The last time I visited my Dad at his care facility, it was not a good visit. He was quiet and uncommunicative and alternately annoyed with everything going on around him, and I noticed that a lot of the other residents were on edge too. One elderly lady started to scold another who was scooting down the hall in a wheelchair with her nightgown up, exposing all of her nether regions! A funny thought, perhaps, but just watching the other resident scold her, and the frightened look on her face, was rather upsetting. There are others who call out to you "Help! Help!" as if they are being held captive, which I suppose in some ways they are; captive to failing bodies and lost in the haze of dementia. There's a room where they wheel a lot of the residents who are truly out of it, and there they sit in their wheelchairs or lie on their gurneys most of the day in whatever world they are in; it always makes me sad to look in that room as I pass by it. The truth is that most of the people there are on a slow exit to the other side and it's difficult to watch.
It starts to occur to you as you observe members of your family reach this point in their lives, that one of these days you're going to end up in similar circumstances. "It's no fun getting old," my Dad says occasionally. I'll bet. There are times when his humour sneaks to the surface, such as after his 90th birthday when he said "I hear the first 90 years are the hardest!" All of his life, my Dad was always impeccably dressed, clean shaven and meticulous about his surroundings. He was an avid walker; as a young man he loved scaling the Grouse Grind as they call it these days, in North Vancouver, but beyond that he just loved to walk anywhere, any time. Most days now he struggles to rise out of a chair, let alone walk down a hallway. His clothes are often soiled with spills and bits from his meals, he can't shave himself any more, and baths, which he used to love to take every day, are now only a source of annoyance and embarrassment once a week. No fun at all.
I take him for drives when I go there, just to get out of his humdrum surroundings. We go to the Fraser River by London Farms because that part of Richmond retains some of its original feel and landscape. He reminisces when we're there and that's what I want him to do. I used to roll my eyes in dismay when I knew my Dad was going to tell one of his "old days" stories, now I prompt him to tell them if he can remember, and delight when he actually does. I thank goodness that he took it upon himself to write his autobiography back when he was in his 70's, because I can't ask him too many questions about his life and expect a correct answer any more. We used to talk and talk, but these days he has trouble keep his train of thought for any length of time, and often repeats himself over and over. When he comes to life most is when I play a CD of his old favourite songs like "Banjo On My Knee" or "I Wish I Was Single Again". He can still sing along with those songs and smiles when he is able to remember all the words. Music is an amazing thing in that way. People with brain injuries, dementia and Alzheimers are often treated with musical therapy in one form or another now because it has been shown to activate and stimulate parts of the brain that are otherwise quiet. Not only do these patients come to life when they hear the music, they continue to be engaged for a period of time afterwards. My Dad is the perfect example of that, so I'll often throw a CD on in the car when I'm driving with him and hope that we can spend some time chatting.
A good day for me these days is when I have been able to talk to my Dad on the phone, even if only for a few minutes. A good day is when I know that he's still here and he still knows who I am. How precious very small things like that become.
I was thinking about that very thing the other day out on my walk. There are a few houses in my neighbourhood with smaller children and often you'll see signs on the street aimed at speeding drivers that say "Slow Down, Children Playing".
But the other day I saw a different sign, one that made me stop in my tracks:
|Slow, Seniors Crossing|
I just had to laugh as I pulled out my smart phone to snap a shot. I hope when I'm old, I'm not too much of a burden for my children, though I know it's going to be hard on them to watch me deteriorate. But I also hope that if and when I get as old as my dear old Dad, like him, I'll still have my sense of humour in there somewhere :-)