Gatherings

We stood in a circle, 17 of us in total, giving thanks for those with us and the food we were about to eat. As I heard my father’s voice, I couldn’t help but wonder if the next time we will all be together will be for a funeral. We are a scattered family – I do not know if it is because there are so many of us, or we all just needed to get as far away as possible to find our own identities and escape the shadow that is my father.

So we stood. Clasped hands. Chanted “how happy we are” at the end, as we always do. And I think that most people in that house were. Happy, that is. We had come because mom asked us to. By next Thanksgiving she may not remember who we are, or perhaps even who she is. She looked fragile to me, like a small child left alone on a playground in a rainstorm, waiting for her parents to collect her. I wanted to wrap her in my arms and never let go. And yet, when I looked in her eyes, I could already see the distance growing between who she had been my whole life and who she is becoming as Alzheimer’s wracks her brain. And I wanted to die.

Of course I’ve wanted to die for years. Knowing that I will lose her soon only pushes me closer to the brink.

I took her two photos of us together, two of my favorites from when I was growing up, and put them on the refrigerator for her to see everyday. When I spoke to her on the phone the next day, she asked me who had left them. She told me she no longer remembers what day of the week it is or what the date is. I hate this. I hate that the end of her life will be a series of cobwebs invading her brain, causing confusion and anxiety to a woman who has been my mentor my entire life. She taught me I could do anything. She was my source of knowledge before the internet and Google existed. She led me to the profession I am in today. All of this is because of her. I am who I am because of her. And I do not think she knows it, remembers me telling her this, even if I were to repeat it to her every day.

I want to protect her from my father who has no patience with her forgetfulness, the expressions of confusion that cross her face, the exhaustion that descends on her as the hours of the day march on. I had hoped that her final years would mean freedom for her – without my father (because we always assumed he’d go first), living the life she had always dreamed of on an island, reading books and being the hermit she loves to be. But life is cruel. I think I lost believing in the gentleness of life years ago when my own world tilted on its axis and everything changed. I’m still swimming against the current trying to get back to who I was before that day 12 years ago, and now a riptide has caught me and is sending me further out to sea.

C. S. Lewis wrote:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in.”

This blanket separates me from all others. I am still wrapped in grief and I know that more is on the way. Death is inevitable. We march toward it every day. We see it everywhere – the news, social media, television. But when it enters our homes it becomes a new beast entirely. We can no longer shut it out. We just have to sit, wait patiently until it decides to take what we love.

© Sorrow & Kindness

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