Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dementia Blogging: Day Three: The Science of Happiness

7 January 2010

--The science shows that people get happier as they age. One woman, now 87, plays the piano, attends classes, can be seen in photos with friends at lunch. PBS tells us that we are more calm when we're older; double so at 40 than at 20. We know our character strengths; we practice them. People are more resilient than you might think. The juvenile delinquent is a thoracic surgeon; the woman with cancer meditates now, changes wigs with less frequency. Positive psychology works for soldiers in the field.

--At the caregiver agency there are stacks of boxes, at least four of them, one on top of the other. They are full of cigars. The man is 90 and has plenty of money, so he orders cigars. Every so often they have to clear them out. “I keep thinking I started as a public health nurse,” says the boss. Now she ships cigars to soldiers in Afghanistan, Iraq. They'll be used, says a woman whose niece is over there now. His company could probably use some.

--It's a war movie today, men in helmets in the mud. War movie music, oddly sweet, so it's an old movie. “Her daughter, he loved her.”

--One of the two S's breaks the lunch time silence, everyone gathered to eat, no one eating yet. “It's so quiet in here, it's scary,” she says, loudly. Like the other S, she's from New York. “Where in New York?” Christine asks, breaking her own silence as she spoons the goulash-y dish onto the plates. “The best place in New York!” Turns out it's the Bronx, so I say the Yankees won the World Series this year. “Yes, that's why I love them,” she says, “but unfortunately, I didn't know.” I'm helping my mother eat, fork full by fork full; she no longer eats willingly, when S starts giving me the A-OK hand gesture. “Awl daughtas should be lwike that!” Yesterday she was on the arms of a daughter-in-law and grandson, fresh from the cold air. Today she wears a brown and black dress and black knee socks.

--J is eating his lunch by the back window, facing another man but not looking at him. A man and a woman come and stand behind and beside him; his daughter and son-in-law. “You spilled food on your pants! There's food everywhere! And how about your leg? Did you cut it? My husband is just out of surgery,” she says, jangling her keys. He holds up his bandaged arm. “Did you know about that? He had surgery! Hasn't had breakfast yet, so we gotta go.” Gone.

--A few minutes later, Christine says to J, “no don't even think that; you weren't mean to them, you were having your lunch. Get it out of your head.”

--Mom goes to the beauty shop. Under the dryer sits Pat; yesterday, P tore down the Christmas tree on Country Lane. Today, P is weeping. Emma tries to console her, but fails. P weeps because of a baby. She utters other parts of words, sounds, but the one word that works is “baby.” Then she begins to speak with a strong voice; she had four children and they had books and. The voice scrambles again. We'd arrived at the moment of trauma, when language slammed shut.

--F talks all the time to herself when she's not napping. Doe eyed, she wears a thick colorful sweater. She talks about Massachusetts, New Bedford. She says she does not have a good musical voice. She says she'll sing, but her voice. Christine tells me that Florence and her sister took care of each other until the sister died. “The MacKenzies, I said The MacKenzies!”

--At the common room, where mom hardly ever goes any more, E, the man who courts the ladies, wishes he could give Martha chocolate (against the rules), says New York was great except for the Irish section. Smell of pee on the corners. Mary Lou (a caregiver) says it was the Germans. Michael is gone, who led the discussions, replaced by a young man who remembers deli sandwiches in Brooklyn for $2 or $3. Mary Lou pitches in about pickles on the plate.

--The flowers. I'm known for the flowers I send from Hawai'i. They keep the place cool when the flowers arrive.

--Esther says not everyone realizes, but the residents take care of her, too. The way they talk to her, she knows what we go through.

--At the hair dresser, I ask mom if she remembers me. “I remember you,” she says, and smiles. In the common area, Betty from India asks mom if she remembers her daughter. “No, that's not my daughter,” she says, and smiles.

--The email header is “um,” from a poetry friend who wonders how I'm feeling better about it all this time. This is not cruel distance, nor is it enlightened detachment. “Whatever you do, that's your 'real' life,” my mom said when we complained our lives weren't “real.”

--I punch in 6s and 3s and 1s. I keep getting them wrong. The door won't open. A resident is walking toward the door, feeling the molding on the wall as he goes. Door clicks. I open it, and he says something about going out. I push the door closed against his voice.

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