Saturday, May 13, 2006

Mortal States

I have been contemplating mortality of late. Not necessarily my own although I should really make a will, but more that of my family and friends. My father has lost his short-term memory and has thus toppled over the top of the slippery slope. My poor mother is tired and exasperated. I found myself getting exasperated despite good intentions to be understanding and sympathetic.

What is the attitude one should take when confronted by such a situation? I tried to be matter-of-fact, repeating everything several times as though it was the first time I'd said it, and giving him simple tasks to help him participate. Sometimes, though it all fell apart, and I found myself coping with jokes such as singing the 'Mission Impossible' music as he tried to find the wine box in the kitchen, having used it 5mins previously.

I asked my mother if he gets frustrated, but he doesn't seem to. He seems to inhabit a parallel universe, and comes down to earth occasionally to shout at the boys for being silly. He's always been a bit absent, and this is amplified now. It's only when he is doing something out of the ordinary that he is more like his old self. Boredom triggers an aggravation of his condition.

Elsewhere, I have a friend whose husband is much older than her and, since her retirement has become unbearable to live with, convinced, as he is that she is looking for opportunities to leave him. This is not the case, but he is not to be placated, and will not let her do anything without him. He has become even more of a control freak and it's pushing her away, if not physically, then emotionally. Yet he needs her to cope with his daily life. It's the realisation of his own mortality that is frightening him to death.

We are so fragile and our demise is so inevitable, that we should really take advantage of every opportunity to enjoy life that we can. I feel, now that I am divorced, that I am able to enjoy mine for my benefit. It's a good feeling.


  1. How old is your Dad?I'm 72 and think I am going the same way

  2. Hi Glen, he's 75. He's due to have a neurological MOT soon to assess his condition. My mother is not expecting more than an identification of his condition as the links in his brain which govern tasks has gone. So he loses track of where he is during a given task. It's been coming on for years.
    The only thing I can suggest for you is to keep your brain active. If you are on the computer that's great - do as much as you can to ward off boredom. My mother tells me that when my father is doing nothing in particular at home, he is much much worse than when, for example they go on a day trip somewhere and get a good dose of mental input.

  3. The mind is such an odd thing. Sometimes it can suffer terrible trauma, like when my friend John crashed his motorbike into a brick wall in the Comoros islands, and had to be helivacced out to hospital in South Africa, and still recover completely - although on awakening from his coma he couldn't recall how to speak either English or French, when I saw him a year later, he was indistinguishable from his former zany self. You wouldn't think mere age would have a greater impact that violent head trauma, but it does seem to catch up with us all. Even without afflictions like the Parkinson's that darkened by grandfather's last years, it seems like something eventually snaps up there, like a toy plane whose propeller is wound up once too often. Doubtless, Sarah's advice to keep busy is the best - keep learning new things, keep challenging yourself, and above all keep a sense of purpose up there. There is always something more to do.

    Cheers, --- Phil

  4. I agree, Phil. It's like the pathways that govern short-term memory no longer function, while the ones where old memories are housed are favoured, unencumbered by diverionary tactics by short-term memory hogging disk space.


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