A personal note
I don't usually write about events in my purely personal, non-political life, but I'm going to make an exception.
Towards the end of my recent visit to California, my ninety-one-year-old mother had a stroke. Even though she is ninety-one, this was totally unexpected, as she was in vigorous good health and had a blood pressure a twenty-year-old might envy. Nevertheless, it happened.
My brother and sister-in-law raced up to be with her when we learned about it, and I came back from California the next day.
Although it had been explained to me that my mother was very weak on her left side, it was still a shock to see her debility and dependence. She has so rarely been ill that I can hardly remember another time, and she has never even sustained any sort of real injury in a long and active life. Much to be grateful for, of course, but her history had also lulled us all into a false sense of security.
But it never lulled her. Throughout her life her nemesis has been her fear and anxiety about illness and disability, and she never for a moment felt secure in her own good health.
Her luck had held out so long; perhaps it will end up holding out again and she'll make a decent recovery, as the doctors and physical therapists say she indeed might. But her strong suit--and she has many--was never optimism, especially about illness. At the moment, she's not buying into it.
I go back to her apartment at the beautiful independent living facility where, until a little more than a week ago, she had happily lived. I have to get clothing, supplies, mail, that sort of thing. Walking in, it feels almost like paradise compared to the rehab facility which now constitutes her world (she continues to call it a nursing home, I continue to tell her it's a rehab facility; a little war of words, the goal of which is to get her to think of it as a place to get better rather than a warehouse for the disabled). It is so sad, though, to see her apartment, so orderly, an order and routine which had made her feel safe, a safety that is now totally and utterly disrupted. It's hard to see the bathroom with its wrinkle cream and makeup (reminding me of my explorations in early adolescence into the secret world of women's primping when I used to experiment with all her stuff); the invitation to the special lobster dinner in two weeks; the smiling photos, the book on techniques to avoid falling.
Her fears--and ours--are many. There is a great deal of indignity, too, despite the fact that she is in one of the best facilities of its type. Sometimes I want to shake the attendants for the condescending and infantilizing attitude they display at times, even though I understand it--and say, "How dare you? You don't know her--she's a person of wit and joie de vivre--everyone admires her as a great old person--two weeks ago that's who she was--when I left for California that's who she was." That's who she still is, when she puts her hearing aids in enough to hear properly, and when her anxiety goes down enough to let her personality shine through again. I hope and trust that's who she will be more and more as time goes on and physical improvement occurs.
And how upset she is to bother and burden me! Over and over, my mother apologizes to me for this--it's exactly and precisely what she didn't want to happen. I just tell her I'm okay, not to think about that. When the doctor asked her whether she was depressed, she said, "If I wasn't depressed I'd be crazy!"
My mother is very lucky in her roommate (yes, in addition to all the other adjustments, one must adjust to living with a stranger and the constant visits from that stranger's family). The woman in the other bed in her room is ninety-seven years old and totally lucid. She is one of those elderly people who is almost luminous, a great beauty with a sort of radiance and light that seems to emanate from her. Her family is for the most part quiet, and they bring incredibly beautiful bouquets of flowers from their gardens.
This woman is a great patient, too; unlike my mother, she is very patient. As my mother herself says, patience was never her strong suit. That makes it very difficult, because right now it is what is required.
So, how to engender hope in the hopeless? Why is my mother having to learn this hard lesson now, of patience and of hope, when she is so elderly and debilitated? Will she be able to learn it?