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>

An Indicator of Change

Numbers have played an important role in my professional career in market research. The vast majority of the reports and presentations of research findings were filled with charts and tables containing lots of statistics. As a result, I have often yearned for a chart that would summarize our experiences since Kate’s diagnosis eight years ago.

That would have been possible if I had kept statistical records along the way. During the early years after the diagnosis, I didn’t even think of doing that. As time progressed, I felt I didn’t have time to keep an accurate statistical record. I settled for what we researchers call a qualitative approach. I simply describe in words what our lives have been like. Most people can relate to that more easily anyway.

The problem is that words don’t always convey the changes that occur over time. For example, I find that my early posts talked about how short her memory was. Some of my recent entries say essentially the same thing, and yet I know that her short-term memory is vastly shorter now that it was then. I do try to call attention to symptoms the first time they appear. I also try to give some approximate time indicators. For example, I often say that Kate’s sleeping pattern started changing during the spring of last year or the approximate number of months since the pattern started changing. For the most part, however, this blog consists almost entirely of my descriptions of our experiences.

Having said this, I have discovered that launching the journal as a blog one year ago has provided statistical data. Only one of those gives me much information that relates to our experience with Alzheimer’s, and it is very limited. The WordPress software I use organizes all of the posts by year. I put that together in the chart below. It doesn’t begin to do justice to what has gone on the past eight years; however, it does show how the progression of Kate’s Alzheimer’s has affected my writing.

During the first three years (2011, 2012, and 2013), our lives didn’t change much. I didn’t have as many things to write about. That began changing in the years 2014, 2015, and 2016. I remember that 2014 was the year I felt I should tell our children and close friends about Kate’s diagnosis. Early that same year, we went to New Zealand. I knew then that our traveling travelling days were numbered. It was becoming increasingly difficult to manage everything on long trips. We took our last overseas trip (Switzerland) in 2015. In 2016, I saw more signs of change. I believed that our annual trip to Chautauqua would be our last. Fortunately, we were able to make one more trip in 2017. That year I wrote 77% more posts than the preceding year. The big jump occurred last year. Our lives changed substantially as did the number of my posts. They were up 132% last year. Of course, that was the first year of my blog. I know I was more diligent in writing. Even with that, however, I have always tried to write when I had something I wanted to say (not necessarily what readers might want to hear <g>). In 2018, that happened more often.

So, what is in store for 2019? The answer is I don’t know. As in previous years that will depend on what happens next. If I were to guess, I would say that the posts will level out for a while and, possibly, decline. Through the first 36 days of the current year I am averaging one and a third posts a day. I expect that Kate will sleep more, and we will be less active this year than last. That might mean fewer things for me to report. As with so many things, time will tell.

Melancholy Day

Yesterday was a different kind of day. The past couple of days I’ve had wonderful connections with friends and family that go back to my college days at TCU. In one case it went back to the fourth grade. At this stage of life hearing from people you have known over a lifetime is especially precious; however, there were aspects of each of them that gave me something of a melancholy feeling yesterday.

It began the day before when I tried to reach my childhood friend and neighbor and discovered she is in the last stages of dementia and unable to communicate with me. Then yesterday morning I received an email from one of Kate’s cousins. She had written a very touching poem as a tribute to her husband who was diagnosed with dementia and died in 2013. Yesterday was his birthday. It was a beautiful expression of her love for him. A little later in the morning, I read an email attachment from a college friend and widow of one of my college roommates who had dementia. It was a tender story of their lives together. My former roommate took up poetry in a serious way in his later years. She included a poem he had written to her on an anniversary in 1996. I am sure it meant a lot to her at the time and even more so now.

After Kate and I returned from lunch, I was surprised to see a package on our front porch. It was from another TCU roommate. We had been out of touch until the past six to eight months. He sent some autobiographical writings that he had prepared for his children. He was an outstanding singer in college, and we had sung in two different choral groups together, but I hadn’t kept up with his career at all. I also learned that he had lost his wife to cancer. Reading about his experiences summoned up feelings I often have at memorial services. It’s a feeling of “knowing” people but not really knowing much about them. I am glad to have connected with him now but wish that I had been in touch with him before.

Add Kate’s situation to this mix of connections. Her Alzheimer’s continues to take her in the only direction it can, and now she has a cold. My feelings for her are the same as those a parent has for a sick child. After lunch, we came back to the house where we spent the rest of the afternoon in our family room. Kate rested on the sofa while I went through the writings of my former roommate. As I reflected on my friends’ memories, I looked over at Kate. Despite her cold, she was lying there peacefully with few of her memories left and no sense of the future or just how precious our moments are right now. I felt sad for her. I don’t like to see her facing the symptoms of a cold much less those that accompany her Alzheimer’s. Like my friends who lost their spouses I am grateful for memories of the past, but, unlike them, Kate and I still have time to make new ones. They will be quickly lost for her, but I will remember.

The Day Kate Was Diagnosed With Alzheimer’s

Today is a day that is hard for me to forget. It was eight years ago that Kate was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I just finished a quick look at the posts I made during the first ten days after that. (http://livingwithalzheimers.com/the-diagnosis-and-following-ten-days/) At that time we were experiencing all the emotions that surround such news. Kate was initially relieved but very quickly became scared and also angry.  Fortunately, neither of the latter two emotions was long-lasting. Although we were not surprised with the doctor’s news, the reality shook us. We had to sort through those emotions and figure out how to move forward.

At that time the future seemed very blurry. We were simply trying to grasp the diagnosis. We experienced a lot of feelings. We talked about the diagnosis and our future and tried to understand its implications. We couldn’t escape thinking about all the negatives that go along with the disease.

One of the things that struck me was how quickly we went into planning mode. We have been there ever since. That’s not because our plans were wrong. It’s because the situation is always changing and requires answers to new questions or problems. Our initial plans focused on two general areas. First, we needed to address legal and financial issues. That meant meeting with our attorney, accountant, and insurance man. Second, we wanted a plan for our lives in order to take advantage of whatever quality time we had. Somewhere along the way we will probably discover things we overlooked, but that foundation has served us well so far. I thought we would have far less time for living than we have. I never expected that we would be getting along so well after eight years. That is largely because I didn’t understand how much pleasure we could have after Kate’s memory was almost gone.

As we thought about the things we wanted to do, we gravitated to the things we already enjoyed. That included music, theater, travel, and time with family and friends. Each of these has played a significant role in our “therapy.” What is even better is that we are still able to enjoy most of the things that have led to a very happy marriage.

Looking back, I am glad that we responded actively and not passively. At this moment in 2019, I realize how much life we can enjoy while “Living with Alzheimer’s.” I still don’t know how long our good times will last. I know that the time is diminishing rapidly now. We stopped all major travel in January 2016. We made what may have been our last trips to our children’s homes (Memphis and Lubbock) for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Movies are almost a thing of the past. I sense that non-musical theater and opera are on the way out. Music and social occasions like dining out play an even larger role in our lives now, but Kate’s sleeping late has cut down on our morning social engagement at Panera and our afternoons at Barnes & Noble. I plan to continue our day trips to visit friends as long as we are able. I don’t see anything that would stop that right now.

I can’t help feeling sad as I watch Kate change and imagine what lies ahead. I also recognize that our own experience with Alzheimer’s has been far better than that of most others. The past eight years are among the best of our marriage. I am grateful for that. I also feel a strong sense of determination to see that we make the best of the future no matter what it may bring.

Happy Birthday, Kate.

As a caregiver, I often hear expressions of concern about how I am getting along as well as compliments about my care for Kate. I appreciate that, but I sometimes feel Kate deserves more attention than I do. As I attempt to describe in this blog, this is a journey we are making together just as we have dealt with other challenges during our marriage.

Today is her 78th birthday, and I am thinking about the way she has approached her diagnosis. She accepted it with courage and a positive outlook. I would have been more public if I had been in her shoes, but I respect her decision to be more private. She has never wanted people to feel sorry for her or to treat her any differently than they had done before receiving her diagnosis. To this day, she has told only one person. That’s Ellen Seacrest, her closest friend whom we visited in Nashville on Saturday. I honored her choice for several years, but we were making changes in our lives that I ultimately felt required an explanation to our family and friends.

Consistent with her desire for privacy, she wanted to maintain her independence. I have tried to respect that but confess that I’ve not always succeeded. Over time, she has grown much more dependent. Even now, she prefers to do things on her own, but Alzheimer’s has forced her to acknowledge that she needs help.

She has always been even-tempered. Alzheimer’s has made that more difficult for her. Overall, however, she has been very easy to care for. That is especially true because she is so generous in her expressions of appreciation. It is much easier to care for someone who is grateful. On those occasions when she has been abrupt with me, she has often apologized. She is genuinely kind-hearted. That’s not just the way she treats me. It’s the way she responds to strangers we meet in our day-to-day experiences. I can’t tell you the number of times she has thanked bus boys and other cleaning staff in the restaurants we visit. She also gives warm greetings to other customers. That warmth also extends to her sitters whose names she still can’t remember.

Kate’s sense of gratitude goes far beyond the things that I may do for her. She often talks about how fortunate she has been in her personal life and we have been in our married life. I agree strongly with both of these things, but I am inspired by her recognition of how well life has gone for her. She never mentions the dramatic impact that Alzheimer’s has made on her life. By now, of course, she no longer remembers that she has Alzheimer’s. She has experienced frustration, but her diagnosis has never lessened her feelings of gratitude. She never feels sorry for herself. She views health issues and death as natural events to be dealt with to the best of her ability. It may surprise some people to know that we have found the past eight years since her diagnosis to be among the most fulfilling of our 55-year marriage.

Kate and I share a number of things in common. That’s one of the reasons we have gotten along so well pre- and post-Alzheimer’s. Among those things we have in common is a sense of gratitude. Above all, I am grateful we met and quickly sensed a connection that would be permanent. So on this birthday I want to go on record by saying how much I admire her, especially for the way in which she has handled “Living with Alzheimer’s.” In my book she’s a champ.

Does Kate know me or not?

In my previous post, I focused on the inaccuracy of our stereotypes (generalizations) of people with dementia. In this post I am specifically thinking about caregivers and the conclusions we reach about the behavior of our loved ones. Many of those situations involve a judgment about things like what stage of the disease the PWD has reached, what she is able to do, and can she be left alone. Last spring, I was trying to draw a conclusion about Kate’s sleeping later in the morning. I wasn’t sure whether that represented a few isolated discrepancies from her previous sleeping pattern or the beginning of a new stage of her disease. After months, I finally recognized that she was, and still is, making a real change.

One of the judgments that caregivers frequently make involves what their loved one knows. It hasn’t happened recently, but I’ve been asked if Kate still knows me. That’s a good question. It’s one that seems to imply that she either knows or doesn’t know me. The best answer I can give right now is that “sometimes she does and sometimes she doesn’t,” but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Let’s take an example of something that happened at lunch a couple of days ago.

When she got up that day, her conversation suggested that she knew me. She didn’t ask my name or relationship, and she behaved in a manner that is consistent with the way she has behaved toward me for years. At lunch, we talked about our children. I presumed that, at that moment, she knew I was her husband. Moments later she said, “Who are you?” I asked her if she meant my name or my relationship to her. She said, “Your name first.” When I told her, she said, “And what are you to me?” I said, “I’m your husband.” Then she asked me to tell her my “full name.” I said, “Richard Lee Creighton.” She tried to repeat it, but only got the first name. She asked me again. Over the next few minutes, she asked a few other times. Once she asked her own name.

In most ways this experience was like many others we have had. In this particular instance, however, I was struck by how blurry the line between knowing and not knowing can be. As usual, I was also amazed at how comfortable she is when she repeatedly asks my name and her own. She displays no sense of hesitation about asking nor does she seem concerned that I might think it strange when she asks. She asks the way she would ask a stranger’s name. At the same time, her words and manner of relating to me suggest she knows me. I feel certain that is the way an observer at another table would have interpreted the situation.

I try not to quiz her too much about what she “knows,” but earlier this week I did. She asked my name and relationship. I told her, and then I said, “Tell me this. You didn’t know my name or that I am your husband, but you did seem to feel that I am someone you know. Is that right?” She said, “Yes, of course.” I didn’t push for any more. As I have surmised on other occasions, she usually recognizes that I am someone with whom she is familiar and someone with whom she is comfortable. It’s just that she sometimes doesn’t remember my name or our relationship.

After living with changes like this for a while, I would say there are different levels of knowing. One is to know my name. Another is to know that I am her husband. Another is to know that I am someone she recognizes. If I were to guess right now, I would say that (1) she usually doesn’t know my name, (2) about half the time she knows I am her husband, and (3) she almost always recognizes me as someone she knows and trusts.

Prior to six months ago, I believe she always knew my name and that I am her husband. She’s made a significant change in that time period. I suspect the next six months will bring more dramatic changes, but I expect she will continue to recognize me as someone she knows and trusts for some time to come, at least that is what I am hoping. I’m also beginning to think of that as the deepest kind of knowing. It’s similar to what we felt when we first met. We didn’t know anything about each other, but our intuitive abilities led us to sense a connection. That is something I don’t want to lose.

A Lesson for Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

One of my fascinations is the way people generalize and differentiate the qualities or characteristics of other people. One of the most relevant examples would be the way we look at people of different racial or ethnic groups. We are generalizing when we say that “Italians are such and such.” We are differentiating when we recognize that some Italians (or whatever group) are like the stereotype but many are not. Pollsters often find that large percentages of people hold negative stereotypes of politicians and lawyers but when asked about their own representatives or lawyers, they have favorable views of them. That is differentiating.

This normal process of both generalizing and differentiating applies in many other situations, and it is something we do without even thinking about it. My personal view is that we tend to generalize more quickly when we know little about a subject. The more we know, the more we recognize the variation that exists apart from the generalization.

So what has this got to do with Living with Alzheimer’s? Well, January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Established by Ronald Reagan in 1983, it is a month in which organizations and professionals in the field of dementia attempt to increase awareness of the disease and improve the public’s understanding of it. That has not been an explicit purpose of this blog, but I do hope that readers gain a better grasp of what the disease is like through our experiences.

Most of all, I hope our experience will counter a generalization about dementia that is quite misleading. When most people hear that someone has dementia, they immediately think of the latter stages of the disease. That is a time when people with dementia (PWD) have very little awareness and are unable to enjoy life the way they could at an earlier point in their lives. The truth is that dementia involves a long span of time. Some estimates suggest it may be as long as twenty or more years. During most of that time, it is possible for PWD to live a full life. We have a growing number of PWD like Kate Swaffer (@KateSwaffer) and Wendy Mitchell (@WendyPMitchell) who are actively speaking out and writing about this.

Professionals who study Alzheimer’s are also making an effort to communicate this message. It’s important one for those receiving a diagnosis and their family members. It is a helpful message at a time when our stereotype of the disease can easily lead to a sense of hopelessness. That is good news. In addition, there is a wealth of information that offers guidelines and advice for making the most of the quality time available after diagnosis. There is reason to hope.

I didn’t recognize that when Kate was diagnosed. I couldn’t imagine how much joy we would have experienced since then. There are some things that we have done to make it easier for us to live with Alzheimer’s, but I also recognize that there have been important things beyond our control that have helped us significantly. They include the fact that I was able to retire so that we could spend more time together, that neither of us has had any other health issues to contend with, that Kate has not experienced some of the more challenging symptoms of the disease, and that we have not had any special financial burdens.

We have been especially fortunate. Thus, I don’t want others to generalize from our experience and believe theirs would be the same. The most important lesson I have learned came from The Dementia Handbook by Judy Cornish. I believe it applies to many other families. She suggests that caregivers and family of PWD learn to accept the “rational” abilities that are lost through dementia and emphasize the “intuitive” abilities that remain. The latter can make a big difference in the quality of life for those living with Alzheimer’s. It has worked for us. My wish is that it might work as well for others.

Reflecting on Kate’s Intuitive Abilities. Part 2: Taste and Touch

By now you are well aware that Kate and I eat out for all our meals except breakfast. Thus, it should not surprise you that the sense of taste has played a relevant part in our lives. I can’t say, however, that it has brought with it the same degree of pleasure as music and our social experiences. Let me try to explain.

Kate and I are not “Foodies.” By that, I mean that we do not passionately explore a diverse variety of foods and ways in which they can be prepared. When we are traveling and when we dine out for special occasions, we may explore unique and tasty menu items. Since we eat out all the time, we don’t go to a lot of upscale restaurants. Most of them are everyday places.

That does not mean that the taste of food is irrelevant to us. On the contrary, we have found ourselves gravitating to food that we enjoy the most. For several years, I have ordered Kate’s meals for us. I do that based on the things that I know she likes, not necessarily what I think is best from a dietary standpoint. In other words, her taste in food and beverages does matter.

She has always liked Dr. Pepper (DP). It is not available at all the restaurants we frequent. When it is, that is what I have usually gotten for her. Her sense of taste, however, is something that has been changing. She no longer distinguishes the taste of different beverages as clearly as she used to. When she gets a DP, she frequently tells me “Something’s wrong with this.” Within the past year, I noticed that she was selecting a little of each of the beverages in the vending machine at Panera. She was no longer going straight to DP. The fact that she has gained weight has led me to order more iced tea half sweet and half unsweet. She has been happy with that. I still keep DP at home in the small cans but notice that she often doesn’t finish what she pours.

Apart from that, I choose specific food items that she likes. When we are eating a full meal, I often order salmon or scallops for her. She likes both. She also likes sweet potato fries. I order those when they are on the menu. In the sandwich line, she likes mostly turkey. One of the other changes in her taste has involved bacon. She doesn’t like the crispiness of bacon. I now ask that bacon be omitted from any sandwich that has them. Similarly, she doesn’t usually eat lettuce, so I omit that as well. I never get her a salad. The idea of a salad turns her off. That’s ironic because she used to make great salads.

Through experimentation we have settled into a array of items she likes at every restaurant we visit. She especially likes her Italian and Mexican meals, and she loves to add lots of Parmesan cheese to her pasta.

Both of us have always loved desserts. When we first married, we had dessert with every evening meal. Over the years, desserts became more of a treat for special occasions. Now we eat more desserts, about five times a week. That specifically relates to Kate’s desire for them. Don’t get me wrong. I love them just as much as she does; however, I am more prone to monitor what I eat than she is. My first reaction was to discourage eating more desserts. I had a second thought. Dessert is something we both enjoy, and I don’t want to look back and regret that I hadn’t taken advantage of the opportunity share that pleasure.

Speaking of desserts makes me think of the blueberry muffin she gets at Panera. That is something she has really enjoyed; however, now that she sleeps later in the morning, we don’t get there as often. When we do, it is in the afternoon. Then we usually just get something to drink.

Kate doesn’t demand a great deal with respect to her meals. She is getting what she wants. When you couple that with the other benefits of eating out, she is getting along well.

When I began to think of the role of touch in our lives, I initially thought of it as less important than the other senses. After thinking a little more, I’d have to say that it has played a significant complementary role in our overall relationship. Often that comes with routine expressions of affection. I believe we hug more than we did before Alzheimer’s. I know there are times when words don’t seem to be the right answer to a problem. When Kate has had a panic or anxiety attack, I have responded with a warm hug when I wasn’t sure what to say. There are times when we are in the car, usually on the way out of town, that she may reach across and simply touch my arm, hand, or leg. More often that that, she wakes up in the middle of the night, moves closer to me, and puts a hand on my arm. It’s just another way of saying “I love you,” but it’s an important one.

That leaves only the sense of smell. I’m not sure what to say about that except that it is something that I don’t see as having played a significant role in how well we get along with Alzheimer’s. Perhaps this is something I should pay more attention to in the future. Each of other senses, however, has been very important to us, and I expect them to last a good bit longer.

Addendum for Previous Post

In my previous post I neglected to mention something else that illustrates Kate’s appreciation of things she sees as beautiful. At dinner last night our server brought out a dish with a small cup of Parmesan cheese and another of hot peppers. Underneath them was a paper doily that looked like something my grandmother used to crochet with an outer band of lace. On at least two other occasions, Kate has brought them home. Last night she did so again. She held it in her hand very carefully, trying not to damage it in anyway. Before getting out of the car, she asked me to take it. She said that I was likely to be more careful with it than she. I thought this was interesting in two ways. First, it expressed how much she liked something so simple. Second, she sensed a difference in the way each of us handles our things. She didn’t want it messed up. She trusted my OCD tendencies to protect it.

It also reminds me of how kind she can be in her evaluations. There are many simple things that she appreciates that she might not have before her Alzheimer’s. She is very generous in her own critiques of theatrical and musical performances. She is the same with her attribution of skills of the people she meets. I notice this a lot when I do something simple and very ordinary. She will say something like “You’re so smart.” She does the same thing with many of the people we encounter daily. I think this is a natural outgrowth of her own loss of rational abilities. She still retains an appreciation of such skills and is impressed with the people who still have them.

Seeing beauty in things we take for granted and special skills that we would also overlook gives her more things in life to enjoy than the average person. That’s something else that the longevity of intuitive skills provides to make life enjoyable. How grateful I am for that. That has made living with Alzheimer’s easier for both of us.

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.