The Day I Met Tom Cruise And NBC

Sometimes she will say, “I think I’m losing my mind, Brit. I don’t know up from down anymore.”

Then I’ll look at her, smile, and ask, “Which way is up?”  She points to the sky; I call her a liar and she laughs.

It’s the most appropriate human response I have to fact that she is, indeed, losing her mind. The other option is running away. The most tragic and heartbreaking part about Alzheimers is the moments when they realize their mind is going. As hard as it is for us, I cannot imagine what it’s like for them.

A couple of days ago, I took my grandma for a walk. It was hard for her to even move her legs considering she sits in a chair all day long. Since I couldn’t bare the thought of going back inside the sterile rehab facility where she is temporarily staying, we sat down on the bench to talk.

She still remembers who we are, but rarely knows where she is and always looks scared. My grandpa takes care of her; unfortunately, he was admitted to ICU last week and most likely won’t make it out. She constantly asks where he is.

Out of nowhere, in a moment of perfect clarity, she looked up at me and said, “My how the tables have turned.”

What do you mean?” I asked. “Well, I used to take care of you…and now you’re taking care of me,” she responded with a somber face.

It’s the kind of full circle you never want to happen. I quickly distracted myself by eavesdropping on the conversation between these two men:

I heard one of them saying he has been married for 65 years, but his wife hasn’t recognized him for the last two. I empathized with him and struck up a conversation immediately.

I asked them what their names were. The 60 yr-old African-American guy turned to me and said, “Tom Cruise, ‘cept I ain’t got his money.” I laughed and was trying to determine in my mind if he was joking or if he actually legitimately thought he was Tom Cruise. “That’s funny,” I said, simultaneously rolling my eyes.

“No, that’s really his name,” his friend said with all the authority of Dwight Schrute. “I eat with him and I’ve seen his ID card.”

“Well then, that’s easy to remember,” I remarked.

“And I’m NBC” he affirmatively added.

Ok. Yep, these guys are officially nuts.

“Niles Baldwin Claussen,” he continued.

“Like the pickle?” I asked.  “Yes, but you can call me NBC.”

I learned that he had beaten pancreatic cancer 17 years ago. “But that has a 99% fatality rate, right?” I asked.

“Correct. I’m Mr. 1%,” NBC replied. “Well, well, maybe someday I’ll see you on a Smuckers commercial when you turn 100,” I said.

He was currently at the rehab facility while he was undergoing chemo for bladder cancer, which my grandma also battled several years ago. He said the reason he didn’t have any friends to take care of him was because he had outlived them all.

Tom Cruise kept interjecting into the conversation with little comments. “My wife died last year,” he mumbled under his breath. “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “I been married three times… But she was the best I ever had.”

Oh, that Tom Cruise. Such a character.

Although he was completely debilitated and confined to a wheelchair, he kept saying, “Blessed to be alive. Fortunate to have lived this long.”

On the way home, it occurred to me how rarely I remember that just being young is something to be thankful for. To have empty pages. Quality years ahead, where health problems are nothing more than just hypochondria. To be starting a life with someone, not anticipating the end. To have the opportunity to try things and fail.

To even have the ability to remember.

Wondering where I went? I have returned to blogging over at my whole foods blog Celery and the City, where we live so clean it’s like your insides took a bath.


63 thoughts on “The Day I Met Tom Cruise And NBC

  1. We’ve taken care of my 89-year-old grandma for the past 8 years and she’s been in a facility a mile from my house for two. Either me or my mom are there every night, so a majority of my time is spent with old people going through those same things (and worse, as we’re on the hospital side.) I’ve written many posts about them, and have one in draft-form eerily similar to this one right now, and continue to learn from them each and every dinner and conversation (even if we’ve had the same conversation 50 times.)

    My rambling point? It’s important to remember the important things–people–and forget all of the crap. A small gesture, a conversation, a smile–these things mean the world to those who see them as all they have. And also, don’t think I’m copying you if I put up a similar post in the next couple of weeks.

    One more question: Could the old gray-haired African American man play the sax? Just wondering…;)

  2. Awareness comes to us in many different ways, and often tragedy provides the clarity to really appreciate what you have. Luckily your grandma still remembers who you are despite her condition, which allows you to cherish the remaining years you have left together.

    I’ve told you about what has recently happened with my grandma, and unfortunately my grandparents on my mom’s side become more estranged as the years pass. In fact, her whole side of the family is a bit off. Not a whole lot you can do with crazy, I suppose.

    On a side note, I wanted to post one of those “y so srs” pics, but I didn’t know if comments accepted html coding.

    • haha, WHY SO SERIOUS tom?

      Yea, it is fortunate that she still remembers us, but when she can’t, i just don’t know what i’ll do. That really stinks about your gram…. it’s sad when the family can’t even come together to take care of a loved one. We’re dealing with the same thing. Alot of my dad’s family is estranged too. Sigh. it’s hard.

      • I guess in the sake of brevity (that one thing I’m trying to practice), my wording was completely confusing. My grandma is actually on my dad’s side, and my mom and one of his brother’s wives are the ones going out of their way to take care of her most of the time at the moment (my dad and his 3 brothers all work a lot, workaholics if you will).

        My mom’s side is fine health wise, they’re the ones that are estranged. Holidays on that side are slightly awkward.

  3. Beautifully touching post!

    You had me teary-eyed and laughing at the same time.

    “The most tragic and heartbreaking part about Alzheimers is the moments when they realize their mind is going. As hard as it is for us, I cannot imagine what it’s like for them.”

    Yes, I know exactly what you mean because one of my grandfathers had Alzheimers and it was untterly heartbreaking.

    ““What do you mean?” I asked. “Well, I used to take care of you…and now you’re taking care of me,” she responded with a somber face.”

    My grandfather said something very similar to my mother because she was the one who truly cared for him through his illness, and it broke her heart to hear him say that.

    LOVED the conversation between you and Niles Baldwin Claussen!

    ““Like the pickle?” I asked. “Yes, but you can call me NBC.”

    Hahahahahahahahaahhaaha! How CUTE!

    Just know that I’m sharing much ‘good energy’ with you during this difficult time.

    (((((( Blunt )))))

    Thank you for sharing this. Again, beautiful post!

    X ya, girl!

    • OH thanks bestie!

      Yea, it is truly, truly heartbreaking. Elderly people are heartbreaking in general, but when they are so helpless it’s even worse.

      Yes, those guys were quite the characters…. I love meeting new people. We’ve all got a story to tell.

  4. Those are both amazing stories. I remember when my Grandmother was in a rehab facility it was amazing all the people around her that just felt lucky to be alive. Its really heart warming to see friends and family filling the rooms of the people who can no longer go and fill their rooms they way they used too. I hope when I am that age I have a family who will do the same for me.

    • Hello Shae!

      Yes, the saddest part is when you have to leave them by themselves cus obviously, we all have lives. But, they need to much care to stay with one of us. It must be so sad, lonely and scary being in that facility……..

  5. true, it’s scary and sobering. sadly I fail to remember every single day to be humbly grateful that I am waking up to greet another day. I fail to cherish moments of lightheartedness at work. I let opportunities pass when I could have given away an extra smile. I suppose that if i thought too much about the span of my life in terms of finite years, I might have a panic attack. But i do think about the way that the minutes slip away sort of like a leaky faucet, and I’m not confident that I have lived my best life in those minutes. The three dimensional change to the status quo of daily existence due to health issues is something I can related to only in third person, as witness. I fervently hope that your grandmother lives a peaceful existence and I am glad to know that you chronicled this past visit where her disease partially retreated. hugs to you & hope your grandfather’s health improves too. I’m sure they miss each other terribly. gosh darn it Brit, how are your wedding plans going? (apologize for the abrupt change of subject) always lovely popping in here. my best, Diane

    • Aw thanks so much Diane. Always appreciate your comments and stories!

      And I know what you mean about just dreading the day, dreading work, etc and not just realizing i have the simple luxury of I don’t know – being able to see! there are just so many things we take for granted, and it sounds so cliche but when I really think about it i have no right complaining. ever.

      and I will do a wedding update soon my dear 😉

  6. I learned long ago not to waste a day not telling someone how you feel or letting someone know you are there for them. I treat every day as a gift.

  7. I worked with someone who had pancreatic cancer. He fell in the other 99%. It is a horrible disease.

    Whenever I visited my grandparents and we’d sit down to eat dinner (or “supper,” as my grandma called it), my grandpa would laugh at me every time I took a bite of my food. “What are you laughing at, Grandpa?” I’d never fail to ask. “Well, it’s funny –” he’d say, “I don’t know why you’re doing it, but every time you bend your elbow, your mouth flies open!” And then I would giggle, take another bite, and he’d laugh at me again.

    I’ll never forget how it felt when he stopped asking that question — when the only question he had was what were these strangers doing in his kitchen, only he was too polite to ask right in front of us. Thank God.

    Your grandmother sounds like she has a beautiful soul, and I’m sorry she’s sick and your grandfather is in the hospital. I’ve always thought the cruelest thing about living was the fact that we have to watch our own bodies deteriorate — but, since it’s an inevitability for all of us, all we can do is do our best to love the people we have while we still have them. And I think, even though sometimes they might not remember us, they can tell that we do.

    • P.S. Franzia — Bwahahahaha! Takes me back to my 20th birthday and the worst hangover of my life.

      Now that I’ve seen your new header photo, I simply can’t be serious any longer.

      Oh, and I’ve been following a link train through your blog posts for the past half hour and I’m not sure what happened to the time, except that it’s been a highly entertaining ride. But how do I find out what happened to Slumdog??!

      • Oh, my grandma and my mom always says supper.

        So cute. And yes, I regret not spending more time with her before she was “like this” but I don’t want to beat myself up over it, although I’m quite good at that.

        Oh, your grandpa sounds exactly like mine! He died of Parkinson’s, which ended up giving him dementia in the end, but he always used to make such stupid jokes like that. He was the most amazing person. That was awful and i think why it is hard for me to spend time with my grandma… i just can’t handle it.

        Oh, Slumdog. I used to have a post explaining who he was, etc, but took it down after he stalked me and freaked out about it. Maybe I’ll do a refresher course though, for the newbies 😉

  8. This is lovely, my dear Brit. I, too, have a grandmother with Alzheimer’s but we’re not quite as close as you are. Kinda chilling, those moments of clarity.

    But I love those images, and that conversation between Tom Cruise and NBC. It’s nice to see such light-heartedness even after all that heartbreak.

  9. Sounds like you’ve got a lot going on right now, kid. . . the good thing about you is that you actually seem to LEARN from others. That’s kind of rare and wonderful. I hope everything settles down for the best in your world soon.

    • Well, how about that.

      I didn’t really look at it that way, but yea, I guess i do try to learn from others. I guess it’s the writer in me, always curious to hear people’s stories.

      And thank you 😉

  10. A co-worker’s father just died and today she looked at me before she left for a week and said, “I hope you don’t have to go through this until you’re much, much older.”

    I’ve been thinking about it all day…and about my response…which wasn’t much. I just didn’t know what to say. What IS there to say?

    Except “I Love You” to everyone you really, truly do.
    Until we’re blue in the face.

    • =( I know, man i feel so bad for people who have lost their parents as a young child or even twenty something. ugh, my parents are my world and i try to appreciate them as much as possible. I don’t know what i’ll do when something happens to them.

  11. I am quite sure you met the best Tom Cruise:) Even with AD your grandmother has a keen sense of her current stage and your role in her life. Beautiful post my friend.

  12. Awww, what a cute story. I agree with granny annie on meeting the best Tom Cruise. I don’t know what’s worse: being old, decrepit, and aware, or being old, decrepit, and unaware. I guess if you have a good disposition and sense of humor ‘aware’ is probably not a bad thing!

  13. this entry should be entered into some kind of writing contest. seriously. with tom & nbc’s permission of course.

    my best friend has always been sickly. even when i met her at 13, she had kidney infections out the wazoo. at 21 she got a pacemaker. at 24, she had cancer for the first time. at 26, for the 2nd. now she is in stage 3/4 out of 5 of kidney disease and will need a transplant. she’s only 33. when she was/is at any of these dr’s appts, etc, she’s always stated that she’s the lone youngin’ sitting in a waiting room with a bunch of old men. to her, she feels old before her time. her body is old, and her spirit sometimes leans that direction always. she told her husband the other day that she wanted to go to Walt Disney World and that he should spend some of his retirement money on that b/c she wasn’t going to live to see his retirement. that thought thoroughly scares me. at times, she hopes to live a long time, but at others, she wonders if she even wants to fight the fight. she’s already beyond tired at 33. 🙁

    • OH, stop yourself 😉

      Wow, I am so so sorry to hear about your bff. That is incredible the stuff she’s been through OMG. My bff has always been sickly too, i think she’s had something like 15 surgeries since we were in high school…. ugh. I haven’t even as much as broken a bone (well, except my head) and I just always forget what a blessing health is

      • i’m serious!!! enter it somewhere. this is your best post yet (well, for as long as i’ve been reading) and all your posts rock!

        yeah – i shouldn’t complain about the huge zit on my chin. ;p

  14. This was a beautiful posts. It’s true, sometimes you forget to appreciate being young and still have the power of conjuring up or making the memories. From reading this post I’ve learned to take into consideration what’s around you. Even though I could bitch and complain about traffic, stupid people, etc. when it comes down to it, I really need to remember the good stuff. The good life 🙂

    • Yes, it is something we all need to learn. And I think it’s a lifelong battle. So easy to get distracted by the day to day frustrations… that in reality, shouldn’t even be frustrations.

  15. *sighhhhhh*

    My grandmother died of Alzheimer’s when I was little. We used to go to her house by the lake and it was ah-mazing. Last time I saw here, she had no idea who my dad (her son) was.

    Of course, my other grandmother was only a lil nuts. She had a long-standing feud (no one remembers what it was about) with her neighbor. She would forget about things in the fridge, and when my mom would offer to throw them out, she’d say “nah.. just go chuck it in what’s-his-name’s yard. A stray dog’ll get it.” And my mom would remind her that this neighbor had a 6-foot high chain link fence around his yard. My grandmother chose to ignore this detail “It’s what I always do with rotting meat.”

    Oh… life. I heard a quote once, basically that isn’t it interesting how we all want to live long, but none of us want to be old? Treasure what we have now. And tomorrow. And the next day.

    • It’s true. Actually NBC told me he doesn’t want to live any longer. Since his friends are gone and his wife doesn’t recognize him he just doesn’t care. 🙁 Except he seems to keep beating every disease that comes his way! And you’re nutty grandma sounds delightful. Seriously.

  16. I love how you captured your conversation with them so well, it was funny and sad at the same time. I also love how you snapped their photo. I try not to think of my 88 year-old friend ever dying.

  17. My mom had alzheimer’s before she died. She always seemed so scared. That’s my biggest fear, losing my mind. And, that’s what happens. It’s so difficult to watch. I’m sorry you have to witness it. I’m sure those men at the rehab facility really enjoyed your time. I always say that we all need to have as much fun while we can. Life goes by too fast.

  18. I thought this was an incredibly touching post. And yeah, it’s like those two could be in a Bartles and James commercial or something.

    I was lucky enough to have all four of my grandparents still living into my 30’s. And it was amzing to see them so happy and in love all those years. It really made me realize what I wanted my life to be like an about!

    • thanks constant 🙂

      Yea, i’m in my 30s… so I only have a couple left and they’re fading fast. But, happy to have them when I did. I just hate to see her in this state, it’s not living at all.

  19. Heartwarming that your grandpa has been such a good caregiver. Blessings and prayers for him. It would be so STRANGE to share the name of a famous person. Totally cracked up when reading your account of the conversation between him and Mr. Pickle. Times like these totally make you rethink what life’s all about.

  20. This really tugs on my heartstrings, I lost my grandmother 11 years ago and I really do miss her, it is also true that sometimes tragedy brings clarity, and this is a full reminder to me, that I have to stop living in fear and embrace this worlds beauty to the fullest, and not take one second for granted, so when I’m 80 plus years old, memory lane will be like riding a roller coaster.

    • 🙂 aw. sorry to hear about your grandma.

      also, I know what you mean… I just have such a hard time remembering that we HAVE to not sweat the small stuff and allow it to ruin our days. When we are older or lose our health, we would wish to have these days back… and all their small problems.

  21. Your real-life is always so much more interesting than the one I make up for myself. You made me take a second to appreciate what I have instead of grumbling about all of the stuff I feel I’m lacking. Thanks for helping me put things in perspective. Fo’ reals.

  22. Wow. This post both made me giggle (Tom Cruise and NBC) and shed a tear. My beloved Nana went through Alzheimer’s and dementia and we had a couple of very similar conversations about the tables being turned. I simply told her that I’m glad I was able to be there when they turned just as she had been on the other side for me.

  23. oh my goodness….
    I’m both laughing and crying with this post. I’m laughing only because those names; NBC and Tom Cruise, and because of their subtle antics. I cry because it’s your grandma, and someone else’s grandpas. We all have grandparents. Or have had grandparents……all my grandparents are gone… parents have passed as well. And I feel lucky that none of them had to go into a home. Does that make me a selfish person? I feel lucky that I never had to put them into a nursing home, but I feel cheated out of precious time… maybe I’m not so lucky. I cry and laugh because as I grow older, I wonder what my future holds for me. I just pray that whatever it is, it will be happy. I don’t want to be afraid, or bitter, or angry, or lonely.

    • OH robin. THAT comment made me shed a tear….

      Thank you for your kind words…. I think too, what’s gonna get me? I think we all think that from time to time. And yes, I often wonder if I’d rather not have to go through the awfulness of putting my parents somewhere or if I’d rather they die sooner. But, it’s a catch 22.

      I don’t know.

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