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waiting for birth, waiting for death

Serbian joke:
Q: What is the best disease to have?
A: Dementia; nothing hurts you and everyday you see something new.


The night after my father died, I had the same endless dreams of walking the streets of unknown cities and searching the surface of stormy water for him. But my father was stealthy and refused to be found, no matter how long I walked, how deep I dived. He had slipped away to where he could not be reached- become snow and air and light.

Now my grandmother is going the same route. Her mind is wondering unsupervised increasingly far afield and she is spending more and more of her day asleep.

For most of my life due to her extraordinary vitality and self-healing powers that approximated those of Wolverine I thought of her as indestructible. In fact it was a long-standing family joke that after a nuclear apocalypse there would only be the cockroaches and my granny wandering around the world with a mop tutting at all the disorder and radioactive dust.

Our conversations are a mix of improv and broken records. Questions and answers are repetitive, hellishly circular and at other times completely unconnected to reality as my granny cavorts with invisible dogs, solicits my opinions of what my father would like to eat when he comes home from his business trip and frequently confuses my unborn child with a toddler. It's a bit like playing mental frisbee. Over the phone, I catch the cues she throws best I can, and participate in the makebelieve. I stand in for missing family members, I apologise for the friends who didn't return the flour they borrowed in 1952, I reassure her that I will visit soon - we just need to wait for the baby to be born.

She has gone beyond the point of no return. We do what we can for her, talk as often as possible. I do least of all, being distant. And when she dies it will be hard to still the voice that says 'you should have done more', and the familiar duets of sorrow and bitter rage, love and hate.

To think of her as fragile takes some mental adjustment, even though in the last year I have seen her waning fast. We let her sleep. At least she's happy there. In her sleep she does not torment her surroundings, and is herself untormented. Loneliness and grief have long been my grandmother's defining features (along with evil) but it's nice to think of her smiling in her sleep, creating a better world.

I don't know what she dreams of, although her conversational nonsequiturs offer some clues. Snow and spring. Russian birch forests. The doll she had when she was four. The warm bodies and lolling tongues of dogs. All the beloved dead: family, husband, children - restored not only to life but also to whatever golden age they inhabited when they vexed her least.

Heartrending and sweet in equal measures, all of it. The teachings of Chiron. Making peace with our unhealable wounds.

Endings and beginnings. The baby does its disco routines in my belly more gaily than ever and most nights I dream of birth. I hardly dream my grandmother. Like my father she has slipped away, is unreachable as the moon. Instead I say goodbye to her in my mind the best I can, make what peace is possible, let her go. Often I visualise them nearing a crossroads, travelling from opposite directions towards each other - my grandmother and my son- to meet and greet and say goodbye.

100 years. A long, long life. My wishes confine themselves to an easy passage for her into the next world and the hope that all those she's ever loved meet her at the gate.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 2nd, 2007 11:38 am (UTC)
What a lovely, lovely entry. xx
Nov. 2nd, 2007 12:10 pm (UTC)
This made me weep.

When my mother was semi-conscious, she would speak to her parents and long-passed friends. I believe indeed that all her loved ones were "gathered at the gate", so to speak.

Nov. 2nd, 2007 12:49 pm (UTC)
Oh my god. That was the most beautiful post, ever. Brought up so many thoughts.

Just... wow.
Nov. 2nd, 2007 04:48 pm (UTC)
Wow. What a strange juxtaposition for you. =\
What you have been describing reminds me of a movie that I just saw on dvd called Evening. I don't know if it will help, but if you haven't seen it, I might recommend it. It's really lovely.
Nov. 2nd, 2007 10:46 pm (UTC)
Ach Nina, that is a goof thing you wrote there. My grandpa is suffering from Alzheimer's now and when it gets worse, I will come back to this post.
Nov. 2nd, 2007 10:48 pm (UTC)
(good, not goof! I'm typing in the dark...)
Nov. 2nd, 2007 11:44 pm (UTC)
It's so hard to be the distant one, doing so little. And yet it might be even harder when you're the closest, as my mom is to her father (who also has dementia) and to watch the slow sad decline almost day by day. It seems even those closest are too far away from a mind wandering so far afield.

My heart goes out to you.
Nov. 10th, 2007 02:11 pm (UTC)
Ah Nina, I know how you feel (except for the pregnant part). I lived 300 miles away from my Grandmother. At least with Grandmother, her mind was as sharp as a tack until the day she died of a massive stroke.

Your grandmother will make this final trip with all the friends and family that have gone on before her. Sommetimes living in the past is a wonderful thing.

Hugs to you and that baby in your belly (you know, the one that has decided to be a gymnast?).

Sometimes your writings are so poignant, they make me want to cry.

Now I miss my Grandmother.

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


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