Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Which next thing?

Walhydra realizes that she has created a dilemma for herself.

Well...actually she's created quite a few in her lifetime, but this one has to do with blogging.

The dilemma is this: How can she keep to her goal of writing nothing but sarcastic humor when, for much of the past few months, real life has tended to shut her down with grief and depression—disguised most often as a paralyzing sense of urgency?

"What?" the gentle reader exclaims. "You didn't tell us about that!"

"Of course not," Walhydra rejoins. "It isn't funny!"

As her amanuensis keeps pointing out, the constraints of satire censor out far too much of Walhydra's palpable human experience. She has to wait—especially after pain—until she can laugh about it, in order to be able to share it with her audience.

"So, what would you say?" she challenges him.

"I would say: I'm losing my mother.

"She's 83 and at least a year into early Alzheimer's. Last month, on extremely short notice because of a minor seizure, my siblings and I decided we had to uproot her from her home, church and neighborhood of forty years and move her to my sister's home, 600 miles away in Pensacola.

"I would say: She's still alive and safe. She's with family, with grandchildren, and putting the best face on it she can.

"But she's not the always-available best friend I've known most of my adult life. She's a sad, forgetful, disoriented refugee.

"And I can't take care of her the way I always have."

Long pause.

"Are you finished?" Walhydra asks, rather more meekly than she had intended.

"No," he says softly. "There's this: She can't take care of me anymore, either."

This is when both of them have to stop to deal with tight throats and tears.

Walhydra's usual manner, especially in crisis, is to be as professional as she can be.

Efficient social worker, doing triage. What's most important, right now, for Mom's safety and comfort? How do we get it done in the quickest, simplest way possible?

And then: How in the world do I deal with all these new financial and legal matters? With selling a house long distance? With supporting my angel of a sister as best I can? With keeping my loving brother up in Massachusetts in on the process?

With catching up on the job I've been away from for three weeks?!

All these responsibilities reel out before Walhydra, and she manages each as well as she can...at least until the crisis itself is past. Then she notices that there are all sorts of unfinished pieces lying around her—and that she has ground to a halt in an oddly numb panic.

Her sister shares a wise pastor's words: "Just do the next thing."

"But there are three dozen next things!" Walhydra cries. "Which next thing?"

After a few weeks of floundering and stalling—with, by grace, some genuine nurture from hubby Jim and friends at work and elsewhere—she notices another very quiet voice.

"The next thing, Dear, is to grieve."

"What...? Who...? Oh," Walhydra gradually realizes. "It's You. I wondered where You'd got to!"

An indulgent chuckle, like Spring brushing last year's leaves aside. "Silly old witch! You've been talking with me nonstop for weeks now."

"Oh, I know," Walhydra pouts. "I've been praying minute by minute for weeks now. 'Keep me in the present...help me center...guide my hand'."

"Yes, Dear," Goddess acknowledges. "You've been very courageous and faithful. But you haven't stopped. Except when you're unconscious in bed—and not even then."

She pauses.

"There's someone else you have to take care of besides your Mom."

"I don't have time."

"Um...."

Of course, Walhydra knows better.

In one of her earlier heart-to-hearts with her Mom, Senior Witch, she had steeled herself to say something out loud, allowing her sobs to come as she spoke.

"I've realized a way I've been fooling myself for the past few years. I've been pretending that if I just did a good enough job of managing things and providing for you, you wouldn't grow older and die."

Her mother hugged her, and they were quiet together for a while.

Then Senior Witch said, "I've realized something, too. I've realized that for years I've been telling myself that I was going to die perfectly healthy. Isn't that silly?"

They both laughed.

Goddess nods as Walhydra recalls the story.

"Yes," She says. "We have to keep reminding ourselves that we're mortal."

"Whadaya mean, 'we'?" Walhydra squints at Her a bit angrily.

Goddess just looks back, pretending to be inscrutable.

"My point is, you're allowed to be mortal. You're supposed to be mortal. You're not supposed to forget. It's when you forget that you play these hurtful games with yourselves and each other."

"But...but...."

"I know. It doesn't feel good. It's scary. It hurts."

"It hurts like hell!"

"Oh? No it doesn't." Goddess gives her Mona Lisa smile. "Not nearly that much."

Walhydra sits up, glaring. "You don't even believe in Hell! You claim it's something we made up to keep each other in line."

"I think you've changed the subject, Dear."

"Oh?"

"We were talking about you. Grieving. Or not wanting to."

"But I do...."

"Want to...?"

"No. Grieve."

"In your precise, Swiss-Lutheran-Virgo-Buddhist-Quaker-Witchy way."

"Stop teasing!"

Goddess holds her close for a while.

Late on the night of the day when Walhydra and her siblings decided they needed to move their mother, she and Senior Witch had said their goodnights and gone to bed.

Walhydra had tried to lay out the plan to her Mom, but only in a general sort of way. This was, after all, Senior Witch's first day home from hospital after the seizure, and she hadn't seemed all that well focused in the present.

Of course Walhydra couldn't sleep. She wandered into the darkened living room to try relaxation exercises and zazen. And of course her mind wouldn't stop.

But then it did.

And then the silence said: "You have to tell her what hurts."

Walhydra got up and walked toward her Mom's room, just as her Mom came out the door.

"I have to tell you...."

They went back to sit on Senior Witch's bed.

"I feel terrible that I'm...*sob*...taking you away from your home, after all this time of trying to keep you here."

Her Mom held her.

Then, "So, you're saying I have to move right away." A statement.

"Yes. Because of what we've been observing, what your friends have been observing, this past few weeks."

"Tell me what you've been observing."

Walhydra told her.

The constant forgetfulness. The losing of prescription meds in the wastebasket. The distress calls about minor problems which had already been resolved. The failure to feed herself well or even buy groceries.

"Then I have to move."

Walhydra marveled at the Senior Witch she remembered, back in the present for this crucial moment.

"Yes," she said.

They talked for a while, in love with each other, about how they managed to have such conversations. For years they had been adults with each other.

Senior Witch and the Amanuensis
They had learned not to protect each other's feelings.

That is, they had learned that "I'm trying to protect her feelings" actually means "I'm trying to protect myself from her feelings, if I tell her how I feel."

Now they just talked.

"Do you remember," Walhydra asked, "back in September, when we went to rent a DVD that last night? You picked Iris, about Iris Murdoch's decent into Alzheimer's.

"And I kept wondering, all through the movie, 'Does Mom know this is what's happening to her? Is she trying to tell me something?' "

Senior Witch did her own Mona Lisa smile.

"I knew. And, no, I wasn't trying to tell you anything."

Walhydra looks up from her reverie at the Goddess.

"I feel like she's gone."

"Sometimes she is, Dear. Increasingly so. You can't bring her back."

They sit in silence.

"But you can keep talking to the Mother you remember. Keep writing to her. Even if she doesn't answer very well out of that body, out of that brain, she hears you."

"Don't get metaphysical on me, okay?!"

Walhydra doesn't like to admit how New Age-y even the most ancient religious assurances sound to her...or how much she wants to believe in them.

"Nothing meta- about it, Dear. We do hear you. Even if that body and brain are too tired to carry on much longer."

She stands and stretches, grinning in her usual, satisfied way.

"Just keep telling her, 'I love you.' That's enough."

And so it is.

Bless├Ęd Be.

4 comments:

Elaine said...

How sad - and yet, how profound.

As an only child, due to the death of my brother 13 years ago, I realize all this will eventually fall squarely on me. So far I am at a point where my parents are still comfortable and safe at home, and I can be amused by their foibles as 80-something-year-olds in the 21st century (like my 7 year old grandson trying to teach my dad to use a cellphone!)

When the time comes, I hope I have the grace to do what must be done. Thanks for your witness.

You are in our Methodist prayers.

Sara said...

Oh Friend. What a beautiful human being you are. Your sharing this is a light in my day, though it's not an easy light. Thank you for such a powerful sharing of yourself and your movement through this.

-S

J said...

The calm, peace and love radiate from the picture you included with this piece. I read this three or four times today and just keep going back to the picture.

Walhydra said...

Elaine, Sara and J,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and prayers.

J's comment triggers a memory. We've always teased Mom about her saying, "I'm just not a very spiritual person. I don't understand what that means."

My usual comment is that Mom is so spiritual, that she has gone through Christianity and come out the other side.

She just lives a Christ-like live, without realizing she is doing so.

:-)

Blessed Be