We have a man who lives a few houses up the block who seems to be losing his mind. I don’t write that with any pleasure or humor. Literally, the man is lost. He’s either 93 or 94, his wife passed several years ago and he resides by himself with his dog. He owns a large brown, Brady Bunch-esque paneled wagon, though supposedly his sons (who rarely visit) are trying to take it away for safety reasons.
The man is very friendly, and will tell stories upon stories. Problem is, he doesn’t remember which stories he told and which he didn’t. So he tells the same ones repeatedly. A few days ago, I was informed by a neighbor that the man was walking down the street at 2 or 3 in the morning, confused. I’ve been told he’s starting to show increased signs of dementia. Clearly, he belongs in assisted living. But it’s not our call.
I often think about life and death, and what it all means. People always want to live forever, but do they really? Are we better off going gracefully, or fighting until the bitter end? My wife’s grandmother turns 90 this year, and she’s still an ass-kicking, car-driving, golf club-swinging machine. I think she’ll live well past 100. I certainly hope so.
Yet I also remember the way my Grandma Marta (pictured above) passed. It was 1999. She was 87, and had just spent the evening at dinner, then the theatre, with a friend. She came back to her apartment on West 181st Street in Washington Heights, went to sleep and died of a heart attack.
I was the first family member to arrive. The police were there. One said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Pearlman.” I peeked into the bedroom, where Grandma’s body was on the bed. It wasn’t scary or disconcerting, but surprisingly reassuring. This was a woman whose mother died in a concentration camp; whose husband was long gone; who lived a hard, rugged life.
To me, she looked liberated.