|Adrian Swets on Left; Ben Swets on Right side. Adrian is pedaling with arms as well as legs.
I have been in GR for 2 weeks, January 2006, relieving my mom of diaper duty with my dad. I bathe my dad and feed him.
My sister, Heidi, took a walk with my dad and introduced him to a tree. She suggested he hug it. He did so. He said he had a daughter who loved trees. Later he told my mom some girl was following him around, but he did not want to hurt her feelings by telling her to leave. A few months later I told him that Heidi had phoned. He asked, “Where’s Heidi?”
Adrian likes getting hugged at church. He knows those huggers must be acquainted, even if they look unfamiliar. We assumed he forgot his formal art display that many friends attended in Feb of ‘05. But he said to me at church yesterday, “I want to tell you something. There was a time when all through here were pieces done by me. It was put together by some people at this church. It was up for a whole month.”
He also complimented me on the “Artist’s walk” speech I made about him the following week. That makes me proud we produced Adrian’s art reception.
Some of the local Alzheimer’s care givers support group members say their loved ones reside in the Michigan veterans home, which they say does a great job with dementia & Alzheimer’s clients. It makes my mom very sad to think of that home for her husband. She is horrified by the likely terror he will feel. I will fill in the documents this week, which do not commit us to a date.
Two couples in the support group last Saturday told about their extremely bitter parents. Hatred and suspicion are considered typical Alzheimer’s symptoms.
My dad is different. He frequently says, “I love you.” We shower together. He would skip lathering under his arms without me. As he drys, he offers his towel. As we dine, he offers his food. As I tie his shoes, he asks if I have warm clothes. He even volunteers his cane for my use.
We appreciate our minister, rev Wooden. He had to say something about money. After church, my dad said, “The minister spoke too much about money. He should talk about what it means to be alive.”
He asked one day, “Where is everything I own?” I explained the furniture, the pictures, the grandchildren are all his. I took him to his drawing table. He was soon absorbed in his stacks of old cartoons, his hundred pencils and markers, and my new bird photos he wants to trace.
He tends to want lunch immediately after breakfast. His hunger mechanism is over-stimulated, probably by diabetes. Luckily, his drawings keep his mind occupied indefinitely. We have to seduce him to the dinner table if he is “drawing.”
It was Arnie Portner, my sister’s college friend, who showed me how to give Adrian orders a year ago. Arnie told my dad what color to apply to a thank-you card he was composing. Adrian told Arnie, “Gee, I like how you are,” as though nothing could be more satisfying than being told how to draw.
I handed my dad a black & white Chris Van Allsburg book last week. Chris illustrated big movies recently. 35 years ago he painted houses my dad remodeled. Adrian said last week, “Ahhh, look at the talent of this guy.” Dad turned pages and invited me to behold Chris’s shading and pencil work.
Ade said of a Disney drawing I computer-copied from a book, “There is playfulness here,” as he pointed to a bridge to a castle. “There is strong feeling in the yellow of this building.”
We took him to the “Family Stone” movie which made Kathi cry. Adrian was fascinated by how the buildings were put together.
My dad prayed all his life. He forgets to these days, but he got down on his knees at bedtime and read the bible at 6:a.m. throughout my childhood. Yet he never insisted anybody else worship as he did. He practiced looking for a reason to give credit to every person he met.
When I escort my dad in public, he asks every 5 minutes whether we know the way home and whether there is enough gas in the car. He asks if his wallet is lost and where his cane, wife and dog are.
However, he must be happy. Yesterday, after petting his tiny Pekinese dog, Sophie, he asked, “Do you think a snake would like us if we were nice with it?” My dad trudges with his cane next to me. I hope people watch us. I am proud to have him as a father. A year ago his disease broke my heart, but now that I fully participate in his bathroom and exercise routine, it is wonderful to see the evidence of his great mind’s discipline, practiced decades ago. What can I do now to insure I will feel and act as he does when I reach his age?
Adrian has not sat at his drawing table for months, Kathi says, before my visit, nor exercised unless she did so with him, which was rare. I coach him daily to pedal the exer-cycle that Arnie fixed, as well as do yoga with him. My mom is overwhelmed by his laundry; his pills; his absentness of mind; and his demands, despite his gentleness. She has arthritis in her back and hands.
She is overworked by him, but she also enjoys him. As she was folding up the display of sermon tapes yesterday at church where she volunteers, her delirious husband was sitting alone on a row of 50 empty chairs. I approached him. He asked me to sit down. “Here,” he said, “I’ll move over.” My mom & I burst out laughing. Then he cracked a smile and laughed too.
My mom was invited today to play piano at a Heritage Hill party next month. She is flattered. She intends to practice to prepare. I fantasize bringing musicians to record a musical sound track for my documentary in my parents’ living room, with or without her performing. They would dig my mom. Her capacity to be impressed is itself stimulating to others. She used to be president of the West Michigan Jazz Society.
My parents & I watched two videos at home this past week and went to one movie in a theater. My dad was docile. My mom had a great time. She said she has not watched any whole movie for many months. I made it possible. I want to make it possible again.
My dad taught me about story telling. He told stories of his carpenters and architectural clients at our dinner table since I was a baby. When I was old enough to ride in his car from job to job, I overheard him tell similar stories to different clients. He almost never told the same story the same way. He worked to make his lines fresh for himself. His goal was to create, not to win the same response from every listener.
Adrian drew houses for his architectural clients on a nightly basis. His hand used to fly into motion. He discarded many doodles and sketches.
Now his hand has slowed to a crawl, but today my dad is right were he was 40 years ago. He is at his drawing table 8 feet away from my video editing table.
I am editing Ann Randolph’s documentary. Read of her at www.jubilantpictures.biz Her solo performance is about her career as a social worker.
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Adrian can no longer simply draw. He needs to draw on something which is already begun. I used the computer to fade a Disney castle image, leaving lots of faint areas for Ade to add color to. He enjoyed that for nearly a week, slowly adding yellow and blue swirls, rather like the fringe on lamps he designed decades ago.
I then asked him to draw on an abstract, faded pink photo of a two birds photographed at his own bird feeder outside his kitchen. Ade sat at his drawing table studying the image for an hour and compared it to several pages in a bird watchers’ guide book which my mom keeps by the kitchen window. He then walked over to the sofa near where I was repairing his exercycle. He sat down and crossed his legs. He began an elaborate report of his potential plan for drawing: “I want this bird to be a pretty good size bird that represents itself. Maybe two of them. I wanna add two American Birds to your page, accepting that this is not an American bird. And then I wanna get some of this stuff chipped off.” (He gestured to his messy tray of pens and markers on his desk). “Where did you get this horse?” He gestured to the same photo of two birds which he was holding and resumed: “It seems in this horse you have a piece of blubber that could be his eye. If you don’t want to have an eye, that’s alright. There are fingers sticking out his rear end. You could have a foot out back & another leg. He’s got ten poop feathers. This characterization is real good because it looks important. The legs out front should not be totally klak together.” At this point Ade’s hand sagged. I thought he would let go of the 8½ x 11 photo print, and it would fall to the floor. His eyes were gazing down as though he was falling asleep. But he began talking again and gathered the bird page up to his lap. “Are your feet red? This is a nice dirty pink horse. Take some little black dinks around his head. Little dinky dinky dinks. He’s working his chin back to his rear end. You never see that. Somebody peed pink. Almost dead pink.”
Such speech is a lot like Adrian. It is not possible to communicate fully with him, but those words are similar to how he talked about interior design as well as cartoons most of my life.