Patricia Eileen Weiss is 81 years old and lives in a fine retirement community with her loyal cat, Lollipop. She is a news junkie, avid reader and lover of desserts. Years ago she gave herself the nickname “Nanny Pat,” because she enjoyed babysitting my son when he was small. Nanny Pat is my mother.
Nanny Pat was born and raised in Long Island, New York. Her parents were solid Irish stock from County Down and County Kerry. They immigrated to the United States and made a fine life here. Nanny Pat’s father, Edward Murray, was a master gardener who tended to a wealthy family’s estate. His wife, Mary, was a homemaker and fine baker. Nanny Pat and her older sister, Cathy, enjoyed an idyllic childhood near the shores of Long Island, New York.
After a stint as a Barbizon model in New York, Nanny Pat met my father on a train in New York. In short order they married and moved to Los Gatos, California. For a time Nanny Pat worked at the phone company before my sister and I came along. After that, she stayed home to raise us kids.
It was a good life. Not perfect, for all families traverse their trials and tribulations. But there was laughter, dogs, pet chickens, golf and slow summers in the California sun. My father, an administrative law judge, provided well for us and retired at 79 years old. But then he fell into the fog of dementia and slipped away at age 83. Then, the bothersome twitch in Nanny Pat’s left arm was diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease.
Nanny Pat sold the family home and moved close to me. She often babysat my son and hosted wonderful parties. But the Parkinson’s began to progress. She gave up driving and decided to move into a retirement/assisted living community.
The indignities of aging
I bring Nanny Pat groceries every Sunday and check on her regularly. She’s at the point where she needs assistance getting up and into her fancy electric scooter. Assistants come every other day to give her a shower. She can barely hold her head up and struggles to hold the phone.
My Dad used to say “our bodies always betray us in the end.” I suppose that’s true. The bumps and turns in life wear us down. When you have advanced Parkinson’s, you literally become encased in your own body. There are indignities, like adult diapers and assistance to the commode.
You’d think Nanny Pat would be angry, depressed and dispirited. She admits that sometimes she feels defeated. But somehow she reclaims her buoyant outlook on life. She directs assistants to dress her in cheerful outfits and always includes her garish rings and flamboyant earrings. In Nanny Pat’s view, one must maintain an artful and elegant personal statement. I love that about her.
Today is Easter and I arrived at Nanny Pat’s apartment to assist her to the dining hall. When I slipped in I found Lollipop sitting atop her recliner, like a loyal sentinel. Upbeat and dressed colorfully, Nanny Pat was ready for action. We made our way down to a private “VIP” dining room that she reserved for family.
My sister, her friend Peter and my in-laws soon joined us. My wife, a registered nurse, had to work and was unable to come. Never the less, everyone enjoyed a tasty Easter lunch. I adjusted Nanny Pat’s electric scooter chair and helped her with her lunch. She bantered cheerfully about many things, and I was struck by her positive spirit. I wondered if I could be so strong and positive in my advanced years?
Life deals its cards. Some escape debilitating diseases and others do not. We don’t get to choose. Where Nanny Pat lives, some of the elderly folks are negative and moody. Others are not. I don’t know what the trick is to aging gracefully, but Nanny Pat sure has it.
A sunny disposition
I suppose she’s always had a carefree disposition, but the way she handles Parkinson’s amazes me. Somehow, despite everything the disease has thrown at her, she transcends it with her attitude. She calls up equal parts personal resolve and a ready sense of humor. She fights to maintain some standard of elegant dress.
I guess that’s how you trump Parkinson’s. By holding on to the core of who you are and never yielding. As I chatted with Nanny Pat and watched her, I realized what a wonderful Easter gift she has given us. She has shown us how to live. How to adapt and draw upon one’s force of personality. She leaves an example we can follow in our later years.
When Easter lunch was over the family members all departed and I helped Nanny Pat back to her apartment. Lollipop didn’t appreciate being left behind at lunch, but he perked up when I fed him some kibble. I made sure Nanny Pat was settle in with her television and reclining chair propped at the right angle. She thanked me and we agreed it was a perfect Easter lunch. And with that I gave her a hug and headed home.
The love of a dog
Like Nanny Pat’s cat, my dogs are always happy to see me come home. The smaller dog, “Chug” is part chihuahua and part pug. The other one, “Nanuk,” is an Alaskan Klee Kai (sort of a miniature huskie.) I immediately smile when greeted by my dogs.
The reason they allow pets in Nanny Pat’s retirement community is because research shows how beneficial animals are to our health. This fact is outlined in Dr. Atul Gawande’s recent book “Being Mortal-Medicine and What Matters in the End.” Dogs in particular seem to sense our moods. They often know exactly when to jump on our laps and nuzzle a little encouragement.
Shortly after I arrived home, my wife came home from work. Still in her nurse’s scrubs, she was tired and ready to relax. I had picked up a bouquet of flowers and some champagne on the way home to surprise her for Easter.
We settled into our backyard garden and chatted about our day. Then my wife eased back in her seat, sipped a bit of champagne and exhaled. Nanuk sat down next to her and spoke in his unique huskie voice. My wife chatted back to him in the same language. I don’t understand what they are saying, but they seem to converse with ease.
It had rained earlier but now there was sunshine and a mild breeze danced through the garden foliage. I couldn’t help but smile this Easter afternoon. For I was witnessing simple joys. First with Nanny Pat and her inspiring zest for life despite its setbacks. And now my dog, welcoming my wife home with his kind, canine chit chat. It’s only when we slow down that we start to see these small joys of life.
At the easel
When my wife decided to shower and change I ambled into the art studio. My wall easel was staring back at me with a blank canvas I affixed there the other day. Work and commitments often intrude upon my painting time. Which is why I like to put up blank canvases. They taunt me to mix some oil paint and craft a picture.
Before I knew it I had brush in hand and spots of paint mixed on my palette. I envisioned a little mountain scene with pink clouds and light hitting trees. The entire day had been one of encouraging lessons about life, the enduring love of our pets and now the simple joy of creation. Before long I had a rough color sketch formed on the canvas. It was sketchy and unrefined, but sometimes life can be that way too.
I continued to immerse myself in the painting when I heard my wife call. Ever the talented chef, she made us a wonderful dinner. I took a quick iPhone snapshot of my little painting, turned off the studio light and joined my wife and dogs in the kitchen.