Thursday, December 7, 2017

Dementia is as Tragic as it is Adorable

Dementia is a disease as tragic as it is adorable. If Dementia was a fireworks display, then my grandparents were about to put on the best Fourth of July ever.

My brother Marty recently got engaged to a wonderful girl, Joan, who I already feel comfortable calling sister. Joan's parents are from Connecticut and drove all the way in so our families could meet. There were to be dinners, a tour of Toronto, and a lunch-in at my grandparents nursing home.

I am lucky enough to have three living grandparents, and although their physical and mental health is waning, I'd still say that the two octogenarians and one nonagenarian with a collective age of 271 years and a collective height of 14 feet 8 inches are doing amazing. There's Roger, my mom's father, he's partially deaf and as brittle as kindling, but that doesn't stop him from wearing speedoes during summer barbecues, hanging sack and all. There's Nona, Rogers wife, who, at least it seems to me, has had more organs removed than she had in the first place. And then there's Pearl, my dad's mother, who is now more gremlin than person. She's fast and snappy, and seems to move in quick scampers. She still lives on her own, an impressive yet dangerous feat. Pearl answers the phone when a phone rings on TV, and lets her phone ring out, thinking it's from the TV whether it's on or not. Pearl seems to have embraced the dementia as a badge of honor where Roger and Nona seem to think they're as quick witted as they were in the nineteen-thirties.

When my brothers fiance's parents arrived at the nursing home things started out alright. Everyone hugged and it was exciting. We all took our seats in the party room around a table covered in a plastic sheet, smelling what must be embalming fluids mixed with whiffs of our soon to be served cuisine of only the softest foods.

Rogers started the fireworks when he tapped his glass to make a speech. Everyone looked over and put on their best "We're listening to old people wisdom" face, you know the one. After a few minutes of getting his creaking dry muscles to lift him to a stand, he began.
"I'd like to make a speech" he said with a glimmer in his eye, his voice strong but quiet, yet like all old people it sounded like he's speaking with a wet rag shoved down his throat.
"I'd like to make a speech" he repeated then turned to his wife and asked loudly "What's their names?"
Nona answered with a crazy loud fart followed by a moan.
Roger shook his head disappointed and continued.
"I'd like to welcome Daphne's parents here from Israel"
My mother, wanting so desperately to make this a profound moment interrupted Roger, correcting him "Her name is Joan Dad, and her parents are from Connecticut"
"Joan Dad, her name is Joan" my mom screamed into his good ear, loud enough to make the nurses in the hall turn their heads. "No thanks" roger replied, then...
"I'd like to welcome Daphne and her parents from Israel"
"Mention Russia" Pearl piped.
"What?" Roger asked.
Another huge fart from Nona.
"Delvin I'm so proud that you are getting married" I'm pretty sure Delvin is supposed to be my brother Marty.
"Mention Russia" Pearl barked again.
"Ma, Shh" My dad whispered.
"I'd like to welcome Delvin's parents from Russia" Roger continued.
At this point Joan's parents were the only ones still keeping a straight face, everyone else was frowning to hold back from laughter, except my mother who stared to cry.
"Food" Pearl ordered.
On that Roger said "Lachiem" and everyone said "Lachiem" back. He sat down and the care givers brought in the food.

During the meal the two families talked and got acquainted. Pearl, showed Joan's mother her favorite trick, taking out her teeth and using them like a fork to pick up a Sweedish meatball from her plate, then putting the teeth with meatball back in her mouth. Classy.

Later Joan's father asked to have the Sweedish meatballs passed to him. My mother was going to get up to cross the senior section to grab the meatballs but Roger stopped her.
"Allow me" Roger commanded.
"No dad, let me okay"
"I got it"
"Dad, please"
"I'm not a child" the room went silent. All eyes on Roger.
My mom backed down and Roger summoned all his strength to lift the bowl of goopy meatballs. It was either sink or swim, Roger knew that the future of our family's belief in the ability of the elderly to pass bowls of meatballs was on the line. It got about a inch off the table before cascading all over him and Nona. Nona let out another moan followed by "I'm dying"
Half the sauce got on Roger, he stood up to what I assumed would be to clean himself, but instead he tapped his glass ignoring the fact he looked like his gut exploded meat sauce. He began his speech again.
"Delvin and Nona..."
My mom pleaded with him to sit down, but Roger went on anyway; he was the patriarch after all.
"I just wanted to say on behalf of my wife Joan your Bubbie and myself, that we love you very very much and wish you all the best and a long happy life together as we have"
Nona put her hand on Rogers hand, and It was beautiful.

Through the spilled meatballs and senility, the farting and the moaning, and dentures and the inexplicable demands that someone mention Russia, my grandparents proved to me that they in fact could dispense wisdom. My grandfather wished my brother and his fiancee a life as long as theirs. A long life, full of love, to the point of total befuddlement, yes, and probably a great deal of pain too, but he was saying that love is worth it.
"Mention Russia" Pearl shouted and we all laughed and raised are glasses to Marty and Joan's/Delvin and Daphne's life together.

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