Wednesday, March 16, 2011


There was a moment in Ian McKellen's Lear when the old king, following the example of Poor Mad Tom, says "Off, ye lendings!", and starts stripping off his clothes.  The people around him are talking to each other, trying to Not See what's going on as Lear drops his pants and jacket, and then tries to pull his shirt over his head and gets stuck there -- an old man, naked in public, tangled in his shirt.  My thought at the time were Gloucester's words, "And that's true, too."

I thought of that scene again last night, watching a naked old man get stuck in his shirt.  I tried explaining to him that his oxygen line was in the way.  Still, he succeeded. He was determined.  Off came the oxygen. When he tried to pick out his feeding tube I grabbed his hands to hold them. When he tried to crush my fingers, I was kind of glad he'd found something else he could focus on. Also that he didn't have much hand strength.  When he smacked me (not hard) for standing in the way of his escape, he said words to me he used to smack us for using.

I was not shocked. Poor guy. So much for those old lessons.  Everything I ever learned I appear to have learned in the playhouse.


  1. My father became almost completely blind around the age of 55, but continued to act as if nothing happened. The problem arose when one of us -- his wife or one of the three daughters -- would *obviously* try to help him. By helping openly, we showed we knew. We realized we had to help while pretending his physical agency was unchanged.

    In the last two years, it was down to my mother, who became his full-time caregiver. I had no idea how she managed to do both at the same time, keep up the pretense and take care of a short-fused invalid.

    Since he never spoke about himself, now that he is gone I can only seek him in literature. Maybe I should re-read King Lear with this in mind. When I read Graham Swift's The Last Orders some years back I kept thinking, this must be what my father was like, these must be his friends. I don't come across his likeness very often.

  2. Sounds like it took an abundance of grace and finesse.