Sunday, April 17, 2011

Old Age

My 91-year-old mother has some sort of dementia.  Not Alzheimer’s, probably.  She gropes for words, can’t remember what she did three hours ago, insists that I grew up speaking Hungarian, as she did.  She calls my partner “Richard.” 

I am sad a lot now.

The weird thing is that my father died when I was 19, and I would give a lot if he could have lived into old age.  I miss him every day. 

But I miss her, too. 

I call her every night.  Usually, we talk about three things: the weather, politics (“Do you watch Rachel Maddow?  She’s such a doll.”), and whether she went for her walk.  Recently, her foot has been bothering her.  The half-hour walks have become 15-minute walks.  I think it’s an omen.

My mother has become less hard-edged in old age.  She oozes love. She hugs receptionists.  Once a woman who complained about everything her friends did (“She walks too slowly!”), she now has mostly nice things to say about people, assuming she approves of their politics.  It’s a nice change.  And lucky.  Dementia can make you nasty.

Last night, at dinner, she told the waiter at the Lark Creek Café how old she was.  I almost fainted into my steamed asparagus.  One of the hallmarks of my mother’s life has been her easy ability to lie about her age.  I didn’t know how old she was until I was 20.  Even then, she told me that she was 57, and told my brother that she was 56.  Lying was something she did even when there was no benefit to be gained.

As soft and mushy as she has become, my mother is still infuriatingly stubborn.  She lives alone and insists on driving.  (A few months ago, I stole her car keys.  My brother had new ones made.)  She has control of a lot of money, and she Will Not Let Go.  I have begun the process of taking that control away.  She wants to argue about it with me all the time.

It breaks my heart.

At dinner last night, I needed a tissue, and she rummaged in her purse to find one.  She pulled out a paper napkin wrapped around a brownie.  “I forgot about this,” she said.  “How long has that brownie been in there?” I asked.  “Oh, I don’t know,” she said.  “I got it at the JCC.  They serve lunch for six dollars.  The meatloaf is fantastic!”  Then she leaned in close and whispered, “But everyone who eats there is so old!”


  1. Dear Gina,

    We are richer for your sharing about your mother's old age. Did you read the book "No More Words" by Reeve Lindbergh, the chronicle of the last years of her mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh? with all good wishes, Maureen

  2. That's one of the sad things about aging. The older I get the more I notice how old my peers have become. And I look a lot like they do, so I must be old, too.

    I am 80 outside, but feeling much younger inside. It's probably the same with the other elders whether they are still skiing or are barely moving.