Old Friends

His boyhood friend is in a nursing home. His friend’s wife is having a hard time finding what she considers adequate care for her husband of 60+ years.

My father-in-law listened as his friend’s wife described, in excruciating detail, the ordeals she has been facing. It upsets him deeply, though he would never interrupt her, or let on that he was distressed.  (He just handed me his doctoral thesis , Investigations of Linear Control Input-Output Relations by Matrix Methods Systems, taking his mind off the things that he thinks about these days when he is alone).

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I’m sitting here, wanting to ask him about…things. He sees me typing and hesitates to interrupt (there’s that word again), but he is digging through the copious archives of his life as an engineer and mathematics professor.  (“Apparently my whole life is in that box”, he just told me, saying how even the article when he did a book signing for Operation Highjump at a local library was in there, and much of his academic as well as his time spent in fire service in his local community).

He’s reading now, sitting next to me, keeping his 86 year old brain as active as possible. I have many stories about how he does that, for another day.

Back to topic at hand: his lifelong buddy in the nursing home.  He was asked if he’d like to visit him. NO, was his emphatic and final answer. I knew he did not want to be cajoled into going.

And here I sit, the question hesitating on my tongue: What is the main reason you’d prefer to not see him?

And the questions I won’t ask: Is it because you’re reminded of your own mortality? Is it because you would not want to feel the emotions that would inevitably arise, watching this lifelong friendship dissolve into the ethereal? Or is it that you would prefer to remember him as the fit, healthy doctor he was for so many years?

I suspect it is a combination of those things, with stronger emphasis on the latter.

He is now showing me a book on grammar that he uses for a little friendly banter when he engages with an old time girlfriend. He reconnected with her after his wife passed away, almost 8 years ago. They write back and forth, catching each other on grammar, or syntax, or mistaken facts. “All in fun”, he is fond of saying, but I know it serves a much greater purpose for both of them. It’s an important connection to the past, a link to the present that keeps him feeling relevent.  A way to (he hopes) keep his mind active and flexible.

And I am no closer to asking that question. He is so animated right now, so engrossed in the present through his past, now I dare not interrupt.

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