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No-one gets out alive

The pop culture vision of senile dementia is the doddering eccentric, who calls her grandkids by the wrong name, makes non-sequitur commentary whenever it’s devastatingly funny to do so, and genially bungles her way through the “golden years.”
The reality is that dementia sneaks up on a person and can turn a person who was wonderfully daffy, witty, adventuresome, and interested in the world into someone who is frustrated, peevish, suspicious, who lashes out against the constraints her failing cognition is overlaying on her lifestyle.
The past four years or so have been very rough on my Mother In Law, and subsequently upon her son, Joel and on me. Most especially so after Joel died, as he was her main anchor to reality, and the one for whom she would pull it together as much as she could. After Joel died, the slow, decline that had been creeping up on her over the course of probably five or six years began to spiral downward precipitously. In the past sixteen months or so, she has gone from a woman with cognitive impairments, language impairments, some physical limitations, but still a strong sense of who she was and what she has done in this life, to a woman who is nearly bed-bound, who is refusing food, whose ability to communicate verbally is all but fled entirely.
Today, I visited her, and found a very ill, weak, disoriented woman. On Monday, I am to meet with her care team to discuss Hospice options.
Dementia is one of the worst ways to go out. It is a long, slow, terrifying, inexorable slide to the end. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

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When I look at pictures of Joel and see his trademark big grin shining back at me, the merriment in his eye – all evidence of his legendary bonhomie, I can’t help but be minded of John Crowe Ransom’s “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter.” That poem is especially poignant as it is a memorial for a small girl, a young child who in her life had been a frolicksome, rowdy, romping, jolly little girl, a child so known for her vitality that it is hard to accept that she has died. And it is that – Joel’s larger than life energy and goodwill – that even a year on, sometimes makes it hard to align his personality with the fact of his death. I look at those twinkling blue eyes, that mischievous grin framed by those outlandish Martin Van Buren muttonchops, and I think, “how the hell can that guy be dead now?” A ridiculous thought – I know far more thoroughly than I want to that he is gone, that no man, no matter how healthy and active and full of piss-and-vinegar cheats death. But yet, it just doesn’t seem natural and right.

Joel at Friz

I don’t know if it is an act of self preservation or cruelty on the part of my brain, but in the year since Joel died, I have only had two dreams of him.  I have a hard time featuring why it’s that way when we’d been such a major part of one another’s lives for the eight years we had together, but  just as sleep eludes me, Joel eludes my dreams.

The two dreams I have had were brief but so detailed and so realistic that i awoke disoriented and bereft all over again either time.

Back in April I was hitting a bricklaying project pretty hard, re-laying the west side of the back patio that Joel and our friend Brian had torn up in the autumn before while digging a trench to lay down conduit for electricity and gas running out to the shop building.  So, every day for the best part of two weeks, I’d lay down a few rows of bricks between the back porch and the fence until it finally looked like this:

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One night, after I’d finished this project, I had a dream that I was kneeling on the patio laying out bricks, when I looked up and saw Joel standing beside the cherry tree.  He was wearing his old Carhartts that he usually wore for mowing, a pair of wellies, and had a shovel balanced over his shoulder.  He nodded back toward the raised bed behind him and said, “Hey, honey, what were you planning on planting here this year?”  And I just started chatting at him about all my garden plans, how I was probably going to plant mustard greens over there, and beets in the furthest South bed and so on and so forth.  I looked down for a moment to pick up another brick to set in, and when I looked up again, he was gone.

The other dream I had was later in the summer, just before Lydia was born.  I dreamed I was coming the back gate to the back yard.  I turned around after securing the latch and saw Joel coming in from the front gate.  He was dressed in some of his shittiest summer lounging clothes’ a pair of red, hibiscus-print swimming trunks, a ribbed tank top, and his beat up old blue Crocs.  He came bounding over to me in his way, all arms and legs and enthusiasm.  I said, “Oh my God, JOEL, how are you here?”  It was the best surprise; he was the best sight I’d laid eyes on.  He held his arms out for a hug and said, just the way he would if he were feeling schmoopy, “Hey, gorgeous, give me some love,” and when he held me, it was everything that his embraces always were.  Comfort, intimacy, calm, love.  It was the best feeling in the world.  You know how you sometimes say something simultaneously with someone…”in stereo” or “jinx” is what we said when we were kids?  Simultaneously, in this dream, we both said “I’ve missed you so much.”  I started to ask him if he was back, how long could he stay, and then…I woke up.  I am not going to lie, I genuinely felt bereft all over again.  Just fucking crushed.

When Joel died, I remember having an irrational thought.  In my head, I protested, “but we weren’t finished!” We had children to raise, adventures to experience, home improvements to complete.  We had so many things planned that it felt like some sort of cosmic administrative error; like no way could we be interrupted at this point, what gives, man?  From time to time, my imagination provides a flash of what it would be like in a parallel universe where Joel hadn’t died.  Today when the kids were eating lunch, I had a vision of how it would be if he were here, how Joel would have bantered with Joseph while Joseph nibbled and clowned, how Joel would have mixed  up some weird conglomeration of leftovers for himself, how he would have commented on Lydia’s characteristic nursing fidget of petting my sweater while she suckles.  He would be having so much fun with Joseph at this age – he was eagerly anticipating speech, a burgeoning sense of humor, the development of a more complex personality.  He also would have been delighted at what a cheerful little kid Lydia is, how energetic and physical she is, and generally what a cute little varmint she is.  He loved Joseph dearly, and he was so excited about the advent of a second child.  It hardly seems fair to the kids to be deprived of a loving dad; to Joel, to be deprived of the experience of raising them; or me, to be deprived of the joy of watching them grow up with a fun, adoring father helping keep them grounded and guide them along with the good sense. good humor, and good sense of humor he was so well loved for.

I sit here wearing two sweaters, a beanie, corduroy trousers, woolen socks, desperate to stave off the cold.  Never mind the thermostat is set on a very reasonable 63° Fahrenheit.  It’s not a literal chill, as such, it’s something that sets upon me when I’m sad, lonesome, tired, facing another bedtime alone.  It’s the chill that set in on December 28, 2014, at about a quarter to 6:00 a.m., when I awoke to find Joel’s side of the bed unoccupied, aside from the coat, backpack, and winter cycling gear he’d laid out there on his return from a Happy Woodchuk jaunt on the afternoon before.

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Time is running out

The one year anniversary of Joel’s death is closing in upon me, and I am frankly starting to panic. It feels like it’s happening too fast, like an avalanche. I feel like a cartoon mouse trying to dig in its heels and stop a speeding train. It’s irrational and foolish; it’s a feeling, but I’m not ready for it to already be more than a year since he died. For his physical presence to recede further and further away. For it to become harder to conjure up the memory of his laugh, the sensation of his gigantic hugs, the scent of the weird stir-fries he used to concoct.

I miss him so much, in ways I can’t even begin to articulate. I’ve tried. I’ve tried to write this post or precursors to it for almost a year. This blog has lain fallow because it’s been beyond me ability to just log on and glibly write, “my husband died” and carry on from there. But the thing of it is, if I’m to ever write here again, I must. And so I have. I feel like I should carry on with this blog; the writing could be therapeutic, and I am sure a section of my Facebook friends would be relieved if I took some of my parental musings elsewhere once in a while. I’ve had Thoughts which would better suit a longer written form, as well. Thoughts about grief, solo parenting, being a Universal Cosmic Buttmonkey, and the usual round of sewing, cars, fashion, cookery, books, and occasional anything-else-ness.

People ask me what they can do to help sometimes, and I will say the main thing you can do is just keep me company. Drop me an e-mail. Reply to a post. If you’re local, feel free to come by the house. I’ve usually got cookies and always have coffee or tea near at hand. Banter with me on Facebook or Tumblr. I spend a solid most of my time holed up in a small house in Kansas City, KS with a toddler and an infant. Interaction with friendly adults is a rare and deeply appreciated treat.

When Joel was alive, we talked over pretty near everything. We had our routines and rituals and always planned out our days over breakfast and reviewed them before bedtime. We discussed everything from the dumbass thing one of our friends did to our deeper philosophies on How Everything Works (or doesn’t). I miss sitting across the table from him and just chatting about whatever came to mind. I miss his raucous, whooping laugh, the way he’d imitate me to take the mickey out of me when he thought I was getting to serious. I even miss how he’d bother me while I was cooking in order to get my goat.

What I’m saying is that my life it too quiet without that big galoot in it, so if you can throw me some noise, it would be a real lifeline.

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I’ll grant first off, that I haven’t been on this parenting project for all that long – slightly less than a year-and-a-half so far, so the bar is as yet set low, but I have two things that have been on my mental radar of Bullshit I Am Not Going To Visit Upon My Kid. I’m sure there are other things if I sat down and thought about them for a while, but honestly I am scrabbling for precious minutes during a nap to write this anyway, therefore sitting down and thinking doesn’t enter into it.

So.

1. Cleaning his grubby face with my spit on a hankie. Seriously, how fucking gross is that? Very. And yet parents everywhere, since handkerchiefs were invented, have done it. My mom, being the humane sort of woman that she is, made us spit on the hankie ourselves and that is the tradition I have carried on with Bubs. At this phase in his life, he’s a seemingly inexhaustible font of drool anyway, but I make the point of a token command. “Give me some spit,” I say as I swipe drool off his chin with a cloth, then using it to swab away a bit of dried-on banana from near his ear, or a probably-a-booger from the tip of his nose. It’s still kind of gross, but much of the day-to-day business of caring for very small children is at best faintly disgusting, so I have accepted that and moved along.

2. Kiss-it-better. I always hated this scam when I was a child. I’ve always felt that kissing-it-better was a bit condescending, even before I was able to articulate it as such. Clearly, it was a fatuous sop to small children’s credulity, when really, all I wanted was a damn BandAid. Never mind if the injury was bandage-worthy or not, the humble BandAid is the child’s first practical experience with the placebo effect. It’s acknowledgment of the indignity of your average minor injury and far more effective than ritualistic osculation. BandAids are cheap, easy to acquire, and much faster than enduring the protracted whining of a child who patently does not believe in the restorative powers of a kiss. Therefore, I plan on continuing to keep a bountiful supply in the house, backpack, wallet, and baby trailer, as opportunities for bumps, bruises, scrapes, and general small-time physical malaise are everywhere.

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If I parked the car any nearer to the garage, it would have to be parked inside the garage.

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I actually back in with the window rolled down and my head out to make sure of my distance.

The big deal and my self-imposed parking challenge is that I have to do this all in one go. No pulling forward and re-straightening. Also, this is all done by coasting. I don’t actually put the car in reverse. I put it in neutral and coast into the space. Our house is very near the top of quite a steep hill, so this is all gravity and braking. I suppose it is a savings on the clutch, in any event.

I don’t know why I do this, other than boredom and a desire for a very dumb and mundane challenge. So here it is, a dumb thing I do pretty much every time I drive. See how close I can park next to the garage, all in one go, without using reverse gear. Sa

There is seriously something wrong with me.

Back when I was driving the Honda, I used to get out of the car Dukes of Hazzard style, but now I climb across the front seat to get out. I like this car enough that I don’t leave the windows down and the doors unlocked, plus also risk skinning up the paint on the door with the eyelets on my boots.

The reason I park so close is so that there’s plenty of room between Joel’s truck and my car, so that we can get bikes and the kid trailer through. As to why I don’t park in the garage, that is because the garage is Joel’s bicycle frame building shop, workout room, and general Deluxe Bat Cave.

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I bought one of those little “idyllic townscape” rugs for my son’s bedroom, so that he can roll his toy cars around the streets, build on LEGO destinations, etc.

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When it arrived, I was quite pleased with its general idyllic-townness. For example, here’s a grocery store next to a stream and look at all of the shopping carts that aren’t in the stream. Very, very idyllic, that.

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Then, I got a look at the facial expressions on those cows. Man, those cows have seen some shit. Bad shit.

seen some shit

James-&-Jezza-Go-Caravanning-level bad shit.

At age sixteen months (fourteen and a half months, adjusted) young Joseph just nailed a pretty big milestone:

Yepyep, the kid can walk now. He’s only been threatening to walk since the beginning of September. He’s been cruising the perimeter of rooms, scuttling around the furniture, and barrelling about the place behind his alligator pushcart these past two months, and two days ago, he finally got up the confidence to let go of a dining room chair and walk over to me in order to pester Griswald, who had settled on my lap for some well-deserved ear rubs.


For reference, here is the young chap two months ago, rockin’ the alligator pushcart. A birthday present from his Auntie Audrey, these gators have racked up some mileage. To wear Bubs out before bedtime, we frequently go down to the new pavement in front of the church at the foot of the street and “run laps” up and down the block. Even now that he can walk unaided, he still likes pushing the cart. It does make an amusing clattering noise as it goes.

The other Little Mister Big Boy moment we recently had was The First Haircut. Given how little hair he has, it wasn’t until he was about fifteen-and-a-half months old before he qualified for a haircut. Gone is the babymullet, replaced by a tidy #4-guard clipper job:

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It’s since grown in a bit more, and now that it is all one length, it looks thicker and fuller. His hair is very nearly translucent, and I think it looks pretty cool, actually.

ACME Idiot Trap

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Based on recommendations from a friend, I have procured an ACME Idiot Trap for ensnaring the dimwitted fur-merchants that infest my house. As you can see, this trap is simple and effective and quite reasonably priced to boot. 100% satisfied, and pleased to provide further testimony as required.

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I’ve been on a winning streak with the dumpster diving just lately. Found this embroidered jeans jacket in the West Bottoms on Monday.

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This is legitimately a thing I’d buy and wear on purpose, so finding it in the trash is just a bonus. Free obnoxious clothing is serendipitous and appreciated.

Then, yesterday, I found these:

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Again, things I would genuinely wear, even if I hadn’t found them in the neighbor’s trash. There were two other pair, chenille knee socks in pink and green, not photographed here because I am planning to use them for Fairly Stupid Sock Creature fodder. I bought myself that book last year and have every intention of making weird critters out of old socks and other knit goods.

I’m also experimenting with this blog. I’ve got it set up now to crosspost to Tumblr, where I’ve been blogging semi-regularly since March or April. Right now my Tumblr also reposts to this blog. That may become a pain in the arse; I am noticing fairly ugly formatting and some weird loops with other rebloggers’ commentary. We shall see if I leave my Tumblr to repost here (I may set it to crosspost original content only, not re-blogs). I need also to re-jigger my Twitter feed into the sidebar. Back when it worked properly, it was a feature I quite liked, as I use my Twitter usually to air oddball thoughts that aren’t really sufficient to develop into a blog post, but which amused me enough to bother logging on and typing out in 150 characters or fewer.

Also, here’s an artsy shot of the embroidery on the collar and back of my new jacket.
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I am entirely too easily amused.

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