And now that I am here I am going through the same little spasms of sadness and apprehension I do every time I visit. Each time I come here… I see how my parents are just a little older than they were last time I saw them. Aging is like that, an imperceptible fade, the gradual erosion of time wearing us away, changing us…
I very much believe it is nature in its most gentle and merciful persona that does this, slowly steals away the person that once was so that when the inevitable occurs… the thing you lose is not your mommy or daddy… it has become a husk, a shadow, and echo of what was and perhaps… maybe, just maybe… it won’t hurt so much when they go. And I am realistic enough to see that freight train coming right at me. I cannot keep them forever… that is an impossibility… and it would be a cruelty for them and all the rest of us. And yet as I write these words, my eyes are brimming with little girl tears. I cannot imagine a world without my mommy and daddy in it. And no matter how much I know I am strong enough, that freight train is going to crush me.
I can’t see my mother in there very often now. She looks different, she sounds different, she even smells different. She forgets things, little things and big things. She has asked me if I had read the book, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” the second time, and it was funny. The third time was an exercise in patience but the fourth time was heartbreaking. And when she overheard us talking about my daughter-in-law’s pregnancy, she clearly had no memory of being told that there was a fourth great grandchild in the making. I can understand the book thing, but great grandchildren, they are kind’a important.
Add to her forgetfulness, her severe hearing loss that forces me to yell at her to get my words inside her head. And you know… it is fucking nearly impossible to yell and yell at someone without some kind of irritation starting to show through. It is the flip side of “fake it ‘til you make it”. I have always found it true that if I am tired or down I can “fake” being energetic and/or cheerful and eventually, most times it will come true. Now, when I raise my voice… I feel the rage leaking in and as much as I try to control it… I see her flinch and look wounded. And I feel like shit.
Because, the one part of her that has faded the most is that part of her… the angry part. She no longer is irritable or impatient. She seems to have left all expectations and even a sense of the passage of time behind.
Dad does most of the cooking now… mom just sits with a book in her lap and dozes most of the time. The part of me that needs to laugh instead of cry wonders if perhaps that the book is not “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”… (though actually that book has been loaned out to some friend they talk about as if I somehow know him just as intimately as they do.) My father is just as irascible and funny and inflexible as he has been his entire life. He takes care of her and worries what will happen if he predeceases her. And men in my family generally do. His mind is pretty good, but his body is rapidly failing him. I carefully reassure him that I will be here, that I will make sure she will be safe and happy. And perhaps that is another merciful nature thing, if the dementia has progressed far enough, she may not remember so acutely his absence. I know if she were to go before him, he would nearly die of the agony.
So there it is… I know I am going to have to face this freight train, let it crush me and stand back up and try to hold the shattered bits of the surviving parent together. If it is my father, I will just help with the physical things, and defer to his wishes. He says he would not want to stay here in this house without her. And if it is her, I need to do it all… decide all. So that means, either way, 80 years of memories to sort, share, gift, sell or throw away. No matter how you look at it… it will be a herculean task. An almost literal Aegean Stable of stuff. Treasures to the people who loved them, objects to the rest of us.
I wander through this Alaskan museum of a house. Priceless Eskimo artifacts careless looted from a hundred walks on a hundred beaches gathering dust next to cheap souvenirs gifted to them from people long dead, reminders of places and experiences that are eloquent in their irrelevance. Furniture and art, tools and toys, stuffed salmon and bearskin rugs, frying pans I remember using 40 years ago when I was just learning to cook… the same old school house clock that my great grandfather looted from a school house after the San Francisco Earthquake and ticked and ticked through every night of my growing up life or the ancient rocking chair I determinedly scratched “Daddy” deep into the finish of when I was just barely older than Livie is now. It is archeology of their lives and because I was a part of that life, so much of it is my life too… so much is wrapped up and weighed down by my memory of it. How can I just let go of that rocking chair that still says “Daddy”?