Tired or not, it is a beautiful, frigid, but bright and sunny morning — a good way to start a new year.  I would like it to be on account of raucous partying, but this tired morning comes after attending to needs that continued until that midnight kiss last night. I finished editing last night’s post and got to bed at about 1pm.  Then every hour, on the hour, we were up with the usual, including two snacks, one at 3pm and one at 4pm. I should have known that a large bowl of ice cream would not suffice for supper.  That is all she was willing to eat — other than the four crackers and the handful of chex mix with a little Asti Spumanti at 8pm. The 2am and 5am activities were commode related.

Actually the 6am commode trip was at 6:20am, breaking the once an hour on the hour cycle.  At 7am, Mary Ann was up for breakfast and pills.  After an hour of watching television, she is now back in bed.  I, however, am wide awake and sitting here beginning this post!  I will continue later in the day.

It is about 3pm.  Mary Ann had a two and a half hour nap, then got up and ate lunch.  She has been watching television while I worked on a Christmas card list for this year or next.  Remember, it is the twelve days of Christmas.  I still have five days to go! 

Mary Ann changed the channel fifteen minutes before the end of the program.  I watched the end of it in the kitchen.  Just as it ended she got up and walked toward the kitchen, I presume to see what I was doing.  I came out to meet her and took hold of her to support her, then asked where she wanted to go.  We walked around the dining room table, and when we got to the other side, she asked where Pete was.  I reminded her that I am Pete, and she recognized me at the same time. 

Today she has been pretty disconnected with lots of little hallucinations.  At her request I gave her a dish of ice cream after lunch, and at one point she asked if the other one was mine.  She was seeing two dishes of ice cream in front of her.  Not realizing that the person helping her walk was me may have been a Capgras Delusion.  That is the delusion that a loved one has been replaced by an imposter.  It happened so quickly that it may not qualify as Capgras Syndrome.  A number of those in the online Caregiver Spouses of those with Lewy Body Dementia have to deal with Loved Ones who are experiencing Capgras Delusions.  The bad news about this disease is that it is a roller coaster ride with some scary dips.  The good news is that sometimes there great vistas on the peaks in the ride.  The goal is just to hang on for dear life!

It is evening now.  There was a visit by a good friend of Mary Ann’s.  She brought a bag of Christmas goodies.  Mary Ann did not really participate in the discussion.  I probably should have left the room for a while to see if they could converse one on one.  Today has been such a disconnected day for Mary Ann, I did not think she would be able to respond.  In retrospect, I should have given them a little time to at least allow the possibility that Mary Ann might respond. 

She went to bed at about 7pm.  I will give her the bed time cluster of pills in a few minutes, about 8:30pm.  That is the usual time she takes them even if she has lain down for the night before then.  A couple of the night time pills have sleepiness as a side effect. 

As I have continued the online Ignatian retreat, the focus now is remembering events in my adult life and their impact, any gifts they may have given, gifts that have helped shape who I am becoming. 

One event of monumental significance was the day the diagnosis of Parkinson’s was received.  I had moved to Oklahoma City ahead of Mary Ann and the kids so that each could finish at their respective schools, one graduating from high school and the othercompleting the Eighth Grade in an eight grade school.  I left in February to begin serving a congregation there and the family came at the beginning of June. 

While everything was as welcoming as it could be in the new parish, it was just about the toughest time in my life.  It was equally tough for Mary Ann and the kids.  Just the separation was almost more than I could bear.  I had not realized fully just how important Mary Ann and the kids were to me until that moment I watched the plane take off from the Oklahoma City airport after a visit.  I could not even tolerate the thought of life without the three of them. 

During those five months, Lisa had the added pain of dealing with the murder of the Principal of the tiny Lutheran High School she was attending.  His Daughter was Lisa’s best friend.  He had been a great support for Lisa during her years at the Lutheran High. 

Micah had developed close relationships with his classmates at the large Catholic Parochial school he attended from the Fifth Grade year through Eighth Grade Graduation.  He was chosen by his classmates to speak at Graduation.  The prospect of leaving those friends behind was tough on him. 

It was that March that the phone call came.  Mary Ann phoned me in OKC with the news that she had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.  She had to deal with that life-shattering news by herself without my support.  I had to deal with it while among wonderful people with whom I had not yet developed any history.  Mary Ann was not willing to share the news with anyone else, her or my parents, her or my siblings, her lifelong friends, the people in the parish with whom we had just spent fifteen years building relationship.  For the next five years, that secret was to be kept from all but two or three people other than the kids.   We honored Mary Ann’s request, but it took a toll on all of us, especially when the symptoms became noticeable.

It is hard to put into words the impact that the Parkinson’s has had on our lives.  There is no way to even begin to imagine what our lives would have been like without it.  It is actually a waste of time to try to do so.  Time is too precious.  It is needed to live the life we have as effectively and meaningfully as possible.  We can process the impact of the Parkinson’s and assess its role in who each of us has become.  We have grown and learned more than could possibly be written in one blog entry. 

There is a level of maturity and wisdom that our children have come to have through dealing with their Mom’s Parkinson’s.  Earlier posts include sections they have written, reflecting on their experience in dealing with the Parkinson’s.  I am a far better and more effective pastor because of it.  Mary Ann has wonderful relationships with dozens of people directly due to the Parkinson’s.

While I am grateful for all we have learned from Mary Ann’s Parkinson’s, we would gladly have read a book on it if we could have learned those things without the Parkinson’s.   

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A while ago, I asked our Children, their Spouses and our Grandchildren if they would be willing to write something from their perspective on our situation.  What will come in this and other posts in the near future will be their responses to some questions I proposed.  Our Son, Micah will turn thirty-seven years old in a few weeks.  He is married to Rebecca.  Their daughter, more importantl, our Granddaughter, Chloe, is entering the Sixth Grade this fall.  Here are his responses.

How does it feel from your perspective to see your Mom and Dad’s situation?
I think it’s something that sneaks up on you. Since the changes have happened over such a long period, it’s only in the lowest dips of the rollercoaster when it seems most obvious how difficult things can be for you both. As I’ve read your blog and remembered with you the struggles of the past years, I realize how much has changed. But the passing of time seems to mask some of the changes and challenges, constantly (but subtly) shifting what “normal” is for you both. The hardest part for me is my fading memory of mother as an active, vibrant part of my life. A child’s view of their parents comes from that selfish “how does it affect me” perspective, so when I look back and try to remember the person who taught me how to throw, the person with whom I would cook – and joke! – I yearn to remember more of it, and mourn the loss of those disappearing memories. It’s selfish, to be sure, but I (like any child) want to continue to actively share my life, family, and experiences with both my parents, and I hate that the Parkinson’s and Dementia steals many of these opportunities away.

Stepping back a bit, when I see you both grow older, I worry for both your safety and your quality of life. Caregiving can’t be what either of you planned in your retirement dreams. I wish a wider world for both of you, knowing that your circumstances make for a very small world. I’m glad that you continually push the boundaries of travel and mobility, because they are luxuries you won’t always have. I hope you continue to push those boundaries even as they slowly constrict. You both choose to experience life – not just live it – in spite of your challanges. And while I hope for all these things, I worry about the consequences of living on the edge of safety and security. Having rushed out to Arizona when we thought mom was not going to make it, I can still say that I’m glad you both continue to be as active as you can. And I live in terror of the possibility of dad being unable to care for mom, and what the consequences would be for everyone – including mom. And I hope that there are enough people coming by the house often enough that if something bad ever happened, it wouldn’t be long before help was there (that’s kinda morbid, huh?).

How do you see your unique role in relating to it?
I work hard to treat mom as I always have, though I know it has become harder and harder to do so. The occasional caregiving is difficult for me since there is a palpable discomfort for mom and me when things like bathroom duty come up. I don’t know what it’s like for Lisa, but I know that mom apologizes any time I need to help her with personal issues. I don’t mind doing it at all, except for the emotional discomfort it causes. We soldier through it, and it’s a small price to pay for the quality time we get to spend together when I stay with her. So I guess I see my role as trying to treat her the same way I always have, in an effort to retain some normalcy in our relationship. Now that I write it out that way, it sounds like blantant denial. My intention is to maintain the lightheartedness we’ve always shared, in spite of the obviousness of her daily challenges. Asking her how she’s feeling, and cautiously assisting her and anticipating her needs feels like I’m giving more attention to the Parkinson’s than to her. While I know the two are inseparable, I guess there’s still a part of me that needs to treat mom like mom first, and like a Parkinson’s sufferer second. But I can also tell you that after re-reading this paragraph, it sure sounds like I have some issues to deal with 🙂

What would you tell other adult children whose parents are dealing with chronic illness?
Judging by my previous answer, I don’t know what I’m one to be giving any advice!

How do you see the situation impacting the Grandchildren?
I believe that the grandchildren are resilient and accepting – they don’t know grandma any other way than she has been. Chloe once drew a picture of the family, and it included grandma in a wheelchair. I was a bit taken back by it at first, but quickly realized that that was the norm for Chloe – it’s not good or bad, that’s just how grandma is to her. I wish all the girls could know her for her wry wit, her quilting, and her cooking. But I’m so glad that Lisa’s girls got the chance to be around her for the time they were in town with you both. They may not remember it well when they are older, but they still will have had the time.

After I read Micah’s response above, I responded to him that the way he relates to Mary Ann is exactly the way he should.  I see her eyes light up when he comes over to talk with her and kid with her.  He relates to Mary Ann, the sharp, engaging, smart-aleck Mom he has grown up with, not to the Parkinson’s.  It brings out the best in her. 
As any who read this blog today and in the days to come will see, we have remarkable Children, Children-in-law, and Grandchildren.  They turned out better than we deserve.  We are just very grateful we get to have them as our family.