When I am Old – a reflection©
By George Epp
An article in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix today related the story of a former executive and dedicated church worker who in recent years has sunk into a form of dementia that has robbed him of his self concept, his behavioural judgment, his conversational ability and severely affected his memory functioning. He’s about my age.
According to his wife, he fixates on three objects obsessively: his wallet, his palm pilot and a T-shirt with Christ on the cross and the statement “Jesus Christ: Rebel with a Cause” emblazoned across the front. The T-shirt was what he wore while doing street work with homeless and destitute people.
After I had read this, I began to wonder what objects I would fixate on, given such a condition.
Did the wallet obsession spring from the fact that his working life had focused on profit/loss, budgeting, money matters, etc.? Did the palm pilot receive his continuous attention now because he had lived to the calendar and the clock, and had always had appointments to honour and deadlines to meet? Did the T-shirt symbolize his sense of duty to his Christ, and the great commission of which he had felt his life to be a part?
Were those three symbols distillations of the core and essence of his life?
On what, then, would I fixate? Would I sit at this keyboard pecking away at keys randomly, no longer able to tell one from the other? Would I carry a book around with me wherever I went, unable to read it but frantic without it? What would it say on my T-shirt? “Volunteer – RJC Centennial?” “
My sister suffered a major assault on her brain in the form of a cerebral aneurysm on Boxing Day. Since then, she has struggled to regain her mobility and mastery of her thought processes. It’s been hard going. One day I sat with her in the hospital and noticed how she examined the sheet with which she was covered in minute detail. She has always been a can-do kind of person, and I judged that her careful examination of the fabric, the seams, the hemming and the worn condition were connected to the memories of her life residing in her muscles and brain that the onslaught hadn’t been able to erase.
Since then, she has made fantastic progress. Her conversation and the things she notices reflect the tenor of her life, I’m sure, even though we sometimes have a hard time following her conversation. At other times, she seems well . . . and getting better.
If dementia ever overtakes me, I hope I fixate on family pictures more than on my wallet. I hope that I carry books around, not clocks or lottery tickets. I hope I eschew T-shirts all together, and feel most at home in a plain old shirt, with a tie, possibly. I hope I wear pants.
The man’s wife, naturally, was living her days in deepest mourning for the man who was leaving her without . . . leaving her. That’s one of the great sorrows of aging, and always will be.