Beginning at the End:
Portraits of Dementia by Joe Wallace

© 2019 Joe Wallace

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Arthur Mazman

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The fifth of seven children, Arthur Mazman was born at home in Lynn, Massachusetts on April 24, 1931. His parents Melina and Missak came to the United States in 1918 to escape the Armenian genocide.

 

Missak owned rental properties in Lynn and a tobacco store. When Art was seven years old, one of the tenants got into an argument with Missak and beat him unconscious in the front yard. He died at home from his injuries the next day. 

 

Arthur clearly remembers having the wake and viewing in their house. He told me that for years afterward, no one in the family wanted to be in the living room.

 

Art described how all his brothers worked as teenagers to help pay the bills at home. Art worked with his brother Albie in the kitchen of The Towne Lyne House in Lynnfield to help pay for college. He studied electrical engineering at Wentworth and then worked his whole career at Stone & Webster.

 

Art exclaimed that he didn’t know how Yaya managed to raise all the kids by herself (Melina’s nickname was “Yaya” – Armenian for grandmother). But then he quietly said to himself, “Yaya was tough. She was tough as nails.” His niece Melanie told me, “Yaya was a presence even though she was 4'11" and barely spoke English. I think she was very tough on her kids but that actually made them appreciate her more. All my aunts and uncles are very giving and would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it. “

 

Art loved to paint, cook, play tennis, and travel. Giving sketch pads and paints as gifts, he shared his love of art with his nieces and nephews. 

 

Neither Art nor his older sister Isabelle ever married, choosing instead to live at home with Yaya and take care of her until she died in 1985. Art and Isabelle bought a home near the beach in Swampscott which they shared until Isabelle passed away in 2011. At 80 years old Art was living alone for the first time. Just like with Yaya, as Art started to show signs of dementia and his health began to decline, the family rallied to do everything possible to let him stay home and out of institutional care.

 

His brothers Harry and Albie visited often. His nephew Ed came by after work almost nightly. His niece MaryEllen is a constant presence in his life – facilitating all his doctor visits, finances and in-home nursing care. Eventually his niece Anita moved back from Florida to take on the responsibility of being his daily caregiver. 

 

As we sat and talked about the family tradition of gathering for Christmas and Easter (over 60 consecutive years), I was curious to note that Art kept a tissue wrapped tight in his hand. I quickly learned Art often has tears of joy and keeps the tissue at the ready to catch them. First, he cried a bit when his niece Melanie entered the room - overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness simply by seeing her smile. Later in the conversation he wept when we discussed his brothers and sisters. He said, “I’m so lucky. I have a great family. They were all terrific.”

 

Dementia may sometimes prevent Art from remembering names. He may confuse time or certain details. But his deep connection with his family and his gratitude for them is undiminished. Art clearly feels that family is forever and the comfort he receives from that love is palpable. Each time he sees family, out come the tears and the tissue. Family - the most powerful tonic.