By Catherine Browning
Let me tell you about Max. Max was one of the engineers that worked with Mary Jackson at NASA on the command modules for all the Apollo missions. He also worked at Rockwell International on the B1 bomber and jet engines. This man was no dummy. He was brilliant and won an award for an invention he made for the Polaris missile. They sent him on a trip to Germany. He retired at age fifty-five. All his nieces and nephews loved Uncle Max. He was fun and funny, had an easy-going personality and a silly sense of humor.
Max and his wife moved in with his son and daughter-in-law four-and-a-half years ago because he had too many incidents where he couldn’t find his way home and his wife had to sell their house. It was immediately obvious that his wife couldn’t take care of him. She was ill and died five months after they moved in.
Max was hard of hearing, so at first, his son and daughter-in-law thought his behavior was because he couldn’t hear. But noooo . . . Daughter-in-law Amy became his primary caregiver during the day when he was diagnosed with dementia.
“You really have to be willing to just drop everything and go if he thinks he has to go somewhere. Or try to distract him. Sometimes it’s easier just to go.”
Amy and her husband David watched as his dad deteriorated, forgetting how to use the bathroom, how to eat, what words or actions are inappropriate, confusing day and night.
What did they learn? In a moment of lucidity toward the end, Max told his son, “I love you.” It was a difficult four-and-a-half years, but they were able to give one old man a quality of life he wouldn’t have had in an institution. It was worth it.