Saturday, June 6, 2009

On Aging Gracefully

My grandfather has Alzheimer's and a bad fall at home shattered his hip, resulting in a brief stay at the nursing home/rehab center right down the street from where I live. This of course made his Alzheimer's worse, basically necessitating his permanent residence there. This now means that we all have to become acquainted with the rest of the permanent fixtures at the home.

Mr. Wineman is an elderly Jewish man. Wheelchair-bound and bespectacled, senile, but spry enough to attempt to flee the home with random old women in tow, all at the ripe old age of 103. Let that wash over you for a moment. One hundred and three years old. There is no funnier age. At all.

Now Mr. Wineman has a touch of the dementia as well, so he will often wait around the lobby and, when the mood strikes him, begin wheeling himself towards the front door, professing that whatever woman outside is his wife come to visit him. "That's my wife! My wife!" Mr. Wineman would call, until the orderlies or any random passerby who knows the drill could at least partially convince him that his wife will not be visiting for another half hour. Mrs. Wineman, until recently, was housed in a separate elder-care facility better equiped to deal with her specific conditions and was certinly not capable of visiting at all. When they were in the same place, in fact, they reportedly bickered constantly. Moreover, Mr. Wineman has a habit of hitting on all the older ladies in his home, and on more than one ocassion has attempted to pull my 80 year-old grandmother away from my 83 year-old grandfather claiming, "He's too old for you." My grandmother, who looks about 68, simply shoos him away and sprints out to her car and drives away, as she is in fact fully capable of bitchslapping the rest of humanity into submission. (Mental note: Mac OSX spellcheck recognizes "bitchslapping" as a valid transitive verb.)

Well last week an orderly came to Mr. Wineman with some incredible news. "Mr. Wineman!" she said. "Your wife is here! Let's go see your wife! I'll take you to go see your wife!" And with all the expression of a humbled child being informed that, yes, he really would have to start school again come September, Mr. Wineman got very sad and quiet. Having recovered from her more serious ailments, 98 year-old Mrs. Wineman had finally been transfered into his home.

As they entered into his wife's room, Mr. Wineman with his hooked and old hand grabbed firm hold of his wheelchair's sides and halted all progress. "Mr. Wineman?" the orderly asked. "Mr. Wineman? What's wrong? Mr. Wineman, are you okay? What's wrong."

"Grannihhuhhnnm…" Mr Wineman replied.

"Mr. Wineman…? Do you- Don't you wanna see your wife?"

And in a statement that gives me terrific hope, not for myself or anyone else really, not for growing old or truly loving someone or any grand metaphore, but for the sheer beautiful fact that people will quite simply never understand eachother. Mr. Wineman craned his head up to the junior orderly who was no longer trying to force his wheelchair forward and stated the following message:

"Eh. It's complicated…."

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