The Downhill Slope


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By Bobby Neal Winters

When my Momma was a little girl, she slept with her Grandma Fowler. Grandma Fowler was my mother’s maternal grandmother. Her husband’s name was Tom. He had named himself. Being the youngest of the family, his parents and elder siblings just called him “Babe” until one day he said that, “I think I’ll call myself ‘Tom’,” and it stuck. After he died, Grandma Fowler moved in with my mother’s family once she couldn’t take care of herself any more. It wasn’t so much that she was failing physically, but her mind was going. Dementia is the word we use now.

Like I said, she used the sleep with Momma, and Momma said that she used to wet the bed. Momma says that she didn’t mind, though, because Grandma Fowler was such a sweet person. The Fowler line—like any other family—produces people who are both sweet and not.
Life is like crossing over a mountain pass. First, we strain like the devil to get to the top. As babies we learn to eat different foods, we learn to walk, we learn to talk, we learn to read, and we get everything that we need to function in the world in place. Then after a certain point, we start giving up stuff. There are foods that we can’t—or shouldn’t—eat anymore. There are activities what we can’t—or shouldn’t—participate in. We put on things in the morning of our lives, and we take them off in our old age.

I remember conversations at the knees of my parents and grandparents about people they knew who had died and them remarking about whether or not the people had kept their “good minds” until the end. To keep one’s “good mind” until the end was the wish.

Those of the Fowler line have not had a good record of keeping their good minds. Momma’s mother had a sister Lucille and a brother Frank. Lucille had no children and managed a tavern for years and years. Not long after she retired, she started seeing things. There were people with claws in place of their feet that were hanging from the light fixtures in her house. Since Lucille had no children, Momma had to put her in a nursing home.

On the other hand, Frank’s transition into dementia was not as terrifying. One day my Dad had stopped by to see him saw Frank looking over into a dark corner of his house saying, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.”

“What are you doing, Frank?” Dad asked.

“Don’t you see that black cat over there?”

There was no cat, of course. Frank’s children took him and put him in a nursing home in California after that. His sister got people with claws, and he got cats. He was of the sweet Fowlers, and she was not.
I write this now because Momma’s having problems. Her short-term memory is going. This last year we have noticed that we have to repeat things two and three times. She never gets angry or frustrated. She’s just sweet. I think there is a sweetness that goes to the core of the soul, and that Momma has that sort of sweetness.

My brother, who lives with her, is bearing the brunt. While Momma is not angry or frustrated about his, he is. He has never married and was there to take care of things during my father’s cancer, and now he faces this. He’s taken her to the doctor, a specialist that gave her tests.

“What’s wrong with her, Doctor?” he asked.

“I don’t want to say,” the Doctor replied, and then gave her a prescription for $135 worth of Alzheimer’s medicine a month. “This should give her another year.”

Time in a bottle for $135 a month, I suppose that is some sort of progress.

Robert Burns said, “I backward cast my e'e/ On prospects drear! / An' forward, tho' I canna see, / I guess an’ fear!” I find myself guessing and fearing. Not only about what’s happening to my momma, which concerns me very deeply, but also, in a selfish way, about me. What’s out there ahead?

Before I went to bed last night, I was thinking about this. We give up things on the down slope of life, but however much we give up, there is something of us that remains. We are not what we can do; we are not what we know. Even when my momma’s Grandma Fowler was wetting the bed, she was still Grandma Fowler. There is something of us that remains after we have given up everything, even if it only remains as the feelings in someone’s heart.
This sentence really stuck out for myself:
okieinexile said:
We put on things in the morning of our lives, and we take them off in our old age.
I sort of wondered if perhaps "We put on things in the morning of our lives, and we take them off in the evening of our old age." wouldn't perhaps be stronger? I say that simply because that's what the sentence said to myself, and had quite an impact.

I'm at that point were I am much more aware of my age and my age to come, and that I need to brace myself for good health through middle-age. Putting things down, I guess.

But it's interesting that you made such a point of the issue and made it such a focus. I guess the power of the writer indeed is not simply to be able to convey experiences beyond our own, but also to direct our thoughts to those things we are less aware of.

In such instances, a writer's success depends upon whether these things are achieved. In this instance, I would quite say so.

Hope things get better for you all soon - though I know instead it's challenges.
I said:
Hope things get better for you all soon - though I know instead it's challenges.
Things are still OK with Mom. We had a nice visit with her over the holiday. None of us knows what lies ahead.
Alas, I can empathize with you (both of my parents suffered from dementia, my father from Parkinson's-related dementia and my mother from Pick's disease) and it is very difficult watching people who, at one time, were moderately to very intelligent adults become infantile. Like your situation, my father was the one to become violent (was kicked out of one nursing home because he attacked another resident because the other resident spoke German and my father was a WWII veteran) and my mother pretty much kept up her sweet disposition until she slipped into a coma (complications of cancer that metastacized [sp?] to her liver.)

Phyllis Sidhe_Uaine