One day last week I was sitting in the parking lot of CVS waiting for Miss Cathy to come back from buying a disposable camera. We were on our way to her girlfriend’s house for a holiday visit when she decided that she wanted to take pictures of Adele’s newly renovated kitchen. She’d been in here the store awhile so I was giving her another 15 minutes before I went in to check whether or not she was lost in one of the aisles or passed out from finally getting some exercise outside of the apartment.

When she finally returned to the car and was buckled up she told what had taken so long. Apparently she walked to the back of the store to the Pharmacy department thinking that’s where the photo center was (it’s actually located just inside the door on the right, beside the registers). She stood in line waiting to ask for the photo center location when she found herself in conversation with the lady in line ahead of her.

They got to talking about prescription drugs and how expensive they were. The woman told mom that she was distressed because her prescriptions (even though they were generic) were almost $100.00 a month and she didn’t know if she had enough money for this month’s supply.

Hearing her story Miss Cathy decided to offer the lady ten of the twenty dollars that she brought to purchase the disposable camera. The lady refused saying that she couldn’t possibly take her money and that she didn’t want mom to think that she told her plight to illicit money.

Miss Cathy assured her that wasn’t the case, simply that hearing her story made her realize how blessed she was in her life and all that she’d been given. She told the lady that she had great insurance and didn’t need to worry about her prescription costs like so many and she’d been blessed with great children and then she told her new friend about Tony and me.

In the car mom told me how years ago a woman had offered her some money when she was running short and she’d always remembered the kindness of that stranger and wanted to so the same for someone else. She said that the ten dollars wasn’t much but it was half of what she had so she offered it.

I listened to her, thinking that she’d never seen the movie or heard the expression, “pay it forward” but that was indeed what she was doing. I forget that underneath her bluster and the anger that the disease seems to taking over her personality that she’s a sweet person with a good heart.

She insisted that the woman take the money. True to form Miss Cathy told me that at that very moment she was thinking, “You betta take this money lady-I don’t offer money often-and never to strangers.”

What she said to the lady was, “please take the money, you never know where your blessings are going to come from so you should never refuse them when they present themselves.”

Grateful and touched, the lady took the money and Miss Cathy toddled off to the front of the store after the cashier told her where to go. She made her purchase and off we went to visit Adele to give her the Christmas wreath I’d made and to see her new kitchen and holiday decorations.


Bed(time) Story

One day last week I was walking from the laundry room when I spied Miss Cathy pulling the sheets off her bed. Seeing me she asked, ”Do you have anything you want to go in the wash?”

“Isn’t that funny” I said, “Great minds think alike. I just took my bed things in to wash.”

I told her that I was going to do my laundry the day before but kept putting it off, leaving it till the traditional “wash-day” of old.

“I don’t think about what day it is to wash my things”, she said,” I just do laundry whenever I get ready. It used to be when I had a utility bill when we lived in the house that I would think about things like when it was cheaper to run water but now that I’m in a condo I just run water when I like.”

“Yeah, I know”, I say having heard what was coming a thousand times before, so I started walking again, “I wasn’t subscribing to any particular day to wash -I was just talking.”

“I use the water whenever I want because I pay my condo fees and there’s people here that don’t.” (At this point I could feel a rant coming on….)

“Makes me sick that people can do that! How can they do that and get away with it?” (And …there’s she goes….)

She went off on a tear about people who didn’t pay their faire share to the condominium association and how it made it hard on everybody else. So, to insure that she was NOT taken advantage of and got her monies worth she leaves lights on in rooms she’s not in and runs water without a thought to conservation-Miss Cathy logic.

Thankfully I had reached the laundry room and (small space that it is in a not very large apartment) it wasn’t far enough away so I could still hear her. I turned on the washer and the rushing water drowned out the sound of her negativity as it filled the machine with just enough water to clean my clothes (somebody around here has to be conscious of natural resources).

After the laundry was washed and dried I’d laid her linens back on her bed. Later that same morning on my way to my room to work I looked in on her in her room and saw her standing over the bed, thinking she was going to make the bed I went in to help.

“Where are you going?” I asked puzzled when she took the fitted sheet out of my hand. She’d gathered everything up was about to walk past me out of the room, “Don’t you want to make your bed while the sheets are still warm from the dryer?”

“Oh”, she said startled and confused, “I’m so crazy, I was headed for the laundry room. I thought I still needed to wash them.”

She came back into the room and I made the bed for her while she went into the living room to sit and watch television for a little while. It wasn’t much later than noon but I knew she’d be back and ready to lie down for a nap soon.

Blowin’ in the wind

Thanksgiving was over a week ago but a conversation I had with my sister-in-law, Suemi still lingers in my mind-like so much leftover turkey you don’t know what to do with.

We found ourselves alone in the kitchen the morning after the holiday, everyone else was still passed out from turkey overdose, so we had a chance to have a private chat.

“Mom surprised me,” she said.

“How do you mean?” I asked.

“It’s been awhile since I’ve seen her and she looks so old, I’m surprised that she’s still walking so slow and using a cane. She doesn’t seem sure of her balance, always reaching out to grab onto something, like she thinks she’s going to fall. She’s how old? Seventy-three? Wow, by the way she walks and acts she looks ten years older.”

“It’s not only that”, she continued, “I can tell that she’s not the same, she’s not as confident as she used to be. I can see when I look into her face that something has changed.”

I listened, well aware of her metamorphosis into an “old lady”. Just a few years ago-before her diagnosis, she was active, independent and fearless, people were surprised when they found out how old she was. I listened, remembering who she was and quietly judging myself and wondering if I was being judged for her decline.

Suemi was surprised when I told her ho much Miss Cathy slept.

“Oh wow, that’s a lot!” she said eyes wide with amazement, “she can live another twenty years like that……just sleep, no work, no stress. A lot of old people live a long time that way.”

“Believe me I know,” I said nodding that I felt the same, “she’s like a bear hibernating through the rest of her life.”

But, she’s not completely stress free I reminded her, she still has her temper. Then I regaled my sister-in-law with some of the highlights of Miss Cathy’s rants against enemies and evils real and imagined.

I was kind of surprised that Suemi had seen so much change in Miss Cathy in just the space of three or four months.

She reminded me of the reason why I started this blog in the first place. I was very aware when I moved here that it was important to record the progression of her disease. I knew that change when come when I was busy tending to her and before I knew it ‘who she is’ would be the new normal and l would have forgotten how she ‘used to be’.

Tough as it is, these are the Halcyon days of Alzheimer’s, she’s still stage one dementia but the curtain can lift on stage two at any time and those challenges will make the previous diagnosis seem ‘quaint’ so I wanted to be sure to write it all down so that I could remind myself that it wasn’t all bad.

With caregivers, it seems that you deal with the person as they are “that day” and quickly you forget how it’s different from yesterday’s issues and challenges.

Some things, like the love you feel for them-and they for you are constant but everything else is kinda up for grabs. But knowing that, hell, and even writing about it doesn’t prepare you for an outsider’s observation (an outsider being anyone that isn’t their caregiver and hasn’t seen your loved one for awhile-be they friend or family) that validates your purpose.

Suemi held up a mirror so that I could see Miss Cathy (and myself) and it hit me that Thanksgiving this year is yet another marker of change in our family. We’re not a particularly sentimental bunch (well, I am but I’ve long maintained that someone made a scramble with the babies when I was born and I was left with the wrong people-all evidence and my striking familial resemblance to the clan aside).

Anyway, Thanksgiving became important to us as a family back in1997. It was the last time my pop was healthy enough to celebrate the holiday before cancer took him away the following spring. He’d been in the hospital just days before and the doctors weren’t holding out hope that he’d ever leave (alive) but he proved them wrong buy not only getting better, he sat at his place at Tony’s holiday table and ate like a man half his age and filled the room with his deep Barry White baritone and laughter. Since then we’ve made it a point to get together on the last Thursday in November.

And now, after not being at Tony’s last year because Miss Cathy just didn’t want to go we were all together this year but it’s different now. Not only do we have the memory of pop at the thanksgiving table to top our list of thanks, this year we add Miss Cathy’s joy and spontaneous “Star spangled banner”.

We will come together next here but the reality is that she probably won’t be the same but who knows, maybe she’ll surprise us and sing her favorite Bob Dylan song:

“How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?
How many times must the canon balls fly before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind”.