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Posts Tagged ‘Dementia’

October 25, 2012 ….. Happy Birthday, Jane!  With love from Dad and Chris.  Poems written by Dave Carter.  Drawings by Chris Carter

Jane reading the collection of love poems to Dad

Dad and I combined our skills and presented Jane with a handmade, coptic bound collection of love poems Dad wrote specifically for the special woman in his life, Jane.  I added drawings I’ve done of Dad writing while on our Thursday walks.

page 1

page 3

page 5

page 7

page 9

page 11

page 13

page 15

page 17

page 19

page 21

Happy Birthday, Jane!

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

In spite of having purchased the length recommended by the chart on the back of the package of shoe laces, the laces were about ten inches too long.  I should have taken a photo of the clown-like bows that topped off Dad’s shoes before I cut the laces down to size.

New laces and polished shoes

While I was in the polishing mood, I gave his hiking boots a good oiling, getting them ready for our fall and winter walks through the swamp.

Ready for adventure

My visit with Dad was short.  Jane was scheduled for her shot in the eye at 2:30 and I had the honor of being her chauffeur.  Technology and medical advancements continue to allow our bodies to do the simple things we love to do, like walk and see.

The Black Hole

Unfortunately, we’ve found no way to reverse the tragedy of dementia.  Today was not one of the good days for Dad.  I think that changing the laces and polishing the shoes pushed him over the edge.  His world of words was as blank as the page of his green sketchbook.  The pencil and paper could not connect and Dad was lost in a vapor.

Apples and Oranges

While Dad struggled with to find a word or two, I counted the fruit in his room.  Apples and oranges were everywhere.

Orange sections

Orange sections in a bag in the bathroom with a toothbrush and toothpaste.  I was concerned that Dad wasn’t making it to any of his meals and that the fruit was left over from the trays of food brought to him when he didn’t show up in the dining room.   Much to my relief, Jane explained that he picks up a piece of fruit from the bowl next to the coffee pot every time he gets himself a cup of coffee from the coffee/snack area.  Whew!

I grabbed his pile of newspapers, kissed him goodbye and headed to Jane’s.

pencils, baskets of fortune cookies and a stack of trays

I joined Jane in the waiting room until she was called for her treatment.  At that point I had at least two hours to myself.  Having skipped lunch, I drove to the China Wok and ordered steamed broccoli and brown rice.  With my take-out lunch I returned to the parking lot of Greymark to wait for a call from Jane.

View from the parking lot beneath a giant shade tree.

Lately, I find myself drawing in parking lots quite often.

A view of the back parking lot

My phone rang.  I stashed my pen and paints and drove around to the front of the building where Jane, with patch over one eye, stood smiling.  She is such an inspiration and a great example of the power of positive thinking!  In spite of back pain and wet macular degeneration she is headed to Texas in a month for a tennis tournament!

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

When Dad opened his door I was glad I’d taken my vitamins.

Dad writing a poem in his big black chair

He seemed quite content to return to his big black chair.  I handed him his green sketchbook and mechanical pencil.

Nothing ……

We headed for Lord Stirling Park.

Pushing for Poems

Pushing for Poems, –

May not work well, –

Good poems flow, –

Without a push – or a pull

I could write more words

But these words about

Say it pretty well

Adding more, would be dull.

***

“Those words are OK,

But don’t you have more?”

I am sure that I do,

But, — where did they go?

Walking the Trail, Lord Stirling Park

Though not a great day for writing, it was a wonderful day to walk the trails.

An incredible sky

Dad concentrates on his footing, often forgetting to turn his head from side to side.  I remind him to look at the autumn colors and the beautiful sky.

Dad stopping to admire the sky

When reminded, he stops to soak up the beauty of the clouds, calculating the speed of them as they make their way across the sea of blue.

autumn begins in New Jersey

Each new moment is more beautiful than the last.  When I ask Dad if he knows what season it is… he doesn’t.  When I ask him what year it is he replies, “2014”.

Lost in a world of autumn grass

One foot in front of the other.  One foot in front of the other.  No stories, no questions.  One foot in front of the other.

A winding path

We weave our way through the fields of grass.  The insects, birds and frogs scream loudly but Dad hears only the roar of a distant plane.  That, too, becomes silent.

Retracing our steps

In spite of precautions, nature calls and Dad heads into the woods.  I call to him when he fails to return.  He is making his own way, deeper into the woods.  We call, back and forth, until he has returned to me.

Turning back

I decide to turn back, knowing that Dad needs a rest.  We return to the herb garden where our journey began.

Black-Eyed Susans, past their prime

We sit on the benches

Chris and I – Resting from our fresh

walk through the woods

Clouds drift by

While we both write.

The clouds seem the same

As they did years ago, –

When I, as a kid

Looked up at the sky

I could write more

But the words, above,

Seem to say all, —

That I have to say, today.

Sept 20, 2012

Birdhouse at the edge of the pond beside the fragrant herbs

The silence is awesome

The leaves are still

The clouds in the sky

Seem to be frozen pell mell.

No movement at all

Can be seen, even when

Clouds are lined up with branches

Hanging down, quietly and still.

Some days are better than others.  Today was beautiful.  I will remember the sounds, the light, the smells and walking beside my father as his memory slips away.  As long as he is able, we will walk, side by side, enjoying the feel of the ground beneath our feet, the wind caressing our cheeks and the blue, blue sky above.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

One of the best days Dad and I have had in a long while!  Dad’s energy was high and his writing poured out onto the pages. The weather was glorious and our spirits were high.

Carefully parked K-car

When I park the car I try to find a spot where Dad can throw the door open without hitting anything, such as another car.  I try to avoid problems whenever I can so that we have the best chance possible to have a wonderful day together.

Dad gently rubbing the fragrant herb leaves

I drove to Lord Stirling Park.  Dad surprised me when he remembered that before our picnic we rub the leaves of the herbs to see if his sniffer is still working.  It wasn’t.  The only scent he could detect at all was a subtle whiff of camphor.

Gramps writing first poem of the day

I waited until after our picnic lunch … then handed him his green sketchbook and pencil.

Dad reading his poem aloud

Poems emerge

From images within

Of times gone by.

It seems that just

As we try to grasp one

It slips through our brain waves, –

And splashes away.

That is sad, because, –

Times have been good

Very good, indeed.

Dad walking the trail

We headed into the swamp along dry, level trails.

A world of beauty and mystery

For the first time in a long while, the weight and worry of my father’s dementia lifted from my shoulders.  We walked together, bathed in the beauty of the moments.

Another bench …. another poem

We stopped at each bench along the way.  Dad wrote a lovely poem …. his muse was enjoying the beauty of the day, too.

One last bench, one last poem

The poems are meant to be shared at another time ……  you’ll just have to wait.

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The name Lawrence Pitzer came up on one of our earlier walks.  Lawrence was the father of Dad’s classmate.  Dad mentioned that Lawrence was the National Corn Husking Champion.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

On our way to Natirar we stopped and bought wraps for our picnic.  Dad appeared to be disoriented, both in the car and in the deli.  He surprised me with his rapid choice of wrap.  “I’ll have a Veggie Wrap”, he declared.  Usually has meat.

Tracking down sounds

The sounds of children and cars parking next to the picnic area distracted Dad in a way I haven’t noticed before.  Fortunately, the disorientation and distractions didn’t detract from his appetite.  During lunch I mentioned to Dad that I had been going through a box from the house in Martinsville.  I reminded him that he had told me that his friend’s dad was the National Corn Husking Champion.

“Yup….. Lawrence Spitzer.  He was my classmate’s father.”

“I found the program for the Pitzer Jubilee Banquet in 1939!”

Program for Pitzer Jubilee Banquet, 1939

“Yup …. the invention of the corn picker put an end to those contests.”

And so began a fascinating conversation that brought me back in time when all of the gathering of corn for livestock was done by hand!  The farmers walked the rows picking and shucking simultaneously.  The trick was to watch the weather and make sure the husks would be dry enough to break off and husk (or shuck) in one motion.

The banquet was quite the affair ….

Banquet Program

The menu consisted of tomato juice, fruit juice, combination salad, baked ham, green beans, candied sweet potatoes, hard and soft rolls, butter, coffee, ice cream and cake.  There were musical performances and speeches.  The reception committee numbered thirty: twelve at the door, five at the east aisle (my grandfather was one), six at the west aisle, seven for distinguished guests.

Lawrence Pitzer’s Record

It turns out that Lawrence won many championships between 1932 and 1939.

I googled his name and found the history of the Corn Husking Competitions online.  Lawrence, of course, was mentioned.

Another farm just across the field from NFS hosted the 1932 state corn husking contest, and boasted local farmer Lawrence Pitzer as the winner. He was amongst the five top national finishers in 1935 as they shucked to new world’s records. In 1939, Pitzer won the national contest held in Kansas in a town fittingly named Lawrence.” (from online history of corn husking events)

My grandfather and Owen, the farm hand, shucked corn from dawn to dusk for three weeks straight.  Workers would often come up from Kentucky to help with the shucking.  My grandfather would hire one of them for one dollar a day.  He thought that was a pretty good deal.  He would brag about it to the uncles at the family reunions.

My grandmother cooked enormous meals during shucking time.  It was women’s work to keep plenty of food on the table, three times a day.

“I remember Dad and Owen coming in for dinner with holes in their gloves from shucking corn.”

Eventually all the farmers had corn picking machinery and the contests died out.

After the wraps were gone and the story told it was time to write and draw. I met with the usual resistance.

Pencil to paper

To write a poem

Is the aim

If it doesn’t happen

I’m the one to blame

Putting pencil to paper, —

That alone won’t do it.

Putting the brain in gear

Let’s say —– how do we do it?

Look up to the sky, —

Scan the trees, —

Put pencil to paper casts a shadow

For Chris to sketch, don’t you see?!

We set out on our walk.  Dad’s stamina was low.  We walked the short loop, stopping at every bench and sitting on each bench for a long time.

Resting

Clouds sweep the sky

While breeze airs the armpits

As we sit on the bench —

Chris and I

On to the next bench:

Resting from a walk

Less than 3 minutes in length

More to follow

As we gain gain strength

Cumulus clouds gliding

Slowly cross the sky

Feet throbbing our heartbeats

We lean back with a sigh

Several benches later:

Another short walk

Another short stop

Sitting on a bench

Feeling our hearts throb

The last bench of the day:

Reading the words

I have written before

I find less than remarkable

Surely I could do better!

But at least we are trying

Daughter Chris and I

These hot summer days

Are relished, I say.

08/09/12

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Dad has just returned from spending a wonderful week with Jane and her family in Cape Cod.  On their last day, as Jane signed the guestbook, Dad wrote this incredible poem!

Seen from the porch

The Scene is serene

It’s where sea and sky blend

And sailboats bob by.

The breeze ruffles Jane’s hair

As she reads, then looks up and smiles

Ah, that smile that so beams

Almost always, it seems.

Lift pencil from paper

For no more need be said

Too many words hide the story

Detracting from the glory.

I’m about to leave my house to pick Dad up and bring him for his B12 shot before we take our walk.  I couldn’t resist posting this poem first, along with some photos I found while he was away.  We have been going for walks together, as adults, for a very long time!

The Great Swamp. Gramps with Mike on his shoulders

Always the teacher, pointing out interesting things….

The boardwalk at The Great Swamp, 1987

Nicole exploring at The Great Swamp, 1987

 

A walk through the woods, 1995

Sharing Curiosity, 1995

At the Reservoir, 1995

Always curious, always excited about discovering new treasures that nature offers us!  What a Dad!

 

 

 

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Patience is not one of my strengths, especially on a hot, humid day in the middle of July in New Jersey.  I do my best to keep a sense of humor throughout the weekly, bizarre visits with my dad.  His eternal optimism and positive outlook on every aspect of life saves the day every time.  If he wasn’t so damn much fun to be with I might just strangle him to get it over with.

If you have a judgmental look on your face right now, you have not yet dealt with a loved one suffering from dementia of one sort or another.  Hopefully, you will be spared that challenge.

Thursday, July 12, 2012:

Feltville General Store, Church and School

I emptied my refrigerator into the big yellow, thermal bag and tossed in a few ice packs.  Peanut butter and jelly is easy and lightweight.  Dad loves whatever I bring for lunch.  Unfortunately, I was out of bread.  It gave me the opportunity to make up for the lousy lunches of the last few weeks.

Where would we go today?

Criteria #1 …. (really the most important criteria of all from now on) …. Restrooms!

Criteria #2 ….. picnic table for the fancy picnic

Criteria #3 …. somewhat even ground and trails that offer a small enough loop to get back to the car before fatigue changes the odds for falling.

Criteria #4 …. somewhat close to Chelsea so we aren’t driving around in a hot car too long.

Criteria #5 …. someplace we haven’t been in a while.  I needed a change of scenery. Dad doesn’t.  We could go to the same place every week and it will be new for Dad.  He doesn’t remember going to any of the trails we’ve explored over the past year, even the ones we go to on a regular basis.

We headed for Feltville. (read more about Feltville from the post of our first visit to this fascinating place.)

Meeting Criteria One

Modern, clean restrooms are located at the back of the main building, the General Store.  I checked to see that they were unlocked and in service before we walked further down the road to the picnic area.

Picnic Tables, Criteria Two

Dad thought the bottle of dressing was a juice drink (I think).  When I explained that it was dressing, he poured it over his pasta and vegetables rather than his salad.  I’m sure it tasted yummy.

Salad, Pasta and veggies, Cherries

Unlike last week, Dad initiated conversation, of sorts, on the drive to our destination.  Last week he was utterly silent and relatively unobservant of the surroundings as we passed them by.  Today, his dial must have been set to Standard Conversation Number Two – Clouds in Sky, Large Trucks and Tall Towers.  After our lively car conversation I was hopeful that our after-lunch brain games might be less frustrating for me than last week.  I began with a few follow-up questions.  I wanted to know if he really did meet Amelia Earhart and I wanted to know if his degree in electrical engineering was essential for his research and development of building materials for Johns-Manville.

No, he doesn’t think he ever met Amelia Earhart.  He did touch the controls in her plane when it was on exhibit at Perdue.  He turned the knobs to watch the dials move and was reprimanded by a guard.  The connection between electrical engineering and building material research and development left me sinking into the abyss of frustration.  I opted to redirect the conversation with a variation on last week’s brain stimulating game of tapping into the area of imagination.  At one point he had said that he would like a job that would allow him to travel with his family.

“If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go.”

“Indiana, I guess.  Back home to Indiana.  It would be nostalgic.  I’m familiar with Indiana.  And maybe the South Pacific.  That’s familiar to me, too ….. and Australia.  And I wouldn’t mind going back to Indiana and visiting some of my old, familiar places.  Maybe I could find some of the people I used to know.”

“Anyplace else?”

“I think I would like to go back to Indiana.  I know Indiana.”

“Are there places you haven’t been that you would like to visit?”

“Hmmmmmm.  I’d probably like to go back to Indiana.….. Oh, places I haven’t been?  Maybe China.”

“Any other places?”

“Hmmmmmmmmm…….hmmmmmmmmmm……..hmmmmmmmmm…..hmmmmmmmmmmm.  What was the question?”

I repeated the question.

“Places I haven’t been?  hmmmmmmm …. I’ve always enjoyed action.  Maybe a place where business is prospering, maybe parts of Europe and places I don’t know about…… and China ……  and I think Indiana.  What was the question again?”

I could cut and past the above conversation half a dozen times more.  I tried to move it along.

“What are my options, Chris?”

“We’re playing a game, Dad.  You have ten seconds to tell me to buy a ticket to anyplace in the world.  If you don’t pick a destination, you will sit on this bench for the rest of your life.  Those are your two options.”

“What was the question?”

I repeated, several times.

“Indiana, I guess.  It’s familiar.”

At some point, Dad clicked into another part of his brain.

“China.  Maybe the Himalayas.  And maybe, if I didn’t have to stay there too long, the Sahara Desert.  If I could stay a little longer, I’d pick a place where I could meet and chat with the people.”

“Where would that be, Dad?”

“China.  Maybe South America…. or China.  I have curiosity …. not to live, but to visit Africa.  I’m interested in how the people live and how I could improve their way of living.  I used to do that.  I sold Real Estate to help people better their lives.”

“You didn’t sell Real Estate for very long, Dad.  If you liked helping people that way, why did you stop selling Real Estate?”

“I don’t know.  What did I do after that?”

Dad definitely seemed stuck in Indiana.  I gave him a hint.

“I was born in Indiana, Dad, but I didn’t grow up there.”

“Hmmmmmmmm.  I went to work for Johns-Manville, didn’t I?”

The conversation turned to Dad’s transition between selling Real Estate and his job at Johns-Manville.  I was exhausted and pulled out the sketchbooks.

“Time to write, Dad.”

First poem of the day

It Is What It Is

The silence is deafening

In these woods —

Ah, now there’s a plane overhead

And the pattering of footsteps

As joggers

Go jogging by.

Chris contributes to the silence as she sketches away, —

While sitting at the picnic table, —

Across from me this warm summer day.

I pop another grape in my mouth, —

And sip a sip of Poland Spring water

Hoping more exciting words

Will come for me to write down, soon.

It might be a quite long wait

For words that somehow make some sense

Until then it seems a bit wasteful

To sit here pushing pencil on paper

It is what it is

Dad … a day in the woods with Chris

Dad’s illustrated poem

I asked Dad to draw a few cherries (we didn’t have any grapes) on the page with his poem.  That led into more drawing.

Cherries and Words

We played with writing words along the cherry stems in our drawings.

bending words along cherry stems

The expression on Dad’s face changed as he wrote the words along the cherry stem.  I presented another graphic word game to him.

Dad’s second attempt at word game

Dad’s third attempt at word game

I think he would have been happy to be stuck on the bench for the rest of his life playing this game.  Maybe he would choose that next time instead of sending me to buy a ticket to Indiana or China.

Waiting for my return

We packed up our picnic and continued our walk, stopping first at the restrooms.  The yellow, thermal bag, filled with pottery bowls, ice packs and bottles was too heavy for me to carry through the woods.  I left Dad on a bench while I brought the bag back up the steep hill to the car.  I left him with pencil in hand and green sketchbook open on his lap, hoping I would see words on the page when I returned.  Even more importantly, I hoped I would see Dad still sitting on the bench when I returned.

The wooded area speaks history

Of trees reaching high

Search for Sun’s rays

Coming down from the sky

The green grass below

Carpets the ground

And prevents rains from the skies

Leaving big ditches all ’round

I can’t help but believe that drawing helps Dad to put words together poetically.  There is a dramatic difference between this poem and his first poem.

Lost somewhere between tree tops and sky

The afternoon light distracted me and I snapped dozens of photos of a pipe while Dad drifted into the tree tops.

Beautiful pipe

It was getting late.  After a very short walk through the woods, we trudged up the hill to the car.  Dad needed to stop only once to rest.

Dad with pencil in hand

Next week I’ll tuck a few sheets of graph paper into Dad’s sketchbook.  We’ll play the word game again.

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This post is written mostly for my siblings.  It may become tedious for others, and perhaps for my siblings, too.  After this conversation with my father last Thursday, sitting on a bench gazing out over Dealaman Pond, I hope to live my life a little differently, a little truer to myself.  Perhaps this post is more about me than it is about my father.

Dad gazing out over Dealaman Pond

I wanted to try tapping into a different part of Dad’s brain.  Rather than dig into the past, I wanted to see where his imagination might take him.

“What do you think the world will be like in another ten years?”

“I’d like to think it will be better.  It will be good.  I think we’ve learned how to get along better with one another …. without wars.”

“What about the wars that are going on right now?”

Dad looked at me, surprised. “I guess I’m really out of touch.”

We talked for quite a while about human nature, going all the way back to neanderthals.  We talked about advances in technology, sanitation and health.  We talked about the unchanging challenges of communicating with loved ones, referring back to our earlier conversation about listening and talking.  Dad, as always, is an optimist.

“We certainly have more choices now than we did before.”

“Some people do …. some people don’t.  I’m thinking about the whole world.”

A look of confusion crossed Dad’s face.  I tried another path toward his imagination.

If  there is such a thing as reincarnation, of being born back on the earth again, what would you choose to be?

“Do you mean would I want to be a dog?”

“You can choose to be any plant or animal, including a human.”

“I would, of course, be human again.”

“Man or woman?”

” …. man, I guess.”

“What nationality?”

“American”

“What religion would you be.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Pretend we are filling out a form and you have to fill in all the blanks.”

“I would want a choice.”

“I’m giving you a choice.”

“I would want to choose then, not now.”

“What’s the difference between choosing now and choosing then?”

“I want the freedom to choose and the freedom to change my mind.”

“Okay.  Let’s say that you have to choose the religion of the parents you are born to.  You will be able to change your religion at any point in your life, but you have to choose the religion of your parents.”

“Well, I know about Christianity.  I guess I might want to choose something different.”

“And what might that be?”

“Oh, any one would be okay.”

“Dad, I’m giving you a choice.  We are filling out your order form and we have to put something in the box labeled “Religion”.”

Grumble, grumble, grumble….. “Okay, I guess Hindu.”

“Great.  Okay….. what race would you want to be?”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter.  Any one is okay.”

“Dad, just like the religion.  You have to choose.”

“It really doesn’t matter.  They are all fine with me.”

“Dad, you won’t be able to change your race the way you can change your religion.  Again, you have to choose what race your parents will be.  Maybe they will be the same, maybe they will be different.  Right now, you are choosing your future parents and you have to decide.”

Long pause ………..

“Well, if I am honest, I will say White. ………………….. but really, it doesn’t matter, any of the others will be okay…………”

Dad smiled.  “Now, that was a good answer, don’t you think?”  He looked quite proud of himself.  To me, his added comment felt like an attempt to make his real choice a bit more politically correct.  I gave Dad a bit of a hard time about thinking his answer was such an acceptable one.

“The important thing is to be alive and healthy.”

I thought I grew up in a household without prejudice.  In many respects, I still feel that’s true.  I also feel that it’s impossible to grow up without the influence of prejudice in one form or another.

The last question was the most difficult.  The struggle for the answer was illuminating in that it cast a brighter light on the choices and absence of choices I have made in my own life.

“What would your occupation be?”

“I would want a choice.”

“I’m giving you a choice.”

“I would want to choose it then, not now.”

“What would you base it on then, that you can’t base it on now?”

“I would want to see what I know how to do.  I made choices in my life based on my background.  I was a builder.  I built my own house.  I think I would want to build my house again.”

“You could build your house again, Dad.  But what would you want to do for a living?  To support yourself and your family if you had one?”

“I would want a choice.  If I couldn’t make a choice, I would be looking for a way to change things so that I could make a choice.  I would probably follow the same route I took in this life because I had the freedom to choose.”

“If you based your choice on things you like to do, what might you choose?”

“A builder.  I like to see I’ve done something.  I like to be creative, productive ….. not destructive.  Maybe something that would help improve the world.”

“Would you want to build buildings? bridges? roads?  houses?  Would you want to be an architect? a mason? a carpenter?”

“I would want a choice.”

“I’m giving you that choice, now.  Imagine that you had to sign up for a specific training, now.  The training for a carpenter is quite different from that of a mason.  To be a builder is not specific enough.”

“I would want to be something that would allow me to continue to learn and to grow.”

“Okay.  You want to be creative, productive, improve the world, continue to learn and grow.  Most occupations provide the opportunity for all of those things.  You could be a musician, artist, dancer, chemist, botanist, engineer …….. When Mike was little he would say “I want to be an astronaut when I grow up.”  I’m asking you not what you want to be when you grow up, but what you want to be the next time around.”

“It would depend on the situation.  I would want to be able to choose.”

“What would it depend on?”

“It would depend on what was available and what was needed.”

By now, my frustration level was getting close to explosive.

“Dad.  You keep saying you want choices, you want the freedom to choose.  Every week when I visit, I give you choices throughout the day and you resist making any decision at all.  I give you a choice of food to eat.  You ask me what I’m eating.  I ask you which path you want to take and you say “whichever way you want to go”.  I ask you what game you want to play and you want me to decide.  You say you want choices, yet you never choose.  What good is being given a choice if you don’t choose.  What good is the freedom to walk safely at night beneath the moon, if you don’t take advantage of that freedom?  I’m giving you a choice of what you will be in your next lifetime and you refuse to make that choice.”

“How can I make that choice if I don’t know what jobs will be available? How can I tell if I’ll be successful?”

“Dad, we are playing a game.  It is a dreaming game … anything we want can come true game.  Next time around, I want thick, curly red hair and an incredible voice to belt out the Blues.  Maybe next time around people will all be deaf, but I still want to sing!  Dad, in this game, I will guarantee that you will be excellent at what you do, top in your field.  You will love what you do and be financially successful, you will be healthy, you will be happy, you will do wonderful things for the world and the world will need you to do exactly what it is you love doing.  Dad….. what do you want to be the next time around.

Without any hesitation at all, Dad replied, perhaps a touch of regret in his voice “an aviator …. a pilot”

I have known his answer for as long as I can remember, yet somewhere along the path of life, the passion was buried, long before the dementia took hold.  I am left wondering when the pursuit of choices replaced making choices.  I think it happened early in my childhood.

Sitting on the bench at Dealaman Pond

Looking back, I have often made choices to have more choices rather than making a choice and acting upon it to completion.  I have put off choosing, always working up to a choice, but avoiding it by taking a path that led to more choices that I could eventually avoid.  Thanks, Dad, for waking me up.

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I started my day with a quick (and overworked) watercolor sketch of Dad using a rather bizarre photograph as reference.  It looks like a studio photo.  He’s dressed in a suit and has an odd haircut.  I was going to add his glasses, but didn’t.  Getting lost in my painting, I ran late and decided to call Dad when I stopped at the post office.

Dad at an awkward age

Having somehow deleted all my contacts from my phone, I could not call Dad before arriving at Chelsea.  He was not in his room.  Much to my surprise and delight, his bed was made!  I found him with Danielle, having just completed his physical therapy session.  He will be meeting with Danielle three times a week.  He did so well this morning that he will be allowed to go in on his own to work out on one of the machines.  I doubt he will think to do that, but perhaps if we call him and have him walk upstairs while still on the phone, he will do it.

First stop was a quick visit to Dr. Frisoli’s for the vitamin B12 shot.  While waiting, Dad stared at the painting on the wall.

Sketch of Dr. Frisoli’s painting

“What are you thinking about, Dad?”

“I’m thinking about the view from the bench.”

Sitting on the bench

As the river goes flowing by

And as time passes, too

We ponder, never to have a chance

To visit those moments again.

New opportunities arise, however, —

New events around the bend;

Grab the moment, take the time, —

To receive the signal, or send.

It’s harder to listen, then to send.

I asked Dad about that last line.

“It’s always easy to talk.  It’s never really easy to listen to people talking to you — to really listen.”

I probed a bit more.

“When you listen, you have to think about what the other person has said.  It’s easier just to talk.  You don’t have to think as much.”

Probing still deeper …..

“In conversation, you often listen just enough to be able to respond and start talking again as soon as there is a pause.”

Wow!

After the B12 shot we drove to Dealaman Nature Trail for a picnic and a walk.  Dealaman Pond is where Dad stepped off the dam, falling onto the bed of rocks.  Crossing the dam was not part of today’s plan.

Dealaman Nature Trail

The weather was extremely hot and sticky. I thought a short walk through shaded woods would be perfect.  What I didn’t remember was the abundance of roots crossing the trail.  I hadn’t taken notice of them before.  Now, after Dad’s recent falls on level ground, the roots looked like an obstacle course…… and they were.

Roots everywhere along the trail

Fortunately, Dad had his walking stick.  Several times, it saved him from losing his balance.  The combination of flickering sunlight through the leaves and the roots crossing the trail, challenged his footing.  I had to keep reminding him to slow down.

Walking the path with care

The benches are plentiful along the trail.  That has become an important consideration for us.

During our lunch of sandwiches and apples, we talked about his childhood picnics.

“Mother did fix picnics.  I think she put all the food into a basket.  I think we might have had picnics in the front yard.  We also went to State Parks, Turkey Run and THE SHADES.”

Every time Dad said The Shades, he said it quite emphatically.

“We had deviled eggs, sandwiches …. once in a while we had angel food cake, Kool-Aid.”

When I questioned the Kool-Aid he said maybe it was lemonade.  However, it might have been Kool-Aid.  Edwin Perkins created Kool-Aid in 1927!

“We went to two parks, Turkey Run and THE SHADES. It was very common to go as a family reunion … Mom got really sick of family reunions …… chuckle, chuckle, chuckle. (Dad was referring to my mother, not his mother.) Sometimes we might have brought a ball to play with, but never the croquet.  There wasn’t enough room for croquet when we went to the parks.  We used to go to Turkey Run and THE SHADES.”

“Most of the time we had reunions at the home of one of the relatives.  There would always be a croquet game. The uncles all played croquet.”

“Did any of the women play?”

“Seldom.  The uncles played croquet while the women talked and prepared the food.  The women enjoyed talking and cooking …. I think they enjoyed it a lot.”

“Did any of the uncles help with the food?” …….

“I wonder where the aunts and uncles are now.  Do you know, Chris? …….. We’ve totally lost touch with the Wonsons, haven’t we?”

Dad and I made a list of old friends that we will start writing notes to on Thursday’s when I visit.

Post Picnic Poem

All the people

We no longer see

Friends and relatives

We saw at reunions

Sundays, usually were

When farmers

Took a break

Except for chores

Attended night and day.

Cows had to be milked,

Hogs had to be fed.

Lady’s Thumb, Persicaria vulgaris

As Dad wrote, I painted the little Lady’s Thumb on the ground in front of our bench.

We put away our books and continued along the trail to the pond where we played a new mind game.

View from the bench

While we were talking, a pair of blue heron flew in and landed on the pond.  One flew off before I could snap a photo of both of them.

The game was to imagine what you might want to be Next Time Around.  If Dad has the opportunity to be born again on earth, what would he be?

I will post the answer in a second post ……. stay tuned!

We returned to Chelsea, safe and sound.

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A bit of backtracking ….

Father’s Day BBQ on June 16th, 2012

Jane, Gramps, Alexis, Nicole and Tom

What a treat to have both Alexis and Nicole join us!

Hot Dogs, Coleslaw and Deviled Eggs

The picnic feast.  Tom managed to catch the inside of his new smoker on fire and bubble the paint off the outside of the smoker.

Smoker Meltdown

Needless to say, the turkey dogs were a bit singed to say the least.  While we discussed the temperature tolerances of a smoker, Gramps enjoyed the similarity between his wine glass and the sky.

A blue, blue wine glass and a blue, blue sky

A good time was had by all.  Unfortunately, we did not play croquet.  Alexis and Nicole had to head back to Philadelphia.

The following Thursday ………

Somerset Medical Center’s Senior Advantage in Life (SAIL) Program , Exercises for the Brain …. June 21, 2012

Dad and I didn’t take a walk.  Instead, Jane, Dad and I attended the SAIL program.  Dad was amazing at working through the puzzles and finding mathematical patterns.

Brain Games

I found it interesting that many of the games used to exercise the brain and keep it healthy are the exact same exercises Mike and I did to retrain his brain so that his eyes worked properly together.

The following Thursday …… June 28, 2012

Dad’s calendar has vanished.  Perhaps he threw it away without realizing it.  I wanted him to write Physical Therapy on his calendar so he would know that it was something he agreed to do.  Fortunately he had a few more photo calendars in his room and chose a new one to be his “Brains”.  The next thing he had to chose was a walking stick.  After falling twice on our last walk, I’m not leaving Chelsea without one.

Bananas or Watermelons?

Our first stop was Kings Market.  Dad had run out of toilet paper again and I forgot to restock the trunk of my car to have it handy in case he was running low.  We decided to grab food for a picnic rather than go to the Muscle Maker Grill.  Dad has such a difficult time making choices.  He simply doesn’t want to make a choice.  He wants me to make them for him.  I refuse.

We stood before the display of sandwiches, wraps and salads.

“Dad, what would you like for lunch?”

“What would you like?”

“Dad, you can pick whatever you like, we don’t have to get the same thing.”

“What are you getting?”

“I’m getting  sprouted brown rice with veggies and feta cheese.”

“Oh.”

Turkey Club Sandwich

Dad ended up with a turkey club sandwich.

I wanted to get a photo of him in the store and asked him if he would like his photo with the bananas or the watermelons.

“Where would you like me to be?”

“Wherever you want to be, Dad.  Which do you like better?  Bananas or watermelons?”

“Watermelons.”

Snap…..

Hofheimer Trail is less than a mile from the grocery store.  The trail is relatively even and a port-a-john is located near the parking lot.  I’m taking fewer chances as the weeks go by.

Poor Dad.  I am relentless.

“I’d like you to write something before we eat.”
Dad threw me a mischievous grin and grabbed his sandwich.

“Nope.  Not til you write something.”

Not wanting to write

I reach for a sandwich

But “No, no, no —-“

Words before food.

(Now may we eat?)

Happy Dad!

After lunch, there was one more piece of writing I wanted Dad to do.  I wanted him to write a note to himself that would remind him of why he needs to go to physical therapy.

Writing the note to himself

June 28, 2012

I have been falling — and should start doing physical therapy at Chelsea.

Dave Carter

I am sitting at a picnic table with daughter Chris, and we have discussed this.  It’s a good idea.

I also agreed to start using a cane — to help me with my balance.  On my last walk with Chris, I fell twice on even ground.  the 1st time I grabbed onto Chris and pulled her down to the ground with me, hurting her hip.  I want to get stronger, so that I can continue going on walks with Chris.  I do not want either of us to get hurt.

Another necessary stop before we head out on the trail.

Playing it safe

Finally we were ready to take our walk.  Dad appeared to be pretty steady.  The walking stick helped, I’m sure.

On the trail

Conversation was minimal.  We had exhausted our topics during lunch.  Dad told the story of Dr. Potter, Head of Engineering at Perdue, presenting a beaker filled with a blue liquid, liquid hydrogen, to the class to illustrate why the sky is blue.  I had heard the story before.  I heard it three more times during lunch.  Dad alternated between asking me how the family was and telling me about Dr. Potter’s beaker of blue liquid.

Dad grew silent.

“What are thinking about, Dad?”

“I was thinking about making conversation ……. and how that’s done.”

The loud little stream

We followed the trail up the hill, skirted the golf course and headed back toward the grotto.  Dad lost his balance twice, but caught himself with the help of the walking stick.

We came to a small wooden plank bridge that crossed a trickling stream.  Dad stopped on the bridge and stared down at the water, puzzled.

“That’s a mighty loud noise for a little stream like that!”

The water fountain

What Dad heard was the fountain in the middle of the pond that the stream trickled into.

A little further along the trail we came to the grotto.  The surface of the water was completely covered in algae.

Algae in the grotto

Strange patterns criss-crossed the water.

Odd patterns

“What do you think made those tracks?”  Dad asked.

“I don’t know …. what do you think?”

After a long pause ….. “Ducks.”

I wonder if it could be turtles.  I’ve seen plenty of turtles in the pond.  I haven’t seen a duck anywhere near the pond.

Taking a rest

On the way back to the parking lot we saw a brightly colored bench in the corner of a paved area beyond a locked gate.  The bench was inside of the corner, marked off with a red line.

Designated Smoking Area

Turned out to be the designated smoking area for the workers who worked in the building beyond the locked gate.  I’m not sure how they got to the designated area.  Maybe they climbed over the fence.

Dad was quite content sitting on the bench, not at all anxious to continue our walk.  Eventually, we moved on.

Baseball Fields

As we approached the car, Dad gazed past the car to the baseball fields.

“I always feel good when I see baseball fields.  They were good times.  It makes me think of David.”

Though the walk had not been a long one, Dad was fatigued.  We returned to Chelsea.

Black-Eyed Susans

The gardens at Chelsea are stunning.  A blanket of Black-Eyed Susans soak up the heat and the sunshine.  Dad instructed me as to how I should take the photo of the happy looking flowers.

As we walked to his room, we passed a woman fast asleep in a chair in the hallway.

“This is a good place for old people,” Dad said, then laughed at his remark.

Before leaving, I asked Dan to make a copy of the note Dad had written after lunch.  I gave the copy to the physical therapist in case she needed to show it to him the next day, his first day of physical therapy.  I hope it went well.

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