Friday, February 26, 2021

Kathy and Rita

At the beginning of yesterday's call with Kathy, I told her I only had 45 minutes. Now 73, she has trouble with her memory. It's beyond garden-variety forgetfulness that comes with age. During every conversation she will say -- at least once -- that she "recently had a problem" with her brain but "it fixed itself." No, it hasn't. She has never mentioned this to a doctor and won't because she insists she's "fine." She's not.

Kathy is also a long-time friend. I've known her since the mid-1980s. During my bout with covid, she was very thoughtful and supportive. I want to maintain my relationship with her. I just don't want to be angry or depressed when I hang up. Hence, the 45 minute limit.

I told her that I had to log onto Zoom at 4:15. Later in the call, I reminded her, referring to it as "a conference call," just in case she forgot what Zoom is. 

Most of the call was pleasant. We talked about her love of jigsaw puzzles, which has grown during the pandemic. I told her that this past year I've reread some favorite books. She briefly touched on how hard it is for her to read these days -- that she has to reread paragraphs sometimes. Then we started talking about my love of the Cubs, and she said it makes her happy to think of how happy I must be for spring training.

Somehow we got on the subject of my favorite grandmother's jersey. My cousin liked to take Grandma to Wrigley Field for Mother's Day, and she always wore a Cub cap and her #23 Ryne Sandberg jersey for the occasion. She looked adorable, by the way. We buried her with the cap in her hands, and after she'd been gone for a while, my cousin gave me her jersey because I was now our "matriarch of Cub fans." I love wearing that jersey.

I thought -- since Kathy said she enjoyed my Cubbie love -- that she would like that story. She's a grandmother herself, after all.

Somehow it made her edgy. She started to tell me a story that confused me about her sister Kim ("the one with the big mouth") and her brother and their father. I really wasn't following it and whatever she was trying to tell me was upsetting her. AND it was nearly 4:15.

"I'm sorry to do this to you, but I've got to go. It's 4:14. I've got a meeting, remember?"

"Isn't that like you! You end things when it's comfortable for you to end them. Just like you!"

Wow. Now she's lashing out.

"Look," I said evenly, "I told you I had to go at 4:15. I have to go. It's payday tomorrow and every once in a while they expect me to do something to earn it."

"Oh, OK. Goodbye."

I was relieved to end the call but sorry it ended on such a negative note. It left me rattled all evening.

Apparently she was, too, because she sent me a text before she went to bed, apologizing.

Fortunately, I just finished a book about Rita Hayworth. A major movie star in the 1940s and 1950s, she retired from the public eye when she was 53. The glamor girl was appearing in public angry and disheveled. It was assumed that she was an alcoholic. It was early onset Alzheimer's, a disease not well known or understood in the 1970s. Rita's outbursts were born not of booze but of terror and frustration she could not communicate.


So the Love Goddess of WWII and the retired real estate agent in Dekalb have a lot in common: Forgetfulness, confusion and anger at their vulnerability. The book about Rita was unremittingly sad. But I'm glad I read it, for it will remind me to be more compassionate.

Just as a biography I read about Johnny Carson, of all people, gave me insights into my Cousin Rose. I'm so grateful when I learn from what I read!


  1. Patience is the name of the game with those suffering from Alzheimers or dementia. They aren't always in the same reality we are. In order to spare them confusion and heartache, we always advise meeting them in their reality. Even if they are putting themselves in danger, we can try to find a way to stop it without a rude shock of reality. You are most likely right in thinking your friend is scared. It can be really sad in the beginning stages when they are still with it enough to know something is wrong. It can break your heart. Praying your friend finds some help before she puts herself in danger (Our neighbor went to the grocery store this week and didn't come home. We live in PA. They found him about 15 hours later at a gas station in Maryland!) Praying for you both.

  2. I agree with Stacy, my mom had Alzheimers and your friend sounds like she did in the early years.

  3. What a poignant post. I hope she gets the help she needs.