Lynne called. You said I’d like this place I do. Activities, care, safe. Staff love you. You’ve got a hard job to walk — can’t remember, find words, figure things out. You’ve got to fight through it. You’re strong. You can do it. Where’s your smile? Everybody.. always loved your smile. You used it all the time. I was afraid you’d run out of smiles. I checked, though. You can never run out of smiles. Go give ‘em one of your smiles. Slight chuckle. You always make me feel better. OK. She stood up in a warm shawl, hair neatly parted, framing her face with a thin smile and walked out.
I can make her feel better, for a while. I can’t make her think better, ever. Nobody else can either, for a while.
I can take Lynne outside alone, so in heavy rain we quietly drove to the lakefront and around town playing Christmas & folk music. She focused on passing scenes with memories of walks and restaurants. Caregivers found her missing birthday dress.
She clicked into her front seatbelt. We liked seeing Cal Anderson Park swept clean again and hoped the neighborhood could find peace. We sipped Dick’s vanilla milkshakes. We drove past her former home. She remembered times at closed restaurants close by, her boys playing along the shoreline, Uncle Ike’s. She laughed when I reminded her she walked me downhill to the Lake so fast we had to turn around so I could get back up. Finally, she carried her heavy Christmas wreath of green and red bells up her room.
Early before Lynne’s 2nd birthday party, she was crying, anxious, didn’t want to go. Why? Confined? Lonely? Isolated? Trapped? Embarassed? Caregiver Dorothy and I encouraged her. Dorothy escorted her. We had fun.
We celebrated at a party, a two-day Zoom party for Lynne’s 55th birthday. It was coordinated by her friend Nancy with participation from over 25 Aegis staff, family and friends of Lynne over the last 50 years.
They sent gifts to me, which I delivered and photographs to Nancy, who shared them on Zoom. Nancy collected titles of Lynne’s favorite songs and artists for dancing and singing with her, including a Congo line. We’ll create a new Alexa playlist for singing and dancing in her apartment. Aegis reserved a conference room for an hour each day and decorated it for a party. Caregivers sat by her side. She opened presents and ate cake.
The room had a massive TV screen so Lynne could identify individuals in the Zoom matrix as they shared how much Lynne meant to them as a friend, and often gratitude for her role in their careers and marriages. We saw her face light up over and over. We shared lots of laughter and dabbed at tears.
This celebration blessed me with gifts. I am blessed she welcomes me as her dad. My respect for her grows and grows, even bordering on awe, when I hear who she is as a sister, wife, mother, recruiter, teacher, lover, friend, and most rewarding for me, a daughter. At times like these, I am grateful for what she means to people, many of whom know her better than I do. Which makes me profoundly grateful for this community of caregivers. We are a community who care for her and for each other.
I couldn’t live up to her expectations if I had to care for her alone.
The Director of the Aegis facility indicated that I was cleared be an essential support family member, which permits me to have two visits per week with Lynne for either an outdoor walk or a personal visit in the lobby area.
The privilege is a serious responsibility impressed upon me by the director and activities director. They drilled me about protocols and stressed they had no Covid in the building, so if it comes in, it will come in through me. We were not to walk near a park two blocks away now overrun by homeless tents. If I visited, I could hug Lynne with a medical mask over my mouth and nose, a plastic shield over my face and a medical gown.
Friday we walked in a quiet neighborhood to view Christmas decorations spreading light in the gloaming. We phoned Henrik. It felt like normal family time. On Monday Lynne gave me her still strong hug for the first time since March. She also hugged a Christmas gnome from our family decorations to go alongside the 12 wooden Santas from her home. Thanks to neighbor Jennifer for that suggestion. We video chatted with Keith, Sheri and Pam.
Lynne told us that she felt safer recently — “things have calmed down a little,” is how I think she said it.
The visits gave us tenderness that felt close, lively, calm, satisfying, and relief from the painful, frustrating isolation we’ve been enduring.
We are grateful to be one step closer to our pre-Covid normal this Christmas season.
Lynne remembered her mother put up Christmas decorations every December 1. A favorite of Lynne’s was the Mrs. Santa Claus doll. Mrs. Clause was the first decoration of many I’ll bring during December.
Eric Larsen, MD Kaiser Permanente Health Research Institute says indelible memories in the first 20 years can be enjoyed the rest of our lives. “We should strive to treasure the miraculous ability of the brain to hold onto the past as well as it does.”
Christmas decorations from the family are a good way to do that in December.
Nancy a friend of my daughter Lynne, sent me the book Female Firebrands by Mikaela Kiner, CEO of reverbpeople.com, and a Microsoft alumnus like Lynne and Nancy. Luna, the Care Director estimated Lynne showed her the book 20 times to open and read a paragraph. The subtitle is Stories and Techniques to Ignite Change, Take Control, and Succeed in the workplace. Lynne seems to doing that in her memory care unit. Thanks, Nancy and Mikaela Kiner
Aegis reported they kicked off the week before Thanksgiving with a little fun in memory care. The Health Service Director dressed up as a Turkey and spent some time with Lynne and other residents. Lynne’s the one on the left in the photo. 😊 Holiday decorations should keep up the spirits during the upcoming “Week of Thanksgiving.” Staff will deliver different types of deserts for the residents and visitors every day on the Outdoor Living. Lynne has been active with weights, a hair cut and shampoo and outdoor walks. One day, she came back from her walk and entered the daily stand-up staff meeting. They were pleased to see her and gave her a chair. Lynne’s still caring for staff. She saw a caregiver have an incident with a difficult resident and said to her, “You’re having a bad day.” A nurse told me about another bad day for Lynne. A resident hit her in the chest, hard enough to have her chest looked at, but there wasn’t a visible injury. When she was shaken by another incident she witnessed, caregivers led her onto her bike. After she pedaled herself into recovery, they asked Alexa to play Madonna so they could dance with her until she felt safe and settled. Caregivers continuously resolve such disturbing behaviors. We have a lot to be thankful for, including caregivers in tune with Lynne during the loneliness on holidays. Bless them.
Aegis reviews Lynne’s behavioral symptoms quarterly. Her sleep patterns were disturbed by the switch to standard time and the increase in nighttime. The medical director prescribed medications for longer and more regular sleep.
Lynne repeats herself, called looping, about every 30 seconds when she initiates conversations. She waits outside the care director’s office for her to come back rather than sit with other people. They’ve had another COVID case on her floor, so she’s in lockdown again. She often calls me to say it’s difficult.
I said recently, “Well of course it’s hard honey, you have a disease, Alzheimer’s.”
She said, “I do? Maybe that’s what it is.”
Now I use short sentences to tell her stories of current events, even the election, or long-term memories of her boys, her mom, her friends. If we meet in Outdoor Living, I’ll bring her a vanilla milkshake from Dick’s Burger’s. She thanks me, listens, comments appropriately, and searches for words to add something. She’s very pleasant most of the time. When her mind wanders after 20 minutes, I ask her if it’s time to go.
Lynne can still laugh, even at my jokes. “Lynne, everybody loves you. Everybody — well, maybe your little sister didn’t like you for a while.” “Lynne, you don’t have to wear a mask over your mouth while we’re on a video chat with me. I don’t have Covid.” Lynne liked a new headband Edith gave her. I thought Edith made them and called her, but she purchased six different headbands for delivery to me. I’m giving them to Lynne one at a time. I reminded her she was wearing one from Edith. She laughed. “That’s Edith.” Henrik and I bought her a pumpkin and Honeycrisp apples. She wants the pumpkin to have a smiley face. She likes fresh Honeycrisp apples, so I cut one into small bites for her. She ate them while we video chatted. She had to leave the chat to wash her sticky hands. I didn’t tell her Henrik and I picked them fresh on our annual trip to Bellwood Farms in Bellingham with Keith’s family. She called one day and said, “Okay, I’m not going to cry.” We turned on her echo to play Lyle Lovett and she got on her bike to pedal. She said that was better. I’ve added treats to Lynne’s daily Starbucks and trail mix. Friends and family send me books and I deliver them one at a time, because we have not been able to confirm she gets books sent to her address. She had Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon when Keith visited through plexiglass. She can read pictures better than words now. Edith delivered one, titled: This Book Is Literally Just Pictures of Cute Animals That Will Make You Feel Better, edited by Smith Street Books. She laughed and shook her head, “That’s, Edith.” I give Lynne copies of photographs of her boys and family. She says, “I just want to be with my boys more.” Luna, the Director of Caregiving, has fun with her. She said, “Lynne was sitting outside my door one day. I said come on in. She laughs a lot. One day Lynne told me she was done working for the day and was ready to go home. She is the number one resident caregiver at Aegis.” Of course, Luna and caregivers are having fun with her. That’s who she is. I loved her hearty laugh when we ate, sat, read, hugged, talked, celebrated, kicked a pink soccer ball, walked the neighborhood, or arboretum, or waterfront on Lake Washington. And I know caregivers are solving problems. Lynne ended another chat with, “Dad, I have to go now because I’m having a problem with my bra.” Luna told me she’s pulling her bra down around her waist. It makes her extremely uncomfortable, so Luna ordered two camisoles. Luna also alerted me that Lynne cycled through a conversation last week — eight to ten times in a few minutes. She’s started picking at her food. I tell myself it’s fair for Aegis caregivers to have most of the fun because they’re caring for her the most. I tell myself that when I miss her the most.