Aging

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“Looking down and Away”

Published September 23, 2013 by megdedwards

bb 061“I just smiled at a potted plant, thinking it was you”.

She thought she saw me at her table when I was having a long distance phone call with my Mom.

This was when her mind was beginning to go a bit wild.  I did not know it then but it was a sign of things to come.  I could see her in my mind’s eye, smiling at the plant and I felt her affection, it did not matter that the plant was receiving it. We laughed merrily about the absurdity of her giving her glowing loving face to a potted plant.

We laughed a lot in the last years.  We had as much fun as you can have when someone is evidently dying. On my many visits to Toronto the walk from the bathroom to the couch became increasingly like a marathon with pep talks and breaks along the way.  “This is fun”, said Mom, “a sort of fun, if a bit ridiculous…”  as we collapsed on the pillows in exhaustion and giggles.

“The upside of dying is having your kids come around, a compensation of sorts” said Mom, and also, “I can be insightful, in bizarre moments when I am not making jokes or confessing sins”.  Conversation was intriguing and unpredictable, full of unforgettable images, such as this description of a discussion, “We huddle like rugby players and figure out what next to tackle”.

There were times when her spirits lagged, tired of the tricks of her mind; “I have forgotten why I am here. I don’t know where I am, and, I have forgotten who I am”.

She began to live with one foot in the other world. She saw things; she described images in her mind, as you sat before her. Other images, other times, other space. “I see you looking down and away, most likely at your child ”.  I was sitting beside her, seeing myself in her mind, looking away.

Visions were dreams, objects were symbols, actions or fleeting moments were caught and symbolized. Her mind was making a film, writing a novel, dreaming a poem. Her mind was doing what it was supposed to do, move into the ethereal, leaving behind the earthly limitations of time and space.

My Mom’s main advice to me was to write it down. “You won’t have the energy later. Write it down now”.

I am writing.  And I am thinking about mothers and daughters and what they teach each other. What advice do we act on, what lessons are more bodily memories than lessons. Did my Mom teach me how to make bread or do I just remember her hands and what they did.

What did we learn by accident, what lessons were not meant to be lessons?

My Mom decided that 25 years was long enough for her marriage and that we were all old enough to handle the separation. She would make proud jokes about the 25 year deadline. Once I had been married 25 years I entered a panic. It was as if the due date was over, the marriage was ruined, spoiled, unfit to carry on.

But also I remembered how my Mom thought that her time was up when she was 63 years old, the age her mother died.  We set dates in our minds. I had set myself an invisible deadline.  I felt a surge of emptiness and a dread of the future. I was not sure what I was supposed to do.  I was not sure how to proceed.

When I was a young girl my Mom decided to put aside her married life and become a new woman.  I see now that although her actions destroyed the family unit as it was, it also gave me a very strong sense of what it was to be a woman and look after your own self. Her best gift may have been her destruction of herself as a housewife.

From then on I never questioned looking after myself, my rights, my ability to attract a man, or my right to a good sex life that satisfied me. I felt right about asking for and getting what I wanted. And my beautiful older sisters may have had more trouble with that, being brought up by the good housewife.

I did not question my Mom’s right to live her life fully.  What I did not realize was that I thought that I was disappointing her by living with the same man all my life. I slowly became conscious of my own assumptions about the 25th year of marriage and my own buried wounds.

It was her ball busting moves, limited as they were by her hesitant feminism, and not articulate or entrenched enough to give her a real release from her insecurities, that made me the woman I am today.  I was capable of falling unwisely in love and walking away when I saw the unhealthy nature of that love. Afterwards, I had fun searching for the right man.  I knew when I had found my partner, and I knew when monogamy was worth it.  I knew how to express myself so that we could argue if necessary, and communicate without lying.

Just as my mom must have thought her days were almost over as she aged closer to 63, I had an unconscious unarticulated feeling that my marriage would be over at 25 years. My Mom lived for another 20 years longer than her mother. And she traveled every year, enjoyed her younger boy friend, and did acid in her sixties just to see what it was like.

I see now that I can have the long term marriage that she later spoke of wistfully, watching her old friends who had ‘stuck it out’ in the hard patches and then had loving relationships in their elder years. She wondered what that would have been like. She did not go so far as to regret her actions, but she was not too stubborn or proud to question the path she took.

I recognize that a long term marriage is not a lapse of courage, or an easier path, but a path of my own.  I know she never meant to set up separation and ‘independence’ as the only path.  During the painful process of discovering who she was and what she wanted, she did give me the tools for a real and stable relationship.

She would have been happy to see my husband and me out on our 29th anniversary, laughing and kissing. “Oh Meg”, she says from her location in the ether and energy, “But, of course!  You know, I have always thought Joe was a gem”!  And I smile at our other worldly conversation, and I continue to follow her advice, to write it all down.

Mama – Last Word

Published March 13, 2013 by megdedwards

dusk 020I made one more trip to see mom before she died.

I went straight down to see her and was dismayed to see how lifeless she was. She had not been sitting up for a few days, and she had stopped eating.

I knew that, and I knew what was happening, and I knew why I was there. But when I lifted her hand with her pretty rings on it and it was lifeless, I was shocked.

She was dying, and was already leaving. No squeeze from her hand. No energy in the capable hand that had washed me, patted me, lifted a finger in admonition, cooked me many meals, typed out so many stories.

I leaned over her ear and said “It’s Meg”, she made a small sound. I sat beside her and said the first thing that came into my mind. In the last few years I had done that with her, just released thoughts straight out of my mind into hers. No sensor, no fear. I said, “You must be very happy”, if she could have, she may have moved an eyebrow. “Your kids are all around, and everyone is happy and healthy. You did a good job, you are a good Mama”. She said, “Mama”.

The last word she said to me was “Mama”. Her last word.

I rambled on after that, and said “Do you remember when we went to the cottage, just you and me?” I  was talking about the first thing on my mind. “Do you remember how we had orange pop on our picnic?” She made a ‘Huh’ sound. She remembered, and I was glad I was reminding her of a moment that we shared, when I was about 12 or so, and before I was a young woman and so defensive and easily offended.

Then I told her, “Liz and I are going to go visit Kate for her birthday, and bring her some presents and make her feel special. Do not die while we are gone, wait for us”. We went and saw Kate, who was in high form but loved the presents and cake that we brought her. When we returned we told Mom how much Kate had enjoyed seeing us. I could feel relief in her almost inert body.

She had stopped moving and her feet were very cold. There were no more words out of her. The Cheynes-Stokes breathing typical of a dying person had been replaced by a hard strong breathing that seemed to take over her whole body. I sat beside with my hand on her chest, feeling the breath pound through her lungs and beat her tired heart. It looked like hard labour.

My brother’s face was pale with concern, watching her hard breathing was hurting him. But I said to him, it is almost like the body is doing this all by itself.

At about eleven at night we all prepared for bed, thinking that Mom might have another few days like this. The night caregiver Mafe was settling into her chair when Mom made a sound, and opened her eyes. Then she stopped breathing and Mafe said into the monitor, “Liz, you should come” and Liz flew down the stairs. When she got to the bed Mom was still and quiet.

Liz approached me on the couch in the other room. I was just slowly falling into deep sleep, I had heard a voice, and wondered what it was, but the night was drawing me down. Then Liz woke me and I thought, why would anyone wake me? “Meg, Mom died”. I leapt out of bed and ran to her room.

I placed my hand on her now still and quiet chest. No more deep strident breaths, no more living. No more oxygen, no more heart pounding away in a universal beat; just a quiet body.

Liz and Mafe began to move around in a slow but frantic manner, looking for the clothes that we wanted her to wear. They went into the closets and started pulling out random bags of clothing. They were quiet but I wanted to do some sort of primeval wail. I said something, like “I just want you to know, I am going to make some noises”.

A keening sound was arriving in my stomach and pushing its way up to my throat. Later we thought how funny our behavior was, me warning them of my wailing, them digging through random bags of clothing.

A tableau emerged, of Liz and Mafe crying and washing her body while I sat up by the pillow, with my hands around my Mom’s face. I was holding her mouth up, pushing her mouth shut so she would not be left with her mouth hanging open. I cried and wailed and held on tight.

It was still my Mom but it was obviously not my Mom. She would not have liked anyone to force her to do anything, even if it was to close her mouth for the viewing of her body.

The hard labour of the breathing, the naked woman in the hands of other women and the bedroom setting reminded me of home births. We labored with her, to take her to the next life. I am so grateful for that. There were no anonymous nurses, no matter how well meaning, no bells or harsh lighting. We had complete control of the ‘home death’, as I began to see it in my mind.

Then, just as in a home birth, we made strong tea and sat around her bed. She was dressed in my beautiful wedding gown, a second hand raw silk dress that I had given her. She had on make-up and her hair was brushed. Her head was tilted back as if she had just leaned back and passed out. Her eyebrows were calm and majestic, her mouth calm and almost in a smile. If you knelt beside her you could almost imagine her puckering her lips in a kiss, lifting an eyebrow.

I remembered lying beside her as a little child, when she wanted me to nap. I remembered watching her nap.

At 3 am Liz and I crashed. We had taken all the medicine out of the room and cleaned it out of the detritus of life. It was now a viewing room, cold and empty except for Mom, a candle and Mom’s cat that would not leave her side.

As I crawled into the couch, with a comforter around me, I found myself holding on to a teddy bear that we had cleared out of her room. I laughed inwardly, Mam, are you tucking me up with a bear? And I passed out.

Mama’s other prime caregiver Remia had gone home but on the arrival of our text she turned right around to come back, crying the whole way. She and Mafe sat and prayed for our Mom while we slept. I don’t know if they slept at all.

The next day, when I woke at 6 am I was hit suddenly by the loss. I was never going to take tea to my Mom again. I remembered going up to my Mom’s bedroom when I was a young mother living in her ground floor apartment with my little girl and baby boy. She was the only one up at that early hour. How she gladly dropped her book when she saw me, and put her arms out for the baby.

There was not a time when I sat down on her bed when she did not rustle about trying to cover me with blankets and make sure I was warm. I have so many visions of her, flashes of her being. She does not really feel gone.

The day she lay in state, like a queen or a movie star, we had visits and we sat in the kitchen with family and close friends. We drank very good scotch and we talked and laughed just as she said we were to do.

Now we are preparing for her public Wake on Friday. It should be a Wake  like no other. We do not know what to expect, but that is what is beautiful about  life.

Toronto-20130301-00844

Mama

Published February 19, 2013 by megdedwards

SNOW!My Mom’s dying is so gradual that I feel like I am watching a tree return to the earth. She hardly moves now, and Parkinson’s is stealing her voice and her expressions, just as she feared.

But if I sit beside her and look into her eyes I know what she is thinking.  Her eyes tell me all there is to know, in a place beyond words.

Her hand might reach out to something I cannot see, and sometimes her eyes are looking into another world.  But then she focuses on me and I see all her ideas in her mind.

A few years ago she would have told me anecdotes, or advised me, she might even have indulged in some annoying gossip; those were the days when she was well and whole.

Last summer she became elliptical and poetic.  Her sense of drama was alive; she spoke of her hallucinations and made grand poetic statements.  She was half in a dream world and she became even more articulate and eloquent than usual.

I wrote down some of what she said:

“ How many years do you have left in your back pocket”?

““Do you have any unfinished dreams? How about you? Is there anywhere you want to see? When I look back at my life I notice with some dismay that I have done everything I wanted to do, like a book of coupons”

“…in bizarre moments when I am not making jokes or confessing sins”.

“What is the name of the state that exists when you are not dead, but on the way?”

“Can we reduce the speed”?

“I have a countryside, potatoes, sunshine…”

At 6 am on waking, “Shall we stroll the decks”?

“I am listening, I hear the stories behind the stores, it’s not so much who is getting pregnant by whom, but the gaps in between and what we make of them”.

Last winter and spring I took my youngest children to visit her and sleep on her feather couch, last summer my sister Liz and I took Mom to the cottage, in the fall I took my eldest daughter to spend her birthday with her Virgo Grandma, in the beginning of winter I went back to Toronto and had a few days with all my siblings together with Mom. Then I got really sick and told my Mom I had to go home and rest and I would see her after Christmas.

It was February before I could get to Toronto again, and I traveled by train with my youngest daughter. The little one is full of love and care, kissing her Grandma and laughing at her bizarre comments. Mom gathered her little soft body in her arms and said quietly, “Let me linger over this hug”.

In the last two visits my Mom has talked less about poetry and apparitions and more about me.  Words of love and acceptance, compliments about my personality, my life, my marriage, my kids, myself; it felt like she wanted to be sure her third daughter heard some positive remarks, as if she was trying to make up for a childhood interrupted by divorce and separation.

After a lifetime of being told I was plain and ordinary, I heard that I was beautiful. “We all admire you so”, she said, referring to a cabal of Jewish women her mind had created that had all apparently discussed me. “You are so beautiful”, she said, making me feel suddenly very beautiful. “You have a large amount of kindness; I have only a small amount of kindness”.

I soaked up those last words, the love and the acceptance, the admiration and compliments.  I felt a bit like a potted plant that has been sitting in old dry earth for a long time, still somehow putting out green shoots against all the odds.

Now she has stopped talking and I don’t think there is a more painful experience than our phone conversations.  I call and I can hear her clear her throat, and I can hear her caregiver say, “It is Meg on the phone, talk to her, I will hold the phone for you”.  I say” Hi Mama, how are you?” She says, with all her strength, “Hi Darling”.  She may have something she wants to tell me but she can’t get it out. She struggles, the line goes quiet.

I fill the void by telling her about my day: the washing machine broke, we had a big storm, and the kids are doing this or that. It is very quiet, I say,” Mama, are you there?” She says, ‘Huh’, so I know she is listening.

Last night, as we ‘talked’ I put the cellphone on speaker and made the bed up in new sheets, and put away the laundry. She could hear the squeaking of the misfit drawers and my rustling around; a mother who never stops moving, just like she was for so much of her life.

I told her what I was doing. I rambled; I talked about the infrequency of people who are truly honest about themselves or their motives. I could tell that idea had her thinking. I talked about the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique, a writer who surely influenced my mother and consequentially all of our lives. She sighed. I said, “I know you have something to say and I am imagining what you would say”.

When she does rally to communicate, it is sometimes surreal.  Images from the TV work their way into her reality, mixing with her memories; her wildly imaginative mind conjures up anything and everything.  There are still hallucinations that are very real.

One never knows what she is going to say; sometimes it is ordinary but unrealistic. When I told her that I was leaving she cocked her head, gave me a flinty expression, and then started to say, “Well, we know we will have to wait 15 minutes for a street car” in a slow raspy voice. Or, she might use all her strength to tell me that she is going to whip up a simple dinner for us.

This is heart breaking because she is no longer capable of whipping up a simple dinner or hopping out to catch a streetcar.  But I don’t cry, and there are no tears. I laugh, and say, “OK, Mom”. And I smile into her face, and she sees me with her reptilian eyes, green and cool, and makes a small expression of irritation and love.  Just in her eyes; the look that says,’ very amusing’, an eyebrow cocked, a small smirk that says, I am still your Mother.

Last year my heart began to compare her to my sweet pets that have aged and died. I guess it is my closest experience to loving someone who is old and dying. I remembered a frail bony cat that would move its head to catch my eye when I spoke to it. Her fur was no longer rich or thick but dusty and thin. ‘ Don’t tell me to put my cat to sleep’, I told the vet, ‘when she still creeps out to the garden to lie in a sunny patch of grass, a smile in her eyes’.

The one time I put a cat to sleep I felt sick about it. I was late in my first pregnancy and my stray orange cat had a tumor in his eye. I was planning a home birth and I had already lost my other cat to illness during the pregnancy.  I thought it would be better if I did not have a death and birth at the same time in the same apartment.

A nice vet came over and gave him a sedative. I cried over his still lush orange fur, and a tear hit his ear making it twitch. He struggled to move, he must have felt scared by what the sedative was doing to him. Then she held him and put in the needle. I felt very sick, overwhelmed by my actions. I couldn’t eat without the food rising up in my throat.

I don’t know if there is a good time to put someone asleep but I don’t want to do that again with another animal. My first pet beloved cat died lying on my chest. After sighing his body went limp and his body released the last bit of urine, a warm spot on my sweater. He was like my first child; we mourned him like a child.

Since then I have had other sweet cats die of illness and old age and every experience is different. Everyone has their own path. There may be times when sedation would be good.  But doctors tell you that they only sedate the patient to relieve the pain of the loved ones who are watching. The last gasps are not necessarily calm breaths.

I left my Dad before he died.  It seemed like there were enough people around to hold hands, and my Dad and I had always had such a reserved love.  I was also holding out hope he would recover.

My sister said that it did get harder, he did fight death. And then they sedated him so that he could slowly stop breathing.

There are times when I don’t like to be stoned, and I am pretty sure my death is going to be one of those times.  I want to control the experience myself.  I don’t want to feel dizzy and nauseated on top of whatever else I am feeling.

My husband has told me that he wants to kill himself before it gets too late. I have actually heard this a few too many times, so the last time he told me about his desire to end his own life in a timely fashion I told him I will take over the shooting if he becomes too much of a pain. That seemed to amuse him.

As we gently care for our once strong parents, death is always on our minds. We are grateful to have our health and our lives, but it is without the lightheartedness of youth.

We wonder what sort of elderly people we will be, who will look after whom?  Will we be good tempered and brave?  My Mom is giving us her very best. In fact on my last visit she managed a full sentence, sitting up after dinner.  She slowly pronounced, “I am losing my faculties” she said, “but I am trying very hard to be brave”.

I would be proud to go into death as good temperedly as my Mom, “Like a character out of Dickens’” she joked last time after a big cough.  She is moving off very slowly, “Shall we stroll the decks?”  “Can we reduce the speed”?   She is getting every last drop of milk from the saucer.

The spirit in her eye is still flickering, love travels from one eye to another.  I am sending love, I am feeling love and I recognize love.

My last visit with Mom may not be my last visit.  My fingers are ready to fly over the keyboard, book a ticket, pack my old worn bag, get back on that little plane and fly back to her side.


 

 

There is always time to dream, write and paint

Published October 2, 2012 by megdedwards

My sister and I home schooled our kids, hardcore. We did not hesitate to leave behind the current public school curriculum and grade testing.

We taught our kids to read, think, play and explore without anyone telling us how to do it.

Although our Mom never home schooled I think that our confidence in taking over the education of our kids came from her.  I bet our Mom would have home schooled if she thought she had a choice.

She was a very active and busy mother always teaching us details about plants or trees or about art, literature or politics as she cooked and cleaned.  She taught us how to be brave and explore new experiences and places.

My sister and I came from the same home, in a sense. Although she had the young mother who gave dinner parties for her CBC producer husband and sometimes drank martinis with the neighbours and I had the divorcee who rented rooms and smoked pot with her lover, we had the same creative and energetic woman running our lives.

She was not one of those moms that dreaded summer and the return of the children from school.  In the summers we lived in a cabin in the woods by a lake where there was no running water or electricity. We ran in the woods and played in the water and let our imaginations guide our play.

She read aloud and got out paints and games when it rained. She herself was always creating: painting cool designs on our rowboat, illustrating little stories, or sketching our portraits as we played. And when we all left for school in the fall, she actually missed us.

We had a bit of a bohemian mother, but she was competitive too, and not one to be left out of society.  She would put on her best skirt and jacket, a Vogue pattern she sewed herself, when she had parent teacher meetings.  We had porridge every morning and pulled on our sensible boots over our sensible shoes and walked to school on our own. We went to school every day and we were expected to do well.

I did not like school, and as far as I can tell, my sister did not like it either. But in those days one just went to school. The first few years of school were just plain torture, but I toughened up and my shyness was conquered mostly by grade three. It may have been good for me, I don’t know. But when my first child said she did not want to go I accepted her opinion.

As a parent I liked being free from the arbitrary rules of an institution and I loved leaving her little brain to develop without grading or peer- pressure.  She dreamed, decided what she wanted to learn, pursued her own projects and charged forward. It was a beautiful sight.

It is true that some kids fair better on structured schedules than others. Some kids like the constant socializing of school, and some kids really enjoy structured school learning.  Not all children thrive in home schooling. But my overview is that children benefit from free play and unhindered exploration especially between the ages of four to twelve years.

Presently I have two kids enjoying school (mostly) and my sister has an empty nest. In the last eight years or so we have both being pursuing education for its own sake, just for fun and because we like to keep engaged. I finished a long distance certificate in Library Studies and she is a few essays short of a MA.

What we have discovered about ourselves is that we tend to be very good at working for grades and the approval of our teachers. And what we find irritating is that we cannot seem to apply that same discipline and energy to projects of our own choice.

We need someone to say, ‘do this thing, and then hand it in and I will tell you how good it is’.  And frankly, we are embarrassed by this characteristic that seems so deeply ingrained by our parents and the school system.

We are shocked and disgusted by our Pavlovian response to approval. Right now, as our dynamic and powerful Mom is gracefully traveling to the other worlds, with cryptic comments and magical hallucinations, we are left examining who we are and what we should do with ourselves that best expresses her lessons and her rich teachings.

As we step into the world without our mother, I think we want to fulfill some of the artistic gifts that Mom and Dad have given us.  Our mother was a good painter and filmmaker, our father was a good actor and playwright.  When they were young they may have had dreams.  But they did not pass on those dreams. When we dreamed of being a writer or artist, we were quickly brought to earth.

Ironically, it was often pointed out that good art was produced by people who worked hard.  My Dad told me when I was a twelve year old poet that good writing was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I wondered why he told me that and concluded that he must have thought I was not hard working enough.

Now with so much of my life behind me, and so many dreams buried by hesitant living, I think that the best thing you can say to a child is that they do in fact have the talent to do whatever they want. Hard work is the easy part. Believing that you can produce something of value is much harder.

It is possible that the best part of home schooling is being free of the crushing judgment of others. And now that we are older women, my sister and I need to home school ourselves. We need to be the parents we wanted, so we have formed a bond of unconditional support.

If we can ask our children to believe in themselves, the best thing we could do is be a good example.  Our parents did not pursue their artistic dreams, and may have crushed ours by their attitude.  My sister and I have inadvertently been following the same path and need to remember that what we really want is to play without judgment and to explore without fear.

There is always time to dream, write and paint.

Mama is Preparing to Leave this World

Published September 12, 2012 by megdedwards

Every time I return from Toronto I know that these trips will be over soon.

After my Dad and his wife died I never went back to Victoria. The home, the chairs sitting in the sun, the desk with the photos, the box of tea, the couch where I crashed, was gone.

Those very things exist somewhere but they are gone to me.  What made them mine is gone.

I have lived in Cabbagetown at my mom’s apartment so many times this year it feels like my second home.

I fall into the dusty feather couch at night in pure exhaustion and I sleep deeply with the city noises on the periphery; fighting raccoons rummaging in the garbage cans outside my window, men yelling at their partners, the incredibly dull, loud talking neighbors who enjoy their balcony so much.

Every visit things change perceptibly. Mom can no longer walk up the stairs by herself. She no longer makes tea or feeds her cat. The sweet caregivers have become her arms and legs. Our conversations are getting shorter and shorter. She is out of breath, exhausted; often we sit in silence with me holding her hand. Then she might rouse herself to say something random to me, such as, “Did you get through a press agent to attend this event?”

When I am feeling claustrophobic I head out to Parliament Street. It is a city amalgam of rich and poor. I can nod at homeless who rave just like my sister, I can smile at gay guys with their adored dogs, and I can hit my favorite spots. There is a small warmly lit greasy spoon run by a collection of older Asian men and women where classical music plays constantly and everyone is treated with respect and courtesy. Their good reliable food and cheap prices draw in some of the poorest of the neighborhood and each customer is treated like a good person.

There are cool second hand stores, a run-down library and further north on Parliament is a small area full of Indian stores that breathe their exotic spices and foods into my receiving sensory system. In the early morning the streets have that dusty busy feeling of an Indian city, so many people moving together in a hustle of humanity. Ground coffee, spices, the dust from construction, and the scents of perfume as people head to the buses to get to work are an orchestral sensory experience.

It has already occurred to me that this place will not be mine when my Mom dies. There will be no reason to go there and no reason to be there. So the place is seeping into my body.  As the real world diminishes for my Mom, it is increasing for me. I am a receptor of smells, sounds and sights that she no longer needs, her mind a rich enough tapestry.

My Mom is in her head, dreaming and thinking. Sometime she is worried about the motherly duties, and the thought of Christmas puts a frown on her face. How will she have the energy to organize it all!  We can’t insist that she no longer has to do anything, she does not pay attention. Years of looking after our desires are a habit that she cannot let go.

Conversations with my mom have become surreal and poetic, mind blowing. For example, “This book shelf is what it looks like, but not what it seems”. I repeat that back to her to see if that is what she said. She nods, “Yes, because there is another book shelf like this in another identical house in Toronto, and if I move a book here it will move there, and (pause) that would be magic”.  A look of disapproval and disbelief at the word, magic.

She looks towards a window, where for me nothing stands out at all. She smiles, “Do you see that man out there with wings; do you see the small children?”  She acknowledges that we cannot see what she is seeing, but her apparitions are so strong and detailed she cannot quite question their reality.

She says, “I can see Kate smiling and laughing and laughing” and she knows that it is something conjured by her mind and follows with, “Well, that is a nice image for me”.

And the odd images: “Look at the rats all jumping ship, with their feet scurrying as rat’s feet do when they run”.

Other times though she will say something that shows that she was paying attention when that last person was visiting. She will have noticed their health and habits and have a critical remark about one of their foibles.

And every day in my last visit she talked about dying. “Now please don’t get upset but we need you and Rhys and the others, to talk about my death “.  When I tell her that Liz will be visiting in a week she says, “I don’t know if I will make it, but I don’t know if that matters.”

I look at my Mom, lie beside her. Her body is smaller, her skin hangs from her bones, but her stomach stays round and firm, holding all her pain and seeming to symbolize the pain and love of life. The stomach, the womb, all desire:  the center of creation and destruction. Her desires from that center both created her marriage and destroyed it.  Everything is appetite.

And now her desires abate and her appetite for life is less. I gently press the frown on her forehead, but it is permanent. Her eyes are unseeing, half lidded, and skeptical. If I tell her that I don’t see what she sees, she says, “But how do I prove that, I just have to believe that.  You don’t see those boys, that large woman on the corner of the couch?”

I lie on the bed beside her; the bedroom is stuffy and smells permanently of urine. I rest my head on her pillows and hold her hand.  Her eyes are closed and she sleeps deeply for a moment, her breath becoming urgent and painful, deep and racking.

Then she opens a green eye and says to me, “Well, it was odd getting into bed with my husband and his girlfriend”.  I don’t say anything, what is there to say? Then she says after a long pause, “And where are they putting them, in the attic? And are they stacking them up”?

But amidst this random dream talk she is trying to prepare in her organized way, “How much time is left, what am I supposed to do?” and more poetically, “I feel as if I have just finished a book”.

I respond sympathetically, knowing that that feeling when something ends before you want it to,  I say, “And you don’t have another good book to read” and she says, “ Oh no, I have lots”.

On the day of her birthday, in which I am about to throw a small tea party, she rises from the couch under her own strength, which is unusual, and says, standing as tall as she can, “I am not sure if I am up to this, I am much weaker than I used to be” and I realize that she thinks we are going on a plane. Pretty much every day she thinks she is going someplace, and I guess she is.

Seeing her standing on her own, I see her through her own eyes. She is young again and ready for any adventure. I remember watching her prepare herself when I was a teenager. Putting on her makeup, picking jewelry, brushing her hair.

Her bags packed, neatly organized, a skirt that both matches her jacket and her pants so that she can pack lightly but have many options, her ticket and passport neatly in an outside pocket of her purse, which does not have old gum wrappers in it or crumbs like mine.

She has brushed her long soft blond hair and put on red lipstick. I am sitting in her bedroom watching her prepare.

Retirement Plans for an Angry Old Hipster

Published August 21, 2012 by megdedwards

I have too many things and I spend quite a bit of time talking to banks, lawyers and insurance people. A bunch of people count on me to get things done and be there to hold up the world.

I treasure sleep over almost any other pleasure, I eat sensibly all the time, I might go wild and have an onion ring. My skin is aging fast, not so much with wrinkles, but with an overall hue of weathering. I am becoming old.

As my eye casts over the elders in my life I realize that what we call ‘middle age’ is a very large part of our whole life, and pretty much the main course. This could be considered the best part; when we have everything we wished for and are safe, so far, from the vicissitudes of a crumbling body.

As I approach 50, in my 49th year, I have returned to my unemployed writer and busy mother state that I have been in for the last 20 years. Having regular writing work for the last ten years was actually quite unusual for me, and I enjoyed it. Now that job is gone I am back to my usual state of a defensive low ego and a hard scrabble for my own cash flow.

I have tried applying for work this year and it has been an exercise in futility and humiliation.

In the last interview, in which I was put the twenty ridiculous questions by three nice women my age with no dress sense what so ever, I almost ended the interview with a reversal.
“Now let me ask you”, I was on the verge of saying, the only thing stopping me was the slimmest chance that they were going to hire me, “Tell me about an episode in your work history when you reacted to a stressful situation, how did you respond, what was your action plan”?

Every time I am rejected for a job I am furious. It is patently ridiculous. Obviously I would be a good worker, what is more reliable than a middle aged woman who is just happy to have a job at all?

I am left to examine the situation and myself. It appears to me that I have too much personality; I am too big in the room, with already formed opinions and flashing eyes. I am not sure that I don’t appear a bit crazy.

Still, if I had worked all along, not caring for my children in my doting fashion, I would have been in a ‘job’ all along, and my flashing eyes and big opinions would have put me in their position or as their boss.

So I chose the road less traveled on my own accord and cannot cry about it.

I have some ideas for the future: I would like to learn an instrument and be in a punk band with older woman. I would not wear a bra or wash my hair. That would be really fun. And I bet we get a following because older people with money and time are nostalgic about the music of their past, and punk was still reverberating with raw emotion in my generation.

And, I might add, I still have that inchoate rage against the self-defeating thoughtlessly destructive consumerist world. I’ve probably got more rage inside of me than the average 20 year old right now.

Also, I think my partner Joe and I could run a really great café/bar. All the successful people of our generation will want to eat and drink there, and all the children of hipsters who miss their parents.

I am planning this for later years, when we no longer have school age children. It is my retirement plan. It will be fun and since we spent much of our youth working/partying in cafes and bars we will run a great little establishment. We know all the tricks.

So that is the plan so far. Sounds good. And when the children return to school this fall and I have hours in the morning I plan to write children’s literature. I have five billion ideas and about 10 different stories already begun.

I need to feel frivolous and happy to be able to do that so I am trying to get into the right mood. I might shave parts of my head, stop wearing a bra and get a new tattoo on my sun weathered chest that says ‘fuck y’all’.

I suppose I don’t need to do that, as the ‘fuck y’all’ must already be apparent on my unemployable face.

The ‘fuck y all ‘ attitude is good and fun, but what I really need to do is go back even further to the twelve year old girl at peace with herself and the world.

There is a place of imagination and play that is sleeping inside of me.

I have crushed my love of writing over the years, first with trying to make it into academic writing, and then by trying to sell it to magazines and papers. I have buried it under expectations that it should be a career.

This blog has lifted that veil by reminding me that I write for pleasure. Can I write for pleasure without worrying about money? We shall see.

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