As with many elderly, particularly those with certain medical conditions, my dad occasionally said strange, random and even a few offensive things during the months prior to his death. This was most surprising since all through his life he chose his words almost too carefully. He was usually kind and tried to be tolerant and as accepting as possible of everyone...well, except for those with tattoos, piercings and droopy pants but that's another topic. As a younger man, he mentally edited and censored his thoughts ad infinitum. In fact, he used to joke that by the time his clever comment or interjection was ready, the countries of the world had changed their borders and all the maps had been reprinted.
I suppose we've all had that happen. "Why didn't I say that?" or perhaps the opposite, "Why did I just let that come out of my mouth?" I'm not certain which is worse although in my experience, no amount of backpedalling can erase the latter. Trying usually makes matters worse.
After he'd had a few mini strokes, only some of what dad said made sense and words could often be construed as random and angry. Like a small child seeking approval, he'd repeat his comments and await a response. We tried to ignore improprieties. Sometimes he spoke in tongues...well, German and it was a bonus if there were people close by who actually understood the language. But dad was always still in there. The wheels were turning.
What a struggle it must have been to connect the ideas with the words. Occasionally, when he spoke, his thoughts didn't match the topic of conversation and his comments trailed off in mid sentence, leaving us dangling or scrambling to fill in the blanks.
On days when he was completely lucid and aware, there'd be his familiar grin followed by a zinger which, as always caused us to double over laughing, tears streaming from our eyes. To his credit, dad was able to chuckle at himself as well. I remember the day I offered to move a pair of overstuffed electric armchairs out of the corners of his condo.
"I can do it. I don't need your help. I can move them myself." he said.
To which I responded, "Dad, you can't even move your own self."
We both laughed.
Once in awhile, he'd mutter and make one of his all too familiar mind boggling comments. I'd stop in amazement to hear yet another valuable piece of insight into the state of the economy, the environment, the election, space and planets, evolution, the Japanese work ethic, the string theory or matters of spiritual significance. I would nod my head smiling enviously, wishing that I had been fortunate enough to inherit a larger portion of that brain power.
My young adult children recently mentioned that they found it unusual that their Opa commented on a new hooded robe that we gave my stepmom last Christmas. "Remember when Opa asked if it was a hoodie? Nobody his age usually even knows that word or what it is."
"Yeah, that was cool," they repeated in unison. "He called it a hooooooodie." And we all chuckled at the memory.
One Saturday this past summer as dad sat in my kitchen reading his "Scientific American" magazine, he sadly admitted, "I can't do it anymore. I once could have written this stuff myself and now I have to read it over and over and I still don't always understand it." It was as painful for him to admit that as it was for me to hear.
Some of dad's insights were simple and to the point. Some were based on a lifetime of experiences and some were a result of his newer more recent day to day life as an elderly person with certain issues. On aging, he shared, "Getting older sucks. Each year you find yourself doing more socially unacceptable things." I'd quietly hand him a tissue and he'd smile appreciatively, and wipe his drippy nose without need for further communication.
Dad knew things. He always knew things. He made it a point to know things. Even when he had trouble remembering, connecting and processing, he still knew. I could see it in his eyes.
Near the end, of course, he was no longer hiding behind the veil of social acceptance. He did what he could and said whatever he wanted. I liked his bluntness, his jokes and his opinions and I liked learning what he really thought. It certainly wouldn't have knowingly been his choice, but it was what it was. And what it was, was 80 years of honesty, stored, saved up and broadcast to the world during his last two years of life.