Monday, December 26, 2011

We mustn't forget even when they do. . .

            . . . We mustn’t forget old people with their rotten bodies, old people who are so close to death, something that young people don’t want to think about . . . . We mustn’t forget that our bodies decline, friends die, everyone forgets about us, and the end is solitude. Nor must we forget that these old people were young once, that a lifespan is pathetically short, that one day you’re twenty and the next day you’re eighty. . . . life goes by in no time at all. . . . if you dread tomorrow, it’s because you don’t know how to build the present, and when you don’t know how to build the present, you tell yourself you can deal with it tomorrow, and it’s a lost cause anyway because tomorrow always ends up becoming today, don’t you see?
            So, we mustn’t forget any of this, absolutely not. We have to live with the certainty that we’ll get old and that it won’t look nice or be good or feel happy. And tell ourselves that it’s now that matters: to build something, now, at any price, using all our strength. . . . we have to surpass ourselves every day, make every day undying. Climb our own personal Everest and do it in such a way that every step is a little bit of eternity.
            That’s what the future is for: to build the present, with real plans, made by living people. (The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, translated by Alison Anderson 128-129).

            Why do I write a blog, “Remembering for Mother?” I write because we mustn’t forget.

            Why do I write a blog about Alzheimer’s? Because we mustn’t forget. If we do, then aged Alzheimer’s patients will wither seated in wheel chairs pointed generally in the direction of a window or television screen. If we do, then Alzheimer’s patients will fall lower on the list of medical research priorities.

            Why do I write a blog about caring for aging parents? Because I mustn’t forget
just how hard it is to have one foot in two worlds. While my daughter graduated from high school, my father’s heart attack and subsequent bladder surgeries tore me asunder. I divided my time between her celebrations and his decline. While my daughter finished college, applied for graduate school, and moved thousands of miles from our home state, my father fought cancer and Mother cared for him at home. I divided my time again between two generations, sometimes resenting the neediness of the older one because it took so much of my energy from the younger one. When my daughter earned a graduate degree and planned her wedding, my father within months of death, I bore the yoke of his and Mother’s needs, driving back and forth, back and forth, back and forth across the state twice monthly, then shedding age and sickness like a second skin, reborn again for beginnings and joy as my daughter began her career and marriage in a new place.

            Why do I blog about remembering Mother? Because we mustn’t forget that she asked for nothing when my daughter fought breast cancer. Even as Mother’s needs for help increased exponentially, she told me to stay at home, to rest so that I could drive back and forth, this time ten hours or more, to be with my daughter during chemotherapy. I cooked for her. I cleaned for her. I washed loads of laundry, and I stocked her pantry and freezer, hoping to stumble upon some chore completed that would make a difference in the aches, pains, and sickness that is cancer. I was often exhausted, and Mother was at a loss for someone to balance her checkbook, write checks for her. She overdrew twice and made a couple of serious mistakes simply because she couldn’t remember and sort out the dates from amounts. But she put on a brave face and tried to make me believe she could manage without me, asking strangers at her bank to help her. She’s always done that: put on brave faces and persevered.

            And that’s the last reason I write this blog. Because we mustn’t forget that all those aging know the advice that Barbery’s character offers: They spent each day engaged in building . . . something, . . . at any price, using all . . . [their] strength. . . . [they] surpass[ed] . . . [themselves] every day, . . . [made] every day undying.

            Those afflicted are there for graduations from high school and college, there for weddings. They grieve their losses and sorrows, and they celebrate milestones and rites of passage, even as they lose ground daily. If they resent any of it, the best of them do not make it known. They soldier on, walking bravely into the unknowns that others fear.