Mary’s gone, John showed up

To follow up on last week’s post about the nursing home, Mary did pass away last week. Fred had no idea someone died so close to his room, although he has a vague memory of paramedics coming. When I walked by on Friday, the room was empty except for a portable heater, a decoration on the wall and a tiny cat bed with a stuffed toy cat sitting on the floor. By the next time I visit, the staff will have eradicated the big water stain on the carpet and someone else will be moving in. That’s how it goes at Timberwood.

John the musician, who didn’t come last week, was there on Friday, and I have to say he is wonderful. I need to get his last name and find out if he has any CDs. I will let you know. His voice, his guitar playing and his patter with this somewhat difficult audience are outstanding. We all enjoyed singing along. It’s amazing how people with dementia may not be able to talk or even remember the names of their loved ones, yet they remember all the words of the songs. Music is magic, and I’m glad I can offer some of that magic sometimes.

Small blessings

The entertainer, “John,” didn’t show up at the nursing home on Friday. Westy, the new assistant activities director, was on her own for the first time. She plays a little piano and tried to get the organ going, but didn’t get far. Having brought my fake book and piano glasses, just in case, I jumped on the organ and played. I don’t play the organ either. I just played the lower register and tried to keep my feet off the pedals. Music at Timberwood doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be enthusiastic.

A younger woman, Sherri, who’s Jean’s daughter, joined me, and we sang together. Fred and Jean hung nearby, singing along.

Loy, who is always shouting obscenities, actually said, “Hey, that’s good.” A miracle. Somebody else grumbled, “You can’t sleep around here with all that music.” Oh well.

As we finished, one of the aides asked me to go to Room 104. Mary Lavelle’s daughter wanted to know about my blog, but she didn’t want to leave her mother’s room. Mary was dying. Coming in, I had noticed the furniture moved around. They were planning to move her to a hospital bed. But when I ducked into that darkened room and saw how close to death she was, I doubted Mary would live long enough to change beds.

It was dark and quiet in Room 104, on the other side of the building from where we had been joyously singing old show tunes. Watching Louise hold her mother’s hand, one could see everything in her face: fear, grief at losing her mother, relief that the years of suffering for both of them would soon be over, anger that this had to happen.

Everyone is on the same cycle of life, but it seems accelerated at Timberwood. Poor Viola, whom I wrote about last week, spent a couple days in the hospital. They thought she had a heart attack, but Friday she was back, walking around bent over like the letter R, carrying her purse and her Bible, saying she had to go home. Again.

Fred sat staring into space when I arrived. Slowly, as he recognized me, he smiled, reaching for me, his eyes wet with tears. We hugged. He smelled bad, but I have learned to ignore it.

I took Fred to Sweet Waters Family Restaurant for lunch. He had hash and eggs, I had a BLT and salad. Every bite tasted so crisp and fresh and wonderful to me. I’m appreciating small blessings these days. We splurged on pie: lemon meringue for Fred, peanut butter fudge for me. You don’t get to do that sort of thing at the nursing home. We lingered there a long time.

We didn’t talk much, although he did ask why he had to stay at Timberwood. I reminded him of his Alzheimer’s and his need for more care than I can give. “Oh yes,” he said, sighing. His hands have started to shake more violently, and it’s getting difficult for him to hold a coffee cup or maneuver a fork. I don’t want to think about what will happen next.

Fred has forgotten my name, but he still knows he loves me. We hold hands and hug a lot. We sing along with the radio, and I tell stories to make him laugh. Friday the sun was shining on his bedspread in such a way that we could make shadow puppets, and that made him laugh, too. Laughter, music and touch hold us together. For now.

As I drove away on I-5, I could see the sun coming through a rain cloud and the rays spreading over the fields. Another small blessing.

Where Did They Go?

“It breaks my heart,” one of the aides told me yesterday as we watched the aftereffects of an early Thanksgiving dinner at the memory care center/aka nursing home where my husband Fred lives. The dinner itself was beautiful, with lots of family members joining their impaired loved ones. We ate our turkey dinners off paper plates with plastic utensils, but it didn’t matter if it wasn’t the family china and silver or that some of the residents needed to be spoon fed. It was a party.

Most of the guests left right after lunch. Perhaps they had arrived earlier. Coming from the coast, almost two hours away, I barely made it in time for the meal and missed the piano music that preceded it. The parking lot was full when I got there, but within an hour, there were plenty of empty spaces.

Among those who remained behind were a couple I assume were the daughter and son-in-law of sweet old woman who walks bent over like the letter R. I’ll call her Viola to protect their privacy. They sat together on the couch for a long time, but then Viola’s loved ones were ready to leave, too. Apparently they have practiced this maneuver before. Viola is amazingly smart at Scrabble, but she is always talking about going home, so perhaps the truth would have created a bigger problem.

This sweet young aide asked Viola to come with her for a minute to help with something.

“No, we’re leaving,” said Viola.

“It’ll only take a minute, and I really need your help,” said the girl.

“Well, all right.” And the aide led Viola off to another room while her daughter and son-in-law hurried to the exit.

When poor Viola returned, they were gone. She couldn’t understand. She searched everywhere for them, saying, “They wouldn’t leave without me.” For over an hour, she walked around the building, bent at a right angle, whimpering her daughter’s name. “Lynn, Lynn.” That’s when the aide said it broke her heart. It broke mine, too.

After a while, Viola started talking about walking home. “I’ll have to walk. It’s 14 miles, but I have to go home. I’ve got my purse and my Bible. I’m all ready. I just don’t know how they could leave me like this.”

Would it really have been worse to tell her the truth? By the time I left, she was playing Scrabble with the activities director, but I could see her looking around, still wondering how her daughter could just leave her like that.

Meanwhile, another woman was having a tantrum, a man kept yelling and trying to hit people, and another woman pushed a wheelchair over a lady’s red, swollen toes. Mary, who sat closest to me as we watched “Anne of Green Gables” on the big-screen TV, kept saying, “Hi, Hon,” complaining that her back hurt and asking if she could go home with me. “In a few minutes. After the movie,” I lied. An aide came by and she started up with her. “Hi, Hon.”

Thank God Fred accepts my departures. Sometimes he cries, but he understands that I have to go. I hold my tears until I get to the car. I don’t even see the first 20 miles.
Alzheimer’s Disease, suffered by 5.3 million Americans, is the sixth leading cause of death, and it’s a terrible way to go. If you don’t know what to buy someone for Christmas, consider a donation in their name to the Alzheimer’s Association,

%d bloggers like this: