Do you remember that old movie...On Golden Pond...starring Henry Fonda, Katherine Hepburn and Jane Fonda? It’s the story of an older couple dealing with the husband’s increasing dementia and his estranged relationship with their daughter.
I saw this movie in the theatre, and have purposefully never watched it again. This avoidance has its roots in the upsetting experience I had in the theatre, with the audience. I’ve never thought about it much...until what bothered me in the theatre was almost acted out in real life.
I found the movie very endearing, liked the relationship between these two old people who had been married for so many years. Their playful bickering reminded me of my own grandparents, who were married more than sixty years.
It was one very dramatic scene that upset me, well, not the scene itself but the audience’s response. The old man goes for a walk and gets lost in the woods surrounding the cottage where they have spent years of their time.
I have to go by old memories here and may not be accurate, so forgive me if I don’t relate the movie as it really is. As I remember it, the old man is in the woods, spinning around, lost because nothing looks familiar anymore and he’s frightened and unsure.
What upset me was that I was so emotionally moved with this man’s plight that I was crying...and the audience was laughing. I couldn’t believe the group of people sitting around me could be so unaffected by this scene. (I will admit that in all my years of nursing I have cared for a number of demented patients, whether the cause be Alzheimers, stroke, or any number of diseases that affect the brain, and so may have had more personal experience than most.)
Last week a friend of mine had a brain fog experience, not as dramatic as the movie, but still very upsetting. She was coming over for coffee, and was bringing some mail that had been delivered to my old address.
I was waiting, and got a sudden phone call. “Are you alright?” she asked. I was surprised because I had spoken to her earlier, but then she did know I’d been sick.
“I’m fine. Why” I asked. And then she tells me that she had been knocking on my door and no one answered, so she’d called to check. But I had been sitting here, in full view of my door and no one had been here.
It was a bad moment, because she had to realize she had been to the wrong unit, and that a place as familiar to her as my place should have been...was suddenly not familiar at all.
I watched her park, walk toward my unit, and then keep right on walking. I went out and called to her, and in my mind she still looked confused, a bit lost. She tried to cover it up, and we walked to that other unit, picked up the mail that she had left at the door, and made light of the whole thing.
But I know she’s been avoiding me, because I was witness to this ‘lapse’. We all have moments of forgetfulness, like losing our keys or missing an appointment etc., but it is hard when these episodes occur with an increasing frequency. Losing your memory, your awareness of self, recognizing it as it happens can be devastating.
I feel for my friend, and worry because this is just a small sign of what is to come.
Getting old sucks, big time.