Friday, December 09, 2016

Some Things That Happened.

As Dementia rooted deeper into the mommy she became more and more afraid. Rarely a day went by when she didn't talk about being scared. She didn't know why but she was so scared sometimes that she'd shake.
Some of the care givers at the assisted living place where she lived would help her to the bathroom and leave. More than once she called me from the bathroom upset because she was alone. Once I timed the call and it was more that 15 minutes before anyone came to help her. I later learned that this is seen as an acceptable amount of time (by the state or the facility or who knows who makes this shit up) and care givers are encouraged to leave people on the toilet and go help someone else. This is a perversion of the if you have time to lean you have time to clean rule in restaurants, keeping employees running. Mom took to screaming for help at the top of her lungs. I was told she was so loud her neighbors would call for help for her. One night a resident walked in and scolded Mom telling her she was bothering people. I never found out who did that. Mom was mortified. She called me crying.
There seemed like an easy fix to me. Don't leave her in the bathroom alone. Right? Part of why she was afraid may have been abstract but part of it was a fear of falling and a need for support. But the very expensive facility couldn't do that.
For a time I was there every day except Wednesday. She had Mandy in the morning and music therapy in the afternoon so I stayed home and checked in by phone. On other days I went after swimming and stayed until about 5. One afternoon as I walked out the door I heard her talking to herself saying, "You're OK Lucille. Just relax. You're OK."
Mandy stayed later in the morning. I started staying until she was in bed.  We made sure there was only a few hours a week when she was alone.
She had stopped coming to Oak Street on the weekends so I spent the weekends there. She was always happiest when I was there over night and in some ways so was I. The only time I wasn't worried was when Mandy was there. I never trusted the facility to truly deeply care for her. There were mostly wonderful loving care givers but they had to take care of too many people.
But she was scared even when we were right there with her. I would hold her hand and sing her a song. But she was afraid.
The other night I had a dream in which I had left her at a friend's house. It was really dark and I assumed the friend would walk her home. But they hadn't. They said something about everyone needing to "go through things like that." I found her and she was OK but she seemed small and afraid.
I've been thinking about the concept of individuation. A simple definition is the process by which a person becomes identified as them self and not as a part of a family, a religion, a country. You are part of those things but not defined by them. It's a big and subtle concept involving the integration of the unconscious and the conscious but I was thinking about how much of my awareness has been occupied by the mommy for the last few years. I still look at the clock at 8AM and feel calmer because Mandy is with her. I still feel nervous toward the end of a swim because I need to get to her. I think I always thought of individuation as a hard line defining the self. But I hate that word - boundaries. It feels so false. Our boundaries are semi permeable. We overlap. Of course we do.  
Mom was 90. I'm 63. She passed. I feel like there's a proportional amount of sorrow that I feel relative to those facts. Adding our particular story there is (maybe) a bit more than average. But there is a hurt in me because of how hard I had to fight to make sure she was cared for and how hard I had to work to do what should have been the job of the facilities. It's going to trouble me forever. It has changed me.
It occurs to me that I'm going to need to get used to not being aware of her. That's true in an obvious way but it's also very structural. I no longer need to cling so desperately to my phone because she isn't going to call. She isn't sitting in the bathroom, scared anymore.
So I read and cry and make polenta and swim and read some more and cry some more.


Sunday, December 04, 2016

That's Life For Ya

For a few months Mom became obsessed with the movie Funny Girl. She'd watch it as many times as I would replay it. More than once that was three times in one day. There is a scene in which a delivery man is riding a bike through a neighborhood crowded with street stands and people. A group of young boys are running beside him announcing, "Telegram!" As he passes two older women one says, "That's life for ya. Somebodies dead." Mom and I always laughed.
That's life for ya.
Somebodies dead.
Mom was 90. Other than some joint pain and Dementia she was in great shape. I knew she would die but I couldn't imagine how. And then she did. I'm not going to write about how. I may someday. What I will say is that it started with something so small. And then we were sliding faster and faster. And faster. Too fast.
Grief takes on so many shapes. For a few days it was visceral memory. Sometimes bone rattling. Sometimes it rises up out of silliness. Laughing and crying (as Joni says) it's the same release. Sometimes it feels like flu. My body just hurts and I need to be still. Sometimes it's rage.
I know it will pass. Or more accurately it will become a part of me. I won't always notice. I've tried to let go as fast as I can. And then I get stuck on something. I threw away her purse but I can't throw away her wallet.
While this was happening there was an election. For me it was kind of like stubbing your toe when you have a migraine. You know the toe hurts but the pain in your head is so much worse. I couldn't and still can't listen to news. My need for silence is desperate.
People tell me what a great job I did taking care of Mom. I needed to love somebody the way I loved her the last two years. I needed to love her that way. I feel like there were three mommies. The mommy when I was a little girl and we were so attached. The mommy of my teen and adult years who wanted to change everything about me and we broke apart. And the mommy of the last four or five years. So increasingly childlike and sweet that I would sometimes be startled. In the middle of the night she was often lucid. We had great conversations during a trip to the toilet.
I worry that I am going to hold on to the grieving process. I'm not sure why that worries me. As the days pass and become more ordinary I feel off balance. When something triggers a crying spell I feel grounded by it. But of course it's not even been two weeks.
It's the holidays. I cannot feel them. I feel like I'm holding my breath until they end. That all feels ... real. But I need to get back to the things. Swimming. Listening to music. News. New patterns will establish themselves in the weeks and months. The holidays will always have a shadow but I will enjoy them again. As much as I ever did.
That's life for ya.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


The mommy has watched @MSNBC from dawn till dusk for years. Care givers tell me she shouldn't watch so much news but they don't get that the people are real for her. They anchor her. She has crushes and affections and listens with all her strength. During the Republican convention was different. She hardly ever had the TV on when I arrived. She'd blanch at certain faces. I wondered if she'd feel the same during the Democrat convention but so far, it's the opposite. She watched with a half smile for a long time. I know that she can't really process what's being said but she has a visceral reaction. She has from time to time told me that she didn't want a woman as president but when she sees Hillary she smiles.
I knew I'd vote for Hillary the minute she announced. I have all of the same judgments that most people on the left do. She's a hawk. She's a corporatist. She's right of center. But I knew I'd vote for her. She is possibly the most qualified person to ever run for the office. That may not be a compliment. She's qualified because of years in the system and the system is sick.
The mommy can't imagine a woman as president. When I think about the changes I've lived through and then multiply them by the changes she's lived through my heart quakes. It's not enough to vote for her because she's a woman but it's extremely moving to imagine the first woman president.
I've been annoyed by Bernie. Actually I've been annoyed by his supporters. My Facebook feed is always filled with hate for Hillary. The few times I've tried to step into the conversation I've felt jumped on. At some point I realized I couldn't be civil when talking about the Republican nominee so I need to just step back. It's been a nasty election and it's not going to get less nasty.
So the mommy and I watch as much as we can and then we switch to musicals. And we sing.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Year Three

I wonder how many years I can count in this way. It seems like I'm stretching a conceit. But I am still surprised by the fact of the nest. Still grateful.
There have been more changes. More paint. For me getting a tattoo and painting have been similar. One tattoo made me want another. One painted wall made me want to paint another. New blinds after the old ones broke for a second time. Various fixtures have been replaced. The nest feels more mine.
R says home improvement is the opiate of the masses. Indeed.
When I landed in the nest I had many boxes of books to unpack. But first I hired a guy to add some shelves to my shelves. (That's an awkward sentence.) (Heh.) I wanted my books to be standing up. I had to put them in piles to fit them on the shelves, which was OK but I just had a ... thing. I wanted them to be in rows, standing straight up. He added the shelves and I unpacked in a rush.
I also wanted all of the books written by a specific author to be together, which is tough because they aren't all the same size. Then I had the wall of shelves built. I emptied one of the bigger shelves onto them and worked on making them appear full. They aren't even close to full. At my current rate of purchasing they never will be. It might be cool if I did fill them. And just as I placed the last book on the shelf I fell down dead.
I guess we'll see.
From time to time I'm looking at a shelf and notice a book by an author separated from others and I shuffle things to make it right. I also shuffle things to accommodate new books by specific authors. This relatively constant shuffling is ridiculously fun for me. I stare at my books almost as much as I read them.
I read an article that mentioned Kathy Acker and went looking for the two books I have, which had been in the to be read pile at one point but got lost in the post move manic shelving. I looked and looked and couldn't find them. One night I sat down in the chair next to the wall of shelves and there was Empire of the Senses. I don't even know what the other one was but I still can't find it. I regularly look at one specific shelf for the other Acker. That shelf is not big but I look and look. One night while looking I noticed one Camus but didn't see the others. It was late. I needed to get to sleep. I lay in bed fretting. The next day I looked again and found all but one Camus scattered around the same shelf. Now they are grouped.
Home improvement is largely done. Book shifting will go on for years. I take comfort and pleasure in the fact of the nest. Which I need because watching my mother's brain shrink is the most heart breaking thing I have ever lived through. I've cried every day for three months. I am drained.
I'm  more at home in the nest but less at home in Hood River. I'm not sure I ever will feel at home here.
My life is a melancholy and repetitive. I rarely have fun. Shifting books on a shelf is tonic. I've never felt that counting my blessing and feeling my endless sadness were mutually exclusive.
Three years.

Sunday, April 10, 2016


Some time in January I began a post about the new year weight loss frenzy. It's always like chalk on a black board to me. It settles down after a few weeks and then gears up pre-summer.
It made sense to me to be tired of sugar and big dinners and party food. I was tired of it and there wasn't that much of it my life. We had nice holiday dinners but nothing too over the top. In fact I served a fennel, orange and pomegranate salad that I read was a good after holiday thing to eat because it's so light and refreshing.
It is.
It was.
Then the goosestep of my life drove me through another holiday (Easter) and I could have written the same post again. Easter candy every where. And ham. Oh lord the ham. And then all the posting about how unhealthy it all is and all the recipes framed as healthy instead of, oh I dunno, good. Just good.
I've written that post so many times.
Other ideas for posts run through my head. I power up Blogger and then ... it's always something.
Today I have some time. I have some focus. But I'm filled with sadness and no small amount of rage about big lifetime metaphor stuff. The actual detail of life is about the mommy and laundry and what to make for dinner and swimming and reading and the shifts of seasons. Nothing terrible. Nothing wonderful. Just life. But my inner world is a storm.
I knew a woman who always said: it is what it is. I always blanched at that because I hoped for evolution and change. I worked for those things internally and externally. But she had a point. There are things that you just need to live through. And feel. There are things that aren't going to get much better. There are things that are going to get worse.
My intention has always been to be with what was happening and who I am and what I feel and make every effort to understand it all. Accept it. Just be with it.
Writing has always been both a way to process my internal world and communicate. Right now I feel like I'm yammering.
I mean. Really. This is another kind of post I've written too many times. A post about why I'm not posting.
Very often. Late at night. I've just read something. I'm filled with thinking. I want to write. Some times I even scribble notes trying to remember what I'm thinking. They're usually illegible. I have books filled with book marks trying to remember what was triggering all that response. But sleep pulls me under. Some times I wake up during the night picking up where I've left off. And then it's morning and time to get fed and clean and packed up for the day and out the door and do all the things. Back home. Pick up the book. Rinse. Repeat.
It is what it is.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Year

I'm really tired. My bones feel tired.
To overstate the obvious it has been the year of the mommy. After a rough start we seem to have found a groove of sorts. I have friends who go the sports club where I swim so I get a ride four, sometimes five days a week. Mom lives right next door so they drop me off for my afternoon visit and sometimes one of them picks me up. They help me get Mom to Oak Street on Fridays and home on Sundays. Mom loves her care givers, particularly the home health care woman who helps her get started in the morning. She has music therapy on Wednesdays so I stay home that day. I usually get three or four calls and I make a few of my own. It's not totally off but it gives me a wee bit of distance.
But I don't really have that many friends in the Hood. There are times when they all leave town, or someone is sick, or just busy. I feel like I'm crawling along and suddenly the floor falls out from under me.
As long as the mommy is in assisted living she's OK. But OK and good are two different things. I want her to be good more often than not.
Am I taking care of myself? I dunno. I try. Swimming is essential for my well being. Books are essential. Good food and a balance between cooking and not having to cook. It doesn't seem like much.
At this moment I'm really down. Of course I am. Christmas was tough. And my systems of support have been wobbly. In a week or so the rhythm will come back and I'll be OK.
I mean, it is what it is. Ya know?
Hardest fucking year of my life. I'd like to qualify that with some acknowledgement of love and beauty but I'm too tired right now.
As a friend of mine says. "Onward."

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Occupying the Nest

When I was in SF I had a night light in the living room. It was a three sided brass (copper?) thing with a picture of Buddha. It was more decorative than functional. When I moved into the nest I put it in the kitchen where it was still more decorative functional. There is a streetlight right out side the window and the nest was never really dark. But I had a ritual of lighting the night light in the evening and turning it off in the morning. I had to get new blinds, which block a lot of light and it is actually dark now. I'd given up on the little night light ritual after I moved the Cuisinart and the Kitchen Aid in front of it. Recently I moved it into the bathroom where it is now a very lovely night light. It's bright enough to cast some light into the hall, which is useful now that the blinds keep out the street light. Every night I smile when I see that night light. It has finally found the spot in which it can fulfill its night light destiny.
The nest isn't huge but it does have an entire room that I did not have in SF. I call it the library, which is a bit ostentatious for the size of it. It is filled with book shelves, (which will some day hopefully be filled with books). Karen helped me move things around to make it appear that I have way more than I do.One of my old shelves is on the side with a few books and a lot of junk. Despite my best efforts it is the stash shelf. For now.
It is my favorite room. I wasn't going to put a TV in it but Mom had a small TV in her kitchen and I ended up putting it on top the fireplace. The fireplace is another formally Mom's item. Electric but pretty. Now loaded with a mash up of things from my Grandmother's mantle, some books (of course), random collected stones, shells, candles and so forth. I sleep in there when the Mommy is here on the weekend.
DeAnna switched the chaise lounge from the library and a recliner that was suppose to be the place where I sat to look out the window. It ended up not quite fitting. The chaise is larger in someways but fits at an angle. I sat in it the other day with a cup of tea watching the world go by.
I sleep in my bedroom when the mommy isn't here. This may sound like a given but because of joint pain I couldn't get comfortable in bed. And then Mom needed a new bed and we got an adjustable Tempurpedic, which is wonderfully comfortable.
I haven't broken my habit of dragging my meals to the computer but I am still trying. When the mommy is here we eat in the kitchen/dining room. She looks out the window and narrates the activities on Oak Street.
When I was in NYC I lived in a studio big enough for a single bed, a small dresser and a small refrigerator. My first place in SF was a bigger studio. And then a one bedroom but I had no furniture for the bedroom. I remember noticing that I sat in the same spot on my futon long after I had more furniture. I'd become overly acclimated to small space. Now I wander from chair to chair. From room to room. I sit by my sink and stare out my window. If I feel I haven't spent enough time in a room I move. It's all so amusing to me.
The first time I left for a few months and then returned it didn't quite feel like home. It didn't smell like home. Now it's mine. I feel it wrapped around me. I fill it up.
I have always needed/wanted a good place to live. I used to want a fireplace and I've had a few. Real ones. With wood and ash to clean. Even the tiny place in NYC felt like ... life in NYC. But I think if I had found something bigger and nicer I might still be there. I lived in my last place in SF longer than I'd lived anywhere, ever. It was physically painful to leave.
Now I am in my nest. Where I can occupy my destiny.