Winter and Duh Moments

Thursday afternoon, I’m in the community library.  An elderly patron has just sat down across from me and unloaded an armful of thick books onto the table next to her chair.  They appear to be novels.  Perhaps she is stocking up reading material for the winter, which most definitely has arrived.  Outside, as I drove up, I saw kids sledding down the hill across from this building.  The woman stands.  Having scanned the book she has already chosen, she might be looking for more, or replacements.  It is the former.  She returns with two more.

My own preparations for the winter were to secure a service to keep my driveway open, and to schedule a checkup of our heating system, now accomplished.  In the past, I would gather firewood from our heavily treed property, cutting and hauling what I could reasonably reach.  I would supplement that by buying face cords as needed.  I never was able to calculate whether I was actually saving money on our heating bill, but we had inherited a working wood stove, heating by wood is part of the culture hereabouts, and the exercise was good for me.  Carol would do what she could to help, hoisting logs I cut into our Subaru SUV to bring them from our woods to our driveway to be stacked and split, an carrying split logs into the house. 

I suppose her farm girl upbringing resurfaced when we moved here. Either that, or she just liked the physical labor.

That was then, but the work involved, the limited savings if any, and loss of my work companion convinced me to just rely on our central heating. A few split logs remain in the rack next to the stove, and there is small pile of unsplit logs on the side of the driveway.

The woman’s companion, his arms full of books, joins her and they are off to check out their choices.  They clearly represent a pre-digital culture, and I silently salute them.

Having made sure ingress and egress to and from our house has been secured, along with a dependable source of warmth, I can turn my thoughts to how I hope to get through this winter.  Carol and I would sometimes take off for Florida for a week or ten days.  Of course, that is not an option now.

My laptop tells me I’m about to lose power, and I didn’t bring a power cord.  So I guess I will end this session prematurely..

Monday night, late.  I had a very leisurely Sunday.  I, read the Times pretty thoroughly, and  received a call from Tracy and Fred in their new Tesla on their way to McSorley’s, the oldest continuously operating tavern in New York City.  My memory tells me that Carol and I had a drink in that landmark. Sloppy mixture of snow and rain arrived today and might linger on to tomorrow, my shopping day.  We’ll see.

In yesterday’s Times there was a full-page ad for a stage version of Carol’s favorite book To Kill A Mockingbird, starring Jeff Daniels as Attica Finch.  Sounds wonderful.   We most certainly would have gone to see it when we lived in New York. Now, I can only mention it to Carol without getting much of a response.

She did love that book.  When first we reached the point where she was having trouble keeping her focus on a line of text, I bought her the large print version.   It did not help, and it sits pristine on her bookshelf.  Since she could no longer read, I got the audio book from the library, and she listened intently to the whole thing.  She was more in the here and now then and could focus for good periods of time.

I always thought she saw a good deal of herself in Scout as one reason she so much liked the book, and add to that Scout’s relationship with her father, which I believe Carol saw as mirroring her own with her father.

Well, not much point dwelling on all that.

Instead, as the new year starts I am beginning to see my life more clearly.  It has three parts: caregiving, writing career, and parenting.  Anything else has to fit in the cracks between those functions.

I will explore those areas to see if I can come to a better understanding of them, giving each due respect, and balancing their sometimes competing demands.

Tuesday night after an uneventful day.  Did my usual food shopping although in spite of being guided by the shopping list app I downloaded on to my phone, I did not buy the giant jar of applesauce I will need within a day.  I administer Carol’s meds twice a day in applesauce, a big improvement over my previous method of just putting them into her mouth.  I’ll have to buy a  jar of applesauce locally to  take me to my next shopping day in town.  I discovered, not for the first time, the shopping list app only works if it includes everything I need to buy.  That was not the case today as I had not put applesauce on the list.  Add that to the lesson I learned some time ago, that it is also useful to actually consult the list while in the store.

Just as I sat down  to write a little while ago, my phone told me I had a Facebook friend request.

From Carolyn Johnson Lewis.

And there on my screen smiling back at me was the image of Carol’s face.  We all get these hacked friend requests from time to time.  But this one was nasty for all kinds of reasons I do not want to explore at the moment.  I deleted the friend request and will try to delete the incident from my memory.  However, I can’t get that image out of my mind and will not try to write.

Monday night. Social worker here during the afternoon, and then Ryan this evening for dinner  Instead of pizza or Chinese takeout which is now closing on Mondays, we ordered dinners from the Grill up the road. 

The social worker assisted me in preparing the documents I will give to the hospital designating my choices for patient advocates to make medical decisions for me if I am incapacitated, and to indicate other details of my demise as I see fit to indicate at this point such as whether I want to donate my body parts, or what I might want for comfort as I am dying.  As for the latter, I first skipped the question, but then returned to it to indicate classical music or jazz, thinking it would be okay to go out with Mozart or Miles in my ears.

I have wanted to get these papers on file at the hospital for some time.  You never know when you might get hit by a bus. Or out here, perhaps I should say a tractor.

More seriously, doing this preparation without any consultation with Carol is just another of the seemingly endless reminders of what has been lost.  I can make these arrangements, must make them, and the only way I can make them, is to do so the same way I do everything else by just dealing with the process and shutting the emotions down.

Last time, I promised myself I would begin to explore the three areas of my life; caregiving, writing, and parenting.  I am not going to spend any energy detailing ordinary household responsibilities, paying bills and attending to necessary maintenance and repairs and such.  Nothing about those is special to my situation except insofar as they are no longer a shared burden. 

The dog is of no use in these matters.

My caregiving responsibilities seem straight forward enough, but upon reflection they are somewhat more complicated.  Of course, on the first level, Carol requires care, and either I, or some person or agency I transfer that responsibility to will see to it that her basic needs are provided for. 

On another level, I intend to make the quality of her life as good as I can.  That seems obvious, but what has occurred to me in a kind of duh moment is that for me to be successful in that endeavor I have to attend to the quality of my life.  The two are inseparable.  I have to maintain good spirits to be able to keep her spirit up.

For a brief period of time, such as that spent with Carol by the relief aides it is possible to be chatty and positive and to go about necessary chores with a smile.  Then go on to the next client or home at the end of a shift.  But for me, as the full-time caregiver, I cannot sustain that kind of effort unless it emanates from something genuine.

In me.

If I come to look at my taking care of Carol as a job, I won’t do it very well.

Which leads me to my second duh moment.  I have now learned in ways I never understood before how profoundly I love this woman. I cannot describe the feeling that courses through me.  Not all the time, of course.  That’s absurd.  But from time to time it rises in me like it has never done before.  Perhaps it is because I know I am going to lose her, have in fact to some degree already have lost her as her cognition fails her, and because of that sense of loss I hold on even more  tightly.

And in those moments, in a strange way, I am content.

I may want to return to this idea, but that is enough for now.

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3 Responses to Winter and Duh Moments

  1. Wendy Warren says:

    My heart goes out to you Steve. I remember, all too well, those ‘duh’ moments. And what a horrible thing to receive a Facebook request from your beautiful, incapacitated wife! Stay well!

  2. Kathleen flores says:

    I am just glad that she came to me in a dream , so I can read your articles. It means a lot to me. Give her a hug for me.

  3. Sheila Fox says:

    Thank you Steve for your remarkable, intense, perceptive and honest writing that helps us to understand and feel with you at this difficult time in your lives. — In this entry I very much appreciate your idea of Carol’s affection for the character of Scout in Harper Lee’s book; I recall so well her self-description of her own youthful rebelliousness and independent nature and how she smiled when she thought about that part of herself.

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