Apologia for these journals:
They are not about taking care of a relative with moderate to severe Alzheimer's/senile dementia.
For an explanation of what these journals are about, click the link above.
For internet sources that are about caring for relatives with moderate to severe
Alzheimer's/senile dementia, click through the Honorable Alzheimer's Blogs in my
links section to the right.
MPS and MPNC visited this week...
...from Tuesday afternoon through Thursday morning. We had no plans. They wanted to get away and enjoy the extraordinary atmosphere up here; I have to say it again, this is a delightful, magical piece of property and seems to have the ability to restore souls. So, we were at loose ends and ready for trouble.
Sometime early during the visit, MPNC mentioned that she is leading a fund raising team for the American Cancer Society. One of her scheduled activities is to have a multi-participant lawn sale, going on today, as I type, in fact. While she was here she spent a fair amount of time texting various members of her team, attempting to determine the amount of goods she could count on being donated. The inventory wasn't sounding promising.
The idea sneaked up on me that this would be a good opportunity for me to jettison some of the stuff with which our house is packed. It would be peculiarly appropriate, as well, for her sale to be stocked with items from Mom's and my home, since MPNC's stated inspiration, attached to her solicitation notices, for leading a team, this year, is because her grandmother died of lung cancer.
The three of us combed the house, culling donation items. We started with Mom's clothes. Mom and I loved keeping her wardrobe current and smart. One or the other of us constantly had an eye peeled for blouses, sweaters and pants that promised to delight Mom. Thus, her closet, dresser and a large box, besides, were crammed with two distinct wardrobes: One for cool to cold, one for warm to hot. Most people would think that, being an Ancient One, most of her clothes would not appeal to MPNC's sensibilities (she's an older teen) nor MPS's. About half the clothes, though, were claimed by MPS and MPNC for personal use. All of us were so surprised that so many of Mom's clothes were to MPS' and MPNC's taste that we joked about how much fun it would be for MPNC, especially, when she receives comments (which she surely will) about how "cute" are some of the blouses that she inherited, to casually mention that this or that piece used to belong to her 91 year old grandmother.
The only glitch that stopped me from adding to the donations was the capacity of their car. Besides clothes, I was able to unload about half of a collection of vases, a rather expensive game that Mom thought she'd like but which we never played, three, that's right, three old but working VHS and DVD players, an old but working stereo set that I haven't used for years, some appliances that were little or never used, two years' worth of National Geographics (my mother loved that magazine and insisted on keeping each issue for later perusal and for use in making mental notes for lesson plans, which she continued to do right up to the month she died), several sets of never used crayons and colored pencils, a never opened package of ultra absorbent incontinence pads, a few books of interest only to my mother and a few DVDs. Funny about the DVDs. I expected I'd be having MPS and MPNC haul away loads of our collection, as there are many that were purchased in accordance with Mom's taste: The Jesus and Bible movies, for instance. Turns out, though, although I may never again watch many of them, I'm not yet able to part with them. The allure seems to be that, when I look at this or that DVD case, I remember my mother's specific reactions and so enjoy the recollections that I'm not yet ready to release my memories to the faint possibilities of being stirred only by other people's mentions of the movies.
I had only minor problems letting go of the clothes. There are a few (less than 10) items that remain hanging in my mother's closet: A blouse belonging to one of my sisters that my mother loved so much when that sister was visiting in 2002 that my sister took it off her back and gave it to my mother; a gold lamè sweater-blouse that she loved to wear for the holidays; a deep red sweater, embroidered in glittery gold thread and studded with gold beads that was also a perennial part of her holiday outfit...things like that.
The visit was a great way to start thinning out this home's stuff quotient. Unexpectedly, though, late in the day Thursday, I walked into my mother's bedroom (to which two of my sisters have already begun to refer as their bedroom), was struck by the loss of her clothes and wept. Suddenly, I understood an incident which took place Wednesday afternoon. While rummaging through Mom's dresser and tossing all manner of stuff into the donation piles strewn throughout the house, I ran across Mom's infamous tiara. "Someone will surely buy this," I said to MPS, twirling it between my fingers. "You might even get a couple of bucks for it."
MPS burst into tears.
"Oh my god, MPS, why are you so attached to this?!?"
"Because the story behind it is so sweet," she blubbered.
It is, I have to agree. The entire Elizabeth-I-hairstyle-complete-with-tiara affair is one of my warmest "Mom & Me" memories. I'm pretty much done with the evidence, though, but MPS, apparently, is not, so I agreed not to send the tiara into the hands of an ignorant buyer. Yesterday, though, I talked with MCS. She has a granddaughter who is a "girly" girl and has identified with the princess motif almost since, well, probably since before she was spit from the womb. She's in early elementary school and has a few plastic tiaras, some of which I've seen in pictures. She doesn't have anything as spectacular as the one I gave to Mom, though. I talked to MCS about the possibility of sending the tiara and all of the glittery barrettes to her, through MCS, primarily so that, if MCS chooses, she can "save" the hair ornaments for those special days and nights when her granddaughter visits. MCS was thrilled with the idea and knew that her granddaughter would be even more thrilled. Before I send them off, though, I'm going to check with MPS to see if she's ready for me to release the tiara from this home to another intra-family home. I don't want to disturb MPS's memories before she's ready.
So, clearing out the house and retro-fitting it more toward the resumption of my singular life has begun...not without twinges and qualms, true, but I'm steadily strolling in that direction. I'm sure that this home will not stagnate into a devotional altar to Mom; I've already made too many changes for that to happen and, anyway, since we broke in this home together, much about the way we set it up was dictated by my habits, needs and desires. I'm aware, though, that this home will never be just mine. I'm glad it won't. I want my mother's resonance to remain here, not just for me but for our family. My long, loving companionship with my mother is a large part of who I am today and I remain awed at and grateful for how it shaped me. I will never tire of being reminded of, well, us.
Yesterday I dashed out and bought all the Book Darts I could find...
...at our local chain bookstore. Alas, the store had only two sets, so I ordered six more sets.
Yes, I'm reading again, voraciously. That's why I haven't been back here much, lately. It took about two and a half months for me to complete my PhD in the Law & Order multi-series franchise and wade back into reading. The wading, too, was difficult. Although I rejoined my local book club in January, I found it distressingly impossible to read, initially. Every time I'd open a book, I'd be reminded of my mother's and my strenuous and enjoyable reading schedule, which had continued for decades, starting long before she and I became living-together companions. When we lived in the same city, prior to our official companionship, she and I would meet at least a couple evenings a week to read aloud and discuss a variety of books on every subject imaginable, including school text books that we found intriguing. When she and I were separated by too much distance to allow for face to face meetings, we'd send each other books, read them alone and discuss them over the phone or in letters. During our long companionship, after she decided she didn't want to participate in the out-loud reading, we continued, as regular readers of these journals will know, our evening reading and discussion. Thus, even though she and I both often read on our own, her much more than me over the last five years or so, I so associated reading with our community of two, our discussions and our enjoyment of each others intellectual company that, after her death, it was hard for me to read on my own in any way, let alone the way I used to devour books on my own, aside from our shared bookishness. Except for rereading Dancing with Rose (which I note, wryly, has been renamed by its former subtitle in its newest paperback edition, probably because it wasn't selling well enough under its original title and someone thought this was because the word "Alzheimer's" wasn't prominent enough; in addition, the original title refers to a brief episode which wasn't developed into a particularly book-defining moment; it has, also, by the way, been re-paged within her website) in order to review it, which I considered a sacred duty, and reading Nothing to Be Frightened Of and one chapter in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, both of which I considered essential to my grieving process, I would read other books, articles in magazines, even newspaper stories, until I crossed a word, phrase, sentence or paragraph that I knew would pique my mother's interest and curiosity, then I'd put the piece aside and physically turn away from it, not even bothering to mark my place in it.
Thus, I didn't read the January and February selections of the book club. I mentioned, as well, at the meeting marking my return, that I couldn't yet read, although I gave no explanation for why. I think everyone understood, as, when I stopped attending the book club some years ago news traveled fast as to why I chose to forgo the meetings. One of the members, though, mentioned that I would probably find myself reading again, soon, as the March selection, Ken Follet's The Pillars of the Earth was a type of "summer reading" novel that so drew one into the story and required so little thought that I probably wouldn't be able to put it down. She was right. I picked up the book two weeks ago. I finished it two days later. It is an historical adventure novel with lots of time-specific description that I found an easy read, highly entertaining and that my mother would have loved. When I realized I was imagining my mother reading over my shoulder I wavered, but the story was so well crafted (too well crafted, really, rather like a structure built of Legos, which can become tiring after the initial awe wears off) and so relentlessly paced that I advanced from wading to swimming within the first couple of chapters. About a quarter of the way through I decided to read passages aloud that I knew would particularly delight my mother. This worked splendidly, although it startled the cats, who are used to conversation being directed either at them or at my mother, who is no longer here, thus, they weren't sure why in the hell I was talking to no one. Once I'd finished the book, I immediately yearned for something with substantially more meat than the books the book club has been lately reading. I found one such book among the books I'd collected throughout the last several years as grist for my mother's and my evening reading sessions, although we hadn't gotten around to this one, The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby. While The Pillars of the Earth is like eating chips instead of dinner, tasty but not something in which I'd want to regularly indulge, The Age of American Unreason is a tasteful, nutritious, energizing meal.
I've also reclaimed my love affair with Book Darts, standard book marks, highlighters and my preference for writing notes in the margins of books. I'm visiting the library at least once a week, now, to apprise myself of "New Arrivals" and intermittently research. I'm culling through my stacks of books and pulling out those I want to read again or read for the first time (it's astonishing how many books I bought for Mom and I to read to which we either never got around or put aside, once we "broke the binding" in favor of something that flirted more seductively with us). It feels good. Really good.
Do I feel my mother's approval from beyond patting me on the back for besting the obstacle to reading that her death inadvertently put in my way? No. I like imagining that she's reading over my shoulder, as much as I like imagining what that entity formerly existing as the woman who was, among other aspects, my mother, would think of anything happening in my life, her life, our life, the lives of her loved ones, relatives and acquaintances and the world in general. I prefer, though, to think that if anything of a being does exist and continue after death, gathering information and treating the intellect are processes completely alien to anything with which we who are living are familiar, since our equipment would be, well, different, to say the least. What's the use of life after death if it doesn't imply adventures unimaginable to those of us in this existence?
In the meantime, I'm noticing that since I've begun reading, again, I've also transferred back to the futon couch for night sleep. I'm not sure what the connection is but I think it may have something to do with my continued tendency to connect reading with Mom's and my shared interest in it. Maybe, while I'm reestablishing myself on my solitary (which, actually, considering her and my shared reading history, was never quite that solitary) reading track, it's important for me to fully consider our shared reading experiences as I attempt to invent and reinvent my own.
Later...after I read some more...
All material, except that not written by me, copyright at time of posting by Gail Rae Hudson