A few weeks ago I had a voicemail on my work phone. It was from a woman I hadn’t seen in over 25 years. She was a probation officer in Hennepin County and we worked together for 5 years when I was a prosecutor. She was always super professional and no-nonsense. She had done her job for decades and knew BS when she heard it and could cut through the stories and excuses and get down to recommending the appropriate sentence/treatment for offenders we worked with. As with many things in life, I lost contact with dear Florence when I moved on to elected office and then onto other jobs. Receiving her phone call was a blast from the past and I had to wonder how old she must be now as she was older when I worked with her. I called her back and we had a wonderful conversation. She told me she was now living in a retirement home and that she tracked me down with the assistance of a woman who reads to her every week. She told me the Reader was able to track me down through the use of a “machine” that could look people up and find them. She told me she was now 91 and asked me to come visit her in person at the retirement home (although she had to ask someone the name of the home she was living in). I wondered what she would be like? Would she be kicking ass and taking names or would she be in a wheelchair?
I was a bit worried she would forget our date so when I showed up on Monday at 11:30 I was delighted she was wheeling down the hall with the assistance of her walker to meet me. She was accompanied by her husband who was also pushing his walker and they gave me a hearty greeting and we made our way upstairs to eat. Florence had reserved the private dining room and the two of us sat down to reminisce and to catch-up on life over the past 2 decades. She was a wonderful conversationalist but I was sad when I asked how she liked living there and she said she “hated it.” She missed her home in Edina and all of the activity of the neighborhood and was bored in the home. As we ate I noticed she had to feel the edge of her plate and the lip of her cup to orient herself to the food. At one point she kept pouring hot water for her tea but she was pouring air. She would pick up the cup and drink nothing but air. She would do it again, pouring from the carafe but not pouring any liquid, just air. It was like watching Marcel Marceau drinking tea and I didn’t really know what to do in terms of helping her as she is a very proud woman and I always am struck by people when they talk to senior citizens like they are children or feeble minded.
As the lunch progressed she told me she had lost most of her eyesight, hence the Readers who came in twice a week to read to her, and that she had a hard time seeing things but didn’t want to complain. After this revelation I insisted on helping her pour her hot water. She talked about our days in court, about her life with her husband and all their travel, her friends, how she had been in an investment club of all women, how she grew-up in Minneapolis and then we talked current events. She never had children and has no family in the area but it seems like she has an active circle of friends. When she would forget people’s name she would say, “that’s a 91 year old brain for you!” Funny. As the hour turned to 2 hours I came to realize that she really didn’t remember many of the things we had just discussed. She forgot where I worked, she forgot where my husband worked even though she said her husband had worked there for years. She forgot the names of the women who came to read for her every week and as we were leaving the dining room she asked me to write down my name so she wouldn’t forget it. Huh? I was confused and as I don’t have much experience interacting with 90 year olds I wondered if she had something more than a 91 year old brain. Did she have dementia? Was it forgetfulness? Memory-loss? Who knows. At one point she was telling about a farmer friend who had grown some crop. She thought about it for a while before she said he grew wool. I asked, “was he a sheep farmer?” “No,” she exclaimed, “he grew wool.” As I was walking her to the elevator she mentioned someone had stolen all her jewelry last week and that they told the people who ran the home and that they called the police but no police had ever come to make a report. I honestly have no idea if this actually happened or if I should do something to follow-up to see if the police were ever called but I was hoping that if the theft happened, her husband would do something to follow-up. I have half a mind to call the police to see if a report was ever made but what if it never happened? Butt-inski.
Regardless of her forgetfulness and my suspicion that she forgot my name as soon as I hit the parking lot, it was great to see her again. She is a lovely woman and I feel like I should go visit her again. Think of all the Seniors who are utterly alone with no family to visit them?