But I Already Have My Lipstick On:  Our story of dealing with Alzheimers

Chapter Three

In addition to Scott’s closeness to his mother, our oldest son Cooper had an extremely close relationship with Jim, or “Papa” as the grandkids called him.  Since Scott’s parents had moved back into our area in 1983, the close relationships between Scott / Belle and Jim / Cooper led to many of our weekends being spent at Jim and Belle’s country home, in addition to the telephone contact during the week.   The impact of this constant interaction on our marriage is other matter that has little relation to this part of our story except as it will later relate to our involvement with Belle.  However, due to the time spent with and talking to Belle, Scott had maintained his intuitive ability to notice when things were slightly off with her.  As time passed, Scott and I advanced from glancing at each other during Belle’s story telling to discussing other unusual behavior.   And with his antennae up, Scott began to notice more little things. Nothing that was noticed was by itself a reason for advanced concern, but the combination of small items began to congeal our suspicion that something wasn’t quite right.

Belle would tell Scott about an event and regale him with details.  When the information transfer was complete, Belle would start all over again, with hardly a breath in the middle, telling, verbatim, the same sequence of events or story as if the information had not already been recited. Don’t misunderstand; we all repeat ourselves, especially if we have told more than one person and cannot recall who we’ve told and who we haven’t.  (We’ve all been there.) But under normal circumstances when it is brought to our attention that the listener is aware of the details of an event, the teller then recalls having already spoken about it, usually with a laugh included.  This was not the case with Belle.   When this happened the first time or two over the phone, Scott mentioned it to me and we wondered out loud between us what was happening.  The details of her stories were slightly different from the stories we’d heard for years, and she was repeating herself. This type of activity was not normal for her. I began to pay more attention to the conversation between Belle and Scott, providing Scott with feedback, verifying that what he thought was happening was indeed happening and that he wasn’t over reacting or making something of nothing.  When Belle began to repeat a story when speaking to Scott in person, we decided Scott should try little things to see if she knew she was repeating her stories. Belle’s reaction caused us more concern.   After the first telling and while launching into the second, Scott would give clues that he had heard the information already, which she did not seem to notice.  Or he would gently remind Belle that she had just told him the story.  When he reminded her, she would stop talking, hesitate, and glance around.  Then a look of confusion or nervousness would pass over her face.  After a beat or two, without saying anything to knowledge his reminder, she would then continue as if he had not said anything, but with an underlying nervousness in her manner that was also uncharacteristic.  The story would be repeated once or twice more with Scott listening patiently.  I used to joke with him that I wished he had that kind of patience with me.  His reply was his standard regarding Belle: “she’s my mother”.

These were also several instances when we relayed information to Belle that she would, at a later date, be absolutely certain we had not told her.  Her insistence would grow into frustration when we would explain the detailed circumstances of when she was told.  Even with this recount of the event, she could normally not recall it.  Our confidence that she had been told would cause her to doubt herself and on each occasion the situation would diffuse with her laughing and commenting that she must be crazy.  Saying she was crazy became a routine comment for any situation that made her uncomfortable.

The months after Jim’s passing where financially difficult, as money was tight until the country house was sold. Scott began to help Belle, on a limited basis, with her budgeting and bill payment.  We attributed her willingness to let Scott assist with this activity, which once again was slightly out of character, to the stress of her changing financial situation.  While reviewing past payments and check register entries, Scott was surprised to find his father’s writing in the register and upon further inspection, that he had actually been paying bills.  During the years of their marriage it had always been Belle’s responsibility to keep the checkbook register and pay the bills, with Jim carrying around a blank check or two in his wallet for use as needed, and hopefully remembering to tell her he had written a check, so she could account for the item.  But reviewing the most recent register and a few previous registers, along with the checks issued, it was obvious that Jim was handling the checkbook.  This circumstance was highly unusual and we wondered what it really meant.   Later on, with 20/20 hindsight, we decided that the changes we were noticing in Belle had been occurring prior to Jim’s death and he had been slowly beginning to cover for her.   But at the time we just asked Belle why he had been handling involved in the checkbook. Belle could not provide a reason for the shift in responsibility, although she did acknowledge it had occurred and that it was about time he took on some of her duties.

Scott and Susan spent more time with Belle then other siblings during the months preceding her move to her new home in the city.   Susan had begun to notice the repeating of information, the forgetfulness and the confusion that seemed to be involved with Belle’s activities and mentioned it to Scott in passing. However, with Belle in good spirits and some of the issues seeming so intangible, the subject dropped and slipped through the crack of daily life.  During the move, which involved all the siblings, Scott asked everyone if anything unusual had occurred, or if anyone had noticed anything out of the ordinary with Belle.  No one mentioned any concerns or anything out of the ordinary.   Life went on.