Monday, January 05, 2009

Into the West

Speaking of my dad, as I was just a few posts ago, I decided to show you this painting of the old guy sitting by our side door on a fine summer afternoon, lost in his reveries as the sun begins to lower in the west.

Cuppa painted it and gave it to me as a gift one year, and it now hangs in my den. It's one she painted towards the end of her back-injury-shortened watercolour painting phase. It's too bad about that injury because she did a number of fine paintings, even though she hadn't been at it long enough to allow her craft to ripen to its fullest.

We scanned most of her work, but this one came to me as a gift and framed, so I just took a quick photo of it the other day. (Actually, one can do quite a bit from a photo of a painting. If I were to process this more, I would crop away the frame and mat and reprint it as something close to a 5x7, and it would reproduce relatively well ... but I'm wandering from my theme.)

I really wanted to say more about Dad, his senility, and me.

About four years before he died, Cuppa and I took a trip to my boyhood stomping grounds in Montreal. I took pictures of my growing-up residences there and showed them to my parents when we got home. Dad had no clue what they were about, and that was probably my first clue of his dementia. I think it was the same year that relatives from Montreal visited, and he asked who the heck they were when they left. Well, you get the point, and I don't need to trot out all of the details. However, I will say that near the end, he was diagnosed and pronounced unfit to attend sessions for Alzheimer patients: sessions designed partly to give their caregivers a break. Being judged not up to snuff for an Alzheimer session is quite telling, don't you think?

And this scares me ... a lot sometimes ... because I know my brain doesn't function as well as it used to. More and more I find myself searching for words and finding it difficult to spit my thoughts out. My ploddingness becomes even more obvious to me when the A Team comes home. Puff tries to teach me how to do a Cryptic Crossword, and I stare stupidly. Oh, if she explains the clues, I might get some of the answers, but unravelling the logic of the clues seems to be beyond my ken. And then we play computer games on the DS or on the Wii, and the girls are miles ahead of me, and ... and it's scary, you know?

I'm just in my early sixties, and I already feel my brain declining, and it worries me. Should I live that long, in twenty years from now will I be like he was then? Scary indeed.

Help me, Rhonda 'cause I don't quite want to fade into the west like that.


Ruth said...

Our brains do change as we age and we have to find new strategies when remembering and multi tasking. But that does not indicate Alzheimers. Your writing is excellent and significant word finding difficulties are a hallmark of AD. My daughter was trying to teach me to play Guitar Hero last night and I was hopeless. She says she is getting me the Brain games with Nintendo DS for my birthday, lol! Your wife is a very gifted artist.

Ginger said...

I think I'd have trouble with Cryptic Crossword and some computer games as well, and I'm in my 40s. This was a poignant post, and I certainly understand the fears ... I think we all have them at times, more so if there's someone in the family who has had dementia. There's plenty of evidence in your writing that your mind is brighter and more curious than most. I look forward to lots more great posts from AC over the years.

That picture by Cuppa, by the way, is marvelous. What talent! She's captured a whole feeling there.

Heather said...

Yes, it's definitely a shame Cuppa's career as an artist was cut short. That's really lovely!

When it comes to figuring out how to play electronic games, etc., my kids are already WAY ahead of me.

Mary said...
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Mary said...


First of all, the painting of your father by Cuppa is absolutely magnificient. I am sorry that her painting career was cut short. She was blessed with a talent.

Ask my grandsons about Grandma and Wii and other games. I finally mastered Mario Baseball for Game Cube, but most of the time they whip me without a moment's hesitation. We were not brought up in the gaming era and have more trouble catching onto the hand/eye coordination. These kids have done it since they were only a few years old and have it over us hand and fist.

Though dementia can be heriditary, there is only about a 30% chance of it being so. The kind of dementia that is absolutely hereditary is a totally different type than most. It is very rare, so I wouldn't worry about it too much.

Dementia is a process of memory and intellect deterioration. People suffering from Dementia suffer from memory loss. They are unable to retain new memory and also have a motor coordination failure.

I do know that they are using jigsaw puzzles to help people retain memory. You might give it a go. Hope some of this helps. I see no sign of anything in your writings, which are always interesting and enjoyable.


Woman in a Window said...

I feel your tenderness here, your vulnerability. It is scary, to be sure. I wonder about myself in fact, even though I'm a little younger. Things happen and astonish me, leave me thinking real hard on things that should come quickly. I suppose all we can do is have a quick deep breath and hold on as long as we can.

And I do wonder if perhaps diet would help. Not dieting per se, but what I eat. I'm sure the (god help me) three pieces of cheesecake I just ate will get in the way of something. Perhaps just between me and my desk.

Woman in a Window said...

I feel your tenderness here, your vulnerability. It is scary, to be sure. I wonder about myself in fact, even though I'm a little younger. Things happen and astonish me, leave me thinking real hard on things that should come quickly. I suppose all we can do is have a quick deep breath and hold on as long as we can.

And I do wonder if perhaps diet would help. Not dieting per se, but what I eat. I'm sure the (god help me) three pieces of cheesecake I just ate will get in the way of something. Perhaps just between me and my desk.

Paul said...

Julie's mother has Alzheimers and she's worried also. She's reading the research and doing the things that seem to delay the onset and minimize it.

We're about the same age and I'm experiencing the same things that you describe. My verbal skills are less than half what they once were. Scary but I think it's just normal aging.

Regardless, my approach is to pack as much living in now before either of us decline too far. If one day I have to care for Julie then I want to have an abundance of good memories to make the task less painful.

Best wishes, my firend, to you and Cuppa.

PBS said...

That's a wonderful painting, Cuppa is very talented. Yep, it's kind of scary to think of going down the same road as your poor father but health care has gotten better in the meantime--and will continue getting better. Hopefully it will NEVER become an issue for you!

Dale said...

A courageous post, to be sure. I'm left feeling slightly concerned about my own brain. I'm only 50, but I too, struggle at times for the right word. That's why writing well is, for me, much easier than eloquent speech. I used a lot of drugs in my past. Cocaine, mostly and speed. I've always believed the drugs damaged my brain, but perhaps that's not the case. Maybe .. just maybe .. my brain is getting older. Like the rest of me, it's beginning to slow down. Maybe it's a natural part of aging. Maybe I (we) worry too much.

KGMom said...

AC--your concern is quite understandable.
My husband's mother had Alzheimers and he worries about the possible genetic inheritance.
Keep exercising your brain, eat healthy, and go for walks. Not much else you can do.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I too have memory lapses of things and people I think should be right at the front of my mind. I think it is aging. I had hoped to be dead by now and not have to worry about these things. Seems Life wants to punish me more.

If only. . . . .Cuppa might have been the new Grandma Moses!

The other comments in this list have much more encouraging sage advice than I can offer. Take them seriously.

Donna said...

Cuppa's painting is wonderful...and You Stop It!!
When you play your music or, are out taking pictures, how do you Feel? You're great at both of those things! At our age, our interests shift...things we were Once good at...are not so important now! We've changed.
It's Not written in stone that you'll develop it...
Live in Each day...You'll find your stride!!!(((HUG)))

Amanda said...

My 6 year old twins can beat me hands down at computer games ~ and i have never been great with puzzles either!
I can understand your worry ~ but just enjoy life in the present.
Also Cuppa is a very talented painter, that's a wonderful picture.

Anonymous said...

The thought of losing our mental capacities is a scary thought and one that I believe is shared by most that are over 50. I too often feel that I am not as sharp as I once was. I too worry about what that might mean. Sigh.. this getting old is definitely not for sissies.

I LOVE the painting. Cuppa is one very talented lady.

J at said...

Cuppa is clearly talented. :)

We all lose our memory and our abilities as we age, I think, but watching a parent do so must make it much worse in front of your eyes.

My grandma did so many things to take care of herself, her body and her mind. And yet here she is, in a wheelchair and forgetting all of us. Makes me think I should take up smoking or something.

Judy said...

I am SOOOO thankful that my mom saw it coming and give us specific instructions concerning her care. She would be very pleased with how her 'care plan' is working out.

My mom took such fabulous care of herself. Her physical health is very good. She survived so many things that could have killed her.

My biggest struggle is with this. WHO is she now??? I hate how this disease plays with the few memories she has left, distorts them and spits them out in nasty ways.

I remember her getting that first test for dementia. Counting back from 100 by sevens. She could still do it then. I could not do that on my best and brightest day!

Oh, well.

(she sighs deeply and gets on with her life...)

ChrisB said...

AC I feel I'm a lot like you and I've certainly noticed a deterioration in my mental faculties since I retired. I'm sure you have nothing to worry about my girls run rings around me with their skills on DS, Wii and quizzes. I do a daily cross word and some computer quizzes and hope for the best.
I admire Cuppa's talent for painting and I can see why you treasure this picture.

dabrah said...

Cuppa's painting is lovely. It's just so calm.
I have always had problems remembering names, but now when I'm speaking I sometimes have to struggle for words which slip away and hide from me. But when I write I don't have the same problem.
Whenever I do catch up with an alusive word, though, I do a little exercise linking it to rhyming, or similar sounding words. It helps me remember it next time.
As for names, I picture something to trigger the memory. For instance, whenever I need to remember the place name Stoney Stratford, I picture Shakespeare sitting on a rock.

Pearl said...

A lot of things can factor into memory problems...medical conditions, depression, injury, and degradation of brain to any kind of Alzheimers or similar. My dad's a few steps behind yours.

My memory's never been worth 2 shakes. Best any of us can do is play cards as you're dealt.