I took care of Sophia for a year or so. I clearly remember when she came to us, I let out a gasp when I saw her name on the chart. I so wish I could tell you her last name because it is hands down the best last name in the history of last names. I couldn’t wait to meet someone with such a kick ass last name (that was really mean, I know, but I’m not about to mess with fucking HIPAA).
Sophia did not disappoint. Sweetest face I ever saw, pale and wrinkled, her hair pure white and perfectly straight, worn in a fierce pixie cut. Her big brown puppy dog eyes had that familiar lost look of an Alzheimer’s patient.
She was always well dressed, her daughter bringing her new things frequently. Her body was all softness and roundness, chock full of granny goodness she was.
At first she didn’t say much to anyone. She’d shuffle contentedly around the unit, sometimes muttering to herself. She’d answer simple questions on good days. On bad days she’d babble gibberish at us.
It didn’t take long to figure out how to engage her. Any mention of her daughters or grandchildren would cause her whole face to light up, the lost look in her eyes gone for a moment.
If I happened upon her in the hall looking especially misplaced, I’d put my arms out, ever so slightly, and she’d eagerly scoop me up in a big squishy grandma hug. She’d walk away smiling.
I discovered that she loved laundry. She’d get anxious some afternoons and I’d grab the basket of towels we kept to keep fretful hands busy. I’d plunk it down next to her and complain about all the towels I had to fold. She’d take it from me, shoo me away and happily fold the towels. When she was done I’d thank her profusely, take the basket away only to return minutes later to repeat the ritual. It always settled her.
Her daughter Ann, who was fully devoted, called and visited often. We easily became friends and would spend time together outside the nursing home on occasion. I was thankful for our close relationship when I heard Sophia mumble something that didn’t sound like English. I had to know what she was saying, so I called Ann.
“She said what!?”
“It sounded like ‘funcool’?”
“No! I’m so embarrassed!”
“You have to tell me.”
“She said ‘vaffunculo’? I’m so embarrassed. The mother of all swears. It means “Go fuck yourself”.
Jackpot. Cute old lady who swears in Italian? I was in heaven.
And it just so happened that swearing was the key to reaching Sophia like we hadn’t been able to do before. The first time I told her “Vaffunculo,” she laughed so hard, which made me laugh so hard, that we both peed ourselves.
I’d opened the floodgates. Every day I’d hear a new one and have to call Ann for a translation.
Go fuck your mother,
Go fuck your sister,
And so much more.
If she ever looked like she needed cheering up, I’d go sit next to her and pick out someone to tell off. There was a manager on the unit, a man whom nobody liked. Sophia really disliked him, so we’d sit in a corner saying filthy things, like how he likes to fuck farm animals, that he takes it up the ass, how he smells like shit, how small his penis is.
I was tickled to learn that cursing wasn’t just a symptom of her dementia. I was looking through old photos with Sophia and Ann one day and saw a photo of a younger Sophia with the caption; The Big F. I questioned Ann.
That was her nickname. Sophia was known as the “Big F” by her family due to her affinity for the F-bomb. She dropped it freely. She dropped it often. In Italian. In English. No matter the situation or company.
My heart swelled. I was sure, if I were 50 years older, or Sophia 50 years younger, we would have been the bestest of friends.
Maybe next time around Big F. Maybe next time.