Aug 3, 2011


Why is life for us human beings so challenging?

By Margaret Toman

“How did a show girl like me wind up like this?!” I askVelcro, whose litter box I am scooping. “I should be signing autographs for fawning fans right now.”

Velcro, secure in her ownership of two adoring humans and ruler of our household, flings her leg in the air for a vigorous bath and totally ignores me. She’s heard it all before.

I tell her everything, knowing that come bedtime she will curl herself around my feet and purr a feline’s ode to joy.

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With the litter box clean I retrieve my mother’s towels, washcloths and sheets from the dryer and toss them onto her bed.

Velcro gets there before I do, diving headlong into their warmth, her playfulness a sharp counterpoint to my surly mood.

The endless, repetitive monotony of chores is dispiriting to me today but for Velcro sheet changing is a hilarious romp and she does her best to brighten my mood by untucking them as fast I get them on. It doesn’t work.

“Velcro,” I grouse, “I am a prima ballerina, world famous archeologist, intrepid explorer of oceans and caves, a brilliant physician, discoverer of Toman’s Comet and here I am changing sheets again, n unsung, unappreciated caregiver.”

I fold the towels neatly and place them in the linen closet and Velcro scampers ahead of me as I head down the hall to wash the breakfast dishes. “Besides that,” I continue, spooning Super Supper into her dish, “I am a gifted actress, discoverer of the last remaining ivory billed woodpecker; an admired social activist, a best selling author, sought after architect and the expert Stephen Hawking consulted in his latest book about the universal field theory.

So how come I’m scraping scrambled eggs off a $3 frying pan?”

I am aware of my grumpy attitude but can’t seem to stop it. I march testily to the CD player in the living room, counting on Verdi’s Requiem to knock the chip off my shoulder and fling me headlong into fresh air. But Verdi is no match for Velcro, who careens wildly into the room in hot pursuit of a purple mouse, leaping and scrambling and rolling in joyous delirium. I watch her with genuine awe and admiration and with considerable relief that I am not her prey. “Thank you for the advice, Velcro,” I smile wickedly to myself, digging deeper through my CD’s for a particular one I haven’t heard in my caregiving years. I push the start button and hear the first familiar, beguiling strains of “Music to Strip By.”

Because today I am a Burlesque Queen.

As the music rises, the spotlight gleams, the curtain lifts and I commence to bump and grind my considerable self across the living room – seductively doffing one long imaginary glove, then the other, twirling them artfully, then tossing them flirtatiously to the crowd to the tune of the G-String Twist. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, are in the audience, cheering wildly as I gyrate to “Girdles Away” and “Teasing Tassles.”

I fling my imaginary pink boa, bat my long eyelashes, hootchy kootch my hips alluringly this way and that way. Velcro has retreated under a table, her eyes wide with astonishment. I notice that my pulchritude jiggles considerably more than it used to and that various body parts sqwawk when surprised by movement but - no matter. The audience is throwing flowers and money and love notes to me – a quintissential lusty wench. I am Swan Lake’s Odette/Odile, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade; I am Salome, Mata Hari; Morgana, and the Mayflower Madam combined. Ravel wrote Bolero for me. I am a sensuous, seductive, sizzling, sexy, powerful woman far above mere responsibilities, obligations, deadlines, decorum and litter boxes.

A loud crash resounds from the kitchen. Peering around the corner I see Velcro sitting primly on the kitchen counter, her white paws neatly aligned, her expression defining innocence. The bag of birdseed I left on the counter is now on the floor and it has burst, casting thousands of tiny seeds in every conceivable direction, Velcro’s mission accomplished. By the time I sweep up the spill the music has died, the stage is dark, the audience is gone, the flowers and money and love notes have vanished from my braided rug.

I am alone with my reality - an ordinary woman living an ordinary life, a caregiver with what-might-have-been’s that it’s useless to grieve. I gather the wastebaskets around the house and reflect that the garbage tomorrow will be picked up by other ordinary people living ordinary lives with their own unrealized dreams. Life is no less a smorgasboard, my passage through it no less an adventure, my existence no less a requiem because I experience it humbly. I reach for a dust cloth.

Velcro, who has rescued me from myself twice today so far, is sitting on the table in the sunroom, resuming her energetic bath. “Oh, it’s you again. What is it this time?” she asks as I wriggle my fingers in the thick fur around her neck. “Velcro, why is it that I, equal parts sensitivity, pragmatism and honky tonk, still find so much contradiction, so many unanswered questions, so many caregiving conundrums?

Why is life for us human beings so challenging?”

Velcro yawns hugely, then stretches out in a ray of sunshine, presenting herself for yet another backrub. “Because you work at it too hard.” she responds.

Wisdom is calico today and purring.

Margaret Toman is an Alzheimer's caregiver, and cares for her 97 year old mother, Lou Longest, who is in an advanced stage of Alzheimer's disease. They live together in Garner, North Carolina.

More Insight and Advice for Caregivers

The Alzheimer’s Action Plan: The Experts’ Guide to the Best Diag­no­sis and Treat­ment for Mem­ory Prob­lems
The 36-Hour Day A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer Disease

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room