By Richard Bleil
Sadly, I don’t mean this in a humorous way, and I realize that it is offensive to some to use the term “crazy” and I apologize to any who feel as such.
Before I get into this, let me begin with a little more about the family dynamics in the household where I was raised. My regular readers already know that it was not healthy, as it was dominated with an emotionally abusive and aloof father. See, I was raised by him, and have fought my entire life to sort out the good lessons from the harmful, and he was raised by his father who taught him the lessons passed along to me. His father was either born in Germany, or his father was, as was raised in a strict and traditional Germanic manner, meaning he was taught that he could rely on nobody but himself, keep his feelings to himself, and show no vulnerability. As if to drive this point home, his parents were forced to leave him at a foster home when he was a young teenager because they simply couldn’t afford to keep all of their children. It was a fairly common practice then, but can you imagine what this must do to a child old enough to understand what is happening? This man taught my father who taught me.
My parents were pretty traditional for the time. The mom would raise the daughter, and the father would raise the son, but, as I said, my father was aloof. One of the strongest lessons I learned from my father was to be alone. This is where I turned to my academics. I spent hours alone in my room reading The Encyclopedia Brittanica’s Young People’s Science Encyclopedia, book by book (there were nineteen plus a twentieth in depth index), page by page. Much of what I learned in that set became the foundation of my interest and knowledge in the sciences, and since they covered all sciences, my interest in science is over all disciplines.
My mother was the, kind of, bright spot. She was our protector (most of the time, except when she needed somebody to bring dad iced tea), and the parent that interacted with us, but, I learned much later, she was more there for my sister than ever she was for me. Apparently, every night, she would brush my sister’s hair where they would talk, and she would go shopping with her, and bring her into the kitchen. I get it; she knew how to raise girls, but not boys. And besides, I was my dad’s responsibility. Still, although it was muted, the attention from my mother was far more than ever I got from my father.
As mom got older (and pulled even further away from me), she began going through her menopausal changes. Her doctor put her on a medication designed to help her deal with hot flashes that, apparently, increased the odds of dementia. My mother succumbed. She was always small, and as she aged she became increasingly frail. Eventually she fell and broke her hip (in her eighties). The doctors decided to try a hip replacement, but, and quite possibly because of her dementia, she passed away having never fully recovered.
A few years earlier, I was married. I was well into my forties at the time, and mother was quite happy at the news. A couple of years later, I told her that we were getting a divorce, but I don’t think she quite grasped it. Apparently, on her deathbed, she said she was happy that at least I was married. If dementia has any positive side, let it be that it made my mother at least a little bit happier in the end.
For me, however, it touches on my greatest fears. Growing up alone with a family, I retreated into my mind. What I have always feared is the loss of my memory and mind. These have been so central to my identity that I cannot imagine what would happen if I lost my knowledge, and yet, it’s inevitable. I kind of track my knowledge, and notice how often I forget terminology, or facts, or how to perform some scientific calculation. These things do come back to me if I think about them, but it frightens me immensely because it seems to be happening more frequently.
I guess loss of physical and mental acuity is something we all have to deal with in our declining years. I’ve known several people who suffered from Alzheimer’s, and often do not recognize people that have been critical to them such as their spouse and children. There are many jokes about this, but this tasteless humor is how we deal with something that terrifies us. Imagine looking into a room of strangers, only to discover that they are your wife and children.
Be kind to the elderly, especially if they seem confused or forgetful. That they are not curled up in a corner somewhere weeping is a tribute to their courage and strength.