Beauty in the Beast

Beauty in the Beast

Beauty in the Beast

One of my favourite people has early stage Alzheimer’s. I met her when she had already been diagnosed. She suffered the short-term memory lapses, the fear of not remembering, the bouts of frustration fuelled anger but none of it affected her sense of fun. She loved going out. She loved meeting people. She loved shopping. She had even learnt to use her memory loss to her advantage when confronted with things she should not be doing. But the most charming aspect of her was her ability to relish the same experience many times over.  She would tell me a story from her past (her long term memory was still strong) with the same excitement every time I met her, because she would not remember that she had told it to me previously. One morning I showed her a video clip of Vincent Van Gogh’s art, set to the Music of “Starry Starry Nights.” Vincent was her favorite artist (she herself was a design school graduate). It’s a beautiful clip and I was very gratified to see how moved she was. I met her again a few days later, and remembering how much she had enjoyed it I asked if she wanted to see it again. I realized when I played it that she didn’t remember it at all and so her experience was as powerful as the first time. Over the next few months I learnt that she had the capacity to respond with the same degree of emotion every time she saw the clip. And I thought to myself, “What a gift!” To be able to extract the same level of joy from an experience every time. Conversely, if she had a bad experience with anyone or anyplace, that would not stay with her for long. She would forget it, and in forgetting she would save herself much of the anguish of those who cannot forget. Having said that, none of this is meant to glorify the beast. Still, beauty must be appreciated wherever we find it.

I really don’t mind

I really don’t mind

I really don’t mind

A few days ago I had gone to check on Leela. She is 85 and lives with a retinue of 8 staff. Her daughter, who lives in another city, was worried that that the staff would be taking advantage of the mother – financially. I brought this concern up with Leela as we spoke. She was aware of the daughters concern but was confident she had a good system in place. She asked the attendant to get the book where the accounts were kept and asked me to have a look. And sure enough detailed accounts were maintained of daily spend. A closer look threw up some oddities – Rs 320/- spend on eggs in one week. That’s 40 eggs I pointed out. She thought about it for a moment and said she would try and be more vigilant. And then she said, “if what Bhola takes from my house ensures that his children eat better, then I really don’t mind.” I was struck by the generosity, the kindness, the sheer grace of the response. I have personally grown up with the counsel that staff will take things from the kitchen, it’s the norm, and that I need to learn to look the other way, unless it gets very unreasonable. I have been taught this is the sensible approach to retain staff. But inherent in it is a sort of suppression, a gritting-your-teeth kind of acceptance. Leela’s compassionate response helped me get a whole new perspective. I called her daughter and shared this discussion with her, and told her not to worry about her mother – “She really doesn’t mind.”

What will be, will be

What will be, will be

What will be, will be

Mini lives in the USA. Her mother, who is in her 80’s, lives in Delhi. She is well taken care of by the staff at home. And she speaks to Mini every morning for at least an hour. Since there is a 12-hour time-gap, Mini receives the call just after dinner. So as not to disturb her husband she steps out of the room and is on the phone for an hour talking to her mother. She worries that her mother’s friends are becoming less mobile and that her mother is getting lonely. She knows that her mother delays going to the doctor and does so only after much follow up by Mini.

With help from cousins and friends Mini organizes her mother’s life from where she lives. She jokes sometimes that she feels she is running two homes – in two countries, and two time zones. She wishes that her mother did not have to wait till the next morning to share her problems, and that there was someone her mother could call in the day. That there was someone who could take her out for a coffee occasionally. But the most touching part of what Mini said to me was – “I have come to accept that if something happens to my mother, I won’t be the first person attending to her. In fact, I won’t get there for at least 2 days after.”

As we finished our conversation, I felt a small lump in my throat, and became aware of a little tune wafting through my head – Que Sera Sera. Whatever will be will be. The future’s not ours to see. Que Sera Sera. What will be, will be.

How old is old?

How old is old?

How old is old?

My 78-year-old mother once asked me, in full earnestness, “How old is old?”

A few days ago, I was sitting in the balcony and enjoying the winter sun with 77 year-old Sheila. I had recently met a friend of hers, and was curious to know how old the friend was, so I asked her. She responded saying, “She must be in her 70’s.” I pointed out to her that she herself was in her late 70’s and I knew her friend was older. She looked me directly in the eye and said – “Really, I feel like I am 35,” and she laughed.

Yesterday, I met Ashok. He is 85 and on dialysis. We had organized a cards game for Ashok with a few other seniors (all octogenarians). At the end of the evening, I asked him if he had enjoyed himself, and if he would like to play with the group again. He said that it had been a pleasant afternoon but this group was too old for him. I told him that everyone at the table had been his age. He turned to me and said– “You see, I am 85 but I feel 75, so there is a 10-year gap between them and me. I would really prefer to play with younger people.”

This morning, while scrolling online, I found an answer to my mother’s question in a quote attributed to Joan Collins, “Age is a just a number. It’s totally irrelevant, unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wine.”