Several years ago, I would visit my mother-in-law at a Massachusetts elder residence center. She lived on the memory care floor, which was for those with dementia, or other severe memory loss associated with age.
The residents required constant looking after. Each had their own room–this was a $10,000 per month facility. There were common areas for sing-alongs, TV, and simple games. The hallway walls were filled with photographs of the residents from when they were in their youth.
One day I met a new resident. He was loud and animated, and he repeated over and over: “Yes! Right! OK! Will do!” Over and over, to no one in particular.
In the course of several visits to mom, I’d happen to hear him, and see him. He’d say his bit when he was with a caregiver. He’d say it in the common area at lunch. He’d say it in the hallways, and say it when he was by himself.
Yes. Right. OK. Will do.
I came to think of him as “The agreeable man”. Sometimes his voice would be lowered. Sometimes he’d be as loud as I’d ever heard him. And sometimes, he’d be quiet, looking defeated, and sitting alone.
One afternoon a nurse stopped me in the hallway and pointed to a photo. It was the agreeable man, when he was in his 20’s. He was a serviceman; apparently he flew in B-25s in WWII.
Someone, a son, a daughter, grandkid, friend, niece or nephew, had set up two photos. One picture was the typical service portrait– a smiling guy in a uniform. The other photo showed two B-25s in flight, with the agreeable man’s unit superimposed on the sky background. He was in some sort of Air Intelligence group. I don’t remember the specifics. I’m angry at myself for not allowing that detail to register.
I should have taken a photo of his montage. Unfortunately, I have a faulty tendency; when I happen across a sensitive situation, such as bringing to light a human interest story, I can hesitate at the opportunity.
I need to get better at fighting my resistance. Sometimes I’ve dared to fight, and have won. My hesitancy was what I struggled with, partly, in the hall with the nurse, as we stood outside the agreeable man’s room.
The man deserved his privacy. If I didn’t piece something together, the story would be lost, and then how would it be carried along?
He’d flown to defeat tyranny. Or he was a part of a group that flew. Maybe he was a ground officer. Or a powerplant man. My impression was, he was a flier.
John, is the ship ready?
We’ll need these photos developed to see where they’ve dug in.
Hey, get some chow and sleep, we’ll need you fresh for pre-dawn.
Hey John. Take the men to that London pub and buy a round of drinks, on me. No need to talk about the old man. Get them to loosen up about themselves. If I do it, I’m afraid I’d be cutting in on their time to let loose. Come back and tell me about it, ok?
Most likely, the agreeable man had a group of war buddies in the 1940’s. They were in service overseas where death happened on a momentary basis. He was a functioning part of a system that was necessary to keep good men alive, and to stop the enemy.
Planes are gone, tyrants are gone. Buddies are gone. Wives, sweethearts, sisters and mothers, their care has led him to the 6th floor. Their care, one after another after another, shepherded him along, and gave him something to work towards, years and years after the war.
Perhaps the agreeable man said the positive exclamations because that’s what got him through his days. Those words served him. They served him when he was scared. Served him when he was talking to someone who was more scared than he. Perhaps he said those words when he was happy to help someone out, a neighbor, co-worker, or friend, in the six decades post-war. His very good years.
Think about the agreeable man and dare you waste your day. Think about his kind and dare you complain of what you have the power to change. Think about what he’s limited to. On your worst day, you are nowhere near him.
Agreeable man, you are us, further along in time. You are someone we love, in current or expired time. You’re there, and we’d love to sit with you. Agreeable man, we can reduce the complex world to something very simple for you to surround yourself in. We can be gentle on your terms. Yes, it can be us you’re speaking to. We hear it, and it’s all right.