“You’re not fixing anything for lunch, are you?”
“You’re not cooking anything big for dinner, are you?”
These are the daily mantras at our house. Bo isn’t hungry. He is losing his appetite. He eats so much less and as a result has lost a lot of weight. He’s down to 175 pounds now, not very much for his large-boned but lean 6’3” body. He’s losing muscle as well.
My job is to try to think of three meals a day that he might enjoy. He’s always loved rich desserts and eaten large bowls of ice cream, so I make rich desserts and make sure there’s plenty of ice cream in the freezer. But he doesn’t find joy in them anymore.
Last week I bought a special whipped cream “orange creamsicle cake” from a terrific bakery near us. It was always a favorite. But after eating a couple of pieces, the cake languished in the refrigerator and I had to encourage him by simply putting a piece in front of him.
I can understand it. He’s lost interest in so many of his hobbies … in fact, he’s lost interest in most things. He no longer builds model planes, rarely plays golf and rarely goes to the health club. His only activities are around the house. He takes care of the lawn, vacuums, does laundry, cleans the kitchen after we eat, helps me as much as he can.
But in between those activities, he goes to lie on the bed. He seems most happy when he’s there with our cat, Charlie. Sometimes, both cats are there. Last week he said to me, “I think Charlie knows that I’m sick. That’s why he stays with me.”
It broke my heart. I don’t want to refer to this as a sickness. I don’t want him to feel that he’s a patient. I want him to have dignity and pride and to still feel that he’s taking care of us.
Sometimes he gets energy and tells me that “this afternoon” or “tomorrow’ he’s going to the casino in Atlantic City or he’s going to play golf. But then it doesn’t happen. He forgets or he doesn’t feel up to it. I’ve seen him go into the garage, then just stand there and look out at the trees as if he’s trying to make up his mind. Then, he doesn’t go anywhere.
As I watch him, I see him struggling through each day. He’s bored beyond anything I can imagine, this man who had every minute scheduled with physical activity. He has no energy and nothing to look forward to because, in truth, often he can’t even remember what is coming or what has gone on earlier today. The printed monthly schedule that I keep on the cellar door and the hand-written daily schedule that’s on the kitchen table are the reminders of his life.
Yet, as Alzhemer’s seems to go, he has times, even days, when I can almost forget that he is failing. He has more energy, is more talkative and seems to remember so much more. It’s not the real past that he’s forgotten; it’s the present…the short-term memory. As our nephew, Dean, said to me, “He’s living in the moment.” And I realize that although I may answer the same question four or five times within a very short time, he doesn’t realize it because he doesn’t remember asking me before.