Middle called to tell me that Dad is having trouble swallowing his pills.  This did not seem like a big deal to me.  However, Middle knows a shit-ton about dementia, and so when her little-kid-again voice ghosted through the phone line, “It’s like now I know he’s going to die,”  I took notice.

It was quite weird to panic-Google  ‘can’t swallow pills, dementia’ in order to understand Middle’s grief.  And then to realize my father is not still somewhere in the uncomfortable safety of mid-messed up, but has progressed more toward the end of the ‘stages of dementia’ with no fanfare or swelling mood music to alert me.

Even now,  reviewing the Severe Cognitive Decline (Stage 6 of 7, average duration 2.5 years) I think, he’s not THAT bad.  … Except everything I know about him fits the description.  What I don’t know of him (mainly incontinence related stuff) is probably something my mother is dealing with, and keeping private from us.

(My mother did tell my about three months ago that when she and Dad were moving back to California two years ago, my father wanted to move to a city where none of his kids lived.  I already knew that part.  I didn’t know why.  Apparently, he lost his memories of ever having children.  He had no desire to live near us because he didn’t remember us.  This fits with my experience of him now, in which he’s happy to see me in the nebulous way people are happy to see puppies.  Perhaps because my dad’s affection was always kind of vague and detached,  it didn’t strike me as profound.  Or maybe I didn’t want to see it.)

Anyway, not being able to swallow stuff is bad.  IANAD, but it seems to typically end in aspirating something and getting pneumonia and dying.


Little called the other night.  “So I decided to join that bereavement group,” she tells me. “I have Kaiser insurance, which… you already know how I feel about them.  But I figured whaddafuck and called in to get the info on where the local group meets.”

She sighs heavily.  “I get out of work, and there’s a message from Kaiser to call this second number to get my info.  I call it.  I’m on hold fifty minutes, but what do I have to do besides wait to get info on how to sit with a bunch of other grieving people?  So I wait.  When someone picks up?”  Here she waits to make sure I’m still listening.

“Yeah?”  I say.

“The guy on the phone gives me a third number, says I need to call it.  I call the new number.  I wait on hold.  Turns out that’s the main company’s organizer, I need to call the local number.  So this is the third person I’ve talked to who can’t help me.  I call the fourth person.  This has taken several hours, but finally I get a LIVE FUCKING PERSON…. who is clearly outsourced from another country.  And she won’t tell me where my local grief chapter meets.  Instead, she keeps asking me about my grief.

“So after the fourth question, I realize she’s giving me a suicide questionnaire.  By now, I’ve had it.  I say, “I’m not gonna kill myself.  I just want the address of the grief group.”

“But she just keeps asking me in all different sorts of ways if I’m gonna kill myself.

“Finally, I get pissed.  I yell, “Skip to the part where you assess me as non-suicidal and give me the freaking meeting info.”

Little heaves a sigh over the phone.  I can tell she feels kind of bad for yelling.  “So she does.  So I go to the meeting.  It’s actually pretty decent,”  Little admits.  “Well, except for the therapist running it.  Therapist tried to get the group to talk every time someone cried.   Like, every time there was a sniffle, the therapist would call on someone else to share.   I was like, Jesus, let the woman cry.

“Sounds like the group is good even if the counselor sucks,”  I opine, because my sister needs an outlet for her grief, and I will support any port in this storm.

“Yeah, until the end of my first meeting, when the counselor announces they aren’t meeting again until after the holidays.”

“What?”  I gasp when Little confirms.  “What holiday is shutting them down in October — Halloween?!”

Little laughs.  “Closed until January.  You’d think whoever is running that group would figure… I dunno… that the holidays are THE WORST TIME to be grieving and not shut a bereavement support group down.

We are laughing now, and my heart is breaking, because I thought I might never hear my little sister laugh after her baby died.  And JFK, to hear her laugh about this feels like eating razor blades.

“That’s not actually the suckiest part,” she brays.  “The suckiest part was signing onto the Kaiser website to check in on some tests I had done at my last appointment.  My name is flagged.  Immediately, I figure I must have gone off on the suicide questionnaire woman too hard, and she’s tapped me as some sort of risk.  But since I did yell at her, I figure I have to take my lumps.  I open up the flag.  You know what the notice says?”

“Flagged as suicidal?” I guess.

“Nope.  ‘WARNING:  YOUR BMI IS OVER 25.  YOU ARE OVERWEIGHT.'”  Little cackles wildly over the phone.  “I’m like, WHAT THE FUCK?  DID KAISER SUSPECT I’M SUICIDAL AND THEN TELL ME I’M FAT?!”