A few months ago I posted about the chaotic season of travel into which Wendy and I were entering. Don’t get me wrong. It’s all good stuff! Nevertheless, the coming and going have left us grasping for even a few nuggets of normalcy and routine. We are on the downhill side of our gauntlet of travels. It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update. So, away we go…
Two weeks after our daughter, Madison’s, wedding weekend in South Carolina, Wendy and I flew to Mazatlan, Mexico. Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, got married to Emmanuel (a.k.a. Chino) in a gorgeous sunset wedding right on the shore of the Pacific. It was an amazing, multi-cultural event. Chino’s family speaks little or no English. Our family speaks very little Spanish. Nevertheless, there was no shortage of love, laughter, and warmth as we celebrated their wedding.
Our family rented a large condo right on the beach with lots of bedrooms and living space. I will say that the accommodations were in desperate need of updating, but it was still very comfortable. There was a lovely view of the ocean and the sounds of the surf resonated non-stop. When we opened both the doors to the condo and the patio doors to the balcony there was a constant ocean breeze that blew through the living area. It was really lovely.
On Friday evening we hosted the wedding rehearsal in our condo. A large contingent of both family and friends from Suzanna and Chino’s YWAM (Youth With A Mission) base gathered. Chino’s mother made an amazing, authentic Mexican meal for everyone. There was lots of love, laughter, and joy as Suzanna and Chino blended their worlds and prepared for their big day.
One of my favorite memories of the weekend was making multiple Walmart runs with my father-in-law. He desperately wanted some heavy cream for his coffee, but how do you say “heavy cream” in Spanish? We were shown the shelves of Coffee-Mate creamers (sorry, that’s not it) and found several cream products in the dairy case, but which one is the right one? It was a hoot.
The wedding day dawned and the condo was overrun with females. Cakes, flowers, dresses, and various other wedding accouterments were being baked, decorated, assembled, judged, revised, and improvised (rinse and repeat). I slipped onto the balcony with a cup of coffee and stayed out of the way.
The wedding venue was the courtyard of a home along the pacific shore north of Mazatlan. Wendy had joined Suzanna and the wedding party in getting their early. I joined my in-laws, including Aunt Barb, in a YWAM people mover with lots of young people (some of them holding cakes on their laps). As the people mover took off my mother-in-law pointed to the driver and asked me, “Does he know where he’s going?” I remember thinking, “I certainly hope so because I definitely don’t know where we’re going and I don’t speak Spanish!” All was well.
The outdoor venue was beautiful and the wedding began as the sun was setting in the Pacific Ocean behind the wedding couple. I had very little do to with anything, but Suzanna did ask me for suggestions of music to play as the bridesmaids and groomsmen entered. Suzanna asked me for something kind of moody and bluesy. I immediately suggested a song which she immediately loved. What she didn’t realize was that the song (I am Yours by Tracy Chapman) was one of the songs Wendy and played at our wedding. Suzanna was in our wedding, but I forgive her for not remembering. She was, like, ten years old. Anyway, it was awesome that the song began just as Wendy and her groomsman escort started towards the front. I got some nice looks from Wendy. She and I enjoyed the moment, for sure.
After the ceremony, we enjoyed a lovely catered meal as the sunset behind the wedding party. Wendy gave her sister a lovely toast (by that time she needed a little iPhone flashlight to see her notes). The dance was really a lot of fun. There may be cultural differences between the U.S. and Mexico, but everyone loves a wedding dance whether the music is Tejano or R&B. I even was blessed to get in a step or two with the beautiful bride that I’ll always treasure.
Here’s a gallery of photos from Mazatlan (Keep scrolling! There’s MORE afterwards!)
Christmas in London, New Year’s in Dublin
It seemed that we had no sooner gotten home than we were packing again. This time we were heading across the pond for Christmas with Taylor, Clayton, and our grandson, Milo. Taylor’s friend, who lives in London, offered her flat to us for the holidays. Wendy and I flew out of Des Moines on the 23rd (DSM-ORD-DUB-LHR) and arrived in London early on the 24th.
It was really a wonderful week together. We went to the annual Christmas concert at Royal Albert Hall and Milo was transfixed… for about ten minutes. It really was a cool event. We made it just past intermission before Milo throwing his cars at fellow concert-goers prompted us to beat the rush and head home.
We went for walks. We played in the park. Taylor made a wonderful Christmas meal complete with figgy pudding (ugh!) and brandy butter (yum!). We played Christmas games (balance an orange on your forehead for a minute), and binged the second season of Fleabag.
A lot of the week was simply spent enjoying one another’s company, but Taylor did a nice job of planning an itinerary that included about one event per day. We went to see the Christmas lights at Kew Gardens (spectacular). The adults got away for the Harry Potter studio tour at Warner Brothers (fantastic), and also got away for a show on the West End (The Play that Goes Wrong). Wendy and I found a pub that was playing the Iowa State vs. Notre Dame bowl game (depressing). It was a great week of just getting to spend time together with this trio that we miss so much.
Wendy and I flew out of London City airport on the 30th and made the short flight to Dublin. Our anniversary is New Year’s Eve, so we figured it would be a lot of fun to celebrate our 14th year of wedding bliss with a pint o’ Guinness on the Emerald Isle. Regretfully, our time there was far too short. We were blessed to have a room at the Westin, which is an old bank building. The hotel bar was in the old bank vaults in the basement. It was really pretty cool.
We didn’t arrive until late afternoon on the 30th. After settling in we took a stroll up Grafton Street and stopped to buy Wendy a charm for her bracelet to mark the occasion. We enjoyed a pint at the Stag’s Head pub, a place I’d enjoyed when I was in Dublin twenty years ago. We had dinner at the Exchequer before making our way back to the hotel for a night cap.
On New Year’s Eve day we took a hop-on hop-off bus tour of Dublin which allowed us to get a good overview of the sites. It also allowed Wendy to start planning our next trip to Dublin (“We are coming back here,” she informed me). We ate lunch at the Brazen Head Pub (which opened for business in the year 1098… that’s not a typo). We ended up back in the old bank vaults for a nibble and great conversation with the eclectic patrons sitting with us.
Just before midnight, we walked the block or two up to the River Liffey where thousands of revelers crowded the streets and we kissed in the year 2020 as fireworks exploded overhead.
Then we quickly high-tailed it back to the hotel and went to bed.
For the record, the last six weeks have been a non-stop whirlwind of travel both business and personal. And, that is going to continue for the next six weeks or so. Thus, my general lack of blog posts. I’m warning any of my regular readers that there may be more periodic interruptions to come through mid-February.
The BIGGEST event of late that I have yet to post about was our daughter, Madison’s, wedding in South Carolina on Nov 23rd. Here’s the down-low.
Wendy and I rented a house in Columbia for a week before the wedding so that Wendy could make six cheesecakes for the reception. Taylor, Clayton, and Milo arrived the same day as Wendy. It was the first time we’ve seen our grandson in almost a year, so getting a week with Milo was a big deal for us. I, however, had a business trip early that week and didn’t join the fam until late Wednesday night. Ironically, our friends Kev and Beck were on my flight from O’Hare to Columbia, so they were able to give me a lift to the rental house upon arrival, which was a treat.
Madison’s husband, Garrett, is a hometown boy from Columbia who played offensive line for the University of South Carolina Gamecocks back in the day (FYI: He played against Iowa in the 2009 Outback Bowl in which Iowa prevailed 31-10. I don’t really talk about this. He’s a very large man.). On Thursday afternoon Garrett gave all the guys a tour of the UofSC training facility along with a quick stop on the field of Williams-Brice Stadium. It was quite an eye-opener to get a behind-the-scenes look at Division 1 SEC football. Wow!
For those who are wondering, Garrett went to training camp with the Green Bay Packers but didn’t get signed. He played Arena league ball, including a brief stint with the Iowa Barnstormers.
The Columbia Museum of Art also had a rather rare exhibition of works by Van Gogh alongside works of other artists that inspired and informed his own paintings. It was kind of a cool opportunity to take that in with the kids late on Thursday afternoon.
On Thursday evening the whole family went out for barbeque before retiring back to the house to put Milo down and watch a few episodes of the new season of The Crown.
The wedding and reception were held at a historic southern mansion and gardens called Seibels House. Wedding ceremony outside in the garden. Reception inside as well as under a tent outside. The weather forecast had been iffy all week and the family all pitched in to set up chairs and tables in the rain on Friday as we prayed for a break in the rain to at least get the ceremony in the following afternoon. Wendy’s folks arrived in the afternoon and spent a few hours with us.
We gathered Seibels House for the rehearsal on Friday evening and briefly went over Plan B if things needed to be moved indoors. We then rehearsed the planned ceremony in the garden. The rehearsal dinner was a catered affair held on a rooftop patio in downtown Columbia where Garret’s father works.
The wedding day arrived and I’m glad to say that our prayers were answered. The rain held off until after the ceremony. Madison’s cousin (son of my sister Jody) officiated the wedding (Madison: “I just want you to be dad that day” which was awesome!) There were sprinkles and gentle rain on-and-off throughout the reception, but it didn’t dampen any of the festivities. Wendy’s cheesecake was, as usual, a huge hit. After the reception, Wendy and I met up with Kev and Beck at their rental for a glass of wine.
On Sunday, we went to Madison and Garrett’s church (Midtown Fellowship). It was Celebration Sunday and we enjoyed a very loud and raucous worship service as many people, young and old, were baptized. In the afternoon, the girls’ mom and her family hosted us all for a fabulous brunch at their rental. The happy couple opened some gifts (with Milo’s help, of course).
Sunday evening was spent eating pizza and watching television with Tay, Clay, and Milo. Sam was staying at the house with us, as well, for the entire weekend, but he took off by himself for Charleston and did a little sight-seeing on Sunday.
On Monday, we met up with Garrett and Madison for lunch at their favorite local taco joint. They had an awesome little courtyard in the back where Milo could run around and we could enjoy the sun.
It was an awesome weekend full of tons of love, laughter, and memories made. Madison and Garrett left the following day on a “mini-moon.” They spent a couple of days in a treehouse before joining Garrett’s family for Thanksgiving.
As for Wendy and me, we returned to Iowa with Taylor, Clayton, and Milo who stayed with us through mid-day on Black Friday. They, however, spent most of their time that week with Clayton’s family. After all the hoopla of the wedding week, Wendy and I enjoyed a quiet Thanksgiving day at home, alone, doing nothing and giving thanks for it.
Wendy and I knew that we were entering into a fall and winter 2019-2020 that was going to be jam packed with events and travel. We didn’t plan it that way. It just sort of evolved. So, we’re embracing it.
We considered last weekend the kick-off of the chaos. Long ago we’d planned a Twin Cities getaway. It just so happened that the Twins and Vikings had home games on the same weekend. Wendy and I got a hotel in between Target Field and U.S. Bank Stadium.
Friday night was unseasonably hot and humid as we trekked about a mile to Target Field. We had seats right behind home plate and found ourselves surrounded by professional baseball scouts with their stopwatches and clipboards. We had a fun evening watching the Twins beat the Royals.
Saturday was a day of simply being together. We walked about a mile to have a wonderful breakfast at Eggsy, then trekked back to the hotel where we hung out and watched the Iowa State football game. We dressed to the nines in the late afternoon and took an Uber to the Red Cow for dinner. There was a gorgeous, cool breeze and we walked back to the hotel, stopping at Finnegan’s Brewery for a pint.
Sunday morning we headed to the “mother ship,” U.S. Bank Stadium, and really enjoyed watching the Vikings beat the Raiders. It was a really fun getaway to launch a busy season.
Earlier this year we’d heard about an occasional event at one of Des Moines’ breweries, the Foundry, called “Hymns at the Hall.” We put it on our calendar to attend the next one, which was this past Thursday. We joined our friends, Kev and Beck, and ordered some food truck pizza for dinner as we waited for the festivities to begin. We didn’t realize that one of the organizers of the event is a good friend of Taylor and Clayton’s, and we ran into some of the kids’ peeps which was a lot of fun. A very festive evening of singing great hymns and enjoying some great craft brews.
Last night was our community theatre’s annual Awards Night. Last year Wendy was inducted to Union Street Players Walk of Fame. This year it was my turn. We were surrounded by our friends and I was given a wonderful, honoring introduction by Doug DeWolf. It was a really fun evening with our theatre community. Lots of laughter and reliving memories. I was both humbled and honored. We retired to the Vander Well Pub afterwards for some enjoyable conversation.
It’s been a while since I filled family and friends in on what’s been happening. Summer had already flown by and here we are moving into autumn.
As has been true for the past decade, our summer revolves around time at our place on Lake of the Ozarks. With increased responsibilities at work and church, I think we spent less time there this summer than ever. Nevertheless, we enjoyed what has become our traditional weekends with friends, along with a few weeks there by ourselves. Here’s a gallery from our time at the lake this summer:
The biggest news of the summer for our family was Madison’s engagement. She and Garrett traveled to Scotland to visit Tay, Clay, and Milo. While they were there, Garrett chose one of the most beautiful backdrops to a proposal ever. A November wedding is planed in Columbia, SC where they both live and will reside.
Wedding plans are in full swing. We flew Madison home for a few days in early August to talk finances and wedding plans. It worked out great for her to spend a little time with her mother and the grandparents. Grandpa Dean is making them a stained-glass piece for their wedding, so Madison got to look at the design and some of the glass colors he’s using.
Speaking of grandparents, it’s been a rough summer for my parents. Mom’s Alzheimer’s continues to slowly progress. Dad’s cancer is being held in check by oral chemo, but other issues (double vision, fainting, heart issues) have had him in what seems an endless loop of doctor and specialist visits. In July, dad spent 5 days in the hospital with what was diagnosed as a light stroke. He had another couple of days just a week or so ago for the installation of a pacemaker. I got to spend time with mom while dad was in the hospital, which I wrote about in a different post.
I had my own medical bout this summer. My annual dermatology exam found squamous cell carcinoma on my right ear. I had surgery to remove it and then contracted a nasty infection. I’m happy to say it has healed nicely and all is well.
Wendy and I have each been doing our thing to stay healthy. Wendy has been regularly doing yoga and this summer Wendy she began assisting our friend, Shay, who is opening her own studio. Meanwhile, I have been doing CrossFit for over a year now. My goal continues to be simply to keep showing up.
Taylor and her crew continue to live and flourish in Scotland. When we see them at Madison’s wedding it will be almost a year since we’ve been together. We get to regularly FaceTime with our grandson, Milo, which is always a treat. Typically, Taylor calls while Milo is the bathtub because it’s the only time the wee lad will sit still enough to talk to us. He’s calling us Papa and Yaya, which never ceases to melt our hearts.
Other highlights of the summer included finishing Phase 3 of our three-year landscaping project. My rose garden out back continues to grow and flourish, which makes me happy. I officiated a wedding this summer for a lovely young lady from church. Wendy and I hosted a company pool party for our team members and their families. We took in a little theatre. I had the joy of mentoring my friend Nathan for his profession of faith, and we celebrated at the Iowa Cubs game. I’ll leave you with a few photos from the summer:
Earlier this sumer my dad found himself in the hospital for five days after suffering what was eventually diagnosed as a (thankfully) minor stroke. Being in the hospital meant that I had the honor of spending five days and four nights with my mother, who is in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. It was the most uninterrupted time I’ve spent alone with my mother since childhood. I found it a fascinating opportunity to observe her life at this point in her journey through dementia, and to interact with her in her daily realities.
Let me begin by confessing that I am no expert in Alzheimers. Our daughter, Taylor, has had far more experience with, and education in, the tragic disease. I am, however, deeply versed in life with my mother. I began noticing the changes long before her diagnosis. Conversations with her, which have always been pleasant, meandering journeys slowly became stilted and repetitious. I began to realize that there were certain subjects that she clung to like a child hanging safely on to homebase in a neighborhood game. In retrospect, I wish I had forced the issue with her and our family long before it all came to light, as we learned that medications can successfully slow the disease’s progression. C’est la vie.
I also know that Alzheimer’s and Dementia experiences can vary widely depending the patient and his or her own unique circumstances. I am in no way implying that my observations are somehow applicable to every person who suffers from these terrible diseases. For what it is worth, I am merely recording some of the observations and lessons that came from my personal time with my own mother in her current stage of this tragic disease.
First, a few general observations about my mother’s current waypoint in the descent to the cognitive darkness of Alzheimer’s. She has yet to forget any of our family members, though the names and faces of life-long friends have begun to escape her. When talking to me, she now refers to my father as “my husband” as though her relationship with him and her relationship with me have been separated from the mental compartment of “family” into separately labled relationship compartments in her brain. Nevertheless, I am still able to enjoy her recognizing me when she sees me. She has yet to fail in greeting me with the pet name she’s had for me since childhood (“Hello, Tommy Jameses“) and extending her arms for an embrace.
I have heard it said that those with ALZ can sometimes become more childlike, and many become bitter, angry and even violent. Mom has occasionally had momentary flashes of uncharacteristic anger, though more often I’ve experienced that she now lets fly with a blunt honesty about people and things that she’s never exhibited before. To be honest, I tend to find it refreshing. I am thankful that she has mostly exhibited a sweet, childlike humor I’d never seen in her before.
Watching mom now often feels like peering into the little girl she must have been. She is playful and joyous in an almost exhibitionistic way. The woman who who raised me and my siblings was sweet and fun-loving, but she carefully guarded herself, her looks, her words, and her actions. For most of my childhood she wore a partial set of dentures. I can remember her never wanting anyone, even her children, seeing her without her partial in her mouth. The mom I spent five days with this summer could not only care less, but I expect she’d be happy to pull out her dentures and make a funny face to make me laugh. My mother has always been apropriately reserved and “mature” around a camera. Now if I pull out my phone to take a picture she starts hamming it up and making faces. A part of me asks, “Who is this woman who looks like my mother?” Then I realize that I’m probably seeing an entire side of my mother that has always been there. I just never saw it.
I spent my time with mom in quiet observation. Our days together had a certain cadence. We would rise and have breakfast together. We would ready ourselves and drive to the hospital where we sat with dad in his hospital room. Each day I would take mom out for lunch before returning to the hospital to spend the afternoon with dad. In the late afternoon we would return to their apartment at the retirement community, enjoy a bite together, and spend the evening watching television until mom was ready to retire.
I made a conscious effort not to intervene with mom in the time I spent with her. I’ve observed that her flashes of temper often come when she feels as though someone is telling her what to do or treating her like she’s incompetent. It’s much like a child who barks at a nagging parent and exclaims, “I can do it myself!” So, I never told her what to do or tried to control her in any way. I just let her do her thing and quietly paid close attention. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was only occasionally necessary to “suggest” that she might want to see if she’d taken her pills or double-check this-or-that. As long as I kept my voice tone pleasant and helpful, she always responded positively.
I discovered that she had a very specific routine each morning:
Turn on the coffee pot. This is always prepared before bed the night before, another part of her daily ritual.
Sit on the couch and turn on the television. Any morning news channel will do. It seemed to be randomly different each morning.
Drink one cup of coffee while watching television. She doesn’t really watch television or take anything in, but she likes to have it on. I think it allows her the illusion (for others) that she’s doing something while her mind struggles to make sense of her moment. Interestingly, when she watched baseball with me she would regularly comment on things that happened in the moment (e.g. “Boy, hit that ball a long way.”) which is something she didn’t really do with any other kind of program. One night I took her to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner. Surprisingly, she wanted to sit at the bar. She actually found all the television screens interesting. There was so much to look at and steal her attention.
Set the table for breakfast. This included placemats, spoons, and plates. The east and south sides of the table were where the settings went. This seemed important. If I was working on my laptop where the placemat was supposed to be set then I could tell this threw her off a wee bit, but didn’t rattle her.
Eat one yogurt with her second cup of coffee at the table. In the evening her meal was a Boost protein drink and another yogurt.
Wash her cup and spoon along with the coffee maker.
Go into the master bedroom/bathroom to get ready. Putting on make-up and “fixing herself” in front of the mirror is one of the things she gets lost in. One morning I finally had to “suggest” that we get going to the hospital in order to get her out of being lost in her endless loop of putting on and fixing her make-up.
I was pleased to observe that there were things that her routine helped her to remember and how much she still did without me prompting her. I watched her, at times, silently straining her mind to organize her world even if she quickly got lost in the process. If dad’s doctor started to give instructions she would get out a pen and note pad. She knew that she was supposed to do that. She might even pretend to pay attention and write “Dean’s Instructions” at the top of the page. Nothing else would be written as she would then get lost in another moment.
Much of my time spent with mom was me experimenting with, and even catering to, this playful, child-like spirit that has emerged in her as the Alzheimer’s has progressed.
Take chocolate malts for example. Mom’s appetite at this point is almost non-existent. A year-or-so ago her doctor said that she was, medically, at the point of starvation. Her weight was just under 90 lbs. Props to my dad and sister who have worked tirelessly to get her to eat. She’s gained weight and has been doing much better. Nevertheless, she is never hungry and will, like a child, refuse to eat almost anything you put in front of her. The one exception is chocolate malts.
Mom has developed an insatiable appetite for chocolate malts. When I asked her, “What sounds good to you?” it was the only answer she ever gave and she gave it every time. And, if I got her one she would actually eat the whole thing. So, I joyfully indulged her appetite. I mean, the woman’s almost starving and, in the near future, she’s going to forget the joy of tasting anything! Good nutrition, be damned! I decided that I would buy her chocolate malts as often as she’ll eat them. I soon learned that three chocolate malts a day was perfect.
Three times a day I would ask her “How about a chocolate malt?”
Every time I asked she’d look at me wide-eyed like a little little girl and responded, excitedly, “Oh, that sounds good!”
I started going to different places (DQ, Culvers, Bauders, Smokey Row, etc.) to see if she liked certain chocolate malts better than others. Smokey Row was clearly the winner, so that became our usual stop. It was during our thrice daily chocolate malt runs that I had another epiphany.
Mom’s ALZ has a certain repetition to it, but there’s also a routine to the repetition. Driving down I-235 always brought about the observation “I wouldn’t want to live in any of these houses along here.” Driving through the neighborhood around the hospital always brought out the comment, “I just love these big, old houses.” Pulling into a restaurant’s parking lot always brought out the comment, “Oh, I haven’t been to this place in a long time!” This statement was made the first time we pulled into the drive-through at Smokey Row even though I knew my mother had never been there before. And, it came out again four hours later when we returned for the chocolate malt she loved so well.
Two, make that three, observations sitting in the drive-through with mom at Smokey Row.
First, we often wax poetic in our culture about living in the moment:
“Forget the past.”
“Tomorrow is never promised.”
“Enjoy the moment.”
But, I find that we rarely do any of these things. We allow ourselves to be haunted by the past or refuse to deal with resentments, injuries, and relational baggage. We worry incessantly about tomorrow. We crank through our days with little or no introspection, observation, or enjoyment.
For my mother, the present moment is her only constant reality. The past is a fog. The future is cognitively unreachable. There is only this moment. Certain stimuli bring out the same reaction time and time again. I can’t will my mother to remember. I can’t correct her brainwaves to help her conceive of the future. I can only be her companion right now, in this very moment. My brain is the one that functions “normally.” When my mother’s “moment” repeats itself in intervals of five minutes or five hours I am the one who must compassionately choose to forget the last time it happened, let go of the annoyance I feel in the knowledge it will happen again (and again, and again, and again…), and simply be fully present with her in this moment.
There is also, I realized, compassion to be had for my father who is my mother’s constant companion on this journey. That was my second take-away from the moment.
I believe that my father’s Dutch sensibility long-ago convinced him that there is a black-and-white, right-and-wrong aspect to everything in life. Add to this a touch of perfectionism and he’s always been a bit OCD, and vocal, about the correct way to approach everything. My dad was a great accountant. The books always balanced perfectly. He was also a master craftsman with anything he built or made by hand.
Of course, living with a person who forgets almost everything means you’re living with a person who gets almost everything wrong. My father’s compulsion for everything to be right means that whatever is wrong must be corrected just like an incorrect number on the spreadsheet. Alas, correcting a person with ALZ is a fruitless, even counter-productive, exercise. Here I cross-reference the culturally popular definition of crazy: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. You can correct my mother all you want, she’s going to make the same mistake when she repeats herself in five minutes. I’ve watched my dad struggle to adapt to these difficult new realities. He’s done remarkably well, considering.
Once again, I found child-like-ness to be a good vehicle to understand that I needed to surrender any compulsion I felt to correct my mother. Life for her, much like a child, is a never-ending game of pretend. Sometimes she doesn’t remember and I watch her make up an answer just like our daughters did when they were toddlers and you asked them a question that was just beyond their comprehension. Sometimes her brain is permanently confused about a fact or a memory, and nothing is going to change that.
Because she can’t remember the past, however, I began to notice that each moment can be a bit of an adventure, a new revelation, and an exploration. When I decided to play pretend with her and to even encourage it, I suddenly found it easier to give up any need I felt for anything she did or said to be right. It’s not about right or wrong. It’s a game, and I am simply playing along. And, I sometimes found it to actually be fun.
Which brings me to my third observation sitting in the Smokey Row drive-through. During our first visit that day I noticed a cemetery across the street. Mom was, as usual, staring out the passenger window trying to make sense of her moment.
“Look at that cemetery over there,” I said.
“Yeah,” she answered as she looked to where I pointed.
“They say people are just dying to get in there,” I dead-panned.
She laughed, and laughed, and laughed. “Oh, Tommy Jameses, you’re so funny!” she giggled.
When we returned a few hours later for her third chocolate malt of the day she experienced her routine “I haven’t been here for a long time” moment. It was then that I realized: If she forgot that she’d been there a few hours ago, then she also forgot my joke. So, like a stand-up comedian working a different audience at a different club on a different night, I used my cemetery joke again just as I had before. She thought it was hilarious again! She thought it was hilarious every time I used it (and, I used it a lot).
Yes, the repetition of my mother’s dementia can be really, really annoying, but it also affords me the opportunity of repeatedly giving her a laugh or a happy moment over and over again with minimal effort. As the old saying goes, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
As I began to embrace the fun of playing with my mom in her moments, I had other discoveries. I’d read that the Church of England has started to conduct services in which they’ve consciously returned to the hymns and liturgy of 60-80 years ago. They did this because church members with dementia remember and connect with the hymns and ritual in the compartments of long-term memory they could still access. This gave me an idea.
I know some of my mother’s favorite songs from her childhood. She used to tell me stories about playing the song Sh’ Boom by the Crew Cuts so many times that her father yelled at her. So, as we left the apartment to head to the hospital I pulled up Spotify and played Sh’ Boom. My mother came to life. She knew almost every word to the song and began dancing in her seat. I then queued up Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Doris Day. We sang together and danced in our seats together all the way to the hospital.
Then, we did it again the next day and the day after that. The moment was new to her every morning, and I had the joy of singing and dancing and sharing a special moment with my mother each time. I realized that these moments are all I have left with her in this life. Alzheimer’s will eventually steal them, too.
My father and my sister are my mother’s constant care-givers. I recognize that my time with mom is grossly minimal in comparison, and I honor their love and perseverance.
“Thank you for helping take care of me,” my mom, nevertheless, said repeatedly to me in the days I spent with her.
Each time she said it I repeated the same answer. “Are you kidding me? Mom, you gave me life. You and dad have given me so much over the years. Helping you out right now doesn’t even compare. I am so deep in your debt.”
Repeating that answer was somehow therapeutic for me, as was the realization that doing so brought to mind. I’d learned some important life lessons in those five days that I will always carry with me. I also enjoyed some precious moments of laughter and joy with my mother that I will always cherish. Even with Alzheimer’s, she was still giving.
It is a beautiful June evening at the lake as I sit to write this post. The forecast for the weekend called for rain, rain, and a little more rain. Instead, we were treated to plenty of sunshine and only a few minor episodes of precipitation. That’s a nice change of pace. This spring and early summer have been rainier than I can remember for some time. The lawn tractor has been getting a lot of work as I’ve been mowing 2-3 times a week to keep up.
The rain has been definitely good for growing things. Wendy and finished phase 3 of our landscaping plans. We had new beds put in around the back of the house and around the patio. We still have one section we need to finish on the north side of the house, but it feels great to have it done. I planted some more roses and they have really been going to town.
Speaking of flowers, Wendy has been planning for many years to have a tat reworked. She was never really happy with the original and fixing it has been a topic of discussion for a very long time. Molly at Creative Images in Des Moines did her masterful work, as usual, and the result was just what m’love wanted.
We got our first I-Cubs game of the year in these past few weeks, and we kicked off the summer with what’s become a traditional Memorial Day Weekend at the lake with the VLs. Our arrival at the lake was delayed as I officiated the wedding of Joel and Kara (Zondervan) Larson at the Scholte Gardens in Pella. It’s been a while since I’ve officiated a wedding. Ironically, I received a surprise message on Facebook from the couple who were my very first wedding over 30 years ago. How cool to know that they are still together and happily married. I take no credit, of course. Asking the questions is the easy part.
Officiating a wedding at the Scolte Gardens on Memorial Day weekend.
Me c.1988 officiating my first wedding.
The rest of the weekend at the lake was fun, as always. It’s so much fun to watch the VL kids enjoying themselves and having watched them grow up right here at the Playhouse over the years. As the kids have gotten older and now entertain themselves quite nicely, it also affords the adults more time and space for conversation and that was wonderful.
Camille caught a fish, but wasn’t about to touch it.
Dock. Sun. Chill. Perfect.
Wendy and I stayed a few extra days and worked from the lake, but we had to buzz home as our friends Kevin and Linda were making a rare, brief appearance in Iowa. We met them, along with our friend Cyndi, for dinner at Cooper’s in Valley Junction and then for an after dinner drink at the Hall. Can’t tell you how much we miss having them living across the street.
The following weekend was another rare treat as all of Wendy’s siblings came home for a Hall family gathering. It was the first time that the entire Hall crew were in the same room since 2010. The agenda was very simple: be together, eat together. We got to meet our nephew, Asher, for the very first time and found out that we have another niece or nephew due to arrive by the end of the year as Wendy’s brother Luke and his wife, Brooke, announced that there was a bun in the oven. It was so much fun to be together as a family again.
The Hall family together again.
Our nephew, Asher.
The whole Hall clan.
It was back to the lake this past weekend for our annual early summer pilgrimage with our friends, Kev and Beck. Again, it was nice that we had better weather than was forecast. We enjoyed lunch and a leisurely few hours in the pool at the Redhead on Friday, along with some sun and relaxation on the dock on Saturday. As usual, the real focus of the weekend was sharing life, great food, great drinks, and endless conversations that move us all further up, and further in.
Life is good.
Me and M’luv
Fun at the Redhead
Lots of laughter.
Life is good, even working up a sweat mowing.
Hope you’re having a great summer wherever your journey finds you. Play ball!