Monday, September 07, 2015

What's The Question?

Mom has been living in retirement communities for many years. Retirement communities are filled with older people. Older people die. It's just part of the experience. Death is always occurring. Surgeries, health issues, medications pepper conversations and every now and then ... someone dies.
You can be philosophical about this. You may not even know the person. Your concern naturally goes to their family. It's such a regular occurrence that you become a bit hyper vigilant but you know you can't be in that environment and fall apart every time someone dies. It's even more true in assisted living.
There was a woman who lived at the end of the hall. If I stood in front of Mom's door I looked into that woman's apartment and some times saw her and some times waved. She would walk around and around the hallway just before dinner and some times looked into our apartment and some times waved. She was almost always the first one in the dining room. I tried to smile and make conversation. She'd smile but she never spoke.
Last week I didn't see her for a few days and then one day her door was open when I arrived at Mom's. It was clearly being emptied. The handy men were there and noticed my startled look. "She's on the other side of the building now." The other side being memory care. I felt relieved but then I wondered why I did. She's not dead. But she's in some kind of decline. Piles of her belongings are in one of the side halls waiting for ... what? Family? It would be bad faith to ask. They can't just be telling other people's business. I did not really know her. Why should I care?
She just seemed so fragile. So dear. So focused on her walking and her dinner. Will she still be? Or will she sit in her room? Is she sad? Mad? Does she understand what happened and why? Does she even have family? Was it her choice?
Mom went into memory care after her sudden, shocking and rapid decline. I chose memory care because she needed a lot of help. But the day we arrived she rallied. She looked around and saw the other people, saw that they were very confused, feared that that was her future and she shook for three days. It was the worst. I left sobbing every day. She didn't remember (and still doesn't) the months of delirium. There are no locks of the doors on that side. Occasionally another resident would wander in. She never wanted to leave her room.
Mom's mind did clear enough to ask for her to be moved to assisted living. But I also put in lots of support structures, most of which are me being there or her being in the nest. Her apartment is small but nice and she has a view of a garden. She's OK. There's nothing wrong with memory care but it isn't as ... private? Or something. I don't really want her to go back but a time may come and I may have no choice.
Jung said, "The meaning of my existence, is that life has addressed a question to me. Or, conversely, I myself am a question and I must communicate my answer otherwise I am dependent on the world's answer."
I'm always looking for meaning. Meaning comforts me. I understand that meaning is a shape shifter but I still love that feeling when something rings true.
On her death bed, Gertrude Stein asked Alice B. Toklas, "what is the answer?"  When Alice did not respond she said, "in that case, what is the question?" They were her last words. Her last words. Does the lady from the end of the hall have a question? Or an answer? Does Mom?
A family member is having some problems and I feel like she's asking the wrong questions but who the hell am I?
When famous people die we talk about the meaning they brought to the world. Or the mess they created. We care. We don't care. We make jokes. We make memorials.
I'm not concerned with how long Mom lives. I just want her to be safe and comfortable and as happy as she can be. My requirements for my own end of life are much too grand. I (like Jung) am arrogant enough to think the world cares about my questions and answers. I'm "chicken scratching for my immortality." - Joni.
What exactly is the question?