A Sad Story

I can make up a story with the best of them. Give me a person to watch and I’ll give you a story. But why must my story be heartrending?

I’m in a small village in Mexico this month. Coming back from the playa yesterday after my beach walk I neared an older man who was leaning against the hood of a pickup and looking at me, using his hands as telescopes. I know that trick – when you can’t see…narrow the field.

At first I was a little huffy. Please, not an old drunk man scoping me out! At my age? And his? My thoughts were confirmed when as I began to pass him he motioned me over, saying, “Mamacita, Mamacita“.

But I had misjudged him. He was trying to tell me something. It’s hard for me to understand a stranger speaking Spanish and harder still when the stranger is missing his teeth.

Suddenly, though, he began peering through the telescoped hands at a woman passing about 30 feet away. He called to her and she glanced over but kept walking, obviously not recognizing him. He called to her insistently and I reassured him that she had heard him but didn’t seem to know him.

He was visibly distressed and I couldn’t help.

I walked over to the group of young men talking in a circle near the store where the pickup was parked to tell them that the man needed help and that I just couldn’t understand him.

A young man reassured me. The man was fine and he was with them.

I knew that the old man was not fine. He was worried and stressed. And thus began my story.

I continued home sure of (in my story line) two things: that the man had a bit of dementia and that he had impaired vision. And I know a little about both.

I know personally what it is like to be unable to see well. I know how hard it is to look for someone at any distance. It is frustrating and seems insurmountable.

And I have seen the angst and confusion expressed by my loved ones with Alzheimer’s. So I could imagine the agony of this man whose wife had died and who couldn’t grasp that she was gone. I felt his pain in trying to find her in every woman who passed, thinking each one would be his wife who had been his rock.

And I knew that although those young men loved and respected that old man, they couldn’t comprehend his grief and loss. They couldn’t now what it is like to lose what is familiar and then not remember what IS familiar. They couldn’t even understand aging.

They don’t know that uncertainty can strike in any moment. That what one could do last week, last month, last year, is now impossible. They don’t know that one’s abilities slide away so gradually that they aren’t missed for awhile – until suddenly one wants to walk better, to see farther, or to hear more for some important reason.

I’m still feeling bad for that old man. And wondering why I couldn’t have made up a happy story. I guess this one just didn’t have the makings of a romantic comedy.  Sigh…



  1. I figure it kind of goes both ways. They don’t understand him but he doesn’t understand them or himself. Frankly, I have to admit that a loss of memory is kind of scary as we age. Mom forgets things I’ve told her 5 minutes ago and I have to repeat them often, yet I’m later amazed by the things she does remember. I can remember a lot of what I read yet I now forget the names of people I’ve known for a long time, both personally and in entertainment; freaks me out.

    I guess it just is what it is and the best we can hope for is to either still be able to take care of ourselves or have someone else take care of us who actually cares.


    • You’re right, I suppose. This whole dementia thing is scary. So far, I have lost my Dad’s wife to dementia (her daughter and I both cared deeply). My lifelong best friend is now pretty deeply entrenched in the world that doesn’t connect. She is cared for in an center and also by her husband, her children, and myself. And I volunteer for an organization which provides caring visitors for those who don’t have family or friends. It’s a life changer for everyone. (Let alone when we can’t remember what we are wearing unless we look down.) I’m hoping for grace.


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