Two Pictures of Me

I’m not a big fan of pictures of myself — but I like this one because it brings back so many memories of a very happy trip.

Eiffel Tower, May 2017

And this one, taken last month. We taken my father for his weekly dinner at the Doubleday Cafe on Main Street in Cooperstown. After dinner, the kids were going to walk down to the lake to take some pictures. Laurel grabbed me and said, “Hey, Mary! Take a picture of me and Mom.” So she did.

Laurel and me

Yes, Laurel is taller than I am.


Thoughts on Education

Short answer: I’m for it.


Slightly longer answer:

Education

thinking
solving
proving
discovery

too much
social
interaction –
recovery

writing
rewriting
citing
recite

reading
researching
finding
delight

learning
questioning
seeking
knowledge

elementary
middle
high school
college

Except not everyone needs to go to college.


Looking Ahead

Below is one of the first pieces I wrote about my mother’s dementia. At the time, I had no idea that we would only have her for another five or so years.

Today’s prompt is “Where will you be in 5 years.” Please excuse me if I don’t want to go there.

(This was originally published on Facebook on July 9, 2010)

The Twilight Zone

I think Rod Serling, the creator of The Twilight Zone, must have had some experience with a person suffering from Alzheimer’s. Some days, here in Cooperstown, that’s all I can think about – The Twilight Zone.

My mother is trapped in a very strange episode of The Twilight Zone. She is time-travelling from decade to decade, and it’s difficult to figure out where she is. She thinks she is 25 years old, but her face in the mirror tells another story. It must be frightening. She thinks she has a date to go to a dance, but her date never shows up. An old man claiming to be her husband does.

When she wakes the next day, she’s in a new place. Her husband is at work (he’s been retired for 11 years, but is at a meeting). The red barn across the street looks just like the barn that was across the street from their house (it is the red barn that is across the street from their house). “Whose car is that in that in the driveway? I need to borrow it,” she says, but it’s my car and I won’t let her.

Two days ago she was very worried about me. I was 6 years old and lost. I’m here with her; I’m not lost; I’m 50. Something doesn’t make sense, but she can’t figure out what it is. We move on.

The only constant in this Twilight Zone episode is orange marmalade. Orange marmalade is served at every meal – on hot dogs, on sandwiches, you name it. Orange marmalade – I really can’t figure it out. But I think I understand now what they’re talking about on the Food Channel when they refer to comfort foods. They’re talking about orange marmalade.

I think it has always been one of my fears that I will be trapped in The Twilight Zone. It was always such a scary show to me, because there would be that twist at the end – like M. Night Shyamalan had in The Sixth Sense. Reality isn’t what we’ve been led to believe that it is. For my mother, the twist doesn’t come at the end; it comes so often that it is dizzying. Another twist and another twist.

I want to cry.

I’ll have some orange marmalade instead.

Three Words

Years ago, I bought Helen one of those pillowcases. It said, “Eat. Sleep. Swim.”

Like that’s all there was to life.

Thank goodness, she didn’t adhere to it or the world would be less one fine nurse.

Today’s culture is into distilling life into three words to live by. A quick Google search revealed these:

Live. Laugh. Love.

Dream. Plan. Do.

Imagine. Believe. Achieve.

Learn. Live. Hope.

Smile. Sparkle. Shine.

I can see the value in three short words. Those words can be become a mantra. You know, to “Remember. Speak. Repeat.” when the going gets tough.

A dementia caregiver’s three words might be –

Protect. Assist. Repeat.

with Repeat being ambiguous. Repeating the act of protecting (from harm) and assisting (with daily activities), or repeating the same instructions, or listening to the same story repeated. There’s lots of repeating in caregiving. There’s lots of repeating in caregiving.

For myself, three mental health habits which I try to incorporate into each day are

Read. Pray. Walk.

For general healthy living, I would say

Eat (unprocessed wholesome foods)

Exercise (every day)

Enjoy (take time to relax)

Love is the underpinning for all of life. I don’t include it in my three words, not because I don’t believe in it, but because it goes unsaid. Love always.

I think this came from Lancelot Andrewes, and I apply it to love —

In every imagination of my heart:
The words of my lips
The works of my hands
The ways of my feet

Love could be distilled to: Words. Works. Ways.

What are your three words?


The Refrigerator

Our refrigerator is slowly dying.

I picked out a new one, and ordered it.

Before the delivery guys came, I cleaned the old fridge, throwing away old and unidentifiable items. I disposed of leftovers that had gotten pushed to the back and overlooked until they turned pretty colors. I tossed out salad dressings whose “Best by” date was two years ago.

I was ready.

The new refrigerator arrived on a hot, hot day in late May. The temperature hovered around 85, the humidity around 80.

They backed the delivery truck to the house and I went out to meet them. “Can we see the place this is going?” one asked, and I showed them in.

They nodded approvingly at the large sliders they would bring the refrigerator through. One pulled out a tape measure and measured the other two doorways it would have to pass. They looked at the dying refrigerator and asked if they were hauling that one away.

Yes, yes, yes. Everything was a go.

They wiggled the old fridge out and put it on a hand truck. The whole process gave them a trial run (in reverse) of getting the new fridge in. It all went smoothly.

While they lugged the old one out to the truck, I quickly cleaned the floor underneath since I knew it wouldn’t see the light of day for a while.

They brought in the new fridge, shiny white and wrapped in plastic, and a box that they set on the table.

“This is your ice maker,” one of them said to me.

“Wait — what?” I asked. “Isn’t it already installed?”

“No, you have to call a plumber for that,” he said, and nicely explained all the reasons that was so.

“But when I called and ordered, no one said anything about that,” I told them.

They apologized as they unwrapped the new refrigerator, but I knew they couldn’t do anything about it.

As they tried to wiggle the new fridge in the old spot, they stopped to realign many times. Too many times. I knew there was a problem.

“Ma’am,” the spokesman said, “we have a problem. See how this is bowing out here?” he asked, pointing to the side panel from the cupboards. “This unit is about a 1/4″ too wide. And up here,” he pointed at the cupboard above, “you’re a good inch too low.”

I looked. He was right. We stood there silently studying the refrigerator that didn’t fit.

He finally broke the silence. “What do you want us to do?” he asked.

“Are there choices?” I asked.

“There are always choices,” he said, smiling and dripping with sweat.

The other guy was sweating even more. He said, “I think your husband can fix this.” I don’t think he wanted me to consider the other choice.

“We can leave it here and your husband can make some modifications so it will fit,” the first guy said, and I looked at him doubtfully, not doubting my husband’s skill of course, but doubting this old house. “Or we can bring the old one back in.”

The other delivery guy was pleading with me with his eyes.

I sighed.

“I am so sorry,” I said. “Can I fix you some ice water or something?”

They both looked at me, waiting for me to say the dreaded words.

“I think I want the old one back,” I said.

I walked behind them, carrying the ice-maker-in-a-box so they wouldn’t forget it as they hauled the new refrigerator out. Then they brought the old one in again.


Here’s a peek inside my refrigerator this morning. Nobody can tell that it was recently cleaned out.


The Poky Little Puppy

A few summers ago I picked up this scribbled-on, scribbled-in, musty-smelling copy of The Poky Little Puppy at a yard sale. It was in the give-away pile and I felt sorry for it. Since my copy, actually, both of my copies were in Greene and I was in Cooperstown, I felt like it was the right thing to do.

The Poky Little Puppy is like an old friend. I remember asking my mother to read it to me over and over.

I identified with this independent-minded puppy who followed his own nose instead of the pack.

Of course, it got him into trouble — but this wasn’t like the trouble Sally and her brother could have gotten in in The Cat in the Hat. That book always gave me knots in my stomach. It just seemed like there was something a little malicious about The Cat in the Hat and Thing 1 and Thing 2.

But the Poky Little Puppy was an explorer.

And he eventually paid the price by missing out on strawberry shortcake.

Still, if I were to be made into a storybook character, this would be this one.

Either that, or The Giving Tree, whom I look to as my role model.

Our Trip to France

For years I had heard my father talk about wanting to go to Normandy.

I don’t think my mother was particularly interested. She had humored him on his stops at Civil War battlefields on their way to Myrtle Beach. I had been with them on one of those visits and, I’m sorry to say, my eyes glazed over a little as he pointed to this place and that on the field in front of us. I’m not a student of the Civil War.

I’m not a student of war. While I have read any number of books about WWII, they have not been battle descriptions but concentration camp stories, or smuggling-the-Jews-to-safety stories. But that’s beside the point.

My father wanted to go to Normandy.

The year after my mother died was a rough year. She died in November. In the months immediately following, my father was diagnosed with Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH, for short). The next summer, he had surgery that involved putting a shunt in his brain that emptied into his abdominal cavity.

After his recovery from the surgery, I decided that we needed to get him to France because if we didn’t do it soon, we would lose the opportunity.

I talked to my husband and my siblings. My husband wanted to go. My sister and her husband were on board with the trip. One of my brothers cleared a week in his schedule so he could go, too.

I planned and I planned. I booked places, cancelled them, and booked others as I learned that I needed to make sure the hotel we stayed in had an elevator – aka lift. (Apparently, not all places have them, plus the first floor in France is what we call the 2nd floor.) I found a private guide. My sister helped book transportation from Paris to Bayeux and back again. She found a wonderful hotel in Paris (that had a lift).

When the time came, we flew to Paris, traveled to Normandy, and had an amazing time.

I even appreciated seeing the battlefield sites, the dimpled earth, the bunker at Pointe du Hoc, the cliffs.

Plus I spent a whole week with people I love.

Normandy

at LaDuree in Paris

Up in the Eiffel Tower