From the initial goofy and crazy-in-love flush to more serious times, Tony and I were able to discuss together whatever hurdle lay ahead and to meet each challenge head on, hand-in-hand. If the day was wearing and wearying with discord, we generally would thrash things through before bedtime. Sometimes Tony would stomp away first, but would remain awake; he would flip the blankets down as I approached my side of the bed. I would squeeze his shoulder and he would pat me on the hip; and always a “Goodnight” or a “Love You” before settling down. Our lives included many blessings for which we were both appreciative and grateful.
As Alzheimer’s claimed more and more of Tony’s awareness and challenged his adaptability, he knew without reservation that I would be there for him, standing with him, and helping him along the way to the inevitable conclusion of his life. Tony trusted me implicitly – there was never a shadow of a doubt that I would make wise decisions, advocate for him, and stay close. I knew also that, if the tables were turned, Tony would always have done his best for me. It had simply been a twist of fate that “Big Al,” as Tony referred to Alzheimer’s disease, had been one of the cards dealt in the hand for us to play out, the luck of the draw – more bluntly described as a crapshoot.
When I was at home, I began to notice that if a phone call came through it would ring and ring – but Tony wouldn’t pick up the receiver. He confessed that he wasn’t comfortable answering in case it was someone he didn’t know. Our telephone did have a Caller ID screen, but he couldn’t decipher the name. I programmed some numbers into the Speed-Dial feature, and then realized that Tony couldn’t always identify the entries – and instead asked me to dial out. These developments were an indication that it was time for a bigger display screen, voice identifiers for each pre-programmed name, and an announcement as to who was calling when the phone rang.
I started using my cell phone number for contact information rather than our home phone. The home number had been registered on the national Do Not Call list, somehow numerous unidentified callers slipped through. Some important messages were missed though, and when I asked, Tony said he picked them up because the flashing red light meant there was a message. Then he would delete. It amazed me that he could still remember the password he chose. Changing it would have ignited an inferno; it was easier to skirt around the subject.
Family and our very few friends began to make their calls in the evening when they knew I would be at home to pick up – it was a matter of making a small adjustment to put things right without reminding Tony why; he knew too well and it felt infuriating.
If the doorbell rang and I was at home, Tony wouldn’t respond. “Sherry, somebody’s at the door” he would say. It dawned on me that he was apprehensive it might be someone he didn’t know. He would stand in the kitchen and separate the slats in the window blinds, just enough to peek through; like a nosey neighbor spying! If I was upstairs and looked down from the upper storey and could see the visitor, I would call down “Tony, it’s so-and-so”—and he would open the door.
Tony was already up at night at least once for a bathroom visit; and over our years together I seemingly kept my ear attuned to his movements. I either lay still to await the sound of a flush or half-leaned on one elbow to watch for his shadow coming into the room again. One night I saw that Tony was fumbling with anxiety at the closet door, his need to get to the bathroom was urgent but the way was somehow not clear. I called out to him, and arose to take his hand and lead the way, then waited in the hallway until he emerged. He immediately turned the wrong way and began moving toward the stairs!
We spoke naught of Tony’s confusion the next day, but that afternoon I set out to buy a folding baby gate to install in the upper hallway. Tony did not seem to have any recollection of uncertainty the night before; and was both affronted and verbal when I told him of my concerns for his safety. “What the hell are you talking about” he roared. We felt sure it may well have been an isolated incident – I reassured him that I would take the gate down as soon as we were certain Tony could get to and from the bathroom without mishap.
I had no experience whatsoever with a baby gate….I’d seen them in place before for puppies and small children but the “how to” was not hands-on information! I did realize though the probability that Tony could easily trip over the top edge – especially if he was moving forward and didn’t realize it was there, so I set it in place about chest high. He would at least feel some resistance and hopefully would realize where he was.
Sleep did not come easily that night; I stayed alert. Eventually the mattress lurched and I quickly sat upright to watch and wait. First, the flick of the bathroom light, followed by the flush… a momentary silence…Tony walked into the gate and swore vociferously. His reaction was more from surprise than displeasure; my brain whirled as I tried to visualize an early-warning system!
The next day, with a giggle, I searched through one of the many boxes of Christmas decorations and retrieved a cluster of jingle bells, which I tied to the gate.
In time, with increasing side effects, Tony was redirected to a different drug and the baby gate was taken down and set aside.
We travelled out of the country for winter getaways four years in a row. One year at the International Customs screening, we became separated. Tony passed through ahead of me and disappeared around a partition. I didn’t pass the inspection though; there was a bottle of wine in my carry-on bag. “You can’t take this through,” said the officer. “I’m going to want this at the other end” I told him, “it’s a long journey.” When the officer said I had to go back to the check in counter and add it to my other luggage, I panicked. “My husband has just gone through ahead of me, he has Alzheimer’s disease. Somebody needs to find him. Now.” My sister, who was travelling with us, appeared as if by magic from the other side of the wall, “I’ve got him!” Our travel days ended.
During the flight home I recalled a recent posting on Facebook™. It was the photo of a proud equestrian astride her new mount. The caption read, “This one’s for you, Mom”. It was a flashback to the woman’s childhood years as an accomplished rider. The pose and poise led me to think about the skills required in keeping one’s seat through every movement and change of pace. Despite humans being two-footed rather than four, there are similarities – in particular the change of gaits.
Some thoroughbred racehorses spring out of the gate with a pent-up adrenalin rush, and reach their maximum speed in a few short seconds. Other horses are trained to mete out their energy and hold out for an endurance run rather than a sprint.
No matter whether we walk, trot, canter, or gallop—it’s important to keep our eyes forward and ears pricked for markers that signify the progress of the race.
…”Let me clear the plates away,” I said. “Is this a good time to bring you some coconut cream pie?” Tony shook his head. I watched silently as he jimmied the chair around and steadied himself to stand. “Are you on your way downstairs for the tennis now? I’ve got the channel ready for you; there are a few minutes left before it starts, Tony.” Soft jazz was playing on the stereo; I grasped Tony’s hand, “How about a little twirl?” His reply was “No”. “Well then, how about a little kiss instead?” I stood on tiptoe ahd wrapped my arms around his neck. “Steady now,” I laughed, and gave him a slushy smooch.
“That was a Jack kiss,” Tony said. He remembered that we had coined the phrase after seeing in the newspaper a beautiful, albeit bittersweet photo, of the late Jack Layton kissing his beloved wife Olivia Chow. At that time, Jack Layton was the leader of the Federal Opposition party for Canada, and she a Member of Parliament. Our kisses were now more perfunctory, it was a perfect reminder.
….I was glad we had shared a Jack kiss – a memory I would hold tight to when I could no longer hold tight to Tony. Despite the complications and oddities nowadays, it was still a special date, our HappyAnniversary.
The imaginative Harry Potter books and movies introduced readers to the sport of Quidditch where the goal of the Seeker is to catch the Golden Snitch, an elusive prize. Whenever we aim higher, or want to reach a goal, we too become seekers. Our focus might be on education, a better job or more satisfying career, more financial security or any other desire.
For eleven years when I worked as a REALTOR®, a replica of the Golden Snitch dangled from my rear view mirror. To me it represented always extending myself further to achieve excellence. Now I’m a seeker again – this time my intention is to connect with either a Literary Agent or a Publisher for “Dear Tony…a caregiver’s journey to Inspire”. Please let me know if you can offer suggestions or recommendations. E-mail me at email@example.com. I’m in search of the Golden Snitch.
Beginning days before I arrived at the airport to leave for Vancouver, my skin felt buzzing with electricity. But not static. Whenever something is coming to fruition for me it’s always like this, so anticipation reigns. Sitting in the airport lounge I scanned the faces of everyone – looking for the publisher or literary agent I’m searching for to seize the manuscript and bring it to bookstores. My positioning was perfect, nobody could slip past. As a friend reminded me, “he or she isn’t going to be holding a sign that says ‘I’m the One'”. A smooth flight included the WestJet crew; smiling/attentive and a compliment to the airline. Alas though, no genie appeared to grant my wish.
The week passed quickly, and I arrived back at the airport early, to resume people watching. The Fly Out Fridays program at the Vancouver Airport holds tremendous appeal to both incoming and outbound passengers, but it didn’t include a rabbit out of the hat or genie. Home again, I’m still yearning and searching.
Genie, genie, where art thou?
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, —”
– these words from John Gillespie Magee’s famous poem High Flight are well-remembered from school memorizing assignments. I’ve also been humming the tune to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain” – except there’s more than a dollar in my hand and it’s a clear sky.
Tomorrow I’ll be winging my way in a silver bird on high, westward bound to visit a girlfriend I haven’t seen for 25 years! To add to my excitement is a burbling feeling that I just might meet the perfect publisher of literary agent on the plane. “Dear Tony” the book is ready and available for publication; so send your good thoughts soaring and lift the dream higher.
Torrance Barrens is located about forty-five minutes drive from my home. In 1999, it was declared the first Dark Sky Preserve in the world; star gazers come from near and far. Light pollution often clouds the brilliance and clarity of the heavens above, even in the small town where I live; at Torrance it’s black. The topography of the barrens requires sturdy footing, a good sense of balance, and a flashlight for trekking back to the road after celestial dazzle.
I’ve always been interested in astronomy and once thought to join a local club of enthusiasts. They however, had telescopes of their own; knowing what to look for and where to start was a puzzle to me. Sky charts and glow-in-the-dark stickers for the ceiling are two distinctly opposite ends of factual.
In 2009, while vacationing in Barbados, the Bougainvillea Resort on Maxwell Coast Road in Christchurch offered an astronomy session on the beach. The experience was awe-inspiring, it was even more astonishing to find out that neither the Big Dipper or the North star could be seen in the Southern Hemisphere sky. The sound and feel of waves lapping on sand-covered toes while peering awkwardly into the eyepiece was an unforgettable event.
My husband Tony and I were married in August of 1995 by the same minister we had each met previously. Paul Dempsey visited Tony’s former wife when she was hospitalized for cancer care; and I attended Grief therapy sessions at the church after my husband died. Paul’s comfort was such that we both held him in our highest esteem, and one year for Christmas we bought him a “star” he could call his own. The probability of ever seeing it, even through a powerful telescope, was miniscule, but thereafter we affectionately called him “Star” – it made us smile.
Little children familiar with Jiminy Cricket of Disney™ fame can usually remember the words to “When You Wish Upon a Star” – the words and melody still sings in my memory. Nursery verses of yore include “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” – too special to forget and likely taught to our children or grandchildren.
As the seasons change, so does the night sky. Sometimes we crane our necks to find a constellation that appears to have moved, or a bright star that’s not exactly where it was last time we looked. I look for a particular light out there before my bedtime, I call it “Tony’s star”. Last evening, despite heavy cloud cover, it was visible; dimmer but still twinkling. In my dreams I can reach out and touch that special someone by taking a Night Flight.
The rough wood felt unfinished, I imagined the pain of a sliver as soon as I touched the surface. My breathing was shallow and quick, lungs gasping. The usual courage that is my strength suddenly had no reserve. I pushed on the knob, it was too large to grasp – and to my dismay the door creaked ajar.
It was dark inside, not even a crack of light to help me find my way. I paused, too reluctant to take even one step forward. The air was thick and smelled stale. No one had entered there for a long time to bring freshness and renewal.
I knew that today was the day – it was time to find some small fossil of emotion there in the darkness. I knew it was there, waiting to be rediscovered and brought out into the light again. The sound of my pulse thudded in my ears as I fumbled my way further – exploring inside my own heart.