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Every Tuesday

ALL OF US AT THE SAME TIME is a memoir about returning to rural Michigan to care for an aunt and uncle, both with dementia.

Seasons of nature, of radical change, and the immutability of love.

ALL OF US AT THE SAME TIME is only available here, for free, on my website. For an explanation of why I chose to "publish" ALL OF US AT THE SAME TIME, in this manner, see my Home or Newsletter page.

I'll post one chapter every Tuesday. The most recent chapters will be in the center column. Older chapters will appear below the newest and later indexed in the side column. You can bookmark or use RSS to subscribe to ALL OF US AT THE SAME TIME.

Entries in italics are from Louise's 1929-1933 diaries.

Please join me. I invite you to comment and share your own experiences.


Chapter 16

July 22, 2014

Tags: Chaptr 16


©Jo Dereske 2014

Chapter 16

We Make a Decision

The end of our six months hung over us like an upcoming storm. Even though Ray and Barbara and Kipling and I had given ourselves a few more days to subdue our waffling and graduate to real decision-making about Louise and Mike, my mind became absorbed with the practical: change-of-address cards, lists of magazine subscriptions to cancel, more lists: electric, gas, and phone companies, nurses, meals-on-wheels. What about Morris, the garden, the bird feeders?

It didn’t take long to realize I was using the nitty gritty to postpone thinking of the inevitable. Deciding Louise and Mike’s future was too big, too painful. I wanted somebody else to do it so I wouldn’t be complicit in wrenching them off the farm and “committing” them to a nursing home, so I wouldn’t suffer the guilt. I even descended into wishing nature would intervene.

I called Susan for her thoughts and the receptionist told me she was gone for a week and by the way, the Alzheimer’s group meeting was canceled, too. Kipling was preoccupied, (more…)

Chapter 15

July 12, 2014

Tags: Chaptr 15


©Jo Dereske 2014

Chapter 15

Decisions and Raccoons

The reality was that our six months in Michigan would end in three weeks. Six months, we’d pledged; we’d commit six months of our lives to ease Louise and Mike from their farm into assisted living. We’d begun this venture because we loved them, because we believed it was too soon for a nursing home. More time on their farm was a gift we’d all wanted to give them.

The people who’d made that decision seemed very far away – all those “istic” words applied: idealistic, optimistic, unrealistic. Aside from our single failed visit to Meadow Manor, we hadn’t broached the subject with Louise and Mike, hadn’t done a single thing to make it occur. We’d been acting like we were living in a fantasy world that only required us to cope, not instigate any changes.

To be fair, coping – holding their lives steady – sucked more energy than I’d dreamed possible. Maintaining any equilibrium was pure triumph.

But now, carrying through with our original goal of a care home felt unspeakably cruel, and as Louise called deceit, “a dirty rotten trick.” Despite all the difficulties and challenges and downright disasters, they trusted us. (more…)

Chapter 14

July 8, 2014

Tags: Chaptr 14


©Jo Dereske, 2014

Chapter 14

We Become Spies

The day after what we would later refer to as, “Mike’s first episode,” my brother Ray and I spent an hour on the phone discussing our options. He and I spoke at least once a day, keeping each other up to date, sharing news, opinions and bad jokes. I considered him a good friend as well as a good brother. “They don’t have to talk to each other every day,” Barbara told Kipling, teasing, “as long as they plan for it.”

Ray and Kipling went shopping at Radio Shack, where they bought an intercom and 150 feet of wire, and in the early morning light before Louise and Mike were awake the two of them strung the wire out the kitchen window of the little house, looped and threaded it up into the pine trees and along branches across the driveway into the main house. They hid the intercom on top of Louise’s refrigerator, pushed far back with a light dishtowel covering it.

Working an intercom was beyond Louise and Mike’s understanding and although this was not exactly an ethical enterprise and we didn’t feel totally comfortable with it, Ray and Barbara and Kipling and I agreed that leaving the intercom turned on was mandatory for their safety. (more…)

Chapter 13

July 1, 2014

Tags: Chaptr 13


©Jo Dereske

Chapter 13

Mike's Search for Meaning

“Look!” Louise gestured upward. “It’s raining.”

We sat on the sunny patio, the sky was azure, no clouds in sight. But when I looked in the direction Louise pointed, my first thought was that we were witnessing a mysterious burst of raindrops from a cloudless sky.

Tens – no, hundreds, maybe thousands – of gossamer threads gently drifted downward and across the lawn, highlighted by the bright sunshine. So fine and sheer that if the sun hadn’t been shining, the minute glints would have been impossible to see.

“It’s a spider hatch,” I told Louise. “Baby spiders riding strands of web.”

I recalled the enchantment of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. I’d read of spider hatches but never seen one. The baby spiders were miniscule dots clinging to their threads and venturing out into the world. Gently drifting and wisping on the slightest stir of air. It was a beautiful sight. (more…)

Chapter 12

June 24, 2014

Tags: Chaptr 12


©Jo Dereske 2014

Chapter 12

Morris the Cat Loses a Battle

Nearly every tree in the yard cupped a bird’s nest in its branches, tucked in tree crotches or amid masses of leaves, invisible but for the colorful entrance and exit of new parents. But an invader was marauding the nests. At the base of a pine tree we found a fresh robin's egg, its tiny perfect yellow yolk spilling out from the sky-blue shell into the grass. In the early evening as Kipling and I walked the trail near the orchard a swallow screeched and wheeled in the air, clearly distressed. On the next turn around the trail, we found a fresh speckled egg broken on the ground, its insides cleanly removed as if the shell had been licked clean. (more…)

Chapter 11

June 17, 2014

Tags: Chaptr 11



Chapter 11

True Spring

Just when we were convinced it was safe to begin digging around in the dirt and rototilling the garden space, when we thrilled to birdsong before dawn each morning, and migrated to short sleeves most afternoons, the temperature suddenly dropped into the low teens by dinner time and that night several inches of heavy wet snow fell, bowing the tree branches already thick with budding leaves, and sliding off the roofs and railings into heavy piles of mush.

Louise stayed in bed all day, vowing to sleep until true spring arrived. The birds acted dazed and sat by the feeders puffed into round balls to keep warm. I bundled up and walked to the mailbox, squinting against the gloppy flakes. To my left, in the snowy ravine, frogs frantically peeped in amphibian dismay. (more…)

Chapter 10

June 10, 2014

Tags: Chaptr 10


©Jo Dereske 2014

Chapter 10


We arrived early for our first Alzheimer's Support group meeting, expecting twenty or thirty people, but there were only six of us sitting around a large table. “There will be more people later,” Susan Oyler said confidently. “They’ll come.” We only shared our first names with one another.

The seven of us: Kipling and me; Susan; a woman named Milly whose mother had lived with her in a confused state for six years and her teenage daughter; Roger whose father was “off his nut” and whose wife couldn’t attend that night because she was home caring for his father and their children; and Evelyn, a middle-aged woman whose husband was newly diagnosed.

Later, I would realize our group was representative of caregivers: mainly middle-aged women struggling to hold together and manage marriages and growing children, jobs, and at the same time trying to help a relative who was helplessly succumbing to dementia. Pulled in several directions with few options.

Susan told us our small group was unusual because statistics confirmed that in the United States the majority of Alzheimer’s patients were women, whether it was because women typically lived longer than men and had more “opportunity” for the disease, or whether they were physiologically more predisposed to Alzheimer’s. Our little band represented more male victims than female.

The meeting was quickly dominated by Evelyn. (more…)

Chapter 9

June 3, 2014

Tags: Chapter 9


©Jo Dereske 2014

Chapter 9


Susan Oyler was a petite, pale-eyed blonde with fragile skin. She looked twenty. “So what have we got here?” were the first words out of her mouth when I opened the door onto the front steps of the little house. She’d left her jacket in her car and instead of lugging a briefcase, only carried a baby blue purse.

Within moments I was pouring out our problems: Louise’s depression, her unreasonable anger, Mike’s incontinence, their mutual befuddlement and the way they escalated each other’s confusion, our own frustration and inability to ease their lives as effectively as we’d hoped and wanted to.

I didn’t need to explain the fine details; she comprehended exactly what we were talking about. Her answers were clear and pointed – and practical, the brand of practical that made me shake my head and ask, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Maybe your aunt doesn’t want you to fix her problems; maybe she just wants you to hear them.”

“What does it hurt if your uncle sleeps in his clothes once in a while?”

“Let her win in an argument, even if she’s wrong. She’s only trying to hold onto some semblance of herself. She needs to be right."

“They’ll mirror you. If you’re upset, they’ll become upset.”

“Don’t ask him if he wants a bath. That’s too complicated a procedure for him to understand anymore. Draw it and tell him it’s ready. Talk him through the steps.”

Susan recommended a book titled, The 36-hour Day, which I would mail order from Grand Rapids and which was destined to become well-thumbed and dog-eared, always close at hand.

“What about the legal guardianship issue?” I asked.

“That’s immaterial as far as my helping you,” she said tersely and I recalled my phone exchange with her receptionist, “but your brother should consider it for your uncle’s protection.”

While Louise had assigned Ray durable power of attorney, nothing legal had ever been done for Mike. Susan explained that in Mike’s current state, no one was responsible for his health care. If he were struck by an emergency illness, his treatment would be taken out of our hands. Legally, he shouldn’t even see the doctor without a legal guardianship, and since we were nieces and nephews, not children, it was important to have the legal right to continue providing care for Mike.

“I’ll go meet them now,” Susan said, and when I rose to accompany her, she held up her hand. “I’ll go alone.” She didn’t take her purse, not even pencil and paper. (more…)

Chapter 8

May 27, 2014

Tags: Chapter 8


©Jo Dereske 2014

Chapter 8

Betrayal or Common Sense?

I learned that an old friend of Louise and Mike’s was living in care facility near Ludington, 15 miles away. Meadow Manor had a sterling reputation, reportedly light and attractively furnished, with a high staff-to-resident ratio. Without telling Kipling or discussing it with Ray and Barbara, I called the director of Meadow Manor.

“They’re not ready yet,” I told her, “but I’d like to bring them in to visit a friend. Maybe someday . . .” I trailed off, feeling the traitor, unable to look out the window toward Louise and Mike’s house as I spoke.

She understood immediately. “Why don’t you drop by alone to view our facility?” she suggested. “I’ll give you the grand tour.” And then she startled me by inviting me that very afternoon.

“So soon?” I exclaimed, and she laughed.

But I went, in a stew of apprehension and guilt. I was only looking, I told myself. Meadow Manor was light and cheerful. Instrumental music played quietly enough to be unobtrusive. Yes, some “guests” slumped in wheelchairs, a few stared in confusion, others appeared content: laughing and lively.

The director proudly showed me the dining room where a chair exercise class was being conducted to rocking 1950s music, the library and lounge, the kitchen facilities. She assured me that married couples could share a room and they were prepared to handle Alzheimer’s patients who weren’t dangerous or too disruptive.

Around us the cheery voices of staff called patients, “Hon,” or “Sweetheart,” raising their voices to be heard. I had a mental flash of the expression on Louise’s face if she were called “Honey.”

The director showed me to the room of Bernice, the long-time friend of Louise’s who sat in a recliner watching a game show. A necklace of amber – the Lithuanian woman’s favorite gem – circled her neck. One wall of her room was dense with photos from her long life.

“Bring Louise and Mike to visit,” Bernice invited when I explained my connections.

“Does she still braid rugs?”

“Not so much anymore.”

The next day, when Louise and Mike were dressed, I said, “Don’t forget, we’re visiting your friend Bernice today. Kipling’s warming up the car,” sweeping them along into coats, finding gloves, keeping up a light chatter that deterred them from asking too many questions or refusing to go. I kept my eyes averted from Louise’s, certain she’d glimpse my betrayal in them. (more…)

Chapter 7

May 19, 2014

Tags: Chapter 7


c Jo Dereske 2014

Chapter 7


Just after dawn, I entered Louise’s house to make coffee and set out breakfast before she and Mike rose from bed. But Louise was already sitting at the table in the gloomy light, staring down at her hands. I turned on a light and guardedly sat down.

“How are you feeling this morning?” I asked.

“John and June are so thoughtless.” Crumpled tissues covered her placemat. Her eyes were wet as if she’d been crying.

She was talking about my father and mother. My father, her baby brother, had been dead for eleven years. My mother, had moved to California to assist her ill parents, and across the country my mother and Louise maintained a gentler, closer relationship than they’d managed when they lived three miles apart. “I’ll fix the coffee,” I said, hoping to distract her. “Would you like a piece of toast?”

“I thought they’d take us out for breakfast,” she continued in a querulous voice. “Anyone else would have, but I ended up making them breakfast.”

She was so outraged my curiosity got the best of me. “What happened?”

She was only too eager to share. It might have taken place yesterday. “Mike and I asked them to stand up for us. We were married right here in this house. I hoped they’d take us out for a celebratory breakfast. But no, they never offered. I was a new bride and I had to work, cooking everyone a big breakfast while they all sat around and celebrated. No one even offered to help. Thoughtless.” And her hands rose to her rigid mouth.

I knew this story and even though I was only four years old at the time, the memory was vivid. (more…)

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