Late summer, last year
in line at my favorite farm stand
surrounded by the season’s bounty;
sun high in the sky;
good friends arriving soon.
A woman stepped to the front of the line;
I’m old so I get to go first.
Fine with me;
in my mind, summer’s unhurried pace is summer’s unheeded joy.
I did not care
if she stepped to the front of the line;
she didn’t look old.
And so I offered a compliment
You don’t look old…
I am old, she insisted. I am 73.
Well, in my world, 73 is not old. Now 95…I would concede that 95 is getting up there!
And then, as though someone had opened a spigot, I babbled on, completely unable to restrain the flow:
my Mother was 95
and well, she had dementia, and she
(what am I doing?)
well, she died at 95
(why am I saying this?)
and um, there you have it
(will someone stop me please?)
my Mother was old
(and you’re not!).
Even at the farm stand– on a gorgeous day– at the height of summer,
I could not shut up about my Mother.
And the old 73 year old replied
If I ever get dementia, I hope someone takes a gun and shoots me.
In the sudden flash of a moment,
I felt like the old 73 year old had assaulted me
and reviled those coveted years.
I could not just stand there.
I had to say something.
I took a deep breath.
Well, for me, at least with my Mom, while her personality split apart, I still saw her; I still saw her light, I still saw her…she was still there.
The old 73 year old spat her words
I know all about dementia; my husband died of dementia; I have written articles about dementia. I know!
up close and personal—
And she was livid.
To diffuse the moment, I asked her name. I promised to look for her essays.
And I wrote the first draft of this post as soon as I got home.
I asked the blank page what I wanted to ask the old 73 year old.
When exactly should I shoot you?
Should I shoot you when you
are crowned Queen of Hearts on Valentine’s Day;
eat your dessert before your dinner;
win the bingo prize?
Should I shoot you when you proudly tell me
your alma mater is honoring you;
the cute social worker is flirting with you;
your dead sister is calling you?
Or maybe I should shoot you when you tell me the woman sitting at the end of the table
is really a man
dressed as a woman
investigating your sister’s mysterious death
at the age of 99
(she knew dangerous secrets!).
Would that have been a good time?
I will not shoot the old 73 year old
under any circumstance.
But that cruel moment at the farm stand stirs fundamental questions;
ethics at the crossroads;
soul wrenching doubt.
I have seen it before;
people who think they know what they will do when devastating illness strikes
are often the very same people who cling most fervently to this glorious mess we call life;
seeking every possible treatment;
daring to defy the odds.
we need to talk about these issues,
in our families and as a society.
But for the record
my heart resents
the flip retort; the brusque aside; the I won’t let this happen to me.
Because when it comes to dementia,
you are not in control
and Just Shoot Me is not a plan.
This year, late summer,
at my favorite farm stand
I thought about the old 74 year old,
And decided it was time to keep my promise.
I found two of her essays.
Her husband had died within months of my Mother.
Her writing portrays
a storybook romance with an older man; their robust life together and
her indefatigable determination to care for him
in the most horrendous of circumstances.
But I am stunned as I read her imploring words;
(Could this be the same woman?).
Less than a year before his death,
her writing is unequivocal.
Though he had almost completely dissolved
into a mere ghost of the brilliant man he had once been;
she exhorts him to live.
Hang on, she beseeches, hang on.
A year ago,
I was bewildered and hurt by
her abrasive demeanor; her ferocious anger;
but now, I know.
as we stood side by side at the farm stand
she was grieving,
just like me.
She had witnessed the brutality of dementia
up close and personal
She knew love and
She was not ready to let it go;
She was not ready to be left behind;
She was not ready;
Just like me.