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Posts Tagged ‘Dementia’

March 6, 2014

While Dad showers and shaves I sort through newspapers, hang up clothes and sketch.  I have plenty of time…….. plenty of time.  A very long time passes before the shower is turned on.  A long time passes…… and then another long time passes.  Eventually the bathroom door opens and a clean but unshaven Dad joins me.  I send him back to shave.

CWM43-color-wheel-scheme-mandala-no-43-geometry-playing-cards-Queens-art-chris-carter-artist-030614-ink-watercolor-600web

Playing Card Queens – Mandala

I’ve been remiss lately, not having the energy to go through what it takes to convince Dad that if he puts one words down in his green sketchbook, more words will follow.  When I awoke yesterday, I decided that I wanted Dad to complete his green book. He has only a couple dozen pages left.  After telling him that I needed a bit more time to complete my “Queens” mandala, he agreed to pick up his pencil.

Drawings or Words ... or both

Drawings or Words … or both

Drawings or Words

Drawings or words, –

My choosing.

How about if I just sit, –

And think about

Drawing or writing?

No?

Words seem

Not to be coming

Or drawing either, —-

What’s to be done?

What’s to be done?

Words fill libraries

Libraries galore

So why should I add

Anymore?

When he finished his poem, he drew his sketchbook.  I asked him to try the clock and he happily continued to draw.  I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Dad’s poems. It is definitely worth the struggle to pull these gems out onto the page. Words may be difficult for him to find these days, but playing Rummy 500 isn’t difficult at all!  Again, he clobbered me .

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June 27, 2013

When I arrived at Chelsea, Dad sat alone in the tea room reading the paper.  He didn’t hear me approach.  I watched as he stared at the paper as if he couldn’t focus on the words.  I waited, watching his determination to grasp a bit of what might be going on outside of his narrowed world.  Almost two minutes passed before he saw me standing beside him.  His face lit up and he came to life again.

Opening packages from Louise and Dave

Opening packages from Louise and Dave

I handed Dad the two Father’s Day packages that had arrived at my house from Louise and Dave.  After explaining that they were Father’s Day gifts, he began to open them…. at least he tried to open them.

Package One - Step One

Package One – Step One

Packaging has changed over the years.  The adhesives have gotten stronger and the plastics have the ability to stretch like salt water taffy.

Package One - Step Two

Package One – Step Two

He thought he had it…… but no…….after a great deal of struggling, Dad was able to open a large enough slit to reach his hand in, grab the bag inside of the bag and pull it out through the slit.

Package One - Step three

Package One – Step three

The bag inside the bag was just as difficult to open.

Package One - Step Four

Package One – Step Four

Dad does not give up easily.

Showing Off his new suspenders

Showing Off his new suspenders

Eventually, a new pair of navy suspenders lay in his hands. He switched his old for his new and sat back down to tackle the second package.

Package Two - Step One

Package Two – Step One

The experience was the same as with the first package….. but now he was a pro.

Package Two - Step Two

Package Two – Step Two

I think you get the picture.  The only difference was that he finally allowed me to help by slicing through the bag with my pocket knife.

Proudly displaying his new dress pants

Proudly displaying his new dress pants

After a quick stop to his room, we headed to Hofheimer Grotto.  We hadn’t been able to walk the paths after Hurricane Sandy.  Too many trees had blown down, blocking the trails.  I hoped that they had been cleared by now.

Cutting a trail through fallen trees

Cutting a trail through fallen trees

Dad hardly noticed the fallen trees or the huge chunks that had been cut from them so that the trails were clear for walking.

the new terrain

the new terrain

Dad just kept walking, focused on his footing and balance, oblivious to the state of the forest.  There was a time, months ago, when he talked non-stop about the trees either growing straight and tall or bending due to the wind and sun.    Here they were, his beloved trees, strewn about like pulled weeds left to decompose in the sun and rain.  Dad said nothing, he just kept walking.

Hofheimer Grotto

Hofheimer Grotto

The Grotto was in shambles.  I felt my cheeks wet.  I remembered the first time Dad and I walked here and discovered the grotto, a hidden treasure, an architectural wonder, surrounded by majestic pines.  Only a few of the pines remain.  The rest fell into the murky water, knocking stones and boulders down with them as they fell.  the grotto had changed and so had Dad.  I didn’t want to linger.

As a change of pace, as well as to distract me from my grief, I decided to take Dad for a haircut.  I don’t usually think of it and I didn’t think it was right to leave the haircuts for Jane to handle.  I wanted to surprise her…… and that I did.  It turns out that she had taken him for a haircut just last week!

Dad smiling when complimented on his great head of hair

Dad smiling when complimented on his great head of hair

Next time, I’ll take him to Sal’s in Martinsville.  A sports cut is not exactly what he needed.  Sorry Dad… Sorry Jane.

Back at Chelsea, I pulled the box of stationary out of my bag.  It has been a long, long time since Dad wrote anyone a note, addressed an envelope, put a stamp on it and mailed it off to a friend or loved one.  I thought I might help him write a thank you note to Louise and Dave.

What is it I am writing about?

What is it I am writing about?

“Why would I be writing a thank you note?”

“Louise and Dave sent you pants and suspenders.”

“Oh… where are they?”

“You’re wearing the suspenders.  The pants are in the closet.”

Dad looked down at his navy suspenders.  “These are new?”

“Yes, Dad.  You just got them today.”

“And where are the trousers?  May I see them again?”

I showed him the new trousers.

“Those are really nice.  Where did they come from?”

As you can imagine.  Writing the thank you note was more of a challenge than I had anticipated.

The Thank You Note

The Thank You Note

Eventually, the mission was accomplished.  I decided to wait for another day to help Dad write a note to his friend, Daisy Horn.

I’ll post what he wrote next time.  I don’t want to spoil it for Louise and Dave.

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Father’s Day 2013 …. A gorgeous day for a walk with Dad….

Chris and Dad on Father's Day 2013, Leonard J. Buck Gardens, Far Hills, NJ

Chris and Dad on Father’s Day 2013, Leonard J. Buck Gardens, Far Hills, NJ

The frogs croaked loudly, harmonizing with the screaming mating call of the cicadas when I arrived at Chelsea to spend Father’s Day with Dad.  I awoke him from his slumbers.  Forget the shower…. we’re going for a walk on this beautiful day!

oops…… Leonard J. Buck Garden doesn’t open until noon.  No problem.  Dad had missed breakfast. I had whisked him off without even a cup of coffee.

Coconut Truffles for breakfast?

Coconut Truffles for breakfast?

There’s a lovely cafe just up the road from the garden.  While Dad held our table, I ordered breakfast….. double cappuccino, bran muffin, spinach quiche and coconut truffles. Dad was a bit confused by starting the day with coconut truffles while we waited for our quiche to be heated.  Perfect time to write a poem.

Patches of Blue

A table out front

Of a sidewalk cafe

We sit in bright sun

Daughter, Chris and I

The sun shines brightly

Upon the paper I write

The cars roll by

The pedestrians are chattering.

The sun shines so brightly

Upon the paper I’m writing

While Chris waits expectant

For something to be “said”.

But, words seem to delude me

a most common thing

Words are most powerful things

If carefully used.

Watching Dad ponder over his words while the quiche cools.

Watching Dad ponder over his words while the quiche cools.

We returned to Leonard J. Buck Garden, greeted by open gates.

Admiring beauty

Admiring beauty

We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to walk the gardens, the paths drenched in the fragrance of blossoms bursting from the wet, spring weather.

Walking without destination

Walking without destination

We tackled one of the steeper paths and rested on a bench when we reached to top of the hill.  Dad commented on the noise of the cicadas.  It was a perfect time for me to pull out the letter I had written for him seventeen years ago.  He listened intently as I read it aloud.

Seventeen Years Ago

Seventeen Years Ago

At the end, he patted my knee and nodded.

The descent

The descent

Climbing up the hill was far easier than descending.  My heart was in my throat most of the time.

“Steady, Dad….. steady.”

He made it down safely.  Stopped, took a deep breath and looked up at the sky.

Reflections

Reflections

We stopped one more time to rest on a bench beside the pond.  We sat in silence for a long time until Dad remarked, “Life is good.”

“Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Yes, life is good.”

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June 6, 2013

Maybe it was the salsa music I was listening to as I drove to pick up Dad……. it’s all about attitude…..

As I signed into Chelsea, Dan informed me that Dad was in the tea room.  It was 10:45 am. Unless there is a fire alarm, Dad hasn’t been getting out of bed before 11:30!

“What’s he doing in the tea room?”

“Well, I don’t know”

“How long has he been there?”  I was flustered and didn’t know what else to say.

“I’m not really sure,” Dan replied.

That was the beginning of our exceptional day together.

Dad and Chris, fragrance garden, Lord Stirling Park, NJ

Dad and Chris, fragrance garden, Lord Stirling Park, NJ

I walked around the corner to the tea room where Dad sat looking through a small photo album of a someone’s wedding.  The New York Times was on his lap and a cup of coffee by his side.  He looked content and unusually alert.  We stopped in at his room for final preparation before walking out the door into the gorgeous, sunny day tickled by breezes.

“Can you hear the cicadas, Dad?

In an unusually loud and forceful voice he replied “WHAT?” …. and then chuckled.

“I guess that means you can hear them just fine.”

“Yes, of course I can hear them.”

He was walking tall.  Lately, he has been stooped over and I’ve been concerned.  No need for worry today.

Salsa music drowned sound of the cicadas as we pulled out of the parking lot.  After a few minutes, the music stopped and the news came on.  Dad leaned closer to the radio.  I waited.  He squinted his face and cupped his ear.  I waited.

“You know, Chris, as hard as I try to listen to what they’re saying, I don’t seem to be able to understand a word of it.”

“I think I know why, Dad.”

“Why?”

“They’re speaking in Spanish.”

“Oh, well, that explains it.”

He never did ask why I was listening to a Spanish station.  His mind drifted to other things such as the blue, blue sky, the lines of cars and the beautiful day.  I drove in silence with a smile on my face and my heart bursting with delight.  Dad hadn’t turned his face to the sky in several weeks and hadn’t commented on anything as we drove along or walked through the woods.

The parking lot at Lord Stirling Park was filled except for one space… lucky us.  I’ve never seen more than a dozen cars in the lot.  There were at least forty.  I’m not sure where everyone was.  We only saw three people during our visit, and one of them, Jack Gray, was parked in the lot at the other side of the visitor center.

“That’s an awful lot of solar panels,” Dad remarked as we passed in front of the Visitor Center.  For more than a year he had mentioned solar panels every time we passed a roof or field where they were installed.  Remarks about the high cost of installation and the length of time it takes to get a return on your investment always followed.  About three months ago, Dad stopped noticing solar panels.

“We’re going to have a great day today, don’t you think, Dad?”

“You betcha, Chris!”

"You betcha!"

“You betcha!”

First stop… as always … the fragrance garden.

The herbs looked lush, healthier than I’ve ever seen them.  I rubbed a few leaves to test the strength of the fragrance.  Most of the herbs aren’t scented enough for Dad to smell anymore.

“Try this one.”

He rubbed …. and sniffed.

“Hmmmmm …… spearmint.”

I was flabbergasted.  Not only could he smell the fragrance, he could tell which of the mints he was sniffing.

“Wow, Dad….. you even know that it’s spearmint!”

He gave me an “I’m not stupid” glance.  “I can still read, you know.”  A marker labeled spearmint stuck out of the ground on the other side of the plant.

Ouch.

Real Whopper

Real Whopper

As we left the garden we passed a tall spiky flower (false indigo?).  Dad simply couldn’t keep comments from spilling out today.  He was excited about everything.

“Now that’s a real whopper!”

“You betcha, Dad!” ….. I couldn’t resist…..

In just a week’s time, a raised sitting area had been constructed.  Of course, Dad had to test one of the new benches.

Making the big step up

Making the big step up

Did he approve?

Testing the bench

Testing the bench

After serious consideration, Dad gave his nod of approval.  Onward bound ……only to be stopped by yellow tape.

Blocked for the yearly Snake Synopsis

Blocked for the yearly Snake Synopsis

“Why do you think it’s blocked off?”

“I don’t know, Dad.  Maybe there’s a gang of bears that have taken over this part of the swamp.  Or maybe there’s a huge pile of snakes in the middle of the trail.  They gather here once a year on this very day.  The park has agreed to close off the trail so they can come and go as they please and gather together freely one day a year as long as they stay off the trails the rest of the year.”

“You always did have a great imagination, Chris.”

“I think I got it from you, Dad.  You used to make up wonderful stories for me at bedtime when I was little.”

I could almost hear the pages turning inside Dad’s brain as he searched for another word that started with “s”.

“You think it might be a Snake Synopsis?” he asked.

“I think we can find a better word.”  We both struggled for a bit.  The best we could do was a Spring Snake Symposium.  Not very good.

Jack Gray, The Fern Man of Bunny Fern Farm

Jack Gray, The Fern Man of Bunny Fern Farm

At this point we came upon Jack Gray planting a small garden of ferns.  We asked him if he knew why the trail was closed.  It turns out that he doesn’t work for the park.  He is The Fern Man of Bunny Fern Farm and volunteered to create a small fern garden beside the fragrant herbs. 

We headed in the opposite direction from the closed trail and walked the loop behind the Visitor Center.  The bugs weren’t too annoying, thanks to the cool breeze that was leading the predicted storm our way.  When the trail opened into the meadow we were welcomed by the essence of wafting wildflower scent.

Multiflora Rose and Honeysuckle

Multiflora Rose and Honeysuckle

Though multiflora rose can be overbearing, the combination of the rose and honeysuckle was refreshing and pleasantly exotic.

Dad enjoying the beauty and fragrance

Dad enjoying the beauty and fragrance

When I stopped to snap a few photos, Dad walked ahead, but not too far.  He stopped to take in the beauty.  I wasn’t quick enough to catch him leaning back, gazing up at the blue, blue sky, smiling from ear to ear.
When I was closer he looked at me, took a deep breath and said, “What a beeeeauuutiful place to walk.  Wheeeeeeew!”

“We’ve had a great day today, haven’t we, Dad?”

“You betcha!”

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May 30, 2013

It’s difficult to predict how many more walks my father and I will take together.  It could be a hundred …. and it could be only one. Dementia of any kind is such a puzzle, and totally unpredictable.

Do I really need both?

Do I really need both?

Dad appeared to be in another world today, distant, unengaged.  Though he had a great deal of difficulty getting out of his chair.  Once he was on his feet, he moved slowly……. very s-l-o-w-ly, but well-balanced and cautious. His standard remarks were left unsaid.  He didn’t glance at the sky until I mentioned it to him.  He didn’t ask about my family, or how I’ve been, or where we were going. He voiced only one concern.

“I don’t need both of those, do I?”

The opportunity to ask that same question came up at least six times before we headed to the herb garden at Lord Stirling Park.  I continued to simplify my answer until I ended up with.

“Either both or a walker, Dad.”

He surprised me the last time by saying, “Oh, I pulled you down, didn’t I?”

Months ago I had stopped mentioning the episode of his falling and yanking me down beside him on the ground.  It had only distressed him to think that he might have hurt me.  Perhaps memories continue to be made, only to be called into action at random.

I handed Dad his green sketchbook and pencil as we sat side by side in the herb garden.  As usual, he began reading his previous poems.  I assumed that he was avoiding writing something new.  Because of his extreme silence and lack of response to anything we passed on the way to the park, I decided to see what would happen if I didn’t remind him to write a new poem.  I began to draw….

Birdhouse beside the pond, Lord Stirling Park, NJ

Birdhouse by the pond, Lord Stirling Park

No more than five minutes passed before Dad settled in and put pencil to paper!  He didn’t even glance around at his surroundings.  He bent his head and focused on the words that poured from his pencil.  I suppose he doesn’t need to look around anymore to know what he would see. He feels the air on his cheeks and he knows he is outdoors.

Dad writing a poem

Dad writing a poem

On a Bench in the Park, Chris and Dad

The solid blue sky

Hovers overhead

While one tiny bird

Chirps a nice tune

The song of the bird

Is the only sound.

The leaves wave

But no breeze is heard.

That’s about all

There is to be said.

Enjoy the quietness

There is to be had.

I checked for the date

But my computer is dead.

So we’ll enjoy the silence

That is to be had.

June 30, 2014

When Dad’s phone appeared to be dead, he asked me the date.  I told him it was June 30th (my mistake…. it was still May).  For more than a year now he has thought it is 2014.  I was puzzled by his phone being dead since he had unplugged it from the charger right before we left Chelsea.  His phone was charged.  He just forgot how to turn it on.

Fortunately the bugs are not out yet at Lord Stirling Park.  We had a lovely, silent, s-l-o-w walk along the somewhat soggy paths.  Dad watched his feet the whole time, never looking up to the sky or out into the marshes.  It appeared that moving one foot in front of the other demanded all of his attention.  I’m glad I captured him square dancing a couple of weeks ago.

We took a short path, but not the shortest.  I spotted a bench and asked if he wanted to rest.  He shook his head and kept walking.  The day had grown quite warm and I feared Dad might overheat.  He had refused to change into his shorts, insisting that he would be fine in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

“Big sips, Dad, not tiny mouth sips.”

Each time Dad handed the water bottle back to me the water level looked about the same.

The trail brought us back to the herb garden where I found a bench in the shade of a grove of trees.  Out came the green sketchbook and pencil.  Again Dad read a few of his previous poems, and then set his mind to writing …. without any coaxing or coercing from me!

At a Later Date, Another Stroll in the Park

It’s quite warm.

Sweat runs down my right cheek.

Tiny birds flitter by.

A spider crawls across the page.

Tree’s leaves

Block the rays

Making it cool

To sit on the park bench

Resting the legs, —

Soothing the soul.

Nibbled Leaf

Nibbled Leaf

On occasion I’m asked why I draw rusty pipes, run-down shacks, lopsided trees and eaten leaves.  Why not draw lovely, new houses and perfectly shaped trees and leaves?

“Because real life is never perfect, except in its imperfectness, in its struggle and celebration of survival.”

I remember my first job, picking strawberries at Johnson’s Farm when I was fourteen.  I ended up being hired to work at the fruit stand where I sold the berries picked fresh each morning.  Most people wanted the large, perfectly shaped strawberries.  I sold them the big, beautiful berries wearing a smile on my face. They were practically tasteless, beauty without flavor.  I knew that the most delicious berries, the odd-looking little runts called “Sparkles” were the sweetest, most delicious of all the varieties and they would be the ones that hadn’t sold at the end of the day.  The Johnsons and I would be feasting on Sparkles for dessert after supper.  Some of the best moments are disguised by imperfections.

In the end, my walks with Dad will be among the many highlights of my life.  Fast or s-l-o-w, we walk together, sometimes talking, sometimes not.  Each step is so precious.

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Just a quick photo post…… I have two wonderful new poems to post tomorrow!  A trip to Lord Stirling Park seems to inspire the words to flow….. Check back tomorrow!

Dad and Jane, Prom Sweethearts!

Dad and Jane, Prom Sweethearts!

Dad fancied up with a different sort of Gramps’ tie.  A string tie wasn’t quite right for the event.  Never to0 old for a prom!

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May 14, 2013

Dad has been having trouble with his balance.  Walking is sometimes difficult even on level ground.  I’ve wondered why he hasn’t fallen when square dancing with Jane.  I decided to see for myself….. and here it is!  Amazing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFzq4DrZRjE&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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