Grandpa's traditional wave goodbye at JamestownThe other night I went with the parents to the Jamestown Assisted Living variety show. Grandpa Hart has been living there for the last 4 years or so and he plays in the Bell Choir. The variety show had other acts but this was definitely the headliner. They played America the Beautiful, and a whole bunch of songs I've never heard of like Hi-lili Hi-lo (well I actually know that one, but just because I've come to hang out with grandpa during bell choir rehearsals. For a creepy puppet rendition of the song click here). The show was nice enough (my grandpa is too cute) but it was a stark reminder of just how unglamorous old age really is. None of the bell choir members even cracked a smile, many of them probably couldn't. Most of the people that live at Jamestown were fairly accomplished in their lives. My grandpa was a rocket scientist. Well, an aerospace engineer. He worked on Top Secret planes for Boeing back in the iron curtain, 'we're afraid of the USSR' days. He served in SE Asia in WWII and saw the Emporer of Japan sign the treaty papers ending the war. He was an excellent singer (performed with the family, in choirs and alone). Now he and his generation are debased to bell-ing 9 of the 35 notes in the assisted living variety show. Half are in wheel chairs, they all smell, their wrinkles are sallow and covered in age spots. With all improvements in medicine and life expectancy, is this what they are living for? Worse even, my grandpa now remembers only snippets of the non-marginalized life he led. I know his mind is moving right now but whatever he's thinking about doesn't last very long. From my frequent visits, I can count about 20 odd stories and thoughts that grandpa cycles through. A handful from the military, post-military, his wife and his children. But he certainly has his priorities straight. Most quoted, "I've come to realize that the single most important result of the restoration of the gospel is the ability to seal families." I think he really misses his wife.
I see how hard it is for grandpa to come to grips with his diminishing capacities. I do not look forward to it. It's not pretty, but I do still believe it can be approached with grace. I complement grandpa and the bell choir for keeping active and staying as high-function as they possibly can. Here he is doing the same magic tricks he did for his grandkids, now for his great-grandkids. They're a little less magical as his shaky hands stumble over the magic set stunts. The old two-dollar bill roll out is now a one dollar bill wallet, but the kids' names are still on it!