Assisted living · Caregiver · Caregiving · Dogs · Memories · Mindfulness

Slow boat to the present / June 16, 2007

I’ve been mulling over the very insightful comments left by Marty and Gail on my last post. I think Gail summed it up well when she stated that “it’s the tension between ‘doing’ versus ‘being’.” I’ve always been someone who feels that the “being” will come later on–there is just so much that needs to be done right now and therefore no time to just “be.” What Gail says about the demented and routine boils down to living a life that is increasingly and necessarily “in the moment.” I was rereading Joanne Coste’s Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s and found myself interested in her remarks about the loss of depth perception in Alzheimer’s sufferers. There’s a psychological analogy to this loss as I see my mother losing context–forgetting the stories that surround everything. And yet she still knows that there should be a story, so she pulls out whatever’s left and patches something together.

I’ve been taking her out for ice cream after dinner once a week, now that the weather is nice. Literally around the corner from Garden Manor is a place that makes its own ice cream in flavors you can’t get anywhere else: lemon coconut, chocolate raspberry. The area around the ice cream shop is still very woodsy (although development is slowly approaching) and across the street is a big lake. We get our cones and I park the car facing the water. We don’t say too much–we watch the boats and the anglers. I’m regaining an appreciation of simply looking at water. Possibly because I’ve had so many wonderful experiences around water–many of them with my parents–just the sight of it is calming.

When I was a kid we used to go the the beach in the evening, when my father came home from work. My mother would bake chicken in some kind of cinnamon coating, and we’d pack it up, pick up my grandfather, and drive to either Newport or Point Judith. Once we spread our blanket out on the sand and got settled, my grandfather would smoke a cigar without saying much; my father would read. My mother, sister and I would walk to the tideline and look for shells while the water washed around our legs. That evening light and the salty smell can lower my blood pressure to this day. The sounds of the buoys and the seagulls, the great big rhythm of the tide–when my mother and I now sit and look out at the lake I begin to feel a bit of that peace. I wonder if the sight of the lake can still suggest to her the peaceful feelings of those days, even though the stories might be lost?

Yesterday I took Jasper with me, which reduces the peace factor but my mother enjoys him so much. I found her in her room, in the middle of something that had to do with taking a break from “the people in the auditorium.” I suggested we go for ice cream and she immediately agreed, but needed to let them know she was going. The “people,” it turned out, were a new resident–a sweet, childlike woman named Betty. My mother found her in the common room and talked with her a few moments. “You go and have a good time,” I heard Betty say as I approached them. “This is my sister,” my mother introduced me, but Betty had her eye on Jasper. “A little dog!” she exclaimed and bent over to pat him.

Jasper shines at moments like this. He lifts his little head and lets himself be petted, then gives his admirer a kiss. His behavior there continues to amaze me because he can be a demon puppy at home–he’s chewed the kitchen linoleum, several shoes and his very nice dog bed. When I lean over and sternly say “NO” he looks at me for a moment with those adorable eyes, then barks sharply as if to say “Make me stop,” and runs off to find something else to get into. He “graduated” from Puppy Kindergarten last week, which involved the awarding of a diploma. I accepted it for him, and–the pressure finally off–he squatted and did his business in the middle of the training room.

So we finally dragged Jasper away from his fans and found ourselves enjoying our ice cream and watching the water splash as the small boats passed by us. My mother was quiet for awhile, but finally said, “I’d love to be on a boat.” I tried to remember the last time we’d taken a boat ride together–maybe years and years ago across Lake George in upstate New York?–and remembered that one of the activities planned for the residents at Garden Manor was a boat ride. I wondered if she would go on that trip, or if she would prefer to be on a boat with me. I made a mental note to check on possible boat rides across the lake.

When we returned to the Manor at about 7:30, most of her fellow residents were in their pajamas, including Betty. My mother would not settle in her room until she tracked Betty down. I spotted the two of them saying good-night to each other in the hallway and giving each other a kiss on the cheek, which made my leaving a little easier.

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