Memories from Miles Away

Even though Susan lives thousands of miles from Lynne, she shared personal stories deep from her heart as a gift for Lynne. I shared the stories with Lynne and her boys, wondering how much Lynne would remember in her dimming light. She remembered Susan and so did the boys. We caregivers benefitted from those stories more than I expected. I have edited the three stories for brevity and clarity for you readers. After the stories I’ll summarize what they meant to us.

Lynne’s Office.  Early days working at Microsoft as recruiters, Lynne and I took an extra hour at our desks after the frenzy of candidates had left for the day to celebrate a hire or commiserate a no-hire. I would find myself walking to Lynne’s dark office with only her desk lamp on. It looked really calm in there. Her desk was always cleaner than mine. She was surely on top of it all. I wanted to be with her in her office in the soft glow of calm and confidence. She always greeted me with a smile for a quick chat that sometimes turned into an exceedingly long chat. We mostly laughed and talked about the “big nerds” we loved and how overwhelmed we were.  That shared experience proved foundational over 30-plus years. Somehow recently, I remembered to remember that gift, her gift, just down the hall from me day after long day.

Baby Roses. Early in 1997 Lynne shared she was pregnant with Henrik and Simon. IShe was in the very early days when doctors tell you not to tell anyone. She told me in the strictest confidence. I was overjoyed for her and Clemens. Lynne was beaming with happiness. It was contagious. I bought them flowers, baby roses to be exact, because Lynne always had a batch of fresh flowers from her garden, so another fresh batch would not indicate any celebration. I remember being proud I found a way to celebrate with her while not projecting her secret. It was our “inside joke.” What strikes me today is I didn’t care if my gift was premature. Her smile when I delivered the flowers said Lynne was delighted someone could simply join her in her joy. Not overthink it. Just enjoy that moment.

Saving a Stranger Dog. One day Lynn and I came across a large shepherd mix awake but not moving in the middle of a dirt road. We were on a hike, a girls getaway. Our heart sank when we realized this dog would likely die. Lynne got her car and together we loaded it into the back of the van. It had hundreds of ticks in its skin. I asked Lynne if she wanted a tick infested dog in her car. She looked at me and said no problem. The shelter tried to find the rightful owner. A few days later I called Lynne and much to my surprise, she was seriously considering adopting this dog, from a rural existence with so many ticks. I thought, Of course Lynne wanted this dog. This was one of those times that as Lynne’s best friend , I forcefully shared my concerns given her full house with kids, dogs, and cats. She was frustrated, maybe at me, I don’t know. I don’t recall speaking of that dog again. It never moved in with her.

I’m not sure Lynne remembered those stories, so it was a blessing for her to to hear them again. The boys enjoyed the memory of Lynne’s friendship with Susan through a lasting relationship, secret pregnancy celebration, and protecting Lynne’s family from self-inflicted trouble due to her overwhelming compassion. Those memories now live with her boys. I have vowed to share those stories with the boys. I don’t have those stories, friends do. And by sharing them in a network of sharing and posting, friends can see ways to care for all of us by sharing memorable stories with Lynne.

Sunday Funday Girlfriend Outing

by Nancy Hilpert

Two best friends of Lynne, Nancy & LynnR, transformed her from rigid advanced Alzheimer’s into lively outdoor activity. Lynne’s response thrilled me, and humbled me, because they enlivened her more than I believed could happen. Nancy’s story tells us how.
My friend LynnR and I had texted ahead on Saturday to coordinate our plan for today, and were expecting the morning fog to clear into a Sunny day by 1PM, and so we timed our visit with the sunshine. We talked about driving Lynne out to Dairy Queen (one of our favorite work haunts from the good old days in Redmond) or maybe to the Capitol Hill Farmers Market that she always loved so much. The day wasn’t looking very promising as far as sunshine goes until I arrived at Aegis, running a tad late, but just as I arrived the clouds started parting and the sun was burning through. LynnR had gone in ahead and was bringing Lynne down from the Memory Care floor just as I entered the lobby. As the elevator doors opened and I saw it was them, I stepped forward to greet them, they both smiled, and I cherished that moment of being remembered by dear friends. I won’t take it for granted.

I had parked in the garage and it turns out this made it easier for Lynne to get into the car, taking the elevator down is easier then when we park on the street, since navigating over curbs is difficult for her now. Her eyesight is limited to straight ahead and she tends to keep her head lifted up and back, with her chin elevated into what I tease her is her ‘haughty bitch’ look–this always makes her laugh. But today with her head so high, she can’t see where she’s going, she can’t even see me. I make a “short-person” joke, since let’s just say LynnR and I are on the ‘petite’ side and our long legged Lynne is definitely ‘grande’, and ask her if she can look down more to see us. She giggles and agreeably says “I’m trying,” with a happy but slightly confused tone…she doesn’t understand exactly how to make it happen with her body. I asked her if I could help her move her head down, and she said, “sure” and so I held her head with my hands and tried to gently guide her head forward and down, to drop her chin a bit. She was able to do it, and I asked if it hurt and she said no. But after a few moments, her head had returned to its prior posture. Just one of the mysteries…

Lynne was talking about loving flowers and so we decided to stop by Volunteer Park which has at this moment in full bloom a hillside draped in with thousands of daffodils, yellow, white, cream, and combinations of all three colors, it’s just stunning. We got the car to a wide open area where LynnR could help Lynne get out–the getting-out goes slow but better than the getting-in back at the garage. She moves slowly and is cautious backing up and just moving in general, but sitting down into a car requires her to drop down behind into a seat she cannot see. It feels strange and a little scary to her, so LynnR and I work together to help her find her legs, and turn her body so she just needs to drop down sideways into the front seat, then we’ll lift her legs and swing her body around to face forward, was the plan. Which we did accomplish, after much effort, and helping her move by touching her legs or whatever needed to move and reminding, lift this left leg, ok good, now lift the right, a small step. Ok, now, we’re turning around, as one of us guides her hips/legs and the other shoulders/torso.
In the park she loves the fresh air and the bird song, and she notices “Brrrr, it’s cold” when we’re in the shade and the breeze comes up, and she notices “this is nice,” “this is warm” when we walk in the sunny patches of field or sidewalk. We do show her some pretty bulbs in bloom but we can’t get her to the biggest stands where they cover an expanse of hundreds of feet, massive stands covering a hillside embankment. It’s too far for her to walk these days, and we fear she wouldn’t be able to see. But she loves being out in the fresh air and feeling the sunshine.

Her hearing is heightened –she notices the sound of the airline jets firing overhead as one passes thousands of feet above us and comments, “wow that’s loud” pointing upward at the sky. What sounds like a distant rumble to me is loud and jarring to Lynne’s ears. We notice this at other times: when a car passes over a grate which rattles loudly she jumps back, her shoulders clenching and her hands up around her ears. When I play music, Dolly, the first one I hit, Jolene, I realize isn’t really one of her faves as the first verse begins with it’s heavy guitar riff, and she says ‘Not that’ and so I say Islands in the Stream and it’s a definitive “Yes!” Then it’s I Will Always Love You, which gets us both singing and humming. That’s what we’re doing while we’re parked blocking someone’s drive on Summit Ave, waiting for LynnR to return from the Top Spot Donut shop with an iced coffee for Lynne and a selection of donuts to include an apple fritter, a maple bar, and a double chocolate donut. Lynne still knows what music she prefers and can tell me and I’m so grateful for this. She is connecting through the basic channels that remain for her, and we are learning to adapt. Re-tuning our receivers to be able to experience life on her bandwidth. She is still teaching us.

LynnR returns having secured all the goods. We’ve learned over these months of visiting that caffeine and sugary sweets are great for Lynne–she loves consuming them and we notice that they perk her up and so to speak ‘improve performance.’ And so we head over to the Capitol Hill Sunday Farmers Market to hang out in the adjacent park which is always full of young people and families and dogs and live music. I drop them off at the park and then find a parking spot a few blocks away. When I get back into the park I see them sitting on a bench in front of the fountain. From here we have a full view of all the happenings in the park and the people passing through on the promenade while we break pieces of the pastries into bite sized chunks and feed them to Lynne alternating between the three flavors and her iced coffee.

A local rock band is howling a low mellow grunge and the sun is really burning now and the sky is clear blue and there are birds chirping and calling and jumping in the bushes all around us and there are seagulls swimming overheard in the sky, chasing each other, and the water flowing in the fountain is making that pleasant white noise and the dogs are barking and the kids are laughing and the couples are wooing and the babies are napping and the hot guys are showing off their muscles w their long shorts and tank tops. And Lynne is noticing and commenting and pointing and getting excited and animated and stimulated by it all. “There’s a baby,” she says with that gooey never-met-a-baby-she-didn’t-love tone that is so hers. She’s watching the dogs play, pointing and laughing ,”look at them, so fast, he ran!, goof, hah, dogs” and smiling. The music is good and she sways and I jump up and dance a little and she’s swaying a bit to the beat and saying about the band “these guys are good” and “so Seattle, grunge” and we’re agreeing with her as we hum along to their happy-sad grungey-guitar heavy-bass tune feeling happy-sad to be in the sun now, knowing that it’s only here for short while before more cold and rain and dark.

All of a sudden Lynne is talking louder, her body is animated, she’s leaning toward the walkway and pointing. There is a new-old energy emanating. She’s shining, flashy, magnetized. I look to where she is pointing towards a pack of thirty something guys: fit, good looking, hard bodied, brown skinned, en forme, and yes, super hot. She is saying words and I am hearing excitement, attraction, flirtation. She’s being randy! We love it. I tease her, you think those guys are hot don’t you, and she laughs loudly and nods her head in agreement, “Oh yes!” and I say, they do look pretty strong and big and we joke around about her taste in ‘big guys’. More pass by and she points them out as well. LynnR notices she likes being around these younger people, and Lynne agrees. As we get up and walk toward the car, we pass near the band. Lynne is swaying a bit and humming the music. She is now walking much faster and with a surer footing than before. The caffeine and sugar are kicking in. We pass over the field where the dogs play, chasing balls and each other across the long expanse of grass. We pass by an area with swings and Lynne points interestedly, and I hear “Swings, love that, fun.” When I ask if she wants to go swing she says “why not” playfully and so we do. They have these fancy swings made of synthetic shells that have full bucket seats and a safety bar. Lynne was able to sit down into that with both of us encouraging and helping and then LynnR pushed her from behind Lynne swinging back and forth with her long legs never leaving the ground but her body getting the feeling of the wave motion and her legs got exercise as they bent and rose with the swing. She loved it. After a while we walked back to the car and this time, when LynnR opened the door and started to help position Lynne, she was able to just spin on her feet and tuck in like a pro and sit down with very little assistance.

After I dropped LynnR and Lynne back at her care home, I took a moment to resonate with how good it is to be with my friend Lynne and have the support and partnership of LynnR for these Sunday visits. And of feeling grateful for Lynne’s family and our whole friend network all who help in whatever ways they can. Then I called Jim to check in. I sent him a couple of photos from our outing. He answered and he updated me on his earlier time that day with Lynne. It was a hard morning. But as always he’s using what he sees to collect data, to see gaps and triggers in her care, to ideate solutions, ask for help, and to educate and communicate with the staff. He sounds a little tired and I know how hard he works to keep Lynne’s circumstances as good as possible while keeping her safe and well resourced. I’m glad to call him and share the fun and engagement we’ve had w/ our girlfriend outgoing today.
I told him about all the things we did –except the swings, I forgot the swings part, so that’s a fun surprise for him now! I reported back on how she continues to be more verbal now that they’ve changed up her meds based on Jim’s direction working with Lynne’s doctors. And I’m realizing that even when I don’t make sense of her words, that she knows that I’m listening and maybe that’s all she needs at that moment. And at times when her words suggest, and direct us, we can pay attention to all the additional communications signals through energy, touch, posture and presence in addition to words. It’s a reminder to meet her where she is. And to keep trying, even when she seems to be losing capability, because if we get discouraged and stop trying, then she slides that much faster.
And since she is enjoying the experience, she is getting challenges and practice and it helps her stay connected and to feel involved and to be in the world living as a member of the whole community. Which is how she always was and wanted to be. She of course will continue to progress in her condition but in the meantime we can still give her the dignity and joy of being in the world as she would have been otherwise. We get as much out of these visit as Lynne does, and it’s this sweet time together that provides the honey to go with the bitter of this situation. Making memories and enjoying the fullness of life and friendship together–that’s what these Sunday girlfriend outings are all about!

Felicity and Separation

Caregiving Caregiver Loneliness Caregiver Fear

When we went for our drive Monday she hesitantly let me buckle her in. I gave her a blue thank you card from a friend for the surprise birthday visit Lynne and I gave him. She said, “Oh look, he remembered my name.”
I inserted it in a book of poems I bought her by Mary Oliver titled, Felicity, the quality of being happy.
“Who gave me this, Nancy?”
“Yes.”
I don’t think she remembers I’m Dad when she sees me. She doesn’t call me Dad. She’s losing track faster than I expected, even though she has regularly dropped rapidly followed by stable periods. This feels like the last stage of recognizing people. I knew it was coming, but I am surprised how much I’m afraid. Karen and I cared for her until I lost her, forcing me into a primary focus on Lynne and a memoir to adapt to being a widower. I don’t know what I’ll do when she loses all recognition in steeper and steeper declines. Where do I find my purpose? Is writing her memoir enough? Caregiving is getting harder.
At least we have car trips with a vanilla shake at Dick’s Burgers. I buckled her back into the front seat and set the shake on the roof above my back seat before I climbed in. When I remembered the shake on the roof I hoped it was still on the roof with my smoothly slow driving. It was gone and I needed to run through the car wash. I reminded myself to put drinks on the hood of the car, instead of the roof, so I’ll see it when I get behind the steering wheel. It’s worked for decades. Am I losing it? I recovered by stopping at Starbuck’s in Leschi for her favorite lemonade and iced black tea. She never missed her shake. IBesides, if she’d remembered it we’d have been fine. Karen would have reminded me.
My drive was designed to place her in a sanctuary. I was mostly silent. She agreed to a playlist of her birthday songs and sang their lyrics. I let her rest, relax. My purpose is to stream experiences into her psyche she rarely feels in assisted living. When I drive she moves and sways. She effortlessly experiences cherry blossoms, yellow daffodils, an Orthodox church, playing fields, playground equipment, Montlake elementary, Lake Washington Drive, arboretum, children, horns, jack hammers, air brakes, dogs, cats, a dog kennel, the Coyote shop, the smell of coffee and ripples on Lake Washington glistening with sunshine under a blue sky over snow-capped mountains.
The streaming experience is guiding her mind instead of me, staff, schedules, medications, meals. She is connected with me. She fingered the blue thank you card and rotated Felicity from front to back. She opened it. “That’s so nice of Nancy. I’m going to read this.”
Speaking is easy, flawless. “That playfield is deep. The arboretum is beautiful. Look at the dog. Oh, there’s the dog kennel. That Cayote shop is so good.”
At one point I reached for something near the gear shift and she slapped my hand with the blue thank you. Why? What was that? Was she warding off my hand? I know she’s been afraid and anxious, so was this an impulse to ward off somebody touching her? On our last hug she gave me a loose shoulder hug. Is she fearing an embrace because she is losing recognition of people?
My purpose of the trips iis to give a sanctuary without the necessary demands of institutional care where she is denied, corrected, and redirected. In her sanctuary she did not ponder answers to questionanswering. She was not confused, anxious, lost, afraid, wandering, confronted, threatened, unsteady, alone, hiding, escaping, shouting, angry, aggressive, hopeless, useless, hungry, thirsty, tired, worrying, hurting, stumbling, or falling.
Creating her sanctuary makes me lonely. I don’t tell jokes to hear her laugh, or praise her boys to get her joyous. Talking pressures me and and it’s not reaching her as meaningfully. I have become a bystander, a monitor. I know loneliness is normal in Seattle’s dreary winters, but I haven’t been lonely. I shared my feelings of loneliness with my son on his visit, and my youngest daughter on the phone. She was lonely because she couldn’t visit. I shared my feelings with three care groups, which is all I could work in. They all helped me.
I had an epiphany: visit my daughter in Chico, California. She has been isolated, I have been vaccinated, we are lonely. She isexcited. I’m excited. It lifted my loneliness from facing another weekend alone watching players dribble in every basketball game I could record. I’ll hug my daughter, her husband, my dog and her dog. We’ll walk in 70-degree sunshine along a river running through the forest in Chico. We’ll talk about our writing. I’ll work on her patio. I feel guilty because I’m leaving Lynne in assisted living. I doubt I’ll tell Lynne I’m visiting her sister. She won’t miss me. We can talk by phone. I feel guilty about keeping it a secret. Telling her would make her sad. I worry she’ll discover I’m there. She loves to visit her sister.
When I dropped her off, I turned to wrap her in my arms, but she resisted as if I was smothering her. She turned to ask the concierge for help with Marilyn. He reached out to touch her hand, “OK, say it again Lynne, because I don’t know anyone named Marilyn.”
She held Felicity in her other hand.

We’re So Blessed

fun activities

A Caregiver Reading Lynne’s Poem

Lynne joined me for our visit in a private room. She wore black and gray cotton sweaters, summer red and yellow capri pants and flip flops on bare feet. We had 11 inches of snow outside her window. She said, “There was so much snow. … You couldn’t go.”
I had decided to amicably encourage her by quietly listening to every word, if she was in a good mood. I want to know her thoughts when she spends hours alone, or absorbed in thought around other people, and when staff doesn’t need to call me because she’s anxious.
Quiet smiles amid slurps of our strawberry and vanilla milkshakes.
“They’re going to get someone new. … Not yet.”
She looks at the floor. “We had it all. We have family. We’re together.”
I nodded, “We are.”
She squeezed her hands. “And they’re so good. … We’re so lucky. … We’re so blessed.”
She sat back. “That’s why they say, ‘I’m uppity’…. Because we have it all.”
We opened her 55th birthday album of family photographs. She paged through it, stopping with a laugh and a point. “They were so little. … I loved that shirt.”
She’d follow a thought in silence until she noticed the album and flipped another page. “There she is.”
I read her the poem, I’m From Mom, which she wrote for Karen on Mother’s Day in our fiftieth year of marriage. She laughed, repeating phrases.
After half-an-hour, she leaned forward. “I think I should probably get back. I don ‘t want to overstay. Or they’ll think I’m uppity.”
We showed her poem to the concierge, who read it along with her. “It sounds like Mary Oliver,” he said.
He made a copy for the Activities Director, who promised he’d read it in poetry class the next day.
I slipped out.

Visits and Guilt

caregiving

Lynne’s three boys, mostly men now, over 18 and 6’ 3” tall who wrap me in their arms, visit Lynne an hour every Thursday when they are together between fulltime schooling and work. Lynne squeals with joy when they sit down in the outdoor living room at Aegis.
They share and laugh for an hour over memories and current stories. Rides on her scooters. Scary rides at theme parks that stopped at the top. Cars they liked to drive or were afraid to drive. Lynne burning up her Mom’s car engine in high school. Lynne pumping up her ballplayers by urging them to visualize themselves making a great play.
It worked, one said.
The older twins describe a neighborhood playmate who towers over them now. One remembered the playmate’s mom, a friend of Lynne’s, would criticize him as if he was her kid. Lynne telling them to write down goals. They never did it but they agreed research shows it works better if you write them.
Agreeing, You could talk to her about anything, everything.
It’s taken a long time for me to get her brotherhood into a regular schedule on topics they would enjoy. At first irregular visits were awkward with uncomfortable silences. I reminded them dementia wipes out short term memory and language skills first, leaving her able to recall long-term memories. Plus, she is interested in whatever interests them. They keep her animated. They look forward to it, arriving early the last two visits.
I worry they will forget. I remind them. I worry the boys will feel guilty they didn’t visit more, like I feel guilty about my mom when she had Alzheimer’s. I worry once a week is not enough. Lynne said recently, They don’t have to do that. They’re so busy.
The whole family worried as the boys’ school performances deteriorated during their shock over her diagnosis. The twins left college to come back together to support each other to support her.
She frequently remembers them when people ask her about them, they are all doing exceptionally well. Now she falters to find words to name them even as she shakes her smiling face in bliss.
I worry I should do more. I should visit outside more. I should call her on video chat more. She rarely answers because staff says she stays in the shared living area. I reason if she’s not calling me, she’s happy with some other activity. I hear her ringtone on my cell which usually means she or staff want me to cheer her up. Sometimes I ignore it because I can’t find the courage to help her. I feel guilty. I tell myself about all my other responsibilities as a widower, writer, investor, father, grandfather, and sharing her story with friends. I have to exercise and stay active for my mental healh.
But I still feel guilty when I remember I visited Mom less and less as her awareness drained out of her. I might have done more.
For now her boys love their visits, and are busy doing well, which is Lynne’s ever accessible joy. And if they feel guilty in the future, I hope they can forgive themselves. I can ususally forgive myself, but there is always the residue of doubt about what I might have done.

Getting Help to Relive Memories

fun activities

With riends at a Lyle Lovet concert

People in late stages of dementia can relive memories wrapped in their five senses and heartwarming emotions. Those are the best times for Lynne and me now. I’d like to learn more ways caregivers can help loved ones relive those memories.
Recently, she was snug in the front seat of my car listening to Neal Diamond music and singing his lyrics as we drove through a rainy night. She looked out the window at parks and restaurants in her Madrona, Leschi and Capital Hill neighborhoods, interrupting her singing to briefly comment on the scenes. On a video chat she listened to me read every word of Sharon Olds’ poem, First Hour. It’s about a newborn’s thoughts. I told her that and when I finished she immediately remembered holding each of her three newborn boys.
I, we caregivers, want ideas to reach deep into more of those memories so we can relive them in restricted, confusing, anxious times.
I have read recommendations about how to assist Lynne’s behaviors when I’m with her. She opened a back door of the car to sit on the lowered seat, but said she couldn’t get her legs in. I guided her into the passenger seat. She quickly tangled her neck in the seatbelt until I clicked it in for her.
I’d like more training on drawing out the deep memories, especially when I can only care for her on a video chat or sitting alone with her, even then unable to touch her without gloves and a shield, let alone hug her. What senses and emotions help draw out pleasant memories? In the car, did feeling snug in her passenger seat relieve her anxiety and let her focus on the scenery? Was it the music? The lyrics? Me by her side? With the poem, did it help to feel secure in her favorite chair? Me introducing the poem by talking about newborns and mothers? Dad’s familiar voice? The flow of the lyrics?
I search for connections to memories by watching, listening, asking and showing her pictures to see what settings, words, images and names excite her senses and emotional experiences. I need help. And I confess I feel pressure because her reservoir of memories is draining away rapidly.
Can I get help from our worlds of virtual reality? Lynne had a fabulous time with friends at a Lyle Lovett concert two years ago. Could she wear virtual reality goggles and earphones to sing and dance with fans and friends at concerts like Madonna? Could she dance in sock hops on reruns of The Dick Clark Show? Could gaming programmers develop videos for people with dementia where they could hug avatars instead of zap them? Could exercise equipment manufacturers mimic virtual scenery while residents exercise on stationary bikes? Could we collect videos from family and friends to rerun in endless loops like TikTok videos? Could we download YouTube videos?
There must be people who could recommend more ways to raise up Lynne’s memories for us to enjoy in the present Covid restrictions — experts for caregivers, architects for room and building designs, owners of assisted living facilities with lively experiences from households or neighborhoods.
Please help.

First Times With Her Boys

Video Chat Fun

Lynne’s boys fully clothed

Lynne & a caregiver called last night.
I said, Do you want to hear a poem? I have Billy Collins book, 180 More. It’s First Hour, by Sharon Olds.
Yes

It’s about a newborn’s first hour before being taken to mother.
I read it. She listened. Do you remember when they laid your twins on you?
She rose into a smile. Oh yeah.
Skin on skin?
Yes
Did you hold them in each arm?
No, I kept them separate
Do you remember Christoph?

Oh yes. I worried about him
Why?
The Girls.

Soon she said, Well I guess I’d better go now
Ok, well I have more poems. 179 more, so call any time
OK, Dad

Sharon Olds is the author of 12 books of poetry for which she has won the Pulitzer Prize and England’s T. S. Eliot prize.  https://www.sharonolds.net/biography

Never Run Out of Smiles

caregiving

Thin smile with a warm wrap

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.