Tag Archives: mother

lillian and lily

And so the exercise was: name the women you admired when you were young….and none came to mind. There were women I loved. There were women I liked. There were women I worshipped from afar like movie stars, but admire has some special quality to it, some backbone of clear and hard esteem that made me search my memory.  And then I remembered Lillian Hellman, the playwright and later memorist, whom I met at 17 through her book, Pentimento. Why her? Maybe because she was the first woman presented in my life who didn’t fall into the pattern, wife, mother, loyal second. Lillian married, divorced, had a dashing, alcoholic affair with Dashiell Hammet and wrote during all of it. She was restless and flawed and lived a big life with big mistakes.

And then I thought of Lily Jones, my Dad’s great aunt. Aunt Lily had the only pretty house of my childhood, and she didn’t sleep with Uncle Albert. She was the only woman of my acquaintance who didn’t sleep with her husband. Their headboards were separated by the windows of her bedroom. He slept on a converted back porch, his room littered with stale cigar smoke and detective magazines. She raised flowers–her yard was full of them–and was hugely clever with her needle. I have some of her many quilts and dollies and handmade pillow cases. She dipped snuff and drove her 1920s car until the 1950s.

Now I have lived a most ordinary life–always attempting to fit the pattern and not always doing it well. I’m not quite clear what it is I admire, but I think it’s a streak of independence, a not fitting in, in one case, on a grand scale, and in the other, quietly enough to get by in small town.

So if admiration has a clear and hard backbone of esteem, who are the women you admire?

ready

I sat Friday in the office of a funeral home looking at packages for cremation. It’s for Mom….not that anything’s happened, but we don’t have a thing in place for the time when she leaves us. Mom’s not sick….if you can call having Alzheimer’s not sick….and the funeral home was small and quiet and surprisingly comforting. As I discussed details with someone, tears came up. There was a momentary glimpse of that time when she will be no more and of the big gap it will leave in my life. I had glanced through a book on grief as I was waiting. With Alzheimer’s, the book said, you lose your role, your place, with the beloved person long before you lose the person. That moved some of my continuing upset into a more understandable place. A funny Mother story: she grabbed up the four placemats from the dining room table not long ago, went to the front door, and announced, I’m ready to go. Is she? And am I ready myself?

poetry

DSC_0096

I always tell the people who take my writing classes to listen to the Writers Almanac on NPR. You can even have its daily dose of poetry and Garrison Keillor’s commentary delivered to your email doorstep, hit a link, and hear the podcast. I tell them to listen to it because poetry is the highest writing art, requiring the perfect word and reflecting in a few lines ideas that can bring one to one’s knees. Which just recently happened. I don’t listen everyday. I think I’m too busy. But a friend of mine always emails me about poems she thinks I ought not to miss. And so I read Baptism by one Ted Thomas Jr and felt breathless when I was done because in a single sentence he captured what has happened to me around my mother. He writes in the poem of his father’s helplessness. In the last stanza, he says he “I pat him dry, he lets me dress him in the white hospital clothes, oil his hair, put him to bed and forgive him.”

Bam. That’s what’s happened in all this. I’ve forgiven the resentments I nurtured so close to my heart. In the bathing and dressing and feeding, in her shuffling daily endless need, something has dropped, but not by my insistence. There is only breathless, painful witnessing of  frailty, and my attendance upon it as best I can, some days far better than others. This last slow dance we’re in is immediate and huge. All else is nothing.

Another ending for Mom

I took my mother to see her sister in Florida. My uncle was flying in for a reunion of the siblings. Mom has mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. It was a driving trip and hard for us both. She was a trooper but confused, overwhelmed by choices and new places and the familiar being always unfamiliar. She had very much wanted to go to Florida, but by the time I dropped her off she was fretful, quietly upset, and ready to go home. Within a day, she was soothed, but all of us realized that her days of traveling zestfully to other places were over.

She and her sister are close. Theirs has been a vibrant, loving relationship. They were black belt shoppers and mothers of large families. They exchanged clothes and wore the same hair-dos. The day before I brought her back, I was so aware that my mom will never go to her sister’s home again, sit in those comfortable rooms with all the photos of family, sit on the porch, drink coffee, talk about children or weather or husbands or the weight they’ve gained or lost. It’s another ending for Mom. She doesn’t know it; that’s the kindness, I guess. But I felt it, felt sadness and loss and life’s moving on, its steel-edged inevitability.

I felt the same during my sister’s last weeks. I walked the yard, daffodils ready to bloom everywhere, with my college-age daughter and thought, my sister will never do this, this very simple, we take it so for granted thing, with her grown daughter. It hurt in the most exquisite way­­––life’s hardness and our fragility, death and rebirth, luck and that which will be.