In one of life’s many curious twists, my granddaughter of 15 months is gaining language while my husband with dementia is losing it.
Lately I’ve been noticing the language tricks he uses to compensate for the word loss and continue to participate in conversation. Three of his all-purpose words are: guys, affair and operation. “Guy” or “guys” can refer to any object, such as “What should I do with these guys?” meaning the mail. He often asks, “Where does this guy go?” when putting away a utensil. (As noted previously, all kitchen drawers and cabinets are labeled, so maybe it’s just laziness?) “Look at that guy!” pointing to a tree in bloom.
“Affair” and “operation” are pretty much interchangeable. When we’re walking, he may say, “That’s a nice operation,” meaning the layout of the house we’re passing. “Affair” can also be a catch-all for any activity, from dinner with friends to a game of Scrabble.
He also has favorite phrases that are prompted by events. At the end of our daily walk, he says, “That was a nice little jaunt.” Sadly for me, I wait for the comment as we come up the stairs and then grind my teeth when–yes–he says it again.
Here I have to confess my own personal terror: I, too, am losing words. A couple of weeks ago, I could not find the word “ostracize.” I knew it was hiding in my mind somewhere. I knew Pete Seeger used that very word in the story-song Abiyoyo. “The townspeople _____________ the boy and his father. That means they made ’em live on the edge of town.” But I couldn’t think of it.
These blanks come too often for comfort, especially for a writer like me.
I remember my mother asking me to “bring me the thing on the thing.” Right. A little trouble retrieving words is part of normal aging. But when isn’t it normal?
What if I’m getting dementia? How will we manage, the two of us?