aging

Dinner Theatre

It seems like every time I visit my mother I arrive during a meal, usually dinner. My mom always asks me to pull up a chair to the table and eat, offering to share her plate of food with me, but I always feel as though I will interrupt the normal ritual with this little intrusion. There is something comforting in such daily routines, especially for people suffering from dementia, and I don’t want to throw off the carefully cultivated dynamic at the dinner table. I prefer to sit to the side and watch the scene unfold with the interplay of all the characters, both comic and tragic at the same time. It is truly dinner theatre. I have never tried to write a play, but I see these nightly meals as a never-ending dramatic production, filled with all the heartbreak and laughs of any gut wrenching performance. If, as Shakespeare wrote so many centuries ago, all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players, then the Deer Hill Care Home dinner play might look something like this.

. . .

Cast of Characters

Mary . . . . .   woman with Alzheimer’s, walks with a cane, early seventies but looks much older
Barbara. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . woman with a spinal injury, confined to a wheelchair, late eighties
Ted . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  man with advanced Alzheimer’s, has difficulty walking, early eighties
Foster . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . man with Parkinson’s, confined to a wheelchair, mid eighties
Bert . . . . . . . . . . . . . . man with nerve damage and palsy, confined to a wheelchair, mid eighties
Barbie . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . woman with Alzheimer’s, walks with a cane, late eighties
Mirna . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Filipino woman with strong accent, caretaker, mid thirties
Jun  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Filipino man, head caretaker, mid forties

TIME: 4:30 sharp on any given night

SETTING: The elderly residents are seated around a large dinner table, each wearing colorful matching bibs, while the caregivers bring plates filled with hot dogs, potato salad, and steamed broccoli.

MIRNA: Bert, I have a hotdog sandwich for you. [MIRNA tries to give it to BERT]

BERT: I don’t want a sandwich.

BARBARA: It’s a hotdog, Bert. [yelling across the table]

BERT: Huh?

MIRNA: Bert, it is a hotdog sandwich. Here, take it. [MIRNA places it in BERT’S shaky hand]

BERT: I’d rather have a hamburger. [Begins eating with his eyes closed but looks disappointed.]

[JUN turns music on, Frank Sinatra station on Pandora. I Get A Kick Out Of You plays.]

TED: [Singing along with song.] Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all, so tell me why should it be true that I get a kick out of you?

JUN: Ted, you know all the words. [Places a plate of food in front of TED]

TED: What’s that?

JUN: You remember all the words to the song, Ted.

TED: No, what’s that? [Points at the plate of food.]

JUN: It’s your dinner, Ted.

TED: Oh.

BARBARA: Ted, you have such a nice voice, keep singing.

TED: What was that now?

BARBARA: I really enjoy your singing. Keep going.

TED: If you say so. [TED doesn’t keep singing, but stares at his plate in silence.] (more…)

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Downhill

He looked younger than his accumulated years. Exercise, diet, meditation, the power of positive thinking all conspired to keep the debilitating rigors of age at bay. He never willingly offered his age, but when people found out exactly how many trips around the sun he had taken they displayed a variable consortium of reactions. Some thought he was lying, but who adds years to the total? Some thought he’d had some tucking and tightening done, while others posited theories that he was perhaps an alien or some sort of immortal. Some swallowed it grudgingly, but with a slight aftertaste of disbelief. Men twenty years younger looked like they could be his older brother, his uncle, possibly even his father. Was it because they had lived their lives at an accelerated pace, or because he had refused to move forward?

Many assumed he had lived a sheltered life. Did he avoid sunlight, hide in the closet, shelter himself from the slings and arrows of entropy? Did the food he ate have any flavor, or was it some sort of slop made excessivley healthy by removing all palatability? Did he spend his days and nights somehow hidden from all the factors of the universe seeking to beat old age into his ageless hide? What was his secret?

When it finally came out that his sixtieth birthday was approaching, nobody could believe it. He received cards documenting his incredulous age, and lambasting the fact that he was over the hill. His long slow, descent into senior citizenship had begun. He had reached the age where he would forget his age. Some even joked that he was so old he wasn’t just over the hill, he was over the mountain. He laughed these off. He knew from his adventures through life that the thought of being “over the hill” was ridiculous.

He had actively sought out adventure, and knew from his experiences skydiving, roller-coasting, bobsledding, snowboarding, bicycling, surfing, bungee jumping, and all the other thrill seeking moments he had shared with himself, that the rush of gravitational acceleration was not some sort of impediment or obstacle to be avoided. He relished the fact that he was over the hill, because let’s face it.

The downhill was the fun part.

the need for speed

the need for speed

First Love

They were young, a couple obviously enamored with each other, but that wasn’t the whole story. There was something about the way they carried themselves, something carefree and stressless and oozing youth like some sort of magical fountain. They danced on the sand, felt the curves of each other’s bodies with force and fits far beyond lust. But it wasn’t lust yet. It far was too innocent for such distinctions. The way they moved, forceful but not pressured, frenetic but not frantic, just pure enjoyment, everything lost and forgotten as they discovered each other in that moment.  That first taste of love, so sweet and naive I could practically taste it myself. Watching their joy, their emphatic ease of motion and motive, their enamored and taut young bodies on the beach, I could only conclude that my best years were truly behind me.

Young love (by Nina Matthews Photography)

Cycle of Life

You are supposed to do what your parents say until you become an adult. Then you get married and have kids of your own, and everything starts to revolve around the children. Schooling, soccer, tutors, babysitters. Keeping them clothed and fed and hopefully happy. Eventually your children will have kids of their own for which you will undoubtedly be asked to provide free daycare. If you’re lucky enough to live a long life your kids may even become your charge and start telling you what to do. Rest assured that everything will come full circle.

Rounded Life (by Clicks Clicks)