A couple of days after Christmas, snowed in, unremitting boredom only interrupted by the daily war against the drifts on the driveway, thank you persistent northerly winds, and the resumption of calls from telemarketers on behalf of insurance companies peddling add ons to Medicare coverage. One such call came in today with a local number and just the beginning of our town’s name on the caller ID. Thinking it might be some entity I actually had a connection to, I picked up the line only to be confronted with a woman clearly reading a pitch from a script, who would not, could not, stop long enough to answer a simple question as to the purpose of the call. I imagine some college student trying to earn a few bucks over semester break. I could have been kinder, let her finish her pitch, but I had just come in from doing the driveway and could not yet feel my fingers, and so I hung up.
For variety, just received a call from the political party I support.
We seem to have reached a plateau. From day to day, there is little change in Carol’s condition. Her appetite, if anything seems stronger. Her mood is occasionally combative but not more so than before, and perhaps a little less. She is taking her meds more readily. Maybe it helps that I have taken to accompanying the dispensing of pills by counting in Spanish, German, or French—I can usually get up to six or seven in each—or by reciting the old rhyme that starts “One, two, buckle my shoe,” as I feed her the pill.
Because of this seeming stability, and encouraged by a couple of indications of a willingness to get onto her feet, I decided to try to maneuver her into the transport chair to eat with us while our daughter was here and we were joined by our nephew. I thought I could lift her up while he stopped the chair from sliding on our slick wooden floor.
The first part sort of went okay. I wrapped my arms around her and lifted her up, then lowered her onto the chair. However, she was complaining mightily the whole time, in an absolute panic, and slid off the seat before we had a chance to secure her with the seat belt.
I will not try again.
If we get another physical therapist in after the new year when she is on Medicare so that insurance will not again be an issue, I’ll consider another attempt.
Apparently, although I know Carol’s disabilities are not reversible I cling to the possibility that there may be effective compensation strategies.
I have always been stubborn in pursuit of certain goals.
So be it in this case.
I will know that we did not go down without a fight.
In the library the Friday before New Year’s Eve on Sunday. No other patrons, just a staff member shelving books. Caregiver relief aide will be with Carol for a little more than another hour, and I am back from town getting a small repair done on my glasses. Besides my laptop I’ve brought in the manual for the Navigation and Multimedia systems of my new Camry, a substantial tome. Apparently, these systems can do marvelous things, including responding to voice prompts. There’s a bit of a learning curve involved, but I don’t mind.
This morning Carol awoke sobbing, something about her mother. The best I could make out was she was unhappy that she could not either go to, or see, her mother. I considered reminding her that her mother was in the nursing home, but chose instead to just hold her hand until she quieted down, which she did after a short while. I then said it was time for breakfast, and she seemed content with that.
This incident reminded me of episodes early in the onset of her disease, where she would awaken convinced that somebody had died. I did not at that time understand that these events were a product of her dementia. I knew something wasn’t right, but I could not put a name to whatever it was.
I now imagine they were some sort of hallucination. She would say that the information came to her through the air waves. My response, uninformed as it then was, was that had somebody died we would have heard through the more usual method of a telephone call. The telephone hadn’t rung, hence nobody had died.
Needless to say, she was not always convinced of this logic although through repetition the response did gain some traction with her. I do recall, however, one time when nothing would dislodge the fixed idea in her head that her cousin in Virginia had died, not only that he was now deceased, but he was so as the result of an accident while he was driving, I believe, a truck.
Perhaps now, I would just let that idea go, but then I tried to correct it, going so far as calling the last number we had for him—we were not in especially close contact with this individual—and spoke with someone, I don’t recall who, from whom we learned that although he had moved he was above ground and quite well.
Over time, several other family members’ deaths occurred to her, and I would repeat the mantra, no phone call, nobody is dead, and that worked.
There have been no such incidents for quite some time, and I don’t think the one this morning was of that kind. Quite what it was, I still do not understand. I am aware that sometimes Carol will start laughing, as though someone has just told her a joke. When I once asked who it was, she answered, it was herself. She never was much of a joke teller, but I’d rather she be doing that than sobbing.
New Year’s Eve. Carol asleep on the couch after a late dinner . The dog asleep on the floor near the chair on which I am sitting. I checked the tv for something to watch, including shows and movies I had recorded. Nothing interested me.
We’ve had serious snow the past few days, probably a couple of feet although I haven’t heard an official determination. I managed to get out to the store this morning as part of my Sunday routine, NY Times for me, a muffin for Carol.
It somehow seems fitting that the weather should add to my feelings of isolation this festive season.
I am somehow reminded of a New Year’s Eve some sixty or more years ago. I do not know why this one sticks in my mind, nor why it intrudes into my consciousness tonight.
But it does, so I’ll take a look at it.
I was probably about twelve, maybe a little older. We had moved from the two family house where we were the tenants on the second floor. The move was sudden. A dispute with the landlord. I don’t know now, nor did I know then, the particulars. What I do know is that we moved in the middle of the school year when I was in the sixth grade. Another upstairs apartment some twenty-eight blocks west on the very same Avenue I.
I am not sure if my sister was still living with us. She got married when I was thirteen or fourteen. In any case, she would not have been home on New Year’s Eve.
Nor my parents that year although I don’t recall their going out much on holidays.
Thus, I was home alone, too young to go out to my own party, or perhaps too new to the neighborhood if there were any celebrants of my age I could have joined.
I don’t remember what I did that night. I am quite sure I did not watch television. I don’t know what would have been on then in the middle to late fifties.
The only detail that, weirdly, is fixed in my memory is a calendar given out by the Chinese restaurant on Avenue J. I can recall what it looked like. Each page was a week, with several lines for each day where notes could be written. It was probably about eight to ten inches high and maybe six or seven inches wide with a dark brown back. The name of the restaurant was somewhere, either on the backing above the pages, or perhaps on each page. I do not remember which.
It makes some sense that I would associate this calendar with New Year’s Eve. It would have been brand spanking new for the new year.
But that is all I recall of that evening.
I try to recapture my mood. Words like weird, detached, alienated, come to mind. Not quite lonely although that would seem natural in a situation in which my own family was out somewhere celebrating.
Nor can I say that I felt angry.
Perhaps the best word is estranged. In my own little non-celebratory bunker.
Which is exactly how I feel tonight.
I told Carol it was New Year’s Eve. I am not sure that meant anything much to her. She never had a head for time. I’m sure it was a struggle for her to keep to necessary school and work schedules. But she surely did do that right through jobs, university and law school.
Without that imposed structure she had great difficulty. She had to write things down, usually in a yearly planner. When I went out for a bike ride, she would record the time I left.
It struck me as painfully inappropriate—best word I can come up with—that the other day we received in the mail quite a lovely, good-sized, faux leather bound planner from our financial advisers.
Just the kind of think Carol would have loved.
I have a calendar on my phone synced to my computer.
But Carol never moved comfortably into the digital world. This planner would have suited her perhaps as recently as a year ago.
But not now.
Not now when one day blends into another for her, as do the weeks, and the months.
And the years.
So, perhaps I will awaken her at midnight.
Or maybe not.
Let her sleep. The new year is pretty much irrelevant.
To both of us.
Coda: Tuned to WQXR NYC streaming, which was offering New Year’s special of classical music’s greatest hits, and listened to the end of Beethoven’s 7th and all of his 9th. The station let the music play right through midnight so that instead of watching the ball drop, my ear buds were filled with the glorious Ode to Joy.
Time is irrelevant listening to timeless music.
When the music ended, I succumbed, acknowledged the present moment, and nudged Carol awake and wished her a happy new year.
She smiled in recognition and went back to sleep.