I went to The Rubin Museum in Manhattan on Friday by myself!
It’s on the third Friday of every month. I hadn’t traveled by public transportation to the city alone in well over a year (almost two years!). I am always accompanied by a home health aide, paid companion, or by my husband or daughter. I took the photo of the word TRIUMPH on 17th Street on the same block as the museum. It spoke to me.
I did it!
Why did I go alone? I realized that I had given up my independence too early and I still have the ability to navigate routes that I am familiar with.
But the main reason is that yet another paid companion has bit the dust. Keith told me he has to work for his agency for 100 more hours to qualify for continued health insurance, and we were paying him privately. He told me he has to take care of himself. He had accompanied me there for the past four months on the third Friday of every month. He’d come to my home at 11:30am and we would gear up to go. Now he is no longer going to come here at all, which makes me sad, because I had grown attached to him. We would go for walks to the park and along the waterfront, he’d play Scrabble with me, he’s tell me stories about his life. He made sure I ate lunch. He’s read my blog and used to comment. I thought he was my friend. I thought he cared about me. That’s how it is. Paid companions leave.
My husband works remotely from home on Friday’s on his computer. He needs to do this. He’s an employee. He’s not retired, and can’t always be available to be with me if I need to go somewhere. The Rubin museum program is where I have met people who have Alzheimer’s and dementia. Younger onset people, like Scott, the former plastic surgeon, and Maureen who could only tell me she remembered she did something in a school but doesn’t remember what it was, and told me she has two grown sons and is married. There is sweet Sandy who is married to Ira. They worked together professionally as management consultants and they have published many books. Now Sandy has Alzheimer’s and Ira is always with her. He is an amazing caregiver and loving husband. They love each other very much.
There are the wonderful warmhearted administrators and docents in the program, among them Laura Sloan, Robert Allen and Jeremy, who know so much about Buddhist and Tibetan art, and are always so welcoming. There are the older men like Arthur, who often says everything in the museum is beautiful. There are the volunteers like Joyce, who is attentive and who reads my blog, and who’s mother had Alzheimer’s. And yes, there is Michael in his wheelchair unable to participate at all, in late stage, but still present in his way, along with his cheerful aide Georgia. I wanted to see these people again, and wanted to see the art, so off I went…alone.
I walked the 12 blocks to the PATH and the trip from Hoboken to Manhattan on the train was easy. It’s literally 10 minutes once the train leaves. I was concerned about the cacophony of sounds in the city being too much for me to endure (sounds don’t get filtered and everything ends up being loud), the crowds on the street being too much for me to navigate around, but it wasn’t that way. I was focused on getting there and alert. I was prepared. I got off at 14th street and walked up the three flights of stairs, turned right, waited for the green light, crossed the street on Sixth Avenue, and headed to 17th Street and turned left and walked towards the museum. That’s when I saw the word TRIUMPH which looked like it had been soldered onto a metal plate. I took this as a sign that I was doing the right thing, a good sign.
When I got there, everyone was already seated, having tea at the long table that is set up for our group. I announced to Scott and Lin, an older volunteer, that I had come alone. Lin expressed concern, and told me how important it is for me to have a medic alert bracelet that says memory impaired. Scott showed me the black silicon one he wears. I told them that my husband had ordered one, but not in time for this trip. I told Laura I was there by myself. I told Robert. I told Ira, who was sitting with his wife Sandy and some of the regulars at another table. Then I felt embarrassed about making such a big deal about coming there solo. It felt childish. But I wanted to let folks know how important this was for me. Like I was wearing my big girl pants. I wasn’t going to let Alzheimer’s stop me.
I’ve read about the wanderers who get lost. I’ve read it happens in the moderate stages – sometimes (in around 40% of people). It’s not likely to happen to me as I’ve become so timid and stay in the house so much, and sit so much, but who knows? My husband ordered the Medic Alert bracelet, that will say Alzheimer’s / Memory Impaired and it gets registered with a 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for individuals with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia who wander or have a medical emergency.
We took the elevator to the second floor and Robert and Laura showed us a digital animation, by the artist, Chitra Ganesh, called The Messenger. The photo is one frame from an animated loop that plays over and over. Ganesh adopts elements from the historical objects in the museum that relate to the Future Buddha and Second Buddha. She takes these mythic elements as inspiration in creating a personal contemporary narrative. In this frame a woman looks through a telescope lens. She’s supposed to be peering into the past and the future.
This is a repousse (a technique in which three dimensional forms are hammered from a flat sheet of copper) sculpture of the goddess Kaumari, a Hindu goddess that fought a demon and won.
The Kathmandu valley is famous for the custom of worshipping a real young girl chosen by the priests to represent this goddess. Laura showed us images of a beautiful little girl dressed up as the goddess who is carried among the devotees. The girl remains deified as the goddess until she begins to menstruate, then is no longer considered a goddess. We talked about how this transition from a deified being in childhood, to becoming a commoner as a teenager, must be so difficult.
A personal reflection that this sculpture and the discussion prompted in me is that becoming a teenager exposed me to a world I was not ready to tackle. I thought I was prepared but I wasn’t. My parents were older parents when they had me, already in their forties. They were not equipped to deal with the 60’s counterculture I was to become absorbed into after junior high. My mother could only deal with raising me through age 12, the year I began to menstruate. In fact, I remember my mother not believing me when I told her my period had begun. She would not continue to be a nurturing mother beyond that age. The modern world was too big for her, and I was about to become a part of that world.
This is a 17th – 18th century prayer wheel. This huge one is elaborate with paintings of deities on the outside. It contains a revolving cylinder inscribed with prayers, a revolution of which symbolizes the repetition of a prayer, used by Tibetan Buddhists. A person would turn the cylinder from the outside and recite the prayer over and over.
The program lasts only an hour and a half. It was time to go. When Keith would take me, I used to buy lunch for both of us in the cafe and by the time we got to the PATH, rush hour would have begun. It being Friday, I figured I had better not hang around and risk getting to a crowded station with no seats of the train. Robert was going in the direction of the PATH, so he walked with me the four blocks and off to Jane Street he went, as I descended into the underground for the ride home. I called my husband when I got out of the train and onto the street in Hoboken, and walked the 12 blocks home. We hugged and he congratulated me.
A PORTRAIT OF RUTHIE AND MEJeanne has become a special friend from my synagogue who has been bringing me meals and visiting every week. She’s one of the first people I told about my diagnosis, and has now become a regular presence in my life. She’s such a kind soul and a truly accepting person. A few weeks ago she invited me over to her lovely home which is only 5 blocks away, for lunch to meet her younger sister Ruth.
Ruthie moved to Hoboken last summer. Since we met, we have spent a considerable amount of time together in my home and I’ve visited her in her apartment, which is a stone’s throw from the waterfront. She’s become a good friend. She has her own major health issues and uses a walker a lot of the time to get around, but doesn’t always need it. She’s told me a good deal about her life and I have told her about mine. She became a Jehovah’s Witness twelve years ago. We’ve discussed religion. I know that she was born a Jew, but she doesn’t feel an affinity towards being Jewish. It’s not her religion any longer as she has great faith in Jehovah. I was curious about the meetings she attends at the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall and accompanied her there one Saturday, a few weeks ago. The meeting was much like a big classroom with a television monitor showing New Testament bible passages, and a discussion that followed with participation by members. Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize the use of G-d’s name, and they refer to the form Jehovah – a vocalization of G-d’s name based on the Tetragrammaton. This much I knew.
I remembered that originally the text of the Hebrew Scriptures consisted of consonants without vowels. The divine name is represented in the consonantal text by four consonants, the Tetragrammaton (Greek for “the Four Lettered [Name]“), Y-H-W- H. In later Hebrew this name is termed the Shem HaMeforash, “the Explicit Name.” Because of its extreme sanctity. In Judaism the Tetragrammaton is never pronounced and, in fact, its exact pronunciation is unknown.
I had always prayed to G-d, and felt that G-d’s presence in my life was constant. I felt protected. I had a good deal of close calls with my health, my well being, but always had the strength and intelligence to guide myself back to a baseline. I embodied some of the outer trappings of Judaism; I was a member of the synagogue, observant of Shabbos, valiant matriarch of my family imbuing my kids with Jewish learning, a devoted Jewish wife….
With the diagnosis and progression of Alzheimer’s, I have wondered was I cast out? Was G-d’s there as my rock and redeemer? Why have I been floundering like a fish with a rotting head, flapping it’s body on dry land? What happened to my faith?
Then I reached out to the rabbi and in turn he reached out to people in the synagogue to visit me and bring meals when my husband isn’t home. In a sense it’s because of Judaism that I met Ruthie. ____________________________________________________________________________________________
Everyone who comes into (and goes out of) my life now has great significance to me. Keith the companion who quit is a Jewish man who attended yeshiva. I found him myself, searching on Caring Kind’s website, and called him because I thought culturally he would get me (same age, Jewish, educated, speaks Yiddish in addition to being fully fluent in English, a New Yorker). The home health aides who posted their profiles were so different from me culturally, educationally. I thought Keith would be a near perfect companion. Yet I see that Keith is no different from all the hired workers who previously spent time with me. They are all human beings on their own journey, and have little use for a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s. I value the time we spent together, but it’s over. I was their job for a period of time. I do not like being someone’s job. I prefer friends. I’m still here and will carry on.
I know I’m on the most erratic part of my journey and that my life has gone awry. The Alzheimer’s diagnosis has become ALZHEIMER’S progression. In three years time what began as depression and a lack of motivation, has progressed to profound anxiety, confusion, drastic mood swings, major sleep disturbance, and the loss of so many of my former abilities, many of my instrumental activities of daily living. My short term memory is gone in as little as a few seconds. I have prepared around 6 meals this year, mainly involving eggs. I get dressed by putting my clothes on a hanger the night before. I live according to a list so I can remember what to do in a sequence of steps throughout the day. Routine is my friend. Arise, take thyroid, tea. Coffee and use the Fisher Wallace Stimulator (a wearable neurostimulation device cleared by the FDA to treat depression, anxiety and insomnia) and Lumosity games played on my iPhone. Shower, dress, brush teeth, apply makeup. Eat breakfast, take Rivastigmine (the cognitive medication) and chew a baby aspirin) with a protein shake….Zoom chats with dementia buddies…maybe go out for a walk if the weather permits….read, read, read….draw…eat lunch, take supplements….get on my recumbent bicycle…walk more…read more…draw more….write…
I have prayed to accept this disease, to find ways to adapt as it changes, prayed to have the courage to travel alone again. On Friday I had alzheimer’s not ALZHEIMER’S. I was able to prove at least on that day, that it doesn’t have all of me. I was able to compartmentalize this terrible disease for one day and carry on. That prayer came true because of my own grit, determination and the need to regain some of my independence.
This is a photo of my daughter’s hands and my granddaughter’s hands. Last week was Mother’s Day and my family gathered here, my son and daughter in law brought Ellie, our granddaughter. My daughter was here with her boyfriend. Everyone brought flowers. Life is generations. I see the wheel turning. One following the other in a succession. My daughter in law announced that she’s pregnant with twins. They will be born sometime in October. My hope is to be able to see them and hold them and photograph them, and be able to write about it. That will mean it’s still alzheimer’s and not ALZHEIMER’S. May it be G-d’s will to give me the strength and time to carry on.