Southern People

I have known William for just over 20 years. We have always been close, though there was a time in the mid-nineties that he stopped talking to me for a couple of years. It was over something that had to do with his outbursts with some of our guests. So he was placed elsewhere and he blamed me for it. However one day he walked up to me, looked me up and down, frowning and said, “You know Mark, I can’t stay mad at you, so I am going to start talking to you again.” So it went, we talked and I have always liked his open childlike personality, which could also be childish at times…..sort of like me, well the childish part that is.

Once while we were out –it was for a doctor’s appointment –I asked him if he was hungry. He said yes and would like a hamburger; Wendy’s was his favorite place to go for that kind of food. He likes his hamburgers simple and to the point, plain actually, for all he wanted on his hamburger was onions; that was all. So we went to Wendy’s for lunch. We ordered and they messed up his burger. So I took it back and the man behind the counter laughed and apologized, saying, “Sorry, I don’t think we have ever had such an order, a hamburger with only onions on it.”

In his younger days, way back in the ’50s and ’60s he was a saxophone player; in fact, at one point in his career, he played in the band with Chubby Checker, when the ‘twist’ was such a popular dance. I was just 13 when the ‘twist’ became popular and I loved to bop it. Now I wonder if he played along when Chubby recorded…small world. He told me that he went by the name of ‘Billy Love.’ I tried looking him up on the web, but it was too long ago, so I could find nothing. There are quite a few “Billy Loves” on the web it seems, but none about William.

Over the last few years — I am not sure how many, for they merge after a while — I have journeyed with William on his slow decline into Alzheimer’s. Who knows, it was most likely in its beginning stages when I first met him when he was 65. Even then his reactions to reality and those around him could be unstable. He could be very friendly and open one moment and the next angry and shouting. So yes I am sure it started way back. Also after his first visit to a psychiatric hospital he was diagnosed with a bi-polar disorder, something that he has had all of his life, just not diagnosed.

It was often painful when we had to send him in to the hospital to get his medicines lined up correctly. We had to do this from time to time, for his behavior would get too erratic. He was put into a wing with those like him. It was a busy place and I would go and see him and bring him the Eucharist. We could go outside into the garden there and talk for awhile and then we would pray and I would give him Communion. One of my most painful memories about my visits happened on his fourth go-around at the hospital, and by then he was very far along in his disease. As I was leaving, and the door was closing, I could hear him calling my name; “Markey, Markey, don’t leave me here, I want to go home.” Can’t tell you how sorrowful that made me feel. As I drove home that was all I could hear in my head “Markey don’t leave me”. He has always called me “Markey” instead of Mark and I kind of liked that, for I have always loved William and have treasured our relationship, even if it did get rocky from time to time. All in all, he is a very beautiful, gifted human being, who is loved by many.

About three years ago he started singing. At first his songs had words and in fact they were prayers, or even prayerful wailings, very honest and heartfelt. As time went on, his singing has increased, but it is mostly mumblings, though there is often a haunting melody that accompanies his song. Some days it is non-stop, on others he sings and then will talk non-stop, being hyper. On other days he will show a wide range of emotions. He will wake up happy, then start to cry and then after awhile start to sing again. I don’t think his short-term memory is very long, for he seems to go out of one mood into another so completely that there seems to be no linear progression attached to it. Just, now this and now that, which I believe is a blessing. He still knows who I am from time to time, but lately I am “Jimmy,” who I think is a friend from way back. Because on those morning when he is in an angry mood, he says things that would point to a somewhat violent past that he obviously left when he converted, but now resurfacing now that the filters are gone.

Now he sleeps a lot. We get him up in the morning, do the morning cleaning and use a lift to get him in his chair. On those days when he really sleeps, we put him back to bed early, though he always gets at least 4 hours out of his bed. It is good for his circulation to sit up and also keeps pneumonia at bay. So he sleeps, sings, gets angry and is on many days just happy and his singing shows that. All of these experiences are important to him and on those days when he cries tears that seem to flow from some deep recess in his soul, I feel that it is something needed and good. When he gets very angry, I let it go for a time, but can grow in intensity leading nowhere, so when it starts to get manic we have some ‘Ativan cream’ that we can give him. Not strong, just enough to cut the edge a bit, calming him down. Of course I always work with Rose our very caring Nurse who is in charge of the overall care of those in our infirmary.

Yesterday he slept all night (he has always been able to sleep well), then he was awake for a short while in the morning and feel asleep again in his chair. I was able to give him his medicines, but he would not eat. He also had trouble swallowing when I gave him something to drink. His disease is of course progressing and who knows how long he has to live. In any case, I will surely miss my friend William when it is his time to be called home.

Mark Dohle

Mark Dohle

I am 62 years old and have lived in the Atlanta area since 1971.  I am Catholic and my faith is important to me, yet as I age the mystery continues to deepen, so I read broadly and try to keep things somewhat open ended. I work with the aged and the dying. I was in the Navy for four years and I guess I am life of center when it comes to politics, but not too far left. Actually, I am kind of a political moron.

I am the third of  11 children; ten still alive, one died in in 1958, three days after birth.