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make your day dance

Life intrudes – perhaps for you too

August 4th, 2012 · 9 Comments · Tags:

This post is not about dance education. I still teach dance, write lessons every day of the school year, spend summers reworking curriculum in my head…

But on the other hand, my hours, my life, my thoughts are recently consumed with watching my mother live in the moment and die by degrees. Recently and increasingly, over the last seven years.

Now I’ve moved her for the third time in as many years, twice in the last three months. From her house to a two-bedroom apartment, from two bedrooms to a one-bedroom apartment, from an apartment to a single room in a home. Shedding layers of possessions, each move painfully cutting away things found, bought, given, saved, made, collected over a lifetime.

Discarded in the first move: an iron woodstove, the dining room table from so many family dinners, the coffee table where we played canasta, wedding-gift silver, a collection of milk glass, the family safe, barrels full of compost & soil, and huge rag rugs.

Lost in the second move: the sewing machine she once wielded with skill, the computer conquered with such determination, so many favorite books, the last remnants of a lifetime of setting a delicious table, blouses with too many buttons.

This week, she shed the telephones, her plant stand filled with African violets, her favorite blue chair, the nesting tables, her favorite antique child’s rocker. Closer to the core each time.

Meanwhile, the disease, the dementia, has been peeling away who she is like layers of an onion. Taking away her organization, her timely tending to business, her independence in driving a car, her ability to help out in any situation.  Gone: knowing how to write a check, keep an appointment, use a calendar, turn on the TV. No more reading a book or magazine. Rarely remembering yesterday or this morning or a few minutes ago.  I wonder with each layer, what’s left?

But with each layer gone, there’s still a kernel of who she is. She knows us. She listens in the moment, with the same look of getting it. She can still laugh with delight. She’s gracious and grateful.  She doesn’t want to be here anymore, but she still struggles to be herself.

Traveling this territory with her, there are insights both beautiful and excruciating, and we’re far from the end.  One discovery is that, of course, I’m not alone. Folks around me have already been here – the school nurse, the woman from whom we rent storage space for my mother’s things, friends — or friends of friends. Funny how lonely it seems when so many are here.

You too?

9 Comments so far ↓

  • Corey Mahoney

    I love you so much.

  • megrm

    Thanks for being there, sweets!

  • mm

    Find the lessons, she is now your teacher. Those who leave us gradually are our kindest friends. When you look back you might, as I do now, be astonished at the lovely gift that she gave to you at great cost to herself. I know that this is a lonely road for you but it is also an essential one. It is a lesson in love. Have courage.

  • megrm

    Thank you for the perspective! Leaving gradually is indeed hard.

  • Linda Vining

    Oh, Meg. I knew this was happening, but Deb had not said very much. My parents are in their 80s, and I know some version of this lies ahead. Sending love. L.

  • Anne Dunham

    I am with you. My mom is now 102. Fortunately she is not dealing with dementia. She is ready to go and can’t believe she has lived this long. But she has, little by little, shed worldly goods and her ability to see, hear, walk, and do normal tasks she has always taken for granted. She has gone from depression to acceptance. And now occasionally gets joy from playing with my smart phone or my brothers iPad. May we all learn from our mothers how to grow old gracefully. I once had a friend whose mother lived in Sweden. She said, “As long as our mothers are alive, we are all still young.” My thank to mothers everywhere. We are not far behind.

  • LynnH

    Sending good wishes. Hard stuff. You are a skilled storyteller.

    Be kind to yourself.

    LynnH (Friend of Deb)

  • megrm

    Many thanks for your kind comments! The move last August was a good one, and my mother is content & at home once again. She has a simple, lovely room with her own things, in a warm & caring home. When she claimed their sofa as her own, I remembered that she was always a couch-napper when I was young. When I visit, I bring old pictures, which we pour over, rebuilding her memory as we talk. The memories never last, but she always seems happy for the moments of reorientation.

  • LynnH (ColorJoy)

    Oh, I love the photo reminiscence. My husband and I sing at homes like where your mother is. We can see people wake up when we sing songs from their youth. They may not know the words, but they try… and often they ooh and aah along with us. It’s wonderful. I feel honored to bring them back to a good place for a while.

    May I highly recommend you record your mother’s reminiscing moments? Many smart phones can record audio, and though I don’t have one, I use the video on my camera. You can separate the audio from the video later if you like (or not) but those memories will be good for your family when she is gone.