A life sinking slowly

As a librarian, I encounter all sorts of people, from the smugly self-satisfied to those barely clinging on. This is a story of the latter.

R. led a wonderful life. He was involved in baseball. He’s met presidents and celebrities. He flew around the world.

And now he’s losing his mind.

He doesn’t remember how to do the simplest things, things which he used to do with no help. For example, he will type a letter at home on his laptop, put it on his thumb drive, bring it to the library, and print it out.

However, for the past 2 weeks he’s been bringing in his laptop. Why? Because he no longer remembers how to transfer a file from the laptop to the memory stick. He needs help doing that every time. And then, once he’s on one of our computers so that he can print it out, he needs help on how to bring up the document. He used to do all these things without our assistance.

I’ve seen photos of him with Ronald Reagan, Bob Hope, the Three Stooges. He milled around with the great and good. And now he scrapes by with enough money to pay his rent and buy bologna. I’ve had to loan him a few bucks on a couple of occasions because he didn’t have enough gas in the tank to get him home. And now, senescence is creeping in. His memory is shot.

He served in Vietnam, and yet never availed himself of VA services until he told me that he hadn’t been to a doctor in 20 years and I lit into him. Now, thankfully, he uses his benefits. But all those years without medical care most likely led to his present state, his mind slowly ebbing away, the simplest routines smashed in the shards of his memory.

I’ve never sat down with him and asked him what I want to ask so many of my patrons: What happened? At what point did a life hobnobbing with the rich and famous become one of barely hanging on? Was the past prologue? Is one’s fate fixed?

He’s in the process of organizing to move back to his home state. And we all wonder at work: How will he drive a U-Haul back? He’ll get lost in the mountains or drive over a cliff.

R. is not unique. A life can go from swimming to drowning in a moment. World beater to beating the streets. It may not happen to most people, but you shouldn’t place bets on it.

10 thoughts on “A life sinking slowly

  1. This is so true LL. I have a friend who’s mother is entering these stages and it’s driving my friend over the edge because she’s having a hard time accepting what is happening to her mother. Fortunately, her mother has a good pension and Kaiser medical coverage, but it’s still hard seeing this person slowly fade mentally from you. She talks to me about her daughter as if I don’t know who her daughter is. It breaks my heart.

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  2. Thank you for bringing this story of one of your patrons, LL. I’m glad that you are there to help him in the library. I wish him a safe journey home.

    It’s so sad and hard when we start to see our loved ones suffer from alzheimer’s, or age related memory loss.

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  3. I saw a young man today who was a student in my elementary years ago. I couple of years ago he was on our high school baseball team. He and another student were firing pitches at each other and it missed him and hit him in the heart. It stopped. He nearly died. After a long while barely clinging to life, he started to come back and regained nearly all of his old strength. Then some kind of delayed stroke-like symptoms manifested. Pain, difficult speech, difficulty walking almost forced him to a wheelchair and people who saw him then said he didn’t look like he could last much longer. Today when he stopped by there were still walking and talking difficulties but he had just completed his first year at University of Michigan and was talking classes and working at a start up this summer. His mother has gone back to work to pay for all the extended and sometimes experimental therapy he requries. All this to say, that we think we are walking on a broad path in life and then something reminds us that we are balanced on a knife edge every day.

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  4. This was so sad. You are such a compassionate and beautiful person, and I am glad that people like you exist, because so many times, I think that we as a humanity, are losing our way. People do not know where they are going, and do not understand that you can hit hard times.

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  5. LL My paternal grandfather and probably my maternal grandmother had Alzheimer’s and I fear that my oldest brother has it too. He lives alone and isolates himself from us. The only reason he allows me to have contact is because he forgot how to pay his bills and was double paying sometimes triple paying. He had overdrawn his bank and checking accounts until he had NO money. I still don’t know how or where the money went. I have to take him to the doctor or write out instructions for him to do things or else he won’t do it. On top of that he is a hoarder. My biggest fear is that I will come down with this disease too. Every time I forget simple words or I feel this is the beginning. Thank you for a timely subject.

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