January 22, 2005

The topography of life

Category: Alzheimers,Personal — Biella @ 9:43 am

It snowed again last night, the white powder changing the topography of the city. With snow, comes a short period of silence a retreat from the normal bundles of noise and action of cities, a calm that unfortunately lasts only a short while, the noise of the snow plows and salt come out, transforming the white into limp gray.

But even then, the city shines in new ways. The watery blue of lake Michigan vanishes, replaced by vast whiteness that invites an awed gaze. One night of snow changes the look and feel of vast city, it bring with it a new topography.

The current topography of my life is populated by small piles, mounds of stuff, errands, emotions, emails, bills, laundry that in the last few weeks I have not been able to fully address and thus flatten out of my life. It has been three weeks since I have returned from Puerto Rico with my mother, a month that felt like it far exceeded 30 days of experience, instead feeling more like two or three months of experience because of all the emotion that comes from the intensity of watching someone suffer, struggling to get through the mundane acts of everyday life.

But despite the intensity of it, I had to give so much of my energy to the basics of getting (her) stuff done that I filed away the rawness of experience into some small pocket of my self, deposited away for later reflection. There was no way I could deal with her piles, her life, and process my own reaction to what is a life under decay, unraveling, her fiery independence muted by visual and mental degradation. More than anything, I wonder how I can express my gratitude I feel toward her, a gratitude that comes from the realization that has grown from the experience of taking care of her, which has made me see, in the fullest sense of seeing, how she spent so many of her minutes, hours, that have added up to years and years, caring for me, making my life possible, minimizing my suffering when I was in pain and just looking out for me in ways that I were completely imperceptible to me at the time. Her suffering has awakened something inside of me which is a new found gratitude but one that is tinged by pain difficult to describe because it is inseparable from the sadness I feel over watching her slip away.

In the past I would have fired off a letter to her letting her know how I feel about things, life, us, etc. I spent years writing her and she too would respond with letters, which does not quite capture the magnitude of her first set of writings to me. After I left home, my mom’s first letter was more like a small multi-volume encyclopedia peppered with her thoughts about.. most everything. When I received it, I was 17, living in a small fishing village in Venezuela, on a ship undergoing massive repairs. Life was laborious, dusty, tiring, and just overall grungy but the freedom of life among sea people in a small village was still nothing but exhilarating. About 2 months into my time in Venezuela, I get a DHL package from my mom with about 50 days worth of letters. Apparently, she was writing me a letter, sometimes pages in length, everyday. This left me in shock, a rumble that reverberated through my body, undermining my weakest link, my neck. So after reading the voluminous tract, while my neck healed, I spent three more days on my back mulling over all sorts of things I had not really known about my mom, her life, her inner world. I guess my absence created a space by which she could tell me things that could not be so easily uttered via the spoken word, at least not to your daughter and especially when you had never had ‘that type’ of sort of friendship-like relationship before. We continued to use the medium of letter to build our thoughts and sentiments, crafting one sentence upon sentence, words chosen deliberatively, to express ourselves, in new ways to each other.

Now she can’t read and I seem to lack the ability to tell her the things that I want to. And I know that she also has trouble expressing the depth of what she feels but at this stage, words don’t seem as important as a certain type of presence, which is calming for me and I am sure for her. And that is what makes being so far away so hard. The phone does not cut it and when she tells me some bad piece of news, I can’t seem to offer some distracting piece of information or humor to make her, me, feel better. I feel somewhat stuck and numb and empty, talking to a metal object, hearing a voice I knew well, and telling me in tone and content that things are very tough on the other end. Well, in time, I am sure we will once again be together. In the meantime, I guess I will get back to those little piles of stuff, flattening them out, creating a clear silent space that maybe will be like the calm of the snow.

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