Monday, May 23, 2005


I was in the midst of my meeting at the Headquarters of the Great Corporate Salt Mine in Sweat City when my cell phone began vibrating. I don’t interrupt meetings to answer my cell phone, but the caller ID told me that it was She Who Must Be Obeyed. That meant trouble.

No, don’t get the wrong idea. I loves me my SWMBO, and I never miss a call to her when I’m on the road. It’s just that it is unusual for her to call me during the day when we are both at work...and the fact that she left a voicemail (rather than just rely on the “Missed Call” function to announce that she had tried to reach me) told me that it was a serious matter of some kind.

Over the years, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I have noticed that some of our little traits and foibles have gradually rubbed off on one another. We complete each other’s sentences. SWMBO will come out with a crude/funny/snarky remark even as the identical thoughts are forming in my head. And I have become paranoid, having learned from her the ability to construct the most horrifying scenarios imaginable in virtually every circumstance.

What was this call about? A car wreck? A disaster involving the kids? Dead relative? I catalogued all of the possibilities and did not care for any of them.

Fortunately, the meeting had only a few minutes more to run. As soon as we adjourned, I slipped away to the office where I was temporarily camped out in order to call the Missus back. But first, I checked the voicemail...and it was indeed Sad News. Our friend JoAnn had just lost her mother.

Sad News indeed...but not completely unexpected. JoAnn’s mom had been ailing these past few weeks, although most recently it looked as though she was beginning to come around. But for the greater part of a decade now, Betty had had Alzheimer’s Syndrome. Living in a long-term care facility, unable to recognize her daughter, her old life had been burned away.

Alzheimer’s is a paradoxical disease, merciful to its sufferers but cruel to their loved ones. The sufferers are unaware of what has happened to them as the condition escalates; eventually, their mental condition devolves in a kind of perverse reversal of normal aging, as their consciousness returns to its original, inchoate state. But the people they loved – and who still love them – suffer the grief of the blank, unrecognizing stare, the uncomprehending gaze.

JoAnn was the model of a good daughter, visiting her mother regularly and caring for her as best she could. Occasionally, the spark of recognition would return, only to vanish once more into the fog. But Jo bore up, never complaining. It was what she would want for herself, or for anyone she loved. When Betty took a turn for the worse, she knew that, as she put it, “it was time.” But that does not make it any easier when the inevitable finally comes to pass.

I remember Betty the way she was in the 1980’s, when we first became friendly with her daughter. She had been a teacher, with a Ph.D. in special education earned back in the day when a woman with a Ph.D. was a distinct rarity. Back then she was a vivacious, attractive, intelligent woman, the kind who would brighten any room she entered. Tough as nails, yet with a twinkle in her eye. That’s how I will remember her...and how I hope JoAnn will be able to remember her.

I will have a full day of Corporate Activity tomorrow, and early Wednesday I will board the Silver Aerial Bus that will take me home. And I will be there with SWMBO to help our friend JoAnn bury her mother.

Eil malei rachamim, shokhein bam’romim...

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