Memory

Study after study shows that eyewitness testimony is basically unreliable.  Why? Because a witness to a crime, let’s say, has seen a perpetrator for seconds at the time of the incident.  In a highly stressful and scary moment.  The witness then picks the person in a line up or photo array who looks as much like the person he or she saw in those few seconds.  Then at trial, that person identifies the defendant as the perpetrator.

Does the eyewitness remember the person from the crime or the line up/photo array?  Or is it a conflation of the two?  And if the witness were to testify, he or she has to convince him or herself that the memory is correct.  So, is it conflation coupled with rationalization?

This scenario happens all the time.  With eyewitnesses who are conscientious and well-meaning.

My college friends and I joke that whether or not we were at a particular event, it becomes a part of our collective memory and, in short order, we will remember it as if we were there.  And it is true.  When we were all in Cancun two years ago for a reunion, I remember distinctly that the concierge called us, “my lovely ladies.”  Except I wasn’t there; I was home in New York with the flu.

So, memory isn’t a moment in time burned into our brains — it is an evolving yarn that morphs over the years.  And it is our narrative of how we want to tell others about our past.

And we all like to remember ourselves as better than we were, or more courageous, or kinder, or more heroic when in great personal peril.

Mostly, it is our best version of the truth.

What happened to Brian Williams happens to all of us (except those exceptional people with the crazily accurate memories).  Especially as we get older and further away from the events.

Today, when I called Dad around dinner time, he told me about the wonderfully active day he had.

Except he didn’t.  Not today.  Three years ago, maybe.

Brian Williams apologized for a very human exaggeration.  I know he is a reporter and held to a higher standard of truthiness (to use an apt word coined for the G. W. Bush administration), but he probably really remembered it the way he recounted until someone proved to him otherwise.  Even if, originally, his account was accurate.  (Just listen to the subtle and not-so-subtle changes in Ronald Reagan’s stories over time.)

Because memory isn’t a moment in time burned into our brains — it is an evolving yarn that morphs over the years. 

But don’t quote me on this.

Being Lunch Meat in the Sandwich Generation

I never thought of myself as liverwurst before, but it does connect and bind the two pieces of bread into a sandwich.  Or maybe vegemite.  Peanut butter is an aspirational concept.

I am a member of the sandwich generation.  The child that needs to provide for her parent(s) and her child(ren). I, and so many like me, are the spread between the pieces of bread.  We keep it all together.

Last week, Dad called, saying he was locked in his art studio and that he needed me to call the police.  He had his coat on and was cold.  I told him I would call him right back on his home line and if he answered that meant he was really at home and just momentarily confused.  He agreed.  But he didn’t actually hang up the phone so I couldn’t get through.  I called the home health aide and we agreed that I should come over and calm everything down.  We are only called in when the episodes lasts long enough to be totally freaky.

I came over, and Dad agreed to take off his coat, since I was doing the same.  Now, how to convince a scared man that he is really in his home?

“Dad, if this were your home, would you know where you keep the scotch?”

Of course,” he said as if I had impugned his very core.  [Ok, I guess that is good.]

Dad went right for it.  Score 1 for the older generation.

“Dad, if this were your home, where would your underwear drawer be?”

Dad found that, too.  Score 2.  While we were standing in front of his bureau, I asked:

“Dad, do you recognize some of the people in the pictures?”

He did.  Not all but most. Score 2.5.

“So, Dad, if this is not your home, then it is doing a good job of making you comfortable.”

“But you see all of the paintings . . . ” He was referring to the paintings and sculpture in the living room and dining room.

A-ha.  He doesn’t recognize that those are his and Mom’s.  This is a huge downward trajectory for Dad.  “Daddy, those are your and Mom’s paintings and sculptures.”

He seemed to start to understand.  But not yet.

“Dad, if this is not your home, then this is a great art studio.  I am going to have some wine while you have dinner in your dining room.  Join me?”

Dad ate a little and had a little wine (less alcohol than scotch).  We talked.  Mostly non-sense (as in I had no idea what he was talking about) but slowly he was calming down and returning to earth.  Finally he said:

“It is good to be home.  And so lovely to have you over for dinner.”

“Yes, Dad, it is a treat to see you midweek.  Now I am going home.”

We kissed good night.  I hugged his home health aide knowing that she allows me to have a life separate from Dad’s because she only calls in the cavalry when she cannot snap him out of it within a reasonable time and he is a flight risk.

I get home and hug and kiss my son.  We talk about the day and the weekend ahead, during which we will all attend a Bat Mitzvah.

“E-mom, remember, don’t hang around me during the Bat Mitzvah.  It will be embarrassing.”

“No problem, buddy.” What I wanted to say was, “I don’t want to watch you and tweenage friends behaving in a way that will make me skin crawl.  Besides, I am going to hang with the adults and behave in a way that will make you cringe from afar.”

But instead, I took my victory from the top bread and didn’t squeeze too hard on the bottom bread.

Maybe we could be a panini.

New Year’s Day in the Coffee Shop of the Undead

Ah, life in the Coffee Shop of the Undead is, well, hanging by a string.

Back story: http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5641; http://40andoverblog.com/?p=4858; http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5701; http://40andoverblog.com/?p=4435

Maybe not life, as much as sanity.  Ok, not sanity so much as functional insanity.  Life in the Coffee Shop of the Undead is measured by the functionality of those with dementia and other neurological disorders.

I guess it is also measured by physical compromise.  If you aren’t crazy, then you are most likely so enfeebled that, if you make it to the place from your house, you (actually, your home health aide) should do a victory lap around the (tiny) place.

So where else would Dad go to see his friends?  Regardless of Dad’s daily level of crazy, which hit the nuclear contamination levels today, he tips his hat to the elders already seated.  For over 50 years, some of them were just passersby on the street, but now that they are the surviving remnant, they acknowledge each other.  Others, like Marty and Joan (the kids of the group at mid-to-late 70s) get a real greeting.  Dad reserves the warmest greeting for Sam, his old friend.

But Sam wasn’t at lunch today. Always a worrisome sign.  Sam has Alzheimer’s and some other dementia diagnoses, but like any disease, he can function some days and not others.

After we left the coffee shop, we bumped into Sam just outside.  (I am grateful that Dad and he have known each other for so long that, even with his mental disease, he recognizes Dad (and us)).

We greet Sam.

Sam says, “I have some very bad news.  I was going to call.”

SOB and I hold our breaths.  Is it his companion, Norma?  Is it his ex-wife? His daughter? His granddaughter?

Sam continues.  “My brain is not working so well.  I have issues now.”

SOB and I exhale at the same time.  THIS IS NOT NEWS. EVEN TO SAM.  HE JUST CAN’T REMEMBER THAT IT ISN’T NEWS.

Dad — even with his nuclear-level dementia today — didn’t miss a beat, “if you would like company, we will come over or, food, we can bring it over.”

SOB and I marvel at the way Dad can summon the man he was for a friend in need. 

The man he was.  The totally addled man he is.  They live side-by-side in the same body.

That is why it is so hard to handle the bad days.

Because there will be good moments to give a child hope.

And then, a moment later, the child wonders where her daddy has gone.

 

Is a Kippah a Kippah if . . .

it is tattooed on your head?

I was in a museum the other day and a fairly heavily tattooed man was opposite me.  He had a very intricate, colorful design on his head in the shape of a kippah, which conveniently also covered his bald spot.  The design was continued on his neck.

The following doesn’t do it justice (it is not intricate or colorful enough), but just to give you an idea of what was IN this guy’s head:

44711_white_floral_bukharian_kippah_by_yair_emanuel_view_1So, does ink count as a head covering?  Does the pain of tattooing one’s scalp tip the balance?

Or are we all just grossed out?

 

And the band just played on.

Many Yahrzeits tonight for close family.  I am too tired of death.  I couldn’t get it together to buy Yahrzeit candles.  But there are leftover Chanukah candles!!!

Two candles making one flame.  They are Aunt Betty and Uncle Billy.  Intertwined in death as in life.

IMG_1490

One candle for Aunt Roz. [I am now dealing with the actual death of her recently undead sister — more about that in prior blogs.]

One candle for all who have no one to remember them.  IMG_1492No one to remember them.  No one.  It doesn’t need to be family.  It just needs to be someone who says, “I will remember you for all that you were (and weren’t).”

It is important to remember more than just the righteous among us.  Because if that were the test, then I, for one, would become one of the nameless souls who came into and out of this world in the blink of an eye.

AND THEN ALL OF THE CANDLES BLEND AS ONE.

One Nation?

I believe in America, its promise and its endless possibilities.  I also know that, in America,  people live in abject poverty, without adequate schools, and in fear of deportation.

And I know that there are as many Americas as there are colors of skin, nationalities, religions, sexual identity and orientation.

We live in a fractured America.  Some of us cross any number of the shards.  Some, like me, can pass as Christian and straight.  If I even wanted to do so.  I am too old to hide.  But I am lucky; I have a choice.

But is any of us satisfied with this type of America?  Don’t we get tired, after every miscarriage of justice, of assuaging our horror and guilt, by saying, rather apologetically, “but there are good and kind people all across this country”?

Look, everyone has prejudices.  But that isn’t supposed to matter.  The point is that America is supposed to be one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Justice.  Justice.  Justice.

It isn’t just a word.  It is the basis of our nation.

It means that even if you steal, or sell cigarettes illegally, you don’t deserve to be tortured or killed.  Even more, you deserve treatment in accordance with the pettiness of the crime committed.  In other words, there shouldn’t be a bruise on you.

I was taught that wrongs will be done, but justice, JUSTICE, will prevail.

I believed in that.  I placed my faith in the systems of “justice” and government.  Because two generations ago, this country took in wretched poor refugees and gave them opportunities for work and their children a free education.  I grew up hearing, “G-d bless America.”

I still say, “G-d bless America,” except now I also say, “G-d save America”.

Because when our systems of laws and order fail, fractures of our nation becomes shards of glass on the floor.  Almost impossible to reassemble, but stronger if we glue the fragments back together.

Let us all glue this nation back together so that it is again: “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Rest in peace, Mr. Brown and Mr. Garner.

Magnetic

If you were to read my blog entries over the past years (don’t, really), you would know that my siblings and I have taken care of the elderly of our family, in all stages of life, death and that gray area in between.

We have found people collapsed in their homes, held their hands as they died, negotiated for access into their homes, slipped past police tape, found blood heirs because — while they were our relatives in love, mind and time — at their deaths, they were strangers as a matter of law.  (Love matters in life; legal papers matter in death.)

I have surrendered firearms, repatriated funds from unnamed accounts, and taken those suffering from acute dementia and paranoia to psychiatric wards and held their hands through the process.

Aging is a nasty business.

These experiences must emanate from my being.  Sometimes I think that there is a magnet implanted in my forehead in the shape of S.

S as in SCHMUCK

How do I know, you ask.  Thank you for that segue.

Just last week, I was on the phone (being all important, OF COURSE) and another call comes in.  I can tell it is an internal call, because the name flashes up.  I get an email from my assistant that someone from one of our Florida offices asked that I call back (instead of the usual: “oh I will just email her”).  I have never heard of the person so I look her up as I am dialing her back.  She works in the records department in another office so I cannot imagine why she is calling me.  No way our paths would have crossed.  I have never been to our Florida offices and it is not likely that she traveled to the New York office.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Cindy, this is [Blogger] returning your call.  How can I help you?”

“Thanks for calling back.  My brother died yesterday in New York and I need some advice.  Because he was relatively young, the police have cordoned off his apartment.”

Really, you are kidding me.  Someone with whom I have never possibly crossed paths knows to call me when there is a death in the family.  And a messy death, at that.

MY SCHMUCK MAGNET IS SO STRONG, IT DRAWS PEOPLE FROM ALMOST THE SOUTHERNMOST POINT OF THE CONTINENTAL UNITED STATES.

And what is crazier?  I actually have experience in this.  Because I had an aunt who. . . . blah blah blah.

I offer advice, not as a lawyer but as a family member who went through this.  Her brother and she were not close, at all.  She wants it all to go away.

Days go by.  I email Cindy and ask about everything.

She types back:  “Oh, yeah.  He is really dead.  There is some lawyer handling this. Thanks.”

Soooooo many things wrong with that.  The obvious ones are too good to pass up:

  • of course, he is [still] dead.
  • I am invested in the outcome, but
  • in the span of three days, she has moved on.

Me? I am still in freeze frame in my own Law and Order episode.

I deserve the magnet.  But, it may be that I am the one who gets sucked in.

Dear Dad,

These days, I keep thinking of the old times.  How you were so playful when we were toddlers, too strict when we were teenagers, my rock during the turmoil of my twenties, and, along with Mom, your kids’ greatest cheerleader.

Sometimes I think that I see the glimmer of the old you.  Beneath the bizarre outfits and the confused talk.

Our weekend of celebrating your big birthday was wonderful.  (After 90, they are ALL big.)  Sometimes you didn’t really understand what was going on, but you were happy that your family was around you.

10630568_10202625072736212_3324593164443517949_o(And you knew to wear the appropriate outfit your aide set out for you.)

And I know you didn’t need the luncheon to be in such a fancy place.  I know if we said, “Dad, we are coming over and we are eating cardboard for dinner [fiber-rich],” you would say, “how wonderful! I can’t wait to see you.”

But you might worry about whether you would get an evening cocktail.

And so I know you have not lost your mind completely.

In the light of day, you know you get confused at night and, appreciating the humor, refer to the nighttime aides as your guards.

Your kids prefer the term, body guards.  So, let’s use that term, shall we?

Today, you were mostly discombobulated and, yet, and yet, you were ready to go to the aid of an old friend whom we didn’t see in the diner today, and whom the waiters hadn’t seen since last week.  You called him to pay a visit and bring food.  In a clutch moment, the old you comes shining through.  (P.S.:  Sam is ok.)

This is a hard road, Dad, for all of us, and, most of all, for you.

And yet.

And yet, even in the waning days of your life and the continuing diminishing of your faculties, the essential you shines through.

You won’t ever read this.  But I had to write it.

I love you, Dad.

~Blogger

P.S.:  See you tomorrow, Dad.  Same time.  Lunch.  But let’s change it up a little; let’s order something different.  Because I cannot watch you try to put jam in your coffee or on the tomato slices that comes with your usual order of scrambled eggs.

 

 

 

Hello! Yes, it has been a while. Part 1

I hope everyone had a good summer.

Time for Fall.  Time for the Jewish High Holy Days.  Time to sit in sack cloth and ashes and mourn the long sunny days and the sultry nights of summer.  And that my summer was not anything like the summers I remember when I was younger.

I have learned many things this summer, some profound and some not so.  All important.

Dad continues a slow downward trajectory but never loses the essential elements (and annoyances) of the man he is.  Dad called me one morning.

SIDEBAR:  how DOES he call on my cell phone and office phone simultaneously???

He was quite fussed about the bank calling him about credit and debit cards, etc.  He couldn’t understand what the caller was saying.

Dad, I will call Chase and find out.  Did you give the caller any information?

No.  Nothing, but the caller seemed to know all my card numbers.

That’s a good sign, Dad.  There is no odd activity on your accounts [I have them linked to mine and pulled them up while we were talking].  I will call and find out and call you back.”

Thank you, darling.  I feel so much better.  You will call me right back?

I have a colleague in my office and a deadline, but this is my dad.  “As soon as I get some answers.  Don’t worry I am ON it.

I call.  Chase is being cautious with recent security breaches, and is sending my father all new cards.  I asked about any odd activity because what I see on the computer looks to be in real time but there may have been odd charges rejected.

I am sorry, M’am.  I will need your father on the line to answer these questions.

I have power of attorney.  His accounts are linked to mine.  Why do we have to involve my Dad?

This has to do with his profile.

I have no idea what this means.  The most important aspect was that for all of the planning, for all of the day-to-day handling of my father’s affairs, there are some places I cannot go without his express permission on tape.

I LEARNED THAT WE NEED TO MAKE BANKS ISSUE “FORMS OF POWER OVER EVERYTHING, INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, WHATEVER” so that we can sign these and be finished with the chaos.  Because there is the law and there is banking law.

I call Dad back on a three-way conference.

Dad, I have you on the phone with Chase, so that I can talk to customer service about our inquiry.

Don’t you already have that authority?

SIDEBAR:  I love that Dad can still identify stupidity, even in dementia.  Which really makes a person wonder about banking in general.  (Sorry, Mighty.)

The woman talked, doing her level best to ascertain that my father was who he was, etc., but he was too stressed and needed a familiar voice to prompt him.

Dad, Stacy needs your name. Dad, would you tell her your name?

Dad“.

SIDEBAR:  I love that Dad thinks that being dad is who he is.

Daddy, that is great.  Can you give your full name now??

So, he pretty much got the information right.

Dad, that last question was do you give me, [Blogger], permission to talk to Stacy about your affairs.

Of course; I thought we did that already.”

Ok, Dad, you can hang up now and I will call you back shortly.”

Ok, darling.  I love you.

I love you, Daddy.  Thanks.  I will call you back soon.

All was ok.  I resolved the matter and recapped with Dad.

I am a lucky man, to have the kids I have.

We are lucky.  These things are complicated and we can do this for you.  And we want to do this for you.

With nothing to worry about, I might live past 120!!

Don’t worry, Dad, we have that covered, too, but your children will be on social security, so we will have to pool resources. . . .

Another day, another problem resolved.

WHAT I LEARNED (AGAIN):

  • Little kids, little problems.
  • Big kids, big problems.
  • Aging parent, a combination of both and . . .

And I can only hope that, from day-to-day, there are mostly little problems until the day that it is THE BIG PROBLEM.

 

And the White Knight is Talking Backwards

What do Grace Slick (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Slick) and Dad have in common?

Ok.  It sounds like a trick question.

Grace Slick’s nickname was Acid Queen.  Dad’s nickname was Nachy, short for his given name Nachum (his older brother later changed it to an American name).

She was the doyenne of Acid Rock and her heyday was the 60s.  Dad’s heyday was the 40s and 50s.

Grace Slick tried to slip Nixon LSD (we later learned that he was on far better stuff).  Dad made a killer Rob Roy — very, very dry, with a twist of lemon.

Grace Slick’s songs had surrealistic, metaphoric lyrics, sometimes using the mundane as “cover”.  Dad, a sculptor, was firmly rooted in realism but sought to imbue a sense of emotion and motion in his work.

But both believed in change; both were against Vietnam.  Grace protested on stage.  Dad marched on Washington.

I loved Jefferson Airplane as a kid because it spoke to my as-yet-unidentified angst and different-ness.  When things didn’t make sense, I would think of the lyrics of “Go Ask Alice” — “and the white knight is talking backwards. . . .”

And when, as a preteen and then a teenager, I knew I didn’t fit into the heterosexual world and felt let down by everyone and by G-d because I was different, the first lyric of “Somebody to Love” reverberated in my head:

When the truth is found
To be lies
And all the joy
Within you dies

Don’t you want somebody to love?
Don’t you need somebody to love?
Wouldn’t you love somebody to love?
You better find somebody to love.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ug32SjIWfKs

So, what does any of this have to do with Dad?

Well, it is complicated.  As little as Dad understood about the turmoil in me, he was my champion.  He held me once in what was almost my rock bottom and said, “hold onto me.  And nothing bad can happen.”  He held onto me then and so many times after that when I thought I would have otherwise been consumed by my demons and by my different-ness.

Over these few years, Dad’s mental capabilities have diminished.  Most times, in person or on the phone, he gives me enough reality so I can make a conversation around it and maybe even garner a laugh from him.

In the last week, it has become almost impossible to identify something in what he says that I can’t spin back to reality and bring him back to us.  And I keep thinking, “Oh shit, the white knight is talking backwards and I hate Alice in Wonderland.”

And Dad probably hated Alice in Wonderland.  We are too logical.  Which makes this most recent decline even more difficult.  He is still razor sharp on some things, but those things have become islands in an archipelago, where once the archipelago was a seamless land mass.

And so Dad is talking backwards.  And he lost his love, my Mom.  And he lives a psychedelic existence that is not tethered in reality or surreality.  But is not just a “bad trip” in 60s and 70s parlance.  It is old age and the vagaries that come with a life (maybe) too long.

But he is truly happy when his family is around him, even if he cannot follow or contribute to a conversation.  I feel it in the hug and our saying, “I love you” to each other.  And through the haze, he sometimes says that he knows we are here and he is grateful for our love and support.

And I cry.

Because he lives life like a Grace Slick song.

Because my white knight is talking backwards and it is my turn to save him.