This week marks one of those “big birthdays”–my mother turns 90. The birthday feels bittersweet; for, in many ways, I have been in the process of “losing” my mother since her diagnosis of vascular dementia in 2017.
Or is it that she is losing? Losing cognition, a sense of time, the words to say…anything at all. She has not yet lost a sense of emotional self, though I know that if her body doesn’t give out first, that will eventually occur. I’ve been through this before, with my mother-in-law. Helping people navigate dementia is a challenging task.
Therefore, as I celebrate her birthday, I also celebrate the goodness of the people (nurses, CNAs) who assist her daily at her skilled-nursing apartment, the social worker who visits with her and brings her mail, the acquaintances who smile and greet her even though they know there cannot be conversation (of any meaningful sort). The doctors and nurse practitioners who find ways to communicate with her about how she feels physically. It cannot be easy, even with someone as even-tempered and pleasant as my mother continues to be.
A funny thing about my mom. When she was my age, we used to tease her and my dad about “getting old.” She’d toss our teasing aside by insisting, “You’re not old ’til you’re 90!” Even with a few health issues, she and my father continued to be curious about the world and the people in it, traveling, going to parties, trying new things (cross-country skiing, Thai cuisine, activities with grandchildren). About 8 years ago, when my dad was ill with cancer and meningitis and going in and out of the ICU, Mom said she felt old. We retorted, “But Mom! You’re not old ’til you’re 90!”
Now she really is 90. Bless her good kind heart. ❤
February 26th is just another day, another year–and at this point, my mother has very little sense of time. It is likely that my mother’s life-shifts are in the past, and the next shift (there’s no escaping it) will be death; but who can tell? My mother’s ninetieth feels like a huge shift in my life as her daughter, as an adult, as a mother to grown people, and as a writer in the world. Why this is so, I can’t say. It’s certainly something I’ll be reflecting on often in the coming years, and the reflections emerge in my writing. As I work on revising the poems I’ve drafted in the past 5 years, the topics of aging, mortality, aphasia, and memory keep showing up. Things I can consider myself fortunate, perhaps, to be preoccupied with, rather than being forced into confronting a natural disaster (Pakistan, Turkey, Syria, and others) or war (Ukraine, Syria, and other regions).
Here’s part of a poem I’ve been wrestling with lately.
... --I would untangle my mother's mind if I could be let access to its recesses, but those stay hidden like the life in hedge and meadow, in the woody undergrowth, unknowns twisted together, impenetrable. ...
How fortunate for me that my mother is not far away, is well-housed and safely cared-for, and has had a long, creative, fruitful life to celebrate this weekend. Nonetheless, the grief inheres. The hardest shift? I miss the person she has been all my life until recently. And yet: here she is. Herself, more impenetrable than ever. And loved.
Mom at about my current age–ca. 1998 or ’99.