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Archive for March, 2008

A Puzzlement!

It is late at night and once again, I only hear the steady, electrical hum from the motor in my mother’s oxygen concentrator, which, is followed by a clunk that signals the release of extra oxygen. Those sounds mingle with the inspiratory and expiratory breaths coming from the ventilator and the whirr from the spinning of my computer’s hard drive as a utility program runs its occasional scan. The darkness and the quietude make this eerily special, as I sit at the little desk in the corner, because the darkness wraps around me like the arms of a loved one, sealing me in security; its effect heightened by the juxtaposition of computer light and the arm of the darkness.

As I listen to the sounds, it becomes painfully apparent that she has completed her journey within her Crepusculum. Now Momma waits in her darkness until it is time for her departure. Daily, she waits anxiously, patient for M to feed her, to bathe, to do anything. I am aware how anxious she is and I believe her boredom is unyielding and unacceptable to her. Up until August, art and craft projects filled her daytime and by six p.m. I reminded her to stop so that I could get her ready for the evening and Momma would always tell me she wanted to work longer.

Now the hours and minutes tick forward for her and eventually the only thing that she does is to transfer from the bed to the sofa, or another area to the bed. As I stay by her side during the day, I chatter on to keep her less lonely and bored. I am reminded how little she smiles; where once the smile was almost continual, now I need to urge her to give me one. Even then, she feels she has nothing to smile about; instead, she only tells of tales from her confabulated memory bank and creatively fills the blank spaces extemporaneously.

When I tend to her for medical or personal concerns she often wants to be obstinate because she feels the repetitive acts of care cause her discomfort as we move her legs, arms or head. I ask her why she is so stiff, is it for protection or is it a physiological change. Rather than answer, her “no’s begin and she shakes her head representing what she doesn’t want me to do, although and more importantly the no, the little break into being obstinate, is a way for her to break from boredom.

Both she and I are not good at watching her, as she exists. We both get edgy and unfortunately, I become too impatient and forget I am able to walk across the room and reach; I can reach and since I can, I must remember that patience is paramount because I know that she will not remember what she said. Often Momma does not know me. Immediately I know her agitation and I know her reaction to me is a defense against someone she does not know, some one she knows does not love her and someone she does not trust. If I look into her eyes, I can see the fire of fear and fight glimmer in the corners. She is always ready to fight to keep her “self”, her oneness, her right to be. In her life, she has defended herself continually and learned these defenses at an early age from her own family. In contrast, I rarely have that same defense mechanism. My “fight” is only to protect my occupational position, or for someone who is close to me; but I never cross into a battled defense, as she is capable of doing and winning.

Her “fight”, the key to her survival is important, particularly when you are growing old. I know I will need to remember and learn from her. I need to sit in a Doctor’s office and be willing to tell that person what I want and what my beliefs are, rather than just going along with the program. My mother still has the punch of her old character most of the time, but there are many times that she is mentally too fragile to know it is the proper time to take care of her needs. These fluctuating times and the other changes that have happened in my mother are reminders to me that I might have as much trouble, as she has had, in my upcoming program of crepuscular life.

Looking ahead, anticipating and even planning for different problems later in my life is particularly worrisome because I believe I may be alone during my final years. Presently, I like being alone; let me spend day upon day eating, sleeping, gardening, everything being alone and I am a happy person. The solitude and quiet is incredible. I am inspired to walk, paint, make my sculptures, and do whatever I like and in so doing the time quickly passes.

Yes, the time can pass quickly and pleasurably. In my thirty-four year relationship, I have always enjoyed being alone, yet if it ceased then a cold, emptiness will step-in and the aloneness will have little purpose. Therefore, I have this quandary. Even if I am able to reorganize almost everything that can negatively affect me later in life, then how can I assuage the apprehensions I have about my final destiny if I am alone?

This is a puzzlement.

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Many years ago, my mother wrote a poem about herself and I cannot ignore its essence. It speaks quite simply of our mistakes, in a hope that we are always ready to correct them. For years I have carried with me a mistake–a mistake that helped make someone’s final time in their twilight lonely and their darkness even darker.


HOPE
There’s only one blessing
attached to mistakes.
The chance at correcting
the misses one makes.
I know I’ve forgotten——
I haven’t been nice.
But I need not be
the same way twice.
Therefore, you see——
you can be me.
But never be dirty
as if I pretend to be!

The mistake, which I will tell you about, is one you may find to be acceptable, but for me it was inexcusable because I did not even try to do something, nor now can I even recall many memories from this three-year period.

auntyframe.jpg

My Aunt as she was six months earlier!

It was 1982, just before Christmas, I received a call from my father telling me that my aunt, my favorite aunt–his older sister, was no longer able to care for herself in her home and that it was too much for my mother to keep up two houses. H said he was going to sell the house and the belongings at an estate sale in order to pay for my aunt’s lodging in a nursing home about twenty-eight miles from the small town they all lived in.

My hand trembled as I listened and I tried to clutch the phone receiver even tighter because I didn’t want to drop it and I felt the harder clutch would keep the tear inside the eye as it brimmed to the surface. Suddenly I jolted forward as my father yelled into the receiver to find out if I understood the sale was the upcoming weekend and that my aunt was already in the nursing home.

I responded like a silly, dumbfounded kid, rather than a thirty-something executive, when I answered that I would be there, unless I couldn’t arrange for someone to watch over my parties on the weekend. He ended the conversation by telling me my aunt would appreciate my being there. I couldn’t imagine my aunt appreciating my attendance–in her house as they sold it from under her, hearing the possible gossipy women that plague Iowa estate sales pecking at all the reasons for the sale. I could only imagine what they were going to say about us now, especially untrue stories about why my father was doing all of this and in the course of their reasoning they would attack my aunt as feeble and give a scathing account of her life.

That evening and the next day passed slowly as I prepared to leave. Finally, the hour had arrived for me to leave. Even though I had, a three and one-half hour drive I suddenly felt that time was racing forward, causing me to arrive earlier than I would be mentally ready. The muscles in my neck kept twitching, occasionally causing me to choke and clear my throat. I could not understand that this twitching was a metaphor; the twitch was so much like how I usually reacted to my father when I speak to him. Yes, that is unfair. However, during one of the days at home my father will say something that will remind me that I am to live by his canon of obedience and that I do not dare voice too strong of opinions, especially if they differ from his worldview when I am in his home.

After I crossed the bridge, over the Mississippi River, the drive was nearly over. In a few minutes, the route on the Interstate passed by all of the streets in Davenport. The names of the streets brought back memories of shopping and having lunch at the Lend-a-hand Club with my Aunt and Uncle. Suddenly my twitch changed. My hands tightly clutched the steering wheel, my teeth were clenched and regardless a tear fell down my cheek as I realized that my Aunt was somewhere in a strange bed on one of the streets and she was all-alone.

I don’t think my Aunt had ever been alone, especially in a strange place, as well as being nervous and upset. During the final part of my drive I couldn’t get it out of my mind that she was alone and it was unfamiliar to her. Throughout her life, except for the last 12 or 13 years since her husband died, she had always been somewhere she knew and with people, she knew. It wasn’t unusual for people my Aunt’s age to ever have been alone. She was born in 1901 and for most of her life lived on the family farm with her parents until they died and then, after marrying, was with her husband until he died. She grew up in a time and a place that families remained close and family ethics were much more severe than now. Even though I always considered her strong, the effects of her era remained with her for a lifetime.

One of my Grandmother’s creeds was to be respectful of parents and to always acknowledge the strength of the family unit. Her codes were stern and she ruled her children and husband with an iron hand. I have not one memory in which I can see my Grandmother, except for one. It was the night she died. I was ten and after my mother told me she had died and everyone was busy, I sneaked back to her bed. I felt overwhelmingly, compelled to see if she was dead. I knew of death before this because my grandfather preceded her in death. I walked up to the bed, got very close to her and after studying her face and torso I poked her as hard as I could. I was ecstatic when she didn’t move. No longer, would I walk into a room alone and have her call me to her using a demanding voice. When I arrived, she never greeted me, nor was they’re ever a hug; I was motioned to stand to her left and quietly stood while she introduced me. When she was finished she dismissed my by simply uttering one word–“go!” Later in life, I always wondered how my Aunt and Father ever enjoyed one day in their lives while under her control.

When the world watched war breakout in Europe and then cross the waters to America my Aunt was a blossoming, young teenager. I am sure she was as excited as any other teen when she saw the men dressed in uniform and heard them talk about the glamour of fighting in a foreign country. One of those men eventually became her husband in 1957 following my Grandmother’s death. However, she had fallen in love with him in 1917 when he was a dashing man ten years older than she was. Even though she expressed their love and her hope of marriage, her mother immediately vanquished her. My grandmother demanded that she dissolve the relationship and maneuvered her into becoming a spinster on the farm, a penance that lasted for forty years.

As I drove up in front of my parent’s home, I wondered what the atmosphere would be like. I would be the only one there with them; I knew that my sister would not be there. When I walked in, I saw or felt everything the same. My Mother came to me as always with her outstretched arms to give me a hug and my father continued to sit in his big chair. It did not think a discussion could happen that night. She said my father had a difficult time telling my Aunt what he wanted to do, although he did not want to let my Aunt discuss it with him. Then she quickly added that it was best since my Aunt couldn’t afford to stay at home, and that it was just impossible for her (my mother) to watch over two houses!

My mother encouraged my father to place my Aunt in the nursing home. I had forgotten my mother was never able to forgive her for their interplay when my mother and father moved back to the farm at the demand of my grandmother. My mother has agreed with me now that she feels most of the problems between them was instigated by my grandmother. After my grandmother died it was apparent that my mother and aunt never argued. Even though they didn’t, it took until now for my mother to understand how much their relationship had changed and it is unfortunate that my mother could not see this while my Aunt was fully functioning during her twilight. If it had, then possibly, my mother would have said things differently to my father. She was the only one who could have persuaded him that my Aunt should remain in her house.

To remember my Aunt’s home brings so many wonderful memories to me. My sister and I stayed with her many times while we were in school. We did this in the winter when the snow did not allow my father to bring us back and forth to school. Each of those occasions brought smiles of anticipation to our faces because we knew my Aunt would have amazing crafts for us to work on, or help her cook new foods and listen as she told us tales of our ancestors and their journey’s to America. By the time I had grown and moved from the little town, I never stayed with her overnight again. I wish I had, I wish I had spent much more time with her as she moved into that time of her life that lies somewhere between how you were and where you are going.

Since there is not a predetermined entry age that led my aunt within her Crepusculum, my thoughts of her are when her path diverged from the safety of her home to the reality of never having one again. This is when she was eighty-one years old. From then I can subtract the years and arrive at an initial, more dubious and uncertain time, an imperfectly illuminated stage in her life when she fell and broke her hip doing spring cleaning in her home. Up until then my Aunt lived her life completely and was in charge of her destiny,

This day suddenly changed everything for her, particularly because it was a change that was within her body and mind. The fall caused her immense concern and the worry from it eventually became detrimental to her health and joyful outlook on life. The fall and the physical act of falling frightened her so much she believed another fall would happen. Her fright kept her from doing many things that she normally would do and it was inevitable that my father sent her to a nursing home.

Each time I visited my Aunt in the nursing home I was aware of how unhappy she was. When I arrived, she was always sitting in her room all alone. Since she spent most of her sitting by her bed, I asked one day if she would not enjoy a small television that could set on the night stand in front of her. After a little coaxing, she finally agreed and promised her I would bring one on my return. The next trip after I brought the television to her I asked how she enjoyed it. In a very somber voice, she said she did not need a television and that the sound from her television could bother other people. During my next trip home, I stopped to see her and give her an earphone so she would not bother anyone.

Just then, as I lay across her bed she asked me not to come back. I was dumbfounded and finally asked why she said that to me. She felt I was young and I should not be bothered with old people’s problems.

My mistake begins at this particular moment as I sat with her that day. If it happened now I would not have left her room, nor would I allow her to say that without defining a lot more and letting her know I could read between the lines.

I sat there and and didn’t argue or try to persuade her to let me do something. I left that day with a heavy heart as I kissed her good-bye and agreed that I would cease my visits. By the time I arrived at my parents I was extremely upset and tried to talk to them about it. My father simply said if that is what she wants then do it. My mother just gave me a kiss and said for me not to be upset. In another day, I left for home and as I drove towards Davenport, I knew should not have driven away and that I should have stayed to speak to my Aunt again.

That feeling of unfinished business is always with me and I try to question why I did not stop to see her. The memory of her face was emblazoned in my memory and yet, I continued to drive. Today her face haunts me…sitting in an armchair; her slightly rounded shoulders held her head tipped downward as she talked to me. I was on the bed and our heads were at the same height. I sat by my Aunt who had given me everything I ever wanted, particularly huge quantities of love and watched as tears welled up in her small brown eyes as she asked me not to see her again. I sat there and I did not even try to tell her that I could help. Instead, my silence hastened her journey into her final darkness all alone.

The next time I saw my Aunt was the evening she died. My parents told me she asked for me continually that day. I knew why immediately why my Aunt requested me to be there. She needed me to be there with her so that she could leave this world peacefully.

When I arrived, my Aunt was no longer speaking and had difficulty breathing. I told my parents, who were there, to go home and I would stay until the next morning with her. I sat by the bed, unsure of what to do and particularly lost in how to tell her all that was in my heart. Finally and uncomfortably, I took a hold of a finger and told her I was there and that I would not leave. She gasped for air repeatedly and deep within her, I could hear a chilling rattle. I stopped suddenly and without much thought let her know it was okay to leave and that I loved her. She took a final, horrible gasping breath and then became very quiet.

Sometime, in one of the many years that have followed, I thought of that time and what I didn’t do. I asked over and over why didn’t I say something and I cannot find a valid reason. I can think of excuses to make me feel better, but not one that helps me. During those days we lived in Evansville, In. We had a large home and even though we took care of M’s mother who had Alzheimer’s the house was large enough to have my Aunt. I could have had her there. I could have paid for any help I needed. I am sure she would have been happy.

I have a large picture of her on the wall in our Foyer. It hangs to the right of my Grandfather’s desk. Above the desk are two large oval photos, one of my father and her as children and one of my Aunts when she graduated from school, about the year she fell in love with the dashing soldier. When I pass by her pictures I always stop to talk with her and often I know I have stopped not to reminisce, but to take the time to apologize for my mistake. I hope one day I will feel that she understands. I hope one day I will accept what I did and never all anything like that to happen again.

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For the past few weeks, especially since I initiated this blog, I question what will cause me to begin the twilight years of my life and if certain things happen, how I will react and what will I do.

Since I am now sixty I may be at the beginning of dusk for my day. If I am the sun in my day then it is possible I have not as much energy as before. If I am the I grass or the flowers under the sun then definitely I need a little more care to make me look even half as good as I used to and especially if I am the soil that takes time to rejuvenate its richness, then I am more patient in caring about my fellow man, listen more carefully than I ever have, intuitively see beyond now and welcome the wisdom I have been able to be given.

Even though my intuition let’s me understand hidden conditions and I acquired patience as my wisdom developed I am willing to admit my deficiencies, I have yet been able to understand human aging, its causes and more importantly how it effects us. The basis for something to age does not sit well with me. I cannot accept, nor do I understand why humans, especially, need go from stellar existence to something so unacceptable when there is continual suffering or a change that makes mobility impossible. Yes, there are those who are able to live until they are quite old without harsh physical or mental problems, but they are much fewer than the vast majority of people that inhabit the earth.

Just a few years ago, during graduate school, I addressed my concerns on aging in my final art exhibition. I need to expand what I brought to fruition in those pieces and my exploration needs to discover the current issues and facts that concern the elderly. Presently I find myself fantasizing about shadowy recesses and other impediments that are within my twilight. In order to dispel these fantasies I want to collect and share the stories of others that have preceded me into their own twilight.

Not only do I think that the twilight years have shadowy recesses that will affect me, I imagine there are cracks, fissures and sunken holes I can fall into that will take some time to get out, proving that “The Golden Years” are a misnomer. When my eyes may fail from macular degeneration, when I fall and break my hip, or find that I am in the throws of a stroke, should I then be thankful I didn’t get prostate cancer, discover a brain tumor that immobilizes me completely or at this point in life should I be thankful that my journey has led me to my darkest hour so that I shall breathe no longer?

Any or all of those conditions worry me about my later years. I wonder will I be like my parents and need care to get me through each day. If I do, and if this happens at approximately the same age as they began to have problems, then I realize I may have to face the transition from my twilight into my darkness all alone.

How shall I ever get ready to do that, or more appropriately how will I progress through the ups and downs in my twilight. Will I bump along until the ups and downs become so monumental that I will pass from twilight to darkness without an option to return? I need to find a path to follow, one with preset stops that direct me how to become prepared, or is it wrong to sojourn on this path to enrich my consciousness for a realm of greater understanding? Often I have wondered if I should let all my questions and explorations go. I think of my parents and grandparents, as well as many others, who didn’t question or plan. They lived their lives and when something catastrophic happened they knew someone in their family would assume a managerial position for them. Is it because the world has changed so much that I need to be ready to plan out my stages in aging during my twilight and if they include degenerative processes is it really necessary for me to plan for them? Is it because we have blogs and other types of discussion groups at moment’s hand to write or discuss our worries or is simplicity of view the avenue of best choice?

I don’t know for sure, but even though I ignore much of what goes on around me (which is by deliberate choice) I still prefer knowing everything that I am ignoring. Yes, I must continue to question, seek answers and think around a place I call Crepusculum.

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