Sunday, September 10, 2006

Word Respect

Bea has always loved words and encouraged their respect. Scrabble was her favorite game. Needless to say, Bea always won, except with my dad. She would let him score more points every second game. Getting him to play at all could be considered a major achievement since he was not a native-born speaker. Every Christmas Bea gave grandson Alex a Scrabble desk calendar. Her son became a newspaper editor; her daughter, a writer. Bea can be lying there in bed and out of the blue she will comment, “Rhapsody. Now there’s a beautiful word …”

Lisa tries to tempt my mother with a nice bowl of porridge: “Your belly would be so grateful.”

“Belly is not an elegant word,” Bea declares with evident distaste.

“What should I say?”


Lisa and I are just finishing a major grooming operation – shampoo, manicure, toe and ear cleaning, bed bath, etc. – when Nurse Jane arrives and notices the new lotion.

“Great stuff, called ‘very emollient body lotion,’ from Alba,” I tell her as Lisa smears a thick layer onto Bea’s back, necessary for the prevention of dry skin and bedsores.

“E-moll-ient!” pipes in the back’s owner, taking joy from each syllable. The spa treatment has put her in fine spirits.

Later, I ask what emollient means.

“Don’t know,” she says. “And you thought I was so smart!”

I am changing her by myself this evening, a tricky task due to extreme frailty. In order to position the underpad, I have to trot around the bed several times and tug on her sheepskin.

“Too bad you can’t jump,” Bea comments wryly.

Joared posted a comment that sent me to a Web site with an amazing sunset to symbolize the end of life.

I thought a lot about senility today and whether it applies to my mother. Here are some dictionary definitions to ponder:

1.) Senile: Exhibiting the symptoms of senility, as impaired memory or the inability to perform certain mental tasks.

2.) Senile dementia: A progressive, abnormally accelerated deterioration of mental faculties and emotional stability in old age, occurring especially in Alzheimer’s disease.

3.) Dementia: Deterioration of intellectual faculties, such as memory, concentration, and judgment, resulting from an organic disease or a disorder of the brain. It is often accompanied by emotional disturbance and personality changes.

Bea does not suffer from 2 or 3, but senility applies although, on some days, her mind is crystal-clear. Last week I noted distress at being unable to do anything “useful.” Today she failed my Everything-You-Can-Remember-About-Playing-Scrabble test yet felt well enough to want to go outside.

ME: “How I wish there was a magic button on your bed that I could push and transport you into the garden and then you could see how beautiful the cosmos look in the sunshine, with the goldfinches flitting from branch to branch!”

BEA: “I’m getting up. I am going to get up and act in a sensible way.”

ME: “You don’t think staying in bed is sensible?”

BEA: “Interesting question!”

My mother is just very old. During her waking hours, her mind stays busy: today she was wondering what life would have been like as a man. Senile she may be, but sharper than many of the young folks who voted for George W. Bush.

“Onomatopoeia,” Bea says as I leave the room. “Now there’s a lovely word ….”


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