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Richard Doesn’t Have a Clue

June 18, 2018
4.5 x 4.5 inch sketch of CR as he turns and talks with Dick. Platinum Carbon Black ink in their fountain pen with Daniel Smith Watercolors Burnt Sienna and Indanthrone blue.

Yesterday was Father’s Day and like many fortunate people who have parents who are not only still living but living nearby we spent the afternoon with Dick’s dad CR.

We brought treats and sat and talked. Later we struggled to get him into clean, fresh clothing. CR has lost the ability to stand for even a few seconds. He also keeps his room very warm, with more heat making its way through the large window looking out on the courtyard garden (it reached the 90s yesterday). Dick and I are fairly skilled at these maneuvers, but by the time I’d retied the last shoelace I was covered in sweat and urine.

And I faced the sad realization that I could no longer help CR do any of his personal care tasks—he’s failing more and more. Only two months ago he could stand long enough with the walker that I could completely change him with no real exertion in 20 minutes or less. Not a milestone you like to pass on Father’s day.

But first we chatted, and for me, when Dick is present, that means I sketch. CR knows that. Typically he poses.

Yesterday either because he didn’t like our answers to his questions about moving (see Note 1 below) or because he didn’t like the new eyeglasses leash I purchased for him (see Note 2 below) he didn’t pose with his usual rock solid patience. He sat at an angle to his son and alternately held the pose shown in my sketch, or turned to face the window and present a profile (which he knows I rarely paint).

I’m patient. I picked a view and added bits to it every time he turned back to see Dick.

And all the while I’m thinking, “Dick looks exactly like CR.”

Everyone says this.

If you know Dick and CR then at some point in your life you have said, “Dick looks exactly like CR.” 

I noticed this the first time I met CR—he drove out to help Dick with a car problem. I’ve been noticing it ever since. 

Yes there are slight differences—CR’s face is more oval and Dick inherited the long face of the McKennys. Dick’s upper lip bows differently than CR’s, but the thinness and surrounding structure from nose to chin is exactly the same. His nose rounds like his father’s but has a small dimple at the bottom edge. 

Dick’s inner ear structure is different, and he does have eyes that are more frosty, electric blue than his father’s blue eyes.

Otherwise Dick could be mistaken for a clone.

Here’s the funny thing. Dick can look at the sketch above and recognize that I have nailed the likeness of his dad. But at the same time he cannot see how it looks like him. He even laughed and said, “The receptionist said I look more like him today than ever.” (The only explanation I can think of for her new perception is that Dick has been swimming outside and his blond hair is bleaching to white. CR has a stunning crown of white hair. So it’s that and of course the fact that Dick is aging.)

I puzzle over this a lot. He seems to grudgingly understand why our friends think he looks like the lead character in “Up.” (Although everyone says he’s taller.) But he can’t see this real-life resemblance.

It haunts me every day. I visit CR and am reminded that this is how Dick will age. Dick never smoked so he won’t have the resultant health issues that his father has been facing, but this is the way the flesh will thin and hang; this is the way the skull will emerge.

Well if I’m still around then (he keeps telling me he’ll outlive me), I’ll sketch him and make my point.

Or maybe I’ll just cover up the dates in my journals and show him sketches of his dad.

I’ve never lied to Dick, but hey, if I live that long all bets are off.

————— 

  1.  He alternately believes he’s in Portland [where he spent his early life], needs to get back to Portland, Minneapolis, or his independent living apartment in another wing of his building. 
  2. He now has a bright red cord that attaches to the two ear stems of his glasses. He can hang his glasses around his neck instead of putting them down and losing them. (He’s too blind to see them.) So far it’s working. Fingers crossed. He had the last pair of glasses less than ten days!

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  1. Reply

    Oh Roz, you write with such love and clear vision of the path I am just taking my first tentative steps upon. Thank you for your wisdom and unfailing kindness towards your elders. I hope my sketchbook will also help me reflect upon the present in my near future. Much love and appreciation to you x

    1. Reply

      Allison, thanks for your kind words. Please find some people with whom you can share the joys of this time—there are more joys than sadnesses because of the closeness, even if it doesn’t seem like that on any given day. But you really need friends to bounce off of who have been there. I’m fortunate to have older friends who walked this path before me. And remember to breathe. Keep sketching because it will help a ton!

    • Judi Nyerges
    • June 18, 2018
    Reply

    Only someone who is going through this currently (me, with TWO parents, both with dementia, both in their late 90’s) can understand what this is like for you. I sympathize completely, and with total understanding. I wish you well, wish you patience, wish you every good wish as you navigate this minefield in your life. Keep on keepin’ on, and I hope to only hear good news from you when we meet up at SketchKon.

    1. Reply

      Thanks Judi, we are doing well, or as Glenn Rhee said, “Doing Great—Living the Life.” (My favorite character on “The Walking Dead” who always had such an upbeat attitude; a great role model!)

      Thank you for your kind thoughts. I wish you the best with your parents.

    • Jeanne
    • June 18, 2018
    Reply

    When I first looked at the sketch above, I thought it was of Dick. So I agree with you. I love this rendering, by the way.

    1. Reply

      Thank you!!!!!!!!! Yes!!!!!!! I can’t wait to tell Dick. And thank you for the kind comment about the rendering of his dad.

    • Tanja
    • June 19, 2018
    Reply

    I love to read EVERYTHING you write … I think you could write about just anything in the world and make it deep and full of feeling… thank you, Roz!

    1. Reply

      That’s a wonderfully kind comment and I’m going to have to print that out and put it in my journal! It will make me try harder! Thank you.

    • Graeme
    • June 19, 2018
    Reply

    I was wondering what was happening with you, you know, missing an email update for a few days. But receiving this is like receiving a big hug.

    1. Reply

      I’m actually on hiatus Graeme and not writing blog posts right now, though some things are coming up and I have written a couple posts. Post will be very thing between now and the middle of July or so. Check out my instagram account to stay in touch. Keep sketching!

    • Penny
    • June 19, 2018
    Reply

    I draw all my students at school, quick 20 minutes sketches, and I am amazed how many time that I see their parents or siblings before I get there likeness. There are often similarities that I had not noticed before. You see differently when you draw and I can’t get enough of it. I so admire you and I am getting closer to my ideal of having a sketchbook with me all the time. I have had the opportunity twice to do some hospice with family members and been able to capture their last days. Some people are bothered by it but it helps me remember that time in a very personal way. My husband does not want to be reminded he looks like his Dad, but I think your father in law is a little more handsome.

    1. Reply

      I too believe you see differently, more closely and more nuanced details, when you draw, even if those details aren’t always included in the drawing. My sketchbook has been a salvation in the past five years and even before that when there were health scares and hospital visits. Since it’s all part of my life I’m not bothered in the least if others are bothered by what I record, and I’m glad you have recorded memories too!

      I think all of us want, for different reasons to be unique and we can be while still having a family resemblance. Thanks for your note!

    • Emily
    • June 19, 2018
    Reply

    My mom and I look very much alike–everyone comments on it. My dad says he doesn’t see it!

    1. Reply

      That’s very interesting. But a good thing as he obviously sees you as someone in your own right!

    • Jenny K
    • June 19, 2018
    Reply

    I too admire your patience with, and commitment to, CR. Having cared for my mother, I know how frustrating and draining it can be, though rewarding as well.

    It seems quite common for confused elderly people to believe they are living somewhere else. My aunt was convinced she lived with the carer who visited her most often, and once tried to leave her own house in the middle of the night because the carer would be worried she wasn’t ‘home’ (at the carer’s house).

    When my mother was still in sheltered housing (UK term for assisted living), she knew that where she was living looked exactly like her own apartment, and all the furniture was the same. At the same time, she ‘knew’ with even greater certainty that it was not actually her apartment and wanted to know when she could go home. That led to her often not answering her phone as she thought the call could not be for her.

    Later, when she had moved to a care home, she was convinced she was living in the (non-residential) college in London at which I studied when I was in my late teens. Nothing would convince her otherwise, even though the two places bore no similarity to each other.

    1. Reply

      Thank you for letting me know that your aunt too had a sense that she lived somewhere else. I’ve learned several things in this process about how the brain fades and fails and how accessing information ceases. It’s difficult to see CR’s frustration when I can also see at times his understanding that his mind is going. Thank you for sharing your experiences with me.

    • Susan
    • June 21, 2018
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing this as it brought back some good memories for me. And there is something extra special about that sketch.

    You probably know this but just in case. A friend of mine (then in her early 70’s) was able to care for her husband at home for several years because of having a rented Hoyer lift.

    1. Reply

      Thanks for stopping by to let me know you enjoyed the post. Thanks also for the info on the hoyer lift. We don’t have a handicap accessible home or the money to outfit it so it’s why CR had to go into care. I visit three to five times a week and during those times I’ve always helped him with his transfers, and toilet activities, and dressing—it’s just quicker than pushing the call button, especially when it’s not an emergency! This week we had another change and had to move CR to memory care.

        • Susan
        • June 26, 2018
        Reply

        Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry. I guess I didn’t word my comment very well. Of course I don’t think you should try to care for CR in your home. My mother was in care and I understand what goes into that difficult decision. It’s just that when you wrote “I faced the sad realization that I could no longer help CR do any of his personal care tasks” that — since it seemed like something you wished you might be abke to still do — I wondered whether a Hoyer would help.

        1. Reply

          Susan, no problems. I understood what you meant. For legal reason the eldercare facility would let us have any mechanical aids. For me it has just been so much easier, when either Phyl or CR needed help with toileting or changing to do it myself and not call an aide. They can’t always get there immediately, and when they are their it disrupts the visit. And both the folks have always liked me helping them. So when things dramatically changed recently it was a sad marker of what is happening and how fast things change.

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