Sunday, November 11, 2012

"Without Memory, What Are We?" Day 31 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

"I have found that familiar routines are a necessity. Sentences must be short. Instructions must be brief, and step by step. We do things one at a time. Never announce plans ahead of time. We carry on great conversations. She talks to herself, and I talk to myself. I have learned also, and this lesson is easy, that there cannot be too many hugs and kisses. 'I love you' comes often. In addition to being true, it gives assurance and reduces fright. When we finish dressing in the mornings, it is easy for me to say, 'Look in the mirror and see how beautiful you are.' When we take walks, we hold hands. That way neither one gets lost. And that’s something in life: that you don’t get lost."
—Written by a man about his wife, who was suffering from Alzheimer's

Today is the last day of my 31-days of blogging, or 31 days of falling by faith. Now what? Without such an explicit commitment, will I continue?

I spent most of the afternoon with my stepmother, a small, gentle woman who, during her 81 years, has done a lot of big, strong things, like bicycling through monsoon mud in East Africa; becoming all at once a wife and a mother of four in her early forties after living as a very single, very independent woman until then; and climbing a 40-foot extension ladder to the roof of our three-story house so she could replace the shingles.

When I arrived to join her for the noon meal at the retirement community where she lives, she was sitting in her glider rocking chair in jacket and hat with a mischievous grin on her face. "I was thinking," she said. "How would you feel about going out for lunch?" For her birthday a year ago, someone had given her a gift card to a local smorgasbord-style restaurant and she'd been thinking, she said, for a long time about using it, and today, with its clear sky and warm temperatures, seemed like the perfect day.

Off we went, in the direction of where we thought the restaurant was. It wasn't. But I asked someone and they pointed us in the right direction. When we arrived, the parking lot was empty—not open on Sundays I was told by the woman in the motel office next door. The motel and the restaurant are part of the same establishment. "Where," my stepmother exclaimed as we drove off, "do they expect the people staying there to eat on Sundays?!" We both shrugged our shoulders and laughed.

A while later, comfortably seated in a local diner (her choice), she told me about the funeral she went to yesterday. The deceased—I'll call her Mabel; my stepmother couldn't remember her name—had been in her nineties. During the last few years of her life she had lost much of her memory. My stepmother spent a few minutes sitting next to Mabel's husband after the funeral. She told him about a conversation she'd had with his wife a few years ago. She'd asked Mable if she'd written down the stories of her long, interesting life to give to her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Mabel managed to tell her she'd already forgotten a lot of the details. At that point, my stepmother told me, Mabel's husband reached over and took my stepmother's hand. "And I let him," she said. "I let him hold it for over a minute. I thought he needed it."

I think he may not have been the only one.

After I had returned my stepmother to her apartment and the Sunday paper's crossword puzzle, which she still works on (but not Sudoku anymore, she says); changed the sheets on her bed (which she doesn't do herself anymore); changed her wrist watch to daylight savings time (even I needed to use the manual for that); and cleaned her heavily smudged eyeglasses (because she couldn't figure out how to get the top off the spray bottle of lens cleaner), I drove away while fighting back the usual tears. While waiting for a traffic light to turn green, I called my sister. I told her a little about the afternoon, and about the memoir I'm editing, which I've quoted at the beginning of this post. "That's what you should do," she said. "Write these things down and share them."

So I did, and I will.


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