Mind Over Matter

By Dan Conaway

THAT’S ENOUGH. Growing up, whenever I was doing something, saying something or up to something for a period of time deemed sufficient by my father, he would say, “That’s enough.”

Depending on how he said it, whether or not he was smiling, or, God forbid, he’d said it twice, I could determine if it was enough that very second, or whether or not it could continue momentarily – like the length of time it takes a cat you’ve just dropped from the second floor window to actually land on its feet (the point of the experiment) right in front of him, whom you didn’t see until the cat was airborne.

Make no mistake, give or take a few seconds, when he said it, it was enough.

My father died about this time of year in 1987, and while I think about him often, this is the time of year I think about that.

I got the final call from the nursing home early in the morning, an expected call since we’d been in touch during the night as his condition worsened. “We can’t get a pulse except on the monitor,” they said, “You’d better hurry.”

I was hurrying, headed east on Poplar when the car in front of me stopped to turn left, and the car behind rear-ended me. No one was hurt and the damage was minimal, so the driver I exchanged insurance information with probably wondered why I was crying. That was at the corner of Poplar and Poppy, and Poppy was our children’s name for Dad. You can’t make this stuff up.

A few minutes later I walked into one of those final places, rooms full of things that once were and won’t be anymore, rooms quiet under the weight of that. In the bed was the shell of a man I knew better than any other and the reality of one I didn’t know at all. Alzheimer’s takes everything, and leaves us only the thing it took first from them – memories. He hadn’t smiled in months, hadn’t opened his eyes or moved in days.

I took his hand. He squeezed it. He opened his eyes, looked at me, smiled – his smile – and died.

A year before, his first day there, he cold-cocked an attendant and went out a side door. My brothers and I had to go find him. Just months before, even drugged, he fiercely fought his mind for his soul, the dignity of self. But, at the end, he made the decision of when, and no one will ever convince me that he wasn’t waiting for me, waiting to say, “That’s enough.”

And the man who smiled at me at that moment was the man I knew.

What our minds are capable of is why their loss is so great, their inactivity so wasteful, and why so many would change them, manipulate them, control them – take them away.

In an election year, be especially mindful.

I’m a Memphian, and my father taught me when enough is enough.

Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at dan@wakesomebodyup.com.