Friday, June 30, 2006

A Fishy Story

Dawn is breaking. I lie in bed and slowly begin to wake as a weird noise imposes itself upon my brain. It is repetitive. It comes from downstairs. It definitely is not Bea calling my name. Since the noise seems to originate in her room, reluctantly I get up to investigate.

Bea has her eyes wide open. She is repeating over and over something that sounds like Iraq. I cannot make out the exact word, because she seems to have been at this for quite some time and is no longer saying it clearly. Her mouth flaps open and closed, open and closed: “ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA …”

“Mother, what are you doing?”

“Shut up! ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA …”

“What in the world are you doing? Stop!”

“Look around and you’ll see. ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA…”

“Who told you to do this?”

“The guys cooking fish. ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA…”

Bea won’t stop. Her lips are parched. She reminds me of a little kid who has been told to do something silly by bigger kids and doesn’t dare to say no. So, I get in her face, shake her by the arm. She waves me away with an unusual angry gesture.


“Mother stop!”

“Shut up. ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, Go away. ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA.”

I decide a lecture is needed and think of what I would have said to one of my children had a bully instigated such behavior. “You shouldn’t do what just anyone says …” etc.


“Want some breakfast?”

“No. ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA. The story isn’t finished. ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA. This is part of the process of cooking fish. ER-RA, ER-RA, ER-RA …”

“The fish should be cooked by now, don’t you think?"


"Do stop.”

I go off to fetch her meds. When I return, Bea has fallen asleep.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Loss of a Good Friend and Neighbor

Ruth Clapp moved to Cape Cod in the early 70s, as did my parents. She and Martin had a house built on a two-acre lot nearby. Bea and Ruth became quite close. They shared an appreciation for culture, democracy, and good books. For a while, the two neighbors were on the same town committee.

Two years ago I took Bea to Ruth’s house for a final visit. Martin had passed away, and Ruth was moving to assisted living in Maine. We went in the car, although she lived just across the street. Ruth was attached to an oxygen tank, and Bea used a walker. How poignant when they said goodbye! Mother was what she called "a little flakey" that day, but Ruth knew perfectly well that they would never see each other again.

Bea was 8 years older. We all assumed she would die first. But life is not predictable. Ruth passed away this winter. Her death occurred the night Bea went into the hospital.

I relate the news once we have driven Bea back to Wellfleet, after she is settled into the comfort of her own room. I wait for as "right" a moment as possible. And then I have to tell her several times until it finally sinks in.

When I tuck Bea in tonight, I announce that I am going to the Clapps’ for dinner, invited by Ruth’s daughter Madeleine, who now owns the house. I cannot help but remember past dinners where my father, Martin, Ruth, and, of course, Bea were present, enjoying each other’s company. Now she is the only one still alive.

Bea says tentatively, as if seeking corroboration, “Ruth died, didn’t she?”

“She did.”

“Ruth was such a nice person!”

"She was."

I remember speaking to Ruth about old age and the approach of death. The idea of living on for years did not appeal to her once quality of life deteriorated. Sometimes I cannot help but wish Bea felt the same way ...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Upper Body Exercises for the Elderly

I regret to report that Bea has not been doing her exercises lately. Marie, the occupational therapist from Gentiva, would not be pleased. She used to come twice a week and provided great motivation. Bea didn’t always feel like exercising but usually complied. I bet there are not many people who can say no to Marie. She is most persuasive.

We do a demonstration one morning for Lisa. Bea sits perched on a chair, which is quite out of the ordinary these days. Her sheets have just been changed. Lisa has "gussied" her up, and Bea still seems to have some energy left.

“Oh, I know!” I say. “Let’s show Lisa your exercises.”

Bea immediately extends her fists in front of her and starts doing a modified row-row-row the boat. She is so cute, rowing away.

One of us does have to help with balance so she won't fall over.

The idea behind the upper body exercises is to keep the blood flowing. This is a desirable goal, given Bea’s bedridden condition.

Here are the exercises Marie suggests:

1.) 3 to 5 abbreviated jumping jacks (very abbreviated!)
2.) 6 to 10 swimming strokes (We would pretend Bea was swimming across Slough Pond to Nancy’s house.)
3.) 2-4 picking fruit (Bea would pick cherries and throw them in an imaginary basket.)
4.) 3-5 rowing a boat (Bea’s favorite)
5.) 3 to 5 touchdowns (Bea raises both fists into the air and cries “Hurray!” while doing her best not to fall over.)
6.) 3-5 karate punches (Bea never did more than 1 for each arm.)

Marie recommends these exercises 3 to 4 times a day.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

"Cutting a Rug"

Bea is having such fun in her mind that I regret my intrusion with breakfast. She greets me cordially and exclaims about how very much she has been enjoying the fashion show: hats have been on display all morning. “Which one did you like best?” she asks.

I explain I must have missed most of it, and apologize.

I cannot tell whether she has been modeling the hats or admiring the selection from the audience, but one thing is sure: Bea has been having a great time.

Up in the attic, there is a wooden hatbox that dates from the twenties. Bea actually stored her hats away. She kept some favorites for years, wrapped in tissue paper and collecting dust. They were made of felt or silk, and often had veils. My children used these hats for dress-up over summer vacation. More recently their grandma wore a crocheted cloche with a two-inch B covered in rhinestones pinned to the brim.

When Lisa arrives, I tell her what Bea has been up to.

“Did you model? Lisa asks, always up for a good story.

Bea nods with an impish grin.

“Where? New York?”

“Best & Company. I can remember being so pleased when a handsome man saw me in a black dress with white sleeves. It had polka dots.”

“What did he look like?”

“Oh, very handsome. Jet black hair.”

“What did you do?”

“We went dancing. Don’t you think that’s what people who are young and happy ought to do?”

We both can only agree.

“Did you cut a rug?” Lisa asks.

Bea’s whole face lights up, like when you find something you thought you had lost and come upon it by accident so the discovery is even more thrilling.

“That’s a funny expression,” I say. “What does it mean?”

Bea tries to explain: “You do something with your whole body. It involves a lot of exercise.”

“Dancing!” Lisa whispers.

Bea has transported the three of us to a dance floor, in Manhattan. You can almost smell the cigarette smoke. There Bea is, in the spotlight, dancing up a storm in her black and white dress.

“I bet you were a fetching sight,” Lisa says.

“J’espere que oui!” Bea responds in French, then translates, in case Lisa doesn’t understand. She is in fine spirits and all the attention has made her blossom.

It warms my heart at how very supportive Lisa is of my mother. Lisa has a gift. She is able to make elderly people feel good about themselves. It sounds easy. But it is not. Often strangers avoid the elderly as if old age were a contagious illness. The expectation is that the person with the cane and puckered skin has nothing more to contribute to society. Actually the opposite is true. Elderly brains brim with interesting information, accumulated over a lifetime. The trick is to approach them with the respect they deserve. Hospice workers know how to do that ...

Monday, June 26, 2006

Meeting Paul By Bea; Meeting Beatrice by Paul

In May 2001, Bea composed one of her little messages for us to find later. The handwriting is a bit shaky, but, considering she was 92, writing even a page by herself is pretty incredible. Here is what Bea felt inspired to share: “It gives me pleasure to recall the circumstances under which I met my future husband. I was living in Georgetown and had arranged with my widowed hostess to have an occasional dinner party. It so happens that in the same office in the government was a man I had met earlier: Paul Grabbe. I invited him to my party, but he had another engagement. However, as a friendly gesture, he invited me to cocktails at a Georgetown café. Cocktails led to dinner and, as it was June, a walk along the nearby canal. He told me that he had been married and that it hadn’t worked out. As I later learned, his first wife, Laura Harris, had given up an excellent job as children’s book editor at Grosset & Dunlap and then found that living in Washington without her career bored her and went back to NYC. We walked along the Potomac Canal that June night. Paul asked if he could kiss me. I thought that unusual because men usually proceeded without permission. I felt then that there would be more …”

Now, it just so happens that I also have my father’s version of their first date. He recounts in his memoirs that they were both working at the Library of Congress, transformed into offices during the war:

“The azaleas were in bloom the day I met Beatrice, a svelte blond with intense, cornflower blue eyes. I was attracted to her at once. She headed up the Radio Section, which reported on how war news was being presented to the American people on the radio. We had been introduced at a meeting with many other people present. Ever since, I had looked forward to getting better acquainted.

Smokers were required to go outdoors, so I left my desk five or six times a day. I would grab some documents and briskly walk down the aisle. I hoped no one would notice that instead of making for the door, I detoured past Beatrice's desk to have a look at her. I walked fast, as if intent on some important task. What I did not realize was that my frequent appearances had piqued her curiosity. It wasn't long before she waylaid me to find out why I kept striding by.

“What do you do here?” she asked.

“Come over to my desk and I'll explain.”

As she followed me, I wracked my brain for an adequate response. It certainly wouldn't do to admit that so far I had accomplished nothing but reading reports and attending staff meetings. I glanced down at my watch. “Nearly noon!” I exclaimed, as if in surprise. “If you happen to be free . . . there's a good place near here, fairly quiet. . . where we could have lunch.”

We found a table at the Greek restaurant across the street. I ordered sherry for us both. “It's gotten cooler today,” I said, leading her eyes towards the window. “Seems there was a shower.” I studied my companion and hoped she didn't think I was staring. Beatrice looked unusually attractive in her suit of charcoal gray, accented by an orchid pinned to her lapel, and a chartreuse sweater. Perched on her head was a saucy little hat to match the suit. There was a silence while the waiter brought our drinks.

“You were going to explain your work,” she reminded me, taking a sip of sherry.

I told her some of the things I had done before the war and explained my bafflement at the ways of Government. Beatrice listened closely and asked several questions. Then I suggested she tell me about herself.

“I graduated from Vassar ten years ago. After that I worked as a producer of educational programs for CBS radio.”

“So you came down here to help in the war effort?”

Beatrice minimized the importance of what she had done, but I was impressed, for it seemed there was nothing comparable in my career to date. Time flew by. We parted, promising to see each other soon again.

A few days later, as I was about to call her on the intercom, she called me first. Her voice sounded ebullient: “I'm giving a dinner party next Friday and hope you'll come. I've invited a glamorous Spanish girl you'll enjoy meeting.”

Didn't Beatrice realize I was interested in her? I scrambled for an appropriate response. “Friday?” I said, trying not to reveal my disappointment. “I would have loved to but unfortunately have an engagement I can't break. I’m really sorry.” I felt I couldn't let it go at that, so I added, “How about we have supper together some other night, say next week?”

It turned out we lived only a few blocks apart. We walked over to Martin's on Wisconsin Avenue, then strolled along the Chesapeake Canal. It was June, and the warm summer evening lent special intimacy to the occasion. Looking sideways at my companion, I thought that surely she must be the most alluring creature I had ever known – apart from Veta. But Veta was long ago and far away, while Beatrice was here and now. On an impulse, I told her about my marriage to Laura and of our imminent divorce.

We paused to watch the city lights reflected in the Potomac. There was no one around. We could barely hear the sound of distant traffic. I felt a sharpening of all my faculties, a sudden keen awareness of the woman at my side. I counted to four, trying to quiet the pounding of my heart, then took her in my arms …”

Sunday, June 25, 2006

When Death is What Comes Next ...

Bea is awake for most of the day, so I spend a good bit of time by her bedside. Sometimes she makes sense. Sometimes she doesn’t. The problem is recognizing what is fantasy and what isn’t.

Nurse Jane has decided I need a health aide seven days a week while Sven is abroad, so Hospice & Palliative Care of Cape Cod sends Florence to help Bea with lunch. I take advantage of her presence and run to the dump. When I return, they are chatting away, happy as can be. My mother loves new people.

Bea takes a nap in the afternoon. I check on her from time to time and rotate her body every few hours. Suddenly, out of the blue, she says, “They never returned them to me.”

“What?” I ask. “Who never returned what?”

“The two art objects that were on the table.

“Which table? Where?”

“One I found on an island in the eastern Mediterranean. It was a repetition of that flower motif I liked. I’m sorry now that I gave it to them. As a matter of fact, they didn’t ask. They just took it. Did you give them anything?”

I listen carefully. I presume Bea is recounting a dream but am not sure. Everything she has said sounds plausible. “Why should I have given them anything?”

“To celebrate the end of the season. There was a party.”


“Oh, very close to college headquarters.”

“Which college?”

“That college the kids went to.”

“Which kids?”

“Betsy and Nick.”

Ah! Now I know we have been in Dreamland again. How nice to be able to travel while bedridden!

Bea then bemoans the fact that there is no television in her room. I tell her about the wild turkey in our garden. She wants to hear news of Sven.

For dinner, Bea requests steak and eats it. Then, after ice cream, she asks, “Is your mother dead?”

“Who do you think I am?” I respond, disconcerted.

Bea pauses to think this over and says slowly, “You’re my daughter. So, your mother isn’t dead. She doesn’t want to die. She may just be in a situation where she has to die.”

Her words pretty much sum it up…

Saturday, June 24, 2006

When the War is Over

I am looking at photos of myself as a baby, retrieved for comparison with Juliette’s baby pictures. Bea looks down at me with adoration. I have my head tilted toward the camera, held by a professional photographer. Bea worked as a model for a while and is posing. Her mouth is closed. She probably started talking again as soon as the photo was taken. I was lucky to have such a verbal mother. When I worked with toddlers, I developed a method of stimulating neurons through speech. Now I cannot help but wonder if Bea’s constant chatter did not have an influence?

Today Bea isn’t very verbal. She seems a bit depressed, although her cough has almost disappeared. I sit by her bedside for a while, once my chores are done. I have put a fan by her window, in order to keep the air circulating. The only sound is its slow whir. It has become awfully humid. Wearing plastic underwear in hot weather cannot be fun. I guess I wouldn’t want to talk much either.

Suddenly Bea looks up and says, “I’m so glad someone is sitting here. It makes all the difference.”

I feel pleased to be acknowledged, grateful that my presence serves a purpose. We sit there in silence for a while more. Then Bea says, “I’ll be glad when the war is over.”

Now, it is not at all clear which war she is referring to – World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnamese War, the war in Iraq – so many have taken place during her lifetime. But I agree. All war is awful.

“I’ll be glad when war is over, too,” I say.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Mink Coat

Bea’s cough seems better. She sleeps again all day. Her hysteria at being unable to breathe reminds me of an incident that occurred while at Pleasant Bay three months ago…

When I arrived late in the afternoon to feed her supper, Bea grasped my hand and pulled me in close. “Thank God you’re here!” she cried. I read absolute panic in her eyes. Her whole body was shaking. “They have stolen my fur coat. It was right there in the closet. My marvelous mink. And now it’s gone. Gone! One of them must have stolen it! Oh, I should have known. What am I to do? Help me, please! We have to find it ...” (etc.)

Bea had put herself into quite a state and must have been playing drama-queen for at least an hour. Eyes lowered, the health aides circumnavigated the bed as if it contained a lunatic with leprosy. I could tell each and every one felt Bea’s tirade was directed at her personally. The thing is, the ratty old mink was safe at home. Never would I have brought it with us. I relayed this information to everyone in the room. “She really does care about that mink coat!” I added in as apologetic a tone as I could muster whenever a new nurse or health aide appeared. I wanted them to continue taking good care of her. "She won it in a contest."

This statement was true. Bea had entered a Sealtest milk contest in Washington, DC, back in the fifties, when milk was still delivered to the door several times a week. I remember how she would roll up the entry forms and stuff them between empty glass bottles for the milkman to pick up.

Imagine our surprise when Sealtest contacted us to say Bea had won a mink cape. Since she had always dreamed of a mink coat, my dad wrote a check for several hundred dollars and arranged for Sealtest to present Bea with one. My mother wore that mink for many winters. It was her prized possession. No wonder she was obsessing about it!

The next day I triumphantly carried in the coat and draped the heavy fur across her feet. When Bea woke up from her nap, she asked, “What in the world is my mink coat doing here?”

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Bea’s Books (5)

On her bookshelves, Bea has art books, poetry books, Sigmund Freud, Henry James, and classics, like Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory. I can tell where she bought Don Quixote by Cervantes because it is stamped “Sold at retail by Macy’s.”

I open what must surely be one of Bea’s oldest books: Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini. She has pasted a frontispiece on the back of the cover. It shows a dog and two deer dancing under the stars while Pan plays a flute. I read, “This book belongs to Beatrice W. Chinnock.” Her name has been written in blue ink, using a script similar to the printed words. How exquisite the lettering! She must have labored intensely to get it just right.

“Le Chemineau” has lost its cover. Bea read the play for French at Vassar in 1930. I know because she has left us this message and added, “Liked it!”

Another well-read book is The Education of Henry Adams. Inside, Bea signed her name and October, 1932. She has taken copious notes, scribbled here and there. (Rereading the book in 1962, Bea writes, “Note: Time distance between church action on Bruno & Galileo was 30 years, the same as the span of time between my purchase and beginning of comprehension of this book.”)

At about the same time, Kitty and Nancy gave their friend The Diary of Samuel Pepys’ Esquire. They have written, “I hope you read all of this sometime.” Curious! Here Bea has spelled her name “Bee.”

It is spelled the same way on the first page of The Poetical Works of John Keats, published in 1926. The decades of dust on its pages make me sneeze. She must have felt very proprietary to sign all her books this way.

Bea loved poetry. I find a dedication she wrote to my father in a book of Chinese love poems: “To Paul. Happy Birthday, February 14, 1943. ‘Why should I climb the look-out?’” I examine the book, searching for a reference to a lookout and find none. It will remain their secret …

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Love to Love

Bea is having trouble breathing.

Lisa has come and gone. She shares our concern, advising us to call Nurse Jane. We place Bea on her side, the way Jane directs over the phone. She will be here at 2:30. In the meantime I try to reassure Bea that she is surrounded by people who love her. My brother Nick, his wife Betsy, and I sit there quietly, by her bedside.

Bea's mouth hangs open. I notice immediately that her eyes are different. The pupils have contracted, so you see mostly powder blue. The boney hands are shaking. In fact, she seems a bit hysterical this morning. I modulate my voice in an effort to mitigate her distress. I know from experience with Sven that nothing produces more panic that difficulty breathing.

Since Bea seems hot, I place a cool washcloth on her forehead. We take her temperature. It is normal. But she isn’t. Bea’s speech, already erratic, has become blurred, not at all clear like yesterday. It is hard to understand what she is trying to say. What’s more, her cough becomes more frequent. The sound is disconcerting.

Bea opens her eyes and whispers, “Why are they here?”

“We are here because we love you,” I say.

“No. Them. Miggits.”

I assume the visitors are back.

By listening carefully I make out the words, “Where is that baby?”

“Baby Juliette?”

Bea nods.

“She lives in LA.”

“I want to see that baby.”

“I do, too, but Juliette lives with her mom and dad, and his job keeps them in LA, remember?”

Nick tells her, “How nice that your spirit, and your genes, will continue through Juliette. She is the next generation.”

Nurse Jane comes before 2:30 and reassures us. She suggests broth to break up the phlegm, and lemonade. We sit Bea up in bed. We feel relief, but remain vigilant. Bea is so frail. Coughing up the phlegm obviously demands quite an effort.

“Why do you take such good care of me?” Bea asks in a faint voice after one especially difficult coughing spell.

“Because we love you,” I respond.

“Love to love,” Bea says softly.

“Love to love,” we repeat in unison.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Bea has developed a little cold. I’m afraid she may have caught the germ Sven had last week. He left today for his annual vacation in Sweden.

“Now this is a serious development,” Bea tells her daughter-in-law Betsy Krogh, who is visiting. “Because I may die.” Her voice is deeper than usual, and hoarse, but her mind is totally clear.

My brother, Nick, joins them. He leans in close to her bed, elbows on the rails. Nick has always been close to Bea. I am glad they have this time together.

“I want to congratulate you two on the way you handled Ben,” Bea says in her new, deeper voice, referring to their son who has Down Syndrome.

I hear them chatting about this and that. Vassar is mentioned several times. My brother was the first son of an alumna to be accepted at the college. Bea is alert and welcomes the company of people who are dear to her.

In the morning, the cold seems worse. Bea has a lot of phlegm and is coughing. Pneumonia is the specter that hovers in the back of our minds. Her weakened body cannot fend off germs. I look forward to Lisa’s visit since I feel at a loss. Hospice has experience with this type of situation.

Yesterday, on the highway back from the airport, I enjoyed the freedom from the constant attentiveness and worry elderly care entails. I knew my sister-in-law was there by Bea’s bedside, ready to respond to any crisis that might arise. I am supposed to have a holiday today, too, but find myself unable to leave.

Bea’s death is inevitable. We all die. That is part of the life experience. Still, the idea of losing her is difficult to accept.

Monday, June 19, 2006


The blog tonight is for you romantics out there who were moved by the fact that Bea’s father discouraged her relationship with that handsome man with the impossible name, the one who gave her the book of love poems: Antonios Adamantios, Johannes Theophilactes Achilles Polyzoides.

Two days ago, on a particularly clear day when we could both see forever, I asked for more details.

ME: “That’s a big name! Where did you two meet?”

BEA: “People get big names in Greece. I met him at Williams. Another guy invited me, and I saw him playing the piano across the room, so I asked who he was. Pretty funny! I asked one man about another man. That’s one way to get interested.”

ME: “What did you call him?”

BEA: “Ted. I think he’s still alive. Oh, probably not, when you think about it.”

ME: “Why did your father oppose your relationship?”

BEA: “He thought people from southern Europe might not be faithful. Italy, Greece …”

ME: “Do you know what happened to him?”

BEA: “Got a job in a bank, because it was a Greek section. Banks wanted to get people to go to the bank in New York.”

ME: “Do you know if he ever get married?”

BEA: “His sister went to Barnard. He married a friend of his sister. He did very well for himself, I imagine.”

Bea's early interest in Greece suddenly makes sense! That was about the same time she recruited fellow Vassar students for the Odyssey Cruise, obtaining free passage to those beautiful islands she now remembers so fondly ...

Sunday, June 18, 2006


Sometimes the elderly aren’t sure if they are hungry or not. Since there are a lot of foods that require chewing, the choice is limited. I suggest scrambled egg. Bea agrees. I scramble one egg and begin to feed her. She swallows the first spoonful, but I can immediately tell her appetite rating is about a 2 tonight.

“Tastes like egg,” she says. “Scrambled egg.” Her face wears an expression of distinct displeasure, as if I were proposing that she consume a bowl of fresh plaster.

“Perhaps you would prefer lobster?” I ask to get her attention.

Bea nods. She is chewing laboriously food that does not need to be chewed. If I turned my back, I bet she would spit out the mouthful and hide it under her pillow.

“I got you lobster tail last week. You had a hard time chewing it. Remember?”

Bea does not.

“We can try again, if you like.”

Bea nods, but not too enthusiastically. I can tell that this bedridden life is getting to her.

Next on the menu, a bowl of yogurt. She turns her head away after three mouthfuls.

I bring a piece of Cheddar. Bea opens her mouth. I indicate she needs to hold the cheese herself.

“Ice cream,” she says in a plaintive voice.

"Ice cream it is," I call over my shoulder, off to the kitchen for her favorite treat.

Bea doesn’t even finish the bowl.

Feeding elderly people can be frustrating, both for the caregiver and the invalid.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Yesterday Knee Pain & A Clear Mind … Today Knee Pain & Confusion

Bea slept all day. It took her half an hour to eat a banana. I placed the banana in her hand and she took a bite. I went off to prepare dinner and returned ten minutes later. Bea just lay there, with her head to one side, clasping the banana to her chest. Every time I came back in the room, I would show her the half-eaten banana and she would take another bite. I mention the banana to demonstrate how each day is different. Yesterday Bea was animated, talkative, and reflective. Her knee was hurting, so I sat by the bedside in an effort to distract her. Actually, Bea did most of the talking. Among the interesting things she had to say:

1) “Stephanie gives very thoughtful presents.” (This is true. My daughter Stephanie gave her Grandma several favorite CDs and a pillow that conforms to the shape of the head.)

2) “My sister Helen always felt sorry for herself. I know why. My mother wanted to go back to work as a secretary and couldn’t do it because she got pregnant. She hated the idea of being pregnant. So, she liked me better than Helen. Just because she was annoyed at being pregnant with Helen, which is stupid. She did stupid things.”

3) “They used to have really good musical comedies when I was a little girl. Sunny was very popular. Everyone went to see it. It was quite an excursion. We took the ferryboat. The whole family went. That was before there was a tunnel. Everybody was singing this song:
Never comb your hair, Sunny.
Leave the breezes there, Sunny.
Let your stockings fall down, shocking the town,
As all that you do …
Oh my sunny girl, be my honey girl . . .”

Friday, June 16, 2006

How To Get The Smell of Urine Off One’s Hands

“Who would have thought we would be in this situation!” Bea exclaims as I slip on a pair of latex gloves to wipe away a BM. She makes the statement in a voice that verges on enthusiasm, without a clue that I may sometimes resent this job. “That part of having children is expensive,” Bea adds, chatty today. She is referring to diapers. The reversal of roles appears to be a given now. She is the child. I, the parent.

Changing diapers is no fun. Parents change babies willingly but if you surveyed them on what they like least about parenthood, I bet that chore would be right up there, close to the top.

Lucky for me (and Bea!), I lost my sense of smell when I overdosed on decongestant during pregnancy. I’m not crazy about confronting someone else’s bowel movement, but I do recognize that it is a necessary part of elderly care.

Now urine is something else. Old urine has a rancid smell. When you change the brief on a bedridden person, this smell gets on the fingers, even fingers protected by a thin layer of latex. Sometimes, late at night, I will forget to wash my hands after changing Bea. I will have tucked myself into bed and suddenly the stench rises up around me. Urine! Ugh!

For some reason, washing hands is not enough. I have discovered the smell to be persistent. So, I find myself at the sink in a decidedly Lady-Macbeth moment: “Out, out, damned urine!”

My solution is pungent hand cream. I wash, then intoxicate myself with Trillium Organics lavender and geranium Shea Butter.

While rubbing my hands together, it occurs to me that were Bea in a nursing home, impoverished immigrants would probably be changing her. Elderly care must be one of these jobs Bush claims Americans will not do …

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Bea's Portrait

Bea just ate half a salmon sandwich, holding it herself. Her bed is in serious need of a change of sheets. She is singing along to Andrea Bocelli and wears a look of rapture when Lisa, her health aide, arrives.

Bea greets Lisa with a smile: “What a pretty necklace you are wearing!”

“Why, thank you. My favorite colors: teal and dark blue. I’m glad to see you awake."

After Bea is all snug in the newly made bed, Lisa points to the wall and asks, "Will you tell me a story about that painting?”

“It’s me.”

“You look so young!”

“I was young.”

“Where did you live when it was painted?”

Bea is not sure: “Montclair?”

“Your eyes are so blue.”

I hear the two of them talking and join the conversation: “It was painted by a Russian artist in New York. Remember, Mother?”

Her voice is faint but she is still all there: “I had to give up the relationship because he was too pawsy.”

"Posey?" I ask.

"Paw-sy!" Bea raises her voice, exasperated at not being understood.

Lisa: “He liked you?”


“It was never finished,” I say. “After he died, someone told Mother that his widow needed money and was selling the painting. So, you went back and bought it. That was in 1942. Do you remember how much you paid?”


The portrait must date from the early thirties.

Bea has always called it “The Broken-hearted Look of the Twentieth Century.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Remembering Wellfleet

Lisa, Bea’s health aide from Hospice & Palliative Care of Cape Cod, reminds me that last week Bea had said her spirit had left, and that this perhaps explained the sadness of the past few days. Bea has remained lethargic and silent, a totally new phenomenon.

When I enter the room during the afternoon, she is awake. I open the window to let in some warm summer air, then sit down by Bea’s bedside. I give her hand a gentle squeeze.

"Let me hold your hand for a minute," she says, wrapping her fingers around mine.

So we sit there together quietly, holding hands.

“Whew! I’m tired,” I say, glad to have an excuse to rest.

“Me, too.”

There’s a pause while Bea thinks over what I have just said. “Why are you tired?”

“I’ve been preparing the cottage for our next guests. All morning.”

Since Bea seems to take this information in, I add, “At least it’s a nice day outside. Feel that soft breeze?”

“Yes,” Bea says. There’s another pause. “What are you here for?”

“To keep you company.”

“But where do you come from?”

“What do you mean? You want to know who I am?”


“I’m your daughter. I live here with you, in this house.”

Bea thinks a minute then says, “Glad to straighten that out.” A light seems to go on because she adds suddenly with solemnity, proud to have remembered, “In Wellfleet.”

Bea loves Wellfleet. She would always exclaim about how lovely the town was every time we drove past the Congregational Church. I remind her of that reaction, then say, “It’s a pretty little town, remember?”


“You moved here with Daddy from Washington DC. You have lived here 36 years. Isn’t that amazing?”

“Yes.” Then she repeats, almost to herself, “It’s called Wellfleet.”

“A nice place to live.”


“Remember how you loved to go to Ethel Levy’s seminars at the library? No? You don’t remember? What about Elaine, the librarian? You were very fond of Elaine.”


“Elaine is a nice lady.”

“She is.”

Bea has closed her eyes. That is her way of saying enough. I get up and let her sleep.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Bea’s Books (4)

I hear the soft voice. Bea is talking to herself: “My name is Beatrice. It’s a pretty name. It means one who brings happiness.” I peek in the room as she settles in for another nap. My eyes again fall on her books. Bea has quite a collection. She collected books all her life.

I open a dusty leather-bound volume, The Works of William Shakespeare in Seven Volumes, Volume One. Inside is a dedication: “To my daughter Beatrice with love from her father, Harry Singer Chinnock, Christmas 1944.”

Bea loved Shakespeare. She also has Shakespeare’s Amatory Poems. The limited edition number is 373.

Bea has written on the title page, “Gift in 1931 from Antonios Adamantios, Johannes Theophilactes Achilles Polyzoides who wrote,
A thousand centuries have been spun out,
Since first thy thirsty
Drank deep of blood.”

Antonios Adamantios Johannes Theophilactes Achilles Polyzoides was one of her best beaux. She loves to recite his name still. He was very handsome. Her father judged the suitor unsuitable because he came from southern Europe and everyone knows men from southern Europe don't make good husbands because they play around ....

In 1999, Bea picked up this book again and noted favorite sonnets on the first page: "XVIII, XXIX, XLIX (great), LV (special)." At the time she was attending Ehtel Levy's popular seminar at the Wellfleet Public Library. The course perhaps motivated examination of these poems in a new light. She left yellow post-its inside, marks of passage.

Regarding XIX, Bea notes, “In most of these sonnets Shakespeare foretells that they shall last and tell of his loved one’s beauty.”

On XLI, Bea asks, “Is XVI addressed to a young man?”

On XLII, she writes, “Line 3 certainly suggests that the author is jealous of a woman who has the attention of a young man W. S. loved.”

On CVIII, she has underlined “sweet boy” and notes, “I didn’t know he was “dearboying” at this stage.

On XLIX, I read the date October 4, 1931 and contemplate the fact that Bea turned 22 that day.

On LXXXVII, which begins “Farewell! Thou art too dear for my possessing,” Bea has copied out “the cause of this fair gift is wanting…” and notes “A great love poem!”

But, CXVI is her favorite. Mine, too:
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments …”

Finally, on her bookshelf I find The Sonnets and A Lover’s Complaint, the paperback Bea used for the seminar. She has underlined many passages. Here and there are questions, scribbled in the margins, to ask in class. Again, favorite poems appear as numbers on the first page with the information, “Sonnets composed 1593-1609.” Bea has signed the book with her name. Below, she has written, “For Nick.”

I will give it to my brother.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Quiet Time

While I find Bea’s chatty periods difficult because they deprive me of sleep, even harder are the silent days, when she stays awake but does not wish to communicate. At such times, she will turn her head towards the wall. If I try and engage her in conversation, she will answer in monosyllables. Should I suggest listening to music, she will mutter, “Let me sleep.”

Today is one of those days. I watch Bea close her eyes but know she’s pretending. She has been sleeping for three days and nights in a row. I recognize the look on her face. Yes, here it comes: “Go away and let me sleep.”

Now “quiet” is not an adjective I would have ever applied to Bea. However, she stays “quiet” all morning. I cannot help but wonder what is going through her mind. Has she been thinking about the approach of death? Is she afraid? Or, is she looking back over her life, at the good times and there were many? Back, or forward?

Lisa tries to rouse her at lunchtime: “Don’t you want to tell me one of your wonderful stories?”

Bea indicates she does not: “Leave me alone.”

Lisa’s cheerfulness is not welcome today.

Bea is on Celexa, a mild anti-depressant. Elderly people can get depressed, too, Dr. Millhofer explained.

Later I go back into the room and, sure enough, Bea lies there with her eyes open, staring into space, not at all the vibrant person we are all used to. I offer a glass of orange juice. She drinks it down.

“You’re feeling sad,” I remark, kissing her forehead.

“Yes, sad.”

“Can I do anything for you?”

“Thank you, dear. No. Just being here, I appreciate that very much.” She closes her eyes again.

“Well, I’m right next door if you need me.”

Bea just wants solitude. Caregivers need to respect that wish, too.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

“Old Age Is Not For Sissies”

I have just fed Bea chocolate ice cream, her favorite, in the middle of the afternoon. Before the ice cream, she spent twenty minutes conscientiously eating half a salmon salad sandwich. She held it most of the time herself although I had to put the sandwich back in her hand once or twice.

Bea is much more awake today but still seems a bit forlorn, as if waiting for something to happen. In fact, she reminds me of Eeyore in a book she read a million times to my brother. It occurs to me that she might enjoy the memory, so I say, "Remember Eeyore? He had a birthday. Pooh Bear brought him a jar full of honey, only it was empty by the time Pooh reached Eeyore's house. And Piglet. Remember Piglet? He gave Eeyore a balloon. But it broke on the way. Eeyore put the broken balloon in the empty pot and was quite happy with his present."

Bea just looks at me with her big eyes. I guess she doesn't remember.

“We have a guest who is 80,” I say as I wipe a few bits of salmon from around her mouth. “Almost your age.”

“How old am I? 97?”

“Almost 97.”

Bea thinks about this for a few minutes, then comments, “And, I’m supposed to be wiser.”

There’s a boney protrusion at the bottom of her spine. I notice that the area is getting red, so I carefully position Bea on her side. I apply Bag Balm and a bandage in an attempt to prevent the redness from becoming a bedsore.

“Why do you take such good care of me?” Bea asks. “Are you my mother?”

It occurs to me that the phrase Bea used to repeat all the time - "Old age is not for sissies" - is also relevant for caretakers. I recognized that my mothering skills would serve me well in caring for Bea, but I did not expect this reversal of roles to be such an emotional challenge ...

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Guessing Game

Bea slept through the night, thanks to the new sleeping pill, delivered by FedEx one day after Nurse Jane placed the order. She seems subdued, although nothing hurts. I change her, feed her, and hope she will stay awake.

“Do you want to hear that wonderful Italian singer?” I ask.

“No. Let me sleep.”

With a shrug, I do as told.

When I peek into the room at lunchtime, Bea smiles at me.

“They’re there,” she says softly, extending a boney arm towards the ceiling. I watch her trace a line from right to left. “There. Don’t you see them?”

“Who is there?”

“They are.” Bea is having difficulty articulating, a frustrating new development. Again she raises her arm slowly and indicates an area near the door.


Bea says something that sounds like Emma, the name of her stepmother.

“Emma?” I ask. “Bertha? Helen?” (all members of her family).

Bea looks at me with exasperation.

“Is Daddy there?” (I know she has seen him in the past.)

No!” Bea is quite emphatic. She gives a little shrug as if about ready to give up on me but tries one more time: “There, there!”

I look back up at the ceiling. Neither of us speaks.

Then Bea says, “I don’t understand why she didn’t come and take me.”

“Who are up you talking about?”

“Whoever she is ….”

Bea turns her head toward the far side of the pillow and closes her eyes.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Bea’s Books (3)

Bea naps for most of the day. She wakes up once and asks, “Who’s in charge here?”

“I’m in charge,” I say.

When I appear at her bedside later, she opens her eyes and says in a soft voice, “I love you.”

Now that Bea is bedridden, it no longer matters that I am not as intellectual as she would have wanted me to be. The conflicts between us are over. Bea went back into therapy when I fell in love with a Frenchman and moved to France. She maintained I was trying to put an ocean between us. It was not easy having her as a mother. My children, however, did enjoy her as a grandmother: smart, attentive, modern.

As I leave the bedroom, I pick up another one of her books. “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell is a rather beat-up paperback, purchased for 35 cents. Bea has signed her name on the first page and specified that she wants it given to one of my daughters: “For Natalie.”

In the spring of 1991, Bea noted on the second page, “I met Joseph Campbell, of Irish catholic background, and his twin-like sister one weekend in Woodstock NY in the 30s. He was tall and very handsome, as was his sister. He was also charismatic, cerebral rather than sexy. I have seen him this past winter on TV, discussing mythology with Bill Moyers. Campbell said that he advised his Sarah Lawrence students to ‘follow their bliss.’”

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Chocolate Orgy

Jane is a robust woman whose eyes sparkle with intelligence when she describes how much she loves her job. Nursing is obviously a vocation. We are lucky Jane is Bea’s hospice nurse. She comes once a week.

Today I relate my morning conversation with Bea’s doctor who heard about our nightly visitors and wanted to prescribe an anti-psychotic. The word “anti-psychotic” is hardly out of my mouth when Jane shudders and casts a glance over to the side, eyebrows raised, so I quickly add that I asked if we could try a sleeping pill instead. I see her shoulders relax. These hospice people are really proprietary when it comes to their patients.

“I’ll order some straight away,” Jane says, a model of efficiency. “So, how about we pay Bea a little visit?”

It is pouring rain outside. In the darkened room, Bea sleeps with her mouth wide open. All that partying two nights ago has really taken its toll.

Jane gives Bea's shoulder a little shake. “Good morning,” she says in a cheery voice. “You hungry?”

“Hungry,” Bea mutters, half asleep.

“I’ll just take her blood pressure,” Jane tells me as I rush off to the kitchen for a banana.

I get back just in time to hear Bea exclaim, “Get your cold hands off of me!”

“You are a pistol!” Jane tells her with a warm laugh.

Standing on either side of the bed, we watch Bea consume the banana, eyes closed. It occurs to me that Bea has an appetite, so I go fetch chocolate pudding, biscotti, and some Ensure. She has a chocolate orgy.

“Mmmm...” Bea says.

“I’ve never seen anyone appreciate food that way,” Jane comments. “My, you do relish it, don't you!”


I am busy spooning the pudding into the open mouth of my little bird.

“Mmmm! More! Mmmm!”

When the pudding is all gone, I sneak in the straw for a bit of Ensure. Bea grimaces.

“She doesn’t like that as much, does she?” Jane comments wryly. “Some people spike it with Bailey’s. Tastes less chalky that way.”

“You still hungry?” I ask and break off a bit of biscotti, which I deposit in Bea’s mouth.

Jane stays with Bea while she finishes the biscotti.

“Drink this,” she orders. “I want to make sure there’s no more cookie in your mouth.”

Bea sticks her tongue way out.

The two of us leave her in peace to sleep it off.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

"Toddler Wiggling at Night"

My son installed a stat counter on this blog, so I will know what people are searching for when they find By Bea’s Bedside. Some of the more recent searches include

• physical touch and the elderly
• how to bathe elderly
• what to look for when a bedsore starts to heal
• nightgowns for the bedridden (from London)
• toddler wiggling at night.

Now, the last search is totally appropriate for what just happened...

Bea has a very busy day. When I go shopping, she lies in bed, partying away. Sven tries to distract her with news of his birthday party, celebrated last weekend. Bea just adds him to her guest list ...

By the time I return home, I can tell my mother will talk for hours to come. Her eyes get a certain sheen on chatty days. What is really bizarre is that Bea seems to be addressing someone. Often she will stop to listen and respond to what has been said. In fact, Bea has conversations with entities I cannot perceive.

After dinner, I decide to give Bea the pill Nurse Jane suggested for agitation. I cut the Ativan in half and slip it into Bea’s mouth.

“Who ordered these? Dr. Millhofer?” Bea asks suspiciously, as she always does every single time I give meds.

I am hoping for a night of uninterrupted sleep. Fat chance! Bea is still talking when I drift off. Her voice wakes me up a couple of hours later. She is not exactly calling out, but there’s a slightly more desperate tone to the chatter, so I go investigate.

Bea has managed to push the duvet onto the floor and has tossed the pillows across the room. She has been trying to get out of bed again and lies crooked against the rails. I tuck her in, give a drink of water, and scold. “Night is for sleep,” etc. etc.

Since Bea looks contrite, I imagine she will at least lower her voice, grateful to be warm again.

When, at 3:30, I get up to pee, I hear Bea, still chattering away. Since I am awake, I decide to peek in at her. I cannot believe my eyes. The pillows and duvet are all on the floor again. Bea has somehow managed to take off her pants, also on the floor, and has wiggled over to the far side of the bed where her legs dangle, squeezed through the bars. I feel her body. It is horribly cold.

Something close to desperation rises in my throat. I quickly tape her into a new pair of pants, replace the pillows, pile on covers. The clean bed has already begun to smell of urine, but we can fix that tomorrow. So much for half an Ativan! In the morning I will call Nurse Jane, but there is no rush. I know Bea will sleep for several days after such shenanigans. I go back to bed and listen. My toddler chats softly to herself for another half hour before falling asleep.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Bea Gets Her Hair Washed

“You need to call the doctor! I’ve got such pain in my back,” Bea tells me as soon as I start changing her. It is 8 am. I feel groggy, although I did manage to sleep a few hours. Since I am able to move her about without any screeching whatsoever, I assume the pain to be imaginary. “I’d like him to give me another shot. One on both sides. Dr. Millhofer. Do call him again.”

“You’ll have to wait,” I mutter. “I have to drink a cup of coffee first.”

“My daughter is the same way.”

Her daughter is the same way? Hmmm. And, I thought I had been recognized!

I don’t know who is more delighted to see the health aide, Bea or me. I am busy fielding a call for the bed & breakfast when Lisa strides in and offers to give Bea a bed bath. Lisa has wild dark curls that tumble around her face. Bea affectionately calls her the “Loch Mess Monster.” We are both very fond of Lisa.

Bea’s bed makes an enormous racket when the mattress and box spring rise into the air. It actually sounds somewhat like the elevators they used to have in department stores. I hear Lisa pretending to be the elevator operator as the bed rises. “First floor!” she cries out. “Men’s hosiery. Ladies lingerie. Electronics.”

After the bed bath, together we sit Bea up and gently lift her off the bed into a chair. Lisa changes the sheets while I comb snarls out of Bea’s hair. Then Lisa gives her a shampoo with a marvelous product called, “No-Rinse Shampoo.” The directions read: "Soft, Clean Manageable Hair Without Water. Just apply. Lather and towel dry.” Bea wears a big grin. She is enjoying the attention. Finally, Lisa applies face gel for dry skin. Dry skin apparently means Bea is not drinking enough fluids.

“How does that feel?” Lisa asks.

“It makes me feel beautiful,” Bea purrs, now tucked back into bed, happy as can be.

Lisa places a pillow under the sheepskin, so that Bea’s weight is not on the area of her back that has been hurting. She asks Bea to estimate the pain. It is a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. Lisa tells me she will alert Nurse Jane and suggests I contact a hospice volunteer for some respite this afternoon.

What a good idea! I call the hospice volunteer who sits by Bea's bedside.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Saved by the … Bed

I am awakened at 2:30 a.m. by Bea’s voice. She is trying her best to get out of bed. The covers have been pushed aside. Somehow my mother has maneuvered her way over to the edge where knees have encountered side rails.

“It’s about time!” Bea exclaims. “I want to get out of here. I need to get home.”

“You are home. It’s two am. You cannot wake me up in the middle of the night this way if I am going to take care of you. I need my sleep. You have to stay in bed. You cannot walk any more. If you get out of bed, you will fall. You might hurt yourself and end up back in the hospital. Now, please go back to sleep.”

I reposition Bea and cover her up. She promises to be quiet. I switch off the light. Five minutes later, I hear her voice again. I trot back downstairs.

“I want to get out of bed, but these rails are in the way,” she protests, now extremely agitated.

I say whatever comes into my head about the necessity of rails, in a more heated tone this time. “I cannot do a good job of taking care of you if I become sleep-deprived,” I add. “We want you to stay here at home with us, not go to a nursing home, but you have to be quiet at night.”

It occurs to me that I should not expect a person who is so confused to understand.

I change her brief and provide an Aleve, hoping it will help her relax. I peer through the window. It is pitch black outside.

I explained the problem to Nurse Jane last week. She suggested a new medication that will prevent Bea from inversing her sleep schedule. Apparently, this phenomenon happens with some elderly people.

I kiss Bea goodnight.

As I lie in bed, I reflect on how the situation would have been handled in a nursing home. Would they have sedated her if she talked into the night? Probably.

At Pleasant Bay each resident was wired to a buzzer that made a frightful noise if he or she tried to get out of a bed or wheelchair. At the time, I thought the system a bit extreme.

The nursing home has different staff for day, night, and weekends. The caregiver, who chooses to keep an elderly relative at home, is on duty 24 hours a day.

At least Bea has a bed with side rails...

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Perfect Early Morning Snack

I had thought Bea would be up today, but I guess I was wrong. This is her third day of sleep. Bea sleeps still when I go to bed. Then, at 3:30 a.m., I hear her chatting away. Reluctantly, I get up and go open her door.

“… and we'll meet at Grand Central Station,” she is saying to someone in a very happy voice. "Oh, here you are!"

“It is the middle of the night. Everyone is asleep,” I whisper. (This IS a bed & breakfast, and people ARE sleeping upstairs.)

“I’m hungry,” Bea says.

Her skin seems more translucent now that she has had a good rest.

I change her and fetch two bananas. Figuring her throat must be parched, I provide water, too.

“Now please be quiet," I say, giving her a kiss. "Eat your bananas, and be quiet.”

Bea nods. The message seems to have gotten through. It is, after all, dark outside. Rain is pouring down. She continues talking for a while softly, then falls asleep.

I reflect on the fact that Bea used to feed bananas to my brother when he was a child with celiac. Now I feed them to her. Thank God for bananas!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Second Night and Day of Sleep

“What the Hell do you think you’re doing!?” Bea cries out as I remove her fleece blanket.

“I have to change your pants."

“I'm cold. Leave me alone!”

"You’ve been sleeping all day. Now please roll over. I need for you to roll over.”

“Push me,” she says in a dull voice. No vigor today.

I cannot help but be moved at Bea’s emaciated body. Her hips protrude. Her legs are like broomsticks. I am reminded of concentration camp victims, during World War II. How very thin she has become ...

Friday, June 02, 2006

Bea’s Books (2)

Bea sleeps all day.

On the library shelf, I spy another one of her books, "Paris" by Zola.

I open to the first page. On the left, Bea has provided a brief bio from the Encyclopedia Britannica. On the right are the words, “It is my hope that my daughter will someday read this book and find in it knowledge that will only strengthen her and my French descendents. The message is not for France only. Beatrice Grabbe, Wellfleet, 11/12/74.”

The first page bears the following note: “This deliciously ridiculous dated preface only goes to prove that books don’t care who translates them, even a fin-de-siecle WASP.” The preface is dated Feb. 5, 1898. Bea has added, “4 years and 10 days before the birth of Paul Grabbe.”

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Talking Marathon

When Bea’s mind is clear, I am surprised by its acuity. This morning, at 6, while I am giving her meds, she comments, “There aren’t as many as usual.”

I look down and realize I have forgotten a pill.

Bea will talk all day long. I immediately recognize the signs. A purposeful look in the eyes, the desire to get out of bed. And, yes, volubility.

I hear her mention college roommate Miggits White several times. Apparently Bea has been planning a party. As I move her into a sitting position for breakfast, she looks up at me, as if expecting help with the organization: “Couldn’t we invite Margaret?”

Bea is convinced she can still entertain. This is not denial. It is advanced senility.

When most people get this old, they die.

Feeling exasperated that she has reached the end of her life and does not seem able to accept this reality, I exclaim. “Miggits is probably in the same state you are, unable to travel, confined to bed. For all I know, she might even be dead.”*

I do not intend to be mean or hurtful. I lack sleep.

“No, she’s not,” Bea says in a very matter-of-fact voice, not in the least bit distressed by my response. “She had a new dress on today.”

An irrational statement from a woman who noticed I was not giving her all her meds just a few minutes earlier.

Bea is alert enough to listen to love poetry and Shakespeare’s sonnets. No naps. Not a one.

Later I leave Sven in front of the evening news and go in to check on Bea who has stopped talking. She points a boney finger toward a corner of the ceiling, opens her eyes wide and says, “Your father is there.”

“Why don’t you talk to him?” I suggest.

“I try but he doesn’t answer. Do you ever talk to him?”

“I pray for his soul every night.”

Bea seems to like this idea.

"Could you tell those men in the living room to shut up?"

And so we bounce back and forth from hallucination to reality all day long, weaving in and out. The trip is exhausting.

When I go to sleep at 11, I can still hear Bea from my upstairs bedroom, chattering away.

* In the Vassar Quarterly, received June 9, I learn that Margaret White Campbell passed away January 13.