Dog Days of Summer

For the record, Mama was not a cute little scottie today. She was a cantankerous, difficult, ready to nip at my ankles, beady-eyed Chihuahua. 

A recent study found that among the most aggressive breeds of dogs are the dachshund and the Chihuahua. Researchers discovered that one in five have bit or attempted to bite a stranger, and one in twelve have lashed out at their owners. 

Surprisingly, even the honey-haired ‘sweet’ little cocker spaniel, a very popular companion animal, having spent decades as one of the most popular breeds in the United States, has its moments. Its popularity has led to overbreeding issues, including a problem called “rage syndrome”.

A cocker prone to “rage syndrome” can become suddenly aggressive toward strangers, people she knows, or even her own family. And just as suddenly become calm again. 

I thought it might be an adventure to head out this morning with our coffee in hand and explore some garage sales. A friend had told me that her entire neighborhood of condominiums was hosting a huge sale today. I imagined that Mama and I could park and easily walk to five or seven of them and browse for books or glassware or other treasure.

That did not go well. Something triggered in her brain that I “did this to her last year” and it was all some kind of game to fool her; that it was a big conspiracy. I tried to assure her otherwise, to no avail. We did not stay long. On the way home she asked why I am being so cruel to her. She threatened to open the car door and find the police in order to have me arrested. Cocker spaniel alert. 

Oy vey. The best laid plans…

These times have to be okay. They do not feel okay but they have to be okay. It is part of the process of dementia. As my brother said “We lost our mom a year or two ago.” 

Today I wanted to ask a priest to call out this person living in her body and have my old mama return to me. But that feels like praying to idols; empty words to hollow figures. 

The difficult day melted into a long evening of confused questions and allegations. It was one of the worst times I have ever had with Mama. She was so fierce and yet so pitiful. She cried several times. So did I. Today felt like a step down deeper into the darkness. I felt the loss of her as she succumbed to the gnarled faulty wiring in her brain. 

Mama fell into the cocker spaniel “rage syndrome” today, but by bedtime she was a droopy-eared, red-eyed sad little hound, and I was her lost pup.

Message in the Clouds

It is Friday afternoon and my weekend to be with Mama. She has had a rough week. I cannot deny my slight dread of these three long days of explaining and re-explaining and literally and figuratively nudging her along. It is full-court press during these extended stays with her. Simply taking a shower and being away from her for 20 minutes is a daunting task. 

This afternoon as I was brushing my teeth and getting ready to go, I looked out my bedroom window and saw a parting of the clouds with this funny little shape in the middle. I immediately thought it looked like a small shaggy dog, maybe a Scottish terrier with its little nose sticking out and its tail curled up.

Perhaps this was to remind me of how Mama is, or at least used to be.

Scotties are fast, alert, sporty and playful dogs. They can be fearless and feisty. They are gentle and loving and make excellent watchdogs. They are sensitive to harsh discipline. They are very calm, though consistent instruction is necessary.

Yep, there are definitely Mama qualities in there; fast, alert, excellent watchdog. She is 90 years old and may not be able to remember what we ate for dinner as soon as we leave the table, but she sure knows how to count money and lock doors and pick out a suspicious-looking character. 

Mama has what is called agitated dementia. She is able to deliver some harsh words but certainly incapable of receiving them. And consistent instruction? Well, that one is a stone cold truth. 

Just like any cute doggie, Mama simply wants to be loved and cared for and petted a little. I am thankful for this cloud reminder and will be looking for that cloud all day tomorrow and the next day and the next.

Healthy Thursday

Is anyone else grossed out by cooking chicken? Here is a lovely organic chicken that I washed inside and out with cold water, salted and peppered, and about to stick into the oven to cook. In two hours, it will be beautifully browned and the skin will be crispy. The juices will run clear and the meat thermometer will register right at 185 degrees. Perfect. 

We will enjoy tender, warm pieces of this chicken along with a medley of cauliflower, broccoli, and asparagus roasted in olive oil and sparingly sprinkled with seasoned salt and pepper. 

Mike and I are trying to stick to a ketogenic diet plan and this meal should fit the bill. 

Honestly, mashed potatoes and homemade gravy would have been delicious with this chicken. Or perhaps a nice dish of hot egg noodles. Also, a crusty, toasty loaf of French bread would round things off nicely. 

No, those things are not on the list. We will stick with meat and the vegetables grown above the ground. We will eat chunks of cheese and olives stuffed with garlic and avocado melted into scrambled eggs and walnuts and pumpkin seeds. 

That raw chicken sitting here on my counter looks a little bit disgusting but it was so very good. It also provided plenty of leftovers, enough to make a nice stir-fry this weekend using a bag of frozen riced cauliflower. 

If you can get past the initial unpleasantness of something, you may find that given the right temperature, the right timing, and the right accompaniment, delicious and lasting changes can be made. I’m counting on it. 

Lindsey

On this day, 35 years ago, a beautiful baby girl was born. She was ‘knitted together in her mother’s womb and fearfully and wonderfully made’. I am certain that the song of her heart would include more verses from this 139th chapter of Psalm, which state: 

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me. Your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.    

The name Lindsey is derived from Old English meaning the linden tree. I have written previously about that name being so right for our Lindsey. She is a lovely slender tree that moves and bends in the gentle breeze yet has the strength of deep roots to withstand mighty winds.

I fully believe that she was created to marry my son, Andrew. And he for her. 

On this birthday she is celebrating across the ocean in a little French town named Colmar. It is in the Grand Est region of northeastern France, near the border with Germany. Colmar is nestled among vineyards and is known for its amazing cuisine, charming accommodations, and bakeries full of croissants and pain au chocolat. Someone once described the town as “so pretty that it doesn’t feel real. Cobblestone streets run next to canals lined with half-timbered houses in shades of rose, sky blue, lemon, peppermint, and apricot.”  

In communication with Lindsey and Andrew today, they said they expected Belle to be singing in one of the windows. It is picturesque perfect. 

Happy Birthday to our dear Lindsey. What a gift you are. 

Occasionally Never

I read a little saying today. Part of it I knew—Never reply when you are angry. We all know this is true. It is wise to never reply in an angry state, whether that be an email or a phone call or even a sharp little spat with your spouse, which can be a stellar tour de force.

The other two sentences in the saying, I am less familiar with. One is this; Never make a promise when you are happy.

That is a tricky one. My first thought is why not? Being happy is a good thing, right? On the other hand, after I mulled over these sayings, I get it.   

Occasionally we have those moments of delirious bliss when we believe that we are walking on sunshine and, as my friend once said, unicorns are pooping out rainbows. In those rare times we may falsely believe this is real life. And in that delirium may make a “cross-my-heart, hope-to-die” pledge to someone.

By the next morning we may be back in the tunnel wondering if that glow at the end is a way out or a train heading toward us. We will most likely at least be back to normalcy. Those famous last words may be haunting us by then and all we can think is “What have I done?”

The other is Never make a decision when you are sad. Basically the same concept, reversed. When we are in a dark place, frantically reaching for a rope to hold onto, we will do anything to find light. Desperation and hopelessness are definitely not the mindset for making sound decisions.

If complete honesty were a reality, every one of us would admit that we have been in all three of those places – angry, (jubilantly) happy, and so very sad. These are delicate places that must be held lightly as if cradling a tiny bird in our hands.

However, there is one thing about this little saying with which I take issue. We have also been taught that the word never is to be used only in the literal sense. In fact, we have all muttered the phrase “Never say never.”

So perhaps there is indeed a time to reply when angry, pledge a promise when we are happy, and make a decision when we are sad.

On that note, always be discerning. This time, that word truly fits.

National Root Beer Float Day

I had “a day”. Had a morning of meetings then scrambled home to do a couple quick chores; wash and dry a load of towels, pay a few bills, then back out to be with Mama.

I had asked my dear cousin, JK, to meet me at an exit off of the highway on her way home and bring Mama to me. The screen on Mama’s cell phone (old fashioned flip phone) had become completely blank.  She was able to receive calls, though it was impossible to identify the caller, and it was very difficult for her to make a call. We needed a visit to the phone store. 

On the way to meet them, I (wrongly) assumed I could quickly swing by the bank drive-thru and make a deposit. I waited at the drive-thru for 11 minutes. I considered backing out and pulling back around the front to just run inside. As Murphy’s law normally flows, I felt sure that the moment I backed out, the car ahead of me would have completed her transaction. Nevertheless, I did it.

I went inside only to discover three people in line ahead of me. There was one, ONE man serving the drive-thru window, the inside counter and a telephone that would not stop ringing. Through a glass pane I could see a woman sitting at her desk poking around on her computer. Another man was tapping his fingers on his desk as if he were bored. I waited and waited and debated. My neck was beginning to feel hot. I calmly but firmly said out loud “Is there anyone else who can help here?”  Finally, the tapping man came out and said “Oh, Jerry (chicken-with-head-cut-off man) will be with you soon. I was losing my cool. I knew that dear JK and Mama were waiting for me.

When you are 60 years old and in these situations, you begin to question yourself. Am I just crabby today or is something seriously wrong here? Do I say something and look like a cranky “older” woman or do I continue to sweat into the collar of my Gap pink gingham shirt? Am I simply saying what everyone else is thinking? I’m sure I got a few eye-rolls after I finally got my deposit made and quietly announced that this was the most inefficient bank visit I have ever had. When do you speak truth and when do you just roll with it and accept the injustice?

Well, since it is National Root Beer Float Day, Mama and I had to indulge. My hot neck and sassy mouth most definitely needed a cool down and the deliciously decadent root beer float did the trick.

Ahh…

 

Serious Sunday

This morning at church a friend of mine shared her story. I knew much of it but learned a few new details today.

It is a story of redemption. It is a story of years of darkness and lostness and aloneness. It is a story of life not making sense in the day to day. 

Her world was completely broken. She was standing at the edge of a cliff with the grounding disappearing beneath her feet.

But how encouraging to know the truth. The truth that in the middle of her pain, God was there. He was in pain with her. As parents we know that when a child of ours is suffering and in anguish, how great is our anguish, as well. I fully believe that the Lord grieves with us. 

I admit that I do not understand why God does not/will not intervene in circumstances. This is one of the (many) great mysteries of life. But I do know that He is a God of redemption. He is a God who will make all things right, in time. 

For my friend, He made all things right. He made it so right that this story could have only been written by Him. Her story made a complete circle that no one, not one person would have believed 40 years ago. It is still hard to believe except that we have the proof. 

And for those of you who know the photo, oh yes I did. 

Redemption. 

Come Hell or High Water or a Hurricane

If you have watched TV or been on Facebook or read USA Today in the last day or two, you’ve seen the story about the considerate shopper returning her cart to the cart corral during a mighty storm.

The article in USA Today described her as an “elderly woman”. Ouch. Couldn’t they just have said an older woman? Elderly made her sound like she is 92. I found out that she is 70. Elderly? Come on, writers, you are better than that. I guess to a 30 year-old, 70 is elderly.

Sue Johnson was loading her groceries at a Walmart parking lot in the town of Hurricane in West Virginia. Yes, it really did take place in a town named Hurricane. But for the record, and I know this to be true from a resident, the town is pronounced ‘hurra-ken’, with a soft “e” sound and with the accent on the beginning of the word, not the end, as in ‘hurra-KANE’.

The wind picked up in a freakish manner, and Johnson stated that it was raining so hard it actually hurt. However, she was quick to add this no-nonsense statement “You can only get so wet. Once you are wet, you are wet all the way through.”

Johnson also stated that she has been shocked about the media attention. She made it clear that she was simply doing what she always did, return the cart. 

A good habit is hard to break, in spite of circumstances.

Honestly, I am much more impressed that she was doing the same thing she does EVERY.SINGLE.TIME she shops—the right thing. 

What a novel idea. 

Drawers and Treasures

Mama is still living but I feel like she has died. My sisters and I were at her house today (without her) sorting through closets and shelves and boxes deciding what to keep and what to let go in the upcoming estate sale.

About six weeks ago we moved Mama (kicking and screaming) to a lovely independent living apartment. She still has the same care as always; one of her children with her every evening and overnight and her wonderful weekday caregiver and dear alternating weekend caregiver.

The house had become too much for her; too much room, large full basement, yard that needs continual upkeep, A/C problems, plumbing issues, property taxes, on and on. 

Added to that, she had become afraid, though she was never alone. She would stare into the dark woods behind her house every evening. By bedtime she was stacking up chairs and pots and planters against the back sliding doors, though it was double-locked. She tried to eliminate every sliver of light that may escape through the plantation blinds on the front windows. “People can see right in” she would say. I tried to convince her that no one was out there peeking in the windows but she fiercely disagreed. There were times I nearly believed her.

However, Mama is not an apartment person. She is accustomed to front door access to a porch and a front yard with a tree, complete with magenta impatiens circled perfectly around. She watches the birds and talks to neighbors who stroll down the sidewalk.

She has struggled to adjust. Understandable. Though I am not sure the struggle to adjust is as much about the apartment as it is about adjusting to this new life, this new life that is actually a death.

I pulled out small drawers in an antique dresser. In the drawers were pieces of a necklace, a tiny locket, bobby pins, safety pins, two pretty marbles and a pearl tie tack. In another drawer I found four $2 bills, a few small pine cones and a little leather pouch with her initials burned into the side. 

These intimate things that have meant something to her. It feels like such an intrusion, such an uncovering of her interior life, laid bare for us to see, laid bare for strangers. 

I ran across a beautiful cameo with a gray/blue background, hanging from a dainty silver chain. I do not remember seeing Mama wear it. I will ask my sisters if they mind if I take it. This journey is about seeing an item here and there that we feel a sentiment about or just something we love. 

It has caused me great reflection, not so much about Mama, as myself. What will my children find? Scraps of notes and saved birthday cards. An earring who lost its mate. A drawer full of ribbons and shoelaces. Receipts and Chapsticks and headbands. Postcards and subway cards and ticket stubs.

The day caused me to want to go home and look through my own things and discard. However, I realized that there is healing in the purging. I’m glad to have found things that Mama thought were important. Every item has a story and most of those stories I will never know. 

It is enough to know that they mattered to her. 

Memories

About a year ago I began a process of helping Mama with her hundreds of photos. We created a system of using photo boxes and with a Sharpie, writing on the box the name of each one of the children; my three siblings and myself. When we saw a photo that was strictly that person’s family, it went into their box. For random photos or Christmas photos and group photos, we put them into chronological order by year. There were also several generations of black and white photos; my grandparents era and then my parents dating/wedding/young family era. What a job! We worked on them for weeks but then life happened. I got busier with my job and family and we put the photo sorting on hold.

Today I was back in the basement at the ping-pong table, where the photos job began. What an emotional roller coaster it was. I smiled at fun pictures and had tears with sweet/sad ones. I saw photos of my two brothers, who died far too young. It is crushing to look at their grade school pictures and realize the outcome of those tender years. 

I ran across the above photo in a box that contained similarly staged photos of my siblings from their school picture day. It was sixth grade. 

I am on the front row, second from the left. I remember the outfit well; a cherry-red jumper with a starched white blouse, and knee socks. I also remember being a bit jealous of the two girls on either side of me with their white “leotards”. Always on the fashion awareness edge. 

Except for seven or eight, I was able to recall the name of every kid in that photo. Amazing. This is, of course, the way our minds work, which reveals itself continually in people with dementia. Those memories that are so pressed down and layered into our brains, are retained, whereas the newer memories have not quite taken root.

I do wonder what all of these classmates of mine are up to these days. It would be fun to have a crystal ball and be able to peer into their lives. There is one thing I know for sure, which is that they are all my age.

Being an August birthday, many or most are probably already 61 years old. When I was young, it was always a point of contention to be the youngest in the class–everyone else getting to 12 years old before me, then 16, then 18. I was always lagging behind in the age race. 

But now, well, I don’t mind one bit dragging up the rear in catching up with my classmates. For 19 more days, I can state that I am only 60. So there, Vickie and Becky, sitting on either side of me with your fancy white pantyhose.