Monday, October 20, 2014

Thoughts on Dying and Dementia



If you had an option of knowing how and when you were going to die, would you want to know?  

We're all going to die.  No one wants to die, at least no one who feels they have a life worth living. But that is the one certainty in life, we are all going to die.

Some of are lucky in that we know approximately when we're going to die.  Of course some would say "Lucky?"  Yes, I say lucky because at least they can get their life in order and plan an orderly and, hopefully dignified exit.  

In a few weeks I'll be 73 years old.  I may live another thirty years.  And then I may die next week. 

I often kid my friends that I don't have long to live.  But to tell you how I really feel, I have no idea.  I would like to live several more decade.  However with one very important caveat, I want to live those years pain free and with dignity.

Bill, my 86 year old spouse, recently sent me link to an article titled "The Heartbreaking and Beautiful Faces of People Living With Alzheimer's Disease." In that article were a half a dozen black and white photos of men and women suffering from Alzheimer's.




The article stated "Alzheimer's disease is a far-reaching condition, one that rips through not only the lives of those who have personally suffered through the diagnosis bu the lives of family members, friends and caretakers who brush up against the illness as well.  It can transform a loved one into a stranger, tunneling through relationships,, memories and routines until he familiar slips bleakly into the unknown. A brother, grandmother or husband's descent into dementia becomes an identity in itself. They are no longer themselves; they are captive to disease."

This morning I prepared our usual Monday morning laundry.  Every Monday we was our whites.  I gather up my underwear and socks and kitchen towels.  Bill brings up his underwear and puts it on top of the trash hamper for me to add to mine when I do the wash.  I put all the dirty clothes in and start the washer.  Then I have breakfast.  When the laundry is done, Bill puts it in the dryer and folds the laundry when it is done.  




This morning as I was finishing my bowl of cereal Bill said "Why didn't you put my laundry in?"  I looked and saw his dirty under still on top of the trash bin.  I remember thinking when I put my laundry in that there wasn't much laundry.  Now why didn't I think to put his laundry in?

Folks, it's these seemingly innocuous missteps like this that cause me to think "Is this the beginning of my slip into dementia and Alzheimer's?"  And it's not just this one instance.  There are times that I completely forget names of people that I know, that I see every day.  I forget them.  And I find myself trying to hide these lapses of memory much as my recently departed best friend Bob McC. did when I realized something was wrong with him back in 2001 when I just couldn't get it through his head how to retrieve his mail from his computer.  I remember at that time saying to him "What's the matter with you Bob?  You have Alzheimer's?"  Of course I was joking but as it turned out he was showing the beginning stages of Parkinson's disease.  For the next twelve years I watch him slowly descend into someone I didn't know.  


Me and Bob before his descent

Bob and I used to ride around and sometimes joke about getting older and losing our minds.  We asked ourselves "What would we do if we felt we started losing our minds?" I'm telling you folks, the way Bob went was not the way he would have chosen.  It just snuck up on him.  

My biggest fear is not that I would die, we're all going to die.  My fear is HOW I'm going to die.  Of course I don't want the pain.  But perhaps even more so, when I die I hope it is with a degree of dignity.  I don't know exactly why I feel this way, Bill says that people with dementia or Alzheimer's probably aren't even aware of their condition, they're in such a haze.  I don't know about that.  But the one thing I do know, that every time I miss something so obvious like not adding Bill's dirty laundry to the wash, like I do every Monday, causes me to worry "Am I going down that path to losing my mind?"

Last night I went to bed.  I fell into a deep sleep as I often do when I sleep at night.  I take an afternoon nap almost every day.  Some days I have a solid two hour sleep.  When I go into those deep sleeps it's like I died.  That's what I imagine happens when you die, you just go into an unconscious state.  No brain activity.  That's not bad folks, that rest.  An eternal rest for sure but rest.  

We struggle all our lives to have a happy, loving and comfortable life.



 I've been very lucky in that I have attained a comfort level that I am very happy with.  I have some people who care for me and who I care for.  Of course there are others who couldn't care less about me and even some who actively dislike me because I exercise my free will and life my life as I please and not according to they have decided in their hubris that I should live my life according to their rules.  But for those few people who know the real me, the good and the bad, respect and care for me just the same; their love and understanding of me cancels out all their negativity. 

I don't know what the tipping point for me will be if I find those "lapses" of my memory more frequent.  I have a couple of tentative plans to short circuit any descent into the Hell of dementia.  As the article and the photos said:

"The disintegration of the inner life hits the heart of human existence.  Our whole life and heart is devoted to developing our personality. A confrontation with people who suffer from dementia can be frightening because their existence raises questions about our own lives."

Of course this morning's experience probably meant nothing.  But I am of that age where every headache in the back of my head I think "Do I have a brain tumor?" and every time my chest hurts I think "Am I having a heart attack?"  And then when I forget something so obvious as putting in all the wash I think "Am I losing my mind?"  I guess the real test is when I do the wash but put it in the refrigerator instead of the washing machine.


The fact is that both of my Mother's older sisters ended their lives in a dementia haze (one was 89 and the other 93 years old).  My Mother, the last six months of her live (she died at 86) was starting to slip.  She kept confusing me and my brother's names.  My father and none of his ten brothers had dementia when they died.  So maybe there's hope for me.  Maybe I'll still be writing this blog about my imminent death twenty years from now.  Now wouldn't that be something?


Mom (left) and her two older sisters - all suffered dementia - 2005


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Halloweeny



No Halloween for me this year.  Bah humbug.

Seriously, I just can't get into it this year.  Here we go on the roller coaster of holidays.  

Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas then . . . . the two coldest and dreariest months of the year, January and February.  

I don't know why I'm feeling this way.  Maybe it's because I feel I'm being rushed into "the holidays."  I used to love Halloween.  Maybe if I was invited to a party of two I would feel different.  Maybe not.  I don't travel at night anyway.  To tell you the truth, I would rather watch a few episodes of "The Good Wife" at the Tipton Cinema than venture out onto Route One and take my chances of having one of those aggressive drivers running into me.  Maybe I'm just getting old.

Every day Bill and I go out for a ride, maybe two.  Today we went to Milton and the Veggie Stand That Has No Name.  I love fresh vegetables.  I brought a pumpkin (naturally), green and red pepper, red potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini squash and an onion.  Today is probably the last time I'll be able to get fresh veggies this year.  Then it's off to Food Lion and the two week old shipped across the country tasteless veggies.

I seem to be in a mood today.  Don't know why.  Maybe it's because of the onslaught of shorter days.  It's 6:44 PM now and DARK outside. Each day gets a little shorter, that's always depressing.  

SAD: Seasonal Affectional Disorder

Man oh man, I have to do a more upbeat blog tomorrow.  



Friday, October 17, 2014

Quarantine

My sixth grade class - I'm missing from the picture because I was quarantined - something we apparently don't do today for fear of offending someone


See this picture of innocent kids from the Fities?  That was my sixth grade class.  I wasn't in this picture because one of my brothers had scarlet fever and our apartment was quarantined.  Our doctor, Dr. Neff, nailed a big, orange, rude quarantine sign on our apartment door.



Fast forward to today's scary world.  The world where the latest health threat is ebola fever.  Uh . . . what am I missing here?  Why don't we quarantine all flights into this country from the affected west African countries?

Oh sure, I hear the arguments, particularly from our now feckless leader (President Obama) that those people from those affected countries would just take a circuitous route to our country through Denmark or Belgium.  So here's my rebut to that lame argument, we can track potential terrorist but we can't track someone with a passport that is clearly stamped indicating from which country they traveled?  




In this world of Security Theater at the airports, now we have the president saying "Nothing to worry about here folks, move on" while new ebola cases develop. A hospital that is like the Keystone Cops treating their first ebola patient.  A Center for Disease Control, when an affected nurse who is running a temperature who is being MONITORED asks if she can take a COMMERCIAL flight to visit her family and gets a "YES" - folks . . . we have a problem right here in River City.  

I'm telling you folks, sometimes I just don't know what is going on in this country.  


STOP.ALL.FLIGHTS.FROM.WEST.AFRICA


Maybe it won't stop all those infected with the ebola virus but it could certainly minimize the exposure to that deadly virus in this country.  And oh yes, how about putting someone in charge?  Just saying.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Throwback Thursday

Me - Bob White's Motel - Provincetown, Mass - 1974


Busy morning this morning folks.  Slow computer, so this is a quickie Throwback Thursday posting.  I may have already posted this photo before but it's worth posting again.  

This photo was taken at Bob White's Motel on the outskirts of Provincetown, July 1974.  My friend Bob McCamley and I visited Provincetown for the first time (the first of many subsequent visits of me).  

Our original place to stay was a place called "The Ranch" in Provincetown but when we couldn't stay there.  It was just too gay for us (beads around a canopied mirrored ceiling bed called "The Mary Todd Lincoln Room").  Bob and I were just too butch to stay there. So we hightailed it out of P-Town and stayed at the much more masculine Bob White's Motel.  After all, we did have an image to maintain . . . . at least then.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Car Wash




How often do you wash your car?  I wash mine often.  A LOT.  And I wash it myself.  But I have to admit, I would pay to have it washed if these guys would do it.  How much?  And where? I guarantee if there was a car wash like this in Gayberry, we would have the cleanest cars in the nation.




Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Loner

Me - solo act - 1954 - 12 years old - tall for my age


All my life I've been a loner.  I realized I was a loner when I was about four years old when I knew there was something "different" about me.  Even though I had two younger brothers, only a year apart in age each from me, I was off by myself.  I note with interest the photos taken of we three back then in those black and white days of the Forties, I'm always standing a bit off to the side by myself.


Me (far right with my hand shielding the sun) and my brothers John and Isaac - 1945

Of course back in those days I didn't know what "different" meant but I did know that when my Uncle Bruce's friend came over and played "horsey" with us kids I got a bit more "pleasure" out of the ride than the rest of the kids.  Now don't get the wrong idea, my Uncle Bruce's friend wasn't a child molester, he would get on his hand and knees and we kids would take turns jumping on his back and he would try to buck us off.  Again, that was probably my first experience of that strange and new wonderful feeling that I had with a male that I never had with a female, even though I had several aunts who I was very friendly with and who loved me.



Me and my brother Isaac watching TV in the Fifties 


Let's back up a bit here.  As is often the case with my blog posts, I mean to go into one direction and when I get on my "roll" I go into a different direction. So where I was going with this blog post is that even though I grew up with two brothers, and have spent the last fifty years living with another man who is now my spouse, I am still basically a loner.



Me (center) with Isaac and John enjoying a Dixie Cup treat after competing weeding our eight rows of corn - 1953

Fifty years is a long time to live with somebody.  Our fifty years has had it's rocky moments as do almost all relationships (except Ronald and Nancy Reagan).  Almost always the bone of contention in our relationship has been accusations by Bill (my spouse) that I'm a loner.  Guilty as charged.  I am.  In fact, when Bill first asked me to move in with him I turned him down.  I told him we could be friends but I preferred to live alone.  He prevailed upon me and I succumbed.  He said "You will have all the freedom you want, I just want you to live with me."  And that folks has been the terms of our relationship these past fifty years.  


Me and Bill, officially married on our 49th anniversary 2013

Now of course some people don't understand our relationship.  Mainly because they're looking at my relationship from their perspective.  I cannot and will not concern myself with them.  They lead their lives, I lead my life.  End of subject.  This works for us and that's all that matters in our world. 


Me (far right) and my brothers -  July 25, 1956


Recently I met someone (through my blog) who is also a loner.  Someone who I like very much.  We've known each other for over a year now and have formed a mutually respectful and beneficial relationship.  


Me and Pat in Philadelphia last year celebrating our mutual birthdays

Which brings me to the subject of this blog posting.  That person and I are going to celebrate our mutual late in the year birthdays by visiting Los Angeles in January.  

Los Angeles


All the years Bill and I have been together, with one notable exception, I've always went on vacation by myself.  For years I visited Provincetown, Mass every summer . . . . by myself.  I would prefer to go with friends but either my friends couldn't afford to go or they didn't want to go with me, they had their own friends. Three times I paid the way of a friend to go with me but each time, once they got to our destination in Provincetown they hooked up with someone else and spent the whole time.  I didn't see them again until it was time for our return flight to Philadelphia at which time they showed up for their paid (me) flight.  

Bob Murphy (of New Jersey) - a friend who I asked to go with me to Provincetown (I paid for everything) - the same day we got there he met a businessman from North Carolina and spent the whole week with him and I didn't see him again until the day we were to catch our flight back to Philadelphia.  This picture was taken at the Provincetown Airport the day we arrived.  Ironically the businessman he met from North Carolina had flown up in his own plane.  When Mr. Murphy showed up at my motel room on the day of departure I asked him "Why can't your boyfriend fly you back?"  He didn't have an answer.  He was very contrite and apologetic.  Softy that I am I accepted his apology.  I post this information to set the record straight.  Maybe he'll stumble over this blog post someday and remember what he did.


Hard to believe that anyone would be so inconsiderate and ungrateful but true.  A very painful time in my life in which I learned some valuable lessons.  You can't buy friendship . . . or love.


Me at Disney World - yep, I couldn't get any of my friends to travel with me even though I had free accommodations (air fair, hotel rooms and spending money for two as a result of me being named Best Guest Representative for the Hampton Inn fourth quarter 2000) - my Aunt Mabel went with me after all my friends refused including Bill - so my "friend" is a wooden Indian - the Story of My Life

When we moved to Delaware I dropped big hints to friends and former friends who were travailing but to no avail. Perhaps the worst case was when my friends Bob and Jim were traveling across the United States.  "Oh can I go with you? Please! Please!  I'll pay my own way, get a separate hotel room, pay for my own food (of course)."  The answer was always "NO."

Me with friends Jim and the late Bob M. - 2010 
 

What really hurt was they were traveling by car and they took their dog with them in the back seat.  That's where I offered to sit.  But NO.  The dog goes but the FRIEND doesn't.  That one hurt friends.  Really hurt.  That's when I gave up on ever suggesting that I could go along on anyone's trip.  I'll go by myself thank you. And I did . . . often.


Me in Provincetown, Mass - by myself - 1978

However, in the last several years I've decided I'm no longer traveling alone.  It's just not the same.  Traveling with someone is much more enjoyable.  You can share all the joys and frustrations.  The bad stuff doesn't seem as bad when you can share it with someone and laugh about it.  

So this year folks I'm taking a big trip.  I'm going to California this January.  I've always wanted to travel to warmer climes during the cold blasts of winter.  This year I'm doing it and I'm not doing it alone.  Nor will I in the future.  As long as my health and finances hold up, I'll be traveling at least a couple of times a year.  Fasten your seat belts.  My life isn't over yet. 


Me, some puppet and my Aunt Mabel at Disney World April 2000



Monday, October 13, 2014

Ron Goes Hollywood



The airline and hotel reservations are made. Ron is going to Hollywood!  

Yes folks, my dream has been long delayed but it is about to be realized.  I leave January 7th, 2015.  I will meet my fellow adventurer Pat in at LAX airport in Wednesday morning.  His plane arrives 10:40 AM and mine arrives 10:45 AM.  

Then we're off to the Historic Hollywood Hotel for a ten day stay.  Details to follow later.



P.S.

Bill asked me "Why are you going to Hollywood?"  Of course I answered "I'm going to be discovered!"  

Great Uncle


Me with my only nephew, Isaac W. Tipton ("Ikey") III - 1980
(I still have that shirt - reminder Ron - get rid of it, the expiration date has expired)

One title I'll never have in my lifetime is "father."  Nope, no one will ever call me "Daddy."  Oh sure, I've been called "Mother ____ (fill in the rest of the blanks) but never, NEVER a father. 

Dawn, Ikey me and Karen - 1976 - always an uncle, never a dad

So how do I feel about it?  Mixed feelings actually.  Sure, I've often thought of how it would be cool to have a son or a daughter.  But to be quite frank about it folks, I don't think I have the personality to be a dad.  My personality is be "Uncle Ronnie."  

My four nieces and one nephew - Christmas 1970

I have two younger brothers.  My brother Isaac has three children, two girls and a boy.  My brother John also had three children, two girls and a boy but unfortunately his son died at birth.  So I have four nieces and one nephew.

My brother Isaac and his brood - Christmas 1975

Those nieces and nephew had the following:

Dawn: two children - boy and a girl
Karen: one child - girl
Vickey: seven children - three girls and four boys (she hit the jackpot)
Nancy: no children
Ikey: two children - two girls

Thus I have seven grand nieces and four grand nephews.  And I suspect it won't be too long until one or two great grand nephews and great grand nieces will put in an appearance.  

Brother John and his brood - Christmas 1970
My niece Vickey planned her four kids just right.  The first three were girls.  The next three were boys.  Each girl was assigned a boy to take care of.  Then alone came "Peannut", AKA Nicholas.

Vickey's kids - 2012
Can you imagine me, as a dad to this many kids?  I can't.  But I'll tell you something, my niece Vickey is the perfect mom for her kids.  I've never seen them not totally happy and smiling.  Some people are just made to be moms and some uncles.  God's plan.

Ashleigh with John Mark
Megan with Nicholas Ryan
These boys love their big sisters!

And that's something else I never had . . . a sister.  Neither a big sister or a little sister.  I was assigned the role of Big Brother when I landed on this planet back in 1941.



My Mom with her three boys (Mom is one the right in the back, my Aunt Mabel is on the left) I am on the right with my arms folded, John in the middle and Isaac on the right - we were dressed in the latest fashion of 1951 when this picture was taken.

My grand niece Gabrielle and her mom, my niece Karen

Now I can say that the photo below is of "Uncle Bill" for real since Bill and I got married in 2013.

Ikey, Uncle Bill and Karen - 1976
Alright folks, I'm starting to lose track of the grand nieces and grand nephews.  I suspect that Uncle Ronnie is fading into the past as this mythical person.

Niece Dawn with her daughter Kandace, my grand niece
A few years ago I saw this Thanksgiving picture of my brother Isaac at his son's house for a Thanksgiving dinner.  All relatives, but I bet if I showed up most of them wouldn't recognize me although I'm sure they've heard of "Uncle Ronnie."

The Ike Tipton, Jr. and Ike Tipton III extended family - 2009
I'm starting to get dizzy now folks with all these family pictures.  I'm sure I've confused all of you but you know what?  I will post this blog and after I'm long gone some distant great-great-great grand niece of grand nephew will appreciate what I've done today.  At least I can hope so.

My brother Ike, his son Ike and his grandchildren Cassie and Lindsay - the beat goes on