Happy Birthday?

“Happy Birthday Son!”

Miss Cathy said the words with love and affection as I walked into the living room on Saturday morning with the cup of coffee that she’d forgotten in the kitchen.

“Thank you”, I said, smiling down as I handed her the cup.

“That’s sweet of you to say except today’s not my birthday.”

“Todays the fourth isn’t it?”, she stated rather than asked, looking very self-righteous as any woman who was present at the birth would.

“Yes,” I replied, “today is the fourth.”

“And no mom”, I gently reminded her. “My birthday is on the eighth.”

“You’ll be fifty four?” she asked, alittle less sure of herself.

“Close”, I said,” fifty-five.”

We went round and round a couple times before she was convinced that I was right (which meant that she was wrong) and then there was a moment or two of silent recognition before the expression on here face seemed to say, ‘this is one more of those things that she was sure of that she’s not so sure of anymore’.

I sat next to her, not saying anything (after all, what is there to say really, in a moment like that? Personally I think it’s best just to be there but let her be).

We sat for a moment or two in silence while she’d collected herself and then she told me that she appreciated everything that I do for her (a much appreciated sentiment but an odd segue nonetheless).

She said she’d been meaning to tell me that my moving in to take care of her allows her to sleep peacefully at night in her own bed so she’s not afraid and that meant a lot.

Then she handed me a small stack of bills and said, “Here, I’ve got alittle present for you,”

The non-sequiturs just kept coming.

“Happy Birthday!” she said again.

I thanked her for the present and hugged her, not quite sure if she’d forgotten the conversation we’d just had about ‘when’ my actual day of birth was or if she was just acknowledging my birthday in general.

When your mother is convinced of the wrong date for your birth, not to be confused with being ‘wrong’ about the age of your child by a year (which is more or less understandable).

Hell, sometimes I forget how ‘old’ I am.

But, to not know with certainty something as fundamental as the day of the month to which you gave birth (to one of your two sons-it’s not like she’s Mrs. Duggar of “19 Kids & Counting fame) portends other ‘knowns’ to become ‘unknown’.

I just sat there, counting my money and smiling, thinking, there are so many things wrong with that exchange; suffice to say no more evidence should be needed as proof that Miss Cathy’s Alzheimer’s is advancing.


Happy Birthday: Pt. ll

I decided on a ‘Sweet tooth’ theme for mom’s birthday.

I ordered rum balls from “Sweet Mama’s”, a tasty Tulsa, Oklahoma bakery that shipped in time for the big day. I placed them on a hand-blown glass cloche that was part of her ‘sweet tooth’ themed gift, it’s not only pretty, it’s perfect for the occasional apple pies and “sock it to me” pudding cakes that Miss Cathy likes (and I try to buy in moderation because of her diabetes).

I put a bow on the glass ball top of the cloche, walked Miss Cathy into the kitchen with her eyes closed and when she opened them-voila, a sweet birthday surprise!

A lady should never tell her age but I’m no lady so I’ll just put it out there that mom is seventy-five years old.

Seventy-five isn’t that old really, not these days, especially if you factor in that ‘sixty’ is the new ‘fifty’ (at least according to pop culture), people are working long past seventy (by choice or economic necessity) and doing all sorts of amazing things mentally and physically so by all accounts mom should still be a ‘vital’ person, and she would be, probably, if Alzheimer’s hadn’t stepped in to rob her of her ‘essence’.

Miss Cathy’s’ self-assurance has been replaced by a halting, questioning fragility and a begrudging reliance on me to help her with things that used to be second nature for her.

Life is becoming harder for her to navigate day to day and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for her to trust herself to either ‘remember’ or ‘to do’ the things she wants as Alzheimer’s continues to take a toll on her confidence and independence.

She still struggles to make peace with her diagnosis but as her condition becomes less subtle and more overt even she can’t deny that something is wrong.

With the help of her new neurologist she seems more accepting and she just might be ready to take some steps away from denial toward participating in her own care and maintenance, maybe….hopefully.

That is my birthday wish for her anyway.

She was touched by the gift and the gesture. She gave me a kiss and a hug then I was off to catch a train for New York where I’ve been teaching a summer program at LIM College this month and part of next.

I’m gone for most of the week and back at the weekend, my brother staying with mom while I’m away.

I can’t believe that another year has passed so quickly. The first week of August marks my third year as a caregiver.

So much has changed and there is still so much ahead that is unknown.

But, celebrating the day of her birth (however briefly) I could see that she was happy and present for the gifts she received and that’s enough, more than enough….. for today anyway.

Happy Birthday: Pt l

It’s Miss Cathy’s birthday tomorrow.

What do you get for the woman who’s likely to forget what you’ve given her?

To be fair, I bought mom a gold watch to replace one that had been stolen years ago and rather than save it till now I gave it to her back in the Spring (I figured at her age why wait to make her happy).

She cherishes it and takes every opportunity to let people know that it was a gift from me.

But I also think its fun to have something to give on your loved one’s actual ‘Birth’ day, even if it’s just a little trifle, its a reminder that they’re loved and special.

I wish there was a way to give back her mind (the way it was five or ten years ago) when she was sharp as a razor and still on top of her game.

Oh, she still has the ability to cut you down to size (I’ve been verbally decapitated a few times myself in the past three years….that’s all blood under the bridge for now) but the Alz has tempered her temperament.

Those of us who are lucky enough to be healthy and whole take simple things (such as remembering the date that we were born and our age) for granted. So I’m reminded everyday of my blessings being healthy in body and mind.

Sometimes though I have a moment when I’m stopped cold by the thought that maybe the researchers are wrong.

What if Alzheimer’s is genetic? Am I’m witnessing my own future? Will there soon be a day when I’m searching the air to try to remember the year I was born, much the way Miss Cathy has been lately?

I’ve never professed to have a great memory so it’s been of little concern to me through the years that is until I became a caregiver.

Now I bear witness to the slow determination of a loved one’s mind and memory on a daily basis.

So it’s only natural (I think) to wonder, “is my mental state early signs of dementia or just the by-products of the stress that is so much a part of my life nowadays?”

Happy Birthday

Miss Cathy’s birthday was on the 23rd of last month; it was a god awful, hot Saturday so I told her that I would take her out for a celebration lunch the following Monday. The week ahead was predicted to be hot, but not the African heat we were experiencing. I know that she doesn’t particularly like going out to restaurants but every now and then she’ll go and she’ll actually enjoy herself. It’s a trade off really-she doesn’t like to go out to eat and I don’t like the places that she picks when we do go.

I know that she likes the “restaurant” Ruby Tuesday (a glorified McDonald’s with table service if you ask me, but hey, she likes the joint) so that’s where I planned to take her. I asked our upstairs neighbor, Ron to join us. He’s more than a neighbor, she considers him one of her many “sons”. For many years while I lived other places he would come down and keep her company, run errands for her and was always there with a gift on Christmas, mother’s or her birthday.

So, he’s a great guy and I’m grateful for him being here for Miss Cathy and although she and I had been getting along it’s always nice to have a “buffer”.

Monday rolled around and I reminded her around 11:30 am on my way out to run a few errands that we were going to lunch soon and she said, “Oh, is that today? I thought it was tomorrow.”

“No,” I said, “it’s today, but we can make it tomorrow if you’d rather go then.”

“No, no”, she said, “today is fine.”

By the time I came back a little before 2:00 pm she was sitting in the living room dressed in a smart summer outfit; black top, black pants, white jacket with black piping and a smart, white summer hat to match. I was in cargo shorts and a tee so I showered and changed into a dress shirt, jeans and seersucker blazer to match her festive attire.

Ron drove so I sat in the back and let the two of them gab in the front seat. I tried not to listen but I couldn’t help but hear them talking, especially how she tended to cut him off and not let the poor guy finish a thought or answer one of her many questions. At one point she said, “It’s awful quiet in the back, jump in whenever you want Ty.”

“I’m just waiting for a pause in the conversation”, I said and went back to looking out the car window (what I was hoping for was a moment of silence but it wasn’t my birthday so no point wishing for that gift).

When we arrived at our destination we discovered that the Ruby Tuesday had moved from that location so we ended up at a Red Lobster nearby after Miss Cathy said that she liked seafood. The Red Lobster, to me, is to seafood what The Olive Garden is to Italian food-a place for people that “don’t know no betta’”.

They’re both places that say they’re “of/for/and about” a particular cuisine (and I use the term “cuisine” broadly) and they have the pictures on the menu to proof it, but anyplace that has to show me the food needs to spend less time in the photo studio and more time in the kitchen.

When we were settled into the booth of the restaurant with our oversized, picture book menus I asked Miss Cathy what looked good to her and she said she wasn’t very hungry, that she’d eaten two hot dogs at home waiting for me to come back from my errands.

I asked her why she ate if she knew she was going out to lunch and she just shrugged. Thankfully it didn’t stop her from ordering or enjoying the time we spent together which was the point after all.

What came to the table was an orgy of food; shrimp, scallops and various other former creatures of the sea, laid out on platters dripping in butter, cream sauce and/or batter dipped. It looked less like seafood and more like a heart attack with biscuits on the side but Ron and I ate with gusto and I asked for a doggy bag for Miss Cathy.

She seemed to have a good time, never at a loss for something to talk about. Back at home she opened birthday cards from family and friends and proudly displayed them in the living room.

She’s seventy-three now, which isn’t old these days (I keep reminding her that “seventy is the new sixty” but she didn’t get that memo, for all intents and purposes she acts more like someone ten years her senior-that’s just who she is, it’s as if one day she decided that she was “old” and that was that).

But, she doesn’t want for much, just to be home and not to have to go anywhere. So, I have to remember that the best gift I can give her is the security of knowing that she’s safe at home where she wants to be and she doesn’t have to worry about going anywhere much or doing anything other than what she wants to do.

Happy Birthday Miss Cathy.