That's Jeff, Who are You?


     A few weeks ago I went to visit 97 year old Aunt Ceil. She had taken a spill the day before and likely had a small stroke. Hospice is already part of providing guidance and care at this stage of life, so I was prepared to say goodbye. Yet when I arrived at about 1:30 in the afternoon, she was dressed and sitting up in her chair. Though her speech was slightly garbled, within a few moments she declared, “It’s Jeffrey Howard Raught!”. We did carry on with some conversation apart from a few repeats, but hey, Ceil is 97. I even got her to sing along for a bit on “I Love You a bushel and a peck, bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck……..A few more wonderful moments with Aunt Ceil and then I left to see Mom, Ceil’s younger sister of 93.

    As some of you know, Marie(Mom) has been on a trickling decline of memory and awareness over these last four or five years, retaining and recalling less and less.She no longer breaks out in song as she once did. There was a time you couldn’t mention the words Yankee Doodle or Flag without Mom launching into her best Ethel Merman doing Jimmy Cagney, belting out “You’re A Grand Old Flag.” So very much of that has been drawn back into silence.

     Visits can become routine with circular conversations, though we do try to toss out something from long ago. Like a place she worked, or the infamous bra and girdle training she once went to in New York City. But even that has faded into a place she cannot recall. By the way, that’s quite a story.


    This last time my sister Deb and I were seated facing mom when she asked us. “How many kids did I have?” Deb and I just looked at each other, shrugged and answered her. “Two Mom, you had a daughter and a son.” Mom nodded, “Okay.” Sometimes, old photos can be a help, so I will print them out for her to handle, but this time I just had them on my phone. I showed her one of me, five years old, performing a song at the firehall Christmas party. She took a glance and immediately said, “That’s Jeff” and then looked at me and asked, “Who are you?” I paused. There was no reason to answer and force her to make the connection. I’ve done that in the past and it didn’t really help. I just let her look at Jeff.

    I suppose it might seem like a sad outcome that sometimes my mother is only vaguely aware of who I am. I don’t see it that way.She’s now 93 and it’s unknown how many years she has left. Mom will pass and she will be gone. Yet in so very many ways, parts of her are gone already. Those things that can never be returned.But maybe she can remember everything she needs to inside her own mind. Perhaps she just can’t bring it forth with words in the present world. And that’s okay.That might be all that is needed. If I’m just a friendly face or the man with the blue glasses. That’s enough for me. I have zero expectations whenever I visit the woman named Anna Marie Dean Raught. I might start calling her Marie more often as that is the name she hears every day. The word Mom coming out of my mouth might be confusing.


    Time and again I am reminded how important it is to just meet her where she is. Even when she isn’t sure. So on my next visit, I’ll bring along some more photos. I’ll just smile and give her a hug, each and every instance when Marie says, “That’s Jeff, who are you?”


PS. That's the earliest known photo of me performing solo. About 1964 or 65.

Copyright 2023 - Jeff Raught