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.

Lynne’s 55th Birthday Party

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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.

A Bumpy Ride with Alzheimer’s Caregiving

Fun activities caregiving

Aegis reduced its quarantine restrictions allowing caregivers to accompany Lynne on walks as many as three times per day. She’s active, so the floor supervisor gave her a fourth walk one day. Our family ordered a stationary bike for her room, where riding it would lift her spirits during Seattle’s oncoming cold, rainy weather and future lockdowns. She and staff were happy when I printed a picture for them. That picture lifted my spirits before it arrived.
I scheduled an Outdoor living room visit where we could talk through plexiglass shields. I showed her a heartwarming video of a Labrador mother using her paw to protect her last puppy from being adopted.
Lynne’s vision has declined so she used her finger to focus on it. “What is it? Is it mine? Is it a puppy? Is it mine?”
“No, it’s just a funny video.” I wondered if she thought it was her dog.
She stood up, disappointment draining the smile off her face. “It’s not mine?” She started to sob. She had said she wanted a dog earlier that month, but we had told her that wasn’t possible.
“Honey you can’t have a dog up on your floor.”
She sobbed as she stared at me and backed in and out of the curtains twice, sobbing harder. She staggered toward the front door and hit the windows again as she backed away from me. I stood up wondering what I could do.
A caregiver came out quickly to comfort her as she guided her back inside. I told them it was about a puppy.
I was sad and miserable. How could I have forgotten she wanted a dog?
Very soon I got a text message. They had redirected her to the picture of the bike. “She’s fine now.”
I was too. Caregiving is a long, bumpy ride.

Playing Hardball to Get Through This

Fun activities


Lynne called last night at 10 pm, melancholy without tears. “Not sure if I can do this.”“Sure, you can. Your Grammy Helen did it. Once you get through this part, you’ll be happy. Grammy Helen was happy.”
“Yes, she was.”
Pam had phoned me about her video chat with Lynne when her boys joined in. We reminisced about Pam’s plight inhaling wildfire smoke in California. I asked her about the boys. “They’re doing fantastic,” she said.
I told her I caught an overthrown hardball at Miller Park with my bare left hand and tossed it back. The young men on the teams cheered. “You the man.” One ran over with the ball, “Sign this.”
I didn’t have a pen, so I bumped his ball with my fist. I told Lynne, “If I’d had a pen, I could have signed it as Dan Wilson. And the next time I saw him, I’d have to tell him his legend grew at Miller Park.”
She laughed. “He’d have given it to you.”
We paused. She took a deep breath, “I’m not sure I can do this.”
“Sure you can. Your first job is get some sleep.”
“I can do that.”
She headed for bed in her clothes. “You should turn off the light.”
She looked for it on the blank wall next to her shelves. “Lindy, I think the switch is by the door.”
“Oh yea.” She walked away from the Facebook Portal screen and I saw the bathroom light turn on and off. She walked back to her bed and climbed in.
I called out, “Good night.”
“Good night.”
I called the concierge who promised to have someone help her get some sleep.

As Good As It Gets for Dad

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I interviewed Candy, a friend of Lynne’s about their time together at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 1996. I am grateful for her memories full of Lynne’s fun and professional skills. I sent her an image of an article about recruiting talent for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation published in the Seattle Times on October 17, 1996 Titled, “Want to Work for Gates?” The front page was in a 11 x 17 picture frame with a photograph of recent hires when the foundation was rapidly expanding from an influx of donations. The frame was given to Lynne when she retired from the foundation to work as a special education teacher. The back of the frame was filled with farewells and signatures of her fellow workers.

Candy asked how to contact Lynne for a video chat. Lynne’s phone messages show Candy called later that afternoon at 1:27, 1:28, 1:35 and 1:35. Lynne  missed each of those calls. Candy’s persistent. She called the next day at 3:06 pm and missed  her, and finally connected at 4:02 pm for a 23 minute and 50 second phone call.

Candy sent me this email, which is how I discovered she’d dedicated herself to connect with Lynne while she still remembers:

“I talked to Lynne via video chat today.  It was so great.  She remembered me well and was really present and we reminisced about old times. I’ll call her once a week and told her she can call me at any time.

Once they open on the CV19 restrictions, I’ll do walks with her and go visit.

Thank you, thank you for this re-connection.  In gratitude, Candy.”

As Lynne’s dad, I’m unable to resurrect those intimate stories that still exist in the great majority of Lynne’s long term memory. I’m thrilled she can share good times in normal conversations with friends. I thanked Candy for her persistence I replied, “That’s as good as it gets for me right now. Thanks for letting me know.”

I asked it I could share this and she said, “Happy for you to do so.”

Recovery Plan for Bad Days

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This could become a regular lavender ritual

I’d dropped in on Lynne three times yesterday on her echo dot and she thought she’d done something wrong because she couldn’t go downstairs to see the concierge. Frustrated, I emailed her assistant director, Wanda (not her real name), to please see if one her people could cheer her up. I gave her some ideas: TV with her favorites on Amazon Prime and Netflix, a foot bath, calling me for a video chat, searching for her daily bag of trail mix attached to a photo of her sons and nieces eating ice cream. I thought she’d remember that photo.

Wanda delivered, and I thanked her for a nice video chat with Lynne last night. She called with help from a caregiver. Lynne sat with feet in the tub basin filled with lavender Epsom’s salts and a big grin on her face. They were laughing. Lynne said it felt decadent. She lifted up her foot in front of the Facebook Portal to show a wet, ruddy, healthy foot. We chatted until she stood up and wandered toward her door to ask for help getting ready for bed. We had a good night.

Wanda responded. “That was me. I had come in and out a couple times. I’m so glad it set your mind at ease. The lavender is a huge hit, this is a great night time ritual for her. We put the crickets ( her favorite) on the sound machine before I tucked her in, she seemed very happy indeed. I will make sure care staff know to make this a part of her nightly routine!”

I appreciated Wanda testing the idea and planning a regular routine. I asked if a caregiver could talk into her echo dot, “ Alexa, Drop in on Dad.” We could talk through the echoes because Lynne fiddles with the Portal during video chats: turns it off, turns sound off, and moves away from the camera. Maybe we’ll get video chats to work better again.

In the meantime I’m grateful we have staff who can give us new routines that make for healthy self-indulgence.

Hopes and Fears in Moving Out of Isolation

Short Story 3086 words

Lynne waving from her new apartment

Two days after nothing could go wrong about moving Lynne to Life’s Neighborhood, Skylar, a caregiver on the night shift, called me at 9:00 pm because Schmitty the Kitty was out of cat food. She said, “Kim had noticed it a few days ago. Luna was going to call you, but I guess she forgot. I’ll go get some food.”

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Luna Has an Idea

Short Short Story 1810 words

Late one Monday afternoon, Luna, the Director of Operations, called about an idea she wanted to share with me immediately — Lynne might be better served in Life’s Neighborhood for three reasons. She would be safer, more social and more helpful.

That was a breakout moment for me. I had avoided Life’s Neighborhood.

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