Conscious Aging: Losing It All

My cousin Adrienne is 76, give or take. For some years  now she’s been in a lockdown memory care facility, under heavy medication. Late in life, after her retirement from a global energy corporation and the death of her husband, she devolved into the proverbial cat lady. When she was removed from her home and admitted to the posh but highly restrictive facility where she now lives, 40 or more half wild cats were running around the  house, pooping and peeing everywhere. Adrienne seemed oblivious, although she fed them all. She kept the place locked tighter than a drum, because she was afraid people were coming to kill her.

Her situation has been heartbreaking to all of us. She was the funny cousin, the one who took pains to know everybody’s kids by name and age and visited all of them. She loved opera and the Jersey shore. A high school graduate, she worked her way into a position that was equivalent to a paralegal or even a junior associate, because she was such a good reader and writer. She worked for the legal department, and read huge thick briefs germane to litigation against the company. She then competently and efficiently summarized the overwhelming amount of information into briefs for her bosses, all lawyers. She said it was the best job in the world, because she got paid to do what she loved: read.

Now, once a year we cousins all receive a mandatory medical update on her condition, and a financial accounting from the niece and her husband who are court-appointed guardians. Adrienne is in decent physical health, but her cognitive status and emotional stability continue to deteriorate. She can no longer speak intelligibly, visit the bathroom, dress and wash herself without prompting. That’s been happening for a long time.

But the latest report carried a detail that broke my heart. Adrienne can no longer read.

I wonder, for some of us, if aging means losing it all. For those with severe mental illness, I guess it does.

4 thoughts on “Conscious Aging: Losing It All

  1. for Phyllis: Some years ago my cousin got a very bad diagnosis, paranoid schizophrenia. The onset was very late — usually this mental illness manifests in late adolescence or early adulthood. She’s medicated with some heavy duty anti-psychotics, which keep her peaceful but have had dire effects on her brain function. I think even books on tape are beyond her now, although recordings of the opera may not be. This is a terribly sad situation. Adrienne and her late husband Mario were both high school graduates; he was an asbestos worker. But she got Exxon Mobil stock for the 30+ years that she worked in New York, and wound up a wealthy woman. She should be taking cruises and going into Manhattan to hear live opera. The facility she lives in is very high end, and she is safe, warm, comfortable, dry,fed, and medicated — but she has not much more than that in terms of quality of life.

  2. For all of us who love Adrienne and remember the decades of fun, laughter and good moments, her condition is so painful.

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