I grew up hearing worms eat their way through eggshells, orange rinds, coffee grounds, apple peels and wilted lettuce right outside my window. They make a humming sound that would lull me to sleep. My parents always had an impressive garden, and keeping it nurtured was critical for the best vegetables and fruit trees….hence the compost. Here in Denver, we have yet to establish a compost heap, but we have assembled two large garden planters where we plan to grow vegetables of all sorts.
My father loves to be in the garden. Two years into his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, he is still able to do tasks that require no instructions….so that leaves a lot! He can rake, pull weeds and sweep with abandon. After we planted dozens and dozens of bulbs last fall, we reminisced about the garden he and my mother used to have in their backyard in Modesto, CA. They had wonderful vegetables and stunning fruit trees and would even dry their own apricots and grapes on the roof of our house. That’s when our own garden talks began and we came up with a plan together to plant tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers, squash, lettuce and all sorts of herbs. My father and I have scoured the Williams and Sonoma ‘beginner’s vegetable garden’ for ideas and our excitement grew as we found some amazing planters online and dreamt about what our garden would look like. When the wood arrived, my husband and I assembled the planters and we are now just waiting for the snow to stop in Colorado…which appears to be a few weeks off still!
Anticipation is a brilliant concept, essential for me in my life, and very important for my parents. Aging doesn’t change that. Having something to look forward to, to watch grow in real time, is pretty awesome. There are so many great resources online, and one of the newest finds for me is the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, where Bob DeMarco today wrote an awesome article about how those we care for are capable of much more than we can imagine. And the more we do together, the more we become a team.
I suppose in the end that’s why we chose to have my parents live with us…so we could do things together whenever possible. My son just completed a busy high school varsity basketball schedule, and at nearly every game, my parents were there to cheer him on. Walking up the bleachers to take their seats was an ordeal every time, but those in the stands would gladly hold out their hands to support either of them if needed. Other parents and grandparents and supporters came to recognize my parents and smiled as they took their time with their seats and pillows and jackets and snacks. My father cheered pretty much every time either team made a basket, because it was hard for him to track which team his grandson was on. After all, wasn’t the basket the point? And when the game ended as we waited for the team to get back on the court, he often turned to us, “When’s the game going to start? It’s going to be a late one tonight.” And then he would see his grandson and congratulate him on a good game and take my mother’s hand as we all walked out of the gym to go home.
The anticipation of what we all get to do together this spring and summer brings me joy. Bob DeMarco’s article ends on a powerful note. “Alzheimer’s caregiving is a good example of how life works. The more you put into it, the more you get back. Or, you can just sit back and let the disease run its course.”
As we drove home from my parent’s Monday morning croquet game with the group Jiminy Wicket, my father looked out the car window, observing the snowfall, “Guess we’ll have to wait to plant until the snow stops.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” I respond.
“What’s the temperature?”
“Good thing we took our walk already,” he continues, “I think we’ll skip this afternoon.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
We do have a plan…and now in addition to the garden, I’m thinking the compost heap is a must. After all, I didn’t realize how much those humming worms brought back fond memories…
I am not alone. The number of caregivers for someone with Alzheimer’s or a different type of dementia is about 15 million. If we were all in one state, it would be the fifth largest state. As Alzheimer’s progresses, your relationship with your loved one will change as you have to take on a new role. Be prepared. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends you locate financial and legal documents, turn to family, friends, professionals or community resources for assistance, as needed.