Casino Royale…Pain: Pt. lll

Once inside the casino I could see that (much like my life) things hadn’t changed since the last time I’d brought Miss Cathy to gamble.

For an early afternoon on a week-day the place was kinda full; the elderly, retirees (or people who may have been unemployed for all I know, taking a risk with the last of their savings), tourists and a gaggle or two of folks my age or younger, all looking like they’re the ones that are going to ‘beat the house’ and leave with more than they came.

Still, I could smell the desperation waffling off people as I slogged through the noise and smoke (thanks to Maryland’s Gov. O’Malley for not pushing a ban on cigarettes in establishments such as this) with mom toddling along beside me, each step a declaration of war against gravity.

For Miss Cathy, walking has become a battle she looks to be losing but is denial as to how badly things are going, surrender not an option, very much like George W. Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan when he was Commander in Chief (except in mom’s case, ‘surrender’ would mean giving up her cane for a walker and not admitting that thousands died in one war that was unnecessary to protect our country and the other failing if that was indeed the mission).

The fifty-cent slot machines that she loves to play were positioned off to the left where the main thoroughfare split, near the new blackjack, craps and roulettes tables that were recently added to the casino to attract even more patrons with a dollar(s) and a dream.

The slots weren’t far from the entrance but they may as well have been the length of a football field for all the time it took us to get there.

When I first started bringing mom to the casino more than three years ago I felt like her chauffer and body guard; standing nearby (but not too close as to make whomever was sitting next her feel nervous by my presence) as she concentrated on indulging her gambling addiction. I would people watch; collect her winnings (if there were any) play games or text on my iPhone.

Over time I found that I was needed alittle more and then a lot.

It’s gotten to the point that I’m now sitting next to her; loading her club card, feeding the money into the machine and instructing her as to where the buttons or levers are and the monetary risk involved and where the various cherries and bars line up above or below the ‘winning line’ each time she plays.

She’s like “The Who’s” Tommy, who ‘sure loved to play pinball’ except Miss Cathy can hear the buzzers and bells.

Watching her as she’s playing; spellbound by the swirling colors, the lights, the Muzax playing overhead and sounds coming from the slot machine itself, she looks to be as happy and ‘herself’ as I’ve seen her since the Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

So no matter the outcome of the game she’s already won in my eyes.

MIss Cathy goes country

I don’t know when it started exactly. When I first moved in with Miss Cathy she would talk about how she’d occasionally watch a music video on CMT (Country music television) and I thought little of it.

Then I noticed that her days started to have a different soundtrack; instead of the usual sounds floating through the apartment of courtroom show gavels, one of the Cartwright’s’ needing “Pa” to help them out of a jam “down on the Ponderosa” or the applause of the game shows I would hear the soft twang of a guitar and warble of love lost from some unknown baritone.

I on the other hand seemed to be listening to the sounds of my own discontent. All I could hear were thoughts of how hard it is being here and questioning how much longer I can keep this commitment to care for Miss Cathy.

Believe me, I’m sick of the sound of my own belly aching and crying “whoa is me” but I don’t know….. I think I thought things would have gotten easier by now or…..different somehow-anything but the constant frustration, anger and ill at ease that I feel.

But, I constantly remind myself that this isn’t about me and it’s still early in the disease. This is the easy part where she’s more or less still herself so how can I possibly be thinking of bailing now? These are Halcyon days compared to what’s ahead.

So, I sit with my discontent, sharing coffee with it in the morning knowing it will leave me at some point during the day and freeing me to feel-sometimes joy, sometimes satisfaction in knowing that I’m doing the right thing but there’s never peace.

Mom on the other hand seems to have adjusted pretty well. Sure, the last tow years have been a big change for her too after living alone for almost ten years after pop died, but she’s always said she likes having family around. I’ve spent most of my life living alone, as if I were hatched and not part of any clan.

I can say that it is satisfying to know that she’s happy (or as happy as one can be with Alzheimer’s) I know that she likes having her son around-and I am “that” and I am “here”. Even though I keep to myself and lord knows we don’t talk very much she’s got Garth, Brooks, Dunn and Lady Antebellum to keep her company. It’s pretty much all country-all the time, she watches country music videos for hours at a time as she sits on the couch where she spends her days.

I drove her over to Tony’s for the Super Bowl last Sunday and on the drive we’d pretty much exhausted all conversation ten minutes into the hour plus drive leaving just the radio to fill the silence. But then I happened to switch from the classical station that I prefer to the country channel and through the rearview mirror I could see Miss Cathy light up like a Christmas tree.

Her mood was infectious and soon I was listening and humming along to the few songs or riffs that I recognized. We started talking between sets and before you know it we’d arrived at my brother’s place. I can’t remember having spent such a good time in her company for a long while.

Soon after we were inside the spell was broken, the old dynamics came back into play in my brother’s family room so I withdraw as Miss Cathy launched into a story that we’d all heard before but I could safely leave Tony and Suemi to be her audience as I once again turned to the sound of my own inner dialogue.

I wonder, like Miss Cathy’s new found interest in country music if this is just a phase or if I’m the last to know that this is it-life changes and suddenly you find yourself in Nashville and not in a New York state of mind.

Welcome back, your dreams are your ticket out

I haven’t seen Miss Cathy is about three weeks since she went on her sojourn down south so I drove over to Tony’s last Saturday to pick her up and bring her home around 5pm. I was supposed to pick her up later that night but the schedule changed at the last minute (unbeknownst to me till the last minute, it shouldn’t really matter but you’ll see why it’s a factor a little later).

I get over to Tony & Co where he and Suemi greet me at the door with hugs (nice, expected). I make a little joke to Tony about “…..and so it begins” as I walk down the corridor and into the kitchen where Miss Cathy is sitting. Imagine my surprise when instead of standing and giving me the warm embrace and a kiss hello I’m expecting, she rises out of the chair with a sour expression on her face (and I’m thinking, “Is it me or does she look a little ‘off’?”) and as I lean in to hug her she starts to hit me. Believe me the body blows she delivers feel more like a couple loaves of bread being thrown against my sides then anything resembling pain-but still.

I’m more confused than anything else, is she serious or is this suppose to be funny? I pull away thinking she’s doing one of her “ha-ha this is how we show affection” routines (she usually reserves the rough stuff for Tony) but when I look into her eyes (the right one-the good one) I see that she is seriously pissed off and those were not “love taps” she intended to delivery.

I laughed nervously (what else could I do-slug her back?)

Disclaimer: For all of you who just read the aforementioned “slug her back”, the phrase was intended for comedic purposes only. The author abhors real violence in any form but finds the use of such imagery, terms and phrases funny in the context of “fantasy, wish fulfillment, thoughts, daydreams or purposes of enhancing the narrative”.

Now back to the weekly blog……

Before I could ask if she’d completely lost her mind she says,” Now that you’re finally here I’m gonna tell you…. no, now that I’ve got both of you here (looking from me to Tony) I’m gonna say this just one last time-when I get HOME I’m not leaving NO more.”

“Oh my,” I say,” You went away and came back quite the cantankerous old biddy, didn’t you.”

“Yeah, well, you want to fight about it?” she asks.

“No,” I say in a surprisingly calm voice,” I don’t fight anymore.”

“Oh, you don’t huh, well that’s good.” she said, very satisfied with herself.

“No, I don’t fight but that doesn’t mean that I won’t win in an argument or disagreement with you.” Having said that (and still not quite sure what just happened) I turned to Suemi to tell her that I changed my mind about tasting the food she’d made and offered me before Miss Cathy turned into Evander Holyfield.

Suemi and Tony had been standing there catatonic during our little Punch and Judy act but she came alive, grateful for something “normal” to do like micro waving food. I could feel Tony’s eyes on me so I gave him a “hey, whatta you gonna do” look and sat down.

“What are you eating again for?” Miss Cathy snapped,” I thought you said you just had something before you came over here.”

“I did and now I’m going to be polite and sample some of what Suemi was kind enough to make for me.” I said as condescendly as possible. I wasn’t hungry but I knew my sitting down to eat would piss her off. Besides, I needed some time to recoup and recover.

Tony took me aside a little later to tell me that she had been fine on the drive from North Carolina. It wasn’t until she found out that I wouldn’t be at Tony’s house upon their arrival that she started to get worked up, and when the horrible traffic on I-95 made me that much later he said that she really started to get “snippy” and talk smack about me. Tony did his best to reason with her, reminding her that the plans were changed last minute, that I couldn’t be reached in time, traffic at that hour, blah, blah, blah but she was too far gone to care.

And so, it’s left for me (Tony and Suemi) to record and register her outbursts and distinguish them from what we knew her to be (how do I say this?……umm, and I say this with love-kind of “not nice sometimes” as she became an old lady) and from what is exasperated by the Alzheimer’s. Remember, “Anonymous” (the relative that called me from North Carolina) said that they noticed an increase in her random volatility, too. We’re going to the neurologist’s office next month so I’ll talk it over with him to see if an adjustment in meds is necessary or not.

We loaded grumpy into the car for the drive home along with her accoutrements. On the drive to get her I’d already resigned myself to listening to whatever she wanted to complain about her trip ( kind of a “welcome home” present from me) and sure enough she spent 45 minutes of an hour drive bitching about a falling out she had with one of her sisters.

I half listened and started to sing the theme to the 70’s TV show “Welcome back Kotter” over and over in my head-between “grunts”, “oh really’s” and “what did she say?” to keep up my end of the “conversation”…..”Welcome back!”

Paradise lost (and found)

It’s been a little over a year since the diagnosis and about seven month since I moved in with Miss Cathy (but who’s counting right-well, obviously I am). So I guess it’s normal to be feeling a little malaise. It’s interesting that while I’m very clear that I know this is where I’m suppose to be I’m amazed that I’m still adjusting. It’s not like I thought this was going to be a cake walk, quite the contrary, I knew it was going to be hard-I just didn’t know “what” was going to be hard and “how” it was going to affect me.

I’ve been back almost a week now from a much needed vacation at the Paradise Pointe Island Resort in San Diego, CA. I have to say, I didn’t much miss being in the cold on the East coast or the chill that was in the air between Miss Cathy and me in the days leading up to our different destinations (she: down south-me: to the mid and west).

After spending a few days in Kansas City, Chad and I fly (between snowstorms) to the resort for five days of heaven. The trip was just what I needed it to be: long, quiet sunny days and starlit nights. I didn’t do much but walk on the beach, eat at one the island’s two restaurants (a lot), read, sleep and I did the requisite time in the jacuzzi.

I must admit I did very little (or no) thinking about life back here (at the laugh factory). It’s amazing how quickly I just shut it all off, I wonder if parents are able to do that if/when they can manage some time away from their children?

All’s quiet here at the apartment because Tony called to tell me that Miss Cathy decided to stay in North Carolina for an extra week. I swear to God when he told me that I felt like a death row inmate getting a reprieve from the Governor.

It’s also given me some time to sort out the confusion I was feeling before I left in search of paradise. In addition to worrying if I’m doing the right thing by Miss Cathy, selfishly what I think I’m having trouble dealing with is the thought that I’m looking at (and dealing with) my own future.

We all know that Alzheimer’s could be hereditary so I could be headed down the same road-except I don’t have any children to take the wheel and steer me in the right direction when I drive off into the dementia ditch. Oh my, listen to me, I can hear my grandmother saying, “Don’t worry about the mule going blind!” (Translation: the worst hasn’t happened so there’s no point worrying about it now).

As much trouble as Miss Cathy is having accepting her situation who’s to say I won’t be worse if (heaven forbid) I end up with Alzheimer’s. So, with that thought in mind, I’m trying to be more empathic and patient,“ There but for the grace of God go I”. A lot was left unresolved before the break but I’m back from my vacation, rested and ready for round two (this being the second time I’ve gone away for one of my quarterly “mental health breaks”).

Yesterday, I was out on long walk turning all this unresolved “stuff” over in my head when I got a call from a relative (who wishes to remain anonymous. “Anonymous” called to tell me that she’s been spending a lot of time with Miss Cathy and she thinks Tony and I are doing a wonderful job of caring for her (regardless of Miss Cathy’s apparent bitching to the contrary that we’re taking away her freedom and she’d be “fine” on her own). “Anonymous” also made a point of saying that we’re doing the right thing by NOT letting her stay by herself. She told me that from what she’s observed Miss Cathy is fine for the most part but she does have her “moments” (and you never can tell when that’ll be) when she gets confused or something just isn’t “quite right”.

“Anonymous” also said that she’s noticed that mom is very quick to temper and appears to be sitting on a lot of anger.

I gotta say, I was quite surprised by the call but since I don’t believe in coincidences I took it as a sign (and an unsolicited testimonial) that we (Tony, Suemi and I) are doing the right thing. I was almost convinced that maybe Miss Cathy had a point the last time we talked/argued (albeit a very loud one) that she could stay by herself sometime.

I was glad to get another perspective, it made me realize that it gets kinda cloudy here living in the “fish bowl”, sometimes you can’t see too clearly and the fish ahead of you looks like it’s making sense so you start to follow it-even if it looks like it’s trying to jump out of the bowl. So, armed with this new information and support I think I can hold onto the serenity I found at paradise Pointe. I just have to maintain some distance-and talk to some other fish.


Tony and William are my brother and bro respectively, one related by blood and the other by biology (7th grade bio to be exact). There’s no way I could be doing “this” without them. I know that there are support groups I can turn too and I do have a lot of friends that I can call but there’s nothing like having people here in the trenches with you. I know this isn’t a battlefield and believe me, I know I can sound like a whining asshole sometimes but they get “it” and they get me (that alone helps so much).

I’ve known William since I was twelve years old. He tells the story of the day we first met in gym class, I was (apparently) sitting on the floor hugging my knees to my chest (trying to make myself invisible I’m sure) and he came and sat beside me, said “hi” and we’ve been best friends ever since. I call him the keeper of the memories because he remembers everything about our shared history. He has the most remarkable memory, not just about us-he remembers everything.

Even though life had very different paths laid out for us; different colleges, living in different parts of the country, even losing touch for a few years here and there, the bond we formed oh so many years ago is just as strong,so we always found or way back to each other. Now that I’m on the East coast we’re living about forty minutes apart for the first time in our adult lives, which is great.

Years ago Williams’ father go sick so he made the choice to build his house next door to his parents so that he could be there to help out. Through the years he’s taken on not only his father’s care but responsibility for his mother’s wellness, too. So, he’s not only a great support system for me, I’m finding that he’s one of my guides through the process of learning how to become a caregiver. The specifics of our parent’s situations are different but at the end of the day we’re both adult children of parents that need us.

We had a chance to spend the day together not long after my discussion/argument with Miss Cathy. Our outing couldn’t have come at a better time. When he picked me up for our day together I was ready for some “me” time (translation: I just needed to get the “flock” outta that apartment). I sat in his car and listened as he drove and told me the latest story about his parents-some mishap over what was served for dinner. I don’t know, I could feel my body relax just by listening to him tell me all the funny, frustrating events of his day. It’s not that ”misery loves company”, or that I was happy to hear that things aren’t always perfect with his folks, no, it’s more like war buddies sharing stories of being “in country”. It’s not stuff you tell just anybody, lest they think you’re whining, bitching or complaining-which you’re not, you’re just “telling it like it is”, reporting from the “battle field”. He didn’t know it at the time but his telling me about his day made me feel better about mine.

Later, over dinner I told him what was going on with Miss Cathy, all about the trip and her announcement that “she’s not leaving her house ‘no more after this trip ‘down south”. We laughed about it, not at Miss Cathy but at the similarities because William had just driven his parents to North Carolina over Christmas and let’s just say,” it wasn’t a road-trip Norman Rockwell would be painting any scenes about”. I felt better just talking to him about everything because he knows me, he knows Miss Cathy and he knows the situation all too well.

As for my brother, Tony is my only sibling and he’s older than me by eleven months and one week. We were both born on a Tuesday in January, he in 1958 and me in 1959, so for three weeks we’re the same age-we’re what they call “Irish twins”. Since we were so close in age Miss Cathy used to dress us alike (she said it cut down on bickering about “who got what”) and since we looked a lot alike early in our childhood people thought we were twins. I don’t know if this gives us any “special” bond or connection but unlike William, Tony and I couldn’t be more different. None the less, even though we’ve grown into very different men from the fat, little brown butter-balls that people couldn’t tell apart as kids, we remain extremely close without having to communicate much at all.

After my day with William I called Tony to let him know what was going on. Like I said, we don’t talk often but we do call to touch base. I always think of Tony as someone that I know will be there for me no matter what I need (which in itself is a great feeling) but I forget that he doesn’t have to be called to slay a dragon or to run into a burning building-I can call him “just” to talk.

Talking to my brother after my time with William was the one-two punch I needed to make me feel a whole better about the choices I’ve made so far. I told him how I was starting to doubt “our” decisions about how we’re handling Miss Cathy and her illness. I told him that she was starting to make sense (which in and of itself should have given me pause). I told him that I was kinda confused and not so “certain” about all the pontificating I’ve been doing-to her and at her.

In no time flat he straightened me out, and I realized that I’d started to feel like Ingrid Bergman in “Gaslight” but Tony snapped me out of it before Charles Boyer could murder me in the thick London fog….RIGHT, that was a movie and I’m not Ingrid-now back to real life. What Tony did was to remind me of all that’s happened in the past year, and to give me some distance from being “in it” with her day in/day out. He did a great job of wiping away the clouds of doubt that had been gathering around me.

He reminded me that her behavior hasn’t been normal for a while now and it crossed the line of being “Oh she’s just getting forgetful” a long time ago. Also, she’d been going to great lengths to keep her decline from us, and all of this was before the fall last year that precipitated her Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

It’s funny, but if you live with someone and they are your focus you can lose some perspective (at least I was starting to). I’ve got a little book knowledge but very little experience caring for someone with a degenerative disease. So every know and then it gets confusing, “do I know what’s best for this person?” “She seems fine (now) so why deny her the freedoms she wants?”, you know, questions like that. I think that if I’d been checking in with Tony on a more regular basis then I wouldn’t have some of these questions or insecurities. His confidence in what we’re doing reaffirmed my faith that everything that can be done is being done.

I was also grateful and surprised when he offered to drive Miss Cathy to North Carolina for me. All I have to do is drop her off at his house and he’ll take it (her) from there-Hal-lay-loo! He said it was the least he could do because he appreciates all that I’m doing.

Just like my time spent with William, I hung up the phone after talking to Tony feeling so much stronger. I’m lucky to have these guys in my life-I’m gonna need them.