Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Sentence

My mother is wheelchair bound, her memory is failing, and although her desire to communicate seems to be increasing her speech is incomprehensible most of the time but her spirit is kind and she is well loved by all who meet her.

The last few days we've had to make a yearly decision regarding the Life Care Directive - basically a guide of protocol for the nursing home to follow should she suddenly be faced with a life threatening event and family members met with staff to review her progress since the last meeting, ask questions and address any concerns we might have.

This has put me in a reflective mode, so here is a piece I wrote some years back about another aspect of my parents' journey through old age.


The Sentence

The white-coated geriatric specialist quickly glances over the completed questionnaire she holds in her hand. The goal of this geriatric assessment is to ascertain the state of my father's memory and judge, ultimately his competency.

She notes that the questions WHAT DAY IS IT? and WHO IS THE PRIME MINISTER? have been correctly answered. The task to reproduce the drawing of a six-sided symbol has been performed reasonably well for an 84-year-old with "intentional" hand tremours. But his response to the request - WRITE A SENTENCE IN THE BLANK SPACE PROVIDED - catches her eye, as he knew it would.

Watching her; his blue eyes twinkle in anticipation. As she reads what he has written the barest hint of a smile momentarily cracks through her cool reserve. He smiles in return; a visual receipt of a delivery completed.

* * *

A year after his death my mother is faced with the same geriatric assessment. She reads the same request and it puzzles her.


She looks at me, pen suspended in space, frozen in the moment, quietly beseeching me.

"Don't look at me," I say. This is her test. I cannot interfere. Her hesitation is damning. "I can't help you. It's up to you." After an unbearable eternity passes (though in reality I know it has only been a few seconds; it is my sorrow that has stretched time) I give in and coax her anyway. "What do you want to write?"

She laughs shaking her head. Stupid assignment; stupid me, is what she's thinking, I suspect. Then she resumes staring blankly at the blank space on the page on the table in front of her as the social worker waits, checks her watch and notes.

"Write a sentence there," I point, I think that's allowed "anything that comes into your head."

Her hand makes tentative circles in the air just above the page, writing imaginary letters of thought. The moment her pen alights on the paper possibilities evaporate. "I don't know what to write." Her laugh betrays embarrassment and performance anxiety.

"You could write that," I suggest encouragingly.

And so, in her beautiful cursive script she writes:

I don't know what to write.

* * *

Today I smile as I recall what he had written, complete with three exclamation marks:

Getting old sucks!!!

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