One of the major themes running through “Living with Alzheimer’s” is change and adaptation. That has been continuous since Kate’s diagnosis. Of course, it really started before that, but I can’t pinpoint a specific date. I can for the diagnosis, so I always use it. At first, our lives changed very little. The primary difference was a focus on the bad news and how we were going to handle it.
Over time, we dropped many things that we had done in the past. Most recently, that has involved Kate’s difficulty working jigsaw puzzles on her iPad. For several years that has taken up 6-8 hours a day. That is now less than an average of an hour a day. This past week there were three days when she didn’t use it at all.
That has put me in the position of creating more activity for her. The sitters and I have been doing that with the aid of her family photo books. That is going well, but I felt the need for something else. She tries reading magazines, but she doesn’t see well enough. Since she enjoys my reading the text that accompanies the photo books, I began to think about reading other things to her. Several things increased my motivation. One of my Twitter friends reads to her mother and said her mother enjoys it. I also have a colleague at the office who read to her mother in the latter stages of her life. It meant a lot to both of them.
In addition, our Rotary club has recently adopted a new project that involves placing children’s books in public places frequented by children. It made me think of buying several children’s books and trying them out with Kate. Two weeks ago, I took Kate with me to Barnes & Noble to browse the children’s collection. It was right after lunch, a time when she almost always wants to rest. I didn’t have much time to do any serious looking.
Last week, I had a conversation about reading to Kate with my colleague. She mentioned The Velveteen Rabbit and The Giving Tree as good possibilities. I went back to Barnes & Noble on Wednesday and looked for them along with other possibilities. They have a pretty large collection, but I didn’t see either book. The next day I checked Amazon and got them along with two other books.
Prior to their arrival on Friday, I looked on some of our book shelves to see what I might find. I saw a book by Erma Bombeck, Family: The Ties that Bind . . .and Gag! I read the two short introductory chapters to her Friday morning. In her humorous way, she first relates what her own birth family was like when she was growing up. Then she describes her present (present being some time ago) family as they take their annual Christmas photo. It’s a funny contrast of the generations. I wasn’t sure how Kate would react, but she enjoyed it, and I plan to read more at another time.
Sunday morning she was up a little earlier than usual. I didn’t want to go to Panera for a muffin and the quickly go to lunch, and Andriana’s wasn’t going to be open for almost an hour. I didn’t want her to feel my reading children’s books to her was, well, too “childish.” I explained about our Rotary project and that she might help me decide if the books I had bought would be suitable for me to give to our project. She, of course, was happy to do that. My first experiment was reading The Giving Tree. It didn’t take long for me to discover that she liked it. She audibly expressed her feelings as I read. I was encouraged by her reaction.
We still had plenty of time before we needed to leave for lunch. I picked up The Velveteen Rabbit and read it. This was a blockbuster. She was touched the whole way and in tears before I got to the end. I admit that I was touched as well, especially by her response, and shed a tear or two myself.
When I finished reading, I put the book down in my lap. We were seated side-by-side on the sofa. She picked it up and started to look through it from the beginning. She looked at the title page and the page of illustrations. I hadn’t paid much attention to the illustrations as I read, so we looked at them. Then I suggested we go to lunch. She held the book up to her chest with both arms around it and asked if she could take the book with us. I told her she could. She said, “Should I take it into the restaurant?” I said it would probably be better to leave it in the car. Then she decided it was best to leave it home. I mentioned that we could read it again if she would like. She said she did.
It was a beautiful experience for both of us. I was hoping she might enjoy my reading to her since she has enjoyed my reading from her photo books, but I wasn’t at all sure she would understand the stories well enough to appreciate them. I feel sure that she missed a lot, but it was clear that her intuitive skills were working. She was clearly moved. Her reaction encourages me to try more. Wouldn’t it be nice if her love for reading that seemed to have been lost could be rekindled in this way? How appropriate for someone who was a lifelong reader until Alzheimer’s entered our lives.