Sunday, November 25, 2007

Little Old Lady Land

I just returned from visiting my elderly mother who is slowly descending into Alzheimer's disease. This affliction claimed both of her siblings and I reckon it's going to come after me someday. I won't go without a fight, though. I'm going to work hard to keep my brain active and sharp, under the adage of "use it or lose it."

My mother is blessed to have round-the-clock care that allows her to remain at the house where she has lived for 50 years. My father was able to set aside enough funds before he died to keep her from material want. For several years now she has enjoyed the benefits of a live-in caretaker, Miss Cora, who is now herself well into her 70's. A retinue of hired helpers provides attentive and precise hands-on personal care services to insure my mother's physical safety and emotional well-being, which is such a blessing to her and relief to my sisters and me.

So my senile mother sits quietly in a house she has forgotten is hers, carefully cutting coupons she will never use from newspapers she will closely examine but never again comprehend. One or two former friends visit her every year around Christmas but they too have mostly either died or otherwise faded away from her. Her every bodily function receives monitoring and ministration like the last remaining deity from a fragile civilization while her one true friend and caretaker Miss Cora clucks and coos and cajoles her from one mood and room to another with gentle authority.

When I go back to visit time slows down considerably for me. I don't think of myself as a fast-lane kind of guy but I get a taste of the benefits of a zazen lifestyle for the few days I'm there. I spend a long time reading the local paper myself (where "Snuffy Smith" and "Hi and Lois" are still comic strip mainstays) or just sitting and allowing my mother to look at me. I try to leave a small footprint, disturbing as little of the daily routine as possible because I've learned that even minor disruptions can have subtle reverberations for days after I leave.

Miss Cora fixes me food which I eat at the kitchen table where I ate thousands of meals growing up. She tries her best to adapt to my vegetarian diet, but I generally slip out to purchase a few protein standbys (Boca burgers and Barilla PLUS high protein pasta are pretty easy to find these days, even in Hattiesburg).

Apart from the dementia, having two women with a combined age of 160 in one house leads to certain little-old-ladyisms, many of which are evident along the digestive cycle. All lettuce is iceberg, and no food is wasted, down to the last shriveled grape teetering on the brink of raisinhood. All leftovers are carefully re-wrapped to be eaten later, no matter how hard the toast or soggy the pasta. It reminds me of the movie "Mother" with Debbie Reynolds in the title role. Albert Brooks plays her adult son who moves back home to live with her: rooting through her refrigerator he exclaims, "You're running a food museum here!" and refuses her offer of some ancient orange sherbet covered in what she calls "a layer of protective ice".

Then there is the bathroom. The house is growing old along with its occupants, and it has its own personality quirks. One is that, like my mother, the guest bathroom toilet tends to clog easily. Rather than spend the money required to upgrade the system, Miss Cora placed the note you see at the top of this entry. In case you can't read it clearly I will quote what awaits your eyes if you should happen to visit after a long day's drive across several states and just want know....unwind:

Only put tiny bits
of paper in comode
you may use Trash
Bags - to put paper
in Then take out to
the Bag on patio
Well, that's one possibility, for sure. The other is to quietly step away to a Starbucks or McDonald's (just because I'm a vegetarian doesn't mean I won't use the muscularly confident toilets in their bathrooms!)

But for the most part the house holds together from one day to the next, about the same way that my mother and Miss Cora continue to prop each other up, each giving the other a sense of familiarity, security and meaning. One day one or the other will fall and not get up, and the whole process will start to tumble like a house of cards, but until then life goes on, as nobly fragile as a heart with walls thin as tissue paper that somehow continues to beat.


Anonymous said...

Inspiring and lovingly respectful. I imagine that the mindset of an older person will become more understandable to you as you pass through life's experiences and as your awareness and compassion continue to expand.

Tony in Brooklyn said...

Lovely, and funny. Your Mom and Miss Cora are lucky to have each other.