At 92

DadDad (with grandkids) on Christmas Day 2012, Berkeley, CA.


Dad always said, “Live ’til 90, then start counting.” Well, we’re starting to count.

Friday morning, on his 92nd birthday, he had a stroke. A “mini” one, as opposed to, one supposes, a “maxi” one. Though these are often early calling cards for bigger ones to come.  He fell into my sister’s able and waiting arms, as it happened.  As I’ve long maintained, he has been a lucky man.

While the doctor pronounces that the stroke is “resolved,” everything else attendant to his advanced years is hunkering down for a determined, protracted stay, for the duration. Whatever length that may be.

Meanwhile, his aphasia-, mini-stroke-, and long, slow-growing meningioma tumor-wracked brain does its best to recover what speech and cognition faculties he can.  This, on top of years of crummy hearing, getting crummier by the day.  All this makes communication a midnight hayride.

Fortunately, for one, he and I have long ago said all the big things we’ve had to say to each other. Full-on, unconditional love, forgiveness of trespasses, mutual understanding of the most valuable, ineffable bits in each other, the works. So we’re clean.  And we’ve been closing every conversation with “I love you” for years and years.  (It’s notable that long ago, this wasn’t such a comfortable thing for him to utter so casually and regularly – “You know that I do, doll” – but I persisted in telling him that it matters to hear it, and I was going to say it to him anyhow, so he may as well just get used to it.  Here to tell you that persistence pays off.)

For two, what do the individual words matter, at this point, when the big picture’s clear as day? Whenever possible, I just surf with whatever he’s saying, imagine what he might be thinking or intending to say, and be as agreeable to him as he has basically been to so many others most of his life. Because why not?  Today he asked about “that woman in the red sweater.” No one fitting this description was in the room, nor had been.

“You know, the blonde?” He was intent.

I looked at him, wracked my brain for a blonde. “I think that was Kim Novak.”

Because why not? His eyebrows went up, he smiled a bit. Seemed to satisfy him well enough. At least it was an answer, and it made no more nor less sense than any other one. Plus, Kim Novak.

A couple of days ago, during the more extreme, “salad speech” phase, the first 12-18 hours post-stroke (yes: salad speech, a bona fide technical term, I saw it on his chart), he had very little to say that made sense, even at the individual word level.  Even then, the word he uttered more often than any other? “Yes.” “Yes, yes, yes,” he would say. “Yes, indeed.” Punctuated periodically by “Wow!” and “Zowie!” Eloquent enough commentary on life at large, if you ask me.

At one point, I noted: “Pops, you have said ‘Yes’ at least twice as much as you’ve said ‘No’ in your life.” He nodded understanding. “And that’s why you’re here celebrating your 92nd birthday today.” Another nod, sober as a judge. Can’t disagree with that one.

Yesterday, he was asking a fairly nonsensical question which I just couldn’t, for the life of me, salvage enough sense out of. Not all Jabberwocky/ Olde Englishey, like the day before, but still not enough sensible nouns and verbs in the right place. I assayed a few Hail Mary faux answers so’s to scratch whatever itch he had, but they weren’t doing the trick.

After he asked a third time, I broke down and said, “Pops, I have to tell you, I have absolutely no idea what you’re saying.”

He looked at me with that unmistakably him twinkle in his eye, and said, “That makes two of us!”

God love this man.


14 thoughts on “At 92”

  1. I came across your recent January 2013 post regarding your 92 year old father; thank you so much for sharing that post… my sister’s husband just passed on last Friday and your post reminded me of how precious every moment we have here with our family is… we will be keeping you, your family, and your dad in our prayers — † God Bless! †

  2. Beautiful man and a beautiful relationship. I’ve just finished “My Stroke of Genius” and am almost done with “One Hundred Words for Love” both dealing with stroke, aphasia and what is going on inside when communication is garbled. It certainly sounds like you’ve figured out the important parts of communicating.

    • Wow! And thank you for the references! They’ll be helpful for all of us on the path ahead.

      This morning, three daysafter the “TIA,” he seems 99-100% of his old self, and perhaps only as confused about goings-on around him as he ever was.

      When I report to him about his choice quotes over the past few days, he is bemused. “Well I’ll be darned.”

  3. The hardest part after a stroke is losing conversation. Or at least losing the ease of it. But I am so thankful your Dad still has his twinkle. Most days that will be all that you need to see.
    Thinking of you and your family as you navigate this. xo

  4. I love reading about your dad–what a wonderful attitude he has, and what a wonderful open way you have of reaching out to him in love. (and re: your post about your sister, from a few weeks back: I wish you both much grace in navigating these later years of your dad’s life. Sibling estrangement in our family is proving a complicated matter as parents age, and I found your post about your sister to be helpful in opening up my thinking about that.)

    • Thank you. And yes: we all have such very different ways of approaching shared challenges, whether sibling or no, in communication or no.

      What is a blessing, now and always, is that we both love him simultaneously. Fortunately, he knows and feels that. 🙂

      And also? I wish you all shared grace in your own journey.

  5. you you you.
    so compelled as always by your writing, and now the content, which is poetry.
    i too am dealing with both aging parent (though much further along the road verbally and marbles-wise) and sibling estrangement and yes it is so MUCH>
    a lot of everything all at once then wait.
    then again.
    so i feel for you my comrade of the heart, and am in the boat with you, just to the side and in back, rowing away…

  6. Haha, this answer (“That makes two of us.”) is just sooo your dad!! I can hear him say that with this smile of love and adoration that I’ve seen him give his loved ones 🙂 He’s a special man! And the picture is totally cute 🙂

  7. I have always thought so highly of your dad from what you relay here. I don’t think I’ll ever forget your entry where you describe him standing on the street corner for gay marriage, wearing a tie. That image of what a real man does for his family has always stuck with me.

    Love to you and yours, sister. The girlie is getting so big! She’s got great things ahead, that one.

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