My mother is almost 87. This is a new wrinkle: a couple of times here lately, she’s needed gentle reminders of my name. Sometimes she needs cues to remember me at all. Cues are given only if the situation is right – and she picks right up most times. Other times it’s best to simply let conversations play out without expecting her to remember anything.

Of course, not everyone will experience age-related memory loss or dementia, but the phenomenon seems to be growing and somehow touching more and more lives around me. It’s really got its claws into my family.

Role reversal. My mother, Florence, and sister, Annette. Without the attentive care me sisters give my mom ... I don't know. Grateful.
Role reversal. Pictured here are my mother, Florence, and sister, Annette. Without the attentive care my sisters give my mom … … I don’t know. I am so grateful. Thank you, sisters.

Recently, my mother and I were in her dining room, several hands into a game – Mom has been a lifelong card player and still likes to play – and she was beating me at Rummy. It had been quiet for a stretch of time except for the sounds of shuffling, the gentle snaps of cards being placed on the table, and the counting of points.

Eventually, she cleared her throat and asked, “Do you drive a lot for your work?”

“For my work?”

“Yes. Do you drive a lot of places?”

Eventually, she cleared her throat and asked, “Do you drive a lot for your work?”

“For my work?”

“Yes. Do you drive a lot of places?”

“Not too much,” I replied.

After a half a minute she laid three aces down, then she asked, “Do you call her when you get wherever it is you are going?”

“Do I call who?”

“Your mother?”

I looked up from the cards at her and said, “Do I call my mother when I arrive somewhere?”

“Yes – or your wife or someone. If you are on the road a lot, I’m sure they worry.”

I said, “Oh, yes. Yes, I call. Sometimes. Especially when it’s a long trip. No one should have to feel worried.”

She had not looked up from the game and was really whipping me – something like 400 points to 200. She is still pretty good at cards. For at least a couple minutes I was not her son, but rather, a harmless, friendly stranger in her dining room having his ass handed to him in a Gin game.

“That’s right,” she said. “That’s good.”

Recently I caught up with a dear long-time friend. I got a chance to ask how his mom is doing. It was disconcerting because my friend’s face instantly squinted into a look of loving concern. He is worried about his mom too. And I think, in a general way, he’s worried about the seemingly inevitable loneliness that people can feel when they get older.

Then I thought of old Casals. I thought this story might make us both feel better.

I said to my friend, “You know Pablo Casals? The virtuoso Spanish cellist?”

Young. Bulletproof. Pablo Casals.
Young. Bulletproof. Pablo Casals.

My friend played a little cello back in school days. He nodded yes, of course. So I said, “You probably know he lived until he was in his late-90s and throughout his life he played cello for several hours each day. Once, when he was around 93 years old, a young interviewer asked, ‘Senor Casals, you are over 90 years old and have the reputation of the greatest cellist who ever lived. Why do you still practice three, four, even five hours a day?’ Casals answered, ‘Because I sense that I am making some progress.’”

Maybe part of why Casals played so much was to thwart loneliness – his cello was his finest companion.

It is impossible to know what will help people to not feel lonely. I feel lucky, and it’s major consolation to me, that my mom doesn’t feel lonely. She has always been her own finest companion.

The natural changes we are experiencing in the amount of daylight we receive cause me uneasiness. That, plus having mothers on my mind, has got me a little wistful. As I get a little older myself, that wistfulness is compounded by a primal sensory agitation that attacks when the season changes from summer to autumn. As a cure, I have reflective music on my mind.

Feeling uneasy? Need to do some thinking? No matter what you need to think about, it is sometimes nice to have a little soundtrack.

The B-sides, respectively, of How Soon Is Now and The Boy with the Thorn in His Side. These are pretty, piano-driven, and contemplative.

Oscillate Wildly & Asleep by The Smiths from Louder Than Bombs (1987 Sire/Rough Trade).

Sometimes knowing that others share your feelings of disquietude can help make you feel not so lonely.

Lonely Sea by the Beach Boys from Surfin’ U.S.A. (1963 Capitol).

This gets me thinking about the seasons, and about my mother.

Suite Number One for Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach – performed by Pablo Casals (1954).

Judy turned me on to this piece recently. So good, so rich, this is a meditative masterpiece – cello and piano working together with lots of minor chords and time-signature shifts.

Quartet for the End of Time (Fifth Movement) by Olivier Messiaen – composed 1940-41.

Clearly influenced by Messiaen, here is another brilliant contemplation.


Pyramid Song by Radiohead from Amnesiac (2001 Parlophone).

7 October 2015


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *