Surely This Is Not What God Intended.


A typical night in my home:

11:02 p.m.

Jim:      Why are you kicking me?

Me:       You’re snoring.

Jim:      I’m not snoring!  My eyes are wide open, I’m watching TV!

Three minutes later:

Jim:      WHY ARE YOU KICKING ME?  And why did you turn the TV down?

Me:       Because you’re still snoring.  And I can’t sleep with the TV that loud.

Four minutes after that:

Jim:      Stop fucking kicking me!

Me:       Then stop fucking snoring!

Clearly, there may be some unnecessary and also absolutely unwarranted anger, in this situation.  For Jim, because he believes he’s being viciously beaten for no reason, and for me, because he WILL NOT STOP SNORING.

If you sleep with a snorer, you know how amazingly angry you can get at a person for, well, breathing.  I know the snorers can’t help it; I know this is not Jim’s fault.  I certainly know he’s not doing it on purpose.  None of which makes any difference in the middle of the night.  I lie there, calculating the logistics of my life without him.  I could pay someone to cut the grass!  I think.  With his life insurance money, I could even fix some of the things that have been let go all these years!  How am I married to a painter and STILL ALL THE DOORS IN OUR HOUSE REMAIN UNPAINTED?

To be fair, Jim says I snore, too.  And thus, every night becomes an anxiety-ridden race to be the first to fall asleep.

Which is no way to run a marriage.

During waking hours, I almost always love my husband.  He is a good person, he always lets people go in traffic, he desperately tries to have “family meals” which I consistently ruin with my “frozen microwave bullshit” and “reading at the table.”  When his snoring kept me awake during one of my pregnancies, he even went so far as to have a piece of his jaw bone cut out and yanked forward, thereby relocating the tongue to a less airway-obstructive position.  Unlike me, he wasn’t worried about his sleep apnea.  He only did this for me.  And it worked, at least for a few years.

These are the things I should remember as I lie awake in bed, but sleep deprivation is no joke, and I am no saint.  The more I think about this, the clearer the solution becomes, and that solution is that NO TWO GROWN HUMAN BEINGS SHOULD SHARE A BEDROOM IF THEY CAN POSSIBLY HELP IT.  At least, not for actual sleeping purposes.  It just doesn’t even make sense.

We have down comforters now, and forced-air heat.  We don’t typically have to worry about a herd of buffalo invading the bedroom.  We aren’t romantic while we sleep; we are actually anything but.

Some might say this is a sign of a bad marriage, the first step toward separation.  I say, no it’s not.  If I had my own room, we could kiss each other good night and then go to sleep, neither of us spending even one moment of the night wanting to murder the other.  We could have conjugal visits.  It might even be like dating again, but with a shared mortgage payment.

Sadly, I don’t currently have the luxury of having my own room, but a person can dream.

I mean, you know.  If that person can sleep.

Don’t ever lose your sense of humor, Dan.

A quote attributed to Joan Rivers:


I mean, really – if I didn’t love her before reading that, I certainly did after. It’s perfect. It’s wonderful. It might be the best thing I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately it is also hard to keep in mind when you are walking into a nursing home to visit your Alzheimer’s-stricken dad on his 79th birthday.

I don’t know. Maybe it would have been different if we were used to the whole thing; if we were seasoned veterans on the dementia unit circuit. Maybe if my dad had gotten used to his new home, even just a little. As it stood, he’d only been there for a week, and it was pretty much horrible. And terrible. As life situations go, this one was distinctly NOT FUNNY AT ALL.

“Look, Dad – I brought cupcakes,” I said, as if this were any other birthday. As if all it took was a little frosting to turn this into a real celebration.

“What for?” he asked, looking at the cupcakes suspiciously.

“Because it’s your birthday,” I told him. For possibly the sixth or seventh time.

“Huh,” he said. “When am I going home, do you think?”

He did not want a cupcake, and seemed confused by the gifts. After a certain point in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, gift-giving becomes little more than a selfish attempt at making ourselves feel better. As if we haven’t quite given up. Because gaily wrapped boxes and bright gift bags are no longer the harbingers of cheer they once were; instead, these days, you hand my dad a gift and you immediately see him thinking: What is this? What am I supposed to do? Why is this even happening?

“In the bag, Eddie,” my mother said. “There’s stuff for you, in the bag.”

“For me? Why?” he said.

“Because it’s your birthday,” I told him.

I will say now that I was quite proud of myself for having found a good and useful gift for him – a blanket for his nursing home bed, soft cotton and just the right weight, plain black with a large yellow letter ‘P’ in the middle. The logo of his very favorite team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Kind of like this, if only it were a pillow instead of a blanket:


I hope I remember to look for it when it comes time for estate-pillaging. Until then, I thought he’d really like it, and I was right.

“Oh . . . that’s nice!” said my dad upon opening it. “What’s the ‘P’ stand for . . . prick?”

“Oh, my God,” said I, while my mother choked.

“What?” said my dad. “What’s so funny?”

“It stands for Pirates, Dad! ‘P’ for Pirates. You know.”

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I watch them . . . huh. The Pirates.”

“Right,” I said.

“Or prick,” said my elderly and very Catholic mother. “Prick is good, too.”

We nearly collapsed from the hysteria. My dad chuckled, and though it was clear he didn’t know why, it was good to see him try.

A nurse looked in on us, obviously attracted by the noise.

“They brought me a blanket,” my dad told him.

Let me tell you, I haven’t laughed so hard in a nursing home, well, ever.

So maybe it’s not all funny. It’s definitely not all funny. But even in the bleak and heartbreaking hell that is a parent’s birthday party in the dementia unit, you really do have to keep your eyes open.

And, to quote another famous person – this time James Belushi as Bernie in About Last Night – “Don’t ever lose your sense of humor, Dan. Don’t – EVER – lose your sense of humor.”