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Sunday, 9 August 2009

Time will tell - and how!

This is probably not my usual style of post, so I trust that no one will think themselves to have been drawn in under false pretences. Either way, I have a confession to make: according to my schedule I should now be visiting your blogs, not tapping away at another post for mine. Ah well, I have become so accustomed to catching up that it's almost second nature to me now. I will do so again, I promise.

Last evening (Saturday) Doreen and I went to a Golden Wedding Anniversary celebration. A couple that we knew back when we first met. I went to the same school as Doug, though we were in different years. (Come to think of it, I went to school with most of the blokes that were there - only the blokes, it having been an all-boys school. I know, I know: that explains a lot...) Then, I was seduced by my brother into the local youth club where I again met most of the blokes at last night's celebration - and, more importantly, where I met Doreen. Oh, and where I met quite a few of the ladies from last evening's little get-together. All this was nearer to sixty years ago than fifty. Many of them I had not seen for more than forty years until last evening.

There were two with whom I had nursed fond hopes of enjoying a chat about old times: "I" and "J". "I" could not be there. He had entered the ministry way back in the days when I first knew him. Almost as soon as he was ordained he joined the navy as a padre. He was for a long time Padre on the aircraft-carrier, The Ark Royal. Later, after leaving the navy, he was for a year or so Chaplain to the Queen. Later still, he and his wife retired to the West Country. Not too long afterwards he fell ill. To begin with, he had problems using his legs, but very rapidly it became obvious that he was suffering some form of dementia. Within weeks it became impossible for his wife to care for him and he had to move out into a nursing home. By then he did not know his wife or his children. On their Golden Wedding Anniversary she took him out for an hour, after which friends from school and youth club days visited him with albums of photographs recalling old times. He went through them all, naming everyone and putting each photograph into its context. In his recollections he was streets ahead of the combined efforts of all his friends.

Then there was "J". "J" was at the party. He used to paint the most fabulous stage sets for the Youth Club Drama Group. They really were quite amazing. I admired them greatly. Was a little envious, too, if the truth be known, for I would have liked to try my hand at the stage sets, but knew there was no chance, and rightly so, whilst "J" was around. Reduced in size and sold as paintings, I am sure they would have done well at some West End galleries at that time. There was a genuine primitive quality to them. The moment I began to chat to "J", though, it became apparent that he was struggling. His wife had already told me that he becomes easily distressed, so I went gently. No, he didn't remember this one or that one - and who was that chap in the brown and white striped shirt over there? I'm not convinced he knew who I was, though he kept a straight bat and didn't make it obvious. I think I was something of a ghost from his past, but no more than that. But when I asked if he remembered painting the stage sets... ah, that was a different matter. Yes, he remembered that. His father and his uncle owned and ran a very large smallholding. (I always thought of it as a small largeholding!) He and his brother eventually took it over. He remembered it very well, but not really the people associated with it. Did he remember supplying all the flowers for us for our wedding reception. Nope. The opposite to "I", he seems to be living tolerably well (relatively speaking) in the present, but he has no past. Or rather, the past that he has is not peopled. No one inhabits it.

There was one other old friend, a lady this time. She talked well enough about what she talked well enough about. Until you hit a blank. Then she would simply move you on with a wave of the hand, saying, rather imperiously: No, that has completely gone. Nothing remains of that.

I know these stories are, as my mum would have said, A dime a dozen. We've heard them before, or ones like them, and that all too often. But somehow, in the context of the celebrations and the slight nostalgia that such occasions always engender, it was a bit like hearing them for the first time.

There is an epilogue.
Home again and with a fruit pie and a cup of tea inside me, I did what I am inclined to do after such a night out: relax over a short read with an even shorter single malt. Not a book, but a magazine took my fancy. A review, in fact. Of Per Kirkeby's exhibition at Tate Modern. Per Kirkeby knew from the first that he wanted to be an artist, but went from school to university to read natural history and geography. He then went to Greenland's high Arctic as part of a scientific expedition. When he began to produce his art work he was able to see it in geological terms. The review concluded with these words: Early on, Kirkeby saw that the hardness of the conditions of existence, seen most uncompromisingly in the Arctic terrain, must lead us to intensify rather than deny our capacity for happiness and exultation. At the age of seventy one, he continues to serve this insight. In its own small, strange way, the evening had left me with exactly that feeling. It was uncanny the way the reviewer echoed it.


Karen said...

Dave - I am experiencing similar circumstances with my mother, who is in her 80s and in relatively good physical health, and who was always one of the quickest people I knew. In the past year of so, she hass becoming childlike in her thinking and understanding. It is as if I have lost my sharp-witted, quick tongued mother and replaced her with a young friend. One of the things that has happened is that she's losing her inhibitions and saying things that at one time would have remained guarded thoughts -- leading to some interesting situations! These changes, I believe, are not necessarily results of aging, for my father, who is chronologically older, does not suffer the same.

I wonder why one person and not another?

I have read your epilogue a couple of times to think about it -- the "hard conditions of existence...lead us to intensify rather than deny our capacity for happiness and exultation." Amen.

Karen said...

Sorry about the typo. Grrr...

steven said...

hi dave, i really enjoyed reading this post with its bittersweet closing and openings of life experiences for you. i've thought in the past that it would be interesting to have each person at an event of this nature write a response - from their own perspective - to the event and then to collate all the responses together as a book. it could mean the end of a few relationships but what a read!!!
the quote at the end is powerful and reminding. regardless of the state of things, it's important to find and share joy and goodness. have a peaceful day dave. happy catching up!!! steven

Unknown said...

Hi Dave,

The medical profession tell us more and more will succumb to dementia; perish the thought! We can only try to make the most of every moment, take every opportunity that comes along.

Unknown said...

Intensify is the key word here. Putting people with dementia in a place where they are kept quiet and ignored, should not be what we do. John needs to still be painting but how much are we paying for someone to look after guiding John patiently through the clean up? My mom's greatest joy during her last few months was her new great grand baby. The last Sunday she was alive, we put the baby on the bed with mom and the two of them were laughing out loud, cuddling and having the best uproarious time! I wasn't totally trusting my mother during the event to refrain from squeezing the baby to hard or to not smoother the baby by rolling over spontaneously if her muscles cramped. It all worked out wonderfully, it was a special day!

hope said...

To me, the hardest part of dementia is the variety of family reactions. One of my grandmothers ended up with it - due to another medical condition caused by a Doc but I won't go there.

She thought her son was her long dead husband. My Mom tended to talk to her as if she were a wayward child and got upset if my grandmother thought she was a sister. But I kept talking to my grandmother like I always did...which is possibly why she always knew who I was while calling everyone else in the room by other names.

One day she was agitated and her son told me just to ignore her ramblings. When it was just the 2 of us, I asked her what was wrong. She'd been a nurse and was convinced she was 19 years old and about to take her nursing test. I asked if she'd studied hard, she said yes and I told her she'd do fine. I wouldn't have taken a million dollars for that smile!

Two months later, when the Doc said she was worse, she pulled me aside and said, "You were right! I passed that test with no problems!"

No wonder she lived to almost 98...the human spirit is a wonderful thing! And besides, as the one who loves family history, her walks down Memory Lane [clear as a bell!] were a joy to me.

readingsully2 said...

I enjoyed today's post, Dave. I think all of us can identify with the things you portrayed here. The mind is a strange thing.

I have often wondered about memories. For instance, I have little recall of my childhood or my family life until about 8. Why is that? Most of my memories of before 8 are, I believe, more stories I have been told rather than actual meories. It really bothers me sometimes.

Jinksy said...

Dementia does seem to be one of the downsides to so many people living longer. Perhaps a shorter life expectancy had something going for it, after all...

Rachel Green said...

A fascinating entry. None of my family has lived long enough to suffer it, but my mother-in-law has memories that put her in the best light regardless of the facts, and getts very cross if contradicted.

Janette Kearns Wilson said...

A moving and great post.
With my recent move to the inner city, I feel I am being given another life and I am determined to revel in the delights of each day and not be fearful of the present or of the future.
Thanks for your comment on my blog

The Weaver of Grass said...

Interesting post as usual Dave. I have a friend (early sixties) with advanced dementia already - she has no speech and is always very angry and aggressive. She never looks you in the eye and seems to live in hell. I feel for her every day. We have no choice in the matter have we? When the poet wrote "Gather ye rosebuds....." he knew what he was on about.
I find at these gatherings of people from ones past, everyone looks so old - I dare not look in the mirror for fear of what I shall see there!

Rachel Fox said...

Very thoughtful post. You have a lovely gentle touch.

SG said...

A very thought provoking post.. my mind went back to my grandfather who passed away in Jan 2007. I had shared many a long walks with him, shared so much with him since the time I was a small kid... he had taken up a job even after his formal retirement, to keep himself active.. All was well till he was about 75.. and suddenly because of one physical ailment or the other, he gradually became a little inactive... slowly he would confuse me for my mom, his daughter. I used to visit home once a year.. and when I last saw him, I cried for him. He hardly remembered anything. He had become a child again... I was thinking of Shakespeare's 'Seven Ages of Man' but as I was leaving.. he remembered me as the four year old who demanded a chocolate everyday from him. He passed away soon after in his sleep.. thankfully that was peaceful.
Thank you again for the post.. I remembered someone who was so dear to me, and for who I meant so much. His memory gives me strength in these times.

Helen said...

Dear Dave .... as I am heading back to the Midwest next month for my 50th high school reunion your post struck a real chord in me. Many of the attendees will be people I went to school with for twelve years! My oldest friends ... who I see only every five years or so and communicate with via holiday and birthday cards ~ maybe an occasional email. At the 50-year mark I can't imagine what I might encounter! My motto is 'live bold' (or boldly if you want to be grammatically correct) and that certainly incorporates intensifying my capacity for happiness. Thank you for such a great post!!!!!

Linda Sue said...

wonderful post, Dave, though disturbing and too close to home. We are all dealing with this sort of thing if we are beyond the age of 60...my friend's are begining to wilt. My family is instructed to "get out the gun" when they see me becoming goofy ( how is one to tell?) I trust that they will know and let me slide out of this life nicely...

LR Photography said...

Great post Dave, it touched me for many reasons.

Niamh B said...

Thought provoking alright, cheerful that the set painter remembered that part at least - makes sense that your passions stay with you I suppose.

San said...

"To intensify our capacity for happiness and exultation" in the face of hard circumstances, harsh circumstances--a good thing you picked up that magazine, Dave. Those words coaxed the grace to be had out of your unsettling reunion experience.

Maggie May said...

This is my favorite post of yours ever. You have a gift for story telling with an authoratative, slightly removed but still reflective voice that I love to read.

gleaner said...

A lovely gentle reflection on the somewhat harsher side of living. Very thought-provoking.

findingmywingsinlife said...

its been much too long since I've visited your page. This post hit home for me as well. My mother is only 47 and suffering from early onset dementia. I would estimate that her symptoms are alot like your friend Irvin's. She's slowly getting lost in the day to day things, but can clearly remember with vivid detail the memories from when I was still a kid. In a way, I've learned quite alot about our history as a family since we've learned of her diagnosis. Thanks for posting this, it gave me much to think about.

Jeanne Estridge said...

The metaphor of Arctic terrain for the barren wasteland dementia makes our our minds is a good one.

Friko said...

A fine story, even it is unusual for you.
Three people had lost their memory out of how many? Sure, three is bad enough, but age reduces all of us in some form, it is a fact of life for those who live long enough.

We will therefore have to follow Kirkeby's dictum and "intensify our capacity for happiness and exultation" - (I love that word) while we can.

So, Good Luck to us.

Dominic Rivron said...

Great, isn't it, when what one reads harmonizes like that with what one is thinking?

I like the reviewer's quote. Happiness is something to be worked at. It can't always come off, of course, but it's usually the result of an approach to life, rather than something that falls into our lap.

Mariana Soffer said...

Interesting with this guy k thought. I was just in a crazy mood and thinking wouldn t it be nice if every thing whether the artic terrain, a wet soil, whaterver should be able to intensify our capacity for happiness?

Rachel Fenton said...

Very poignant. "Do not go gentle into that good night".

Dave King said...

That is very difficult. I had always uunderstood that these conditions were distressing to others, but that the sufferer was blissfully unaware and therefore quite contented. It was not so in John's case, however, for he seemed fully aware of what was happening to him.

I do like your idea of having each write a response. In theory, at any rate. I agree, though, that if they are all going to see all the responses the end condition may be worse than the first.

As to the conclusion, I had some dificulty deciding whether at the end of the day I felt optimistic or the reverse. I applaud the sentiment, though.

Stay with it!

Yes, amen to that!

I can relate to all you say. "J" is still painting, you will be pleased to know. (A bit of an after-thought, really. It has been suggested that it might be better to refer to these old friends by their initial, so I have changed the post accordingly. Over-cautious, I think, but better safe than sorry.) Wonderful story re your mom. Thanks for that.

That really is a tale to warm the heart. Thanks for it. My only personal experience of this was with my grandad (we lived with my grandparents when I was young). He had pernicious anaemia and other conditions as complicating factors, and ended in a ghastly "mental hospital", as they were then. More prison than hospital. Strange thing, he was heavily drugged and knew no-one and nothing towards the end, except that the "hospital" was at Epsom. He knew that. Also, having been a keen racing man all his life, he knew that the race course was just down the road. Talked about it all the time.

Rose Marie Raccioppi said...

"... hardness of the conditions of existence, seen most uncompromisingly in the Arctic terrain, must lead us to intensify rather than deny our capacity for happiness and exultation"

This indeed a perspective I have adopted. Once having faced death, I have learned to fully face life. To practice "remembering" and treasure the moment NOW - as a 26 year survivor of cancer, gratitude is my mantra and life is the celebration.

Shadow said...

it's always sad to see the touch of age on people, who like us, we still percieve in our minds to be, as young as we think we are...

Dave King said...

Yes, it's difficult sometimes to separate original memories from family tales. My memories start at 5 when I went into hospital and was there over Christmas. They are vivid as it was such a dramatic - possibly traumatic time - for me. But there is very little from b efore that - and not much more after it for quite a while. Certainly nothing as vivid as those. On the other hand I have known preople who claim to have memories from the womb!

I suppose it's another case of no free rides. Everything has to be paid for at some point.

I've always had a sneaky regard for people who can completely ignore the facts! Envy them, I guess.

That is absolutely the right attitiude. No doubt about it.

The Weaver of Grass
I know what you mean. Doug stood out because he looked axactly as he had always looked. I couldn't even say he looked older - though he is one I have seen once or twice in the interim, so that may account for it to some extent.

Thanks for that, Rachel.

Thanks for that very moving response. Your Grandad sounds to have been my sort of guy.

And thanks for the great response. That must be the way forward into the unknown: live bold - or to boldly go, if you prefer!

Linda Sue
I think that must be everyone's prayer. Even the legal big-wigs are beginning to se that the law needs a slight modification - or am I dreaming?

Thanks for that.

Niamh B
Good point. Thanks for making it.

Yes, they came as a sort of echo. Not that my thoughts had found those words, of course, but they really struck home.

Maggie May
Thank you very much for that.

As is the whole subject, of course. Thanks.

Good to hear from you again, though very sorry to hear about your mum. The symtoms sound very familiar. My best wishes to you both.

Yes, I agree. It struck me immediately. The coldness, too.

I suppose it would have been three out of sixty something. Around there, anyway. I agree that exultation is a good word, indeed.

A good point, well made. Yes, I am sure that is correct.

I guess it's what we do with it, rather than what it can do for us - now, where have I heard something like that before?

Good quote! (Why didn't I think of that?) Thanks for it.

Dave King said...

Rose Marie
Yes, though sometimes it needs a lot of strength of mind. You obviously have that. Treasuring our memories, does seem to be one lesson to learn. We tend to take them for granted, say "At least I'll always have them..". But it aint necassarily so.

They do say that we are as young as we think we are, do they not?

Carl said...

Dave -

Yes. I worked for a senior care company for five years. it was the rare exception that had both his or her health and all of their mental acuity. Without doubt the reviewer got the idea right. Carpe Diem or 'Gather ye rosebuds...'
We should all take a look at our career centric lives and see what we are forgetting to enjoy in the present.
This was a tough, but great post.

Titus said...

Dave, fascinating post and very emotive: I am fortunate, my 81-year-old mother showing no signs of losing past or present as yet (would that she forgot some of what I've got up to in the past!). The fragility of what we hold in our mind and memory is sometimes terrifying, and that is one of the reasons why Art fills such an important space - it can survive the mind and body that created it.
I found this post very moving. Nostalgia is the strangest of feelings; as steven used the word above I shall echo it: bittersweet.
Thanks, you made me think.

ladytruth said...

There is something about meeting up with old friends and sharing memories that evokes such emotions of sad nostalgia, of time gone by, of getting older and fading away. And no matter how many times you tell the story to someone or relive the memory, it only comes alive when you talk about it with the person whom shared that moment with you. When I look at pictures of me and my varsity friends, I get that peculiar feeling. I felt it now as I read your post :)

Sheila said...

A really wonderful post. My most recent deals with dementia as well and the questions it raises. I love your closing thought. And it is uncanny the way these thoughts circle and come up at the same time. Almost enough to make you a believer in Jung's synchronicity and collective unconscious.

Sheila said...

A really wonderful post. My most recent deals with dementia as well and the questions it raises. I love your closing thought. And it is uncanny the way these thoughts circle and come up at the same time. Almost enough to make you a believer in Jung's synchronicity and collective unconscious.

Unknown said...

A touching story & a beautiful & moving conclusion. I dealt with fairly severe dementia in my father's case--he had Parkinson's, & over the past few months have also seen my mother's faculties slip a good deal. It's true that circumstances dictate a lot, but I think if we don't try to opt for happiness--even against the odds-- we're certainly condemned to feeling our lives slip completely from our grasp--not necessarily literal death, but figurative certainly.

Ronda Laveen said...

I loved this post Dave. It was so well told and the love of family and friends shone through. My mother died of Alzheimer's. You portrayed it perfectly.

Dave King said...

Correction for Friko
I guess I answered your question with insufficient thought. I simply gave you a rough estimate of the number at the get-together. They were not all elderly by any means. I should probably reduce the denominator to 20 - 25 in their 60s or above. My apologies for the bum steer.

I would go along with that. I was guilty of the same thing - as I realised AFTER I had retired!

The fragility of the memory is really terrifying, I agree. As I said above, the evening brought it home to me - and, for some reason, with more force than other, similar, occasions had done.

Your comment describes very clearly the feeling that such occasions engender. Thanks.

I think I have come to believe in Jung's synchronicity - or almost. Funnily enough, since I began to blog!

That is very well said, I think. It certainly reflects my current thinking. I just wish I had got to this point in my thinking a lot earlier in life. Dealing with your father must have been harrowing. Terrible condition.

Thanks Ronda. So sorry to hear about your mother, though.

Unknown said...

Hi! I am visiting from Barry's blog. pics and poems caught my attention. like your friends name.....Doreen. :-)

Michelle said...

No Dave, I wasn't classifying it as such. Quite the opposite. I may have sounded a little confused though, because in following mine I seem to have perplexed quite a few people who wonder why i would do that when the alternative 'normal' crap is supposedly far more important. Guess I'm a little tired of trying to see how image is more important than love.....or else just a little tired :)

I like this post....gets to the nitty gritty.


Eryl said...

... the past he has is not peopled. No one inhabits it. I hope I never become so jaded that reading a line like that bores me. I think we need to hear these stories over and over, or ones like them.

I totally agree with Per Kirkeby and, in fact, have come to the conclusion that it is the absolute ease of our current, Western, existence that has dulled our capacity for happiness and exultation.

Dave King said...

Hi and welcome to my blog. Glad you found me! Thanks for taking time out to comment.

Thanks for that, but no, I don't think it was you, but me not explaining myself very clearly. I understand what you are saying, but people do get very uncomfortable if your crap is not like theirs!

I think you may well be correct in laying the blame at thee ease of modern living. As always there is a price to pay.