Saturday, February 19, 2011

Singin' in the Rain

Today I reclaimed a part of myself that had been MIA for a very long time. I always loved to sing, and as a child, often sang a cappella in my room for hours for the sheer pleasure of it. When I attended drama school, one of the required courses was singing, but the voice coach said that I had a professional quality voice, that I could become a singer if I wanted to. I didn't have the kind of voice I liked best, Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan or Julie London, but I sounded exactly like Julie Andrews. And I had perfect pitch.

When Flip and I were first together, I was especially thrilled that he was a musician because I was sure that music had kept me sane through a difficult adolescence and later. The first time he heard me sing, he said, "What did you do with the money?" "What money?" I asked. "The money your momma gave you for singing lessons." I was so hurt that I never sang in front of him again.

This afternoon we had to make an emergency visit to the mall to get his eyeglasses fixed. This is a frequent occurrence, right up there with taking his computer to the Apple store so the Genius (the very best job title, ever) can unscrew it again. We are a fixture in both businesses, and what is more, he seems to choose the worst possible times to animal his glasses apart, like Christmas Eve, when no one with any self-protective instincts would be caught dead at a mall. Today it is pouring. It is raining so hard that all those people with self-protective instincts are undoubtedly building arks, not driving to the mall. I was riding my last nerve.

Our car radio is tuned to the classical music station I love, but today I flipped it to a rock station, which was playing "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by the Rolling Stones, and I forgot myself and began to sing with Mick and the guys. Perhaps Alzheimer's is responsible, but Flip said, "You could do this." He seemed impressed, as if he had never heard my voice before, and perhaps he hadn't. After all, he was the professional musician in the family. I sang along with Van Morrison, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Cetera, Sting and Robert Plant while driving through pounding rain, and by the time we got there, I felt that I could handle anything. Even a spouse with Alzheimer's who no longer knows what he's doing and destroys everything he owns, leaving me to pick up the pieces. You can't always get what you want, indeed, but I do believe that we get what we need, even if the reasons are unclear.

What is clear is that I needed to lighten up. I had cut myself off from a source of joy because caregiving is serious business, but singing still makes me happy. Flip's disease has changed both of us, but today he gave me back a piece of myself and I took it and ran. I will always love chamber music, but I think I'll leave my car radio tuned to the rock station for now.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A Woman of Substance

I am humbled after spending a few hours today with a woman I met months ago in the Alzheimer's support group we attended, which turned out not to be very supportive. Her husband, like mine, is afflicted, but unlike mine, he is of the appropriate age, if such exists, for this miserable disease. He is in a nursing home now as caring for him became too much for her, despite having household help. I am mostly in denial that Flip and I will reach such a cruel pass, but that is not the point of this particular post.

I greatly admire my friend D's endurance as she has withstood multiple personal tragedies which would have completely destroyed most people. Her daughter, who suffered from depression, committed suicide three years ago, leaving a year old baby. Her son-in-law quickly remarried and moved far away, so she rarely sees her grandchild. I can't imagine anything worse than outliving ones own child as it is out of the natural order of things. When D was fifteen, her own mother was a suicide. An only child whose father was not in her life, her relatives declined to take her in so she has been on her own since then. And she has had to watch her husband disappear into Alzheimer's Dementia.

D lives in a Victorian house which is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, and we are in a city noted for its stunning architecture of that period. She is an artist, and the light within her home is exquisite, as is her taste. Everything has been selected with love and an artist's eye, yet it is warm and comfortable. I could effuse endlessly, but I'm sure you get the idea.

I wonder why some people are able to withstand unspeakable pain with courage and grace, while others implode. D is a devout Catholic and her faith is an enormous comfort to her, yet I don't think it is necessary to be religious, or even to believe in God. I do believe it is important to find something larger than oneself which inspires passion and offers solace. Whether that is art, volunteer work, spiritual practice, a business, teaching, or something else is immaterial as long as it is fulfilling. D has a strong support system in her two remaining children, although one lives in Spain and she doesn't see him often enough. I'm sure she also has many friends as she is a lovely, kind and intelligent woman.

But maybe some people are just stronger than others, whether by nature or because they were nurtured. Strength derives from being comfortable within ourselves, and not needing others to validate our worth. It is important to resist defining ourselves by our tragedies. Since we never know the burdens another carries, envy is absurd as well as unworthy of anyone's higher self. It is also a careless waste of our brief time on earth and inevitably leads to a victim mentality which serves no one well, while spending time with people of strength and character can only help us to become more like them. At least, I'm counting on it.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake

I think I may have found my calling. I made a coconut cake today - yes, of course from scratch - and I wasn't even snowed in. It is as yummy as I hoped. I wish my high school Home Ec teacher could see me, not that she would know who I was as I nearly always cut her class except for the time I discovered a package of shredded coconut in her cupboard, and sat in the back scarfing it from the box while she demonstrated something in which I had no interest up front.

Flip was helpful, as always. He ate two large pieces, and when I mentioned my Home Ec teacher, he said, chewing, "She's dead." Oh. Thanks for reminding me that most of the generation that raised me is gone.

I was slow to develop any domestic abilities, so it was a great surprise to discover that I actually enjoyed cooking, and also eating. Growing up, I didn't even qualify as a picky eater as I hated everything. My parents considered mealtime an opportune captive audience, and often reviewed and reprimanded me for whatever crimes I had committed that day. It was impossible to eat on demand, especially since they told me often how ungrateful I was when other children were starving in Europe. I sincerely wished they would take all that liver and cauliflower and send it to them, but nobody asked what I thought.

My high school also attempted to instill the housewifely art of sewing, to which end we all made flannel nightgowns. I managed to sew mine closed across the bottom and had to smuggle it home so my mother could undo the stitches. My mother was a talented seamstress, which was not always an advantage. We would walk through high end department stores together, and whenever I admired something, she would say, "I could make it for less." Except she rarely did. It was just code for leading me out of temptation with her purse intact. She did, however, make me a wonderful prom gown in my senior year, an ice blue satin strapless number, tightly fitted in all the right places, and I was elected Christmas Prom Queen in that gown. I do not have her talent, although I bought a sewing machine several years ago, determined to unlock its mysteries. And if I didn't have an endless supply of books, or my computer, I surely would have done so by now.

Flip just strolled by with another huge hunk of cake. I won't have to worry about it getting stale. I remarked that "man cannot live by cake alone," but he may prove me wrong.