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.