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Posts Tagged ‘Memory’

February 23, 2015

The story really begins last Friday when I stuffed Dad’s marigold-colored corduroy pants into a plastic bag without checking the pockets.  Later that night I found Dad’s clip, still holding his Twenty-one dollars, at the bottom of the washing machine.  It is the same twenty-one dollars Dad has carried around in his pocket for at least three months.  He lost several silver money clips about a year ago and switched to the basic stationery clip.  Usually, he switches it into a pocket of clean pants after a shower. The room key was part of the ritual until it vanished many months ago.  I knew Dad wouldn’t need money for anything: I let Jane know I had both his pants and his money so she wouldn’t worry about them if she noticed they were missing.

Dad's Twenty-one Dollars that went through the wash

Dad’s Twenty-one Dollars that went through the wash

My normal day to visit is Thursday.  Hardly anything is normal anymore.  I had to go this morning or not at all this week.  I opted to go this morning and drop off the mop and bucket I bought to help keep our shoes from sticking to the bathroom floor.  I arrived a bit before 11 am.  Dad was asleep in his chair, as usual, a cup of coffee beside his chair.  Coffee in a cup and saucer, not a disposable cup.  Dad must have made it to breakfast for a change.  He got up out of his chair, quite easily for a change.  I gave him a big hug.

“How are you, Dad?”

“Not so good.”

Dad always says he is wonderful.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s not good.  I’ve lost my memory.”

“Dad, you lost your memory a long time ago.  Why are you worried about it now?”

“I’ve been writing about it, hoping to figure things out.  This is not good.”  He sat back down in his chair.

I noticed that he looked alert; he looked present; he looked like the Dad I feel I lost a while ago.

He began to tell me the story, in great detail, of the previous twenty-four hours.  He and Jane had attended a President’s Day Event at Washington Crossing Camp Ground, an event that Dad had always participated in prior to his dementia.  At one point during the day there had been a small admission charge for something.  Dad had reached into his pocket for his money clip and found he had only empty pockets … ALL of his pockets were empty; no money, no keys, no credit cards.  He panicked and told Jane he didn’t have any money.  She reassured him that it was okay because she had his money.  He was totally baffled.  He hadn’t remembered giving Jane his money.

He didn’t sleep last night, worrying.  He couldn’t believe that his memory was gone, that he couldn’t remember important things.  He tested himself by naming his children; Louise, Ann, Chris and David.  He tried naming his grandchildren, but couldn’t.  He tried naming his children’s spouses and wasn’t sure if he got them right … or not.  As he was searching his brain for names, he thought of Jack Law (his former brother-in-law) and wondered what had happened to him.

“Did he die? Didn’t he run off with another woman?  Where are my credit cards?  Do you have them, Chris?”

“Dad.  Hold on.  I don’t know if I can answer all of your questions, but I can tell you where your money is.  It’s at my house with your marigold-colored corduroy pants that I took home to wash.  Our dryer broke and I hung them up to dry.  I forgot to bring them with me today. Your money was in a pocket.  I forgot that, too, but I can give you money again and we’ll find a clip.”

Dad's new

Dad’s new “validating” money roll.

Dad began to cry.  “I am so relieved!  I didn’t know what happened.  I couldn’t remember anything.  I thought maybe somebody came into my room and went through my pockets.  I was going to call the police! I am sooooo glad you came this morning.  The only way I finally fell asleep at about 3 am this morning was that I thought maybe I had dreamt that I lost my money; but the dream was so vivid!  Thinking I had only dreamt it allowed me to fall asleep.  When I woke up again, early this morning, I was shocked to see the painting of “Thokes” on the wall and the airplane hanging from the ceiling.  I had no idea how they had gotten there.  I started wondering how long I had been here … a couple of days?  a week?  maybe a month or two?  I got out of bed to check my pockets to make sure that it had just been a bad dream.  But my pockets were empty.  I knew it wasn’t a dream.  I knew that I had lost my memory. Do you think other people know I’ve lost my memory, Chris?”

“Yes, Dad, everyone knows you’ve lost you memory. You lost it a long time ago.  It’s okay.  We all love you very much.  You still beat us in cards!  Your memory doesn’t seem to have anything to do with your card playing.”

“I’m worried that the reason Jane didn’t sleep the other night is that she is worrying about me.  I’m afraid I may never see her again.  She is so special to me!  I love her so much!”

“Dad, Jane loves you, too.  She has a lot on her mind lately.  Of course, you will see here again.  Ann is taking the two of you to dinner tomorrow night for your birthday!”

“Yes, I remember Jane told me about that.”

Dad remembered all sorts of other things, too.  He remembered his table mate, Tom, reminding him to try to get to meals on time.  He remembered Howard hanging up the plane above his chair.  He remembered that the house he and mom built was now two stories high and that the family has three sons.  He knew that the little watercolor on the wall across from his chair is one I did from a photograph of Louise and Ann at Virginia Beach when they were very young.

Dad had been shocked by his empty pockets.  He didn’t know how he could be totally broke.  I remembered the stories Dad told of the farmers in Indiana always having a huge roll of bills in their pockets.  Perhaps having money in one’s pocket validates one’s existence.

“I can’t wait to tell Jane.  I feel as if I have awakened from a long winter’s nap. It’s the most exciting day of my life.  My life is starting to make sense … but how long will it last?”

“I don’t know, Dad.  What I do know is that this is the first real conversation we’ve had in over a year and I am thrilled to be here as a witness of your awakening, even if it’s only temporary.”

“But maybe there’s something I can do about it now that I am aware that I have a brain problem.  I was afraid, when I awoke here this morning, that I may have done something wrong.  Since I didn’t know how I got here, I was afraid I may have done something dishonest and that would be horrible.”

“You’re here, Dad, not because of something you did, but because your brain started to let you down and it is safer for you to be here where we know you are okay when the hurricanes hit.  We know you have three meals a day.  We know that the people here care about you.”

Just then there was a knock on the door.  It was Rita, coming to get Dad to join in the hall walks.  She noticed something different about Dad.  I gave her a short explanation of what I had learned from Dad over the last hour.  She, too, is thrilled.  She will have Meaghan check Dad out to see if the new cognitive program might keep things going for a while.

I couldn’t stay very long and wanted to make sure Dad showered.

“i showered this morning, Chris …. I KNOW I showered this morning.  I realize I’ve probably told you that before without really knowing, but this morning I DO know.”  A huge grin spread across Dad’s face.

“I believe you, Dad.”

“Chris, it’s time for lunch.  Will you join me?”

“I’ll catch up with you in a few minutes.  I bet you haven’t thought of lunch on your own for quite some time. I’m proud of you, Dad.”

After washing the bathroom floor, I joined Dad in the dining room.  I wanted to do cartwheels when I walked through the door and saw Dad chatting away with Tom and John.  Both Tom and John had looks of surprise and pleasure on their faces.

“Your Dad’s been telling us an amazing story.  He says that today is the best day of his life. It’s certainly must be true.  He hasn’t said a word to us for months and he is back to his old self.” On Friday, the conversation had only been between three of us; Tom, John and me.  Today, there were four people participating and Dad had more to say than the rest of us.

At least three other people came over to chat, happy to see Dad alert again.

Wow!!!

When we returned to his room, I asked him if he thought he might want to write something about his experience.

“I certainly do! In fact, I had planned to go out somewhere today and buy a pad to write on, but then I remembered that I have this one and I think it is much better.”  He lifted a few books and pulled out a sketchbook that he had been given to him but he hadn’t used.

“You know, I was really surprised to see that keyboard in my room.  How long has that been here?”

Today was the first time I have seen Dad initiate anything on his own.  Today, he initiated dozens of things on his own.

Awakened from a long, winter's nap.

Awakened from a long, winter’s nap.

I hope that his awakened state will last long enough for Jane and Anna’s family to have a wonderful, 92nd birthday dinner with Dad tomorrow night.

Dad, today was one of the best days in my life, too!  Thank you! I love you.

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Dad is forgetting to charge his cell phone.  Fortunately he has a land line back-up and he answered that one right away.  By the time I arrived he had made his bed and shaved.  He either hadn’t plugged his cell phone into the charger or he had unplugged it shortly after plugging it in, thinking he charged it during the night.  Either way, his cell phone was in his pocket, dead as a door nail.

Dad insisted on wearing his new blue coat.  I’d planned for us to work at the community garden for a short time before our walk.  Not wanting to get his new coat covered with dirt, I altered the plan and drove to Dealaman Pond.  I knew the terrain was level and the trails clear of rocks and roots.  With Dad’s inconsistent balance in mind, I wasn’t planning on crossing the dam as we did on our last visit to the pond.

Reliant,” he read aloud as soon as he settled himself in the car.  “That makes me think of the Stinson Reliant.  That’s a single engine airplane. Glen Goddard had one of those……. landed it, probably foolishly, in our clover field.”

Dealaman Pond was only a few miles from Chelsea.  We continued the conversation the entire ride, tossing it back and forth between Stinson Reliants and clover fields.  I parked the car, pulled Dad’s green sketchbook out of my pack and handed it to him.

“What’s this for?” he asked.

‘To write a few words down about the Reliant.”

“Reliant? …….. Why would I want to do that?”

I pointed to the small metal sign on the dashboard of the car.  “Reliant, Dad ….. what does the word Reliant remind you of?”

He looked puzzled.  “I don’t know ….. nothing that I can think of.”

I reviewed the conversation we had shared only moments before handing him his book.

“Oh ……. okay.”

As Dad’s pencil began to move, I pulled out my own sketchbook to make a few notes.

Sketchbook notes and scribbles as Dad writes

The “Stinson Reliant” Airplane owned rented by my Uncle Glen Goddard.

He landed the plane in our hayfield in Indiana and offered to take me back to Valparaiso, Indiana.  That is where my cousin Dick Davison lived.  His mom was Aunt Avanelle, my dad’s sister.

We landed at Purdue airport on the way back, to get gasoline.  The attendants at the airport looked askance at the weeds hanging from the landing cavity, telltale signs that Uncle Glen had foolishly landed the rented plane in a hayfield to pick me up.  Dad told me later that we had barely cleared the telephone lines when we took off.

With backpack and picnic lunch in hand, we began our walk.  Dad appeared to have difficulty on the trail.

“I don’t seem to be able to decide where to put my feet,” he told me when I asked if he was alright.  The sun was behind the clouds.  The lighting was fairly even.  There were no confusing patches of sunlight and shadows. When we reached the open area around the pond I suggested we stop there and have our picnic.  I didn’t think it was a good idea to cross the dam.

“I don’t see why not, Chris.”

“Dad, you’re unsteady on your feet today.  I don’t think we can make it across safely.”

“That’s ridiculous.  I know I can do it.”  Dad was persistent.

“Let’s test it out first, Dad.”

He gathered his wits and proved that he could find safe footing on the two-foot wide cement ledge.

“Okay, Dad, but we’re going to cross together, very slowly.  I’m going to be right behind you keeping your hips steady.”

We moved across the dam, one slow step after another.  Dad was focused and doing well.  With only eight feet left to go before reaching the grass on the other side, Dad began to sway.  His feet stuck like glue to the ledge, but his upper body kept changing directions.  I tried to hold him steady, frantically deciding whether it would be better to direct our fall into the water on our left or onto the rocks on our right.  There was no doubt in my mind that we were going down on one side or the other.  Dad made the decision as he suddenly lifted his right foot and stepped off the ledge.

My most dreaded fear became a reality as we left the ledge and fell onto the rocks.  The best I could do was resist the force of the fall by pulling Dad back towards me as we went down.  He resisted my effort and pulled himself forward in an attempt to catch himself.  The result was a face down landing on the rocks with feet tangled behind him.  I didn’t start moving his body parts around until after taking stock of the bad situation.  He lifted his head slightly.

“I think I’ve cut my head.”

Glass scraped, not broken … gash and bruise on forehead … cuts on hand …. bruised finger …. lots of blood on his face and in his hair, scrapes on his legs ….. but surprisingly no blood on his new blue coat!

Untangling his limbs was difficult.  Eventually he sat safely on the ledge. I cleaned up the blood with my supply of watercolor water and paper towels.

“Did I just step off this ledge? Why would I have done that? ….. Did I just step off this ledge?”

The trooper that he is, he wanted to continue our walk.  What a relief.  As I saw it, we had five options:

1. Cross back over the dam (I didn’t see this as an option at all.)

2. Cross back over the rocks and boulders (I had my doubts about being able to do that without at least one more fall.)

3. Leave Dad in the parking lot of a nearby office building with a note to remind him that I would be picking him up in the car.  I would run back over the dam, down the trail to the car, drive a mile around to the parking lot where I left him. (I thought this was terribly high risk and erased it immediately from my mind.)

4. Use my cell phone to call for help. (hmmmmmm)

5. Continue our walk on the other side of the pond and hope that we could make our way back without sinking in the bog like we did the last time.

Dad took his handkerchief out of his pocket to clean his glasses.

“Do think this is a permanent scratch on my glasses?”

“Yes, Dad, it is.  We’ll get you a new pair of glasses.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s necessary.”

We continued our walk, stopping at a bench in the sun to have our lunch.

Lunch in the Sun

While eating sandwiches Dad noticed the label on my backpack.

“What does that word, caribou, mean?”

“A caribou is similar to a reindeer.”

“Why does your pack say caribou mountaineering?” …

I brought homemade cookies for dessert.

Cookie Monster Dad

Even though the sun had come out from behind the clouds, the wind was brisk and we felt chilled when we weren’t walking.  Dad, dressed in his hooded blue coat, reminded me of Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster as he took his first bite.

Our picnic calmed my nerves and gave Dad a chance to gather himself together.  By the time we finished eating he had cleaned his glasses at least a dozen times.

“Do you think this is a permanent scratch, Chris?”

We walked arm in arm, navigating fallen branches side by side, one slow step at a time.

Steeplechase Hurdles

At one point along the trail, it switched to a set of vehicle tracks.  Trees crossed the path at regular intervals, a bit too regular to be the result of the wind storm the day before.

“It feels like we are on a fox hunt, Dad ….  jumping hedges.”

“I was just thinking the same thing.”

Landscape

I stopped to take a photo of the lovely hedgerow.

“Make sure you get part of that branch in the upper corner, Chris.  It will make it a better composition.”

Dad's better composition

Out came the handkerchief again.

“Do you think this is a permanent scratch, Chris?”

With cleaned glasses he gazed upward to breathe in the beauty of the sky.

Taking a moment enjoying the blue sky.

The path appeared to curve around toward the car.

The Dealaman Pond Trail

I’d taken a different path from the one that led through the bog.  Unfortunately, it didn’t lead back to the car.  Instead it lead to a busy road without a shoulder.  We could have bushwhacked our way to the car through the woods but it  would entail crossing a small brook on stepping stones  …. not an option.  Arm in arm we walked along the edge of the road, stopping and stepping back from the road into a bit of a ditch each time a car came by.  It was tedious, but safe.

First thing we did when we returned to Chelsea was visit Vicky, Chelsea’s resident nurse.  I wanted to make sure Dad was okay, that the gash wouldn’t become infected as well as make sure that there is a record of the incident.  She agreed that Dad appeared to be fine.

Back in his room, Dad creamed me in a game of Rummy 500.  After having hit his head, he looked more alert, less in a fog, fewer veils surrounding him.  If it had helped his memory I might consider hitting him on the head more often.  Unfortunately, the memory is still gone.

Dad keeps score when we play card games.  At the end of each hand he asked me if we were starting a new game.  After about eight hands, he spilled an entire cup of coffee onto the table.  I attempted to save books and papers from the tidal wave of brown liquid while Dad grabbed a towel from the bathroom and wiped up the flood.  I took two minutes in the bathroom to rinse the coffee out of the towel and returned to find Dad looking at the deck of cards in his hands, a perplexed expression on his face.

“What’s wrong, Dad?”

“These cards are wet, Chris.  How in the world did they get wet?”

Drying Cards

I lay the cards out on the floor to dry thoroughly before stacking them again.  Dad was scheduled to take a scenic bus tour in a short while and I was sure the cards wouldn’t be dry before he left.  One can only imagine what he might think upon his return.  I asked him to write a note to himself about the coffee spill and the cards.

Dad's note to himself, "Cards drying from coffee spill."

His phone rang.  It was time for the bus tour.  We walked together to the bus.  As I turned to leave I saw Dad pull his handkerchief out of his pocket and hold his glasses up to the sunlight.  I knew he was wondering about that scratch.

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