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
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.
Lynne is scared by hearing a man’s voice repeating, “Something is rotten ….” After a caregiver and I calmed her down, he showed her a book of poems, 180 More by Billy Collins. Lynne said, I love that book. I think she is rememberng lines from Billy Collins’ peoms.
Lynne has told me and several others that she is scared by a man’s voice. Luna, the care director mentioned it several times, so they have called for a psychiatric visit with her. [I hope Lynne doesn’t think he’s the man behind the voice].
She told friend Nancy, “A man keeps saying, ‘You are loved.’ But nobody believes me.”
Nancy calmed her down, “I believe you saw something that seemed like a man in your apartment.”
That would be spooky. Interestingly though, she never sees a man, only hears the voice. Friend Donna emailed me about a video chat because Lynne was upset. It seemed like Lynne had a hallucination about someone being in her room offering her M&M’s. [note: I drop off trail mix with M&Ms every morning and staff delivers them to her].
Lynne is losing cognition steadily now. Sentences are shorter, she often can’t complete them, and she repeats herself. Neverethess, she can chat even though she may mix up memories [I do that too]. The last call about the man’s voice might have alerted us to the source of the voice. A Caregiver called me because Lynne was upset by a man’s voice that repeated, Something is rotten…. I said, Something is rotten in Denmark How did you know that, he asked? It’s a famous saying. The caregiver picked up one of her books to distract her, 180 more: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day, by Billy Collins.
Lynne said, I love that book.
I said, “Lynne you’re hearing Billy Collins voice saying poetry to you. But actually it’s your memory repeating his poems. Your memory is working.”
I emphasized the poems are uplifting. So when his poem says, “You are loved,” he is affirming she is lovable. She doesnt’ have to worry about that voice. It’s her memory working well. I’ve restated it two or three times. I told Luna we found the man. She laughed, “We’re a team.” We’ll see if that helps. At least it’s a nice way to comfort her and read her another poem. I ordered the book for me to read poems to her. And we’ll if the pyschiatric visit confirms it’s mostly her memory for poems.
Each day brings new puzzles to answer to solve to give us a little hope for a little 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.