It was a little less than a year ago that we headed off for a major trip again.  This one was to Kentucky to visit Daughter Lisa, Denis, Abigail and Ashlyn.  When we had done it in one day, it usually took us about eleven hours to get there.  This time, we stopped at a motel at about the halfway point.  We got plentyof rest, had a leisurely morning, and headed on to Louisville around noon.  Mornings always were extended by the time it took for each step in preparation for getting ready to go anywhere.  It was just a part of our reality. 

On other occasions we had stayed in the downstairs at Lisa’s.  Mary Ann’s Orthostatic Hypotension made that a challenge.  When she stood, her blood pressure would drop making her susceptible to fainting.  It was almost comical to see us help Mary Ann up the stairs.  One odd characteristic of Parkinson’s is that while feet may freeze on the level, stairs are no problem to negotiate.  The challenge was to get her up the stairs before the low blood pressure no longer provided an adequate blood supply to her brain to keep her from fainting. With one of us beside her and one in back, we raced up the stairs to a waiting chair.  On some of our visits, every time we arrived at the chair, she would faint.  On some visits she had less difficulty with it.  There was nothing we could come up with that explained why some times were better than others.

By this time last year, the OH was bad enough that it was no longer an option to stay in the downstairs.  We chose to stay in an extended stay motel.  It worked out well.  We took whatever time we needed in the morning at the motel, and ended up at Lisa’s house around noon.  We spent time with the family as long as Mary Ann’s stamina held out, and then headed back to the motel. 

We headed out in the car with the family, often to visit Huber’s winery and garden produce market and bakery (and ice cream parlor) in Southern Indiana near Denis’s family, with whom we visited.  Usually there was a trip to a restaurant.  There was lots of time watching Abigail and Ashlyn doing a variety of things.  There were many hugs, lots of pictures drawn and colored.  We had a good visit.

When we left, rather than coming straight home, we made the relatively short drive to Columbus, Indiana, to visit Brother Dick, Dee and the family.  Dick is a retired Pastor, fourteen years my senior.  We are almost from different generations, but have come to know and love each other as the years have gone by, as has been so with Dave, Gayle and Tish, our other siblings. 

I have described the setting at Dick and Dee’s place a couple of times before.  They live on a five acre plot with trees and ponds and gardens everywhere.  There are bees that provide honey, fish to be caught, vegetables to be picked from the garden and either eaten right away or canned to be eaten later.  Freshly baked bread and home made granola are mainstays.  There are birds constantly at the feeders attached to the rail or sitting on the deck right outside the floor to ceiling windows. 

We enjoyed a wonderful meal.  Then came the miracle.  Mary Ann had declined to the extent that walking more than a few steps had pretty much ceased to be an option — we thought.  When she tried to walk, many times the blood pressure would drop and so would she.  When we arrived at Dick and Dee’s, it was a little challenging to get the wheel chair where it needed to be.  Mary Ann just got up and walked the length of a long hall to the living room.  Then when we looked around the house, she walked and did not fall.  Later, we went over to see the magnificent house their Daughter Jill (our Niece) and her husband had built to house their three boys, by then in junior high and high school.  The house was perfectly outfitted for the boys having friends over to hang out together. 

Dick drove Mary Ann over in the golf cart he and Dee use to get around on the acreage.  We didn’t take the wheel chair.  Mary Ann toured the main floor of that huge house on foot, never falling once.  I could hardly believe what I was seeing.  After spending the night in a nearby motel, we headed back home the next day.  This time we made  the trip in one day.  For some reason, going home always seemed to go faster.  Part of that sensation was due to the fact that we crossed a time zone creating the illusion that we had taken less time. 

After we got home, the walking continued for weeks.  Before we left, I would jump up every time Mary Ann got up so that I would be ready to catch her before she fell.  I would, of course, try to convince her not to get up without warning me so that I could come and help.  After we returned, I relaxed and stopped jumping up when she stood.  That change made our days much less stressful.  That miracle made our last fall together a pleasant one. 

In the next post on this sight I will describe the subsequent trip to a Bed & Breakfast in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the one that would be our last trip. 

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The last dozen years could have been spent cloistered at home, a prisoner to Parkinson’s.  We chose instead to live to the limits of our physical ability, maybe a little beyond.  It was Mary Ann’s resilience and our resolve that allowed a quality of life that was satisfying and fulfilling. 

In 1999, the Kansas City Crew, including the two of us decided that a trip to Alaska was in order.  It was John and Carol’s 35th Wedding Anniversary.  Gary knew someone who had been a travel agent and still had access to the last minute cheaper fares on the Princess Cruise Line.  Marlene was impacted by ALS as Mary Ann was by the Parkinson’s.  We just did it.  It was a wonderful, memorable trip.  We flew to Anchorage, enjoyed a Farmers’ Market there, drove to a lodge outside of Denali, where we sat on a deck in the bright sunshine at 11pm.  We bussed through Denali, seeing the spectacular sights, Mt. McKinley, Moose, Dahl Sheep and Bear Scat.  That is as close as we got to spotting a Grizzly Bear — okay with me.

There was the obligatory stop at Talkeetna.  We walked the street and marveled at the size of the flowers.  We made one stop that provided a scene that doubled us over in laughter.  There was a huge statue of a Grizzly Bear.  From the back, his stance looked exactly like a huge guy standing there relieving himself.  There is a picture of the four of us (the guys) from the back as we lined up on either side of that bear and mimiced his stance.  No, I am not going to post that picture.  There are former parishioners who read this blog.  The KC Crew threatened to send a copy to the church when the pictures came back. 

We drove to Seward and boarded the ship.  Glacier Bay was breathtaking.  The aqua blue eminating from the cracks, the snapping of the glacier as it moved, the rumble of the calving, a seal sitting on an ice floe, a bright day with a crisp chill in the air made that part of the trip the most vivid in my memory.  We traveled the train the gold miners used at Skagway, the White Pass Excursion Train.  It is impossible to describe the expansiveness of the views.  Everything in Alaska is huge! 

We saw the Mendenhall Glacier, already then having retreated a mile or two from the observation building that at one time was at the edge of the glacier.  We ate our fill of grilled salmon fillets covered with a sweet brown sugar glaze.  There was fresh Haibut — who knew it could have so much flavor when fresh from the ocean. 

The Cruise Ship, as always, fed us huge gourmet meals multiple times a day.  One of the KC Crew is fluent in Spanish, since she is from Puerto Rico.  At one of our first dinners, Maria spoke in Spanish with one of our waiters.  It was not long before it was clear what she had said.   That meal and every meal after that ended with my receiving a large chocolate dessert, at least one, no matter what else was served as the regular dessert. 

Charlie and Marlene, Mary Ann and I hung together since on account of the wheel chairs, we moved at about the same pace.  The ship was accommodating, and most of the places we wanted to see were accessible. 

Near the end of the trip we watched the Eagles in great numbers hanging around the salmon canneries in Ketchikan.  We ended the trip, sitting at a restaurant on Puget Sound enjoying one of the best views of the trip.  We made some wonderful memories as we ventured to Alaska and back. 

That was our biggest and most dramatic adventure during the Parkinson’s years.  There were many smaller trips sprinkled throughout the last ten or twelve years.  I will spend some time in the next post or two describing some of them.  I need to savor the good times we had.  Thoughts of how debilitated Mary Ann became can be overwhelming at times.  Remembering the ventures out somehow seem to provide a bit of salve for the still open wound created by her death.  It helps to remember that we made the best of a difficult situation and chose not to allow the Parkinson’s to rule.

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We were shocked when even his Assistant knew what we were talking about when we described the symptoms of Mary Ann’s version of Parkinson’s.  KU Med Center was an hour away, but Dr. Koller had a monthly clinic at hospital right here, only ten or fifteen minutes away.   We could hardly believe it. 

Mary Ann’s symptoms had worsened as the medication regimen set up in the hospital in Tulsa before we moved to Kansas simply could not handle them.  In the very first appointment with the KU Med Parkinson’s Department Neurologist, Dr. Koller, he assessed her situation and added a medicine called Permax.  Permax is dopamine agonist. It works by stimulating dopamine receptors in the brain.  It makes the basic medicine, Sinamet, more effective. 

Within one month, the time it took to titrate the Permax to its therapeutic dose, Mary Ann’s symptoms were reduced to being barely noticeable.  That level of functionality remained for almost four years.  It was as close to a miracle as we have experienced. 

In addition, a group of ladies in the congregation welcomed Mary Ann and took a special interest in her welfare.  She developed friendships that ultimately grew beyond the fact that she was the wife of the Pastor.  Connie, wife of Pastor John who had retired from that congregation was also someone who chose not to be defined simply by the role.  She had set a good pattern for Mary Ann to follow. 

I found much comfort in seeing Mary Ann develop those friendships and experience new relationships.  She became much less intensely private and finally admitted that it was true when I told her “they like you better than me.”  She had always in the past contended that the church folks were only connected to her through my ministry.   That had changed with the folks at the congregation I was serving here in Kansas.  Also she realized that she had friends from former congregations who remained friends with her long after we had left those parishes.  They were truly her friends.  In spite of the Parkinson’s, the dozen or so years here before I retired seemed to be some of the best for her in some ways.   

We had found a townhome in a shared maintenance subdivision that was the right size (less than half the size of our home in OKC) with everything on one floor.   It had come on the market the day before.  We got in the first offer at full list price.  The realtor realized that we were very fortunate to get into a maintenance free area at that price.  It turned out to be a very wise choice.

Since Mary Ann could no longer work, eventually there was a small amount of disability income that she was awarded.  It helped us alter the interior of the home so that it was more user-friendly for Mary Ann.  Friends enlarged doorways for us.  A contractor who was a member of the congregation built a roll-in shower and extended the bathroom a bit to allow it to accommodate a wheelchair comfortably in anticipation of that need arising.

We replaced the carpet with one that did not resist her feet moving when they shuffled.  It was a firm enough weave to allow a wheelchair or walker to move easily.  Parishioners did the labor on finishing the downstairs so that live-in help could stay there if that was needed.  There were aesthetically pleasing grab bars that look like and can be used as towel racks placed strategically in the bathrooms, along with tall stools. 

We found a couple of portable electronic doorbell systems that we put together so that there were four buttons spread throughout the places where Mary Ann spent her time.  She could buzz me whenever she needed help.  All the various tools provided an environment that was comfortable and welcoming.  We made a very functional living environment for ourselves — with the help of a lot of parishioners.  We are in debt to all of them for what they have done to help us and care for us. 

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I as sitting on the deck enjoying a beautiful evening after Mary Ann went to bed.  The video monitor was out there with me.  She started getting up, so I went in to see what she needed.  She asked if the police were gone.  As confused as I usually am when things come out of nowhere, I asked what they were here for.  She said there was a break-in and the copper tree had been taken.  That is a large metal wall sculpture that hangs in our living room.  Mary Ann was looking at the bedroom wall when she said it was missing.

I told her that the police had not been here, that she must have been dreaming, that there had been no break-in, that I was here the whole time, and that the tree is still hanging in the living room.  After we talked a while, she wanted to go out to the living room to see the tree.  We did so.

After getting her in bed again, I folded the chair and brought the monitor in from the deck and came back to the computer.  She started moving again.  This time she said she didn’t want to go to the hospital.  I asked her if something was wrong that she thought she might need to go to the hospital.  She said “they” told her to get dressed.  Then she said, “You know we were broken into.”

She decided to use the commode, but when she got on it, she didn’t need to use it.  She started talking in that fast sort of jibberish, but I recognized the word “organization.”  I repeated the word and she confirmed that is what she said, but there was nothing connected to the word that either of us could identify.  When I lifted her from the commode to transfer her back into the bed, she fainted.  After swinging her on to the bed, I eased her into a lying position.  I had to try to get her pajama bottoms back up when she came around and was awake again.  She wanted to go out into the living room to see what was going on.  We went out there and she fainted again.

I asked her if she wanted to sit in her chair in front of the television.  I thought that just maybe the television and living room setting might help her hang on to reality until she was tired enough to fall asleep and get through the REM cycle (where the dreams occur) into deeper sleep.  Before I could get her to her spot, she sort of fell asleep in her chair.  It was apparent that she would not be able to sit up on her own.

I got her back to bed.  Since then she had another dream that I was lying on top of someone.  All of this has happened in the span of about a half hour.  At this rate it will be an impossible night.  At the moment she is lying in bed, facing the television watching her very favorite program “House.”  My hope is that she will remain engaged in it for a while, just giving me a break so that I can finish this post.

Last night was better than the night before, but not wonderful.  She got up early and I set her up in front of the televsion so that I could get a little more sleep.  After I got showered and dressed. we took care of her pills, breakfast, got her dressed.  During that time, she seemed reasonably connected.  We talked more about yesterday morning’s angry accusation.  She seemed to have gotten past it, at least at that moment.

Shortly after breakfast, she asked to lie down.  She slept for three hours or so.  During that time friend Tim came by with a vase of irises for her.  Tim is husband to Volunteer Jan.  When Mary Ann woke up, she had her usual, fairly small lunch.  During the last of the time she was eating, she needed to use the bathroom.  After we returned to the table, I got her into the dining room chair to eat the last of the chips and have some Pepsi.  Then she just sort of switched off.  It was almost as if she had fainted but not completely.

… break to respond to Mary Ann.  She now thinks she is in the hospital, wondering what they are going to do to her.  Watching “House” may not be helping, but she was concerned about the hospital before that program came on.  She wants the television left on.

…back to lunch time today.  Since she just switched off, I took her back to bed.  She slept a few more hours.  She got up long enough for supper, but ate very little.  Neither did she want to go out for the Blizzard of the Month at Dairy Queen (Buster Bar Blizzard, fudge and peanuts mixed in ice cream), nor did she even take the offer of ice cream from the freezer.  Very soon, she wanted to go to bed again.  She was quiet for about an hour before the living dreams fired up.

Since she has slept so much today, she may very well be up and active most of the night.  I dread that thought. (I just made a trip to help her to the commode.)

On the positive side, I got some devotional reading done this afternoon as I sat on the deck.  Again this evening I had some more quiet time to relax on the deck.  Much of the time I was out there, the Mallard ducks were sitting in the waterfall.  At one point there was a little drama as the two all of a sudden high tailed it off one way as fast as they could waddle.  Soon there was another Drake coming from the opposite direction and heading after them.  The next time I went out there was a hen by herself in the waterfall.  By the way, the ducks, especially the hens, are almost completely invisible when they are in the waterfall and the greenery and rocks right around it.  Even though they are no more than twenty-five feet away and I know they are there, I need the binoculars to differentiate the hen from the background.

The Bluejays and Grackles are constantly busy, with doves and the occasional Cardinal, Robin or Sparrow joining in the activity when I am out there.  There is not much variety of birds, but the ones that are there are entertaining.  Again, there was a great breeze growing into wind at various times.  The sky was bright and blue with a few wispy clouds. The trees are almost in full leaf.  The green of the leaves and the newly mown grass has that spring vibrance.

…there she goes again.  Just a Tums.

At the moment, as I write, the window in my office is open so that I can enjoy the sound of the wind, the cool air coming in the window and the fairly mild episodes of thunder and lightning.  So far very little if any rain has fallen. The volume of the thunder is increasing, as is the number of lightning flashes.

…another Tums.  Television off.

I will finish editing and get to bed in hopes that it will help that I am in the room with her — I doubt it.

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Today, we were pretty much home bound.  I had hoped we could get out, but it just didn’t materialize.  As I reflect on the day, I realize how much activity comes to us instead of our going somewhere else to find it.

There were no Volunteers scheduled today, so unlike many Wednesdays, the option to go out on my own was not available.  Mary Ann was tired today and napped at times that kept us here.  We still haven’t made that trip to the grocery I have been trying to get in for a number of days.  Since food has been brought to us recently, we are eating well.  We are on the last package of Mary Ann’s pads (disposable underwear), so tomorrow will have to include a trip to the store.

This morning began with the Spiritual formation group that meets here.  If those folks were not willing or able to come here, I would simply have no Spiritual Formation Group experience regularly. It is both garbage day and lawn maintenance day on Wednesdays in our subdivision.  We have recently incorporated the garbage truck sounds into our spirituality as a metaphor for ridding ourselves of unwanted garbage in our lives — letting go of things that just bog us down and clog our spiritual arteries.

As I was setting up the deck in anticipation of the arrival of the group members, there was an aerial attack on the pair of Mallards in the back yard by another pair.  There was much squawking as the dive bombing hen chased off and flew after the hen already on the tarmac.  The same thing happened with the drakes, with the addition of their fly by almost clipping my ear.

The lawn crew provided weed-eating next to the deck as we had the concluding prayer.  I am sure that we will come up with some sort of metaphoric understanding of to the mowing and weed eating that will incorporate those sights and sounds into our Spiritual Formation.

Again, during the group time Bath Aide Zandra came to the house to provide friendship and help as Mary Ann with through her morning regimen.

By the time the Group was done, Landscaping Tech Sheila had arrived and begun working on our disheveled garden areas.  It is at this point that another venture into bringing beauty into our lives is beginning.  Sheila has presented and then adapted a plan intended to provide more beautiful surroundings at the side and front of the house.  Her original proposal was elegant and well-planned.  Mary Ann and I redirected the project.

Shortly after moving in we had added a berm in the space between our town home and the one next to us in a spot that was in full view when standing at the sink in the kitchen.  The first plan would have returned that spot to sod.  After thinking about it for a while, I realized that we were more concerned about what we see from inside the house than what people see when looking at it from the street.  Now that I am at the sink an inordinate amount of time each day, I am especially in need of having color and activity and growth and change to stimulate my visual cortex.  We can’t get to lots of beautiful places away from the house, so we are bringing them to the house.  That is what all the changes at the back of the house were about.

Stacey came by later today to take the final measurements for the sun room blinds for privacy at night.  That project continues.  Sheila is doing some work in a small back area at the side of the deck to fill out the setting.  The leaves are now out on the trees in behind and beside the waterfall and in the neighbors’ back yards.  The area is now almost completely green and secluded.

Mary Ann’s day was not her best.  She fainted quite a bit this morning and ended up back in bed for at least a couple of hours.  At a late lunch there were a couple of falls without damage to Mary Ann, but our relationship was stressed some in response to them.  From her perspective, she was just doing what she did automatically before the disease took its toll.  From my perspective, she was making choices (twice within minutes of one another) that unnecessarily complicated our lives with substantial clean up and the physical demands of getting her off the floor.

I spent the rest of the time she has been awake sitting a very few feet from her, ready to jump each time she stood up.  Bringing activity and stimulation into our immediate environment helps especially on days like today when even stepping outside is limited.

Hallucinations have continued at various levels of intensity.  We seem to be having less and less of the good, lucid times.  A few minutes ago when I saw her moving in bed, I went in to help her turn so that she is facing the opposite direction.  She said that she guessed we were at the first table.  There were, of course, people here, but she wasn’t sure if they were tables for playing cards or what.

I am not sure what way we are swinging at the moment.  I don’t know if there will be lots of daytime sleeping tomorrow, or much sleeping tonight,. I don’t know if there will be some calm and lucidity tomorrow or hyperactive delusion/hallucination/dreaming going on.  I will find out.

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It seems odd that a simple day of getting up, doing stuff and going to bed could be so great.  We both had an appropriate number of hours of sleep.  We got up and a reasonable hour.  Mary Ann seemed to be connected to the realities of the day.

Not too long after breakfast, Hospice Aide Sonya came to do Mary Ann’s shower and hair.  It was almost comical to hear Sonya describe it.  Mary Ann had a couple of monumental deposits to make during Sonya’s time with her.  Sonya described in great detail the nature of the deposits.  Her description reminded me of the latest round of Subway commercials.  I will leave the rest to your imagination.  I was grateful on a couple of counts.  One, Sonya got to share the joy of waste management duty, sparing me the task.  Two, it was a much needed basic bodily function that will help Mary Ann function better and feel better.

After that, we watched television together for a while.  I made trips to the computer to read emails.  I also got started on a couple of loads of wash.  Mary Ann ate a pretty substantial lunch, then we headed out in the car.  The local Asparagus is coming on, so we headed to Meier’s market to pick up a few pounds.  I practically live on it when the locally grown crop is available.

After that we headed to Flowers by Bill.  Daughter-in-law Becky made a deal with me, trading the benefit of my cell phone on their account for me getting Mary Ann fresh flowers periodically.  This is the second time I have done it, and both times I have been surprised at the spectacular bouquets I have received.  I have gone in each time and told them what I am doing.  I have asked for whatever they can give me for ten dollars.  Each time they have come out with an arm load of beautiful flowers.  This time there are daisy mums of many different colors (20 open blossoms), carnations (9 open blossoms), alstermaria or peruvian lilies (3 stems each with multiple blossoms on each stem), and a huge yellow rose.  The bouquet has filled the living room with color.

We made an obligatory stop at Dairy Queen, since it is still buy one Blizzard and get the second one for 25 cents week.  I guess today could be designated Flower Day.  Shortly after we got back home, Volunteer Maureen drove up.  She delivered birthday presents for Mary Ann and me.  One is a vining geranium in a hanging basket, providing color just outside our kitchen window (where I now spend an inordinate amount of time each day).  The other is a Gerber Daisy sporting lots of large yellow blossoms.  Maureen remembered that yellow flowers are a favorite of Mary Ann.  That now sits on the deck just outside a glass panel in full view of Mary Ann from her chair.

At supper time I actually made a sort of normal meal – a rarity.  I browned cut up ring sausage in olive oil with lots of onions.  Then a ton of the fresh Asparagus went into a pan to be steamed.  At the market there were some small white potatoes that the owner had kept back for the family last fall.  They had some left and offered them for sale.  I steamed them with salt, dried onions and parsley, drained the water off and covered them with butter (margarine).  I was surprised at how much of the garden flavor they had retained.  Mary Ann apparently approved since she cleaned her plate of every speck of food I put there.  That almost never happens.

After finishing the couple of loads of wash and cleaning the pots and pans from supper, I decided that if there is some sort of certification as a domestic engineer to be had, I am now qualified.

I plan to spend a little time tonight with a newly obtained book on St. Patrick’s Breastplate.  Each chapter is a reflection on one of the phrases in the prayer.  YouTube will provide sung versions of the prayer to give it fuller expression.

I will accept today as the gift of a kind of normal day that most would find boring, to be taken for granted.  To me it is a refreshing encounter with something to be cherished, never to be taken for granted but instead savored.

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Yes!!!  There has been an especially thought provoking thread of conversation in the last couple of days in our online group of Caregiving Spouses of those who have a form of Lewy Body Dementia.  What is shared there is just for the membership.  I will only comment in a general way what issues have been raised.

The group is a place where members can vent freely without fear of judgment.  We can whine, scream, cry; we can reveal what is going through our minds even if it is not very nice; we can complain; we can talk candidly about things that would gross others out; we can be matter of fact about matters that would frighten those who have not been in our shoes.

We all have a common enemy — the disease that is stealing from us our Loved Ones and at the same time the life we might have had were the disease to have passed by without stopping at our place.  The recent thread has ruffled feathers as members have disagreed on how to talk about what we do, the lives we have now that Lewy is part of the family.

Some talk about the unfairness of it and the pain and the waste of the life they wish they had and the ultimate defeat that comes at the hands of the disease.  Some write when they are depressed by their powerlessness, when they are grieving the loss of the person they love while that person’s body still needs care, while that person’s physical presence may be threatening, or simply vacant of recognition. Some feel like victims of things beyond their control.  Some cannot tolerate the thought of seeing the situation we are in as a privilege.

Some talk about the privilege of caring for their Loved Ones.  Some see the care being given as a choice made by the Caregiver.  They could have run out on their Loved Ones, but they have chosen to stay.  Some find satisfaction in what they are doing.  Some see their caregiving as their current job, providing them with meaning and purpose.  Some refuse to allow themselves to be victims.  Some make the best of the situation seeing positives that come out of it.

There is a continuum of feelings and perceptions that has the above attitudes at opposing ends.  For lots of complex reasons that have to do with people’s family of origin and life’s experience and world view, most of us gravitate to a certain place on that continuum as our home base.  With that said, at one time or another any of us can be at either end or anywhere between.

What is helpful is to have a place to go where there is permission to admit to being anywhere along that continuum — no apology needed, no justification, just understanding and acceptance.

I will admit that my home base lies in the place where there is acceptance of our lot being no better or worse than any other lot, just different.  I don’t feel victimized.  It feels very right to be enjoying a healthy relationship, fulfilling promises made.  I feel very privileged to be able to actually make a difference in the quality of life of someone else with actions, not just words and occasional gestures.  While I would not choose this disease for Mary Ann, I am grateful for the growth in our relationship, the strength of character it has brought to the surface in our Children and Grandchildren, the wonderful friendships of so many good people surrounding us with help and support, what it has taught me about real love, not the stuff in the movies, the depth of faith that has grown from knowledge to experience of the Presence of God and God’s unconditional love and acceptance moment by moment every day.  I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s.

At the same time, I can scream in frustration and feel overwhelmed at any point on any day of the week.  When my Lewy Body Dementia Caregiving brothers and sisters vent I am with them.  When they suffer, I am with them.  When they celebrate victories, even little ones, I celebrate with them.  They reveal courage as courage really looks when lived in the throes of real life, not as portrayed in the movies.  It is courage that can be messy and ugly and smelly and scary and enduring and bold and beautiful.

Privileged or overwhelmed?  Yup.

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He looks at his reflection in a window panel at deck level and attacks, again and again and again.  It is a wonder he hasn’t knocked himself out.  Coincidentally, just last week the Kansas Birders discussed this problem in a thread titled “Crazy Cardinal.”  An explanation on the Audubon site said that Cardinals and Robins are almost the always the culprits when this happens.  There is so much testosterone flowing at this time of the year that they will even fight with themselves for territorial dominance.

When I watched this strange behavior going on, I couldn’t help but remember the quotation by Pogo, which ended up the title of a book,  Pogo: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us.

If I have read this correctly, there is a paragraph quoted in the forward to
The Pogo Papers, Copyright 1952-3, that comes from “Quimby’s Law (passed by the Town of Quimby after the Trouble with Harold Porch in 1897) on which the quote was based.  Whether or not I am correct, the paragraph includes an expansion of those words.

“There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blast on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us.”

Watching that Robin expending so much energy fighting against his own reflection struck a chord with me about some of the battles I fight, battles that I suspect other Caregivers fight.  I have little doubt that this painful truth lies in the experience of most of us, Caregivers or otherwise.

It seems to me that sometimes I expend more energy and experience more frustration dealing with my reactions to problems than the problems themselves.  The problems themselves are just facts of our circumstances.  I have no control over them.  They just are what they are.  They have no sentience.  They aren’t seeking to make me miserable.  They are just the harsh realities of living with any other human being, let alone one with Parkinson’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease Dementia.  Some of those realities are just stuff that comes with daily living.

We have been impacted by Parkinson’s for over 23 years now.  That is just a fact of our lives.  Everyone has something to deal with, most often lots more than one something.  It is a waste of time to try to determine whose trouble is worse.  The issue is not who has more or who has less to deal with, the issue is, what will I do in the face of my problems.  I have a finite amount of time and stamina.  I can’t afford to waste a whole lot of it battling my own reflection.

Let me try to make sense of that.  When something happens, Mary Ann falls, I can pull the transfer chair over, pull her up, see if she hurt herself when she fell and then get on with whatever is next.  That takes some time and physical effort but nothing of major consequence.

Other alternatives for responding include the response just described plus wondering what possessed her to get up in the first place when she knows she is vulnerable to falling; is she just trying to make it difficult for me; why is she so stubborn, how many times do I have to do this; what if she hurts herself badly, that will mean hospital or rehab or nursing home; she will hate it there and so will I, will I have to spend my days at the nursing home doing all the things the staff doesn’t have time to do, should I have changed the dosage on a medication to help reduce the falls, is there something that I should have done to anticipate the fall and stop it from happening, if she would just stay in her chair, I could get something else done, Volunteers would be more willing to stay– the more she falls the less likely they are to keep coming to be with her.

I don’t go through all that every time she falls, but when anything happens, there can be all sorts of reactions that use up precious energy that would be better used just doing what needs to be done.  Too much time gets wasted fighting against imagined enemies that are created in my own mind.

Mary Ann slept well last night, and we both ended up sleeping late this morning — much needed.  Hospice Aide Sonya came and helped Mary Ann with the morning prep tasks.  There was some fainting later that resulted in a nap, but it was a fairly short nap.  We ate out at McFarland’s.  She allowed me to help her after a while.  We had some of Maureen’s spaghetti and Kroger’s brussel sprouts from the freezer.  Next came the promised trip to Baskin & Robbins.

Mary Ann is in bed now, but I am not sure yet how well she is sleeping.  There seems to be some restless movement.  Hopefully, we will both rest well enough to enjoy the beautiful day predicted for tomorrow.

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She wondered if Daughter Lisa was looking for an apartment for her and the girls.  I realized quickly that there had been a dream/hallucination/delusion at some point about our Daughter and Son-in-Law.  Mary Ann was convinced that Denis had asked for a divorce.  When I explained that they were solid as a rock, happily married and there was no divorce talk there, she said she had wasted a lot of time with her stomach in a knot.

Then came a part of the dream that she even thought was pretty silly.  There were Mormons who were trying to take over Denis’s Dad’s farm.  I guess they were some of his brothers, who were trying to talk him into becoming Mormon.  I have to say I am at a complete loss to figure out from where the scenarios for some of the dreams/delusions/hallucinations come.  Many seem to simply be misfiring neurons that use bits and pieces of material residing in distant corners of the memory banks.

When she insisted on getting up early, I knew today would be a difficult one.  I thought there might be some napping, freeing me to do other things.  She was up most of the day, confused for the majority of the time. When she is alert and just on the other side of lucid, it is more difficult for me to manage than many of the other challenging times.  Like many who are retired some days it takes me a while to figure out what day of the week it is.  I did not try to count how many times she mentioned the day and got it wrong or asked what day it was. More than once, she thought it was Easter.

There were things (invisible to me) one place or another in the house, things that needed explanation or needed to be picked up or dealt with in some way.  She stood up dozens of times to do something, often not knowing what.  I could not leave her side for more than minutes. It helped a little that there was an NCIS marathon on television.

She did eat pretty well. Very early this morning she started snacking since she had eaten very little at supper last night.  There was tapioca at 3:30am, applesauce at 5:30am and chips at 6:30am or 7am.  She ate her normal breakfast and lunch (with ice cream), and ate lots of the sausage, potatoes and onions I cooked for supper. It was her idea to get the ring of sausage the last time we went to the store.

While I did feel sort of tethered to Mary Ann’s side today (she doesn’t much like my hanging around and jumping up with her, always asking where she is going) there was a treat that helped keep me interested and engaged in the day.

We woke up to between five and six inches of snow.  Since the construction began, the birds have not been around.  The feeders had to be taken down so that they could work on the deck. The snow brought the birds back, by the dozen.

The waterfall was a draw.  There were birds of one sort or another in it most of the day.  There were still three feeders hanging from a stand in the back yard next to the waterfall.  There were some places that because of the overflow of water had hundreds of sprouting sunflower seeds.  A few birds managed to find there way through the snow to a spot in the back yard.

At the front of the house where some small feeders are located by and on the window, birds were busy.  The street in front of the house was filled with Robins drinking the melting snow.

We have a very good quality speaker in the house with a microphone outside, the wire coming through at the corner of a casement window.  When that microphone is on, the sounds of the birds are full volume inside the house.  The speaker is made for that purpose.  It was a present from our kids.

With probably a hundred or hundred and fifty birds spread among the trees in the back yard and the neighbors yards, the bird songs were constant all day long.  The birds came in shifts to the options, bird feeders and waterfall.  There were a lot of Starlings, certainly not a favorite.  There were Grackles and Robins and Mourning Doves, an occasional Bluejay, Brown Headed Cowbird.  In front there were sparrows, finches, a Cardinal and more Robins.

There was one bird represented in the back yard that brings back wonderful childhood memories.  Lots of folks are not fans of this bird because it can sometimes be found in huge flocks that can be a little overwhelming.  It is the Redwinged Blackbird.  Often, the color visible on the wing is actually yellow.  Redwinged Blackbirds are often found in swamps, sitting on or among cattails.

I spent some of my happiest times as a child, playing at the swamp a short block from the house.  I can still picture that crystal clear water with the cattails all around, filled with huge water bugs that had what looked like two large oars, one on each side of their bodies, tadpoles, and dragon flies everywhere.  Mom sometimes came down with the willow switch to bring me back home, fearing that I would fall in or hurt myself in some other way.  That did not deter me from my adventures there.  Once I made the mistake of describing the muskrat I saw down there.  Mom and Dad decided it was probably just a regular rat.

The cattails at the swamp were filled with singing Redwinged Blackbirds.  The moment I hear that sound, I am back at the swamp, feeling the wonder and joy and peace that I found there.  I only sctually saw and identified one Redwinged Blackbird in the yard today.  I heard more.  They were there all day long, singing often enough and loudly enough that I could hear them through the constant squeeking of the Starlings.

Late in the day, Mary Ann settled for a while, napped with her face on the little table in front of her.  She would not let me help her move.  During that time I was able to get the driveway and sidewalk shoveled.  Still later, I got the deck shoveled off and spread large quantities of oil type Sunflower seeds on the deck and next to the waterfall in hopes that there will be more visitors tomorrow, coming to eat.

Mary Ann’s three childhood friends arrive from Northern Illinois tomorrow evening.  Tonight as I was helping her into bed and giving her the night time pills, she heard them arriving.  I reminded her that it was tomorrow night that they were coming.  I hope she rests well tonight.

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“The Doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient.” Not only do some who read my posts show love and concern and words of compassion and support, some of you are also worried about how I am doing.  You may very well suspect that I am trying to treat myself spiritually and mentally, against which the above aphorism warns.

You may not change your mind after I have described what leads me to feel secure and healthy in the midst of dealing with so much over which I have no control.  I hope you catch sight of some of what keeps me grounded spiritually and mentally.  I will also share with you some things to watch for that might be symptomatic of losing my bearings.  What I will share is not just about me but anyone who is in a role like mine, or struggling in any way with things over which they have no control.

Last nights post was a window into the specifics of one of our challenges.  I have chosen to write in great detail what we are going through and my feelings about it.  I do so for a number of reasons.  One is that I think it is more interesting, and brings to life what we are experiencing in a way that is accessible to someone who doesn’t have direct experience with whatever it is.

I write in such detail the struggles we are going through and my feelings about them so that readers who are in this kind of role will be reassured that they are not alone in their frustrations.  Somehow it is a little easier to endure seemingly impossible situations when it is clear that there are others doing so.

I write in such detail, including feelings of helplessness as options seem to narrow and the boundary of the ability to cope comes into view. so that those who happen not have been there can catch sight of that place.  That goal is to encourage all of us to look each other with a level of compassion, realizing that the people we know, many of them, may be in the throes of some sort of personal battle, suffering in silence.

I am not silent.  One of the purposes of sharing all the gory details of our journey is that it helps me not to be silent.  I have been using all of you who read these purposes as a collective therapist.  You listen.  No one can go through another’s pain and experience it for them.  Each of us has to survive our own pain.  Many of us like doing so in a community.  You are my community.  The Volunteers are my community.  Friends and family are my community.  I am also part of your community.  One of the greatest joys in the ministry has been listening to and talking with others, maybe some of you, when you have been dealing with things over which you had no control.  I can only hope that the time we spent together helped.

When I write, I seek to be straight with you.  I have chosen, wisely or unwisely, to forgo any pretense that because I am a Pastor I am always pure and holy and strong and capable and wise and completely in control mentally and spiritually.  The tradition of which I am a part is about the Grace of God.  That means I believe that I am loved and forgiven just the way I come, ugliness and all.  I am not saddled with the hopeless task of becoming so wonderful and loving that I measure up to God’s expectations.  I need to be able to fail God and know that God will not fail me — even though it would be only fair for God to do so.  I don’t want a God that treats me with fairness.  I want a God who treats me with mercy.

Here is my assessment of how I am doing.  I think I am doing well.  I feel whole and full of life.  I hide very little from you as I write.  By doing so, it helps me see the reality of what we are going through here. It feels healthy to me to be able now to cry, to grieve, to express frustration, as well as describe the natural beauty that nurtures my spirit. I am free to feel the pain deeply because while it is very real, it does not have within it the power to destroy me.

Here is where the faith tradition of which I am a part frames my world view in specific terms.  I affirm that the One whose actions consummated the deal that has resulted in the Grace of God sustaining me and any who happen to recognize a need for it, has shown me how to live.  He loved people deeply, he knew how to party, he had compassion, he cried, he got angry, he got frustrated with others, he went off by himself to pray, he went to church, he felt pain, he felt overwhelmed, he cried out in desperation from the means of his execution, he faced death without pretense, went into it, through it all, and came out on the other side with life past any power to destroy it.

I feel utterly and completely secure in the love that surrounds me from the One who creates life in me every day, who has put his life on the line for me, whose Spirit nurtures my spirit.

In human terms, I have children and their spouses who listen to and support Mary Ann and me.  They will do anything in their power to be there for us.  I have Brothers and Sisters who care about us.  Every Wednesday morning four of us spend a couple of hours with Scripture and the reflections of others who have gone before us in the faith.  We talk about God’s participation in our lives moment by moment, day by day.  While not often enough, the interactions with friend John from Oklahoma have been exceedingly nurturing Spiritually.  At the moment he is leading a group on a mission trip to Guatemala.  Please keep him and his group in your prayers.  The times I spend in reading and meditation and solitude (deck time, listening to music, appreciating the beauty of nature) are pivotal in maintaining Spiritual and mental equilibrium.  The retreats to St. Francis of the Woods in Oklahoma are powerfully healing.

The online community of those caring for spouses with a form of Lewy Body Dementia has provided a place where complete understanding can be found.  There are many things that I would not say here in these posts that can be said openly in that group with utter and unconditional acceptance.  That group demystifies things that could have more power than they deserve. Reading those posts daily helps put our struggles in perspective.

Words are an important way for me to process what we are experiencing.  Using them in writing and in interaction with anyone unfortunate enough to ask how we are doing, provides a wonderful release.

Here is when to worry: when I stop writing and talking.  It will be time to worry when I no longer shower and wash my hair in the morning, get Mary Ann dressed and fed, make the beds and clean the commode, clean the kitchen counters, drink PT’s coffee and eat Baskin & Robbins ice cream (actually I should stop that last one, it would be healthier), feed the birds.  If I start telling everyone how perfectly I am doing, never sad or frustrated or out of control or grumpy or angry, always sweet and nice and wonderful, then it will be time to call 911 and have me institutionalized.

All of that being said, “The Doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient.” I appreciate people asking the hard questions of me since I could be deluding myself into thinking I am doing better than I am.  When the Hospice Social Worker came, she asked very many pointed questions of both Mary Ann and me.  I felt I was being absolutely honest with her when I answered each question.  I recognize that there are still more difficult times coming.  I feel healthy spiritually and mentally now, and I expect to deal with what comes as it comes in ways that express fully what I am going through. I am on the pay as you go plan.  When I hurt, I will hurt and when I am wounded, I will feel the pain.  With that Grace of God as the power, healing will come.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.