Memories are made

Having almost reached the next milestone (but not a millstone!) along my life journey I can now stop awhile and look back, gently, over the past few score years. I am so blessed to be still in reasonable shape. My personal approach is normally ‘carpe diem’, perhaps these days followed by ‘slowly’. Remembering is always bitter-sweet medicine, best not taken in big doses.

There have been too many ups and downs to linger long in the past and, as for tomorrow, well I am now inclined to only deal with it when it arrives! Certainly, we can learn from the past but for the most part I have found it best to leave it there. There were times when everything looked lost, broken, and totally unfixable, the future seemingly bleak, or at best, complicated and worrisome, and I did get maudlin and morose and miserable. I can remember Dorothy’s Mum saying something like “Sufficient unto the day”, and I reckon that’s probably good medicine.

Whilst I’m not game to look too far ahead I do like to plan ahead, just a little. That way there’s always some activity, a book to read, a place to go, something to look forward to (just not too ambitious at my age). I have, nevertheless just had a sneaky think back on my earlier days (let’s say 31,000of them) to reminisce, just a little.

I recalled the time I went to kindergarten and how it prepared me for a life of learning – and later, learning from life. And all those formative years from then on, slabs of school life and beyond. Even some days with not so joyful memories. We’ve all had some years that are best forgotten; I’m sure my readers will have similar memories of those young formative years.

My best memories, after some troublesome teen years, began from the age of seventeen, when real life started in earnest for me: study, work, then marriage; then family with its myriad of dimensions, all of which propelled me at various speeds along the road of life for the next thousands of days.

Now here I am, looking at that road, now going up the hill, not quite sure what’s over the next crest. Most of my journey is behind me, with little flags on the map marking the places and activities and the detours along the way. And I’m happy to look back sometimes, but I don’t need to revisit many of them! My roadmap is much like that of my readers, and what’s done is done, and tomorrow is another day, so I’ll keep planning my route ahead for a while…

Plan, that’s what we all need to do, isn’t it? That, and a prayer for the heart and health to carry it through; forget the rest. Every day will bring a new start and, even sometimes new problems, but that helps to make us resilient, and our days memorable.

Everything changes

High School students will probably remember Newton’s first law of physics, which is something like: “Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it”.

Wow! That’s true of our human bodies, too, isn’t it? It seems to me that most of us, in general, are resistant to change. We tend to strive for stability, steady progress, predictability. So, when confronted with a disturbance of that balance, we often find a way to ignore it or circumnavigate it and keep on doing…well, just the ‘same as normal’.

And it’s my experience that when confronted, eventually and finally, with the inescapable truth that my partner had begun the dementia journey, I did the same. We all tend to rationalise; we say it’s just a temporary aberration, or even blame ourselves – it’s my fault – I should have explained, should have managed the situation, whatever it was, differently or better. Or perhaps just ignore the strange reactions, the forgetfulness, the repetition, the moods. “I will cope” you say, “because we all forget stuff as we age, don’t we?”

Usually the acceptance, and the reality, of memory and behaviour change emerges slowly to a partner. Often it is picked up first by family and friends, then finally, with reluctance and trepidation, by the partner. As a devoted partner, we are usually quick to forgive forgetfulness, memory lapses and small behaviour changes. After all, who amongst us doesn’t have some difficulty remembering stuff?

To manage, to survive, we are inclined to go gently with the flow and just use the mechanisms we are comfortable with. We learn to adjust to the pace and manage to keep our distance from disturbing personal technology trends. At best, a few of us actually learn to cope with – or somehow manage or ignore – the fads and Facebooks of the current age. But there is a difference between that kind of adjustment and the major lifestyle changes that emerge when we need to cope with Alzheimer’s.

It can be tricky for us to even recognise that our partner’s behaviour is changing, sometimes in subtle ways. It’s not always quickly apparent, because we are wired to forgive! Our partner’s inability to adapt, to learn new skills and to communicate clearly may begin slowly then irrevocably progress. We tend to ignore and rationalise the minor changes, ascribing them to just getting older and forgetful.

That is exactly what happened to me and will be happening to others who are facing Alzheimer’s in their partner. Dementia discloses its presence in so many diverse ways, and recognising and dealing with those changes in your partner’s life is always difficult. Some situations will certainly test your patience and love. Persistent and unpredictable responses and behaviour are always a challenge!

At each stage of our lives, all of us will be changing, for all sorts of reasons and often in subtle ways. We are inclined to make allowances and to forgive unintended events. But ultimately, we must face the reality of a distinct and ongoing trend when our partner’s behaviour is persistently different, sometimes covert, and unquestionably, can even be unsafe.

Talking to your family, and to your doctor, as we discussed earlier, is the first step and takes some courage. Alzheimer’s is seldom self-diagnosed. So, you need to be proactive and, with love, take steps to ensure that you manage both your lives – to continue and enjoy being together for as long as you can, in this changing world….


Being connected in today’s vernacular can mean anything from ‘knowing someone’ in a specific role of power or influence, or simply having ‘access to the internet’. One thing is certain; we all need connections!

Even living as a single human, it’s true, we can accomplish much, and often with surprising results but, like Robinson Crusoe, we can achieve many more satisfactory outcomes if we have a mate, a partner. We all need company; we are ‘wired’ to connect with others. Adam, notwithstanding being off to a bad start, went on in life with Eve. And most of us in our own life journey strive to make that bond with another human being.

As children we usually start the connection process with our parents, then go on to build relationships with siblings, relatives, and friends. Sometimes, for a huge range of mitigating reasons, that doesn’t happen. Sickness, even death, can intervene and break that progression. But those of us who grow into maturity will usually develop a truly amazing human network. We instinctively seek companionship from birth and later through school, adolescence, work-life, neighbours, sweethearts, fellow-travellers. Hopefully we find a soulmate and then travel together along life’s byways.

But sometimes those relationships don’t quite coalesce, or don’t last. Even in a neighbourhood-marketplace of many thousands, some of us have difficulties, often related to illness or disability, in making those essential life-affirming connections. Some may not even achieve a peaceful and loving relationship: that sought-after and vital link with a ‘significant other’.

Those who do make that link are likely to have their singular lives transformed and enriched in many wonderful, shared ways. Meeting Dorothy, marrying, and journeying through a very full, family-filled life – for well over half a century certainly carried me, us, through quite a few of life’s joys and challenges!

Then Alzheimer’s changed everything. But we were lucky, because by that time our children had received the benefit of Dorothy’s share of parenting, had left the nest and were well settled into their adult lives. It would be much worse for other families who experience ‘early-onset’ Alzheimer’s. Certainly, at any time, that diagnosis can fracture, or at best fortify, a family. At any age it can cause a void that will never be filled: what was whole becomes a hole.

Personally, I am able to find solace and healing in my understanding of a caring, not causing, God; it must be hard for those with less faith. We are all, even in this day and age (for unfathomable reasons), imperfect humans. At various stages of life, we all struggle to remain grounded, happy, and purposeful – especially when we lose our longstanding soulmate for any reason. From birth we aim to not be alone and as babies make sure our presence is known! In later life, it’s still beneficial to always have a support crew of family, friends, and/or medicos…..

If your mate is afflicted with a debilitating physical and or mental condition, whether it’s transitory or permanent, help is available, and you need to find it. Caring for another is hard work even when supported with love! Yes, I can attest, it can be confusing, daunting, tiring, scary and…. where do you start? But the fact you are reading this means you understand some of the implications. And there are links on this site to help, but only in a small way. Your first step is to have a meaningful discussion about your partner’s condition with your doctor.  And talk to your parents if available, and most definitely your children. Like mine, they saw the tell-tale signs long before I did!

Take heart. Make a start. This Alzheimer’s Road could be a long one, and can get rough, you need all the help you can get – in a sensitive and practical way. Don’t ignore the signs and symptoms. Make the right connection for help. “No man is an island” is a quote by John Dunn way back in the seventeenth century and it just means the obvious: we are all ‘connected’ in some way!

We are better and stronger when we share. I found the need to connect or collapse! So, if you partner is showing any signs of Alzheimer’s…read a bit more about it, start early and finish stronger. Go…. connect, now!

All at sea!

I usually write on topics related to Alzheimers but this time I thought I would write about me, or rather my current journey. Because I am away from the Alzheimers road and at this point. All I see is sea.
Water, water everywhere – and it’s deep! Not the first time, I hear you say, that you’ve been in deep water, Bill! And, according to the talk I heard today, as I sail in this enormous ocean liner, we are cruising above perhaps the deepest part of any ocean on earth and I’m not sure if that’s a comforting thought…
Wow, this is a big ship! I still haven’t explored all of its features, but I have discovered that apart from the fabulous food in the ‘public’ dining rooms there are numerous other places to eat. Most of them cost extra, so I am not going there! No need. All I can eat and a huge variety, all the time in the regular dining rooms or at the buffet self-serve up on the almost top deck. Spoilt for choice! It is actually difficult to not over-indulge. But I am strong, nearly all the time.
I have probably said it before, but I have to say again, it is lonely – even though I’m surrounded by nearly five thousand or so other ‘coupled’ souls. Although, that does have some positive aspects, like being able to decide when to eat, or walk, or read, or which activities to attach to!
There is no internet access (unless you pay a really, really high price) and most certainly no mobile phone connection. I had high hopes of at least sending an email at our last port of call (free access at Macca’s with a whole shipload trying!) and what with one thing and another, I was back on ship and realised I’d missed out on sending! Well, there’s bound to be a Macca’s at our next port of call, maybe I’ll try again….
There are quite few Aussies on board but probably more from USA and Canada, and all are mostly in the 60 to 100 age group, although there’s a fair sprinkling of teenagers who are delighting in the range of activities – from roller-skating to swimming and pinball machines and well, a huge spectrum of physically interactive sports and pastimes. Of course, there’s lots for active (and less active oldies, too) like wall-to-wall pokies and shops and plenty of taverns and drinks venues! At my age and disposition, I am happy to read a book, walk and eat! For all that, I will be glad to be back home again, but in the meantime, you could say I’m recharging my batteries!


Reflecting on that word, I realise it’s sometimes only thought of as a person’s name or perhaps the state of being graceful. But to me, it’s word that has a more profound meaning. I’ll get to that later….

Gone are the days when Dorothy and I would plan together for our next adventure. Sometimes home and family related or, in later years, a wider travel experience. Gone, too, are the times when we could share remembrances of all those years. Now I must plan my travel, alone.

But that doesn’t preclude my solitary recall of earlier times, nor diminish their importance. It simply means I can’t re-share them with her; they are no less real. Dorothy’s ability to do that had slipped away some years before her death but those  experiences will always remain with me.

As we move on in our lives, each of us will ‘travel’ in our own way. With every breath we are masters of our thoughts, our actions, and reactions. What we do and say is who we are – and affects everyone we touch in some way – it’s what makes us unique and, to varying degrees, precious to each other.

The way we respond to the swings and roundabouts of life is conditioned by all of our earlier shared experiences – with our partners, with our family and friends, and those we have worked with and prayed with. That life journey with its ups and downs is often burdened and shaped with baggage of past mistakes, of wrong decisions, of attitudes or behaviours, and of things done or undone; we all know the feeling!

During her later years Dorothy was not encumbered by that baggage; she seemed free to feel only the present moment, and to savour it, or otherwise, just as it was –  right then. Her Alzheimer’s condition highlighted the importance of ‘now’, and it helped me to savour those precious times together as we sought to find some joyful times together in those later times…..

I learned also, when Dorothy was in care, to take some time-out alone; to stop and grab hold of my swirling mind, to reflect quietly and to pray. For me, that’s an essential and positive activity which continues to be a precious thing – a time and place where I can still find solace and peace, indeed strength, to face the next moments and days of my life.

I am indeed grateful to have my Christian belief of a caring deity, however insecure and uncertain that faith may be; it gives me purpose and meaning and allows me to accept and sense the power of prayer. It also helps me to recognise that my experience of adversity is as nothing compared to the afflictions of so many others, even here in this little corner of the world, now exacerbated by the current, awful consequences of the coronavirus, floods, fires, and conflicts around the world.

Does grace help me to cope, now in my time of ‘singularity’?  Yes, it does, even though sometimes I think, like so many others, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”. That’s an enigma of humankind – another rhetorical question. Bad things don’t just happen to good people, they also happen to everyone – just as good things can.

Maybe we can all cope with adversity by accepting the concept of ‘grace’, an attribute that empowers most people to respond with intervention and care – sometimes called service or love. So, I reckon grace is just love by another name, don’t you agree?

Moving times!

I recently had some discussions with a friend who was moving into care. It reminded me of some notes I made, some years ago, and stored away on my computer. Some of my readers might like to see the aspects that exercised my mind leading up to the time my wife Dorothy went into care. And there was a lot to think about…..

At the time (and preferably before) anyone permanently moves from home there will be people and service providers that need to be advised. So, start early as it can be a formidable task!

Many of us elderfolk still prefer to use the postal system for most of our ‘formal’ or business transactions. We hang on to the concept of having it all ‘in black and white’, but times have changed. The job is actually a lot easier these days with most correspondence now handled electronically and, usually, your email address can stay the same! But, paper accounts still exist and need to be considered when one or both partners are moving house or going into care.

There may also be subscriptions, rates notices, accounts with traders, and other organisations which only send postal accounts or information to you on a quarterly or annual basis. When reponding to them you can often include address changes. Even with a checklist, you are bound to miss a few!

You need a little(?) list: The first thing is to establish just how many institutions you have dealings with, then consider the best method to advise them of the change. Here, below is a ‘moving’ checklist I made up to help me cope. You will need to tailor it to suit your own specific needs, but it might be of help as you start the process of change!

Just add more columns to show: Phone numbers, Date, Contact name, and Notes to suit your needs:

o   Accountant, Financial advisor

o   Income Tax agent: Tax number, last Return

o   Audiologist: Hearing equipment, Supplies

o   Banks /Co-ops: Current a/cs, Term Deposits

o   Finance organisations

o   Cards: Savings/ Credit/ Debit /Loyalty

o   Blood Bank: Notify if a Donor.

o   Car: Vehicle Registration, Insurance

o   Centrelink: review Passwords, Numbers

o   Chemist/s: Prescription records, A/cs

o   Church: Records, Notices

o   Clubs and Societies membership

o   Dentist: future appointments

o   Medical Doctors: General Practitioners

o   Specialists: Cardiologists, Other

o   Medibank/Medicare: Reg numbers

o   Hospitals: notify Outpatient dept?

o   Therapists: Physio, others

o   Ambulance: subscriptions

o   Electoral Rolls: get card from Post Office

o   Fitness class/Gym membership

o   House Alarm: service provider?

o   Insurance / Broker: Car, House, Other

o   Internet provider: see Subscriptions

o   Local Council: Rates, Electoral Rolls

o   Local traders: Dry Cleaner, Florist, Butcher

o   Memberships: Clubs, RACV, Probus U3A, etc

o   Medical Benefits Associations

o   Motor Registration: Cars, Drivers Licence

o   Newsagent: Newspapers, Magazines

o   Optician / Ophthalmologist

o   Schools /Classes / other enrolments

o   Shops: Hire Purchase, Layby, orders

o   Solicitor: Deeds, Wills, Trusts, Doc location

o   Stockbroker: Shares, Debentures, Trusts

o   Subscriptions: Internet, Newsletters, clubs

o   Newsagent, Papers, Magazines

o   Telephone: Landline

o   Mobile: Telstra / Optus / Vodafone, other

o   Unions / Professional Societies, Associations

o   Utilities: Gas, Water, Electricity

o   Work/Volunteer work: advise organiser.

If you have time before the move, perhaps you could print-off (say four to an A4 sheet) a ‘Change of address’ slip – something like below, tailored to your circumstances:

 Maybe print four on an A4 sheet, then cut them up and staple to the next appropriate account when you send it off.

Now….. think through other aspects of your current lifestyle that will need to be reviewed.  Write them down!

All the points listed above might not suit your circumstances, but some of them will almost certainly apply. Try to get some help, a second or third opinion is likely to be useful!

Take time to think about other aspects of your present activities, possessions, and needs.

Think deeply, hasten slowly!

Some days…

Every day the sun comes up, yet some days are different – and I don’t mean the weather. Birthdays and anniversaries and some other days have a special, personal, meaning, but I’ve discovered that on any day, sometimes an unexpected trigger will invoke a range of ‘feelings’. Especially when it’s connected to an historical event in our lives. A sudden thought, a place, a person, or an event can be enough to start my mind on a journey in time.

It was a moment like that recently, as I saw the contents of a huge removalist truck being disgorged into a nearby residential unit. I was jolted back in time to when Dorothy and I moved our home contents and our lives, here to this retirement village, well over a decade ago. Seeing that truck was enough to send my normally somnambulant mind whirling back to when we made the same move.

I began recollecting the range of emotions we both felt as we began the actual downsizing which had to start months before the actual move. I was thinking about the almost gut-wrenching decisions we made then. What to keep among our accumulated ‘things’ and which items were appropriate to discard – forever! We had a quite large home, designed and built to cope with our lives as the seven of us grew up together. And, like many other families over those years, we’d accumulated lots of ‘stuff’ and the winnowing just had to be done! Seeing that furniture van, the memories of our times of loading and unloading came racing back.

But I was also remembering the mental process, almost anguish, that preceded the physical downsize move. To know, and accept, when the time is right to make any radical change to our lifestyle is difficult – and not without stress. We had both agreed that being into our seventies, the tasks of maintaining a large home would soon engulf us. Our decision to not ‘age in place’ was not a minute too soon, as we later discovered when Dorothy’s Alzheimer’s was progressing apace.

Now, seeing that van being emptied of its treasures nearby I was reminded of how important it is for us all to consider where, and how, we live as we age. I am so grateful that we chose, a dozen or so years ago, to leave behind that house with its stairs, its maintenance, and the mowing! Here, now at Applewood in a beautiful garden setting, I live alone in a manageable-sized villa with none of the maintenance or other chores we had to deal with in our earlier home.

I have a supportive family and great neighbours, but I know one day my turn will come to make that next move to a different level of care. Several of my friends are now resident in various care homes nearby and I visit them all, so I know how they have adjusted to a different way of life, each with their different levels of health. It probably won’t be long until I need to join them and make that next transition….

Meanwhile, I enjoy comparatively good health and have lots to do yet! I can still get around to enjoy my friends and family, to do some travelling and can always reminisce on all those earlier happy times. Every day those great memories ‘make my day’, and, while I can, I’m making new memories every day.

Matches and light

It seems to me like just yesterday, but it was actually many years ago when having a box of matches at home or at hand was an absolute necessity. If you were a smoker, or used a gas light or a gas cooker at home, and especially if you were a camper, we were never without access to a box – or at least a flint lighter. These days, perhaps a prudent householder or camper might have a candle or two squirreled away in case of a blackout, or perhaps some smaller ones for a birthday cake, when a box of matches does become handy!

I was thinking about matches, and particularly the wood and trees from which they were made (I also remember the waxed vestas that still worked, even when wet!) as I trickled my way slowly through a very long book I have been reading “The Overstory” by Richard Powers. The way the author takes us through the story of wood is, at times, heart-stopping and stark. He skilfully engages our hearts and minds as he exposes the lives of concerned people and deforestation.

Before I had read this book the extent, pervasiveness, and diverse use of timber in our lives had not occurred to me in such graphic terms. I’m now, more than ever, conscious of the use and overuse of many other ‘staples’ in our lives, such as oil and water. In a vague, philosophical way, it also led me to consider aspects of our consumer-driven lives that I hadn’t deeply thought about before.

Now, after reading that book, I am more likely to see, or at least look for, other aspects of consumerism – which in turn, led me  back to basics: the beauty and serenity of our natural environment, the intricate web of raw nature, of God’s realm, and how precious all of it is. I can now more readily recognise a lack of balance between ‘development’ and ‘growth’, and more aware of the despoiling of such large tracts of our forest, resulting in ever-decreasing areas of natural treescapes – and the barrenness and soil degradation that follows.

Such a big issue, yet difficult to see in its enormity when, as individuals, we are such small players in the total-earth scheme of things! Too often we don’t see beyond the immediate impact of our own lifestyle choices. And then, in a world where so many people are affected so grievously by the forces of nature, and many more by brawling and fighting at a national level, it’s hard to be anything but dejected and sad.

As individuals we can usually only make comparatively small efforts to alleviate this suffering – with donations of money, even time, and some with expertise. Nevertheless, we can also demonstrate our care for people, and for the earth, in what we choose to do, say, and buy.

By remembering that each tiny match came from a felled tree – which denuded a forest somewhere and disturbed a natural interdependence; only then we can begin to glimpse a tiny part of a bigger picture.

Now, when I think of a matchstick I think of its source – the tree and the forest and the earth and wonder, in awe of how we all coexist in such a complex web of interdependency of natural resources! For our survival and for the sake of future generations we must learn to recognise and cherish each part of that network. A match made in heaven, indeed, may show us the light!

Caring and Sharing

It’s good to care and, often, good to share. I’m using the word care to explain our action and reaction to both people and our environment. Just how we act or react to caring will inevitably also reveal our attitude to sharing. And the harsh truth is that if we don’t share then probably we don’t care. The other special descriptive word in this context is empathy. And I don’t mean sympathy.

Empathy helps us to feel as much for others as we do for ourselves. It’s like putting oneself in another person’s shoes and it enriches both our life and those who we are caring for. So, caring with empathy will profoundly affect every relationship we have – even with the environment. It modifies our relationship with a loved one as well as enhancing our own feeling of wellbeing. Which just goes to show that caring is at the core of our life. No care – no love.

As for sharing, well…can you imagine what a life alone would be like without an opportunity to share? To not be able to share some time with another will inevitably result in loneliness and is likely have a serious effect on our mental and physical health. We were meant to be paired and shared! And if for some reason we are not in either state, most of us will try to fill the gap, to compensate by actively seeking company either as a couple again, or within a like-minded group. I thank God, daily, for my friends and family!

Caring and sharing, then, seem to be at the heart of our lives, and in general, we love it! See, I’m talking about emotions here, again. Some of us ‘wear our heart on our sleeve’ and our caring, or lack of it, shows. When in a group, we tend to gravitate to caring people, don’t we? Well, I do, anyway. I also suspect that my readers will be ‘caring people’ who are happiest in the company of like-minded folk among friends and associates.

Still, there are many (probably all of us!) who for private and deep reasons just don’t ‘mix’ well at some times in our lives. Each of us, and our environment, are constantly changing – evolving, worsening, and getting better. In that state of flux, don’t be surprised if someone you know sometimes seems ‘different’; maybe less responsive or less inclined to want to participate in our lives. As we know, time is a great healer, and that phase will usually pass. Be patient, and like me, you will probably quietly pray about that relationship and seek the healing nature of grace.

Real friendship is resilient but also perceptive. We’ve all learned to accept that personal likes and attitudes are infinitely variable, and that journey isn’t a long, straight, flat, road. It’s full of curves and hills, sometimes unsafe. But along the way we’ve learned to accept diversity and challenges, and we know about care – in every sense!

Another day: another challenge

That’s what it feels like, sometimes…..but, another day also means new opportunities and possibilities. And upon the death of a loved partner, another day can sometimes also mean facing a raft of new challenges!

A Melbourne writer, Muriel Porter (Muriel Porter – Wikipedia) recently wrote an informative article which eloquently encapsulates some of the daunting aspects she encountered following the death of her husband after years with Alzheimer’s. Her experience makes compelling reading, regardless of our present circumstances, so I will give you a link where you can see for yourself:

Before my husband’s death, I thought we had our affairs in order. Now I’m dealing with a nightmare of administration – ABC News

There, I’ll bet that article helped you to find a few things that you may need to attend to!

I’ve written earlier on this site about some of the unexpected pitfalls and problems, and the more joyful years, too, as my wife proceeded along the Alzheimer’s road. So, I won’t add any more to this note; but if Muriel’s topic has encouraged you to consider examining and arranging some of your affairs, then you are not alone! Please send that link on to a friend. It’s never too early to get our ‘house in order’, even if both partners are well!

Although, regrettably, I don’t personally know her I have read many pieces she has written regularly over several past years for The Melbourne Anglican (The Melbourne Anglican).

Always an insightful writer, often with a great sense of humour, and succinctly to the point, I’m sure Muriel would be delighted to know her words of wisdom have been helpful and would be happy to know I referred you to her most recent topic.

(Thanks to our son, Paul, for alerting me to the above link to Muriel’s writing!)