Dancing Hand in Hand with Our Sisters
It seems the gods are smiling upon us even here, in the Bermuda Triangle of Dementia. Yesterday was Patsy’s first day at senior day care. This was intended as an emergency/stop gap; until we find proper assisted living to fit her needs. In the morning, when I went to deliver her to “The Club” she was resistant; “They dance in wheel chairs”. I was hopeful, but frightened, that she would reject the whole thing, out of hand. Stubborn could very well be our middle names. Five hours later when I returned, she was beaming; she had found her people. I hung around for an hour, until she was ready to leave. They were in the middle of a live concert when I arrived. Like any group of women, there was a more-feisty contingent of gals, that will hit the dance floor at the drop of a hat. By then I was sitting next to my mom, listening to the guitar player; who was belting out tunes with the voice of a very earthy angel. So, when the first woman, then the second and third popped up to dance; I held my breath. With out the slightest hint of hesitation; but with the typical struggle to get up, out of her chair; she was off to the dance floor. For her and the other dancers, this was not “adult day care”, this was not the night club or juke joint of the past, this was the perfect moment of the here and now. It was a party. I burst into tears when I saw her dancing with wild abandon, hand in hand with her new gal friends and the one-man spicing things up for everyone. She was really living in her joy; enjoying life to the fullest. As I watched her dance, I saw her left shoulder rise and fall in a certain way; the way that newly single woman, in her fifties, used to dance; it was a sensuous move. It was a signature move. We all have them, and I guess we always will. After her second dance, since my arrival, she leaned over to me and said, “This is a good thing, this is a really good thing.” After the concert the air magically filled with the powerful aroma of freshly baked white chocolate chip cookies and it was afternoon coffee and tea time. Seems to me she is ready now, to have someone baking fresh cookies for her. She was chatting away like she had known these people her whole life. And in a way, she has; they are her people; raised up under the cloud of the great depression; held down by patriarchy, watching their daughters navigating a changing world. It wasn’t easy to be the wives of patriarchy in the 50’s and 60’s. So much repression and Valium in those days. And still, patriarchy rages on, killing its sons, in so many ways, (war; the emotional neglect of boys; and capitalisms slow march to the gallows, to name just three) before it’s daughters. And so, we dance, hand in hand with our sisters, as we always have and always will.
Cathie Jo, April, 10th. 2019
Pollock Pines, CA
The Bermuda Triangle of Trauma
This whole dementia/Alzheimer’s dynamic is my Bermuda Triangle of mother daughter relations. My mother is eighty-six years old and walks about two miles around town most days. (weather permitting) It’s dangerous, but to deny her this freedom would be a cruel injustice. She lives right across the road from the senior center in Placerville, and has been taking Yoga and Qigong classes for three weeks. It is not just a hearing issue, but the ever-expanding cognitive decline which causes her inability to follow the teacher’s instructions as well as the other, sixty to seventy-year-old students. Am I actually going to have to explain to my mother that she is not welcome at the senior’s center yoga class, because she’s just too old and can’t keep up? One of the reasons I was so excited about these classes was that I had hoped they would replace some of her long and potentially disastrous, up and down hill ramblings. The lack of sidewalks; proper curbs; and the proliferation of potholes and root damage to available walking surfaces in her neighborhood; is heart palpitating. The empathy that I feel for her is heart breaking; my previously hardened heart is breaking free. We are searching for assisted living that will keep her safe, but allow her the exercise that she needs to live her life, her way. The answer to this dilemma is as elusive as the lost city of Atlantis. And the surprising gift of my long-awaited compassion toward my mother, is as magical and mystical as the emerald and turquoise waters of Great Mother Sea. As a child I was destroyed by the abuse and neglect I experienced at her hands. It has been forty years since I fled my family, and I have professed for many years, that forgiveness, compassion and acceptance are the true gifts of the wounded healer’s path. And here I stand, at last, wide eyed in wonder at the literal truth of my proclamation. The compassion and concern I feel for her is striking. But now, how do I help her to navigate the shifting sands and submerged foundations of her life, when all of the familiar structures are crumbling and washing away? It is not wholly unlike the crumbling of the structures built of rage and frustration that I dwelt within for so long; at last giving way under the heady weight of compassion. Perhaps the structures that are crumbling beneath her now are the ones built of her own parent’s alcoholism, abuse and neglect; the structure of the twenty-seven years of abuse she endured at my father’s hand; the guilt and shame of her own lack of parenting skills and methods; and the abuse she watched and participated in as a mother. Perhaps she can transition off of this planet without that heavy load to bear; if it crumbles to dust before she departs? When my mother turned sixty, she took on a mantra that has so clearly come to pass; she would recite her mantra at the first hint of confrontation: “I’m old now, I don’t have to remember anything!” “I don’t have to remember anything.” This was her way of refusing to participate in our family’s healing; her way of suppressing everything. Who’s to say what is actually going on for her spiritually in all of this? It is enough for me to know that I have been called here to help my mother in this transition, and I fully intend to do just that, to the best of my human abilities.
Cathie Jo, March, 23rd. 2019
Pollock Pines, CA