Tag Archives: mothers

goodbye

index-002To three who caught my inner eye in Mom’s world this past year at an Alzheimer’s unit. [I moved my mother a few days ago to skilled nursing.]

Goodbye, Ruth, silver hair pulled back in a ponytail, pacing the circle the halls make, eternally looking for your husband. He’s late, darn him. I’ll give him a piece of my mind when I see him, you bet ya. Have you seen my husband? Where is that stinker? From somewhere up north in the center of the U.S., a schoolteacher I think I remember her saying. Quiet. Dogged. Determined.

Goodbye, Peggy, once an interior designer, mannered and southern to your core, kind and thin and nervous as a whippet, dressed beautifully, but more and more showing the ravage, dark lipstick spilling over outlines of lip, roots showing in dyed hair. Talking full sentences which make absolutely no sense. Well, the beans didn’t come in. They were red, you know. We tried. Did you see him? I told him it wouldn’t work. Lovely. Loquacious. Flailing.

Goodbye, Kay, whom I think of as my ghost. Vampire pale, clothes always mussed, a limp, standing in place marching or out everywhere endlessly walking with that uneven pace, latching onto people with your hand, following me, taking my arm and bumpily gliding along with me, in silence, never, ever speaking. Sometimes a fleeting smile. Eerie. Odd. Lost.

The last sight of my three is Kay draped as she is when she isn’t walking, foot forever shaking, across a couch and beyond her, Ruth and Peggy, hand in hand, tentatively heading to the lunchroom, Peggy pushing at any opening that resembles a door.

My ghost, my whippet, my schoolteacher from the extraordinary madhouse that is Alzheimer’s.

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dead

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We make an ofrenda, which is an altar for the Day of the Dead. I bring photos of a father, grandparents, an uncle, a sister. Among them is a suicide, an alcoholic, a poet too gentle for this life, women who had to scramble to survive or live with men who treated them badly. Few died with any semblance of peace.

I offer chocolates and mums, a pencil for the poet, a cigarette for the smokers. What I wish I could give them is another pass at life, for too much of theirs was stark and unforgiving. Some of it was character, some of it was heritage, some of it was cultural.

Do not go gentle into that dark night, wails a poem. But why not? Why fight against the dying of the light? For we all must die. It’s the last clause in the contract made with being born. What unseen can I offer my dead, who have gone on before me? Courage to amend mistakes and character flaws with unflinching honesty? The never ending weeding of my inner garden? Loving what is? Love?

For them. For me. For it all. Forever and ever. Amen.

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nellie

indexI can’t cry for Mother anymore. I can’t remember her when she wasn’t this shell. I can’t remember her when she loved clothes and shopping, always kept chocolate somewhere, would go off with me if I needed a partner, was a natural engineer at repairing just about anything, loaned her money without a backward look to her loved ones.

She has a friend from forever. Their fathers were best friends. Nellie has always called Mom several times a year and always sent cards. She calls on Mom’s birthday, and this year, my mother can’t even parrot hello into the phone, doesn’t recognize what the phone is, or realize I am asking her to speak into it.

Nellie tells me she has breast cancer and that she is going to the doctor. Later I find out from her son she has 4 to 6 months and is refusing chemo. A fair choice, I think, cool in my analysis like autumn rain, and wishing my Mother’s end was as clear. I go about my day the day I learn the news, and I feel sadness gathering in some far distance in me. It’s pushing zinnatears up. I sit in the car after some errand and weep for a long time. Hard tears. Ones that tear. For Nellie. For life. For its inevitable end. But also for Mom. Somehow I can weep for her through Nellie.

birthday

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I hostessed a birthday today. I’ve put together a birthday for Mom for more years than I can remember. I even used to fly to Reno, when she lived there, to do it. Today, the flame on the candle burned brighter than she did. She’s in her 10th year of Alzheimer’s. We woke her from her morning rest to have lunch and birthday. She started to go back to sleep as we sang the song.

DSC_1854night,lt. exp_3462So I packed away candles and food and the table cloth I brought to the place where she resides now. And I watched the aide put her down for a nap, having to diaper her like a child. And my daughter climbed into bed with her to soothe her, for she’s brittle now, must be moved by others.

Her oldest friend called, a quaver in her voice, as she wished Mom happy birthday on the speaker phone and told her she loved her. My son-in-law said, you still have best friends. She didn’t answer. I’m not certain what of the conversation she heard or if she realized it was for her.

What is the meaning of a life? How small it burns at the last. How small we become, feeble ghosts in our own bodies. I do not complain of this. I simply DSC_1854night,lt. exp_3462observe. I’m glad my daughter climbed into bed with her. That’s a meaning of a life, isn’t it?

Happy Birthday, Mom.

i keep saying good-bye

IMG_0277_2I’m straightening Mom’s room at the place which cares for her. She’s in year 10 of Alzheimer’s, healthy but unable to do a single thing for herself or communicate clearly. I’ve made her room pretty, but more and more I take things away and store them: the costume jewelry someone gave her to play with, the received cards she so loved to tear to pieces and then rearrange, clothes which are too difficult to put on her. If I bring a plant, she doesn’t notice it. I gaze at the things I’ve selected to comfort and define her. Without her zest and vitality, their definition is less and less clear. cameilla

frame

I just talked to my mother, she says in her soft voice. I’m at a spiritual retreat in New Mexico, and its leader is speaking. She has dementia, she continues, and she talks about our mothers being our first witnesses…..for we are working on developing a witness self within, and I start crying. My mother has Alzheimer’s. Before it began, she was beautiful, engaging, friendly, smart. She is still beautiful, still friendly. But over the last five years, I have watched too much of her depart: the woman who loved to shop; the woman who could take apart a car motor; the woman who could kill a snake; the woman who loved chocolate; the woman who was vain; the woman who was always generous with money—the first woman I knew. My Mama. She was a reflection of me. She was my earliest frame of self, and now I watch that frame splinter into fragments very slowly.

When I am through weeping at what is, I think about the idea of being a witness in someone’s life, reflecting back. What do I reflect back to those in my life? I wonder.

What do you?

Not knowing is a place I don’t like to land in. I know with my rational mind that there’s really nothing I know for certain, nothing I have or own that is for mine forever, guaranteed, not even relationships. I can discuss the theory of this quite beautifully at some dinner party or with a friend. But being in it again, as I am now, is distressing. How I long for security. How I long for permanence. How I long for knowing. I don’t know what to do about my mother, who has Alzheimer’s. Continue her living with family or move her to a facility? I don’t know what to do about my career, whose heartbeat I can’t find these days. I am Tennessee Williams’ cat on a hot tin roof, my mind pacing, jittering from one thought to another, searching for solutions, searching for a hold I know isn’t there.

I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

That’s Rilke. And here’s another suggestion: Friend, don’t let the world run you crazy. The world ain’t even honking at you. You just think it is……..

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? Be still, I guess. Be still and valiant in the unknowing….

 

 

her purse

To while away time while she gets her hair cut, I check out her purse.  What’s inside makes me laugh and cry––the sash to her caretaker’s robe, carefully folded up; a few loose coins (in the old days, those coins would have been where they were supposed to be, in her wallet); recent greeting cards she’s received; earrings; and two old fig newtons, crumbling and adding crumbs to the coins. The fig newtons make me laugh. But what makes me cry is coming across her wallet’s photo of Dad, just floating there, not in its proper place. She took it out of its sleeve and then couldn’t remember how to get it back or maybe even to put it back. So I put him where he belongs and where he’s been ever since I can remember. He’s the only photo now in her wallet––a wallet once packed with credit cards and cash and photos of family, symbolic of her famed organization and her abundance. Dad’s somber  face looks toward the camera. It’s getting harder, Dad, I think, and I imagine his face watchful, waiting on her……………….

A woman’s purse is personal and so representative of each individual woman. What we carry in it. Purses we’ve loved. The events to which they were witness. A wonderfully creative Houston artist, Mary Margaret Hansen, has a website just about purses and their stories. My Mom’s story is Alzheimer’s, and her purse shows it. What’s yours?

I’d love to know….

I miss her vanity

 

We’ve come to see the movie Sex and the City. She is enjoying it. I am, too. She had a hard time, like she always does, climbing the movie theater stairs. Too dark, and she’s lost her sense of depth perception, so that every step is a slow, careful, am I falling over the edge one. Later, we’ll go eat dinner, and we won’t talk much. The light from the screen is strong enough that if I turn to my left, I can see her. I turn and think, I don’t want to lose you. Now that we’re all losing her mentally (she has mild Alzheimer’s), I am much more aware of the bigger and final loss to come. All the old hurts and grievances on my part just don’t matter anymore. I miss her vanity. She could never pass a mirror without admiring herself. I miss her dedicated shopping. She could shop in high heels, going through every store in town, until I, in flats, had to beg for mercy. I miss her lies. She would just out and out lie about the oddest things. I miss her orderliness. She could fold a circus tent into a thimble and always sniffed at my messiness. I miss her coldness. My sisters and I always swore that if we murdered our husbands, she would come over and calmly cut up the bodies and put the pieces in freezer bags and tell us to stop sniveling and get the blood cleaned up. She holds my hand now when we go out into the world. She had another side: charming, warm, fun, curious, practical, generous. But it’s her faults I miss so much.

Later, I think about the movie and its final reunion scene with the four friends and various husbands and children. There are no parents at the table. No siblings. Just these resilient four and their loves. I realize that Sex and the City always cut out the family in the telling of the tale, except for Miranda’s mother’s death and a scene or two with Steve’s mother. Oh, and Charlotte’s mother-in-law, Bunny. It’s like these four sprang forth fully formed from Zeus’s head, enscounced in New York, living the dream. Here I am in my hot humid city down south far too plump for designer clothes with my patchwork career and surrounded by family and sitting in a dark movie theater with my dotty Mom. Living my dream.