Monday, April 29, 2024

Into the ward of memory


     One day the hiring hall agent that is Fate will read your name off a card. He'll shake the card in your direction, smirking, while you desperately look around for somebody else to take it. But nobody will, so the job falls to you.
     We put off moving my father downstairs to the locked memory ward as long as we could. Not that it mattered much to him. My father doesn't care what couch he sits on.
     But my mother cares. Very much. She met him when she was 18 and a freshman at Ohio State. Now she is 87. Do the math. They married in 1956. She wants him on the sofa next to her.
     They'd lived together for two years at a senior residence facility in Buffalo Grove. He had been having ... umm ... issues. Behavior that no dynamic lifestyle community is going to tolerate in the general population. Memory care ward level stuff. They pressed, we delayed.
     But there was another episode, and suddenly the ground was gone from under us. They were moving him whether we agreed or not.
     Or more accurately, I was moving him. Now was the time. My brother and my wife provide continual, crucial help. But not today. Today Fate handed me the card.
     Time to walk my father's downstairs to his new home. I checked with the staff to determine their role. Just do it, they said. I returned to their room 216. He was on the couch, watching TV with my mother. Time for the earth to shift.
     "Lets go, dad," I said, helping him stand up and setting his walker before him. I'd take a few steps, his pillow under my arm. then pause, waiting for him to catch up. "How you doing, Dad?" I'd call back, turning to check on his progress. We went downstairs. I pressed a doorbell. They saw us through the narrow window and buzzed us in.
     The dementia patients were together, having snacks when their new associate arrived. Quesadilla or yogurt? I went to put his pillow in his room and returned. My father was talking to the people around him.
     "You don't get older in Boulder," he was telling them. His standard quip. He thinks he's still in Colorado. Rhyme is the last thing to go. Along with obscenity.
     Leaving him with his snack, I went back to my mother, sitting in her wheelchair, alone in her room.
     "Hug me," she said when I walked in. I did, leaning over.
     "No one to talk with ..." she sang softly. "All by myself."
     "No one to walk with," I joined in. "But I'm happy on the shelf."
     My mother sang with the USO. Flew to Europe on an Army Super Constellation with the Coca Cola Radio Nanigans when she was 16 to entertain the troops. I know 1950s hit songs by heart the way a child raised in France knows French.
     "Ain't misbehavin', I'm saving my love for yooouuuu ..." we crooned together.

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  1. Sorry to hear of this, Mr. Steinberg. We went through something very similar with my dad.

  2. Your wife is right. Just say thank you.

    Your parents are fortunate. Spent a lot of time at a community or two. Some elders have nobody who come to assist with their affairs and sing a little song.

  3. After a certain time, dementia is hardest on those of us around it. Give your mother's hand an extra squeeze from all of us who are or have been there, as you all walk through this together. As always, lovely writing about such a difficult time

    1. My brother-in-law has it. Still in his own home. His wife and his sons have been his caregivers for several years now. She is living through hell, but I admire the way she's toughing it out and soldiering on. His 85th birthday and 60th wedding anniversary are both on the same day. The party is this week.

  4. "You mean there's a choice?" There was the choice you made to live your life in a way that prepared you for this moment. I know exactly where you are.

  5. Good on you Mr. S. Been thru it a few times as so many are and have. Yes, they are lucky to have you and for us to have you! I was the responsible person for an Aunt who took care of all of her family, including my mother, until she was the last left. We moved her to IL from NC where she always lived at age 95 as her care was poor there; Staff stole her wedding ring and credit cards. We we lucky to find a very nice, comfortable and small residence for her and she lived contentedly, I hope, there til 98. Hope this works out well for them and for you all.

  6. Sorry to hear about all your tsouris, Mr. S. You've reached that milestone age...the mid-60s, when people lose their parents, in one way or another. And that's if you're lucky. My father lost his dad at 37. One of the rare times I ever saw him cry. My mother lost her father at 15.

    You're a mensch, Mr. S...a good person...for handling all this. For coping with all this mishegoss. It's not easy. And unless someone's a total bastard, and just walks away, they really have no choice. We looked after my mother-in-law for 12 years. When I got frazzled by it all, my wife would remind me: "It's what you do."

    Maybe I was luckier than most. My father died from lymphoma. They gave him 18 months. It took 43 months. His mind remained sharp, too sharp, as his body wasted away. My mother was his caregiver. After he died, she had a near-fatal heart attack and a quadruple bypass. Then she spent her last nine years in independent senior living, until her heart finally gave out. Kept active and busy. Made many friends. Even had a boyfriend, who made it to 96. It was, she said, "Like the college I never went to."

    My aunt was not so fortunate. She lived to be 95, but she had dementia. My cousin would visit her mom, and be asked: "Which Julie are you? Where's the other Julie?" Millie thought she had twin daughters, both named Julie. We drove down to Miami to see her. My wife sang with her...the old standards from her kid days, in the Depression years. They must have sung a dozen songs. Maybe more. My aunt knew every word of every song. I'd heard that music and lyrics are the last things to go. I believe it now.

    Worked in a facility, at 24. Worst job I ever had. Lasted two months as an orderly. Won't go into my duties. Use your imagination. The hardest part was getting to know the residents, and their life histories, and then losing them--often overnight. One had been a teamster. Small T. Drove a beer wagon. Every goddamn day, he'd ask me if I'd fed and watered his horses. I broke down when he went. In just those two months, thirteen residents died.

    It was the norm back then (the early 70s) to bind the "wanderers" with restraints--but I wouldn't do it. One guy nearly froze to death. Another was killed on the highway. I was fired.

    It was a county facility. They'd been warehoused. Dumped. Families couldn't, or wouldn't, deal with them anymore. They were mostly rural Scandinavians, and blue-collar townies. They had few visitors. TV was a bonanza (sorry) for these folks. They lived for three programs: Pro football, Lawrence Welk, and...what else?...Hee Haw.

  7. As Neil is brave enough to present the unvarnished facts of his parents' aging, I will dare to state unequivocally that old age is more often a curse, not a blessing. It's bad enough to lose control of one's thoughts and actions, but it's even worse to witness a lover descending into such a state. Please sing with your mother as often as possible, Neil; I'm sure it's a comfort and a balm.


  8. I know words are your craft, yet i still marvel at how you're able to write about this so clearly, so well, and with humor, while it is yet unfolding. I sure would like to see improvements in the elder-care industry before my card is called. The oldest boomers are now 78. God bless you and your family, and may God help us all.

  9. Whenever my friends or I get that "card", my advice is to keep looking to the front. I lost my father when I was 25 and, 52 years later, still miss him. Wishing you and your family strength today as you shift into this new phase of life. Whatever happens, I hope you keep singing with your mom.

  10. Wishing you any serenity you can find in all this.


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