Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Old and in the Way?

There are several things I could write about today, things that have happened recently that affected me this way or that.
I could write about my sorrow at the passing of the wonderful English comedienne/actress, Victoria Wood - another claimed by the curse that is cancer - or of the shocking, sudden, and currently mysterious death of Prince, as visionary a musician as has ever lived.
I could write about the day Prince died, when on my way to work, before that big news broke, I saw two dead North American Robins - one on the sidewalk, another in the road.  They were close to each other, yet neither apparently the victim of an automobile.  It was almost as if they had collided mid-air, and plummeted to the ground together, but I can never know what occurred.  Then a few hundred yards further on, a black and ginger tortoiseshell cat lay dead on a grass verge, with no signs of violence or trauma, as if he'd curled up to sleep there and not woken up.  I've had less morbid walks to work, for sure.
Or I could write about my disgust at how Anders Breivik - the Danish, Nazi salute-throwing, far-right maniac who in 2011 murdered 77 (mainly young) people - had the mind-bending temerity to launch a human rights abuse case against his imprisoners, claiming "inhuman treatment," one reason being that he doesn't have a window in his cell.  Astonishingly and revoltingly, he won part of that case.  I hope his lawyer can sleep at night.  And, hey Anders, if you think that is inhuman treatment, you would certainly reassess its definition if I had a chance for a little time in your despicable, subhuman company.
However, I'm not going to write about any of these things, but instead will pen a few lines about what it is to be old, in rapid decline, and possibly forgotten about.
Since I've worked at the store I've gotten to know and become fond of many regular customers.  One gentleman, who out of respect for him and his situation I will not name, was born and bred in Nanaimo almost 89 years ago.  He is a tiny and frail, yet dapper man, always immaculately turned out, and as polite, pleasant and sweet as anyone I've ever met.  In short he's a total sweetheart whose visits to the store have truly brightened our days.  So, when he experienced some health issues a few months back myself and my colleagues were understandably concerned. 
Just a few weeks ago his health took a further dip, leading to him being rushed into a local assisted living facility by one of his sons.  Possessing a massive record collection amassed over some sixty-odd years, he panicked about what to do with it, so contacted the store for help.  He was deeply stressed, very confused and afraid.  We did what we could, emptying his condo of as much of his vinyl as possible, but our huge inventory and subsequent space issues prevented us taking any more than we did.  The store did not need any of his records, as the genres he loves do not sell for us even on CD, but the issue was more to help him than worry about such matters.  Susan and I also went over to his place independently, taking one of his LP racks, a pile of 78s and some of the remaining LPs.
When we presumed he would be as settled into his new place as he could be under the stressful circumstances, we went to visit him unannounced.  While he was delighted to see us, he was in a distressing state of confusion, constantly repeating things and mixing up facts, even when referring to them more than once in a single sentence.  He was already tiny, but looked skeletal and gaunt.  It was so very sad to see him this way, seemingly fading from this world, and although we have no personal experience of it, perhaps entering a state of dementia.  While it may not actually be the case, it is clear that the upheaval of his move at such an age, and in rapidly failing health, has sent him on a path that he may not be physically or mentally capable of returning from.  
Two nights ago we were at home when the telephone rang.  It was this fellow, our friend, highly confused, and adamant that one of his sons had given him our number as the way to reach him.  He also said that the same son had given him my cell phone number as an alternative contact number.  I tried to explain that I had left him my business card when we visited, but he simply didn't understand, insisting that he was trying to reach this son of his at our number.  Talking him down seemed impossible, but I eventually managed to calm him, saying he should get some rest and try his son's actual number when he felt more refreshed in the morning.  Concerned, we called the facility, but our fears for his welfare were far from allayed when we were informed that, although the facility provides rented accommodation, meals and entertainment - if either of the latter are required - their residents live entirely independently, so interfering with or intervening in personal situations is not facility policy.
A while later, he called back, distressed even more, yet a little less confused concerning our phone number, but saying he could not reach his son as the number he had for him was either disconnected or, for whatever reason, just unavailable.  Again, I talked him down as best I could, but did manage to gather some important information along the way.  Although our friend's confused demeanour means it is understandably difficult to discern fact from fiction, it would appear that the son he is attempting to reach is in control of our friend's finances, and he needs access to some money.  When I spoke to the facility's reception they confirmed that they, too, had not been able to reach the son 'for weeks,' when our friend had repeatedly asked them to try.
Ever felt utterly helpless, not knowing what to do, or how to help someone in trouble?  That's how this feels.  We don't know if what we are being told is true, but the fact that our friend is in such a panicky state could mean that it is.  Susan wonders if he has been 'dumped' at the facility, if his family has washed their hands of him and breathed a sigh of relief that they no longer have to worry about him, or care for his needs.  We just don't know, but the situation just does not feel good.
Our first opportunity to visit him again will be tomorrow evening.  I have no idea what state we will find our friend in, and how we might be able to help.  Just to keep him company for a while might make him feel better, but who knows what is really going on behind the scenes.  It is a worry we could do without, but whatever may be occurring - good or bad - we cannot, and will not, abandon him.  He is physically very fragile, and on that evidence alone he may not have long left anyway.  All we can do, I guess, is just offer him support however he might need it, and hope for the best case scenario with the family situation.  We do not know them, have no contact details for them, and even if we did it may be that our friend is perfectly lucid in stating he can't reach them.
As you may imagine, all this makes me think about the future.  Unless Susan and I perish together, one of us will ultimately end up alone.  What will become of us when that happens?  

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