One good day


I started my day complaining to the tree company about my heavy old oak branch, bigger than most trees, still resting up on my roof. This fellow’s been sleeping there for 2 1/2 weeks now.

As I hung up, I received another call, this time from the nurse at my husband Richard’s group home. She reported Richard was ill and that it could be pneumonia. We reviewed the specifics of his health care directive in case he needed to quickly go to the hospital. She told me the staff was watching him carefully, awaiting X-ray results and a call back from the clinic.

I stayed at work, trying to focus, while I waited for an update. I had a strong passion for my purple yoga mat which of course was sitting where I’d forgotten it, next to my back door at home. On my lunch break I instead played with my iPad and looked at peaceful pictures of animals and flowers. Anything to try and calm down.

Before leaving work, the tree company called back to say it was looking better for the roof. And then I had my update from the nurse. Richard didn’t have pneumonia after all, but a nasty infection.

I drove to visit Richard shortly afterwards and fed him his dinner. I was so happy he’d started to eat again, and to find he was trying to talk a little. But this time he chosen two different words to speak, not the usual “Hi, yup, thanks.”

“Oh God,” he’d proclaim, each time his nose would start to run like a faucet between bites of his beautiful blueberries.

I smiled. Then I laughed, wiping his nose with tissues.

That’s what he always used to say when he was sick. I haven’t heard him speak those two short words for a very long time.

Oh God, its been one good day after all.

And I’m thankful.

6 pounds of attitude and joy

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I’ve heard dogs need a purpose in life. In Greta’s case, it’s keeping everyone in line. Especially Tucker the terrier (or maybe I should say terror). But she has a special second job as well. She brings cheer weekly to those who need it most.

Greta will visit my husband Richard in his group home tomorrow, dressed in her 25 cent pink tutu bought at a garage sale. She’ll bring smiles to many faces there. Greta always does, especially if she’s dressed up for the occasion.

Grandma Greta’s a senior citizen at 13 and has spent many hours napping on Richard’s lap. She first lived with a truck driver for 10 years who needed to enter his own care facility. Afterwards, she lived for a time with an active young family, but wasn’t happy with all the commotion. She’s napping these days at my house, usually right next to the computer.

Greta’s still spry when I take her for walks. Neighborhood children often ask how old my puppy is, in spite of her gray muzzle and heart murmur. When I tell them she’s 13, they’re always surprised.

Greta loves the car rides over to see Richard, as she’s a seasoned traveler from her years on the road. And her eyes are bright when she first spots him walking in the door.

Greta will briefly greet the other residents, then gently curl up once again on Richard’s lap. And Richard like always, will gently stroke her back.

Joy all around.

The visit

I’m careful as I climb the steps, then slowly enter the security code for the heavy front door. I’m even more cautious as I push the door open and walk into the group home, a place where my husband is staying right now while I work. Usually they’ll be someone on the other side, telling me they urgently need to leave. I may hear a sobbing 85 year old woman insist, “I have to go home right now and help Mom with dishes.” Or another, like my husband, might reach for the door knob but will not be able to communicate why. I often wonder, does he only recall the repetitive motion of turning the knob? Or is there still a distant memory, or destination in mind?

Traveling down the narrow hallway, several residents join me like a herd of sheep. We continue to move as a pack until we get to the living room. I greet those already seated with a nod, a smile, by name. I hand the M & M cookies to the staff for an afternoon snack, though one resident insists he gets his cookie now.

I find my husband cozy in a recliner and sit next to him, asking about his day. He doesn’t answer. Sometimes one of the other higher functioning residents will answer for him, but not this day.

My husband makes no eye contact with me or anyone else. He’s in his old world, a world far away. I continue to talk to him softly. I pat his hand. Rub his back. He falls asleep.

I quietly slip out, navigating back down the long hall, looking carefully over my shoulder as I enter the code to leave. But there’s no one behind me. My fellow pack members have dozed off as well.

I’m a little blue as I return home. I decide a nap is good medicine for me as well.

Flowers and a rough track for those with dementia

In the town down the road from me, there’s a model train set up outside in a park. It navigates through a pretty little garden of yellow, pink and blue flowers. The volunteers have added several small buildings to the display. A miniature church, train station and a couple of houses have been comfortably nestled in to the landscape.

I like to watch the train navigate the track. It makes me think of the Lionel toy train set my husband, Richard had as a child. He used to tell me how much he loved it and that it was his favorite toy growing up. I can imagine the hours of fun he must have had as a little boy. The set was lost at some point, probably in a move, which he regretted even as an adult.

The toy train and display in the park also make me think of Richard today. The train chugs along in circles with no real destination, much like Richard and the vicious cycle of his dementia. With no definitive cure for Alzheimer’s and all the other dementias, we are going round and round with little hope for any improvement at this point.

For now, as caregivers, we do our best to make it a comfortable journey for Richard. And we work to create as much beauty as we can alongside the rough track he’s riding each day.

Saving their spots for the fireworks display


No one has to save a spot for me.

I’ll be asleep, or at least trying, as I work to shake a summer cold. After a quick trip this morning to the kiddie parade and pancake breakfast, my energy level dropped as my temperature went up. Instead of buying cherry pie at the grocery, I bought cherry cough drops instead.

I cancelled my plans for the rest of the day, including a visit to see my husband Richard. I’m betting he had a good afternoon enjoying burgers, hot dogs, and potato salad with patriotic decorations all around. Although Richard’s lost a lot of weight, lately his appetite has been good.

Richard’s group home does holidays up right, but I often wonder if he recognizes any of the holidays anymore. I’m thinking not. But I’m hopeful his taste buds still recognized the relish he always loved on his hot dog today.

We’ll make it a beautiful morning

I hope to get my husband Richard outside this weekend. Just the two of us. The weather should be pleasant and the fresh air will be good for both my husband and me.

I may though bring along one of the dogs. Richard responds to the feel of the soft, silky hair as he pats their long backs. And the dogs respond well to to his gentle strokes.

I’ll bring a contemporary art book he used to like. He doesn’t react to the bright, splashy images very often anymore. But sometimes he’ll hold the heavy book in front of him, and carefully turn the pages just as he always did.

We may hear the church bells chime if I time it right in the courtyard. I find it soothing, and like to think Richard does too. I do know we’ll hear a chorus of cardinals chirping around us by the feeder. We’ll sit together quietly as he rarely utters a word anymore. I will hold his hand.

I’ll bring some chocolates along as a special treat. Godiva, Richard’s favorite. We’ll make it a beautiful Sunday morning, just like we used to do.

Blue in the morning and blue at night


Heat, humidity, and I don’t get along very well. Or that fresh mosquito crop that just hatched either. I find my energy is low, I’m a bit blue, and my sleep is usually impacted.

Once I wake up in the night, the worry related to caregiving for my husband takes over. Health and finances for both of us are usually at the top of the worry list. The “what if” and “why didn’t we” kind of self talk begins. “Why did we wait too long to get long term care insurance,” was last night’s self talk subject.

I’ll usually just read for a while, pat the dog, and eventually drift off to sleep again an hour before the alarm goes off.

Early this morning, still groggy, I took a few pictures when I woke up. Somehow blue flowers seemed an appropriate subject.

Yet they did put a smile on my tired face.