There is an elderly man who walks a lot in our neighborhood; if we are outside at the same time, he will stop and talk. At first I thought he might be deaf, because it doesn’t seem to matter what my half of the conversation is; after repeated conversations, I’m pretty sure it’s not deafness—though he may ALSO be a bit hard of hearing. He tells me the same things again and again, and he can get at most two sentences into a topic before he trails off and seems to forget what he was saying. He calls out “I love you! I love all of you!” as he leaves. It’s sweet and upsetting.
One thing I’m wondering is what it FEELS like. He seems happy when we see him. He seems happily sentimental about seeing kids playing and people out biking/walking, and very pleased by the prettiness of the day. What do things feel like from his point of view? I remember reading a long time ago that the worst part of Alzheimer’s is when the person can feel something is wrong—but then the condition worsens-yet-improves when the person can no longer tell.
Well! That’s a discouraging potential future for us to contemplate first thing in the morning! “Good news: at some point you can’t TELL how bad you’ve gotten, so you feel MUCH BETTER!”
I also wonder a lot about what he was like before things went this way. For all I know he’s ALWAYS been like this, his whole life. When he tells us about his career, it could be imaginary. But my guess would be that no, this is something that descended on him late in life. It’s sad to think of his former self observing his current self. On the other hand, his current self seems very happy, and his former self ISN’T observing it. It’s hard to know HOW to feel, isn’t it!
I have three reasons to be thinking about this as much as I do:
1. One of the job possibilities in my future is something at the local nursing home. I’ve wondered if that’s something I’d even be good at, but I don’t think there’s a good way to know without trying it. (My plan is to do some volunteering there when the next school year starts up, to see.)
2. While thinking about those possibilities (the job and the volunteering), I realized that if I continue to live in this same town, I could VERY WELL end up living at that nursing home MYSELF. That was a very odd thought: picturing myself working there, and then perhaps retiring, and then perhaps returning.
3. Thinking about my parents, and the various possible paths of THEIR futures. If I think it’s hard to know how to feel about a guy in our neighborhood, I’ll bet there are TONS of mental treats ahead! I am attempting the very smart “Wait to see what happens so you can think about just THAT path rather than ALL THE PATHS” method, but I don’t find that method compatible with my factory settings.
Plus, I ALSO think it’s sensible to be aware of the possibilities, to avoid making an assumption without realizing it and then being SHOCKED when things don’t go that way. I noticed it had never occurred to me that the nursing home I frequently drive past could be MY PERSONAL NURSING HOME one day; that seems like a fairly big Awareness Gap. I don’t want to fret to the point of overfretfullness about things that might never even happen, but if it’s an interesting thing to think about and it helps keep us realistic and empathetic, the other method suddenly seems a bit “La la la, I’ll worry about it tomorrow!”
There. Factory settings rationalized.