A wandering mind but not a wandering body

A photo of a missing veteran with dementia popped up on my Facebook news feed today, posted in hope that someone might have seen the man and could help him find his way home.

I pray he is safe and has already been reunited with his loved ones. Imagine their horror to find him missing.

I am grateful that this never happened to us. Joe was simply too debilitated from Parkinson’s disease to wander off and get lost. It was also the result of a difficult but deliberate choice.

The regimen of 12 pills a day that had helped keep Joe limber and able to walk for a number of years was turning his mind to mush. After he failed a driving test — twice! — and couldn’t remember how to fasten his seatbelt during a lesson, we demanded a cognitive evaluation. The tests determined he had moderate to severe dementia.

The neurologist warned us never to leave him unattended. He also told us to wean Joe off his pills ASAP. The medicine that had helped him get around was no good for someone with dementia, he said. After a difficult withdrawal, we tried several replacements and even brain surgery, but nothing did as much to improve Joe’s mobility as the verboten medication.

Finally, the neurologist said we could treat Joe’s movement at the expense of his cognition — or we could keep his mind sharper at the expense of his mobility. We couldn’t do both. It was our choice.

We chose mind over mobility.

Joe would never be able to wander away. And for a while longer, he would be able to share his worries, his joys and his offbeat sense of humor. He would also be able to understand when we told him we were only trying to keep him safe because we loved him very much.

And that was the best prescription of all.

I’m Carole and I’m a recovering workaholic…

Today is the second Monday of my retirement, and I’ve got to say, so far it is not what I expected.

Before my last day on the job, I made ambitious plans, signing up for five classes at the community college, packing my calendar with a bunch of long-postponed appointments and vowing to give every closet at Casa Carole a thorough going over.

I would walk a mile in the morning, a mile at midday and a mile in the evening. The 7 pounds that have taken up residence on my hips and thighs would melt away, and I would return triumphant to the “skinny” side of my clean, reorganized closet.

That was the plan anyway.

So far, I’ve taken one walk. The closets remain untouched and impenetrable.

Appointments are being kept, but the night classes have now been spread out over a few months instead of a few weeks and will be much closer to home. The first one required an hour-long commute during evening rush and an even longer trip home in the dark of night. By day four, I was so wiped out from hurrying around that I napped twice — and then slept all night too.

I feel like a hyperactive hamster hurled, suddenly, off its ever-spinning treadwheel — off kilter and a little confused. The abrupt absence of daily deadlines and demands is dazzling.

No stories to edit. No husband waiting at the nursing home, eager but impatient for my visit. No rush to wash, dry, fold, dust, scrub or even cook. No need to bookend a day or week at the office with more work at home.

Today, it dawned on me that I’m not shackled to anybody’s schedule now. For the first time in my adult life, I can do pretty much what I want, when I want. And what I want right now is a taco salad, a glass of wine and a good book.

Oh, and a clear calendar.

I’ll worry about filling it one of these days, when I get a mind to.

I’m NOT your mother!

This is my first Mother’s Day without Joe — another milestone in the first year after his death.

I made it through Valentine’s Day, his birthday and our wedding anniversary,  but Mother’s Day is different. I’m not going to go on and on about how happy Joe and I were when we became new parents and how proud our son made us all these years — though it’s all true.

Actually, Mother’s Day calls to mind something I hadn’t thought about in quite a while. Like many husbands, Joe called me “Mom” or, in speaking with our son, “Our Mom.” No matter how many times I reminded him that I was not his mother, it persisted throughout our lives together.

Was his gentle needling Joe’s way of feeling more youthful? Or perhaps making a bride nine years his junior feel “old, old, old,” as I teased in response?

Maybe a little of both, I think.

Either way, the banter was sweet and familiar. I miss it today.

Meaningful messages, not coincidences

My friend Cindy cheered me up the other day with an invitation to lunch, a cherished Scripture and a greeting card with a message that was “just right” on a difficult day.

“You may not know exactly where the road is leading,” the card said, “… or what the days may bring, or how you’ll manage them … but there is one thing you can know for sure … you’ll always have the help and support of people who care — people like me.”

Cindy is one of many supportive friends who have come into my life since a change of jobs brought me to North Carolina 15 years ago. Somehow, each has managed to say or do just the right thing at the very time when it was most needed. I refuse to believe that their appearance in my life is sheer coincidence.

It was surely no coincidence to be assigned to a team at my new job with Burgetta, Gene and Teresa.

Burgetta’s strong Christian example and repeated invitations to join her at church led to my Baptism on Easter Sunday 2004. She also introduced me to Cindy, whose patience, determination and grace in raising a son with a debilitating muscle disease have been an inspiration.

That same team included Gene, whose wife, a retired school principal, would develop Alzheimer’s. I am sure it was no coincidence when Gene dropped her off at an adult day care center at the very hour I arrived, reluctantly, to enroll Joe, who by then could not be left alone while I was at work. A familiar smile and a hug assured me I was not alone.

That team also included Teresa, the friend I trusted first with my suspicion that Joe was developing cognitive problems.

And it was surely not coincidence that of all the hairdressers around, I found Eric, who along with my monthly color and cut encourages my walk with the Lord. For better or worse, his suggestion that I share my journey led to this blog.

I can’t imagine what I would do without them.

If  someone you know is hurting, please follow my friends’ example and be there. Trust that your smile, hug or words spoken from the heart will be just right — just as it was with Cindy’s card. In it, she shared one of her favorite Bible verses. May it encourage you as much as it does me.

For know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:11

Wife-widow-warrior: A new journey

On Jan. 27, 2015, my husband of 39 years made me a widow.

He died, alone, at a VA hospice while my son and I stepped away to grab a bite to eat. We were only gone for a half-hour. Death was inevitable, of course, but nothing prepares you for the shock of stroking your husband’s cheek and finding it is already cold.

So painful. So empty. So final.

A Vietnam War veteran, Joe developed Parkinson’s disease from exposure to Agent Orange. Parkinson’s is a hideous way to die. By 2014, the brilliant and brusque Ph.D. candidate I met at the University of Oregon in 1973 could no longer brush his own teeth, put his clothes on, walk to or use the toilet on his own, or even swallow baby food when the end was near. He was broken and demented.

Our 38-year-old son and I took care of him at home for as long as we could, with the help of aides who came every night to bathe him and tuck him into bed. I persevered when he got up 17 times one night, stumbling to the bathroom, forgetting why he’d gone there, then stumbling back to bed. Over and over and over again. But when Joe fell to the hardwood floor trying to get out of his wheelchair and then fought my efforts to get him up, the time had come to send him to a nursing home. He understood immediately when I told him.

“I won’t go,” he vowed.

“You have to go,” I replied. “We can’t keep you safe at home any more.”

We visited every weekend and, when we could, during the week. Even as Joe’s condition worsened, he never failed to recognize us. His eyes always brightened when he saw us coming. Even as he lay motionless, in a coma, for his final 11 days on Earth, we saw smile lines crinkle at the corners of his eyes when we spoke to him. That small sign of recognition was a gift from God. I knew it then — and am more certain of it with every passing day.

I am starting this blog to chronicle my journey from wife to widow to warrior. (I’ll explain the warrior part later.) Maybe writing will be relief for me as I mourn. Or maybe something will speak to someone else embarking on a similar journey.

Widowhood has made me keen to God’s presence. This new chapter — likely the final one of my life — is about trusting Him and learning to be alert as He shows me the way.  It’s about sharing my blessings.

I don’t know where this new journey will take me, but I am hopeful and not afraid.