A Little Improv Can Go a Long Way with Dementia

Long Distance Daughter

improv-sign-crop2 Credit: Tom Magliery

Most days, dad sleeps a lot. But today, he’s wide awake. He’s on the phone, yelling at me. He’s so angry, but there’s sadness in his voice, too. “I don’t have any money, I don’t have a car. I don’t even have any shoes,” he tells me. “And I’ve got to go down and see mom and dad.”

Now, my dad is 92 and his parents have been gone for decades. He has money in bank accounts that he doesn’t remember how to access, and he has a car he’s no longer able to drive. These days, his shoes mostly stay in the closet. He wears his slippers when he has the energy to walk down to the dining room to eat with his friends Leo and John, or when he gets the urge to bust out of the skilled nursing wing where he lives. He heads…

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Two pennies

On the day of the dark flames, we were living.

But now, only shadows of the past endure.

It was a day like any other. The raging ruins of the old house called to him.

He drove toward the disintegration, a knot gripping his stomach; he had been too long away.

But, he could not face her again. Not after the last time… Her frail body frightened him as did her insistent pleading, through hollow eyes of pain. She was stretched, almost transparent like honey dripping from a knife.

“Jacob,” she cried as he turned to go…”please?”

Jacob swallowed hard and kept walking toward the door, each footstep shattering the silence. Her sobs clutched at his heart almost suffocating him. “I have something for you,” she cried out. Her desperation stung. He halted, she held out a skeletal arm, her clutched club of a hand thrust in his direction. He turned and took a tiny tentative step towards her. “This is not my fault,” she wailed.

He stared silently at her shifting back and forth on his feet unable to move and then as if drawn toward her by an invisible thread, slowly he moved toward her, his eyes stinging as she thrust the copper coin into his hand. “I have another for when you return,” she said. “I know this is not gold, but sometimes you need more.” He flinched, knowing what was going through her mind.

As he clasped her hand, Jacob looked deep into his soul. With all his strength, he placed the coin back into her palm. He closed her fingers about it, his lips numb to words, tears mingled with the sweat. “I will be back,” he promised. He kissed her gently on the forehead and turned to go.

Too long, he had waited to return.

Now, orange tongues of passion lost, licked lovingly at her cheeks, the pennies blinding her eyes to the ravenous glow that consumed her flesh.

The ruins of the old house smiled content.