I talked to my folks yesterday by phone. Usually our conversations consist of three seconds with Dad (“We’re fine, here’s your mother”) and about 20 minutes with Mom. Yesterday, they both stayed on the line (each on a separate extension) for well over half an hour. We talked about all sorts of things — their aches and pains (at 88 and 94, both have those aplenty), the weather (rain for all of us), and their lack of interest in Christmas (no decorations this year and — if it were up to them — no family dinner, either, although (as Dad put it), they suppose they’ll be “forced” into doing it.) When I asked why they felt that way, Mom said that she “just feels so rotten” and Dad explained that neither of them hears well (this was not news), and everyone talks low and all at once, so they can’t understand what’s being said through the babble (not to mention the constant drone of the television). Plus, they’re old and tired and don’t enjoy the uproar. When I suggested that they find a gentle way to explain this to the others, they both demurred. “We don’t want to spoil it for everyone else,” Dad said.
I find that sad. They’ll spoil the day for themselves to keep everyone else happy, instead of explaining that maybe it’s time that certain traditions came to an end, that someone else’s house should become the center of the family universe, to make the transition now before the rest of the family is forced to by circumstance.
But that’s change, isn’t it? And God knows we sometimes fear that more than anything else, even though it’s coming whether we like it or not.
My parents don’t need or want a huge celebration anymore. I’m not sure they ever did. They would be content with a Christmas card and a phone call or brief visit. If someone in the family feels that the old folks “must” have a Christmas dinner, then drop it off the night before and let them re-heat it. They’d be happy with that. The change is sad, yes, but I can’t help but feel that they should be allowed to celebrate the holiday (or not celebrate it) in their own way rather than have something forced on them. Still…they’re part of the problem. They won’t express what’s in their hearts. If a family member were to read this, and ask them about it, they’d deny ever having those feelings and say they have no problem with the get-together. (We’ve been through this before, you see.) Seems that “letting be” is one of the harder things we’re meant to learn in this life.
And speaking of life…
Second bit (still in the conversation with my folks):
Something came up about Mom’s weight loss. In her prime, she was 135 pounds of scrappy northern Mainer (or Maniac, as my uncle, her younger brother, says). Since she got ill a couple of years ago, her weight has sluiced off her bones like butter in the sun. At last weighing, she rocked the scales at a mere 93 pounds. She’s still scrappy (somewhat), but the vitality had diminished.
Still, when my dad said something about it, something like “She’s lost more weight” or “You should see how skinny she is” (even though I have), Mom snapped, “Oh, for God’s sake! I know I’m coming down to the end of the line, but I’m going to hang on as long as I can.”
The pronouncement stunned my dad a little, even as it made me enormously proud. We have a tendency to think that because Mom has dementia, she had no sense or reasoning power, no awareness of what’s occurring. That’s so far wrong as to be nearly catastrophic. She may not know what happened to cause this (and she says as much), but she’s fully aware that her life is drawing to a close. She’s in her twilight…but the sun’s not down yet and until it is, she’s going to wake to each day, grab for what portion of it she can hold in her increasingly thin, bird-like hands, and wring it dry.
Rock it, Momma.