Dad turned 78 yesterday. For his birthday, he choked on his food and vomited a little shrimp scampi on his undercooked filet mignon. “No, thank you. We don’t want a doggie bag,” I said to Joan, the unknowing waitress. In the past few months I’ve heard conflicting stories about the old guy from my two brothers. One has dad a cancer stricken semi-invalid in a wheelchair and the other paints a dance floor dervish spinning on his own two wheels. The truth, of course, does not reside on either end of the story spectrum…

Dad’s wife Caroline passed in 2007, and since then he hasn’t found much to keep living for. His ties to family are threadbare. “I’ve always been a loner,” he says. Our conversations rarely stray from sports and other stuff you might talk to your barber about. I usually go with family stuff, and while he “loves” his family, I’m not sure he ever really learned to really embrace it. He loved Caroline though, and she really understood and accepted him as is. Looking at an old passport of hers, I said, “She was beautiful.” After a few long seconds, Dad cleared his throat and responded, “Yeah, she was.”

When I arrived, Dad had just woke from a frequent nap and was very groggy. As he spoke, he lost his train of thought on several occasions, but after a few hours, and especially during day two and three, the fog had lifted. I thought of ways he could keep his mind somewhat stimulated in the absence of humans. He claimed to like doing crossword puzzles when he was younger, so I got him a couple crossword paperbacks. I’m dubious he’ll open either, but hope I’m wrong.

Our bodies are made up of muscles attached to bones, and Dad does very little to exercise any of them except the ones controlling his TV remote. It’s all he wants to do, which is fine, but just a little work of body and mind could greatly improve his quality of life. For his atrophied muscles, I suggested walking to pick up his mail, about 200 yards from his door. He claimed he’d be on the verge of collapse after such an attempt, so I said try shorter distances and work up to it. “Do two houses and back, then three houses and back, until you can get to the mail center and back.” He gave me a look indicating he wonders why I bother suggesting such things.

Well, life is just better if you live it, so I’ll do what I can to make the oil can squeak out a few drops now and then to help flex his mind and creaky joints. Even if broken, he’s still got a heart.