Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Drama in the mall food court

Like a fly on the wall, I watched a human drama unfold before me one recent morning in the mall food court.

I was riveted as I looked on silently, but I already knew the ending.

My family has been through it twice in the past 10 years, so I am familiar with the script.

It involves dementia, usually associated with Alzheimer s.

A husband and wife of my acquaintance, both about 80 years old, sat across from each other at a table in the food court. They sipped their drinks without talking.

A daughter stood nearby, speaking lowly on her cell phone.

Her own daughter, a teenager, sat next to the older woman and wept quietly. She appeared unnoticed by her grandmother.

The man s head was down, his eyes staring at the foam coffee cup he cradled with both hands. His expression was one of silent pain.

I had often sat with the couple when I stopped for my morning coffee. When I saw them with one of their daughters, I felt like I would be intruding in family matters if I joined them, so I sat elsewhere unless invited to sit down.

I was aware that the older woman had been suffering memory lapses that were steadily worsening. Her husband admitted that he was having difficulty dealing with her deterioration.

Each day about 10 a.m., they came to the food court. He got coffee for each of them, and she sat alone while he walked his usual mall exercise route once or twice and returned to her.

Sometimes, she sat where he left her. Other times, she wandered to Border s and spent a few minutes leafing through a book or magazine until coming back to the food court to rejoin him.

Occasionally, he had to go and find her. She would be quietly sitting in a chair at the store or in the concourse, usually with a pleasant smile, and then would return with him to the food court.

It was obvious to anyone who spent more than a few minutes with the couple during their morning mall routine that there was a growing problem.

While she rarely exhibited any serious memory problems or other outward signs of illness in public, her once-active participation in discussions had ceased completely.

If spoken to or asked a question, she d flash a most charming smile, but only offer a few words. A former school teacher, she had once been quick with a comment on almost any subject.

Her husband revealed to a few coffee drinkers who regularly joined the couple that the problem was indeed becoming more serious and seemed to get worse at night.

Several times, he had to summon one of their grown daughters to calm his wife of 60 years when she awoke in the middle of the night and didn t know who he was. Three of the four daughters live in Toledo and were available quickly to help.

In a break from her cell phone conversation near her parents, the daughter told me as I tended my cup of caffeine that her mother was being taken to an assisted-living facility in a few minutes. She would remain there.

Her mother was not made aware of the plan largely because of the family s fear of frightening her or running into fierce resistance.

The daughter had been talking with two of her sisters who were already at the assisted-living facility, preparing it for their mother with some of her own furnishings in place and family photographs on the walls.

Then, it was time for this act of the drama to end. Exit stage left.

The daughter took her mother s arm and firmly led her to the parking lot.

A step or two behind were the husband and his granddaughter, with looks of resolve etched on their faces, silently following their family s new direction.

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