When they asked him his name he said Bing Crosby. and he began to sing with a fragile voice.
"We're not kidding. This is important. Who are you?"
Then, there was silence.
The doctors turned to us and said, Your dad is being funny because he doesn't know his name... And he's not sure who you are either.
It's sadly ironic how things have changed over the years.
It seems a long time ago when our mother was in a nursing home.
That was sudden, too.
One night she crawled into bed and said goodnight to my father. The next morning, she couldn't get out of bed. Within days, she was living in a nursing home, physically and mentally paralyzed with sudden onset dementia.
For weeks, she couldn't remember the year, the city, or her name.
She couldn't sit up or even roll over in bed.
My sisters and I took shifts staying with her.
But my dad was always there, unless he was off telling the nurses the story of how he met Ruby, and how much he owed her for being his wife.
How lucky for me that it was my shift on one night I will always remember.
Pop said, "Ruby, I have an announcement."
Then he asked me to prop her up in a sitting position on the bed because he had something important to say.
She sat with a confused, but adoring stare as he took his position at the foot of the bed, like it was a stage.
He said, "Ruby, with you in a nursing home, I've had a lot of time to think and I've come to a conclusion. So I've prepared this presentation."
That was not unusual for Pop. Since he had spent 30 something years at IBM, my sisters and I had grown up hearing stories about his presentations. And I think Mom heard him practice most of them.
But this was my first.
He began with an introduction about their love and the similar values that had brought them together.
Then he went through a carefully outlined speech with three major points, complete with big gestures or long pauses rubbing his chin, when appropriate.
It was not brief, which is no surprise to anybody who knows my father.
Finally, the big finish: "So Ruby, in conclusion, I have determined that if you're willing to try, I believe that we still have five more quality years together. Thank you."
I jumped up and applauded.
My mother just smiled, like she didn't know who this man was, but she was falling in love with him all over again.
Soon after that, it was determined that my mother had NPH, or Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus, which is basically too much fluid in the brain. It's an easy diagnosis to miss since the symptoms are so similar to Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. As soon as they could get her into surgery, doctors put a shunt in her brain to release the excess fluid and reduce the pressure.
The result was amazing and almost immediate.
Within days, her mind was back.
She was able to return home and enjoy all the family, but her strength was slower to recover.
Dad turned one of the bedrooms into a workout room to help her relearn to stand and walk a little....Although she has mostly used a wheelchair since her illness.
But Mom regained her love of sports, remembering her favorite players and their stats on the Mavericks, the Rangers, the Cowboys.
Life was great again for Ken and Ruby.
It seems like it's been a long time since that presentation in the nursing home.
But it's been exactly five years.
During dinner at one of their favorite restaurants last week, Dad collapsed.
Doctors said that after a major stroke followed by three mini strokes, the right side of his brain is gone.
His left side is paralyzed.
He can't swallow.
And his speech is slurred.
But one week into therapy, he knows our faces.
He can turn his neck to the left.
He can ask for Ruby.
We know his heart is good.
And so is hers.
Tonight, it is my shift.
And I am watching Mom sitting in her wheelchair at the foot of his bed.
Her speech is short and sweet.... with a smile.
"Now it's my turn to take care of Ken."
Note in my absence:
Thank you for your prayers and well wishes.
I sympathize with so many others in my situation who are taking care of aging parents. Now, more than ever, I understand why they are called the greatest generation.
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