Saturday, October 18, 2008


Here is the third excerpt from my memoir, "Dementia Diary, A Caregiver's Journal." Hope you enjoy it and return soon for future installments.


One Sunday morning in December 1990, I was enjoying the quiet isolation of my business office while trying to clean up the loose ends of a hectic workweek. No one was around and I was sailing along, making great progress. I was feeling particularly happy. Business was booming. Several new contracts had been faxed in late Friday afternoon, accounts receivable were up to date, major projects were moving well toward completion, and I was beginning to think about heading home.

“Ring.” It was the phone. It didn’t actually ring but, instead, made that bone jarring electronic sound that has replaced the mechanical bell of older telephones (When did that triumph of 21st Century technology occur?). There is no word yet invented in the English language to adequately describe that sound. So…

“Ring,” will have to do.

It took me several moments to react. After all, who could be calling a business office on a Sunday morning? It must be a wrong number, I thought. I didn’t expect my wife, Nadine, to call. She knew that I preferred to work undisturbed on weekend office visits. I debated not answering it, but the so-called ring was persistent and, finally, as much from curiosity as anything else, I gave in.


“Jerry?” It was Nadine’s voice.

I decided to be flippant. “You were expecting, maybe, Woody Allen?” I quipped, to let her know that I didn’t mind the interruption. “What’s up?”

The first sign of trouble was the silence at the other end. It was only a moment, but it was long enough to send me a signal. Whatever it was, Nadine was either reluctant to say, or else she did not know quite how to proceed.

“Jerry, I’m sorry to bother you. I know how much you…”

“It’s Okay, Nadine. I’m almost done for today. I was just wrapping up. I’ll be home in half an hour.”

“Oh,” and then silence for another interminable moment. Then, “Listen. It can wait. Just come home.”

All my antennae were up now. “Nadine,” I said. “I’ve got a minute. You called for a reason. So now I’m curious. What’s happening?”

“Really, Jerry, it can wait. If I knew you were getting ready to leave, I wouldn’t have called.”

Now I was getting alarmed or annoyed. I wasn’t really sure which. Probably both. There was something in Nadine’s voice that scared me.

“What’s with all the mystery?” I asked. “Don’t make me crazy. You called me, so what is it that couldn’t wait before; and, now, all of a sudden, it can?”

“Your Aunt Charlotte called.”

This was my mother Minnie’s younger sister, my favorite Aunt, and the closest thing I had to a sibling. She called frequently, but not usually on Sunday mornings. I didn’t know the details yet, but I was beginning to guess where this conversation was going. Hoping that I was jumping to false conclusions, I asked,

“Charlotte? What did she want? Is everything Okay in Florida?”

“She just called and asked me to contact you and ask you to come home.”

This was getting stranger and stranger. I was starting to understand how a district attorney must feel when cross-examining a hostile witness. My poor wife was clearly in distress. I was not yet completely conscious of the fact that what she had to say would hurt me, but my instincts were figuring it out fast.

“Nadine, come clean,” I begged. “Why did she ask you to do this?”

“She asked me not to tell you on the phone. She just said to get you to come home as soon as possible.”

Bingo! Minnie had been ailing recently with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, anxiety attacks and depression, high blood pressure, and spinal arthritis.

So now I thought I knew why Nadine was calling. We had often discussed the relative issues associated with the loss of either of my parents in terms of who might go first. Minnie always seemed to be the more fragile of the two, so I was quite sure of the answer when I asked quietly, holding my breath.

“It’s my mother, isn’t it?”


Oh, oh. That didn’t leave a lot of alternatives. Still, I asked, hoping for another negative, “My father?”



“Dead?” Please God, have her say “No.”


The room began to spin. I said nothing. I couldn’t speak. I just sat there holding the receiver. From somewhere deep inside a tremor started and worked its way outward gathering momentum as it migrated. Soon it was forcing its way up through my chest and out through my throat. A huge sob broke forth surprising me with its power.

“Are you alright?” Nadine asked, her voice barely a whisper.

“No,” I replied. I wanted to say more but choked on my words. I just sat there and tried to fight the sobs, but it was impossible. They consumed me. Nadine sat patiently on the other end, saying nothing, waiting for my lead. Finally, when the spasm ended, I asked,


She filled me in on what Charlotte had told her.

“Sears?” I repeated.

“Sears,” she said again.

“Returning a rug?” I repeated. I had heard her, but it was a comic twist to a personal tragedy, and very hard to absorb.

“Returning a rug,” she repeated, and both of us started to laugh. In between the tears, we laughed until it hurt. Feeling guilty about the levity, but unable to ignore the irony in the situation, I laughed until I cried. Then, emotionally spent, I said,

“How’s Minnie taking it? Did Charlotte say?”

“Not good. She’s at Charlotte’s apartment. Charlotte says she was crying hysterically, but she’s sleeping now.”

Another deep breath. It was hard for me to talk. “Call the airlines,” I managed to croak out.

“It’s done. We have a 9:05 am flight tomorrow. I’ve called the kids too. They’re all planning to go.”

I shook my head to try to clear it. “It’s all happening so fast. I can’t believe he’s dead.”

No response from Nadine for a moment. Then, “So, are you coming home now?”

I nodded, although there was no one that could see me. “I’ll be home in twenty minutes,” I said.

“Will you be okay?” she asked.

“I think so. Listen, did you really believe you could get me home without telling me the truth?”

“It seems pretty silly now,” Nadine replied. “Charlotte was insistent that I shouldn’t say anything on the phone, that I had to get you home one way or another first. It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“Nice try!” I said. “See ya soon.”

End of Chapter

If you'd like to buy a copy of the book, it's easy. Just click the "Buy Now" badge on the right, or the link to my website just above my Wellsphere photo. And feel free to post your comments below.

Bob Tell
Author, "Dementia-Diary, A Caregiver's Journal"

1 comment:

Gi said...

Hi Bob,

Congratulations on being honored as a "Every Day Hero"

That's who you are really, for taking the time to show you care