Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Nudist

When I arrived yesterday, Bob was relaxing in the TV room wearing a very nice shirt and nothing else.  Completely absorbed, he was watching an Indonesian comedy show. He speaks little Indonesian but the slapstick antics were enough to occupy him.

Bob grew up with progressive parents. His Dad was a violin player in the LA Philharmonic when he met his Mom and later delved into photography and oil painting. Once married and living Long Beach his mother became an avid volleyball player at the beach a few blocks from their home. Bob frequently said, "I learned to swim almost before learning to walk".

The family also belonged to a nudist camp in the mountain forest about an hour's drive from their home.  They had a permanent campsite with a big tent for the four of them. These were some of Bob's favorite times, running nude and free, and being in nature. "I liked that people weren't judged by their clothes but by who they were," Bob remembered.

Now that Alzheimer's has claimed his brain he lives in these times and most days at home in tropical Bali he is partially or completely nude.  His modest Balinese caregivers have gotten used to this display and only make sure he's completely dressed when he leaves his small gardened compound for trips to the beach, swimming pool, or to go on village walks.

Yesterday Bob seemed particularly peaceful. He held my hand and told me what a great life we have.  He told me about acceptance and how he accepts what life has brought to him and he told me he's happy.  Often these days I don't understand what he's talking about, either because the sentences don't make sense or the words are just sounds, but on this day he seemed clear and present in a way he usually isn't.

This is the way with Alzheimer's disease. It isn't linear; the decline isn't a stark descent. On some rare days the person is so clear you think perhaps this is all a bad dream and not really happening - you doubt a decade of observations only to be shaken back to reality on the next encounter.  

But I'm happy for Bob that he's found peace, even if it's just in this moment. It also validates my decision to care for him here in Bali where he can be nude if he desires with his understanding caregivers.

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