Blog 42: Comprehension (Pt 2)

But Bill and I were lucky.  Bill might not have been able to comprehend through language very well, but he was still able to comprehend, to a large extent, through context.  And I believe that, because he retained this ability, I never felt that I was living with a vegetable.  I always felt that I was living with a person.

I have recorded many instances when Bill proved to me that he understood what was going on because he understood the context.

One such occasion occurred in April 2011 when we were visiting our new granddaughter and her proud parents in hospital.  Bill cooed and waved and smiled at the baby and then, to our astonishment, he uttered the word:  Bankstown.

I was completely taken aback.  Bill was, I’m sure, remembering the birth of his eldest son, who was born in Bankstown Hospital in 1965.  He must have understood where he was and why he was there to have uttered that word. 

On another occasion, a little later in that year, when I had been talking to a friend on the phone for some time, Bill came in and commanded:

“Stop!   Work!”

As I put the phone down, I thought that Bill was trying to tell me that I had been on the phone too long.  But, when I followed him outside, I found that that was far from the case.  Bill was actually trying to tell me that it was starting to rain, that the washing was getting wet, that he did not know how to bring it in himself and that I should start unpegging immediately.


But, the funniest example of Bill understanding because of context occurred in September 2011 when I took him to the Post Office to make an application to renew his passport.  It was not that I was planning to take Bill on an exotic holiday. No. It was, rather, that his passport was expiring and I wanted to have a valid one on hand in case a miracle cure for vascular dementia was announced overseas and I needed to get him on a plane, quick smart, to avail himself of it.  I knew that it was never going to happen, but I also knew that extraordinary things do happen in this world and that, if Bill missed out because of my laziness or because of a few dollars, I would never forgive myself.

So, off we traipsed to the Post Office. 

I presented the form and a photo to the Proprietor.          

“Oh, that won’t do!” said the Proprietor.  “That won’t do at all!”

He was pointing at the form and Bill’s signature, which I had forged.

“See that J?” he continued.  “The tail is out of the box. They won’t accept that.

Here!  I’ll do up another form and he can sign it again.”

“He can’t sign it,” I confessed.  “I signed it for him.  He can’t write his name.”

“Can he make a mark, then,” the Proprietor asked.  “They’ll take a mark.”

“No,” I said.  “He can’t use a pen at all.”

“Well, do you have Power of Attorney?” he went on.

“Yes, I do,” I replied.  “But I haven’t brought it with me.”

“All right,” he rejoined.  “Wait here. I’ll go and phone the Passport Office.”

 After a short while, he returned.

“It’s all right,” he said, brightly.  “They said we can use this new form and you can sign again.  But then you have to sign this other form as well.  It attests that you have Power of Attorney.”

We dealt with the forms.

“Now,” he began again, tentatively.  “This photo won’t do.  It’s far too dark.  Come on down here and we’ll take a new one.”

I walked Bill down to the other end of the Post Office and stood him in front of the white screen.  Seeing the Proprietor pick up the camera and understanding the context completely, Bill smiled widely.

“No!  Don’t smile!” ordered the Proprietor.  “Tell him not to smile!”

I obeyed with:  “Bill!  Don’t smile!”

But, I knew all the while that Bill would not comprehend any of my words.  All his focus was on comprehending the context. He couldn’t cope with both.

“Jeez!” exclaimed the Proprietor.  “Don’t smile!”

There’s always a long line of people at the Post Office and, when I looked up, much to my embarrassment, they were all, as one, willing Bill not to smile.

“Oh, we’ll have to give it a miss,” the frustrated Proprietor sighed.  “It’s not going to work.”

And he put the camera down.

As soon as Bill saw that the camera was down, he stopped smiling.

Quick as a flash, no pun intended, the Proprietor had that camera up and, click, the photo was taken.

This is the passport photo that was taken that day.

Blog 042 Image 1

Bill’s passport photo, taken September 2011


Of course, there never was any miracle cure and Bill died five months later.


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