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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen. As we head into the holidays, family tensions may be on the rise, but sometimes, it's the challenges that brings parents and children even closer together. Today, we share this story about a Vermont family. At the center of this family is Gregory Sharrow, who is married to another man named Bob Hooker. Gregory's mom Marjorie is in her 90s, and she's beginning to show symptoms of dementia. Here is their story.

Mr. GREGORY SHARROW: So, do you have a name for me?

Ms. MARJORIE SHARROW: For you?

Mr. SHARROW: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SHARROW: No, I never used a name other than you.

Mr. SHARROW: Mm-hmm. Do you need a name for me?

Ms. SHARROW: No.

(Soundbite of silence)

Ms. SHARROW: Ah, it's a - it's been a very beautiful, beautiful situation. It's - seeing you, feeling you, hearing you, and all that sort of thing is a delight. It wouldn't have to be anything else.

(Soundbite of song "Oh Sister")

Ms. KARINNE KEITHLEY: (Singing) Doo, doo, doo, doo, doo. Doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo.

Mr. SHARROW: Every now and then, you'll ask me if I'm married.

Ms. SHARROW: Yeah. Well, I always wondered if you'd get - gotten married.

Mr. SHARROW: Mm-hmm. And I did. I did get married.

Ms. SHARROW: Yeah?

Mr. SHARROW: And then, my wife and I separated.

Ms. SHARROW: Yeah?

Mr. SHARROW: And now, this is my partner. This is my husband, Bob.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SHARROW: Oh, uh-huh.

Mr. SHARROW: Got a ring.

Mr. BOB HOOKER: Wedding rings.

Ms. SHARROW: Oh, for goodness sakes!

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHARROW: Wedding rings. So, he's your son-in-law.

Ms. SHARROW: So, that's my friend.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHARROW: Yes. Mm-hmm. There you go. You're related to him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SHARROW: Am I related to him?

Mr. SHARROW: You are.

Mr. HOOKER: Yeah, you're related to him as well.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SHARROW: Yeah.

Mr. HOOKER: He's your son.

Ms. SHARROW: Yeah.

Mr. HOOKER: Gregory is, yeah.

Ms. SHARROW: He - yeah. Yeah. That's as good as anything.

Mr. HOOKER: Yeah, well...

Mr. SHARROW: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HOOKER: That's the way I look at it.

Ms. SHARROW: Yeah.

(Soundbite of song "Stardust")

Ms. KEITHLEY: (Singing) The melody haunts my reverie, and I am once again with you...

Ms. SHARROW: What do you like?

Mr. SHARROW: I want to talk about you.

Ms. SHARROW: I want to talk about you.

Mr. SHARROW: I want to know what it's like to be old.

Ms. SHARROW: I don't mind being old, really, as long as I'm able to be on my feet and to hear, and to do, and to be. As long as I can keep that, I'm happy. How about you?

Mr. SHARROW: Oh, I'd like to have more energy.

Ms. SHARROW: Yeah. Well, I'd like to have more energy, too.

Mr. SHARROW: But you tell me you worry because you don't know whether you're making sense or not.

Ms. SHARROW: Yeah, that's right. I can't tell.

Mr. SHARROW: Was there a time in your life when you could tell?

Ms. SHARROW: Mm-hmm. Oh, definitely. Obviously, in every - I didn't have the touch(ph) of it. But I think it's the age that's creating the problem, and I don't know why. What difference does it make? But it's getting so that I can see that I'm not getting as much as I had before. It's just closing in more and more and more.

Mr. SHARROW: Are you afraid it'll close in too much?

Ms. SHARROW: I don't think it'll close in completely, but it'll slow things down completely. Can't tell.

Mr. SHARROW: Hm.

Ms. SHARROW: But it could turn itself around, so it levels out, oh, my.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SHARROW: Oh, how glorious.

(Soundbite of song "Oh Sister")

Ms. KEITHLEY: (Singing) Oh, sister, when I come to lie in your arms, you should not treat me like a stranger...

Mr. HOOKER: But most of the time, at this point, most of the time, I think Greg has a pretty realistic view of his mother's abilities. But it's hard to believe that one of your parents, as a capable person, is turning into a person who is not capable. And I think there were times when he probably didn't think he was being impatient. But he was a little bit too enthusiastic about reminding her that she really did know this person or that person or he - she really did know where she lived or whenever. I've offered advice about, you know, I think that you need to loosen up on Marj when she's tired. Don't try to convince her that she remembers anything. You know, we'll just try to be reassuring that everything's going to be all right. You know, don't try to reassure her that she really does know where she lives because she cannot recall it. It is not with her. It's lost for today.

(Soundbite of song "Oh Sister")

Ms. KEITHLEY: (Singing) We grew up together from the cradle to the grave. We died and were reborn and then mysteriously saved.

Ms. SHARROW: What would you like to do?

Mr. SHARROW: Me?

Ms. SHARROW: Mm-hmm. Would you like to go on and on? Would you like to get married? Would you like to...

Mr. SHARROW: I am married.

Ms. SHARROW: You're married now? Who?

Mr. SHARROW: Bob.

Ms. SHARROW: Oh, oh, Bob. I forgot about that. I forget that men and women are changing things.

Mr. SHARROW: Mm-hmm.

(Soundbite of song "Oh Sister")

Ms. KEITHLEY: (Singing) You may not see me tomorrow. You may not see me tomorrow.

Ms. SHARROW: I don't know. Am I that much older?

Mr. SHARROW: You're very old.

Ms. SHARROW: Am I?

Mr. SHARROW: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HOOKER: Oh, yeah.

Ms. SHARROW: I don't know how old I am.

Mr. SHARROW: Well, do you want to know?

Ms. SHARROW: Yeah.

Mr. SHARROW: You're 91.

(Soundbite of gasp)

Ms. SHARROW: Oh!

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHARROW: So much for drama.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOOKER: For about a year now, she has started telling me that she loves me, and she's started telling Greg that she loves him. And it occurred to me, when she started doing this, that that was a little unusual. So, I asked Greg, and he said she's never said I love you in his entire life. That's new for her, and I think it's a wonderful way to progress at the end of your life. If you're going to make a change at the end of your life, learning how to say I love you is a damn good place to be.

Ms. SHARROW: You're going to drop me off out here?

Mr. SHARROW: Yeah, at your place.

Ms. SHARROW: At my place?

Mr. SHARROW: Yeah.

Ms. SHARROW: Oh. At home?

Mr. SHARROW: Yeah.

Ms. SHARROW: Oh.

Mr. SHARROW: Yeah.

Ms. SHARROW: Yeah. That isn't too bad. Isn't it?

Mr. SHARROW: Well, I hope not.

Ms. SHARROW: No, you can come to my house because it isn't really - I don't have a house.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHARROW: Well, at your apartment is where we're going to take you.

Ms. SHARROW: Oh, to my apartment?

Mr. SHARROW: Yeah.

Ms. SHARROW: Was there an apartment there?

Mr. SHARROW: Yeah.

Ms. SHARROW: Huh. I didn't know that.

Mr. SHARROW: Yeah, that's where you live.

Ms. SHARROW: Now?

Mr. SHARROW: Yeah.

Ms. SHARROW: When I get there?

Mr. SHARROW: Yeah.

Ms. SHARROW: And I'll be living in that?

Mr. SHARROW: Yeah.

Ms. SHARROW: I'll be darned.

Mr. SHARROW: OK.

Ms. SHARROW: I'll probably live 'til 90.

Mr. HOOKER: You're 91.

Ms. SHARROW: I'm 91? Holy Mackerel! You'll have to put me to bed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHARROW: Well, that's where we're headed next.

Ms. SHARROW: Yeah, you have to - you can put me in the bed and throw the dirt on me.

Mr. HOOKER: Well, not the dirt, dear, just the blanket.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SHARROW: Well, I love the whole thing.

Mr. SHARROW: Oh, good.

Ms. SHARROW: And I love you. And I love - but there's not that many people that I do love.

Mr. SHARROW: So, I'm lucky?

Ms. SHARROW: Yeah. Well, I liked you when you was - when I hardly knew you.

Mr. SHARROW: Oh, good.

Ms. SHARROW: Yeah, didn't you realize that I...

Mr. SHARROW: Oh, yeah, I figured you liked me right away.

Ms. SHARROW: Yeah, I did. Completely. I just - I took one look at you, and I listened to you, and I thought, hm, a real man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song "Oh Sister")

Mr. SHARROW: I'll wear a hoop, Marjorie.

Ms. SHARROW: Yeah.

(Soundbite of song "Oh Sister")

Ms. KEITHLEY: (Singing) Doo, doo, doo...

Mr. SHARROW: So, I don't care what my mother's state is. I don't care what her mental capacity is. I don't care whether she knows who I am or not by name. I can't imagine my relationship with my mother being any better at any point in my life than it is right now. There's no loss here.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KEITHLEY: (Singing) Doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo.

COHEN: That story, called After the Forgetting, was produced by Erica Heilman and came to us from the NPR series Hearing Voices.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: More to come on Day to Day.

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