Monday, December 04, 2006


But first, a moment of Snark: (Must be nice to be a newbie gay knitter with all the financial freedom, schedule flexibility, and uniqueness that implicitly conveys. Meanwhile, those of us who’ve been outfitting families for years with our knitting continue to labor in obscurity. Snark, snark, snark.)

Anyway, I’ve got a mishmash of stuff on my mind, so I guess I’ll haul off and share.

Far Flung Families: I was doing some online ordering this weekend for the far flung members of my family – my sister, my Mom, my sister-in-law and her fiancĂ©, my brother-in-law, and thinking about the evolution of gift giving over the years. When I was in my twenties, I generally gave things I could afford – either I handmade things or I bought small stuff that didn’t strain the budget and which I hoped the recipient would enjoy. I’m pretty sure that most of the purchased stuff has gone on to either greener pastures or dumps, which is the way of many things. In my thirties, with the kids being small and money being even tighter, I got kind of stingy. I, again, gave what I could afford, but sometimes there wasn’t as much thought in it as I’d have liked – an FTD potted poinsettia or something like that. I didn’t have much brain power left at the end of a day with small children.

Now I’m in my forties, the kids are older (but still needy, of course), and I send consumables. I’m the youngest in my family, my husband is the youngest in his, and all our relatives have all the clothes, appliances, and general doo-dads they want or need. They can buy things for themselves, and giving really big-ticket items to adults isn’t the way I was brought up. I was taught that you gave people something they could really use, and in my forties, and other people’s fifties, seventies, and eighties, that’s food.

I’m the only housewife in my family, everyone else is working (and I would be, too, if the market were worth spitting on out here in the boonies), and the one thing they always fuss about is not having time to cook good meals or grocery shop. Sometimes, when it’s just one of them in a household, they don’t cook at all – they live on prepared food from elsewhere. So, I send wine baskets, or bakery baskets, or ham and cheese baskets, all prettied up by someone else who can get it there faster and more professionally decorated than I.

For our parents, I make sure to adhere to their dietary restrictions, if any, and send something they might not make or select for themselves. They’re all on fixed incomes, so specialty teas and cookies and precious chocolates aren’t in their budgets. So, they get those kinds of treats.

On good days, I feel like I’m taking them out for dinner or drinks by remote. That seems OK. On other days, I wonder what the hell I’m doing and why.

Pumpkin Pie: And speaking of what the hell I’m doing, I wanted to send my sister a pumpkin pie as a surprise for Christmas. Pumpkin pie has always been her secret passion, and hence, kind of a family joke. She used to sneak downstairs and eat up all the pumpkin pie after holiday meals, and, sometimes, before!

I knew I wouldn’t be able to make and appropriately send one on my own, so I looked online. $44.94 for a damned pie, plus shipping. I don’t think so. Plus, my sister has been “Secret Squirrel” for a long time – she never gives any of us her address, as if we were going to show up unannounced, dressed in horse-manure-scented overalls, toothless, and illiterate, and embarrass her beyond all salvation. It’s really annoying, particularly if I’m trying to contact her due to family illness, or, as in this case, pie-sending. She has a PO box, in one of those stores where you can buy a mail drop box, and even if I were to send her a scandalously expensive pie, it could well be green and fuzzy by the time she wandered over to the PO box to get it. So, as my husband put it, “Secret Squirrel screws herself again.” Oy! So, she gets a whine and cheese box, plus I’ll put together some other stuff that’s nifty and send it. Hey, she’s my SISTER!

Cold Weather: Damn, it’s cold here today. When I got up at my usual time of 4:30 am (HEY! It’s quiet; I get to drink my first cup of coffee alone and with the dog lying on my feet.), the thermometer said it was 8 degrees out. Brrrrrr! Glad I’m inside with the warm dog, oven, bread machine, and my blankies – at least until it gets above 10 degrees.

I made my kids promise to wear knitted hats, mittens, scarves, and tried to urge them into wooly socks and sweaters under their coats. Like maybe their schools aren’t heated and there’s no heat on the bus. Urk. I even inspected their winter wear before they left. My daughter loves her knitwear accessories. She wore (oooh, it’s today’s Nanook Fashion Report) a double knitted (small gauge, can you believe it) hat, felted mittens, and a nice, bright, real wool scarf along with her parka. She looked so happy that she found her ultra-cold gear. Doodle picked out a black hat with blue waves, a double-knit scarf in very masculine blues, and some mittens his aunt sent – leather with a full-sheep fleece lining. He opted for a sweatshirt over a t-shirt and did go for the wooly socks.

Both of them gave me the same look that the younger brother in “A Christmas Story” gives the mom… the “I can’t put my arms down!” look. Just before they smiled at me and toddled warmly off.

No great hopes for Spawn to dress warmly. He’s too busy being studly, and apparently studly older teen guys like frostbitten ears and fingers.

Alzheimer’s: Week before last I mentioned that my Dad has hit a new phase of Alzheimer’s. It’s starting to rob him of recent important memories, and he forgot, for two nights running, that his wife had died 5 years ago. He called me, late at night, very upset, wanting to know where she was and was she OK. Both times I had to relive her passing in order to explain to him that she had died. That was hard on me; I can only imagine how hard it must have been for him to have to deal with news that came as a surprise to him.

I went in the next day, just after lunch and sat down for a talk with him. As an aside, one thing I’ve found out in my odyssey as caretaker for an elderly person is that doctors do not routinely tell their patients that they have Alzheimer’s. I don’t know why; I would speculate that it’s because they don’t want to frighten them, or possibly cause them to make unwise and possibly terminal decisions while they still have a few good years left. But, really, I don’t know why. I do know that the statistics that I’ve read indicate that if you’ve made it into your 80’s the chances are 80% that you have some degree of Alzheimer’s. But the doctors don’t tell the old people that.

So, there I was with my 82 year old Dad. I knew he had been frightened by forgetting Ellen’s death – not only because it was such a shock to him that she had passed away, but also, the very fact that he had forgotten it frightened him. He’s always been a fellow who deals with straightforward information pretty well. He still knows me without hesitation, he can do basic math calculations, and he likes the news and is aware of the president on his good days and stuff like that. His personality is still there, is what I suppose I’m trying to get at. So, I told him he had Alzheimer’s.

I made it as clinical and as gentle and as objective as I could. I compared it to plaque in blood vessels, explained that he was on meds to slow it down and do as much as possible to prevent it from progressing. I lied a little, telling him he was in the fairly early stages and that the plaque was building up, tiny bit by tiny bit over neural net areas and that, in the case of Ellen’s death, he’d had kind of a plaque-out. I talked about his other health conditions. He asked me questions, including when he was diagnosed. He asked me that question 4 times.

When we reached the end of the information phase, I asked him how he felt about my telling him. He said he was relieved; not that he had it, but that the reason for his forgetfulness had a name and that he wasn’t going nuts. He said he had heard of Alzheimer’s, and it was something he felt he could learn to understand or at least accept. He really did seem calmer and less stressed, and we ended our visit on good terms, and with him ready for his afternoon nap.

I haven’t heard from him since about Ellen’s passing. He was here for Thanksgiving, and the signs of Alzheimer’s progression were clear and obvious – repetitive sentences, loss of train of thought in mid-sentence, not really following the conversation, particularly if more than one other person was involved, etc.

But he ate well, he knew us and showed us his love, and he liked being here. And that’s what counts.


Anonymous said...

Your dad is lucky to have you. You'll probably never know how much good you did in talking to him about Alzheimer's, because your words will comfort him in moments when he's alone, late at night.
Hang in there, Joan.
You're a good, sweet person and I wish the world had lots more people like you.

Cheryl said...

so who is the person you are snarking on?

BoS said...

Thank you for the nice remarks about my Dad. He's still such a sweetie.

And, I can't tell who I was snarking about -- I'm embarassed enough over feeling snarky!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for telling us yet another of the medical profession's dirty little secrets. I had no idea they were still hiding serious information from patients who were capable of safely receiving bad news. Although that was the norm, for any serious illness, not long ago, I'd thought we were beyond that.

With elderly parents myself, thankfully still compos mentis, who absolutely would want to know, it's good to have an early warning, just in case.