Dementia & Getting all Zen

This week I received some bad news; not devastating news, just bad news about a mate’s father who has been put into a nursing home.  The old bloke’s mental facilities have been diminishing for some time, and when I saw him late last year I was shocked at how much he had deteriorated in such a relatively quick time. 

The old bloke has always been a can do, hands on, nothings’ too hard, give me a go, shed dwelling, car restoring, furniture building, big project, arty project, sort of person; or to sum up in two words, ‘Gladstone Man’. 

He was a multi-skilled tradesman, a marine engineer (the real deal) who could make, do, create, or build anything he turned his mind to.  I can recall the times I watched him building model boats out of large lumps of timber, with little more than a photograph and a pair of calipers for reference.  Or the time he took up blacksmithing, and how we young fellas lined up along the forge walls to watch him clanging away at a piece of extruded metal, shaping it over the anvil.  It was like witnessing a magic act.  He was the bloke I’d turn to when I had problems with my car, or needed some advice regarding a work problem.  He’d listen carefully, ask a few questions, smile a little, then after careful thought, would give me his answer.  In short, I stood in awe of his abilities. 

So, to see him reduced to sitting in a cane chair gazing at the ‘colourful pictures’ in womens’ mags was a bit distressing.  You knew that somewhere under his thinning hair beat a brain that knew to the thousandth of an inch the tolerances of big end bearings on a hundred different machines, or could calculate on the fly algebraic equations that would make a modern teacher shudder.  No more. 

A couple of years ago he had a knock down, drag out bout with Barma Forest Disease, which knocked him around for many months, and he never fully recovered.  The falls started, the forgetfulness, the gradual decline of his physical stature.  No longer the big man with the booming voice, and heavy handshake.  He did well to stay out of care so long, and this was in large part to his doting wife, but even she had reached her limits or her magnificent reserves, physically, and emotionally.  And yesterday, when I called to see how they were going, I was told that the old bloke was now spending his days propped up in a chair with a belt around his chest to stop him from falling.

Even now, it really hurts to see that picture in my mind.  But…

The old fella is not totally unhappy.  Everyday he gets to watch his ‘cowboy movies’, he’s surrounded by people who are looking after his every need, and there are others in the unit with him, so he has made some new friends.  In short, he is living from moment to moment.  There is no fear or anxiety about the future, and no regrets about the past, and it dawned on me that isn’t that part of enlightenment?  A large part?  To live in the moment.  To focus on the now.  Simply, Be. 

It could be worse.  Later on in the day I opened Terry Pratchetts’ Thief of Time, and started following the adventures of the warrior monk, Lu Tze.  I’d read it before, but this time the lessons were sinking in…  if you’re going to sweep, then SWEEP.  Do it well, do it to the best of your ability, do it in such a way, without complaint, that makes you proud you have done the job.  Do not worry that people will mess up your floor, simply get on with the task at hand. 

Live in the moment.  Just like the old fella.  It’s amazing how refreshing it feels to think, to be this way!  I think it’s time for me to log off and grab a broom 🙂

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