A Man Thing

For the last two years I have told people that when Peg dies, and I’m still alive, the first thing I must do is sell this house. Well. Peg died. I’m quickly relearning the difficulty of emptying a house of clutter and unsightly unnecessary junk.  When we moved in here thirteen short years ago the house was empty. I had just sold my old house and everything I owned to start a new life. Peg didn’t follow suit. She insisted on keeping her old house, and did. It wasn’t until four years ago after dementia had taken her memory did I have a chance to finally sell her place. Of course the house was still loaded with her stuff. Keeping her stuff out of our new house was the only way we could live in a modern looking minimalist home. Slowly, the stuff crept into the modern. I ran out of spaces to put things. Our closets were jammed, the space under beds was filled with boxes, the garage was full, even the trunk of her car and the backseat had stuff in it. Of course all the while this creep occurred I was busy in my workshop making dust, and buying more lumber to make my Intarsia pieces. Not to mention a couple of new machines too.

Peg had an attachment to her stuff. She loved clothes and remained the same size all her life, old clothes fit her as well as new. The result was that she had a tremendous inventory of clothes. I tell people that at age eighty-five she still had her prom dress. I promised her that I would not throw anything away or dispose of it in any way without her permission. She never granted me permission. She always said her daughter and grand daughters would use her clothes. Wrong. They have taken a few articles as mementos but the fashions of a forty or sixty something are different than that of an eighty something. After four weeks of sorting, searching, boxing, bagging, and hauling clothes the master bedroom closet is finally finished. When I saw the empty closet for the first time it dawned on me that I have just disposed of my wife. Emptyness overwhelmed me. The finality of her dying had hit home. I had to stop and sit down, I almost cried.

I am donating most of the things to three different organizations: Saint Vincent dePaul Society, NU 2 U, and Neat Repeats. All of them are resale shops that support battered women, poor families, and single parent families. They are happy to see me coming.

The journey on this new adventure will take another eight weeks as I move from room to room purging the unnecessary things from life. The goal is to end up with a house that is ready to show for sale. I’m still not sure what the next step will be, but I trust God will show me the way. I may just pack the Death Star with camping gear and head for Alaska. After Barb died sixteen years ago, I packed the car and went to Arizona for three months. It was there that I finally cried for her. It’s a man thing not to cry.

I Resent That

 

Yesterday, John Dean, a lawyer from the Watergate-Nixon era testified before Congress. His mission was to bash Trump and to point us toward impeachment. What really pissed me off was not that Dean was a credible witness which he is not, but that the news people kept telling me that he is eighty years old. So what? The implication was that being eighty makes one unknowledgeable and not credible. I’m over eighty and I believe I can keep up with the best of the younger generation. Not only that, I hang with a group of men in which I am the baby. Any of us would be capable of debating any newscaster in the country. We keep abreast of the news, and we regularly debate current issues all while remaining friends.

Aging definitely comes with problems, many of them are memory related. Those of us who are lucky enough to retain our minds live active cognitive lives. One thing for sure, we aged have to put up with too many memory loss jokes, although I find most of them hilarious. When one experiences age related memory problems as I have, the age jokes don’t seem very funny no matter how true they may be.

I happen to live with a wife who is one of the unfortunate aged who has lost her ability to remember anything. The sadness of her disease is that she is at a point where she has given up chewing and is now forgetting how to swallow. Think about that one. Try eating (baby food) without being able to chew or swallow. Her best meal these days is breakfast. She seems to be most functional after twelve to fifteen hours of sleep. She eats a decent breakfast but then goes downhill from there refusing to eat either lunch or supper. Some men consider me lucky since she has been unable to speak for over three years.  Speech is a valuable function we take for granted. For instance, she cannot tell me how she feels, or what hurts. The only sound she can make is a siren like whine when we (me and her caretaker) move her to change her. I have to read her body language to get an idea of her situation.

My advice to people these days is to pray for a quick death. People who drop dead instantly receive a gift from God. In my wife’s case she is the opposite. Looking back at our history together her first symptoms began to appear seven years ago. She is at a point where the skin on her lower extremities has very poor blood circulation and the result is she gets pressure sores that cannot heal. One doctor told me that her disease is terrible because the brain dies before the rest of the body. I agree with that assessment, but will add to it. When the body does begin to fail it does so in a slow creeping manner. The life force of blood is needed to support major organs so body parts like toes, feet, legs etc. lose.

My philosophy is to give her the best drug-free quality of life possible. At this point the quality is in how comfortably she sleeps. When my beloved sleeps twenty-two hours a day, and is frowning the whole time she is in some kind of discomfort. Right now I am wrestling with a decision to use morphine to ease her discomfort. I get an argument from her caretaker that morphine will make her to sleep more and accelerate her death. The hospice nurses argue that morphine merely relaxes a person so they don’t fight so hard to live with pain. The relaxation allows them to pass comfortably and peacefully. One argument I make with myself is that if she is no longer eating or drinking, and sleeping twenty-two hours a day what difference will it be if I administer morphine and she sleeps twenty-four hours in peace.

For Better Or For Worse

The old anniversary odometer just clicked off another whole number, we made it!  Today Peg and I celebrate our twelfth wedding anniversary. I can’t say the ride has been smooth because we have had our differences, but we learned to deal with them, and always made up. My God father once gave me this advice: never go to bed angry at each other , always kiss and tell each other “I  you love.”  God father’s advice works because Peg and I have made that ritual a standard practice. In twelve years I can say that we missed it once. I should say I missed it once because she was already asleep when I got home from a late meeting. Even though she slept, I followed through but she was so fast asleep she didn’t know I did.

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The first nine years I have to admit we enjoyed the “for better” aspect of our marriage vows We partied, we traveled, we went to the theater, we enjoyed the country club dinners with friends, all the things healthy people in love do. In the ninth year there was a dramatic slowdown in the better and an increase in the “for worse.” There were signs of memory deterioration. Peg suddenly needed help operating a washing machine. At first, I thought she was playing me, but she couldn’t remember which knobs to turn and buttons to push. When we traveled she always insisted I wait for her right outside the ladies room, she was afraid of getting lost. When in a restaurant she told me to order for her because she couldn’t see the items on the menu. This was a lady whose practice it was to read the entire menu, even the fine print, so she could decide upon a meal. During the last two years it has been mostly “for worse”  with an occasional better.

Joe & Peggy Wedding Party-November 5, 2005

Peggy’s Family

Before we agreed to marry, we discussed the inevitability of one of us dying or getting sick and how we expected the other to act. We agreed that even if we only had one year together it was worth the try at happiness. Both of us had long marriages before, and we both lost our spouses to a disease. Her husband died of heart related issues in combination with lung cancer at age sixty-nine. My wife beat breast cancer only to die at age sixty-five from issues related to a debilitating heart attack at age sixty-three.

Between the two of us we had ninety-one years of marriage under our belts, how hard could a second marriage be? It should be a snap, after all we have seen almost everything couples experience during our first marriages. How wrong I was. It was hard, but not so hard that we weren’t able to figure things out and smooth the conflicts over.

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Right now, Peg is in some state of deterioration resulting from Alzheimer’s disease. I tell people she is relatively stable but declining very slowly.  This is why we are in the “for worse” period of our vows. Her communication skill is gone. Imagine a typical woman not being able to talk, she must be in hell. Imagine a woman who was a fashionista suddenly not giving a crap about clothes, make-up, or hair. Imagine a woman who was so fastidiously clean that she changed every piece of clothing every day because it was dirty from having worn it once, not wanting to bathe. Imagine a lady who could out walk me on a shopping trip not being able to walk again because she can’t remember how. I could go on and on, but I think you get the drift. Our lives have changed from that of newly weds to that of care-taker and patient. Luckily we had discussed these possibilities early on and put things in writing to be very clear about how we would treat each other.

It has been a good run but it is not over yet. It may last another day, or another ten years but it won’t matter because we still love each other now, and will continue to love each other to the very end which is the “till death do us part” of our vows. I write that like I expect to outlive her, but the fact is I can drop dead before her. In that case her life gets a little bit more complicated, but again, we have left instructions for our children on how to deal with that situation.

Happy anniversary my darling!

PSA-170205-Philosophy 101

Philosophy 101

As we grow older, and hence wiser, we slowly realize that:

Whether we wear a $300 or $30 watch – – – they both tell the same time.

Whether we carry a $300 or $30 wallet/handbag – – – the amount of money inside is the same.

Whether we drink a bottle of $300 or $30 or $3 wine – – – the hangover is the same.

Whether the house we live in is 300 or 3,000 or 30,000 sq. ft. – – – the loneliness is the same.

And we realize our true inner happiness does not come from the material things of this world.

Whether we fly first or economy class, if the plane goes down – – – we go down with it.

Whether we fly first or economy class, if the plane reaches its destination – – – everyone arrives at the same time.

We should realize that when we have mates, buddies and old friends, brothers and sisters, with whom we can chat, laugh, talk, sing, talk about north- south-east-west or heaven
and earth — that is true happiness.

Six Undeniable Facts of Life

1. Don’t educate your children to be rich. Educate them to be happy, so when they grow up they will know the value of things, not the price.

2. Best wise words: “Eat your food as your medicines. Otherwise you have to eat medicines as your food.”

3. The one who loves you will never leave you because, even if there are 100 reasons to give up, he or she will find one reason to hold on.

4. There is a big difference between a human being and being human. Only a few folks really understand that.

5. You are loved when you are born. You will be loved when you die. In between, you have to manage.

6. If you just want to walk fast, walk alone; but, if you want to walk far, walk together.

Six Best Doctors in the World

1. Sunlight
2. Rest
3. Exercise
4. Diet
5. Self Confidence
6. Friends

And, finally: The nicest place to be is in someone’s thoughts, the safest place to be is in someone’s prayers, and the very best place to be is….in the hands of God.

God’s Gift

Early this past week my thoughts and emotions were morose. Peg moved to another low. She began sleeping twenty hours each day. She was not responsive, nor in a mood to eat or drink. Then, on Thursday morning she awoke before me and I received a good morning smile. She even spoke a few words. Her mood remained happy throughout the day. She even had a few moments of laughter. I was overjoyed. At three-thirty, her caretaker and I lifted her from bed and placed her into a wheelchair. As usual, I wheeled her around the house and showed her what a beautiful day it was. The sun shone brightly, it was warm, and there were billowy white clouds rising to heaven in an azure sky. The views of the 2016 Monet Vision-Patriots Dream held her attention as she gazed at the pond in what seemed like a stupor.

Finally, I parked her chair at the table and we had supper together. By seven-thirty she crashed while watching TV, and we promptly put her back to bed.

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Friday morning was the same and we enjoyed another glorious day. I played an Elvis album of gospel music while we held hands, and napped.

Today promises to be a similar day, however, her smile is missing and a frown on her face signals a bit of unhappiness, perhaps it is pain. I can’t tell for sure, and she can’t tell me, nor would she if she could. Before she began this journey, and I suspected she was in pain and commented she responded with “it is nothing I can’t take.”

I’ll take these good days and I thank God for them. I know there are dark days still ahead and there will be plenty of them to brood over, but now I bask in the sunshine of her smile.

 

Not Recommended Unless . . .

My system for picking movies at the library is much the same as picking books. Go in look at the DVD cover art, and titles and pick something that looks interesting based on the actors. This time Julie Christie , and Olympia Dukakis attracted me to pick up a film titled Away From Her. I promised Peg that this was a chick flick and that we would watch it together. I had the disc in the player and was fumbling with a remote to change from cable to the DVD when a town hall meeting with Donald Trump and Sean Hannity appeared. Peg fixated on Trump and that is what we watched.

After we put her to bed I watched the movie alone. I am so glad we didn’t see it together. I hated it. By far the most depressing film I have ever seen. Even the music was depressing. I should have known better because the film is about a husband and wife facing Alzheimer’s.  At age seventy-six Ms Christie is still a very attractive woman. Of course that is coming from a man who is older. Most guys my age view any  woman who is younger as ‘HOT,’ but she is still quite hot.Julie-Christie-011.jpg

Maybe the story depressed me because it is about the life Peg and I are living, and it was a look into the future. Although, Peg is much further along in the progression than the character Fiona was in this film. Some of the Alzheimer’s traits depicted Peg has never experienced yet. One scene in which Fiona wanders off and gets lost is not one of  Peg’s traits. Peg has never wandered, and is now so progressed that she is unable to walk by herself much less wander. Fiona had issues with her husband, and she seemed to use her disease against him, like quickly attaching herself to a man in the nursing home, and ignoring her faithful husband who visited  daily. I like to think it was her disease working against him and not her deviousness.

The film has a surprise ending which caught me off guard when one day Fiona has a brief instance of total recall when her husband visits, and they hug again as would a man and wife married for forty-two years. I’m still waiting  for that moment, but I cherish the times when I get a smile or a few words.

I recommend this film for anyone who wants to get a short glimpse of life with a dying brain. If you are already experiencing someone with the disease it will only make you more depressed.

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Dealing With Immigrants

Yesterday, Peg and I experienced the joy of being dumped by our caretaker. Dolly is a good woman, but has no patience whatsoever. Caring for a person in late stage dementia requires unlimited brain power, creativity, psychology, and kindness. Dolly had good brain power, but not what it takes to deal with an Alzheimer’s client. Dolly showed signs of kindness, but lacked compassion. To Dolly the job of caring for Peg was a process. She knew the steps, but failed in her ability to deal with a person who decides she wants no part of her process. I’m reading a book titled Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s by Joanne Koenig Coste. When I reached the chapter on dealing with personal hygiene and toileting Dolly failed miserably. Costa reports that this is a universal difficulty for all Alzheimer’s people. These two functions cause the patient to become combative, angry, and hateful. In Peg’s case, I witnessed her coming apart on Dolly with aggressive shoving, wild swinging, and foul language delivered in a vicious tone I never heard come from her before.  For the past week I have been seriously deliberating firing Dolly in favor of someone who might be more compassionate and who knows how to redirect Peg when she digs in her heels.

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Dolly came to us through an agency  that deals exclusively with Eastern European immigrants. Dolly has been in the USA for 25 years, and has been caring for old people ever since.  She speaks English, is a permanent resident, but not a citizen. She never wanted a formal day off, but insisted on being able to cut out for several hours when she needed to run errands. She kept an apartment in Chicago even though she received room and board as part of her compensation. She  never wanted to be paid by check, only cash. My guess is that she is one of the many employed in the USA that enjoy the benefits but do not support the system.

As we began to get acquainted with her,  I learned a little about her back ground. She has a daughter, one grand daughter, and a husband still living in her homeland. With some quick math and a guess at her age she first came to America when she was thirty-five or forty. I wondered and still do about what kind of woman leaves her husband and her only child to come to America to make money? She professed to have a degree in Economics. That sounds great doesn’t it, but she now makes in a single day, what a person with a degree in economics makes in a month in her homeland.

Dolly went to her apartment three times in three weeks. Each time she returned with several bags of groceries from a homeland deli near where she lived. It didn’t matter if Peg and I didn’t like the foods she brought into the house, she needed these things to live, and American food is less nourishing than food from her homeland. On the very first day she spent with us the soup pot was on the stove loaded with beef bones. She simmered the bones for six hours. What happens when you do that is the broth becomes very thick and when it cools it becomes a gelatin loaded with collagen protein.

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I had to look this up, because Dolly also tried to convert me to her diet the whole time she was here. Collagen protein has numerous health benefits one of which is lubrication of the joints. The gel stuff is typical of East European countries. My parents made the same stuff. I remember watching Mom do it, except she used pigs feet and pigs knuckles as the bone source. My dad loved it. As healthy as collagen protein might have been for joints, Dad’s biggest problem in later years was worn out knees and hips. So much for the benefits of collagen protein on joint health. Dolly’s breakfast every morning consisted go six egg yolks and one egg white scrambled. Alongside was a generous slice of the gelatin concoction and a slab of unsalted butter, weird. She kept telling me to throw out all mine and Peg’s pills, and use her diet instead.

Her last shopping excursion happened last Friday. She came home with over a hundred dollars worth of exotic European food. One of them was about five pounds of a special blood sausage the Polish call kishka. As she unloaded her foods and hurriedly put them into the fridge she kept jabbering away about how American food is so lousy. I finally reached a reaction point, and calmly said, “you know Dolly, I often wonder why you came to America.” She was stunned. She looked at me and was speechless. Later that evening she declared she had to return to her apartment for something. Peg was in bed by then and I said fine. She returned a couple of hours later.

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The following morning I had a Lions Club function. I was prepping to leave at 9:20 to make it by ten. I had told this to both Peg and Dolly several times during the week. She came out of her room and declared she needed to go to Walgreen’s for something. I reminded her of my meeting, and asked if she could put it off until I returned at three. She looked at me with a dumb look. Peg needed my attention so I spent the next fifteen minutes with her. It was now time to leave. I searched the house for Dolly and could not find her. Her car was gone, I checked her closet and most of her clothing was gone too. She returned at 10:30 very apologetic telling me she got lost in Frankfort. By now, I was ready to let her go, but knew better than to make it happen before my day was finished.

The Lions had a booth at the Annual Frankfort Community Showcase. I was there to perform free vision screenings on kids. It was good day, we screened seventeen kids, our blood drive netted 22 pints of blood, and our Peace Poster display grabbed a lot of attention. I even recruited a potential member. Whenever I am at such an event, I look at my phone often to see if Peg has called. This day I had a call from the agency I hired Dolly through. Oh no, she beat me to it, I thought. I got home at two-thirty and the first words from her mouth was a story about having to leave immediately to return to the homeland to take care of her husband who needed heart surgery.

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Thankfully, the agency had a new lady lined up to fill Dolly’s void. The new lady is from yet another East European country. Today we went grocery shopping. I told her we shop at Jewel. She told me never shop at Jewel their produce is never fresh and their prices are too high. I facetiously said what about Mariano’s. She said, “oh yes they are the best.” They are also the most expensive, I thought to myself. She pushed Peg around in a transport chair as we shopped for her ethnic palate. Near the end she asked “are there any European deli’s around Frankfort?” Oh shit,” I said to myself, “here I go again.”

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After returning from Mariano’s I put all the groceries away and it occurred to me that I did not see the blood sausage. I triple checked all the fridge spaces and the freezers. Gone, the blood sausage was gone. The light went on, that’s why she went to her apartment on Friday. I got even though, because her final pay was a check.

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Who’s Got the Kishka?

 

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