By Robert A. Bak
This is a reflection of a wonderful soul, who had to make major changes in his life. Some of these were part of a bigger plan, and a variety of were just part of his being. We see Bill, a long-time actor, and how he was tricked into doing tasks that he did not think he needed to do. But in fact, it was a wonderful ruse by his partner Alan and his nursing aides. At the time, he did not know that he was in the final stages of a terminal disease. Part of the problem was the disease had traveled to his brain, and day-to-day decisions were becoming more of a challenge. Not so much to Bill, but the people taking care of him.
He did not know at the time when the doctors produced their final diagnoses of what was going to happen to him. Sometimes the less you know and understand, the better off you are. And a wonderful staff of doctors, and nurses at the local VA Hospital.
When an illness takes over the brain, and only allows certain windows of thought, it is hard to maintain responsibility for oneself. That is where the other people around you must take over. A few days were better than others, a number of which he did not remember much of. But one thing that kept his brainpower functioning was watching Turner Classic Movies. Being an actor for countless years, being in movies and on stage, he always enjoyed watching movies. His mother took him to the movies as a baby, and that was his foundation for becoming an actor later.
For selected reasons, he could be watching an old movie, and he knew and could tell everyone around him who the actors were, and the movies in which they were performing. If you asked him what day it was, or what season we were in, he had no idea.
One challenge that Bill’s caregivers were facing was that he did not want to change any clothes, and for that matter, the idea of taking a shower or shaving did not interest him. He was amazingly comfortable wearing what he had on and saw no need to clean up. What could they do to change his reluctant mind, and get him to the bathroom?
It was Alan who produced a brilliant idea, but trickery would have to be exploited. Since he had a wall of pictures in his bathroom of movies that he was in and the actors that he had worked with; could that be an enticement to leave his chair?
Alan spoke to the nurses’ aide and suggested that she ask him if Bill were an actor and did, he had any pictures that she could see. Well, that is all that it took for him to say yes. You see actors are vain, yes, it is true, and when someone asks to see photos, how could he say no.
The first time the aide asked him into the bathroom, they spent at least forty minutes talking about his pictures, but also getting him to take a shower, and getting a shave. Plus, she was able to get him dressed in clean clothes, so when they came out, he looked good as new. The strange part is he does not remember taking the shower, or getting dressed, just me talking about his career.
Aw yes, being able to show to the aides his lengthy career was just what he needed. He would start with him leading the body down the stairs in The Boston Strangler. They then went to the close-up picture with Bill and Robert Redford with Jane Fonda in Barefoot In The Park. They then skipped along to the library scene in Goodbye Columbus with Richard Benjamin. Along came his favorite, Bill playing Willie Loman, in Death of a Salesman. The next picture saw him playing Harry the Horse, in the musical Guys and Dolls. All those memories of time past and Bill was able to remember them all. Only to have the lights go out in his mind when he came back out, without Bill understanding why?
They continued this pretense of getting Bill into the bathroom with all those pictures until it was becoming very evident that his illness was getting worse. The capacity to do things was becoming less and less possible. Not that Alan and the aides did not stop trying to get him into the bathroom with his pictures.
Why do we remember things that happened recently, or a long time ago, about our careers, or lifestyle but not everything else? His family and friends could not figure out how that was possible, and guess what, we have no idea either. At least this gave his caregivers something else to worry about. Bill would always have a smile on his face, and a fresh look about him when he came out of the “picture room.”
I am sure by now, you have come around, and that this story is going to be ending soon. His doctors and nurses have been doing their absolute best; the medication that he has been taking is becoming less and less effective. But he does not know any of this, as his mind, and the brain is slowly but surely slowing down and are about to come to a final sojourn.
Bill had an exceedingly long, and interesting life, especially being an actor, and playing all those different and challenging parts. Being a character actor is so much more interesting. Preparing for all those various distinct parts he played, getting to the theater two hours early, usually, before the rest of the cast showed up, are what made his picture wall so interesting? He would not have done anything else in life but be an actor.
So, the story is the ending of his long profession, but do not worry, his movies are still being shown around the country, and around the world. All those cable channels that we have, and with DVD’s are they not wonderful. As his movies are presented around the world, he is now being heard in so many foreign languages. Who knew that was possible? Alan is still collecting his residuals; from those films, Bill appeared on the screen and was continuing to be his full-time agent and manager. Yes, it was not an ending that he thought he would have. It was something that he did not plan, but really who does have the opportunity to make their ending as they thought they should. In Yiddish, they have a saying. “It is bashert.” Meaning it is predestined. Or meant to be.
Bill, the character actor, made a quiet, but graceful exit from life. It happened in the middle of the night. He did not even wake up his sleeping cat Harriet. Only when Alan came out early the next morning to see Bill, did he find out that his calling had ended?
It was his own actors’ version of “exiting stage left.”
Robert is a well-established writer and has had published over a dozen of his short stories, essays, and short plays in the US and internationally. He has been involved with the entertainment industry for many years. First starting as a stage manager Off-Off-Broadway in NYC, and then working in Los Angeles and Albuquerque entertainment businesses. His involvement in theater, including being a director and producer of plays with national award-winning playwright William Derringer.