Monday, May 6, 2013

What Little I Know

As those of you who read my blog know, I’ve been preoccupied with my 93-year-old mother’s progressive dementia for some time.  Of course, it makes sense, given the close relationship I have had with her for most of my life, and also because I am responsible for her medical and financial well-being.

But I realized recently that this isn’t why I post about her so often.

For the last few days, I’ve been reading the tweets posted at #alzheimerssucks on Twitter.  Here are a few of them:

·       Back from gym to find empty house.  Not good sign when wife’s dad was supposed to be there.
·       My gran would be proud I repurposed 3 pickle jars while cleaning up breakfast.  #missher
·       Is so tired of being sad and crying about her mom
·       I’d do anything for some of my Great Granny’s banana pudding right now.
·       So grateful for my papa.  He doesn’t remember who I am, but I still love him with all my heart.

What strikes me about all these posts is the sense of absence.  People with Alzheimer’s  are right there in front of you, watching Maury Povitch, breathing, sleeping, sometimes speaking, sometimes (in the case of my mother) screaming at innocent police officers who have come by to check up on them. 

But they are not there.  They are gone.

Last night, I said to Robert, “You know, I was really close to my mother.  I heard all her stories about losing her parents, growing up in an orphanage, working in Chicago, meeting my father.   I know which jokes she laughed at, whom she voted for, the books she read.  I know that she always bought clothes on sale, even when she could afford not to.  I know that she cried when she first heard Mahalia Jackson on the radio, that she danced with soldiers in a USO canteen, that she read the dictionary on her lunch hours at Michael Reese Hospital.  I know odd and cringe-worthy facts about her sex life (because orphans have really bad boundaries), and that she lied about her age and having gone to college, and that once, when she was babysitting her five-year-old nephew and made him go upstairs to bed, he called her a dirty Jew and she burst out laughing.

“But this is the horrible thing.  I feel as though I don’t really know her.”

Does everyone feel this way when their parents die?  Do we feel this way when anybody dies?

Then I started thinking about myself and my own kids and whether they will feel they really know me when I die.

And I realized with shock that they probably will feel as though they don’t.

I guess the reason it shocks me is that I (unlike my mother) have a blog, in which I write about what I’m thinking and how I feel.   Also, I am pretty talkative at home.  (I’m sure this surprises no one.)  It is weird to think that all this writing and talking and feeling (with, I hope, pretty intact boundaries) can still leave others in the dark.

Maybe this is just the human condition.  We can only know ourselves, and that’s if we’re lucky.

But it certainly explains why some of us write, why it is so important to put ourselves down on paper, whether it be through blogs or memoirs or letters or through the stories we have made up, which tell the world so much about who we really are.

My mother would hate that I’m writing about her decline.  She would want me to write about what a good dancer she was, how she always had nice legs, how she looks younger than her years.

But I feel compelled to put it all down.  Not to embarrass her, not to make anyone think less of her as she loses hold. 

Mainly, just to hang onto what little I know.


  1. Apparently Gabriel Garcia Marquez says that everyone has three lives: public, private, and secret. And there was once a movie about "The Third Secret" -- the third secret is the one you keep from yourself. Cross those two things and I think you get a whole area of human mystery. -- Martha

  2. Martha: just found this from GGM: “..the heart's memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and [that] thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past." Maybe dementia interferes with this mechanism, and the memory of the past floods one with anger and regret. (Or maybe that's just my mother.)