Caring for a parent, memory loss

This Page Intentionally Left Blank

I think it’s odd that the blank pages in all those financial statements say “this page intentionally left blank” on them. I suppose it’s a computer thing; maybe the system needs to know it’s supposed to be blank, not the reader. But let’s just ignore that technical detail for now. What I wonder is, do the recipients of the bank and investment statements always need to know they aren’t missing something? They received the page, afterall; are they not entitled to information it?

It brings to mind fog. I sit in my chair in the window and look out at the blankness that fills the valley and hides the trees. What, I wonder, is happening out there? Are the birds still looking for food? Are cars still crossing the valley on Centralia-Alpha Road? Have the people in the mobile homes turned on their lights yet? Are the school buses carrying children to school? Have the cows been let out of the barn? Is the creek overflowing? Is the sky cloud-filled or clear? It’s all mystery; it’s all a blank. I am content to wait and see. No one needs to tell me it’s intentional or explain fog to me.

Mama has had some bouts of fog this week, both in mind and vision. She was making blueberry syrup for our waffles on Sunday, and after standing blankly at the stove, she looked at me and said, “How do you make syrup?” something she has done all of her life. And it is her perception that her vision is suddenly worse, which understandably is frightening to her. (In fact, there has been a gradual, steady decline for many months; and maybe she is stressed by all the company coming for the holidays and the resulting change in routine.) She went to have her eye pressure checked yesterday. She wants answers; “this page intentionally left blank” will not do. But there are no answers other than that one. Her eyes and her brain are tired; they were intentionally given a finite life expectancy. Hers have lasted longer than most. She may outlive Willard Scott and not get her picture on a Smucker’s jar when she turns 100.

When we have the information, though—when the page is not blank—we can and do ignore it. We do it all the time. I don’t read financial statements—they hurt my brain. I’m happy to let someone else pay attention to them—someone who knows what they are doing. I drove to Seattle last weekend and Mount Rainier was spectacular: frigid white against a band of light in an otherwise gray sky. I had to pull off the road to gaze at it (and, of course, photograph it). People were driving, people were jogging, people were shopping. No one seemed to be looking at the mountain. They certainly weren’t driving around trying to find a perfect photo. [Watch for mine next week, or maybe the week after that.] People were ignoring the information that this world is spectacularly beautiful.

Mama, on the other hand, is an information gatherer, particularly of things that don’t matter. With her limited vision, and limited energy for trying to read, she pours over her investment statements with her 6X power magnifier. I don’t understand. But when a doctor, or me or my sisters, gives her information that doesn’t jive with what she believes, she ignores it. When her doctor tells her a medication, past or current, is not affecting her vision, she asks another doctor. She does not want the page left blank; she is entitled to information—preferably of her choosing. “This page entitles the recipient to perfect vision; or at least someone or something to blame for its lack.” And she wants information on what she can do about it. Now that I think about it, I would like my investment statement to say, “The paltry bit of money is these accounts is not nearly enough. This page entitles you to the million dollars you should have when you retire.”

Mama’s mental fog is another story: she is in denial about that. When I offer to help her compensate, she is apt to snappishly decline my gift with the clear message that this conversation is over. That is what made her question about how to make blueberry syrup so startling: she virtually never says she has forgotten something. She does not ask for help. She does not talk to doctors about it. She does not blame medications for it. She does not talk about it. She tears those pages that tell her the page is intentionally blank into thirds to use for her many lists, intended to help her remember. But she can’t keep track of the lists, so she makes another, and then another. She has plenty of paper.

2 thoughts on “This Page Intentionally Left Blank”

  1. I know what you mean about people seemingly ignoring the beautiful world around them. We went to Olympia from Tacoma for lunch today, and managed to hit the 5 hour window when the sky was a beautiful blue, and the sound was like glass. On the way back we turned off I5 and continued north through Steilecoom. The sound, with the Olympics behind it was just spectacular. I’ve only been in the PNW for 18 months, but I can’t imagine I’ll ever get tired of looking at the Sound or the Mountain.


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