Word(s) of the Day 23 by francoise

Word(s) of the Day 23

Word of the Day: Old person

I went to visit an older person the other day and thought to take pictures of her, but I had left the SD card in the computer. So this is another picture of a picture, my father on a trip to the zoo circa 2010 about four years after my mother died.

My father’s memory had been failing for a while, but, despite various clues, until my mother actually died, no one quite knew the extent to which his mind was no longer functioning as well as it had before. Even as she was sick and dying in the hospice bed, my mother continued to provide the structure and support he needed to function more or less normally. The rest of us had casually accepted the gradual changes without paying overly much attention.

We had, for example, casually accepted that he shouldn’t go to the store on his own anymore after a quest for cucumbers had led to a five hour absence. The police were called. The neighbors walked the streets looking for him and eventually found him about a block away from home, headed home with cucumbers in hand. “Where were you?” “Well, I’ve been walking home,” he said. “But you’ve been gone 5 hours!” “I must have gotten a little lost.” “Where did you go?” “I was just walking home.” Somewhat disoriented spatially even in his prime, he was unable to give any account of the previous 5 hours. The next day, when I spoke to him on the phone, I didn’t get anything more concrete, though his sense of humor was quite intact and he certainly had a sense of story. He said, “I went to the store and then I walked and walked until I got home. When I got home there was a huge commotion. A policewoman even came to the house to verify that I actually was who I said I was.”

We casually accepted the advent of Maria, who showed up and took him for walks and outings. He was very fond of her and played the piano when he knew she was about to arrive. Of course, what he played was one particular melodic phrase from Stravinsky’s Firebird. He repeated this phrase over and over and over and over, sometime varying the tempos or the rhythms or the touches or the phrasing. I can still hear the damn phrase quite well in my head. Hearing it drove my mother completely bonkers and she appreciated it when he switched up and played monotonous scales instead.

But by and large, life continued for him as it had for years. He had worked until about age 85, going downtown every day and producing translations, although at that point my mother proofread, retyped and reworked most of them. When my mother took sick in 2001 they finally sold their business. Characteristically, my father focused on the detail of “selling his name.” How could he have sold his name? Was it still his? He worried this problem until my mother threw up her hands in despair. Was that an early sign of dementia? He had always focused on that kind of intriguing conundrum. He had always worried at strange notions until my mother threw up her hands.

Given all the evidence, it’s surprising that we were so shocked when he refused to accept that his wife had died. He was surprised each and every time we told him, sometimes growing angry even that no one had even told him she was sick. Even four years after her death, when he was in the assisted living facility where he lived for almost six years, he would let me know that he was staying right there in the hotel because Juliette would be along shortly to pick him up.
Nice portrait. Moving story.
July 28th, 2015  
Ah, Françoise - this story or a variant of it plays out in many, too many, families - this I know. You tell the tale beautifully with the right amount of pathos and without being mawkish. It brought back memories that, to my shame, I have tried to bury.
July 29th, 2015  
WOW! I'm at a loss for words.
July 29th, 2015  
Wow, great picture of your father. Similar story as my grandfather.
July 29th, 2015  
I connect my computer to the camera and download so I don't have this problem. My computer doesn't have a card reader and the one on the printer is the wrong size.
July 29th, 2015  
A poignant story. My mother passed away in September 2014 aged 93. She outlived my father by 20 years. Although she was very lucid right to the end I believe that she never really got over my father sudden death. We underestimate old people and my mother left behind a "book" -her life history, which she wrote without our knowledge and never finished. I wish that I had known about it and could have helped her to complete it in later life.
July 29th, 2015  
That story rings so true to me as I work in that field every day and the memories & stories so much alike. No sense of time or place, every day is a new day (that is kind of nice) but so much can be lost.
July 29th, 2015  
Definitely a moving and touching story!
July 30th, 2015  
Although Dad did not have dementia, the Parkinson's took it's toll on his "brain muscle". He would begin something but never finish, thinking that he already had. And sometimes he'd think he was in one place, but actually be in another- same house, different room. Unlike dementia these "confusions" wouldn't last, but they would appear and disappear depending on the muscular state. I'm still not sure I understand it, and I guess the doctors don't either as there's no cure for it and the medications deal more with leg and hand muscles rather than mental skills. Well, it's a good shot for the word of the day and a touching story that many can relate to.
August 4th, 2015  
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