An Unusual Visit with Ellen

Sunday’s visit with our longtime friend Ellen Seacrest was different from those in the past. I’ve always expected that the declines in Ellen’s vascular dementia and Kate’s Alzheimer’s would ultimately change the nature of our visits. To a large extent it has, especially Ellen’s loss of speech. We can only understand a small portion of what she says. Our latest visit, however, was affected by our arriving at a time when the residents had gathered together for a program put on by a dance group from a local church.

Ellen was already seated in the middle of group. One of the staff helped to seat us next to her. We didn’t get to talk much before the program began. The pleasure Kate experienced came from the afternoon activities. The dancing was followed by ice cream that the dancers dished up and delivered to each of us in the audience.

We had only a thirty-minute break to talk with Ellen, but being in the middle of the audience made it challenging to talk with her. Several others around us joined in. In some ways that was helpful since we can’t understand Ellen; however, it also meant that we didn’t get to focus our attention on her the way we have in the past.

We had a big surprise when Ellen told us about someone she wanted us to meet. We couldn’t understand all that she said, but she was enthusiastic about him. In a little while, she rolled away in her wheelchair to greet a man. Then I began to understand. She had found herself a boyfriend. She called to us and told us his name is Mike, but we didn’t get up and go over to them because we were in the middle of the crowd, and the “Music Lady” was about to begin her music program. One of the staff told us that Ellen and Mike had established a relationship, but Mike’s wife hadn’t yet been informed. I know this is not unusual in memory care of skilled nursing facilities, but I hadn’t thought much about Ellen’s establishing such a relationship. I think that is because I felt that most of the residents are significantly further along in their dementia than Ellen. Mike, however, is a new addition. He was among the few not in a wheelchair and did not appear to be much different than Ellen.

We enjoyed the music for about forty-five minutes before we departed. Kate thoroughly enjoyed herself, but I regretted not having more time with Ellen.

Kate was talkative on the way home, especially during the latter part of the trip. She expressed her appreciation to me for caring for her. We talked about things we had in common that had made our relationship strong. For that reason, I was somewhat surprised when we got out of the car for dinner. She said, “I want you to know that I think we will get married sometime.”

Most of the time when she doesn’t know my name or our relationship, I am not very surprised. I realize these moments of recognition come and go all the time. The nature of our conversation and, more specifically, her own comments about our relationship made it seem like it was one of those times when she clearly recognized me as her husband. Of course, it is quite possible her recognition of our relationship was coming and going all the way home. That’s another thing I will never know.

Each time we have these out-of-town trips, I am sensitive for any signs that suggest its time to discontinue them. Nothing happened on this trip that would prevent our going back again. Kate and I had a good dining experience on Saturday night and Sunday for lunch. She also enjoyed the dancing, ice cream, and music even if she didn’t get much of a visit with Ellen. Considering everything, the trip was clearly worth it. We’ll be back.

Reflecting on Our “Good Days”

At this stage of Kate’s Alzheimer’s, I think a lot about the amount of quality time we have left. I don’t mean that I bask in sorrow. I don’t, but I recognize she is in the last stage when we are likely to make more adjustments to our lives than we have done before.

At the moment, however, I am particularly struck by the “Good Days” we have. It not only surprises me; it keeps my spirits up. We had two of those days this weekend. I would like to be able to take credit for them, but I think the fundamental cause was Kate’s mood. She was in very good spirits both Saturday and Sunday.

I might also expect that her good mood was accompanied by a lack of confusion, but that isn’t so. Saturday, she appeared to be rather clear-headed except for wondering where she was. I don’t recall her asking my name. That happens off and on. Sunday morning, she was very confused. She didn’t know my name or hers and couldn’t remember them well enough to repeat them. What made me feel good was that she didn’t seem disturbed at all about not knowing. I am thankful that is typical.

In addition to her good mood, our time together seemed special. Our obligations were minimal. The only official commitment was our dinner reservation Saturday night. She was up earlier than usual both days. We didn’t have to rush. That kind of schedule is the best for her and, thus, for me as well.

We also had a couple of special moments on Saturday. Both occurred after resting in the afternoon. One of those was my reading her a portion of a book about her family’s wedding veil. I’ve read it to her multiple times in recent weeks, but she is always taken with it. She did get tired and wanted to rest before we got well into it.

The second experience was after her second rest. She commented on a few things in the family room that led me to suggest that I show her some of the other rooms. On the way to the back of the house, we passed several photos and stopped to look at them while I told her a little about each one.

The next stop was our guest bedroom. Of course, she had no recollection of it at all and liked what she saw. She got tired of standing and asked if she could sit in a rocking chair. I saw a photo album of our children during their earliest years. We spent quite a while looking at it and never got to another room.

When we finished, it was time to get ready for dinner. This was the only moment in the day that could have become a problem. I had planned a nice Valentine’s dinner at one of the restaurants we usually visit for lunch. I suggested we change clothes and had picked out exactly what I wanted her to wear, but she didn’t want to change. I told her we were going out for a nice dinner, and I was going to put on something a little nicer. She was fine with that but wasn’t going to change. I didn’t push her.

A few minutes later after I had changed, she asked what I wanted her to wear. I told her I would get something and brought her the clothes I had picked out. She had apparently forgotten the conversation we had just had a few minutes before. I helped her change, and we were off.

The dinner itself went as I had hoped. We were welcomed by the manager, our server, and another server who sometimes works as a hostess. They had selected a corner table that was perfect for the occasion. The meal itself was quite good. In addition, a couple we know from our music nights at Casa Bella were seated at the table next to us. I don’t recall our talking about Valentine’s Day at all or anything else especially romantic. We just had a good time together.

Kate was up early Sunday morning. We spent a little less than an hour at Panera before returning home where she rested an hour before leaving for lunch. The restaurant was unusually busy. Consequently, it took longer to be served, but we had a good time. I haven’t said anything in a while about her asking Sinatra’s name when she looks at his mug shot, but that hasn’t let up. She is well-aware that she repeatedly asks and wonders why she can’t seem to remember it, but she doesn’t appear to be very disturbed.

She rested after we returned home with music playing as usual. She awoke about an hour before dinner. I suggested we take a look at a few things around the house. We began with some photos in the family room. As often as she has looked at them, I am amazed and happy that she enjoys them just like it was the first time to see them.

From there we went into the living room and dining room where I showed her a number of things that came from her parents’ home. I enjoy telling her the stories behind each of the items, and she was entranced. It was another special moment.

We are both fortunate that repetition has not diminished the pleasure for either of us. She can’t remember, so it is always new. I like telling her things she can’t remember and seeing her reaction as I tell her. I read a lot about other caregivers’ experiences and know that many of them are bothered by so much repetition. I wish I knew how to help them. My experience is different. Whatever the reason, we have been able to maintain a relationship that has been important in helping both of us adapt to all the changes we have had to make. She feels dependent on me and is normally responsive to the things I want her to do. I want to deserve her trust and work hard to make her life as happy as I can. One of the ways I can do that is to answer her questions and do the things she enjoys so much. I believe each of us loves the other more now than at any other time in our marriage. I think that carries us a long way.

I continue to be mindful of the pleasure she and I can experience through her intuitive abilities. I like to think this is something from which other caregivers could benefit to make their loads lighter. At the same time, I recognize the likelihood that many of them are facing other challenges that we have not faced. Among those would be health and financial constraints. I feel for them and am grateful that at this late stage of Kate’s Alzheimer’s, I see little, if any, loss of pleasure that comes from music, beauty, and associations with family. How long will this last? We will see. I am hopeful that it will continue for some time.

What makes for a good day?

It is far from unusual for me to say that Kate and I have had a good day, but what are the elements that make it so? Number one on the list is Kate’s happiness. My contact with other caregivers suggests that I am not unique. Whether caring for someone or just living with someone who is perfectly healthy, one’s happiness is vitally linked to the feelings of the person you love. Fortunately, Kate is typically happy.

There are a number of other things lead me to say we’ve had a good day, and they all play a role in Kate’s happiness. They include my not having to wake her, getting up early enough to make a trip to Panera and return home for a rest before going to lunch, having a rest after lunch, and having time for other pleasures like looking at photo books, reading, social interaction with friends/family, and events like our music nights at Casa Bella.

That is exactly what happened yesterday. Kate woke up on her own before 8:30. She was in a cheerful mood, and we were at Panera about shortly before 9:30. She was tired from getting up early and ready to go home at 10:00. She rested for an hour. Then I told her I would like to take her to lunch. She thought that sounded like a good idea. We went to one of our favorite lunch places and came back for another rest for about an hour and a half.

When her rest was over, I suggested we look at her “Big Sister Album.” While we were going through it, Ken and Virginia arrived. The flew in from Texas for a long weekend visit. It was our first time to see them in a while. We enjoyed visiting with them and then went to Casa Bella for Broadway Night. It was an excellent program featuring music from the 1940s. We were familiar with every song. To top it off the singers and accompanist were quite good. We don’t normally pack in this much in a single day, but it was all done at a leisurely pace. It was a good day.

Our Thanksgiving

Like so many other things, Thanksgiving has come and gone. Despite the rough beginning in the early morning hours, it was a nice day though it was bitter-sweet. There was no denying the dramatic change in Kate since last year when we were in Texas with our son’s family. I predicted then that it might be our last Thanksgiving with family, and it was.

I’m not at all sure what next year will be like, but I know Kate’s changes will not be for the better. Kate is unable to grasp this, but I am convinced by the things she says that she recognizes her condition is not good. She was essentially saying that when I went in to get her up for lunch yesterday morning. I said, “It’s Thanksgiving, and I’m thankful that I have you.” She reached up and grabbed both of my arms and said, “And I am thankful for you.” I said, “I know that.” She said, with emphasis and with a slightly sad expression on her face, “I want you to know I really mean it. I mean it.” She knows she couldn’t make it without my help and is very appreciative. I continue to be amazed at her self-awareness.

Since we eat out for lunch and dinner, finding a place to eat on Thanksgiving is a challenge. We did, however, have a good Thanksgiving meal at Ruth’s Chris. For a long time, Kate has been able to get along quite well without anyone’s suspecting she has Alzheimer’s. That is one of the big changes that has occurred in recent months. It was evident yesterday.

As the hostess walked us to our table, she was walking rather quickly. Kate is always very slow. The hostesses at our regular places are well aware and take their time. I decided to let this one know. We hadn’t gone far when I looked behind me and saw that Kate had stopped to talk with a woman at another table. I walked back and discovered that she was complimenting the woman on her hair. She was overdoing it, and I know the woman thought it somewhat strange. When we got to our table, we went through something with which I am accustomed. I am sure that our hostess was not. She was, of course, supposed to wait until we were seated and hand us our menus. It took what must have seemed to her an interminable amount of time for Kate to realize which seat was hers and to be seated. I was glad I had informed our hostess. She was very understanding.

After Kate’s making a few initial comments to our server, I handed her one of my Alzheimer’s cards. I was glad that I had although she might have guessed anyway. Both when I ordered and when the food arrived, Kate asked, “What is that?” She was referring to the sweet potato casserole. She also asked the same question when I ordered a filet for us to split. I think she was confused about the whole situation. We are not regulars at Ruth’s Chris, and it had an air of formality that we don’t experience at most other restaurants. She was very concerned about doing something wrong and asked my advice a number of times. That is not something unusual, but the way she asked sounded like she was more uneasy about this situation.

Despite these things, the lunch went quite well. There were two other couples seated at the tables beside us, but the sound was quite muffled. We felt a certain measure of privacy even though the restaurant was packed. We had a good conversation and talked about the many things for which we are thankful.

Once we were home, Kate wanted to rest and did so for about an hour before getting up. I asked if she would like me to read The Velveteen Rabbit to her. She did. She was more enthusiastic this time than before. Once again, I was also touched. It is so good to see her enjoy herself in this way.

It didn’t take long to finish. Then I asked if she would like me to read some of the Diary of Anne Frank. In spite of her previous interest, I was a little afraid this would sound like too much for her. I am glad to say I was wrong. We read another 20 pages. As I did before, I asked if she wanted me to continue after each entry. We only stopped because it was time for dinner.

It was another good day for us. The meaning of this holiday did not fall on deaf ears. Each of us experienced the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Problems with Toes, Teeth, and Hair

Kate’s “hair-pulling” is an old story, but I’ve said less about her toes and teeth. They are beginning to play a more prominent role in her personal care. Let me tell you about an episode earlier this week.

It was a very good day. Kate got up to go to the bathroom around 5:30 and went to bed. She got up around 7:30, and we went to Panera shortly after 8:00. We came back to the house and relaxed until lunch. She was in a good mood. We had a nice conversation at lunch. The sitter came at 1:00. Kate received her warmly and didn’t seem disturbed in the least when I left. She was happy to see me when I returned but didn’t express any sense of relief as she has on a few occasions. We had a good experience at dinner.

While we were eating, she told me she was likely to get to bed early. I didn’t think much about it since she often says that but doesn’t get in bed. I have to admit, however, that she has been getting into bed earlier lately now that she hasn’t been occupied with her iPad. That night was one of those times.

First, she went to the bathroom. She spent 20-30 minutes “brushing” her teeth. She didn’t really brush them all that time. Much of the time she was rinsing her mouth with water and using her fingernails like dental floss. She always feels like she has food caught between her teeth. I often help her with flossing, but that doesn’t seem to work. She finally gave up and came back to go to bed. I got her nightly meds and helped her get into her night clothes.

She was disturbed about her teeth. She mentioned she hadn’t been able to get all the “bees” out. She followed that by other words that didn’t fit what she meant. She was talking about something in her teeth. She also talks the same way about things between her toes and in her hair. Sometimes she refers to them as “these little things” and says they are “smart.” She says they know when you’re trying to get them. I was able to calm her by talking to her softly and telling her I would help her. That is when she focused her attention on her toes. She wanted me to get a towel or wash cloth and get “them” out. I followed her instructions, and she felt better.

Then she got in bed and started pulling her hair. It wasn’t long before she became frustrated. She said she was tired and hadn’t been able to finish and would have to do it tomorrow. A few minutes later, she asked me to come over and pull her hair for her. I did that for a couple of minutes before reminding her she was going to rest and work on her hair in the morning. She said I was right that she needed the rest and thanked me for helping her. She was fine after that; however, I don’t expect this to be our last episode with “them.”

A Very Good Day with our Son

Our son, Kevin, arrived Thursday morning from Texas. Weather wise, it was the best day we have had since last May. We took advantage of it by eating lunch outside on the patio of a sports bar a short distance from our house. It was a good start to his visit. Although Kate often has difficulty remembering that we have children, she responded to Kevin as though she knew exactly who he is. We had a relaxing conversation. The fact that it was just the three of us and that it wasn’t noisy added to the pleasure of the moment. There were times then and later in the day when she asked him his name as naturally as she asks mine.

She had a routine dental appointment at 2:00. Kevin went along with us. I thought it was good for him to be a part of the experience though he remained in the waiting room while she saw the hygienist and dentist. For the first time, I went in with her. I did so because of her experience on the previous visit six months ago. At that appointment, she was frightened when the hygienist cleaned her teeth, and they had to cut her visit short. This time I gave her a Xanax before going and went in the room with her. Everything went smoothly. I didn’t think that had anything to do with my being in the room with her, but the hygienist felt it was helpful and suggested we make this a habit in the future. Both the dentist and the hygienist commented that her teeth and gums were in excellent condition.

Once we were home, I picked up Kate’s “Big Sister” album and suggested that she show it to Kevin. They sat down on the sofa and started going through it while I went to the grocery to pick up a few things for Kevin’s breakfast. In just the few minutes before I left, I could see that they were having a good time.

When I returned, they were still enjoying going through the album. Kate continued to relate to Kevin very comfortably. He had a beautiful opportunity to see first hand the kinds of things I have noted in the blog. Since most of the pictures are of family, Kevin was able to tell her all or most of the names. I joined them in the room with the intention of just listening to their conversation. Kate asked me to sit with them, and I did. There were a few things I commented on, but I let the conversation between the two of them continue. At one point, Kevin pointed to a photo of Kate and me and himself. She asked his name. He told her, and she asked his last name. Then she said, “Who are your parents?” After two hours or longer, Kate said she was getting tired. It was also time for us to prepare to leave for dinner, but this conversation, like others she has had with her brother Ken, was a beautiful thing to watch. I love seeing her enjoy herself. That is especially true when she is engaged in conversation with someone with whom she is so comfortable.

We finished the day with a good evening at Casa Bella for Broadway Night. Kate enjoyed herself as usual although she was a little lost in the conversation. The other two couples were there ahead of us which left us with minimal choices about our seating arrangement. Kate and I sat across from each other. We could have sat side by side, but she would have been seated with her back to the singers. Everything worked out well until late in the program when I saw her looking around the room for me. She had forgotten where I was seated. I was able to catch her attention and reached across the table to take her hand. She was relieved and teary but recovered nicely. I doubt that anyone else noticed except the woman seated next to her.

At Stage 7 of Alzheimer’s, is there really any joy for caregivers and the ones for whom they care?

My memory of the last stage of my mother’s dementia has faded significantly. One thing I remember is that, except for his Kiwanis meetings, my dad still took her with him whenever he went out. That was the only time he sought help. He dropped her off at a senior day care for four hours to attend his meeting and shop for groceries.

I look back with amazement as I think of those days. At the time, I wondered why he did it. He was eighty-eight, and she was completely dependent on a wheelchair the last two or three years. In order to get her from their apartment (that fortunately was on the ground level) to the car, he had to roll the wheelchair 25-30 feet over grass. Then he got her into the front seat of the car, folded the wheelchair, and loaded it in the trunk of his car. From my personal experience, this was not a simple task. Yet I never heard him utter the first word of complaint. They had been married 70 years when she died. He was just expressing his love for her in the only way he knew how at that point, and he did it joyfully.

Now that Kate is closer to that stage of her Alzheimer’s, I have a greater sense of what sustained him. He could see what I didn’t. There is no doubt to me now that he could find joy in their relationship when it appeared to me that the joy had long since passed.

I believe Kate and I have some time left before she is at that same point, but I can already see that joy is indeed possible very late in this disease. I am sure that doesn’t happen for everyone. As I have said before, we are very fortunate. My point is that it can happen and should be something for which those of us living with Alzheimer’s can hope.

Moments of joy may not come as often as they did before. They may be short-lived.  They do occur for us, however. We had another of those “Happy/Joyful Moments” at lunch yesterday. As I reported in my previous post, she didn’t know my name or our relationship when she got up to go to the bathroom in the morning. I’m not sure whether she did or didn’t later when I got her up for lunch. There were times during lunch when I know she didn’t. Neither did she remember her own name. As earlier that morning, she was quite at ease with me. When she asked my name and relationship, she accepted it as naturally as she did when she pointed to her salad and asked, “What is that?”

She was very talkative. Interestingly, we didn’t gravitate to our usual conversations about family and marriage. She asked questions about the restaurant, the food, and the staff. It was unusually quiet when we arrived. Only one other table was occupied. She said, “I wonder if <using her hand because she couldn’t think of the word for servers> like it better when it is quiet like this or when it is ‘you know’ <again using her hand and groping for the word ‘busy.’>

It is always fascinating when she doesn’t “know” me but also talks about my personality quirks. She kidded me a lot during lunch, and none of the kidding had a bitter edge to it. She was having fun, and I loved it.

Because it was less busy, we got more attention from the staff. We had several conversations with our server. Another person who often serves us stopped by our table to speak. The manager also stopped by for a brief visit. During our conversation with the manager, I commented on how much I had liked the broccolini salad with a little tomato and feta cheese. Kate didn’t like it because she doesn’t like the crispiness of raw vegetables. As the manager was about to walk away, Kate said, “And don’t give me any of that anymore.” She didn’t sound offensive. It was more like a little child simply expressing her distaste for the salad, something I had already explained to the manager.

She also said or did a couple of other things that I got a kick out of. She now frequently mixes her words and sometimes says something that is just the opposite of what she meant or is a homonym for the word she wanted. For the first time, she did this with a gesture instead of a word. She dropped a piece of cheese on the table, picked it up with her hands, and ate it. She gave me a devilish smile, put her hand over my mouth (instead of my eyes) and said, “You didn’t see that.”

A little later we had dessert. When the server brought it to the table, she kidded me, saying, “Didn’t you want one too?” She took a bite or two. Then I said, “You’re going to like that.” She said sternly, “I’m already enjoying it.” I said, “I should expect that from an English teacher. You want to make sure I’m using the correct tense.” For some reason, she thought that was funny and began to laugh. I guess that was because it was something she would usually say and not “me,” Oops, “I.” <G>

Oh, yes, the meal was also very good, but that wasn’t what gave us so much pleasure. Being together, and with other people, is what made lunch special. We had a good time.

A Social Occasion That Went Very Well

Yesterday, as we were about to leave for lunch, I received a call from our pastor asking if we had lunch plans. Despite the fact that we were going straight from the restaurant to a hair appointment for Kate and then drive to Nashville, I invited him to join us. That is probably a good indication of how important social contact is for us. Otherwise, I would have told him we were on a tight schedule and arrange another time. I made the right decision.

Not surprisingly, Kate did not remember him when I told her he was coming. She took it nonchalantly with no expression of excitement or reluctance. We had already taken our seats before he arrived. When he saw us, he walked over and greeted Kate. She called him by the wrong name. He gave her his correct name and said, “That’s all right. I get called lots of things. You can call me whatever you want.” That began a beautiful conversation that went on for over an hour before we had to leave.

Kate was in one of her talkative moods, and our pastor is a good facilitator. She was immediately very comfortable. In fact, she was “unleashed.” Early on I mentioned something about his being our pastor. She was surprised. She looked at him and said, “You are? I didn’t know that.” That was one of many things she said that were clear signs of her Alzheimer’s. She had to ask lots of questions to understand what he and I said. Many of them involved the definition of words that we used. Her aphasia is definitely becoming more pronounced.

There were two things I especially liked about our time together. One is that she was on equal footing with the two of us in the conversation. In fact, she may have talked more than either of us. Another is that she conveyed so well what she is like as a person as well as a person with Alzheimer’s. I don’t recall our ever having been in a social situation where she has been this way before. I attribute that heavily to our pastor. She was very comfortable with him and even said so. I don’t recall her words at all, but she took two or three minutes to comment on his ability to put people at ease.

The conversation illustrated her heightened emotional state. Our pastor said something very early about some of the mass shootings that have occurred around the country. Kate was very sad and in tears. When the conversation drifted to our relationship, she noted that we are a team and work together well. She wanted to convey how fortunate we have been and couldn’t think of the word she wanted. Our pastor said, “Blessed?” She said, “Yes, we’re blessed.” That led her to say, “I wish everyone could have what we have.” She was in tears again.

We also talked about several members we thought had made special contributions to our church. The pastor looked directly at Kate and said, “And you are one of those people.” He went on to talk about her nineteen years of volunteer service as the church librarian. That brought more tears.

When we got to the car, the first words that Kate spoke were, “I feel happy.” I said, “I do too.” It was a beautiful experience in which she got to be a significant part of the conversation, and, amidst the stumbles she made because of her Alzheimer’s, she was able to convey the depth of her insight even now. It was a very special time for me. It was another “Happy Moment” for us.

It was a good example of Kate’s intuitive abilities. Although our conversation included factual information that she didn’t fully understand, we talked largely about our feelings about our lives as well as the people and world around us. That is something she can still understand. She was quite open about her feelings. She even responded negatively to our pastor when he tried to pay her a compliment. I don’t remember what he said, but she thought he was criticizing me. She quickly responded and said, “Don’t you say that about him.”

It was also an illustration of the way someone can put her at ease. She connected quickly with him. I had seated her so that he and Kate were directly across from each other. I think that helped. The key factor, however, was the way he related to her. From the outset, he made her feel she was an equal partner in the conversation. She knew he was listening to her.

I think most people are a bit unsure about how they can best relate to someone with dementia. The easiest thing is to hold back. I was reminded of two other successful encounters we have had with Twitter friends of mine. When I introduced Kate to them, they immediately gave their attention to her. That made Kate comfortable and led to a very good conversations. It strikes me that this is a good way to begin with anyone we meet, not just someone with dementia.

Visits with Nashville Friends

The recognition that Kate is now entering the last stage of her Alzheimer’s motivates me to do what I can to maintain our longstanding friendships with out-of-town friends. With that in mind, Saturday we drove to Nashville to visit Ann and Jeff Davis. Our past visit had been a good one, and I was eager to see how this one would go. Although she didn’t remember them before our arrival, Kate accepted the fact that we were going to see them without any reluctance at all. A couple of times on the way (and after I had mentioned our visit again) she did ask me to remind her of who they were. She was never straight on that.

As on our previous trip, she was immediately taken with the flowers outside. Ann saw us and came out to greet us. Our greeting was as natural as ever. I think Kate felt completely at ease. We went to their sun room where we enjoyed catching up with them. Since our last visit, they had taken a Danube River cruise and also made a trip to Mexico for a Spanish immersion course. Our conversation was lively, and the two hours we spent with them went quickly.

Kate was less talkative this time. Some of that may have been because the rest of us talked so much. I know she could not have followed everything we said. Throughout our visit, I was concerned that she was uncomfortable. It was a surprise when we got in the car to hear her say she had enjoyed the visit. She didn’t say anything that would have given me the idea that she was ignored or bored.

My own reading of the situation is that she was confused by our conversation and may have been uncomfortable. She chose to remove herself from it, an easy way to adapt to a challenging situation. I suspect this is something that I am more likely to see in the future. It reminds me of my mom when she and dad were with us in any group. She was very quiet.

Our visit does make me think about ways that I could have brought Kate into the conversation. Much of our conversation related to our past experiences, something that is impossible for her to handle. She does, however, retain her feelings. She could talk about her feelings for her family, especially her family. She also retains a strong sense of social justice and the fact so many people live in underprivileged conditions. These are things that are easy for the two of us to discuss. It seems like it might be more contrived in a typical social get together like the one on Saturday. I am going to think about creative ways in which I might encourage at least some conversation on topics that we could all appreciate.

Staying overnight in Nashville has worked out well for us. We had a nice dinner the night before, and Kate was able to sleep late before our going to lunch and then visiting our friend Ellen at her memory care facility. Our visits with her continue to be challenging. We understood very little of what she said. In addition, her memory is also declining. Her daughter told me to ask about Ellen’s visit from her son’s family the previous weekend. They live out of state and don’t get to visit very often. When I asked, Ellen didn’t remember their coming at all.

A few weeks ago, we saw a woman from the church where Ellen directed the choir for forty years. She told us about several videos of her daughter singing solos with the choir. She had posted on YouTube. I played them for Ellen. That was a treat for her and for us.

For the third time in a row, we were there for the “music lady” who comes to the facility about twice a month. She plays the piano and sings and invites audience participation. The residents love her. I can see why. Kate and I enjoy her as well. Kate seemed a little more controlled in her expression of enthusiasm than the first time we were there, but she danced and sang a little as well as clapping her hands and swinging her arms with the music. She was enjoying herself so much that we stayed thirty minutes longer than I intended.

I feel good that we can still have weekends with visits like this at this point in our journey and plan to keep going as long as we can.

Yesterday’s Lunch Conversation

I wasn’t at all surprised that Kate was up earlier than usual yesterday morning. She had rested plenty the day before. She was also alert and even called me by name. She got ready early enough for us to make a trip to Panera before leaving for lunch.

It was an unusually pleasant and leisurely lunch that was a beautiful example of how much pleasure one can have living in the world of a person with dementia. We had at least a thirty-minute conversation that a listener might have found interesting without realizing that Kate has Alzheimer’s.

It began when I said something about a memory of a sailing trip my brother and I took in the Virgin Islands with our two sons when they were about twelve or thirteen. Kate often responds to something like this by saying, “Why didn’t you take me?” That prompted me to say that except for business trips it was the only trip I had ever taken without her.

As I started to tell her the story of that trip, I mentioned Kevin’s name. Our conversation seemed so normal that I assumed she knew that she was Kevin’s mother. Then she said, “You’re a father?” I told her I was and said, “And you’re a mother.” She scowled and said, “No, I’m not.” That led me to ask how she thought we were related. She said, “Friends. Good friends.” I said, “Who are living together.” She frowned and said, “I would not express it like that. I’m surprised that you would even say that.” I said, “Why not? We live together.” She said, “Yes, but you know what I mean.” I said, “We’ve lived together for a long time.” She said, “That’s different.” I asked if she would ever think about having children. She said, “I would like to have children some day but not yet.” Then she said something funny, but I can’t remember what. I said, “That’s one of the things I like about you. You can be funny.” She said, “Only around you. When I am with my girl friends, they don’t think I’m funny.”

About that time, I suggested it was time to leave. I said, “I love you.” I read her lips. She said, “I love you too.” And we left for home.