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image and text by
Melissa Shook



My father, Bob, didn’t really age until he was eighty-four and developed an aneurysm in his stomach. Surviving that nicely, he went along, ignoring whatever medication had been prescribed until the stroke when he was eighty-seven. That was particularly unfortunate because social services at the hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia, discovered the extent of my stepmother Mari’s memory loss. They refused to allow my father to go home unless he hired a housekeeper to cook meals and clean. Reluctantly, angrily, he did.

The Canadian health system required him to petition to receive extensive physical therapy. Clearly articulating his reasons for wanting to live independently and his willingness to care for Mari, he was accepted.

Bob lived for almost three more years. In fact, he was reading a book about chaos theory by Stephen Hawking the day before he had the second stroke. By then, Mari was incapable of phoning the doctor. The housekeeper found him when she arrived to make lunch.

After he died, Mari repeatedly asked where the old man who sat in the chair across the living room was. He was her only husband, the man upon whom the sun had risen and set for most of their thirty years together. She was his third and best wife.

Mari went to a nursing home near her younger sister, Margaret, who Mari had cared for as a child in a mining town in Iowa.

The exhibit, “Aging,” was shown once at Simons College, but has otherwise stayed in portfolio boxes. These images were scanned from slides and don’t represent the quality of the exhibition prints. The 16×20 photographs were printed and matted by Toru Nakanishi. Had I had more sense, I would have tried to publish them in a book with text about taking care of aging parents.