Monday, March 16, 2009

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Reading & Writing

from my blog, Witnessing Alzheimer's: A Caregiver's View, at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on-line, March 13, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bluebeard's Castle & Jewish Law

from Witnessing Alzheimer's: A Caregiver's View, Seattle P.I., March 10, 2009

Saturday night I went with a friend to see Bluebeard's Castle. I don't know much about opera, but I can't imagine another troupe putting on a better rendition of Bluebeard or Erwartung than the Seattle Opera did. A spectacular evening. Except I wasn't in the right frame of mind to go to the opera or anywhere else. It's true what they say about the long goodbye. One is forever in a state of mourning, so no matter how stunning the settings, the orchestra, the arias, I am hard-pressed to find joy in a musical night out. read more

Friday, March 06, 2009

Still Alice

Thanks to a reader I met on facebook, I picked up a copy of Still Alice this weekend, a gripping read. I couldn't put it down.

For those who are living through Alzheimer's, whether as caregiver or victim, I understand why you wouldn't want to read one more sentence about Alzheimer's. After years of dealing with the disease and studying this opinion and that, reader's fatigue sets in. But Still Alice will pick you up again. It's all about the idea of self and its practical manifestations in every day life. Though Genova doesn't use these words - the language is mine and she may disagree - for me the characters of Alice and her husband, John, demonstrate first hand the relationship between ego and self.

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March 6, 2009, Witnessing Alzheimer's: A Caregiver's View


Abe was so beautiful tonight. We've been married 27 years and have known each other 28, but in all that time I don't think I've noticed his cheekbones.

He slept in his wheelchair throughout my visit. I sat on his bed and watched him. He's lost about 50 pounds. His face is thin and sculpted. He is pure Abe, pristine and whole. His cheekbones are stunning.

I'm taken aback. On the one hand, absence of his beard has upset me more than I initially thought it would (I've asked them not to shave him again); on the other hand, the shaven face has allowed me to see newness where I hadn't before. Newness, as in a new-born's newness, absent of scars and blemishes that come with living.

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March 4, 2009, Witnessing Alzheimer's: A Caregiver's View

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Nursing Home Break: Irene Drennan & the Red Sky Poetry Reading at Hugo House

from Witnessing Alzheimer's: A Caregiver's View at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on line

Just home from the dog park and a good walk with Emma. I always forget the digital camera. You should have seen Emma next to a 160 pound St. Bernard. Big as she is her 75 pounds could have walked under him.

I had planned to go to see Abe after the dog park; but all night long I dreamed of driving to the home, getting out of the car with a bottle of water, forgetting the water somewhere, then not being able to find his room once off the elevator and on the right floor. The dream goes on and on, I'm back in graduate school, then years earlier to when my kids were little and old age was something I didn't know about.

So I didn't go to the nursing home. The dream helped me not go. I went home instead, dried Emma off and came here to decide what poem's I'll read tonight. I don't know if I'll get to Abe's today or not.

Today and night I spend time with my friend and writing group sister, Irene Drennan. Irene died in August and tonight Red Sky is paying her tribute with a reading at Hugo House, 7 pm. Poets in both of Irene's writing groups are reading.

From the the Seattle Five Plus One group are Anne Sweet and Priscilla Long and from the Daughters of Dementia, I'll be reading along with Diane Westergaard and Denise Calvetti Michaels.

The Daughters met at my house for two of the years that I cared for Abe at home so Irene and the others were very much a part of us and Abe a part of them. I think I'll read a couple of poems I wrote when in the group with her and some she always laughed at. The poems will help me hear her laugh again. She had such a great laugh. You can see it here MsgAttachment[1].jpg

Hope to see some of you at Hugo House in a few hours. There's open mic so you can read too. Come early to get a seat and a parking spot.

Thanks for stopping by,

free association (beard's gone)

February 28, 2009

He looked so frail tonight, more so than usual. I wish they hadn't shaved his beard off. He looks more like his brother now than he does himself. I don't know why they had to shave his beard off. He's had it over 40 years. I wonder how his face feels to him now? Does he know? Does it itch? When he touches his face does he feel something's missing? They shouldn't have cut his beard off. They should have included me in that decision. I don't know why I feel worse about his beard than I do the cross on his forehead on Ash Wednesday, but I do. They had no business shaving him. I've never seen him without a beard except in pictures when he was young, maybe in his thirties and before. He's lost so much weight, 40 pounds or more and he loses more every day. The speech therapist changed his diet from "pureed" to "mechanical soft," also without consulting me. He can't eat that food, can't swallow, keeps it in his cheeks (called pocketing), until it falls out or he figures how to spit it out. He's so thin. It's better if he drinks a health shake, which provides nutrition, than to worry him with food he can't swallow. He's so thin, he's so so thin, and now his beard's gone. When I got there at 5:30 tonight, he was in the dining room asleep in his wheelchair. He had a paper cup of something slipping out of his hand and most of what had been in the cup was on his shirt. He wasn't the only one. Everyone was waiting for dinner. He had his red t-shirt on. He looks beautiful in red and with the beard gone his face is all pink like a baby's. I took the cup from his hand and wiped his shirt. He continued sleeping, his mouth open, then closed, then open. I don't know why they had to shave his beard off. I loved his beard. Later in bed he wakened a bit but still I couldn't get him to drink, much less eat. He knew me. When I said I love you, he said Me too, smiled a little, then went back to sleep. The sleep's from not refusing his medicine. Yesterday he refused his so ate more, at least I think that's the cause and effect. (The nurse showed me the chart, which is how I know when he did and didn't take his medicine). I can't stand that they shaved him. The first time I saw him shaved last week, I worried more about his face itching and how it would feel as it grew back than anything else. Everybody said how great he looked and he did look great, but now they did it again and so unexpectantly. That's what they do with men in the mornings, one nurse told me. Maybe so, but not to men with beards. Darn it. I wonder how he feels when he's being shaved. It's not as if he doesn't have feelings anymore. He's still Abe, and I'm still Esther. I don't know him without a beard. I didn't know he had little veins in his face or that his ears stuck out like that. I didn't know there was all that vulnerability under a beard. I didn't ever know men were so vulnerable as that.

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Posted by Esther Altshul Helfgott at 3/1/09 11:57 a.m.

This isn't true free association. In that process, I include all thoughts and images that come to mind. I include dreams and pictures, colors, tastes and smells. I wouldn't use upper case or punctuation. Lines, words and sentences fall over each other. It's difficult to read.

But here you may get an idea of what happens when I suggest that students free associate on the page to see what themes they are thinking about. There's always plenty of material that emerges, and in the unconscious, of course, there is infinity.