My grandad – the old soldier – is getting noticeably more infirm. He’s 93, so arguably we should have foreseen it. But to see him outpacing his older daughter (my auntie has only recently had a hip op) you wouldn’t have entertained the very notion. To see him polish off a carvery main-and-dessert, leaving barely the pattern on the plate, you wouldn’t have done so either.
It’s only when my Mum went to visit him, after several months in Spain, that she realised there’d been quite a change in him: less steady on his feet, his bathroom with a patina of grime, his fridge-freezer switched off because, well, why not; everything pointed to a change in him. Mum’s helping to deal with it before she goes back to Spain, and the massed ranks of an old Catholic family are mobilizing, just slowly enough to not frighten him off.
Personally I don’t think he’s quite as bad as Mum was initially worried he was, although I accept that he needs more attention than we’ve been giving him, or than he particularly wants: even now, he’s pushing people away. It might be wishful thinking (certainly the look K. gave me when I suggested it to her suggests so) but I imagine these behaviour changes to be as much a result of his solitary lifestyle as his age. He spends most of each week on his own – by choice – and that’s bound to make anyone go a bit weird: anyone of his age, all the more so.
I’m never completely convinced when “permanent holidaymakers” for whom days of the week mean nothing cite someone’s lack of knowledge of which day it is as evidence of deterioration, or when the kind of people that invariably ruin a cheque or two every January think it ominous that someone doesn’t know what year it is. Like all of us, like the universe we live in, my old soldier is of course in a state of gradual decline. But unlike most of us, with his army training and his regimented habits, he’s started from much higher up. I do hope so, anyway.