I was surprised when Babu first read July’s passages and didn’t remember “Auntie Nellie” who came to visit her in early July. I had a dim memory of hearing about her before. But not every day is the same. Last week I tried to pass off passages she already read to her and she shot that idea right out of the sky. But today I brought her new passages and she read those, picked up these passages again, read them, and read the new ones a second time in a row. She clearly does enjoy reading these.
This time she stopped at Auntie Nelly and said: “Oh I loved her.” And she made an impression of a loud belly laugh. She sounded like a joyful woman, I observed, and Babu agreed. We talked about her farm and Babu could remember a very sketchy ground plan. Babu tried to remember why she wasn’t married but in her journal she came to visit with someone named John whom Babu cannot remember.
“I think I loved her because she was so good to me. I dimly remember crying by the bed she was lying in. I think she was dying …”
She constantly tells me how much she likes reading these, taking this path into memory. However, today made me wonder. “I don’t remember so many of these names…” And all of the ones she does remember are gone. We talked again about Zosh’s funeral today. And there are more painful memories to come.
She read a newspaper article the other day about a 22 year old woman who died in a motorcycle accident and said “And I’m still here, and I’m good for nothing!”
I told her: “Not true!” She argued but I brought her around. I told her she is good for the support and wisdom she gives to me and the relationship we have is priceless. It wasn’t until my jokes managed to penetrate that she cracked a smile: “I do want you to keep working on those jumping jacks, though. By the end of the week I want to see that happening.” Her eyes lit back up.
But she is 98 and she has out lived everyone of her generation, even those she grew up with who were younger than her. And these readings remind her of people she loved but also that she has lost them. Am I just continuing to bring up old wounds?
Nope. When I think about it, this is good. It’s the newspaper that brings her down. Like the articles she reads about the heroin epidemic and she will get so upset. These passages distract her from a larger world that she cares about but cannot change, and bring her back home.