Oh, the places you’ll go

“You can pick him up now. There’s nothing left to test,” I was told by the busy neurologist on the phone.

He was referring to my late husband, Richard.

And he was talking about my husband’s fading memory.

The appointment was just a year after Richard’s initial dementia diagnosis. I’d been told by the doctor they would need several hours for testing.

Yet my cell phone was ringing in less than five minutes.

It wasn’t long after the call that I started considering eventual placement in a group home at the strong encouragement of Richard’s doctor.

I was in over my head, yet needed to be convinced that the quality of his care and his existence would be improved if he was to move.

One category on my wish list for him was the opportunity to go on outings which I knew would require a van.

The home that Richard eventually moved into had both, as well as a great activity director.

On my first visit to the home, I’d noticed museums were a favored destination on their calendar including the beautiful art museum where my husband used to work as a curator.

On Richard’s first outing back to the museum as a group home resident, the man with no memory somehow managed to get out of his wheelchair and navigate purposefully down several long hallways, and through a restricted area back to his old office.

The museum guards stepped out of his way and smiled as they watched their former co-worker, as did the teary eyed staff and volunteers from the group home.

And though that magical moment never quite had a second act, that group home van would eventually take Richard on many other magical adventures that would always put a smile on his face.

Concerts, apple orchards, theaters, fishing excursions, picnics, restaurants…

Richard’s play list went on and on.

Oh, the places he went.

Thanks to a van, his magic bus.

Reflections on gratitude

Every year, this particular week is one of reflection for me.

Along with Thanksgiving, I acknowledge my birthday, and that of a brother who died too young.

And once there was a wedding anniversary.

It would have been 29 years of marriage this week if my husband Richard was still with me.

I find my memories of years gone by are as warm as they are cold.

The recollections of steamy windows and turkey bastings still fill my heart, even if the details of faces around the Thanksgiving table are fading.

And birthday party gifts of little pilgrim candles still dance happily in my head, though in one a bit fuzzier.

Yet dark November commutes on icy roads driving Richard to his adult day care center in his last years still send a chill up my spine.

My Spode Christmas mug companion, lined with mistletoe and hot coffee, would turn cold as Coke by the time I’d cross the city line to New Hope each morning.

I’d try hard to be ‘of cheer’ but would fail miserably.

Typically mumbling to myself, “New Hope? How about ‘No Hope’?” as I’d drive off from the facility downtown to work.

Dementia can do that to a caregiver.

But I’ve learned there was hope back then, and perhaps there always is.

Not of a spouse recovering from an illness where there is no cure, but of a caregiver coping with acceptance, loss and finally moving forward.

I drove to the store in sunshine today to replenish my coffee supply for my Christmas mug that now rests on the kitchen counter.

As I first walked through the door, I was greeted by the scent of buckets of yellow roses and a happy clerk restocking them.

I was definitely tempted.

The price was good, but I walked on by.

I can’t just buy them for myself, I thought.

But I stopped, shifted into reverse, then picked up a bunch along with my French Roast.

Smiling at the friendly check out clerk, I said, “These are terrific! Just like the ones I held at my wedding 29 years ago today.”

I added my husband was now gone.

His face saddened some, but then he smiled as well.

I watched him attach a sticker to the cellophane wrapping.

A “paid” sticker, I thought.

“Here,” he said, handing them back to me. “No charge. Happy Anniversary!”

I admit a tear rolled down my cheek.

Ok. Maybe two.

But my gratitude far exceeded any sadness.

And isn’t that how it should be every Thanksgiving week?

I’m voting yes.

Birds and their houses

The sparrows out my window this morning were up early, and they were busy.

With beaks full of sticks and straw, they carefully wove their new found threads into a perfect nest in my blue birdhouse.

Or maybe I should say ‘their’ birdhouse.

I thought I’d should get busy as well, and take a few steps today towards downsizing and finding that perfect place to live.

I drove into the city to look at an older, but efficient 1 bedroom home in a neighborhood I like. It looks like a dream on Google.

Convenient to a co-op, yoga studio, and Chinese food.

What more could I ask for in terms of walkability?

The realtor was even having an Open House so I could get inside.

I found the address, parked my car, and slowly walked up the sidewalk.

The first thing I noticed, the house is twenty steps from a busy high school.

And it looks like a distant cousin of the house I saw online.

Maybe even a third cousin, twice removed, with its crumbling foundation and too much eye shadow.

I knock on the door.

No answer.

It seems the realtor didn’t ‘show’ for the showing.

But no great loss.

I decide to look at another place closer to where I live now, and a little cheaper.

It’s another one bedroom with a front porch, sunroom, and the promise of a private, fenced back yard.

Great for the dogs and me, I’m hoping.

On line it looks like it has a solid stucco exterior, painted the same blue as that birdhouse out my window.

And I soon realize it’s just around the corner from a 144 acre nature preserve near the care facility where my husband lived in his final months.

I’d forgotten to jot down the exact house number, but easily spot the sparkling blue stucco in the sunlight.

As I drive up, I instantly fall in love with the front porch that’s begging me to come on in and grab a rocker.

In fact, the whole house and yard exceed my expectation as I climb out of the car.

I’m ridiculously head over heels in love!

That is, until I’m jilted.

I mean jolted by a brand new “SOLD” sign.

Dejected, I return home and soothe my disappointment with a cup of tea.

I decide to carry it over to check in on my new neighbors in the blue birdhouse.

I find the female sparrow is now resting comfortably on her nest.

And her male companion soon brings a big, juicy worm for them to share.

He’s so much smarter than me.

He remembered the early bird always does catch the worm.

As soon as I find my pen, this old bird’s going to write that down so she doesn’t forget next weekend.

Kudos for those who care

Bouquets for the caregivers,
Wherever they may be.
So tireless and devoted,
Often others do not see.

Sharing love with those who try,
But can’t be understood.
Giving their warm hugs and hands,
I so wish everyone would.

Gentle souls

Today my Facebook news feed gifted me a joking reference to two elderly women and senility.

Maybe call it holiday humor.

But I call it cruel.

I admit I’m overly sensitive after a decade of care taking for my late parents and husband afflicted with Alzheimer’s and dementias.

But there’s nothing funny about a grandma asking her grandkids on Christmas Eve, “So who are you?”

Or discovering one morning your spouse can no longer speak full sentences.

But I may have been bothered most by the post’s unkind reference to aging women.

Feeling a bit old myself this morning, I couldn’t help but think don’t mature women deserve better?

What ever happened to respect and dignity, anyway?

I spent yesterday visiting two gentle souls in different locations, each nearly ninety years young.

Both of these women are bright, full of life and ever so wise.

And they’re also gorgeous.

The women reminded me of another elegant lady I knew who passed away earlier this year at 96. An accomplished author, she kept researching and writing well into her 90s, publishing her last book at 92.

All three women have taught me much. And yesterday the two I visited with shared some invaluable lessons.

First, just because you’re older, you’re still vibrant and very much alive. You can offer wisdom and perspective the young never can.

Second, should memory become impaired in one’s final years, gifts of love and warmth will still shine through.

I’m thinking these gifts will be more than enough to top off my stocking come Christmas morning.

Dreaming of EEEs and ZZZs

I believe many of the best things in life are free.

Or at least pretty close.

I woke up this morning knowing I should drive into the city and catch up on a few projects at work.

But I’d already reserved a spot in a e-publishing class at the library.

I knew it was my one big chance, and there was no cost involved.

Organizing my posts into a book about family members with memory loss has been on my bucket list all year. I’m hoping my experiences may help a few others.

Once I arrived in the classroom, it didn’t take me long to realize I’d made the right choice.

A dozen of us sat in a half circle eagerly listening to a former publishing house editor and self published writer. My fellow classmates were as energetic as the instructor, each with their own unique story.

One was a tanned golf instructor who’d like to share her technical expertise in a book for her clientele.

Another, a gentle gray haired woman anxious to tell tales of family members serving in the military.

And finally a savvy senior who has several books in print, but is now ready to jump bravely into the new e-world.

I left with many learnings and websites to study from our teacher’s shared wisdom and rich group discussions.

And also with more confidence than I carried in hours before.

Our library even bestowed each of us with the parting gift of a brand new hardcover.

It’s titled, “A Reader’s Journal,” where I can record recommended books.

I do plan on reading some tonight, then turning in early knowing I’ll now be working Sunday.

But I’m hopeful for pleasant dreams, with me writing that last book chapter.

And perhaps even one day seeing a few readers recommend my book in their own journals.

The dawn of joy

I’d hoped to travel out of state this past weekend for a very special event, but it didn’t happen.

The costs were more than I could handle right now.

After finally filing my taxes for last year, the full enormity of the $6200 monthly bills I was paying for my husband’s care hit me.

Along with a big bill to my state’s department of revenue.

No wonder I cringe as I look at my aging roof when I come home from work each day. And I’m nervous to call the repairman about the 1959 oven in my house that’s been acting up.

Yet I’ve been fortunate.

My husband’s care was filled with love, the roof hasn’t yet leaked, and I’m happy with cold salads for dinner.

At least for now.

I still even managed a short road trip this weekend to a new destination.

And I discovered while there, a Plan B can be filled with just as much joy as a Plan A.

Particularly when it’s held in a peaceful setting with placid waters.

Brillant, under tall trees with leaves of red, orange and gold.

And blessed with a bonus gift of 2700 acres of wildlife to hike.

Perhaps it’s true that some of the best things in life really are still free.

Or at least pretty darn close.