"Katinka, why are the seeds on top of the dirt?' asked Gordon with a puzzled expression in June 1983. We had been together as a couple for almost three years, and I was seven months pregnant with Amy. We were at the mountain ranch that would be our family home for the next twenty-one years, and we were planting a vegetable garden. Gordon had handed me a packet of seeds and said to follow the directions. Well, I did just that, followed the directions, which said "place seeds 4 inches apart." The look on Gordon's face was priceless. Then, he smiled, laughed, and hugged me close, and said, "I forgot you've never planted anything before. The seeds have to go in the dirt." Whereupon, he knelt beside me on the ground and showed me how to plant seeds. This is one of my favorite memories of Gordon and me together because Gordon did not tease me, put me down, or ridicule me. Instead, he was patient, kind, loving, and made me feel cherished.
What prompted this memory? Recently, I read an article about dementia caregiving, and one of the suggestions is to "Spend time remembering who the person with FTD was." I haven't done this much because I find it very painful, but the point was a good one. If you remember your loved one before FTD (frontotemporal dementia), remember what you loved about him or her, it will help you to be more patient and understanding during the sad, lonely, frustrating days, weeks, and years of caregiving.
Soon after I met Gordon, I sensed he was special. The beginning, however, was not auspicious. He would chitchat, and I dislike chitchat because I find it pointless, plus I'm not very good at it. One Saturday at the office in 1976, three of us were talking about politics because it was an election year, and I asked Gordon a question. He replied with some cliched comment, and I looked at him and said, "If you cannot give me a thoughtful answer based on intelligent ideas, then don't bother talking to me about politics." He laughed uproariously and went back to his office. A few moments later, Gordon came back to where I was and answered my question thoughtfully and fully.
From that moment on, Gordon only talked about real things with me--poetry, politics, saving the world, and so much more. Until FTD changed him, Gordon and I had many, many fun, spirited, deep, intellectual, thoughtful, sparkling conversations that went on for hours. One rainy day in January 1985, during our three day honeymoon, when I was seven months pregnant with Gavin, while it poured with no let up all day, we spent more than six hours engrossed in our discussion about the book A Passage to India by E.M. Forster and the film based upon the book. The hours flew by; it was pure heaven. At dinner that evening, we considered that afternoon to be one of our finest ever.
I think two happy memories are enough for this first remembering exercise the article recommended that we dementia caregivers do. More than two memories might be overwhelming because of the stark contrast between then and now.
I often wonder if there is any part of the Gordon I loved and married and had children with left, or is his essence all gone. Mostly, I think it is gone, but every once in a while, months or years apart, Gordon will say or do something that echoes the past.
This morning, Gordon said, "Katinka, good morning. How are you today?" This may not sound remarkable to most of you, but it was the first time that Gordon has said it to me, when no one else was around (with visitors in our home, basic courtesies sometimes kick in--it's a puzzlement), since August 2002, eleven long years ago. For a moment, it took my breath away, then brought a tear, then a smile, making me remember our mornings so long ago that often began with Gordon awakening me with a kiss and a bit of poetry. What do you know? A third memory.
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