If you missed HBO’s three seasons of the tragicomedy Getting On, you’re missing a glimpse of the future, maybe not yours but more than likely one or both of your parent’s. Starring the soulful comedienne, Laurie Metcalfe, and a stellar supporting cast, the series dishes up a brutally funny view on aging, end-of-life hurdles, and ultimately, lessons in the art of dying.
The series’ writers came up with the idea after placing their respective mothers in skilled nursing facilities, and while there are scenes that play out for pure entertainment, most of it uncannily echoes the everyday machinations in dealing with the aged. I know, because my mother resides in one of those facilities, right down the road from me, and every time I step through those doors, I expect Metcalfe’s Dr. Jenna James to rush by me, clipboard in hand, on her way to collect stool samples from unsuspecting patients who, in turn, will greet her terse ministrations with bald-faced sexual advances or even more fitting, a resounding, “fuck off, bitch!”
Fortunately, my mom, who was diagnosed with dementia (a group of symptoms caused by disorders that affects the brain), has had an easier time keeping her persona intact, even with severe memory loss, than those around her who are afflicted with its louder, more colorful cousin, Alzheimer’s (one of many different diseases that can cause dementia). So even though my mom, at ninety, is quite flirtatious, I hardly think I will pop in one day and find her trying to canoodle with one of the young orderlies. And since her cursing tops out at, “oh my stars and garters!” she has generously passed the filthy language mantle on to me (which, by the way, I am quite comfortable wearing), so I am spared what could have been her interpretation of a wanton sailor. I know, it’s so reassuring, right?
There’s nothing like laughing out loud over the absurdity of life’s tragedies, to help you regain clarity. I’ve been through enough personal catastrophes to conclude that the ONLY way to get through the pain is to laugh about it. So when I sat down and watched the first episode, I thought, holy shit, if people only knew this is exactly where most of us are going to end up, they would laugh their asses off… or walk into the ocean.
We strive to live a life of dignity and fervently hope to end it that way, but the truth is, we start out in life babbling, wailing, and pooping and for many of us, we are going meet our end babbling, wailing, and pooping. Then, for the final cherry-on-top to life’s dessert, just keep in mind that it doesn’t matter if you never made it past grade school or you have a PhD from MIT, eventually you won’t remember a damn thing.
I do try and look on the bright side, though, and think, gee what would it be like to fly in the face of convention and live life with no filters. I’ve thought about that a lot. I’m fascinated over the workings and complexities of the brain, and I often think that the aggressive and unchecked behavior so closely associated with Alzheimer’s is a lot like the Hoover Dam—a colossal concrete and steel structure which backs up Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the nation—suddenly collapsing, and releasing, all at once, a massive body of water on the guileless, unsuspecting inhabitants below.
Every day, in nursing homes all over the country, a dam breaks and all the shit that gets backed up and safely checked in the subconscious lets loose in unstoppable torrents. In a way, it has helped in my own life to consider asking, in the middle of a conversation that I KNOW is going south, “what are you REALLY thinking?” I have no doubt they would admit, after due consideration, that what they’re saying and what they’re thinking are two very different animals, one muzzled; the other, unleashed.
What if I started to unleash my inner beast and instead of nodding in agreement, simply say, “YOU are an asshole or that’s a fucking LIE!” Would that really be so awful?
My mom went through three roommates—an accountant, a nurse, and a Sunday school teacher—and each one, without fail, greeted me with some variation of, “hello you fuckin’ whore!” Why, thank you!…and top o’ the morning to you too! Even if it’s not true (about me being a whore, that is), maybe it’s a more than honest reaction to me invading their personal space.
If you’re a lot younger than I, you might get lucky if science discovers a cure before your brain cells start dying. But, unfortunately, for your parents (who, like me, are a part of the baby boomer generation and will comprise, by 2050, 20 percent of the population)…there’s a shit storm a’ comin’!
Even with the recent advances in research, the odds are against me. And if, indeed, that turns out to be the case, I’ve made a pact with my husband that whoever loses their brain first, the other is obliged… to either run them over with a truck or hit them over the head with a shovel, whatever is the most convenient and within reach.