By Dom Cioffi
In retrospect, I should have warned my son about the “scene” he was walking into. But then again, sometimes it’s better to let life unfold and talk about it later.
I could see his eyes widen as we made our way through the hallway: long, dimly lit and with a faint smell that suggested something wasn’t entirely fresh. We soon found ourselves in the company of a small group of people. There ahead of us, parked in the hallway, were seven or eight residents seated in their wheelchairs awaiting the call to dinner.
There was a small alleyway that my wife led us through, followed by my son and then myself. It was at this point that I suddenly realized how taken aback my son was.
He had been to an assisted living community before, but until now had not visited an area where residents with dementia and other advanced disabilities of aging were located.
These experiences are not easy for anyone, but to a child unversed in the intricacies of old age, they can be especially troubling.
As we made our way through the small group, some residents recognized we were there; others were oblivious. I put my hand on my son’s shoulder and directed him through the maze since his pace had slowed considerably. I smiled at the folks who made eye contact and delivered the prerequisite “Excuse us” in a soft, friendly voice.
One woman, who was obviously agitated, chastised us for being there. “Don’t you know better than to come here now!” she bellowed.
My son turned and looked at me with confusion. “It’s fine,” I whispered. “Keep moving.”
Another reached out her hand and announced that she was ready to go home. “It’s been a pleasant visit, but I’d like to go back to my house now,” she pleaded.
As we passed by I could hear one of the nurses gently remind the woman that this was her home now. I winced at her obvious confusion, imagining how terrifying such information must seem when your memory has dissipated.
Once we reached our destination–my wife’s 99-year-old grandmother–we took off our coats and settled in. She, too, is in advancing stages of dementia, so while she eventually recognized her granddaughter (my wife), she could not recall meeting me or my son.
We showed her some pictures we had brought and did our best to keep her attention, but it was obvious she found the experience a bit unsettling.
After a while, we decided to take her for a short walk. She was one of the few residents who was not wheelchair-bound, so with walker in hand, she led us back through the hallway. While my wife and her grandmother talked in front of us, my son began peppering me with questions as we trailed.
I did my best to explain dementia and the related complications of aging, but I also intertwined an understanding of how lonely it can be to live so long. “Some of these folks go days, weeks, or even months without a visitor,” I explained. “That’s why it’s so important that we not forget about the elderly.”
Once we reached a small sitting area, an old man wandered up to me and my son. He smiled widely. “Merry Christmas!” he stated. “Do you see how we’ve prepared for the holidays?” At this point he waved his hand toward a small decorated tree in the corner.
“Very nice,” I acknowledged. “Did you help do that?”
The old man smiled again, seemingly confused by my question, and then leaned in toward my son.
“Someday you’ll be old like me,” he said. “And you won’t be able to try new things. So make sure you try everything once so you never have regrets. Do you understand?”
My son shook his head in agreement. The old man then ruffled my son’s hair, looked back toward me and exclaimed bluntly, “And take care of your father, because he took good care of you.”
My son looked to me for a reaction, but I had none. I simply smiled and wondered if the old man had a son he wished would visit.
This week’s feature, “The Night Before,” revolves around a young man who lost his parents around the holidays and in the intervening years has relied on two friends to help him get through the season.
Starring Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “The Night Before” is yet another stoner comedy that bases most of its humor on the underbelly experiences of 20- to 30-somethings.
Of course, the only question that matters is: is it funny? And quite honestly, I would have to answer “minimally.” Sure there are some humorous parts, but overall, this one is easily forgettable.
As far as holiday fare is concerned, I’d save my theater dollars for one of the numerous Oscar-worthy titles that will be released in the coming weeks.
A withered “C” for “The Night Before.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.