I throw a lot of words at Mark all day. I’m not the chattiest person, so this is not about endless conversation. Rather, I’m frequently just provoking him to get literally any reaction. He spends a lot of time sitting and staring. Without good eyes, you can’t read. Without good ears, you can’t easily enjoy TV or a conversation or music. Without good energy, you can’t easily find stimulation outside the house. I’m simply trying to keep his brain active. Alma describes this approach of mine as “setting Mark up for the spike.” I’ll say something random and of no consequence, with very clear available options for a response, and then say to Mark, “What do you think?” or, wryly, “Am I right?” Mark’s responses vary from “what?” because his hearing isn’t good, to ignoring me, to giving me the answer for which I cued him up. Sometimes he comes back with something surprising and delightfully witty.
Last week, I was trying to get Mark to eat (daily challenge) and to take his medications (periodic challenge). I handed him my latest goopy smoothie into which I’d snuck about 1100 calories. He glanced at it and wrinkled his nose at it in utter digust. “Don’t kill the messenger,” I began. “I’m Paul Revere!” I was picking up steam. “I’m riding through town shouting ‘The British are coming! The British are coming!” and then for dramatic flare, I included “It’s the shot heard round the world!” Now, I really don’t know why I think all these distracting non-facts will get him to take a sip of a brownish green smoothie. But really, it seems completely random what does make him take that sip, so I throw a lot at the wall to try.
A few months ago, when Mark was still in skilled nursing, he told my parents that he was looking forward to my nephew Aaron’s wedding next summer. “Aaron’s getting married?” my parents were confused. They are Grandparents in the Know. “Oh,” Mark said. “Maybe I just made that up. If I make up enough stuff, some of it will hit the wall and stick.” A tiny little glimpse into his secret mind. I find myself giving it a go.
‘It’s the shot heard round the world, Mark!” I repeated more loudly. Mark looked over at me with a look that was somewhere between perplexed, bemused, and annoyed. He didn’t answer me. Alma and I cheerfully launched into researching the phrase “shot heard round the world” (Mark remembered baseball; I remembered history). And then Mark proceeded to ignore my request to take a sip of the smoothie.
This morning, we were sitting on the couch with our beloved dog, Duppy, and Mark’s oldest, Michael. Michael loves Duppy, and was giving her a lot of pets before he heads back to college today. For no reason at all, other than to provoke Mark, I started singing the theme song from The Love Boat. “The Love Boat, soon will be making a lot of love…The Love Boat, promises Duppy a lot of love, I riffed. Mark didn’t respond. I persisted. “The Love Boat, promises something for everyone…” “Even Duppy?” Michael asked. I said that silky little Lila dog brought Duppy love. Michael said he wasn’t so sure they loved each other. I said they were working to achieve peace. “The path to love starts with peace, right, Mark?” “What?” he said. We were sitting right next to each other. “THE PATH TO LOVE STARTS WITH PEACE, AM I RIGHT?” I repeated loudly. (Quasi-yelling those words really takes the romance out of the statement.) “Starts with ‘quiche’?” he said, perplexed.
I’m calling this conversation a success.