October 4, 2018: The Caregiver

Day 27 | 30 Days of Writing

A night well spent
(left - Ken, Jody, Linda, Kenny, right - Larry, Sandy, Garrett)

We spent our last day in Reno. Zeke had a first and so did I. Zeke swam for the first time. I met some of Garrett's family for the first time. For the rest of our crew, this was all old news.

The morning started with a big breakfast at a neighborhood cafe. Aunt Linda's four dogs waited in her car while Zeke was a bark away in ours. They knew something big was to come.

With a short, but scenic drive, we found ourselves in the beautiful Frenchman Lake area. Linda and her dogs (standard poodles - Finn & Pete, corgis -  Roe & Marsh) know this area well.

Zeke was the virgin pup, following his canine cousins to seek out something he had never experienced before.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous. Zeke's closest encounter with water was our neighbor's backyard waterfall. Now we found ourselves in a big recreation area with five dogs off-leash and running crazy as a pack. Seven-month-old Zeke held his own and kept up with his older dog counterparts. With one toss of a stick, Zeke was all in. No hesitation.

(baby book video of Zeke's first swim...)

The dogs had a blast with sticks, water, and an occasional oversized pine cone. When we finally wore them out, we made our way back to our cars with a cold sprinkle in the air.

Zeke did chill a bit on the drive back, but that was short-lived once we reached Linda and Kenny's house. While the other dogs found their quiet comfort spots in their home, Zeke wanted to play some more.

Kenny soon joined us after his meeting. For those who don't know, one would think that Uncle Kenny simply had another obligation for the day. For the rest of us, we knew that Kenny needed the routine of his Alzheimer's day group.

Kenny has Alzheimer's disease. He was diagnosed in 2002. His wife, Linda, is his caregiver.

Garrett and Larry tell me stories of this vibrant and athletic man who was an avid skier, fly fisherman, and loved life and family. Linda and Kenny spent many summers living in Yellowstone National Park, have had residences in many states, and have had the most interesting life adventures. A full life. And then Alzheimer's.

Linda stated it so well over breakfast. So many memories, but all now gone for Kenny.

"He has no memories."

We engage him in small talk and try to include him in a way to ease agitation. His constant question of "Where's Lin?" is quickly answered with us directing him to his wife. Always the caregiver with his never wanting her out of his sight.

The gentleness in his eyes warms my heart. Although I never knew him before, it doesn't matter now. The hug I receive has an extra squeeze. Kenny then asks me who I am and I tell him again that I am married to Wendy's son. He remembers Garrett's mom, Wendy. Garrett, he does not, and just gives him a smile.

We talk of the weather and I try to ease Kenny's confusion by asking easy questions and responding with a warm smile and nod of the head. Kenny was obviously a big personality and wants to be part of the conversation. Linda is a pro at making him feel comfortable and answering his same questions that are repeated over and over again. Most of his inquiries relate to the dogs and the weather. Then he asks again why we are at his house.

This is Linda's life everyday. The life of the caregiver.

We are just here for at few days to enjoy each other's company and conversation. Larry, Linda, and Garrett talk of the past with the gift of recollection and fond memories. Kenny just smiles and looks to his wife for affirmation. It warmed my heart to see him recognize his son, Ken, at dinner and pull up a chair to sit at his son's side. When daughter, Paula, came over last night,  Kenny lit up and exclaimed "Hi Sweet Pea!"

The little bit of memory that is left is a sweet and beautiful thing. Something most take for granted. The human touch that fills our hearts, even if it is simple recognition. And then there are the caregivers. The warriors who rally to the side of their love ones and are the unsung heroes. They live a lonely life going through the daily routine with the extra care that is required for their loved one who needs them most. With Alzheimer's, they are robbed of the shared memories and the glory years they had anxiously looked forward to in retirement.

This leg of our trip was full of admiration and love.

Love of the richness of the past life experiences shared by my husband with his family and admiration for a feisty aunt who has more energy and conviction than a thirty year old.

Today as our puppy ran wild at Kenny and Linda's trying to convince the other resting dogs to join in, Garrett asked Kenny, "How old are you now, Kenny?"

His response, "Oh, I don't know."

Garrett, "How old do you feel?"

With some thoughtful silence, Kenny answered with conviction.

"I would say I feel 37. Yes, I definitely feel 37 years old."

Perfect. We all need to feel 37 again, was the thought of both Garrett and I as the dogs continued to run through the room with boundless energy. Linda just kept smiling, answering Kenny's same question for the third time. Our dinner later at a favorite local Mexican restaurant with margaritas, son, Ken, and Ken's significant other, Jody, was the perfect way to give Linda a needed break. And with Kenny right by her side.

We laughed. We shared stories. And we talked about when we were going to get together again.

Soon. Very soon. Zeke will absolutely insist.

Left to right (Marsh, Pete, Roe, Zeke, Finn)

A perfect sized stick for Zeke

Dogs on a beach...shaking off the water

Turquoise bracelet and earrings from Sundance...gifts from Aunt Linda 

Zeke (and Garrett) are down for the count


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