My Dementia Diary 20 – Surrendering

Some goodbyes are more difficult than others. Some are ultimate and final. Youth seldom recognizes such moments. I don’t remember the last time I saw my grandfather. Busy with my seemingly endless life, I just realized one day, I’d never visit with him again.

With age comes perspective, the broader vision of experience, the knowing that a change that has happened signals an ending.

Blindness was such a moment. I knew and deeply felt that my life would never be the same again. I knew that huge pieces of me, the things that had defined me, were gone. yes, this was absolutely mind blowing and left me numb and depressed for months. Eventually, I began to adapt, to re-invent my life. Never once did my wife stop loving me or lose her cheer, even as she began losing her mind.

Now, some years into our altered journey, I wonder about our parallel disabilities. I wonder how being forced to surrender my previous active, get out and go everywhere lifestyle, has enabled me to be a more complete and compassionate partner for my wife as her mental disabilities have deteriorated.

Our mutual disabilities have forced us into a much simpler lifestyle than I’d imagined would ever be our case. Yet, in this simplicity, in this smallness, has come a richness, a deeper appreciation of the details of the world around us, little things we look forward to. Hummingbirds at the feeder. Greetings from neighbors as we walk by. the fragrant scents of Spring flowers. The sounds of children playing in the schoolyard. Roses outside our door.

Surrendering once seemed to signal a finality to good, an ending that no other beginning could replace.

But, indeed, there have come new beginnings, each with its own richness and so the wonder of being continues to amaze me.

tio stib

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The Lost American Porch

I once lived in a small town
in a small house with a front porch
a sheltered space protecting the entry door
a spot where I would hang out
sitting on a chair, sometimes the steps
drink a beer or lemonade
and simply enjoy the world passing by

a horn would honk, a friendly wave
kids would call out as they passed on their bicycles
neighbors walking dogs, hurrying home from work
“Hello!” 
“Good evening!”
“Nice to feel summer again.”
“Yes, aren’t the roses beautiful?”
“How’s your garden?”
“Beans and peas are up.”
“Going fishing Saturday?”
“Yup.”

these words and waves were the gold threads 
that wove a sense of connectedness , a feeling of belonging
through my life, a fabric seen and felt but not recognized in the moment

I’ve since moved, to bigger places, more complicated worlds
houses that now greet the street with cavernous carports
yawning doorways for cars beside small openings seldom used by people
and these places lack porches, no commitment to connect to the outside world
no attempt to simply sit and watch, to hear, to feel the pulse of community

I do miss the lost American porch

I miss the Americans who used to wave and talk as they passed by

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 19 – Babbling

At times, I’ve heard my young nieces, intent on playing with their dolls, babbling as they travel in imaginary worlds. This is quite normal for girls of their age. Not so for my wife, well into her sixties, who now talks incessantly to no one. She babbles.

If I work to understand what she’s saying, there are fragments of reality woven into larger stories. Mostly, though, her words are simply chatter, nothing that makes any kind of sense.

The good news is that her babbling is happy, sometimes she’s even laughing and whistling as she patters about. I’m quite glad about this because it’s obviously much easier to live with a joyful person than one who is angry and upset.

still, I do think about what is happening to her mind, the continuing deterioration of memory, the further separation from reality. then, I stop. Overthinking our situation does me no good. I’ve found it best to simply appreciate the blessings we still enjoy.

I count joyful babbling as one of those blessings.

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 18 – The last Posole’ Party

this past weekend, my wife and I had a posole’ party for friends and neighbors. Posole’ is a traditional Mexican soup served for special occasions and we’ve hosted such gatherings many times. When we first started doing this, my wife would prepare the posole’ from a recipe she’d learned from her mom. As her mind has deteriorated, I’ve picked up more and more of the process until, now, I’m the cook, and my wife the assistant.

Part of the challenge is procuring groceries, a process requiring us to walk downhill to the store and lug the needed items back up the hill. There is always a second trip because I always forget something. I put these efforts down to healthy exercise. The larger difficulty is emotional and mental, staying patient and caring as my wife becomes more and more anxious about the coming event, asking the same questions again and again. Who’s coming? When are they coming? Why are they coming? Who’s coming?…

As much as she enjoys the thought of company, she is also fearful that someone is going to take her things, so she begins to hide and cover them up. Still, we got through this and by mid afternoon the posole’ is simmering on the stove, our home filled with the sumptuous aroma of good things cooking. My wife is excited but needs hugs and assurance that all is well. 

Guests eventually arrive amidst smiles and laughter and all gather around to share a delicious meal and the opportunity to connect with each other again. My wife is happy, basking in all the love of the moment. Yet, I notice that she is not able to enter into conversation, most topics are too confusing for her. She retreats to the kitchen to do dishes, babbling joyfully to herself.

The evening winds down, friends depart, my wife and I hug, feeling good for the party’s success, but too tired to clean up after it. 

As I sat sipping tea the following morning while my wife engaged in her favorite pastime, adult coloring books, I reflected. yes, the previous night’s event had gone wonderfully well and it had been a great gathering. My wife had enjoyed it. Yet, I was beat. Certainly, the effort had been worth it, but would I ever want to do it again? perhaps it’s time to quit on a high note.

Time will tell.

tio stib

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Lumpy Gravy, thoughts on writing Well

I’m working on the rewrite of a chapter in a new book and in spite of hours of effort, when I pause to listen to what I’ve written, it sounds like lumpy gravy.

Yes, I realize that gravy doesn’t talk, sing, or make any other noise, but it still seems the perfect metaphor for my imperfect words. In case you’re not familiar with gravy and, in particular, lumpy gravy, a brief description-

Gravy is a sauce made from cooked meat juices, stock, and other ingredients. One ingredient is flour, which is used to thicken the sauce. When the flour is added incorrectly, the result is lumpy gravy, little balls of unmixed flour in the sauce, a culinary no-no. Like good writing, I believe creating good gravy, a sumptuously smooth sauce, is a combination of rigorous practicality and delicate art.

My own experience is that lumpy gravy usually results from hurrying, compromising time and care because of impatience, setting an unrealistic timeline for creating something that simply cannot be rushed. There is a proper order and way to add and mix ingredients. don’t do this and you get lumps.

what are the lumps in my writing? Words and phrases that don’t sound right, feel out of place, don’t fit the desired style, don’t truly support the theme. Adverbs and adjectives that were easy to insert but, upon reflection, don’t add anything. 

What I write seldom comes out smooth and lump free the first time. Admittedly, I rarely succeed at creating lump free gravy either. In cooking, there are two ways to fix this, stir or whisk much more, or, something few will admit to, strain the gravy through a sieve to remove the lumps. 

This is what rewriting is all about, the writer’s process of removing the lumps from his work through careful consideration, in my case, listening as I can’t see what I’ve written. Often I brainstorm words, sentences, even paragraphs. with the magic power of today’s word processing technology and my text reader friend, Alex voiceOver, I can quickly try and listen to many options, until I hear something that is smooth and feels right. And on I move to the next paragraph.

Ultimately, I’m the cook in my word kitchen and I know, that unless what I’ve written passes my taste test, unless I’ve taken the time, done the work, to make perfect, lump free, gravy, those words can’t leave the kitchen.

tio stib

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Excuses

damn sick, you know, that awful flu
slipped and fell on doggy do
triple booked, what could I do
have you met the new guy, Lew
slipped out to sip a little brew
Giants lost, the Seahawks too
burned the Sunday evening stew
blame it on my low I.Q.
what’s with all the ballyhoo
just what did I promise you

really

what else is new

tio stib
2017, 2018

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My Dementia Diary 17 – Hiding the Cookies

My wife’s mind forgets many things but not cookies. when we enter the grocery store, “cookies?” is the first word off her lips, and she knows exactly where to find them in the bakery. Admittedly, I too have a fondness for such sweets, especially the chocolate chip ones, which is why cookies often find their way into our grocery bag.

The challenge comes when we return home, when we must resist the urge to eat all the sweets at once. I’ve tried rationing them, handing out a small amount each day, but, I soon discovered that the cookies were disappearing faster than my rationing had anticipated. Obviously, they were being eaten at other times. Obviously, my wife’s cookie needs were overriding my desire to limit caloric intake.

I decided to hide the cookie tin. First, I placed it in the cupboard, behind the cereal. The cookies kept disappearing. then, I put the tin on top of the refrigerator, assuming my wife would not see them. A few minutes later, she came up and offered me several. It’s hard to be secretive in a single room apartment.

My latest hiding place is in the oven, an appliance we never use. So far, the cookie stash has remained a secret, and the tin may even last the week. Apparently, the phrase “out of sight, out of mind,” bears some truth.

However, I no longer can blame my wife for the continuing cookie disappearance.

tio stib

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