Valentine’s Day

Kate’s celebration of Valentine’s Day started late in the afternoon on Wednesday when a high school student and neighbor of ours delivered a dozen red roses to her. The young lady had called me several weeks ago to let me know she was selling roses as part of a fund-raiser at her school. When she arrived at our door, I invited her in to give them to Kate. I realized the likelihood that Kate would think the roses were from the girl but didn’t tell her otherwise. She responded with enthusiasm and appreciation for her thoughtfulness and gave her a big hug. After she left, Kate selected a spot in the family room where she put them. Yesterday morning she had long forgotten the girl and the flowers but she saw the roses on the table. I told her they were from me. I got the same enthusiastic response and hug, and she got to celebrate the same present twice.

She lived the whole day without recognizing that it was Valentine’s Day except in the moments when someone would mention it, but it was a day filled with nice moments. At lunch, our server took time to show us a picture of his three-year-old daughter dressed up for Valentine’s Day. He is from Romania where they celebrate “Name Day.” He explained that his daughter’s name is Valentina so Valentine’s Day is really special for her and her parents. Kate loves children and was delighted seeing his daughter’s photo. She wouldn’t remember, but we met the mother and daughter one other time when we had lunch there. As we were leaving, we walked by a table where two grandparents were celebrating the day with their new grandbaby. Kate had to stop and comment on her and how beautiful she was. We had a brief but pleasant conversation with them and then left for home.

At 2:00, Kate had a massage. I still don’t detect any sign that she thinks having a massage is special, but it seems to me that she must derive some immediate pleasure from it. There is always some turnover in the staff, but she has only had to change massage therapists once. We come often enough that the rest of the staff knows her and watches out for her. When I first started taking her, the staff let her walk out. When I arrived, I couldn’t find her. Then I saw her walking along the store fronts in the shopping center where the spa is located. After that I have made sure that all the staff is aware of her Alzheimer’s. I also take my laptop or iPad and walk a few doors down to Whole Foods where I wait. Then I go back about five minutes before she is ready. We’ve had no problems since.

We hadn’t been home long before a church friend stopped by to visit Kate. When Kate served as the volunteer church librarian, the two of them went out to lunch regularly. Her husband had Lewy Body Dementia, and she has been good about checking in on Kate since he died a few years ago. They visited for over an hour without a break in the conversation. I was in the kitchen and couldn’t hear what they were saying except when Kate called me in one time to help her answer a question and also when her friend was leaving. I heard enough to know that she was handling herself well. She can’t recall specific facts, but she can express her thoughts about education and children and many other things. This reminds me that even at times when she doesn’t know my name or that I am her husband, she does remember my personality. She regularly surprises me with the accuracy of her perceptions of me.

Last night we went to a Valentine’s dinner at Casa Bella. They didn’t have music this time, but we were seated at a table for four with the 94-year-old couple with whom we always sit on music nights. On those nights we have six or eight people at our table. That makes for a different kind of experience than last night. Larger numbers of people create more difficulty for Kate. Sitting with this couple we like so much was a real treat. They are both in remarkably good shape. He is the oldest living Hall of Fame basketball player at UT. I’ve always been impressed with his memory and learned last night he has a photographic memory.

We had a pleasant conversation throughout the dinner. Even Kate got into the act. The couple is aware of her Alzheimer’s. Even if they hadn’t been, they would have suspected something. A number of times she was unable to follow the conversation and asked questions that she should have known from what had been said previously. She also got wound up talking about her school experience. This is one of those occasions she didn’t stick to her feelings but communicated what she was reporting as fact. She reported things I knew didn’t happen or that she could not have remembered. She also interrupted the man several times to continue talking after he had started talking about something else. They are very understanding and no harm was done. It was a nice way to end Valentine’s day. I hope we’ll be able to enjoy their company for much longer. Since they are 94, and Kate is already in the late stages of her Alzheimer’s, the end may come sooner than I want. Like everything else, we will continue to enjoy these moments as we experience them and be grateful.

Kate’s Intuitive Abilities

I talk a lot about deriving much of our pleasure from Kate’s intuitive abilities. That frequently involves music and our social activities. There are lots of other signs of her intuitive abilities that I don’t say much about. Let me tell you about a few experiences that occurred yesterday.

She got up to go to the bathroom shortly before 6:00. She was especially groggy. I walked with her to show the way. I asked if she wanted fresh underwear. She said she did. Then she walked over to the sink to wash her hands. She turned to me, smiled and said something I can’t quite remember. I know what it meant though. It was “We didn’t envision this when we married.” She not only retained her sense of humor, but she was able to grasp the situation in a way that I might not have thought she could.

As I walked her back to bed, she smiled and said, “Are you havin’ fun yet?” She thanked me as I pulled the covers over her.

Several hours later as I was putting drops in her left eye (her cataract surgery is tomorrow.), she had trouble understanding that I wanted her to tilt her head back to make it easier. She got a little irritated with me. I told her I was sorry, that I was just trying to help her. She said apologetically, “I know you were.” She was sorry for the way she spoke to me. This took an understanding and appreciation of what I was trying to do, and she felt she had hurt me and was sorry.

She was up at 9:30. That gave us time for a trip to Panera for her muffin before lunch. We hadn’t been seated long before she asked my name and hers several times pretty close together. We got into a conversation about our parents, mine as well as hers. That led her to say how fortunate each of us has been, not just in the parents we had but in so many other ways. She began to talk about people who haven’t been as lucky. As she talked, she got tears in her eyes and choked up. She couldn’t continue her thought. She was overcome by emotion. She has never been one to shed tears easily. Alzheimer’s has changed that.

She was finishing up her muffin when I said we would be going to lunch in a while. She said she was full and might not want to eat much. Then she said, “Knowing me, I might change my mind as soon as we are there.” I was struck by that because it is so apt. She frequently says she won’t be able to eat or eat much before going out but changes her mind once we are there. She has remarkable insight about her own personality as well as mine even when she can’t remember either of our names.

She was very talkative at Panera, and, at lunch, we had another great conversation. She (we) talked almost the entire time we were there (almost two hours). Only half of that conversation was about Frank Sinatra. <G> Just kidding, but I didn’t even try to count the number of times she asked his name. One time after I told her, she said, “I don’t know why I can’t remember his name. I ask you all the time.” I said, “But you don’t forget that you don’t like him.” She agreed.

Like other conversations, this one focused heavily on feelings, things that don’t require a memory of facts. Her parents and mine figured in the conversation. We expressed our feelings about them. We are both grateful for our parents and the way we were raised.

One time when our server stopped by to check on us, I mentioned how much we had enjoyed the Chicken Marsala. In a few minutes, she returned with the chef (a woman) who had prepared it for us. We thanked her. She said to let her know whenever we are there and that she would take care of us. Kate and I were both touched that our server thought to introduce us.

After the server walked away, Kate said, “I like you.” Before I could say “I like you too,” she said, “I like you a lot.” That’s when I got to say, “I like you a lot too. In fact, I love you.”

On the way home, Kate kept saying how much she enjoyed the CD I was playing. It is one I bought several years ago in Memphis for $5.00 when we were visiting Jesse and her family. It’s a compilation of songs from a variety of Broadway shows. She likes it so much that it is almost the only one I have played for the past few weeks. I am amazed that she remembers so many of the words, especially the key phrases. I know from things I have read about music and people with dementia, Parkinson’s, or strokes that music can facilitate the words as well as the music; however, hearing her sing the words always surprises me.

An interesting sidelight is that this CD does not provide the names of the singers. Every time a song plays, Kate asks me to tell her who is singing. Each time I tell her I don’t know, and the CD doesn’t give any of the singers’ names. That is something she never remembers, so she asks her question a lot going to and from place to place.

When we got home, I built a fire and we spent the afternoon relaxing. Kate lay on the sofa and frequently talked about the things she could see and liked both inside and outside. As usual, she mentioned the trees that she could see through the skylights. It’s interesting that she responds to the trees in the same way she did before they shed their leaves for the winter. She often says, “I love all the green.” She also talked about the music, the fire, and a painting we had purchased on trip to Quebec City years ago.

The entire day she was especially appreciative, not just for my care for her but for all of her experiences. Her intuitive abilities were not only alive and well but very active.

Three in a Row

The other day I mentioned one of the statistical measures related to my blog. The first three years following Kate’s diagnosis, I averaged 64 entries a year. In 2018, I had 549. That was up 232% from 2017 when I made 236 entries and 412% over 2016 when I made 133. I suggested that this increase was mostly related to the actual changes in Kate’s Alzheimer’s. I simply had more to write about.

In that post I also mentioned that I have a few other measures as well. The only other one I think is especially relevant involves the various categories to which I assign each post. I assigned the most, 246,  of the 1361 posts to the category “Good Things/Good Times.” That is 18.1% of all my posts and contrasts with only 62 (4.6%) I coded negatively (“Bad Times).

I should add that many of the other posts contain specific items that could have been assigned to either category. I chose, however, to assign a post to one of these categories when I thought the central message was either “Good” or “Bad.” I don’t intend to go back through all the posts and get a more precise measure of the ratio of “Good” to “Bad” incidents, but I suspect I would find the figure for each would be closer together. That’s because I have included many specific symptoms that I might want to consider negative. I believe the way I put posts in categories is a stronger measure of my “feelings” about the way things are going even with the negative things than happen all the time. Let me give you an example.

Yesterday Kate and I went to our usual Saturday lunch at the Bluefish Café. It wasn’t long after we took our seats that Kate asked, “What is my name?” When I told her, she wanted to know my name and then how we were related. This is the kind of conversation that has become commonplace. I suspect most people overhearing our conversation might interpret it as a bad thing, very sad. That’s the way I felt the first few times she was unable to remember our names. Even now, I view her memory loss as sad; however, I interpret the whole conversation quite differently. We were having a good time. There were things she wanted to know, and I was glad that I could be the one to tell her.

After we had eaten and paid the check, we had an especially tender moment. It started when she wanted to know her parents’ names. Then she wanted me to tell her something about her mother. We held hands across the table as I told her she had a very special mother and explained why I felt that way. I talked about her kindness to people and her years as a volunteer teaching adults to read. I also told her about her mother’s having taught Sunday school for almost forty years and what a good friend she had been to so many people. She loved hearing about her mother. When I paused, she said, “Did I get to know her?” I told her she did and that her mother loved her dearly. I reminded her of photos we have of her and her mother and that the love was visible in mother’s smiles. Then I said, “And the best thing is that when she was no longer able to take care of herself, you got to care for her during the last five and a half years of her life.” I told her about her managing a staff of paid caregivers, coordinating her medical care, as well as preparing meals. She was so happy, and, as so frequently happens these days, her eyes filled with tears. I was touched by her response. It does make me sad that her memory of her mother is virtually gone, but it makes me happy to know that her feelings for her are still alive and that I have the opportunity to fill in the details she no longer remembers.

If that were all that happened, I would say we had a very good day. As it turned out there was more. When we got home, she asked what she could do. I suggested we spend some time together in the family room. I mentioned her photo books and that she could look through some of them. I pointed to the “Big Sister” album on the table between our two chairs. She picked it up and sat down to look at it. I stood behind her as she flipped the pages and read the text for her and identified the people she did not recognize. She was entranced and went through the entire 140 pages. Her brother Ken will be glad to hear that this is a gift that keeps on giving. It is a gift to me as well. I enjoy the photos, but I am especially happy just being with her in such happy moments.

Yes, we’ve had three good days in a row. I guess you know the category in which I’ll file this one and why. <g>

Another Good Day

I guess I was so happy about our previous day that yesterday’s posts didn’t mention that Kate showed almost no signs of a cold. Wednesday was her best day in the past two weeks. I was relieved that we had avoided anything more serious. Yesterday she was even better.

It was the second day in a row that she got up early, took a shower, and went back to bed. This is a time when I could have let her stay in bed longer, but I wanted to have lunch with her before the sitter arrived. I was glad I did. We had a nice lunch and were back home in time for me to set up the TV in our bedroom with YouTube videos. I chose Andrea Bocelli. I also showed Mary how to search for other videos if they wanted something else. Kate said she wanted to rest a while and got in bed.

While I was at the Y, I checked the video cam several times. Each time they were still in the bedroom watching videos. The same was true when I returned home four hours later. Kate had been up a while and was fully engaged with the music. So was Mary.

Setting up the TV for YouTube or DVDs before I leave has become a regular thing now. That seems to have replaced their afternoon trip to Panera. I still mention the possibility of their going to Panera, but Kate isn’t responsive to that. Yesterday was an exception. She was excited about going but wanted to rest first. After resting, she only wanted to watch Bocelli.

Because my primary focus is on Kate, I don’t say much about other things I do while the sitter is here. Of course, I have my Monday Rotary meeting and my trip to the Y on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but I also meet my friend Mark Harrington every Friday afternoon at Starbucks. We hadn’t met the past two weeks because of Kate’s cold. In both cases, I had forgotten to let him know I wasn’t coming. That’s just one of the things I discover that I have slipped up on lately. I find more things slip through the cracks than they used to. I know some of that might have occurred just because of my age, but I feel sure that my responsibilities for Kate also play a large part.

Anyway, it was good to see Mark again. He’s an interesting man, and we always have a lot to share. He is the one who takes care of the technical issues in connection with the blog. Right now he and I have been working on a book I am editing. The first half consists of three and a half years of emails that I wrote under my dad’s name after his stroke that left him unable to use his computer. The second half is devoted to over 100 pages of Dad’s own biographical notes that he had written for a writing class he attended several years prior to his stroke. We’re close to printing time now. When it is finished, I plan to give copies to the family and a few close friends. That would have happened long before now if I hadn’t found it difficult to work in with my other responsibilities.

Every few weeks I also meet with a church friend whose daughter was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia in her fifties. We met for coffee Wednesday afternoon. Our experiences are vastly different. Talking with him underscores how fortunate Kate and I have been not to have other complicating factors beyond the illness itself. Despite our differences, we also have a lot of common experiences. I enjoy being with him. I hope our lack of complications don’t make it less enjoyable for him.

While we were out for our Friday night pizza, we bumped into one of my long-term clients and his wife. They sat down with us and chatted about forty-five minutes. It was good to catch up with them. Kate also enjoyed it. These experiences continue to reinforce my belief that the primary benefit of eating out is that it is a social occasion. Most importantly, it is the type of social occasion that Kate handles quite well. The time is short. We exchange pleasantries and are on our way. It is good for her and for me.

A Very Good Day

About 7:30 yesterday morning, the video cam alerted me that Kate was getting out of bed. I went to the bedroom and walked her to the bathroom. At first, she took my hand but then felt secure enough to walk without it. She did need me to show her the way. When she came out, I asked if she needed fresh underwear, and she did. I helped her with that, and she got back into bed. As she did, she looked at me and said, “I’m sorry you have to do all this for me.” I find it very touching when she says things like this. It makes me wonder just how much she senses the seriousness of her situation. It is clear that she recognizes she has a memory problem and that she is dependent on me. She almost never displays any sense of anxiety or distress; however, I do sometimes think that she recognizes that something is wrong with her. Later in the morning she said something else that struck me the same way.

I thought she might sleep until I woke her around 10:30 or 11:00. I was quite surprised when she had gotten out of bed at 9:30. I went to the bedroom and helped her get dressed, and we were at Panera before 10:00. This was the first time we had been there before lunch in quite a while.

It was a day when she had a lot of questions. They were all the usual ones, just asked a whole lot more. She had other questions as well. Instead of being bothered by her constant questions, I found that we had a good conversation. It was a time when she seemed eager to learn things that she had forgotten.

It began as she was working a puzzle of a picture of colorful tulips in The Netherlands. She turned it around for me to see. I said, “It reminds me of the trip we took during the tulip season.” She said, “How could we afford that?” I told her that we both had been working and had saved our money for the trip. She had forgotten that she worked and asked me what she did. That led me to tell her about her majoring in English and teaching English for three years and becoming a school librarian after getting her second master’s degree. She was quite interested and, at no time, did I sense that she remembered any of this.

The conversation took various turns as she asked questions that redirected me from one thing to another. She asked me to tell her about her parents. She continues to hold strong feelings (all positive) about them, but almost never recalls their names. She didn’t yesterday, but she sometimes asks me if I knew them.  As the conversation moved along, she asked where we were. I told her we were in Knoxville, Tennessee. She asked me to repeat it slowly two or three times.

Then she said, “I’m smart, you know, but I’m stupid.” I was surprised and asked what she meant. She said, “Forget it.” I told her I really wanted to know. Then she said she didn’t know what she meant. I asked myself, “Could she maintain a long-term sense that she is smart but recognizes how bazaar it is for her to repeatedly ask questions about things she should know?” I would love to know exactly what she thinks and feels.

We went back home for a short break before going to lunch with our pastor. This, too, was quite a good experience for both of us. He and I did most of the talking, but Kate also enjoyed it. His daughter is an undergraduate looking at a possible career in neurology. We talked a lot about the brain. I am sure much of this was puzzling to Kate, but many of the things we said involved music and its effect on people with Parkinson’s and other brain issues. There were plenty of things that she could appreciate even if she didn’t fully understand.

Kate  had a massage at 3:00, and we went to Casa Bella for opera night at 6:00. Last night’s program and musicians were especially good. Kate loved the evening. What a nice day we had. Who would have guessed this would be possible eight years after her diagnosis? Her rational abilities are very weak. But her senses are still working. They provide great pleasure for both of us.

A Late Start, But A Great Finish

As I had expected, Kate didn’t want to get up yesterday when I left her to attend my luncheon. I had prepared the sitter that she might want to sleep much longer. I even mentioned that if they were just getting to Panera for Kate’s lunch around the time I was to return home, I would meet them there. What I didn’t expect was to find that Kate was still sleeping soundly when I got to the house a few minutes before 2:00. The sitter told me she tried to get her up three times. Each time Kate said she wasn’t ready to get up.

After the sitter left, I went to the bedroom and sat down on the side of the bed where Kate was sleeping. She opened her eyes and smiled. That was a good sign. I asked if she were ready for lunch. She said, “What do you want me to do?” I told I thought she should get dressed and let me take her to lunch. She got up without any coaxing. It was a little after 3:00 when we left. I decided it was too late for lunch and went to Barnes & Noble where she got a muffin.

We arrived there close to 3:30. After sitting down at a table, Kate asked me at least four times in a short period of time where we were. She had done the same thing a couple of times in the car on the way there. It wasn’t long before she said, “Don’t play games. Are you going to tell me where we are or not?” Of all the times she has asked something over and over, she’s never said that before. That didn’t end it, of course. Within a few minutes she asked again.

Knowing that the muffin wouldn’t hold her long, I decided to leave for dinner before 5:00. This would not have been the first time we have eaten so early. (I remember growing up in West Palm Beach. We used to joke about all the old folks who came down from the North to spend the winter. There were lots of restaurants who catered to them and had early bird specials that drew large crowds. Now I understand a little better why they ate so early.) I think it makes sense for us to get back home early. Kate seems to go to bed earlier when we do that. I like to think that it keeps her from sleeping so late in the morning, but I’m not sure that works at all.

Our day ended very much like the day before. I watched the news while Kate worked on her iPad. Once again, she was struggling to understand how to work her puzzles. I fear that she may lose this ability far sooner than I care to believe. When I saw her put down her iPad in frustration, I walked over to her. She said she was tired and thought she would get ready for bed. I got her night clothes for her and went back to what is becoming our best friend, YouTube. I began with a video of Renee Fleming singing an aria from the opera Norma. Neither of us has seen the opera. Prior to a few weeks ago, I had never heard the aria. I discovered it while browsing YouTube for something new to watch. It is a beautiful aria, and Kate was mesmerized. She didn’t get out of her chair until it was time for bed. We watched a pot pourri of music videos before then. After Renee Fleming, we watched a beautiful choral rendition of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio.” We followed that with music by The Piano Guys, The Tabernacle Choir, and an orchestral flash mob playing “Waltz of the Flowers” in a shopping center in Israel. This brought back memories of my childhood. I loved it the first time I heard it in the sixth or seventh grade. I can’t tell you how engaged Kate was during all of them. She was more emotional than usual, at times bordering on tears. The last video was The Tabernacle Choir singing “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” It had quite an impact on Kate. Ten minutes afterward she still shed a few tears.

Because music has been so important to me, I have taken great pleasure in Kate’s enjoyment. It’s not that she hasn’t always liked music. It has played a big role in our marriage. Alzheimer’s seems to have enhanced both the impact of music and the breadth of types of music she enjoys. She doesn’t like everything. She is actually bothered by most of the music we hear in restaurants, but that leaves us with a broad range of music that we both like. With her memory loss, conversation is difficult. But it is a real joy to sit with her in our own house listening to music together and being as moved as we would have been in the grandest concert hall. These are moments I will cherish in the days ahead.

The Sitters, Music, and YouTube

What Kate and the sitters do has changed since I first engaged them a year and four months ago. That was a time when Kate and I were accustomed to going to Panera more frequently. We went almost every morning and some afternoons. When I arranged for a sitter, I bought a Panera gift card and told Kate and the sitter that they could go to Panera anytime they wanted. I remember how Kate’s eyes would light up when I said that. She looked at Panera as an outing. That was true even when it was just the two of us. With the sitter, I think it was also a way of breaking up the time until I returned.

That worked beautifully for almost a year. It began to change when Kate started sleeping later, and we weren’t going to Panera as often. I might have guessed that would make an afternoon trip even more appealing, but it didn’t. Like many things, I am not sure why. When I returned home, I often found that Kate was resting or had rested a lot while I was gone. That bothered me because I felt she wasn’t getting enough stimulation.

At the same time, I was looking for other ways to entertain Kate in the evening when we returned home from dinner. Our regular routine was for me to watch the evening news while she worked jigsaw puzzles on her iPad. I wanted her to have something else to entertain her, especially since she was beginning to have difficulty working her puzzles. I bought about ten DVDs of musicals that I thought she might enjoy. We would watch about an hour a night. Watching musicals like Les Misérables and Fiddler on the Roof could easily take us six nights. Kate loved it. She clearly has favorites. We watched Les Misérables seven times in one seven-week stretch last summer.

As I became more concerned about Kate’s time with the sitter, I decided to try the DVDs when the sitter was here. That also worked well. It was entertaining for both Kate and the sitter. I liked the idea of their engaging in something together even if it was a passive activity.

Gradually, I expanded the musical performances we watch at night by going to YouTube. Their selections are endless and growing all the time. The key is finding something that Kate will enjoy. During the fall, that meant a lot of Christmas music. I also discovered that The Tabernacle Choir seems to have one of the largest libraries of music videos. There are plenty of others as well. I often search for a particular singer, for example, Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand, Sarah Brightman, Andrea Bocelli, The Three Tenors, etc.

My next step was to set up the YouTube videos for the sitter and Kate to watch. That has also worked well. One time during the Christmas season, I had set up one of the Christmas videos by the Tabernacle Choir. It was about an hour in length. I told the sitter she could turn it off at the end of the program. I also mentioned that if she didn’t, it would continue with other videos. When I got home four hours later, they were still watching Tabernacle Choir videos. They hadn’t stopped the entire time I was gone. They were both happy.

Since then I have been preparing something for them to watch at least once a week, sometimes more. Yesterday was one of those days. I selected a Bill Moyers documentary about the hymn “Amazing Grace.” It was about an hour and twenty minutes. As I have done before, I told the sitter that she could turn off the TV after the program was over or let it roll over to other videos. When I got home, they were both still watching the videos. “Amazing Grace” was over long before. They were now watching musical flash mobs. This is something I hadn’t thought about. If I had, I would have probably searched for them. Instead, they had simply come up according to the algorithm used by YouTube.

Mary told me that Kate rested a couple of times during the videos but kept coming back. I suspect that was a result of her liking some more than others. The important thing is that I have found a source of amusement for Kate apart from her iPad. The bonus is that it also helps her pass the time while I am gone. At the moment I am not planning to have a video every time the sitter comes, but once or twice a week might work well.

A Nice Visit with Ellen

I try to arrange for us to visit about once a month with Kate’s good friend Ellen who lives in a memory care facility in Nashville. Our last visit was the Saturday before Christmas. On Friday, I realized that we are going to be tied up the next three Saturdays and scheduled a trip to see her yesterday. It was a day when everything seemed to go well. Kate surprised me by getting up around 10:30. That gave us time for lunch and still get away before 1:00. That gets us to Nashville later than I would like, but that works best for Kate.

The visit with Ellen was a good one. We chatted for about an hour. That is challenging because it is more difficult to understand her with each visit. We could only understand about  a quarter of what she said. Fortunately, her mind is clear enough to understand us. We ask lots of “yes-or-no” questions. She either speaks the words or nods to answer. Her son is a Facebook friend who went to Clemson. I brought up some of his recent posts that included photos of his children and his trip to the Clemson/Alabama game. She enjoyed seeing those.

As we have done on our visits over the past six months, I played some YouTube videos of musical performances. Yesterday I focused on opera. She wasn’t familiar with Kristine Opalais and Jonas Kaufmann, so I played several arias and a duet of theirs. She was entranced, and so was Kate. It’s a very touching experience for the three of us. Ellen and her husband, Gordon, were neighbors of ours in the early 1970s. Our children grew up together. We celebrated many birthdays, holidays, and other special events together. Ellen was Kate’s closest friend in Knoxville. After Gordon’s death in 2013, Kate and Ellen became even closer. They had lunch together every Monday while I was at Rotary and got together at other times as well. Ellen’s stroke almost three years ago changed both their lives. With Ellen’s limited ability to communicate, music has been a powerful way for us to connect. It is truly an emotional experience. Kate was moved to tears through much of the music yesterday and frequently reached out to grab my hand. It will no doubt become even more difficult in the future as both Ellen and Kate decline. In the meantime, I intend for us to continue our visits and sharing a connection that only music can provide.

Our Last Day in Memphis

On all our previous trips to see Jesse and her family we have gotten up early, or at least not late, on Christmas morning. That meant “really” early when the children were younger. As they’ve grown older, we have been ready to open presents between 8:00 and 10:00. This year was clearly different. Ron and Randy knew all the presents they were going to receive, so there were no surprises in store. In addition, Kate’s sleeping pattern caused us to get together whenever she was ready. Since we were not eating our Christmas meal until 5:00, I let Kate sleep as long as she wanted. She got up close to 1:30, and we arrived at Jesse’s at 3:30. I had told them to go ahead and open their presents, so it didn’t affect their plans.

That made for a very short, but nice, day for us. We enjoyed being with Jesse and Greg as they prepared the meal. Most of the time the boys were upstairs playing with their new Christmas presents. Jesse’s turkey turned out to be superb, just the way it has been the past couple of times she has cooked it for us. At the end of the meal, we took our plates to the kitchen. Jesse asked Kate if she would like her to take her plate. Kate accepted. As Jesse walked to the kitchen, I said, “Isn’t it nice to have your daughter take care of you like that?” Kate said, “My daughter?” I said, “Yes, your daughter.” She said, “What’s her name?” Before Jesse returned to the room, she asked her name two more times. Despite that, Kate handled herself beautifully. She participated in our conversation and didn’t say anything unusual. She didn’t walk around the downstairs rooms again, but she did comment on how beautiful the house is.

It wasn’t long after dinner that we came back to the hotel where we relaxed over an hour before Kate wanted to go to bed. She was in bed by 9:00. That should bode well for her getting up earlier today. We plan to meet Jesse and her family either at the hotel or some other place for lunch and then leave around 1:30.

I had wondered for a long time if we could make this trip. I am glad to say that it worked out well. It was very different from those in the past. We had considerably less time with Jesse and her family than before. Some of that arose simply because we stayed in a hotel rather than at their house. Just as important was the fact that we paced ourselves. I don’t think we were all together more than three hours at any one time. That was good for Kate who usually likes to do something different after a couple of hours.

Kate was able to enjoy herself. There was only one time when she seemed a little restless. That was yesterday afternoon just before we ate. For more than an hour, we had been sitting at the bar looking over the kitchen while chatting with Jesse and Greg as they prepared the meal. Kate got up and walked into the family room. I followed her. She asked me when we were leaving. I told her we would go right after dinner. Apart from that, she appeared quite comfortable if not enthusiastic. Of course, she had been very enthusiastic about Jesse’s house and Christmas decorations our first night there.

As for future travel, I believe I will limit it to one-night stays. I’m not sure how many of those we will have. If Kate continues to sleep late, going to visit Ellen in Nashville becomes a little more challenging. If we stayed overnight, that would make the trip less rushed. At the moment, I am not planning anything. I’ll just see how things unfold in the months ahead.

The only family event that I know of that could prompt another trip is to Texas is our granddaughter’s high school graduation. I would like to make that, but I don’t believe it is in the cards for us. I hope I am wrong.

Merry Christmas

It’s Christmas morning, and I am thinking about all the households with young children who have been up for hours and eagerly unwrapping packages. Those are great moments to treasure. They don’t last forever. The children often sleep a little later as they get older. Life changes for all of us as we age. We don’t celebrate the season in the same way we did when we were younger.

One thing doesn’t change. We still have our memories of Christmas. I remember getting my Red Ryder BB Rifle when I was about nine or ten years old. It’s hard for me to believe that my parents allowed me to play with it around the neighborhood at that age. I also remember being excited over the Schwinn Black Phantom I received when I was twelve or thirteen. Those were among my most special Christmas gifts as a child.

The memories of the Christmas season that mean the most to me these days are the ones that Kate and I have shared. We had our first date on December 19, 1961. We went to a performance of Handel’s Messiah. December 19, 1962, we became engaged. On Christmas day six days later, we announced our engagement to Kate’s extended family at the family Christmas gathering at Kate’s home.

Over the years, we have enjoyed the season in different ways and in different places. We spent our first Christmas together with a trip to my home in West Palm Beach. That was Kate’s first time there. We spent our only Christmas alone in Madison, Wisconsin, during my first year in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin.

I have many treasured memories of Christmas Days we spent with each of our families. Until the children were around five or six, we rotated between our parents’ homes. After that, our parents came to us. As our children graduated from college and started their own families, we followed pretty much the same custom. We were introduced to the pleasure of watching grandchildren enjoy Christmas with the excitement that is unique to children.

Kate and I also started taking vacation trips during the first or second week of December. Three or four times we have enjoyed the Christmas season in New York City. That’s my favorite time of the year to be there. We have also enjoyed Christmas season travel to London, Paris, Vienna, and several places in Germany.

This Christmas we find ourselves in a very different place. Next year we won’t travel to be with our children and their families. There is no way for me to know exactly what Kate will be like next year, but she is likely to continue her decline.

Kate no longer has the memories of Christmas that have been so special to us. I tell her about them, and she experiences momentary pleasure in being reminded. She can’t, however, retain and reflect on them. I am sad about this. I’m sad for her, and I’m sad for me; however, there is still good news. Even though her world is growing smaller, she continues to enjoy life. I know from other caregivers that moments of pleasure often continue for a long time. Whatever happens, I retain my memories of Christmas and the joy we have experienced during this season, and I am grateful.

My wish for you is that you continue to create your own Christmas memories to treasure now and for the days to come. Merry Christmas.