Saturday movie review: Alive Inside

I shared a video a few years ago here on Grandma's Briefs of an elderly nursing home resident who amazingly comes out of the fog of dementia when headphones connected to an iPod are placed on his head. ALIVE INSIDE is the full documentary of that magical moment as well as others experienced by several dementia and Alzheimer's patients when given the opportunity to once again hear beloved tunes from days long gone. Joyous moments that prove music is far more powerful than pharmaceuticals.

Alive Inside documentary

In ALIVE INSIDE—winner of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award (Documentary)—filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett follows social worker and founder of Music & Memory, Dan Cohen, as he brings music to nursing home residents, via iPods and headphones. The results...

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Somewhere in time

Sunday at 11 a.m., Jim and I settled into the car for a six-hour drive home from South Dakota. We spent the the first half of that drive, nearly three hours, without conversing, listening only to the iPod on the stereo. Mile after mile, we spoke barely a word to one another, both of us lost in thought, considering the weekend, absorbing what we'd learned.

We had left for South Dakota early Saturday morning, arriving that afternoon at the nursing home where Jim's mom resides. She was propped up in her wheelchair watching "Giant" on the tiny television on her nightstand.

We said our hellos, hugged her fragile body, taped together her broken glasses that had the lens inserted upside down, commenced a visit. "Giant" served as the primary focal point, fodder for filling awkward moments as Jim and I attempted normal conversation with his once vibrant, talkative, normal mother.

Our attempts were met with stories from Mom about her outings to various places from her past -- visits she believed had happened just days before, despite not having left the nursing home for about a year. She talked of how grand it was to have attended and be escorted down the aisle in her wheelchair at her brother's wedding, a wedding that took place more than 50 years before -- 50 years before the amputation that took part of a gangrene leg and committed her to a wheelchair earlier this year.

She talked about recently attending church at the church she and I attended together 20 years ago, when the girls were young and Jim worked on Sundays and couldn't go with us.

She talked about phone calls and visits from relatives who, in reality, rarely call, never visit.

She talked of how beautiful Elizabeth Taylor was in "Giant."

We wrapped up with a promise to return in the morning, to spend more time with her before heading back home after the quick trip. Then we went to Jim's sister's house. His oldest sister, his medically trained sister, his sister who visits their mother each and every day, his sister who best knows what to do about Mom.

My first question to her as we unpacked our bags was, "Do we go along with Mom living in the past?" Or do we call her out on such things, try to jog her memory, try to bring her back to reality? The latter was the original tack when Mom first suffered a stroke and mental impairment from violently hitting her head during the associated seizures. It no longer felt like the right tack.

Sue assured us it's not. "She's too far gone and that part of her brain will never return," she said. We learned it's best to play along, to not frustrate and confuse Mom. We learned it's best to let her reminisce about days when she felt happy, content and whole. Days now lost somewhere in time.

That's not all we learned during our too-short weekend trip. From the last boxes of Mom's personal items, the final remnants to divvy up between siblings, we learned of a few of Mom's prized possessions, things that mattered most to her.

We learned of hundreds and hundreds of photos Mom had saved in her cedar chest, many of them photos she rarely shared with the family. Treasured photos of her grandparents, her parents, her siblings, herself. Beautiful decades-old renderings of lives well-lived: births, parties, communions, weddings, new homes, new babies, new starts on life.

We learned teenaged Mom was an avid fan of the glamorous movie stars of the '40s, collecting -- and keeping -- old-time studio shots, postcards, autographs, from Dorothy Lamour, Lana Turner, Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, Gene Kelly and more.

We learned she still had Jim's baby book, achievement records, locks of hair.

We learned she had carefully tucked away the newspapers containing my very first published articles.

We learned she kept in a manilla folder in her desk every card, every letter, every thank-you note that Brianna, Megan and Andrea ever sent their beloved Granny.

We learned of these and many other things Mom held on to in hopes she'd never forget.

Mostly we learned -- during those hours of silence as Jim and I reclaimed the miles between South Dakota and home -- that we're not yet ready to fully consider the loss of Mom, of Granny. We learned we're not yet ready say the words that open the floodgates.

As we got closer and closer to Denver, we made comments here and there, turned up the radio a little louder. Jim sang. I whistled. Soon we were discussing the girls, the coming week, the never-ending to-do list.

We didn't discuss Mom.

Eventually we will.

Eventually we'll talk. Eventually we'll cry. Eventually we'll mourn.

Somewhere. Sometime.

Today's question:

What is among the treasured photos and papers you're saving?

Age of reason(ing)

I've always found it kind of odd when older women say they're one age, then it's found out they're actually older. I've read of this happening with celebrities and non-celebrities, where they've insisted for years that they're this old, then the truth came out upon the woman's death that they're that old, shocking adoring fans or family.

Tsk, tsk, I would think to myself. Is it really that important to pretend you're younger? Is one's vanity so paramount that they resort to lying to themselves and to others -- sometimes for years -- about their age?

Well, after a conversation Jim and I had the other night, I'm rethinking my tsk-tsking.

We were discussing my age -- for reasons related to my desire to join a group that had an age requirement -- when Jim said, "But you're XX, and that's close enough."

No, I clarified to my darling-yet-sometimes-forgetful honey, I'm actually XX, a year older than he thought.

"Lisa," he said slowly, as if addressing a child, "it's 2010. You were born in XXXX. You are going to be XX in June."

I thought about it, used my fingers to count out the years, cocked my head to the side like the dog does when he's perplexed, and let it sink in that he was right. I'm younger than I thought. I'm younger than I'd been telling people.

Wow! How wonderful to regain my youth so easily, so quickly, so much more inexpensively than by slathering on face creams and soaking up industrial-strength-for-resistant-gray hair color!

Hallelujah! I'm young again! Well, at least younger.

It led me to reconsider the women I'd bashed in the past for lying about their age. Maybe they weren't vain beauty queens trying to retain a smidgen of their youth. Maybe they weren't lying. Maybe they very innocently and honestly thought they were a certain age. Then each time they considered it or were questioned about it, that age remained the same ... for years ... possibly even dropped by a year or two or ten (hey, what's 10 years when you're 80, 90 years old?). They weren't cunning, conniving and conceited; they were just like me.

I read once that the mind can retain only a certain amount of information, so less important info is dropped -- forgotten -- in favor of newer, more important information. Maybe that's what the deal is with age: It's just not that important. Unless you're looking to reach legal drinking age, join AARP or fill out your retirement papers, age really doesn't matter. It's one of those bits of information the brain no longer needs.

So instead of internally bashing myself for seemingly becoming one of those women who lie about their age in the name of vanity or -- worse yet -- becoming so old I'm losing my memory and can't remember even the most basic of things, I've decided it's not that at all. It's actually that I've lived so long and I've learned so much that my brain is full. Yep, I've reached maximum brain capacity so the minutiae of my life must be dropped, deleted, purged in order for new and useful tidbits to be retained.

I'm not becoming a forgetful old woman after all. Nope, I'm young enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, I like myself!

(Now, if I start forgetting how old my children are, that's when I need to start worrying!)

Today's question:

Everyone has an age that they see themselves in their mind's eye, regardless of what they're seeing in the mirror. At what age do you usually think of yourself as still being?

My answer: I always think of myself as still being 27. Maybe it's because it's my favorite number, or maybe because it's the age I was when a major life event happened that changed my perception of myself -- kind of a "before" and "after" mark. So yeah, it's 27 for me. (Which is really kind of weird, now that I think of it, because my oldest daughter is 27!)