My Dementia Diary 12 – My Grandfather’s Clock

There is a clock sitting on the shelf near our bed. It belonged to my mom’s dad and was passed on to me, making it my grandfather’s clock. Over a hundred years old, this timepiece is relatively small, meant to be set on a fireplace mantle, but it has a surprisingly vibrant chime. There are no batteries within, its mechanism driven by a coiled brass spring, which I wind weekly with a dozen turns of a key. For this effort, I am rewarded with a melodious chime counting out each and every hour.

I take comfort from these chimes, from the tick-tock of the ever swinging pendulum, an aroused awareness that time is now. I wonder if my grandfather, my mother, other family members, felt a similar connection.

I’ve lived more than 600,000 hours so far, a surprising number when I attempt to remember the breadth of my life experience. what happened to all those hours? The more important question, what will I do with the hours I have left?

Each tick of that clock is a moment I will never have again.

How many more chimes are left in my life?

How blessed I am to have had so many hours of being.

As my wife sleeps peacefully beside me, I again find comfort in the tick-tock of time, past, present, and future, and I drift away in hopes of hearing the morning chimes once more.

There’s an old folk song that beautifully expresses my sentiments, perfectly named, “My Grandfather’s Clock.” Here’s a link to a Johnny cash rendition

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 11 – Morning Bliss

After several weeks of blustery cool and wet weather, today dawned warm with azure skies. We started out on our daily walk with one less layer of clothes. I’d even gone so far as abandoning my jeans for shorts. The Spring air, the melodies of newly arrived songbirds, my wife’s constant flow of delighted descriptions of happenings around us, was blissful.

I was suddenly struck with how fortunate we are to have the life we live, a peaceful and safe town closely connected to Nature, nearby friends and convenient walking access to all our daily needs, a comfortable and affordable home.

Given the challenges dementia and blindness present us, it’s hard to imagine how we could have a better living situation.

On top of these blessings, is the gift of still being able to share the simple joys of living in such a perfect place with my wife. True, we no longer have any sort of deep intellectual conversations, yet we can enjoy the little things. Ice cream cones and hot dogs. Tea and cookies. Hummingbirds at the feeder. the honks of Canada geese flying overhead. The smell of the beach at low tide. The laughs of children at the playground. “Hllos” and “How are yous” with neighbors and passersby.

My wife has become my eyes. through her childlike curiosity and delight, I am able to enjoy the world around us.

For this, I am deeply grateful.

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 10 – Where’s the Spatula?

Blindness has changed how I operate in the kitchen. Spontaneity has been replaced with disciplined order. When preparing a meal, I first seek and lay out all I will need on the counter. This avoids frantic searches at critical moments, like where the heck is the pasta as the water is boiling over.

My wife’s dementia has added a wrinkle to this process. In her desire to help out, she follows behind and cleans up after me. I’ll be cooking hot cereal on the stove, turn to pour it into bowls I’d previously placed on the counter, only to find the counter empty. She has put everything I’d laid out away.

I certainly can’t fault her intentions. She wants to feel like she’s helping out, an important part of our life. The first time this happened, I was puzzled, wondering if I was losing it. Then, I was frustrated when I realized what she’d done. Finally, I started laughing, hit by the comical nature of what was going on.

There is another twist that is happening more and more. She has begun putting things in what I first thought are strange places.

Based on the afore mentioned cooking process, I was making pancakes. As you likely know, this process involves pouring the batter into a frying pan and then, at the appropriate moment, flipping the pancake over to cook the other side. To do this, you need a flipper, commonly called a spatula. the moment came when I needed to flip the pancake and I turned to grab the spatula. My hand searched the empty countertop.

It wasn’t there.

“Where’s the spatula?”

I often forget that asking a person with short term memory loss where something is will not result in a helpful answer. this time was no exception.

I opened the one drawer in our kitchen that serves as home for silverware and utensils and frantically rummaged around to find the spatula.

It wasn’t there.

At this point, my nose told me that there had been a death in the frying pan, my dreamed of pancake was now charcoal. Resigned to temporary defeat, I tossed the crispy breakfast failure into the garbage and resumed the hunt for the spatula.

I eventually found it, and its location was logical in a functional way. My wife’s mind had chosen to put the spatula down with the frying pans instead of in the utensil drawer. That makes some sense, although in the immediate moment, I was not so broad minded. Since that episode, I’ve come to expect such things. Bowls no longer end up on the shelf with other dishware, but in the cupboard beside the cereal. Dish clothes end up hanging on the dining room chairs. No, I have yet to come up with any logic here.

Fortunately, our studio apartment is quite compact and when I’m unable to find something, I’m comforted by the knowledge that it’s somewhere close. The other blessing is that as my hands search for missing things, they often discover other misplaced items. Finding stuff has become a treasure hunt.

I’ve also learned to put the spatula on the stove when it’s going to be needed, knowing my kitchen helper will be less tempted to hide it from me.

The adventure continues!

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 9 – Adventure Buddies

She never says, “No.”

My wife has been the perfect adventure buddy. No matter what I suggest, no matter where we go, she never says, “No.” Instead, she embraces the moment, delights in new experiences, finds joy in whatever we’re doing.

Let’s go camp on top of Mt. diablo and watch the sunset.

Let’s go.

How about we take the train to Klamath falls and go fly fishing/

Let’s go.

I need a break, do you feel like a sandwich at the deli?

Let’s go.

Cars, planes, trains, new people, new places, new adventures.

Let’s go!

I often smile as those memories drift thru my mind. Blindness and dementia now limit our travel radius, but she still never says, “no.”

She always answers, “let’s go!”

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 8 – Sometimes She Knows

She cried last night. She was afraid. Something was unsettled in her mind, but she could not explain it. I hugged her close and kept whispering that I loved her. Slowly, my wife began to relax and eventually fell asleep.

I lay awake and thought about what had just happened. My wife and I have never talked about her dementia, her failing mind. Months ago, when I realized what was happening, I’d wanted to have that conversation, but, by then, it was too late. Her brain could not grasp dementia rationally. Instead, she became angry, upset because she thought I was criticizing her. I’ve not mentioned the subject since. Yet part of her knows that something is wrong.

Sometimes, in the middle of another conversation, she will stop and ask me, “what’s happening? What’s the matter?”

And I hug her even tighter.

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 7 – The Marvelous Mind

It is estimated that the human mind processes from 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts each day, 35-50 thoughts each minute. All this happens within a mass of about 3 pounds that has over 100 billion neurons fed by 400 miles of blood vessels. No wonder the human brain demands more energy, about 20 percent, than any other body organ.

As marvelous as our brain is, we often take it for granted.

Until it stops working.

Until some neurons stop firing, and a person can’t count backwards from ten anymore.

Until something short circuits, and the brain doesn’t remember who was just on the phone.

Until someone starts stuttering, unable to find the right words they want to say.

Until reality becomes a series of fragmented stories.

Then, we stop taking the marvelous mind for granted. Then we wonder how after spending millions of dollars and countless hours researching dementia, scientists still do not have a single drug that can cure or even help with this condition.

Then we scream in frustration as we watch the person we love fall farther and farther away from us.

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 6 – A Shared Life

“for better for worse, in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part.”

These thoughts are part of many marriage ceremonies, I’ve committed to them myself. Yet, until recently, I’ve never fully grasped their significance.

In the past, the bumps on our life road were never terminal, there was always a way out, there was always tomorrow, things would get better, time was on our side.

That’s not our reality now. Alzheimer’s dementia is no game of the day, not a trivial illness that will go away, we’ve now entered a path that is one way only, and it well end only one way.

Most of us take all measures to avoid the subject of death and dying. In younger years, I was certainly that way. However, later in life, death has knocked on my door several times and I’ve learned to open my heart and appreciate the gift of being with other’s as they end their life journey. Is this tough work? Beyond words. But, so are the rewards.

Being blind has humbled me. Blindness took away many freedoms, many activities and experiences I often took for granted. Our life now, our shared life, is simple. There are no complicated agendas, no long “to do” lists. We get up and enjoy the wonders of a new day. I listen as my wife delights in describing hummingbirds hovering at the feeder, as she greets passersby and talks to children, and reminds me we have to buy more cookies.

Our shared life has become a series of special days. Our special days have become a series of precious moments.

tio stib

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