Monday, April 20, 2009

At the starting gate

When I started blogging it was because of two people, another writer who had been bugging me to move with the times and my mother who got hold of my journals and said I should have them published. She said she didn't know I was so unhappy. I wasn't unhappy all the time, but between the covers of all those journals (about 40) there were times I was very unhappy. She also didn't know I thought about the kinds of things I mused over; she thought they were all about her. Religion, theology, politics, history, quantum physics and so many more subjects covered those pages, and they still do. But since it has been nearly seven years since I started this blog, I thought you'd like to see what came before.

July 19, 2002 Life and Death

Maybe by putting this online I will be able to think clearer. I usually think better when I'm writing, but have had a major case of writer's block for a while. Lots of ideas circling like hawks waiting for prey to emerge from the undergrowth. I did, however, manage a piece on abortion that has been caught in my head for a long time.

Have you ever had an idea that sounded so good when it rattled around in your head or when you tried it out in the shower, but when it came time to put it on paper or on the screen you lost all the wonderful words strung together like glowing black pearls and everything came out garbled and crippled? Me, too.

A very good friend suggested this and called it "mentally barfing" on the page. Sounds like the criticisms of George Sand so maybe barfing on the page isn't such a bad thing and could even be lucrative.

I have also been thinking a lot about mortality and death and the dignity of death. Never has that been clearer than now.

Several years ago I stood at the foot of my grandmother's bed while my mother leaned over her, clasping her hand and weeping and begging her mother not to leave her alone. My grandmother had suffered several strokes and was little more than a unfocused-eyed child whose face was wreathed in empty reflexive smiles. Seldom was she lucid enough to know who spoke to her, but I knew somewhere in that vegetating mind she clung to life to give her daughter, my mother, what she asked. Grandma spent most of her life giving my mother whatever she wanted, spoiling her and teaching her that all should bend to her wishes.

Even at that late stage of her life when she no longer had control of her body or her mind, when she had no quality of life, when she was force fed through a tube in her stomach and her body curled in on itself getting ready to enter the womb of death, even then my mother wouldn't let her own mother go. I was furious with her and we had a horrible argument. I told her she was selfish and cruel and she had no right to prolong what was no longer my grandmother's life. I told her Grandma wouldn't wish to live like that, entombed in a body kept alive by machines and tubes and her daughter's pleadings, clinging to some small spark of existence because she couldn't deny her daughter anything, not even the pain of lying for hours in urine- and feces-soaked diapers, in skin that tore like tissue paper at even a loving touch, in a body curling into a petrified fetal position. Not even that. But she would have her way and my grandmother lingered out of love for her.

My mother told me the other day she had a few mini strokes. She knew her mind was failing, as she grasped for names and places and memories familiar as her face in the mirror, things she had always known and were no longer where she put them. "I don't want to die in a nursing home," she said.

There is some small part of me, a cruel streak in my nature, that wants her to suffer as she made Grandma suffer, but it is a fleeting thought. No one should suffer that way. Fear moves her to prayer. She pleads with God to 'take her home' and set her free from the bondage of failing mind and body.

I understand now. It's about fear.

Fear of being alone.
Fear of mortality.
Fear of change.

We cry at the funerals of loved ones, not so much because of them but because of us. The world is changing and what we believed was constant and immutable is gone. Nothing is the same. Yes, we will miss our friends and family, but mostly we grieve for ourselves.

I remember thinking my parents were immortal. They would always be there. Intellectually I knew they would eventually die, but it was like being thirty years old -- too far in the future to matter. But time slips away and our parents get older, feebler, closer to death, and then they're gone. Immortality is a lie, a fantasy. And if they can die, those strong pillars supporting our the framework of our lives, then so can we, so will we.

The older we get the more we see the constants in our lives disappear. Aunts and uncles, grandparents and friends, all succumb to the reaper's scythe. How long will it be before we follow them and are lost in the dust of time? Who will remember us? Who will care we lived?

No matter what we believe, what religion we espouse, we begin to believe death is the end and there's nothing on the other side. Suddenly, life is so much sweeter and we don't want to give it up. The pain and anguish and confusion no longer seem so bad because at least we're still alive, still breathing, still here. Anything is better than the nothingness that faces us when death comes. If we can just keep our parents alive, by whatever means, we can stay death's hand and live one more month, one more week, one more day, one more hour, one more...

I understand now, but I'm not afraid. I don't need to trade my mother's dignity to keep death at bay. I don't need to punish her for putting my grandmother through such torture. I can let go because when my time comes I leave knowing I enjoyed every painful, ecstatic, joyful, and confusing moment of my life. Hopefully, my children will understand and not mortgage my life for their fears.

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