To these I drink tonight

AGING DISGRACEFULLY

Opinion: Columns

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By Mary Kay O'Grady

blogger

The fog comes in on little cat feet … 

Carl Sandburg  

There are things that will never change, things we will carry along with us always. But as we venture into the murky future, we must find our strength by learning to leave things behind. 

Brigid Gorry-Hines

 

I have been diagnosed with dementia. And it stinks. And it will only get worse. I'm writing this because, well, I write, and also because you might not realize my condition right away if you know me (maybe you would and I'm kidding myself). Also, there are probably a lot of older people out there like me and maybe this will help a little.

Memory loss, dementia, Alzheimer's, runs in my family, so I've been pretty serious over the years about checking myself out. I had my first work-up at Northwestern more than 10 years ago after one of my sisters died of Alzheimer's at age 80. I was fine. I'm 80 now and I'm not fine. I switched to Rush because they have what they call an Alzheimer's Center, and about two years ago, my test scores started going down. Recently I had what to me was a shocking lapse on a follow-up memory test. The doc and I sort of tacitly agreed not to continue the whole test. 

My mother came from a huge family — about 10 siblings — and several of her sisters became senile. One of them, my Aunt Agnes, who was always smiling, didn't come to my wedding because her daughter was sure Aunt Ag would burst into random song. Had I known what I know now, I would have insisted Aunt Ag come and sit in the front pew.

I love to sing, but I quit my wondrous Sounds Good Choir when it went online. I was afraid it would be too hard. I'm going to try again in January and ask for all the help I need. Cross your fingers. Technology is my enemy.

As I wrote this, I was pretty sure I could name all the members of the Supreme Court if you gave me enough time, though it would take longer than usual. On review, I found that I could picture most of them and could not name a single one, even the newest undercover from The Handmaid's Tale. 

And yet … And yet … I'm still pretty good at Jeopardy. I'm a political junkie, but this is one of the few things I can't blame on Trump. However, if I had all the aides he had, I'm certain I could have run this country during the last four years about 100% better than he did.

Staying organized is difficult and getting worse, so I keep trying to simplify, simplify, simplify. I have a gadget I found on Amazon that allows me to wear my phone around my neck. I empty my purse every time I come home and fill it anew when I go out again. I try to carry as little as possible on my person — sort of like what men do. I hated the pile of papers and "stuff" on my desk in my living room, so I've moved the pile to another room where I can't see it as well and try to take one thing off the pile every day and deal with it. So far, so good.

I can take care of my money, but I keep things very simple — a couple of credit cards, checking and an IRA — but I dread doing my very simple taxes. I live in subsidized housing. The annual rent documents reduce me to tears, but I've lined up help for next year. 

In terms of other help and support, Oak Park Township and some other agencies had a large meeting several months ago, and decided to become Dementia Friendly. I'm not aware of anything new. I did note that someone talked about having colored armbands for people with dementia who are out and about. Holy Mother of Nazi Germany! I guess the intention was that the person with dementia would get help crossing the street or whatever.

The township has a few activities, but I'm not sure they fit my needs. My understanding is that when I qualify for dementia help, the helper will be chosen from the same pool of people who help with housework. Which might be fine. Or not.

The Wabi Sabi film festival, hosted by Marc Blesoff, has interesting movies about the accomplishments of older people and the audience seems to like them.

All by myself, I've reached this conclusion: There are two important things you need with this condition — plenty of money and a devoted, loving and patient partner. I guess that's true of any disease, particularly a wasting disease.

I really like the following words on the subject, by, of all people, Charles Bukowski:

 

You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense

there's nothing to

discuss

there's nothing to

remember

there's nothing to

forget

 

it's sad

and 

it's not

sad

 

seems the

most sensible

thing

a person can 

do

is

sit

with drink in

hand

as the walls

wave

their goodbye

smiles

 

 

one comes through

it 

all

with a certain

amount of

efficiency and

bravery

then

leaves

 

some accept

the possibility of

God

to help them

get

through

 

others

take it

straight on

 

and to these

 

I drink 

tonight. 

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Reader Comments

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Elisabeth Jacobsen  

Posted: January 12th, 2021 2:02 PM

My grandmother suffered from dementia. Back then they called it "hardening of the arteries", whatever that was supposed to mean. My father worried that my mother would inherit the same disease, but her mind stayed sharp and clear until a year before she died. By then she was 93, and I suspect most of us can expect to be a bit fuzzy by then. None of her many siblings developed dementia either, so my siblings and I decided grandma's illness probably was something else that maybe would have been fixable, had they had the medical capabilities that exist today. Then my sister started to exhibit symptoms in her mid sixties. My beautiful, bright, energetic YOUNGER sister! She brushed off our concerns with "I'm fine" or, "Remember, none of us are spring chickens anymore". It was officially diagnosed as Alzheimer's 2 years later. I now panic every time I misplace my keys or can't find my glasses. Especially when someone points out that they are on top of my head. Sigh....

Kitty Conklin  

Posted: January 12th, 2021 6:35 AM

Mary Kay, you have written so beautifully about a situation that will surely give you many many challenges in the coming years. I chuckled at your mention of having Jeopardy in your life. I watch that show, too, and I hope you stay pretty good at it. Thank you for sharing your journey.

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: January 12th, 2021 1:17 AM

oh Mary Kay - what a good egg you are.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: January 11th, 2021 6:28 PM

May God comfort you, Mary Kay.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: January 11th, 2021 2:40 PM

Mary Kay, your column reminded me of my experiences with my late wife. A skilled watercolor painter, one day about 5 years before she passed, she was working on the worst painting of her life and she pushed it away saying " I can't do this any more" She did 5 weeks at the Bowman Center at Rush, the occupational therapist gave her a box of colored pencils and a sheet of paper. I had to speak to the doctor, when I retuned to the unit the OT called me over and said "Look at this" the paper was blank! He said " No this" Joan had arranged the pencils in spectrum order. The human brain is amazing. At the end we got help from Arrius here in Oak Park and even now, 2 1/2 years later Shaunda remains a friend. I still have latches on the top of all of our doors and I have not had the heart to remove them. Our basement door has 2 latches on the inside and 1 on the stair side so I could keep her from wandering. Good luck and know that there are many of us out here who know of your issues and hope you have the support you need.

Karen S Budd from Oak Park  

Posted: January 8th, 2021 4:45 PM

Wisdom, humor, and grace are not usually the things that come to mind when I hear the word dementia, Mary Kay., but your piece brought them immediately to my thoughts. Like Elizabeth Strout's "Olive Again" and BF Skinner's "Enjoy Old Age," you offer good counsel on living and aging.. Please keep writing and sharing.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: January 8th, 2021 12:28 PM

This story about a heartbreaking diagnosis is courageous and beautiful. I thank you for sharing it and wish you many years filled with joy and laughter.

Susanne Sutton  

Posted: January 8th, 2021 12:22 PM

Mary Kay - I am so sorry to read your news. My mother had Alzheimer's and my sister had a somewhat different form of dementia, similarly debilitating however. I've loved reading your columns and look forward to reading more. I pray for your strength to see you through this challenge. And yes, please continue to sing - it soothes the soul!!!

Nancy Hess from Oak Park  

Posted: January 8th, 2021 11:03 AM

This stinks, Mary Kay. But your writing hasn't suffered one bit. In fact, this is one of your best.

Barbara Hausman from OAK PARK  

Posted: January 7th, 2021 6:39 PM

Another wonderful article! It's beautifully written, rich in thought. and laced with humor...as always. Your willingness to share these thoughts and be vulnerable will help others. Thank you, dear Mary Kay.

Marlene Russum Scott  

Posted: January 6th, 2021 7:36 PM

That was beautifully written, Mary Kay. You still have the ability to get your point across clearly. Such a serious revelation, but you gave me a good laugh picturing someone bursting out in song during a wedding. I hope you will continue to write, and sing.

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