully placed it on her shoulder and patted its back. Like a pro. With a little more coaching she found the part of her brain that remembered how she had held and rocked and burped me some 50+ years ago. It was an amazing moment.

About that time I had to talk to one of the supervisors and left Mom with the doll. When I came back some 10 minutes later she was still holding it, talking to it, and tapping her hands in time to the music that was playing. I can’t tell you what joy that moment brought to me.

You have to find the moments when and where you can. And sometimes you have to look pretty hard.




August 11, 2008 at 8:13 am 52 comments

Ami Simms

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