Saturday, February 18, 2006

I Have Beheld The Future, II

In Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal, Kundry is a woman condemned to earthly immortality. Forced to endure an endless existence, every time she awakes from her periodic deep sleeps, she utters a bloodcurdling scream.


I went to visit Grandmother yesterday. The last time I was in Oregon, about six months ago, I had an experience with her that wasn't super pleasant. Shortly afterward, she was determined to be a danger to herself and to others, and was placed in a home where she is monitored and treated with anti-psychotic drugs. She believes she is "recovering" and going home soon, and we encourage that particular delusion.

Her range of emotions has been greatly stunted by the drugs, which is a good thing. She's relatively coherent: she knew who I was, where I live, what I do for a living, and has been following the Olympics on her TV and wanted to know what I thought of the Flying Tomato. I did not desire to test whether she remembered the events of last August. She speaks in a fairly level monotone, clear and precise, but slow. Her facial expressions don't seem to change much, but she did say she was pleased to see me and gave me a nice hug and a peck on the cheek.

My father and I stopped by to chat with her during lunch at the home. It seems an okay enough place; my family does not have any money, so she's in a charity facility run by the Catholic Church. (As my grandmother is a devout atheist, I cannot help but enjoy the irony that she now sleeps every night under a large, rather ostentatious crucifix with a cement statue of Christ out the window.) She shares her small, dark, awful room with four other women. At one point she asked me to turn on the light, and I was distressed to see that the single, weak fluorescent fixture made no noticeable change in the room.

The dining/community area is a large, open, sunny space, but it does feel awfully institutional. Easy-listening music plays constantly.

I can't imagine how she endures her time there. I am not exaggerating when I say my Grandmother is the only resident who can articulate a sentence, let alone complete one. Many of the residents can no longer feed themselves. I watched as an aide held a piece of fish on a fork up to the mouth of a gentleman seated behind me. He stared past the fish. She tapped his chin with the fork, and he made no response.

At another table, a family had come to visit their father. "Hey dad, do you remember me?" The man sat, with his hands folded in his lap, staring downward, and did not answer.

My father, who has been regularly visiting for several months now, has gotten to know the quirks of the other folks. "Don't make eye contact with that one, or she'll come over." Or, "Keep some distance from her, she likes to grab people."

In an easy chair by the window, a small-framed, pudgy woman had fallen asleep. Two aides went to wake her so she could eat. Startled, I suppose, by the ruinous shock that her nightmare was real, trapped in a body that can no longer stand, her mind imprisoned behind a mouth that can no longer talk, she did the only thing she still can: she screamed.


They say to be careful what you wish for. I wish to not end up like that.


Anthony said...

I dearly hope that what you beheld was not the future, Andy. For any of us.

chiron said...

It's rare that someone can make so plausible and generous an estimation of the motives for such bizarre behavior. She screamed because the realization is too awful and it's the only vocalization that she's capable of. Great insight and probably true.

little-cicero said...

I'm proud to be a Catholic. First we take Europe, then the US Supreme Court, next: Andy's grandmother. If only we could get the President to convert, and maybe lose Ted Kennedy!

Esther said...

That's sad. We will all be old someday. I for one hope to enjoy the respite from having to talk to people. It might be nice to be alone with my thoughts for once in my life. Anything weirdI say will simply be attributed to the fact that I'm old. At the same time, it is very sad to see people in situations like that. It was nice of you to go and see your grandmother and bring her some cheer.

little-cicero said...

Yes, it is highly unlikely that this will be your future. You obviously excercise your mind every day, which is the best way to ensure mental health in the future. It sounds like your emotional intelligence is also conducive to mental health later in life...knowing how to deal with stress is key.

Terra said...

is it lucky that most of my elder relatives die of heart attacks, at around 85? I always thought that was long enough to live until my grandfather died and now I miss him.

epicurist said...

Sorry to see you go through that. It is terribly trying as I have a 94 year old grandfather who is also deteriorating.

As a child, I would volunteer at a elderly home. It was no more than an institution for the elderly mentally or physically deficient. The place smelled of urine and one could hear moaning and screaming at all times of the day. Sadly, if you were even remotely sane of mind, you would likely lose it by the end of the month.

l-c - I wish exercising the mind was really the only answer to us staying clear and mentally capable, but that simply isn't the case. Honestly, if I become a vegetable or burden to my family, I would want to die with dignity and honour.