English: Phyllis Diller

English: Phyllis Diller (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was going to write about acquiring a moan or a yodel as you age and making it your own, but then my sister texted me that Phyllis Diller had died.

Then again, I guess discussing Phyllis Diller can go along with my discussion of moaning and yodeling; so I will continue with my strange thought process.

A year or two ago I wrote about hearing Phyllis Diller’s laugh in a restaurant I frequent. This restaurant is an old-school steakhouse – the kind that is slowly disappearing in Los Angeles. The martinis are ice-cold, the steaks perfect and the early bird special is even better. Whats more; it is (thankfully) rare that you will find anyone in there under the age of 40. One night I heard an outrageous laugh from afar and couldn’t believe that it was possibly the laugh of Phyllis Diller. The manager confirmed it, saying she was 93 years old. She looked amazing, sounded wonderful and I’m so happy that I heard that laugh in person. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, go and YouTube her. Sure, its comedy from another era – but she was hysterical.

My mother is in a convalescent home at the moment. She had a fall, broke her back, and is now suffering the indignities of a “home”. By the way, if you want to do something nice and are generally a selfish person, take an hour out of your day and go visit an old folks home. You don’t have to speak to anybody just walk in – well I guess you do have to speak to somebody, but walk in and just stroll around, say hello and then leave.

The simple act of saying good morning to someone with dementia or someone who is in a wheelchair brings smiles I’ve never seen before in my life. Actually that’s not true, if you go to the surf camp called Surfers Healing and watch Autistic children ride a surfboard you will smile into your face hurts. A convalescent home might make you cry but it won’t hurt too much.

I’m not trying to guilt anybody – I’m (slowly) getting around to the point that giving back feels good and that you should practice moaning and groaning now, before dementia or Alzheimer’s kicks in and you cannot express yourselves properly.

My mother is probably the most coherent person in this place, and she will not have to stay there for long thankfully. (By the way, a convalescent home may look like the Bel Air Hotel but be run by savages or it could look like Motel Hell and be run by angels.)

There are quite a few “lifers” in this place that have such amazing voices: so strong and sure! They scream out for various reasons. So we’ve decided we need to practice a signature call. I know that sounds sort of obnoxious but I don’t care. Think about it – if you cannot communicate how would you like someone to hear you? I’m thinking, hoping, if I practice my signature moan now, and I have dementia in the future, it won’t just sound like I’m screaming for no reason or my leg has fallen off, when I simply holler out to say hello. Plus, wouldn’t it be considerate to the people who work in these places if your voice were pleasant?

At the moment my mother has to suffer her neighbor screaming bloody murder every time she uses the shared bathroom. Apparently this woman feels that it is her own private bathroom, not to be used by anyone else. She starts out quietly and then ends up in a full wail until whoever is in the bathroom leaves. Not exactly relaxing is it?

But we have a sick sense of humor in my family and so we decided in order to communicate with our family members and friends that we will practice our own signature moan, groan or yodel.  I think the yodel would be nice, cheery, and not too distressing. On the other side of my mother’s room is a woman who screams out “hello!” in a long, high-pitched voice which initially sounded quite painful until a nurse told me she was just a social woman saying hello to anyone who walked by.

So perhaps like Phyllis Diller, whose laugh was infectious and wild, we should think of our future when we cannot communicate. What will be yours? Will it sound like Tarzan? Do you know who Tarzan is (was)? Will it be more like call and response? A favorite tune? What say you? I’m still considering mine.

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