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.

On the way to Albany

Leave it to natural urges to force me to discover a gorgeous place on the way to my husband’s nursing home in Albany. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I pledged to explore new places along the way. Needing a restroom bad, I pulled off Highway 99W at Hyak Park, a Benton County park about a mile south of Albany. It’s right on the Willamette River, which that day was flowing bottle green under blue skies. In addition to a boat launching site, it offers a wonderful picnic area, a fascinating bridge, and an old tower that must date from the years before 1971 when the park was the Adair Water Intake Park of the Adair Air Force Base. As I walked in the grass, tiny flies flew up around my feet, but they didn’t bother me. I checked out the viewing platforms and could have stared at the river all day.

I have no doubt there’ll be more stops along Highway 99. Not only are there numerous parks with bathrooms, but the area is full of flower nurseries, farms, and old barns that scream “take my picture”.

In a few minutes, I was in the heart of Albany, trying to remember which street requires that I suddenly merge left or wind up at the police station, and then I was at Timberwood Court, where everyone was dressed in red, white and blue for the Fourth of July party. Balloons bobbed around every table in the picnic area, and hamburgers were coming off the barbecue while staff scurried around slathering sun tan lotion on the residents. It was hot! I provided the entertainment, singing and playing guitar. I pulled out my patriotic songs, even the Star Spangled Banner, which I should have pitched a little lower. As I saw that high note coming up, I thought, uh-oh, but I took a deep breath and went for it. No big round of applause like at the football games, but nobody complained either. It was a nice party, which included many family members of the residents.

Where will I stop this week? Wait and see.

It’s an interesting life

Life has been interesting since we last met. Okay, it’s always interesting, but perhaps more interesting. For example, I had a colonoscopy last Thursday, which I am not about to discuss. If you don’t know what it is, Google it. As everyone says, the preparation is worse than the procedure. So true. But I do have a question: How come my husband got a muffin and coffee after his cataract surgery, and all I got was a tiny can of orange juice? He didn’t even have to fast for two days. Which leads to another question. I was going over insurance statements and discovered that the hospital billed over $200 for Fred’s post-op supplies. What was in that muffin?
Somebody ripped off 15 copies of my book Stories Grandma Never Told between the South Beach Post Office and the Seattle Bulk Mail Center. They sent back my box with a note and all the packing material inside. If the box had simply broken open, wouldn’t the packing material be gone, too? Meanwhile, I had a miffed distributor waiting in California and sent 15 more copies via priority mail. They arrived on Monday. He’s still miffed. I’m out $300. I hate to imagine what happened to the other books. Are they lying in a dumpster somewhere?
I have a new gig writing for a new airline mag for SeaPort Airlines, which recently started flying out of Newport. Suddenly I have to, like, work, but my first assignment is a story on the local lighthouses. Such hard duty going out to Yaquina Head on a warm, sunny afternoon to take notes and shoot pictures. But it is going to be a scramble to get four stories done by June 30.
I made my first post-move visit to my husband at Timberwood Court Memory Care Center in Albany, OR. It’s almost two hours each way. I’m stocking up on books on CD. Fred is settling in well at his new home. It’s a great place, with lots of activities, loving caregivers, tasteful d├ęcor and delicious food. But it isn’t home, and it’s almost two hours away from where I live, so I can’t visit nearly as often as I used to visit him at Graceland. Fred has forgotten so much, and he will soon forget me. Save the pity party; it’s just fact. It will be easier for him when that happens. For me, no, but that’s life.

I have resolved to stop on each trip to see something I haven’t seen before. I’ll report back, with photos.
On the way to Albany, I finally got my guitar in for servicing at Bullfrog Music Owner Kurt Dietrich has moved the store to 423 SW Third Street, so when you’re coming into Corvallis from the coast, it’s easy to find, easy to park, and, praise God, it’s in the same building with a Subway restaurant and public restrooms, everything a wandering musician needs. Plus Kurt loves to talk music, jam, teach, and sell guitars and mandolins. He promised I would fall in love with my Martin all over again. I believe him. Meanwhile, I bought myself a new Roland amp I can’t wait to plug into. It’s easy to carry, has all the bells and whistles I want and will make me sound so good.
My dog Chico has found a new place to jump the fence, and he has escaped four times in the last week. The neighbors are getting used to helping me corral him. Sometimes even a dog treat won’t stop him. He just loves to run, and I’m certainly getting my exercise chasing him around the neighborhood, calling, “Here Chico, Chic, Chic, Chic, cookies.” I’ll walk for blocks, then suddenly see him fly by, foot-long tongue hanging out, teeth showing in a big doggy grin as he zooms past me. When I finally leash him up, he shows no remorse. Sixteen months old and counting.

Fred is happy in his new home

Miracles do happen. Fred’s transition to the Timberwood Court Memory Care Center was a smooth one. He was ready to go when I got to Graceland, and we hit the road. It’s 74 miles, so he started saying, “This is far.” Then it occurred to him we might be going to see his doctor, who is in Corvallis. He got a little worried when we passed that exit, but I assured him we were going the right way. Nonstop ’50s music on XM Radio helped us both relax. How can you be stressed when you’re singing “Lollipop, Lollipop” or screaming with Little Richard?

At Timberwood, the staff greeted him like royalty and quickly enveloped him in their world. Because he spent his career working in recreation, they plan to have him help with their activities. They have also sucked me into playing music for them. While they entertained Fred, I got his room put together. The furniture arrived during lunch, so it soon felt like home. At 2:00, Fred boarded the Timberwood bus for a field trip to a nearby historic site and I quietly slipped away.

This morning, the director reported that he shed no tears, stayed up late talking to new friends, and slept soundly all night. Hallelujah.

Me, I was chasing an escaped dog in the dark for an hour last night, and I had shed quite a few tears by the time I finally got him home. Today I’m enjoying a quiet day at my desk. At least it was quiet until the thunder started a few minutes ago. Maybe I’ll put off our dog walk a little longer and turn off the computer before the power goes out.

Search ends in Albany

Today was my last day with my husband Fred in Newport. Tomorrow I’m taking him to an Alzheimer’s care home in Albany, OR where I hope he will be happier and better cared for. It had reached the point where he sobbed every day and wandered every night. A week ago, he walked right out the door and down the road. I’ve learned the official term for that; it’s called “elopement.” No harm was done. Grace of the Graceland adult foster care home found him and convinced him to come back for dinner, but it was a sign that it was time to do something.

I spent last Thursday and Friday driving for hours from one “home” to another in the Salem and Corvallis areas. It was hot, I was late everywhere I went, and after a while everyone looked demented to me. But Timberwood seems to have everything I was looking for: a caring staff, lively residents, great activities all day long, wonderful food, a nurse on duty every day, and an attractive private room. But it is a locked facility. It is an institution. It is a pretty prison.

And it’s two hours away.

Today, after I packed my husband’s clothes and pictures and CDs in suitcases and boxes, we sat on the grass on the hill behind Graceland, looking over the new greenhouse Fred helped build, past the neighbor’s red barn to the ocean. We played with the house dog, Lucy, and we kissed and held hands and snuggled. Fred was full of questions like “How will I get there?” and “Where will you sleep?” “I’m anxious,” he kept saying. I doubt he’ll sleep much tonight. Perhaps he’ll do one more naked show at 2 a.m. But tomorrow he’ll be in good hands. Just not mine.

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