Thursday, December 29, 2011
Sundays With Charlie, Part Three
By Dr. Mel Waldman
This is part three in a series called "Sundays With Charlie, the Funniest Man on the Planet." Part one in the series ran on December 7, 2011 and Part two ran on December 15th. The photos that accompany this piece are by MARKKU VERKASALO, a photographer in Helsinki, Finland. More of Verkasalo's marvelous photography can be viewed at Blipfoto.com and on MyStoryLives.
During my visit, Charlie often cried out: “Help me! Help me! Don’t leave! Don’t leave!” Charlie fears abandonment.
He also shouted: “Helen! Helen! Helen!” Charlie is extremely dependent on Helen.
When I left late at night, I reassured Charlie I would be back. “Charlie, as long as I’m alive, you’re stuck with me!”
In my opinion, Charlie is neither in Hell or Heaven. He’s in Purgatory, trying to find the exit to Heaven. I think he used to be in
Hell, when he was on a respirator and almost totally immobilized. I imagine his sudden regression and loss of functioning shocked his sense of well being and his sacred identity. He probably experienced overwhelming pain. But now, he’s struggling.
I sense his will to live. He’s alive only because of the immense sacrifices of Helen and Gladys.
Had Helen and Gladys sent him into a nursing home, he would have died. I used to be a consulting therapist for various nursing homes. Even the best nursing homes are hellholes. Patients are often abandoned and neglected by staff. And those who act out may be punished and abused. Although I’ve worked with devoted nurses and social workers, they often worked alongside frustrated and angry workers. Charlie would not have survived in a nursing home. And who knows what happens on the night shifts?
My reunion with Charlie was a play in three acts, The Light, The Darkness, and The Light.
In the beginning, I experienced a cornucopia of joy. During the interludes, when I spoke with Helen and Gladys privately, I felt enormous sadness and loss. The final hours I spent with Charlie, especially in his bedroom, were filled with joy and uproarious laughter.
Charlie’s long-term memory seems intact. We watched the end of "The Maltese Falcon." I asked him if the actress speaking to Humphrey Bogart was Myrna Loy.
“No, that’s Mary Astor.”
And he was absolutely correct.
Charlie’s short-term memory seemed impaired. I pray his dementia will progress slowly.
The funniest moment of my visit occurred in Charlie’s bedroom. We weren’t reminiscing about the old days and Charlie wasn’t joking around. I sat in a chair next to him near the window. He lay in his hospital-bed. I happened to look up at the wall near the door and the ceiling. Adjacent to the ceiling loomed a mammoth picture of Charlie. A young and smiling Charlie looked down at the bedridden Charlie.
“Charlie, who gave you that huge picture?”
“When Merrill Lynch moved to New Jersey, I got that picture as a gift.”
“You look terrific.”
I guffawed. And then I laughed uncontrollably, endlessly.
“Charlie, you still have a big ego, don’t you?”
He cackled. Then he joined me in a long, boisterous laugh.
Helen drove me home. She told me the best days for her to facilitate my visits with Charlie were on the weekends. Right now, it looks like I’ll be seeing Charlie on Sundays. It’s a bittersweet journey for all of us. But as I told Charlie, he’s stuck with me to the very end. You see, Charles Freundlich is my best friend, my brother, and the funniest man on the planet.
Writer Mel Waldman is a psychologist, poet, writer, and artist. His stories have appeared in dozens of magazines including HARDBOILED DETECTIVE, ESPIONAGE, THE SAINT, and AUDIENCE. He is a past winner of the literary GRADIVA AWARD in Psychoanalysis and was nominated for a PUSHCART PRIZE in literature. He is the author of 11 books. His most recent book, I AM A JEW, is a collection of essays, memoir, short stories, poems, and plays about his exploration of his Jewish identity. He has sold a series of short stories to the British publisher of POSTSCRIPTS, including literary mysteries, stories of suspense, and horror. These stories will tentatively be published in 2012 and 2013. He is currently working on a novel inspired by Freud’s case studies. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.