1. Watershed Driveway Problem
As a citizen of Bernardsville and the Great Swamp Watershed there came a time when I felt the need to be on the town's Environmental Commission and soon after the Shade Tree Committee, and somewhat later, the Open Space Advisory Committee. One interesting experience I had while trying to pacify my wife by attending only one meeting a week had to do with worms.
My husband's version above, nineteen years later, was that the rich woman, who lived on the mountain as opposed to where we live close to downtown, on the other side of the tracks, phoned him whenever it rained, indignant that she couldn't walk her dog down the driveway because it was covered with dead and dying earthworms. That is true, as was his attempt to consult with Rutgers' "gardener department". He did recommend "a plexiglass shield to block worm traffic", but his account of how the situation resolved was garbled and not what actually happened. He, the eternal believer in happy endings, rewrote the past.
We were notified approximately three months ago that he was among thirteen past board chairpersons to be honored for their service at a gala fundraiser to be held October 3, 2013. The woman who initially called I had met several times in the past, so I explained he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and would need to accompany him. She very sincerely said she was sad to hear the news and my dinner would of course be complimentary. I had no idea at the time it was $150 dollars per plate.
2. The Lawyer Visit
One of the most interesting experiences I had during my GSWA chairmanship was when our lawyer was invited to the meeting. I needed to interview him on a matter, which being recently diagnosed with mild Alzheimer's, I can't recall. But I do remember that he was very precise and accurate in responding to my questions. Thus I believe that I gained the confidence of the board members for the remainder of my term. I think the lawyer was happy too, that the grilling was over. He was very helpful!
One way I try to keep him in the present is a large calendar on the refrigerator where everyone writes appointments and commitments, birthdays and barbeques. I cross off each day at night. There is a space on the side for notes and my husband kept writing the gala until a few weeks ago. I don't know if a telephone call from the public relations man who called, spoke with my husband and my husband mistook him for an old friend with the same first name triggered my husband's anger, but he practically hung up on the guy, shouting, "My wife? No, she wouldn't remember anything from that time." I happened to be in the kitchen and asked, "Who was that and what is it that you think I won't remember?" He didn't answer, grumpy that his breakfast routine had been interrupted. I told him to eat and we'd discuss it later.
I ended up calling "Steve" back and explaining yet again my husband's Alzheimer's. He was very apologetic and said his mother had it, so he understood. I believed him. He asked if my husband could write a short paragraph about his tenure as chairperson. I said I'd try to discuss it with him, which I did two days later. I started off by teasing him that he told the guy that I wouldn't remember anything from that time, the year I was diagnosed with breast cancer, the mid-point of the nine years his mother lived with us...him admitting for the first time his mother had never given me a chance, and we burst into laughter.
Last week, he woke me up to read six handwritten pages, a few sentences on each, with a number and a title, underlined. I said, "Hon, it's the middle of the night and I have no idea where my reading glasses are, but I'll look at it in the morning. I'm sure you did a great job. Please go to sleep." He had cut computer printer paper in half, unevenly, and stapled it across the top with a lot of staples, much like a young child would. Before reading it, I already knew pacify and claustrophobic were going to be in it, as he had asked me how to spell one word and my older son the other. Because he couldn't find them in his trusted red dictionary.
It broke my heart a little more because he tried so hard. There had been a long article in the local newspaper during that time and my mother had clipped it out for me, back in 1994, and miraculously I found it, (double miracle that she had cut out the entire article!) so he could use some of it for reference. It was very obvious what parts he had tried to incorporate from the article. It was also very obvious to me how hard it had been for him to put his thoughts onto paper. I am slowly learning the language of Alzheimer's, including verbal, non-verbal, and everything in-between. I feel both honored and exhausted, frustrated and fascinated, excruciatingly sad. Each day is different. What works one day doesn't work the next. Talk about being in the present.
So, my older son emailed what my husband wrote and we received back a sanitized, incorrect, and someone else's agenda that was to be printed on the program for 1500-2000 people at the gala and online. No rich lady, no earthworms, no lawyer, no mention of Alzheimer's. To say I flipped out would be an understatement. I showed it to my husband and he was mildly but medicated mad as well. At this point, I figured, fuck it...I'm calling the lady who got us into this initially. Her husband, the lawyer mentioned in my husband's writing, answered the phone. I could barely hear him, as there were what sounded like 8 or 10 very hungry dogs barking in the background. A friend had died; his wife was sitting Shiva; he had just gotten home and was tired. I said I could call back if he needed to eat or feed the dogs.
Major credit to lawyer husband, whom I've never met, as he replied, "Despite being a man, I can multi-task." I waited as he fed the dogs, nuked some food and it got quiet. I gave him the short version of all of this while he ate something, then he said, "Well, as far as I'm concerned, we lawyers have thick skins; I remember your husband being very laid back, yet persistent and intelligent. I DON'T have Alzheimer's and I can't remember much from that time either, so tell that PR guy to write whatever the hell your husband wants."
I have left a lot of details out and I apppreciate if you have read all of this. I'm winging it, often feeling like I'm in way over my head. Usually, able to detach and turn off emotions as needed, this is like walking into a stone wall in the dark, knowing the ending, just not how or when, and oh, so alone, but not in the good way.