The fact is, my brother Tim bought himself an iPad–and he doesn’t know how to use it anymore than he knows how to cut up vegetables. (See previous post.)
It’s up to Jerry or me to learn how to use it so we can teach him because he’s moving back to his apartment Saturday and he won’t have access to a computer anymore. Or a TV. Or DVD player. He’ll be depending on dinner theater at our house once a week for entertainment and as much as he thinks he wants to live on his own again, I know he will find it lonely.
Tim will have been up north just over two weeks when we drive up to reclaim him this Saturday. The contractors who are making a silk purse out of the pig’s-ear-of-a-90-year-old studio apartment we three siblings own won’t be through until tomorrow night when two coats of polyurethane have dried on the floor. We need Friday to truck in all Tim’s furniture that’s fit to keep, add furnishings and set out enough Hebrew texts and wacky pieces of art to make it look as familiar as possible.
On November 21, the night before we were to drive him to the Bay Area so we could get back in time for our flight to Oklahoma, Tim was confused about being driven to our niece’s again “so soon” (6 weeks). He doesn’t want to come back to our house before he moves back to his apartment. He wants to come back when the apartment is ready for him because he knows he’ll be leaving again to spend Christmas with his daughter’s and son’s families. We were making all those plans at the same time even though they were weeks apart and it was confusing.
He went into the typical anxiety of dementia, feeling his life was being taken out of his control and decided behind his back–which it kind of was. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to go. He enjoys his time with Naomi. They’re both extremely relaxed about housekeeping. He said he just throws his bag on the couch when he arrives and lives out of it while there.
But he wanted to understand what was going on which meant he was just an added nuisance. I wanted him to trust that we were taking care of everything and had his best interests at heart. (There’s a spiritual analogy in there but I won’t belabor it.)
I was willing to treat him like an adult (within the vast safety net we provide for him to be like a child) and have him pack his own clothes and toiletries like he did last time. Meanwhile I started packing a duffel bag with various things he would need but wouldn’t realize he needed until he was 600 miles from us. Among other things, I laboriously counted out each kind of pill he would need for the week he would be gone and for a week beyond, in case we couldn’t come get him right away. I filled his pill case, included his prescription pill containers and separated the rest into Baggies. I left the bag open on a kitchen chair so I could add random things as they came to mind.
Tim circled the bag, peering in, reaching in. I pushed his hand away. “Please stay out of that, Tim.”
He said anxiously, “You have enough pills in there for a lifetime!” I felt like a mother getting her son ready for camp. I could have told him what I just told you, that all the extra pills were spares, taking time to attend to his inevitable objections. I could have tried to make it make sense to him. (I should have just done it all out of his sight.) Instead, I made the major mistake caregivers of dementia sufferers make. I just said, “You don’t need to know about this!” I even added, “This doesn’t concern you!”
Whoa! Of course it did. He knew that. So it solidified in his mind that there was a conspiracy afoot. He was going to be kidnapped.
When I came downstairs the next morning, my mind was full of details about his trip and ours. I was focused on being sure he brought his glasses, cane and teeth without making it obvious I was checking on him. I had mentally ticked off “medications” and was feeling relieved that was done, at least, when I glanced toward the duffel bag and saw half its contents spread across the counter. When I looked closer, I realized some of the Baggies of pills, like the one with his Ginkgold for memory, confusion-reduction, and concentration, were missing. I finally tracked them down to Tim’s room and sneaked them back into the bag.
But Tim knew I was mad at him. He said something about not knowing what to do and I told him to go pack his clothes. Later I went in behind the curtain and apologized.
“Everything’s really fine, Tim.”
He exploded. “Everything’s not fine!”
I was afraid at the last moment he wouldn’t get in the car. He did, but he sat in the back and sulked, refusing to get himself a cup of coffee or anything else for breakfast when we stopped for gas. We had brought his newspaper with him and he wouldn’t read it. His “No” to the coffee was the only word he said to me until we pulled up to a restaurant for lunch four hours later. When the waiter greeted us, asking how our day was going so far, Tim said, “Terrible!” He fussed to Jerry about needing his sunglasses and Jerry quietly went out to the car for them.
When we finally reached Naomi’s, Tim disappeared into the back room where the computer is and when I went to say goodbye he was furiously playing some game in which a frog was spitting marbles out of its mouth. I told him we’d see him when he got back. He snorted. “When will that be?” “When you and Naomi decide on it.” He mumbled something but he didn’t look up. I kissed him on one temple and the two of us started the 6-hour trip back to Long Beach.
While Tim was away, Jerry and I were able to get away ourselves. We had the most wonderful change of pace in a bed-and-breakfast near our daughter’s family in Oklahoma, We played Dog Monopoly and made crafts with our 9-year old granddaughter, watching her drum and gymnastics lessons, collecting 25-30 pounds of pecans from the fallen leaves under their trees while a light snow fell–it’s not the first time we have had two seasons overlap there–and making chocolate pecan pies for Thanksgiving with a few cups of them.
Naomi’s willingness to host her Uncle Tim so Jerry and I could take our first more-than-one-night break in 8-1/2 months was worth more than gold to us and I’m deeply thankful. But I feel for her, taking on a second week of care giving when she has a full-time job.
I especially sympathized with her when Jerry revealed to me that at lunch on the drive up to her house, when he went to get Tim’s sunglasses out of the bag Tim had packed, there was nothing else in it but a novel, Tim’s manuscript “B’loop,” and one shirt. No toiletries, no personal items, no other clothing–not even the Robe!
Just one shirt.