Sunday, May 6, 2018

Donne and done

Give or take a few centuries, my mother lived ninety-one years, two months, and twenty-one days. Alzheimer’s Disease made for a sad, confused, prolonged ending, difficult and painful for her and her family. It was also beautiful. In very personal terms, it was and remains a gift. I watched her light go out — the light of her thinking, the light of her reason, the light of her ability — and as it slowly faded from view, dipping and glimmering in the mist very much as if she were a ship lost at sea, her body responded accordingly, until at last it drifted unguided and uninformed to its final bump in the night. Maybe you have seen and experienced the same thing, or something similar. Maybe you are dealing with it now, and are exhausted and worried and wondering how much longer you can carry on. Maybe you don’t see it as beautiful, as I did, and still do. Maybe you see it as a tragedy and only a tragedy. And a tragedy it is. And yet the greatest tragedies, like the tragedies of Shakespeare, are illuminated by moments of humor. My mother and I laughed at the silliest things. Snippets of memory, the old times, the old days, even her own dear puzzlement and confusion. The colored flecks in the carpet, she thought were bugs. It was a matter of great concern. I said, “Don’t you think that if there were bugs, I would do something about it?” She replied, “Not necessarily.” And we looked at each other, and looked, and looked, until there arose the hint of a smile. The next day, the bugs were back again. Without thinking, she walked through them and over them. Tragedies. Histories. Comedies. All the world’s a stage.... Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. Donne. And done. Except to say, By what strange light, these gifts to me?


Anthony Duce said...

Similar experiences and thoughts. Wonder now if loosing touch with the here and now before the body lets you down is not a kinder way? My mother died last year after 95 years. She faded away from herself and the rest of us over the last five years with those few wonderful moments in the last years where we would be back together unimpeded by issues of which we no longer had a say.

William Michaelian said...

One of the things I learned, or might have learned, or think I have learned, or have simply and maybe even inaccurately observed, is how intricately memory and identity are intertwined. As her memory faded, so did my mother’s worries and burdens and fears, and in that process I did see kindness — to both of us.

In effect, in those final years, I acted as her memory, until the time came memory was not needed at all.

Now of course memory is useful. And while mine remains fairly intact, I recognize its unreliability, its very nature as story, which naturally changes over time in light of new understanding and experience. I also see how it can be a burden, a prison, if we don’t keep ourselves in the present and free.

Meanwhile, over the years of our acquaintance — yours and mine, that is — I have admired and enjoyed your drawings of your mother at various times and stages of her life, as well as those of other family members. Call it medicine, therapy, art — it is all of those things — it is also part of the record, and will be held in many memories for years to come. It’s all a gift.

Anthony Duce said...

Thank you..