reverted to fonder memories
Thursday, November 12 2020
Awoke in the night and couldn't get back to sleep as I gamed out all the scenarios for my mother and my brother, whose world seems to be falling apart down in Virginia as my mother's brain deteriorates. Somehow I'd assumed my mother would make it to the age 90 or so before I'd have to worry about such things. Her mother had made it to 87 or 88, and technology has improved since then. But then again, my mother is hard-headed and is reportedly ignoring the advice medical professionals have given her regarding the diet she needs to maintain in order to survive diabetes, and the diabetes might well be contributing to her cognition problems.
Before going to sleep, I'd taken my usual 100 mg dose of diphenhydramine, but even it couldn't make me sleep. So I took not one but two xanaxes.
My aunt Barbara in Connecticut called yet again this morning at 8:00am with news that she wouldn't be able to drive down to Virginia to check in on my mother this weekend. She'd intended to bring her son (my cousin) Kent, but Kent had just tested positive for coronavirus, and, since Kent lives with Barbara, there was a chance that Barbara herself was infected. Obviously it would be unwise to bring to take the risk of bringing the coronavirus into my mother's house(s). She's 83, suffers from diabetes, failing kidneys, and an unreliable heart, and so would probably fair poorly were she to catch the Wuhan Flu. So that will have to wait for at least a week, if not more. Barbara gave me the number of the Shenandοah Valley Art Center in Waynesboro, where my mother is known to have had a studio, and later Gretchen called that number to get some more intel on my mother's situation. She talked to a woman named Piper, who was very understanding of our predicament. She said she'd last seen my mother two days ago when she arrived by herself in her vehicle (likely a pickup truck) to pick up the last of her art from her studio, which she hadn't actually used in some time. Aside from the worrying reality that my mother is still operating a motor vehicle while even she herself admits to being "blind," the story had an unexpected poignancy to it. She related to Piper that she'd actually driven over with both her sons (me and Don), but that we'd played a trick on her by getting out at a stoplight, leaving her to pick up her art by herself. Those damn kids, always pulling her leg! I'd heard a version of this story from Diedre yesterday, but this time it was contextualized by other things Piper said my mother had been saying about her relationship to me. She apparently thinks we have reconciled and even that we're in regular contact. In her dementia, something in her brain has reverted to fonder memories of me from happier times, resolving all the lingering tension of our seven-year estrangement. The world is full of mysteries, and the brain is a whole class of them. Usually I'm disappointed to learn of some new limitation of the brain, but in this case Piper's story gives me hope. With any luck, my own brain will lull me into believing all my unfinished business has been satisfactorily completed as I lie on my death bed. Bizarrely, though, for my mother, this process is playing out even as she drives, goes shopping, and interacts with other people.
For me, the upshot of all this is that there is no longer any reason to continue avoiding my mother. I should go down to Virginia, bring a little joy into her fading existence, and take better memories of her into a future that she otherwise won't be part of.
Not having seen my mother since 2013, I was curious about her condition these days. One story from Piper was that she'd begun to neglect her hygiene, and her long white hair had become matted and nasty. Always on the lookout for a good deal or freebie, my mother presented herself at the Staunton School of Cosmetology to have a student cut her hair (perhaps for free). But once that haircut had been performed, she was supposedly told never to return.
Understandably, this news was grim. It made me wonder if there was enough capability in my mother's household to run it successfully. Clearly she shouldn't be driving, but the only other person there, my brother Don, doesn't have a driver's license and must walk everywhere. If that problem could be solved (and it might just require someone, perhaps even an online service, to deliver groceries once each week), then the main problem with my mother is her failing short-term memory. But Don's memory has always been excellent, so perhaps between the two of them they could have one functional brain. Sure, they might both now be given to hallucinations (for totally different biological reasons), but my mother can understand the importance of paying bills and calling plumbers while Don can remember why it was my mother ran off to grab a pen. It might also help to have whiteboards equipped with markers on strings in strategic places.
Today was another rainy day, with temperatures falling to levels more normal for this time of year. At some point I took a break from my computer to cut down a mid-sized semi-skeletonized chestnut oak not far from the house west of the Farm Road. There's a fair amount of wood to be salvaged, but for now I just processed the thin upper limbs of the tree, the thickest of which were about as wide as my wrist. That's actually very good wood for woodstove use, at least when building a fire capable of lasting about an hour or so.
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