by Samra Jones Bufkins
We’ve all seen the ad. Grandpa can’t remember his granddaughter’s name. Grandma decides it’s time for him to take ______ drug.
While I’m tempted to turn this into a rant about both the pharmaceutical industry and the Alzheimer’s Association over-simplifying dementia by implying it’s only about memory loss, I’d rather relate a couple of experiences we’ve had with vanishing items and how I (mostly) coped.
This is my favorite vintage Le Creuset Dutch Oven. My mom bought it for me when I moved to Indianapolis for my first “big girl” job after college, in 1977. Cast iron with a sturdy enameled exterior and interior, this kettle has traveled from Indy to Riyadh, to four cities in Texas. A favorite for soup, chili, curry, stew, pot roasts, Cornish hens, and many other recipes over the years, it is a dependable old friend. It has some chips and gouges, and will soon be sent back to the company for repair or replacement under its lifetime warranty.
Sometime early in 2015 I made beef stew in my old pal the kettle. At that time, Bill, who was officially diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s in 2013, still helped with kitchen duty. I was also teaching a full load at a university, so it’s understandable that I got distracted and didn’t notice the kettle was never washed and put away.
Over time, I looked for it. Everywhere (I thought). Closets. Cabinets. Drawers. Storage areas. Under things. Above things. The junk room.
One large flame orange Dutch oven had just disappeared into the atmosphere.
I went online and found another one on sale—this one in my current favorite color Caribbean blue.
Early in the day on Christmas Eve, 2015, for reasons I can’t remember, I went into a little fenced-in enclosure where stuff is stored in two sheds. I kept the trash bins there, and noticed, for the first time, a pile of debris in a corner, peeking out from the back side of the larger shed. Exasperated, I checked it out, putting recyclables in the recycling bin, retrieving a few things that weren’t trash (that should be another blog post), and then noticing a white plastic trash bag. I picked it up and it was really heavy. I tore the bag below the knot and there it was—my favorite kettle, full of dessicated beef stew, wrapped and carefully disposed of like a dead body behind the shed.
I hauled the mess into the main back yard, grabbed a brush and the garden hose, and then went into the house and asked Bill to clean the kettle. I was busy, and had a lot to do. Plus, I was trying to contain my anger, which was usually directed at him despite the fact I’m really angry at this damn disease.
Hiding objects is a common challenge with dementia. People with dementia (PWD) often believe someone is trying to steal their belongings, so they hide them to protect them. Then they can’t remember where they put them. Lord knows why he hid the pot in a bag behind a shed outside. Did he forget to clean it, and wanted to get it out of the way before I realized it? Nevertheless, he may have felt that was a safer place than its usual spot in the kitchen.
Loss of judgment, increased confusion and memory loss complicate the PWD’s desire to maintain some control over his life and possessions. Hiding and hoarding are often ways of coping with these fears. Sometimes they hide items in places where they kept similar items in the past.
I went inside the house to finish preparing food for our choir potluck, sustenance between the three Masses in the music marathon known as Christmas Eve.
A couple of hours and a dozen distractions later, I looked for the kettle to put it away. Gone. Not on the counter, not in the cabinet, not in the dishwasher, not out in the yard (where I did find the remnants of the white trash bag). Nowhere. I even searched the trash.
This time I completely lost patience and yelled at him.
“What did you do with that kettle?” I shouted.
“The one I asked you to clean! The orange one!”
“I didn’t clean any kettle.”
“I gave it to you to clean out in the back yard. I found the plastic trash bag it was in. What did you do with the pot after you cleaned it?”
“I didn’t do anything with it!” He’s yelling at me, now.
If you’re a caregiver to a loved one with dementia, you’ve either had this conversation, or you WILL have this conversation. It’s infuriating, for both the caregiver and the PWD.
I took him out to the yard, showed him the plastic trash bag on the lawn, the scrub brush, and the water hose.
“I didn’t do that.”
The first impulse is to assume he’s lying, but he’s not. He truly believes he had nothing to do with this little mess, never saw the orange kettle, and thinks I’ve lost my mind.
The issue here is not just forgetting he cleaned the kettle, it’s that he put it in an unusual place and can’t re-trace the steps to find it. He saves face by denying he did it. Or, he truly might not remember.
I gave up looking for it and we got dressed to go to church, where we had a lovely evening celebrating the birth of Jesus.
Some time around New Year’s I was rummaging under the kitchen sink and noticed cleaning supplies and tools stacked up at an odd angle. Puzzled, I started rearranging them and discovered the clean orange kettle shoved to the far back, hidden under a protective layer of Liquid Plumr, industrial-sized boxes of baking soda, and a bag of sponges.
I sighed, and put it up on the counter with the other Le Creuset kettles. When I ordered the new blue one, I guessed the size wrong. I chuckled and decided it was ok because the larger sized kettle had come in handy. I now had a lovely set of varying sizes, shapes and colors, ready for more delicious meals.
Not long after that, our good friend June spent the day with us, helping me with projects around the house. She was staying for dinner, and when it was time, I reached for my small (1 quart) blue Dutch oven, the one that’s perfect for making rice.
Gone. Nowhere to be found.
Frustrated, I was banging around in the kitchen, opening cabinets and drawers, looking for it. It usually lived on the counter with its old friend Flame and new friend Caribbean as well as a green oblong one. June joined the search, looking in closets, the dining room, laundry room, other areas of the house and the outdoor trash bin.
My little Marseille blue kettle was gone, as if it had never been in the house.
Muttering, I grabbed another pot and made the rice. June told me Bill, who was sitting in the living room the whole time, asked her what I was upset about. She told him I couldn’t find my favorite blue rice kettle. She said he went “Hmmmm” and that was it.
After dinner we cleaned the kitchen and put everything away before enjoying a nightcap in the living room. June headed home about 10 p.m., and after the evening news, Bill and I went to bed. I walked into the kitchen to turn off lights and there, on the butcher block island, was the little blue kettle.
I looked at it for a minute before putting it on the counter with its buddies, shook my head and went to bed. I figured June found it and put it there, but was puzzled why she didn’t mention finding it.
The next day we ran into June at church and I asked her where she found the kettle. She looked surprised.
“I didn’t find it. Did you?”
I told her what happened, and she assured me she would have told me immediately, as I’m certain she would.
Another mystery. Another disappearing and reappearing act.
Is my kitchen haunted? Am I hallucinating? Am I losing it too?
Nope, I’m still trying to navigate the Alzheimer’s mind.
Author’s note: I love my Le Creuset cookware, but I was not compensated in any way for mentioning or displaying Le Creuset products in this blog.