Last month we went to see Menopause: The Musical; we got to the theatre early and shopped around. There we were in a shop, I was further back still browsing when I realized she had left without telling me. Was she waiting outside? No, she had teetered off down the street without a word, just a like toddler would do, no awareness of others. Like a mother who's child often does this my response ranged from annoyance to resigned acceptance with a bit of hoping I found her quickly mixed in. I realized I might have done to her (though truthfully my recollection is that I was a very timid child) when I was young. It also made me think of other grown children who have a parent with dementia and how the roles are permanently reversed.
Yesterday I drove us the Paper Mill Playhouse, a fairly prestigious regional theatre to see my cousin play one of the leads in On The Town. Since Sunny had let him know we were coming he told us to meet him at the stage door after show (last time we did that was when he was in A Chorus Line on Broadway when it was in previews). Sunny took a seat with all her layers on or draped about her, messager bag like a large brown cat in her lap, looking small buried by all her stuff. When Jeff came out she didn't rise from her seat, reaching up to hug him as he bent down to wrap his arms around her. I was struck at how this resembled a scene from about a decade ago when Sunny, her mother, and I went to Broadway to see Jeff in Beauty and The Beast. The images of my grandmother and Sunny merged as her behavior, even her posture and bags became Helen's. It was mesmerizing and surreal, perhaps a mirror of my future. Will I fail to rise to greet someone in twenty years, too tired, to weighted down with clothing, bags, angst?
Then this morning as I was decluttering her office space, I was stunned and annoyed by her random stacks of papers on the floor. As I picked up and sorted yet another pile:
Dharma: Why do you do this?Seriously that's what it was like. I was that teenager, that teenager has lived in my home while I was her guardian, with luck I will have another teenager in my home in the future. However this is my mother. Once again the roles have flipped. How many times in the decade or three will we play all these different characters, one day will she be stuck in one? Can I remain flexible and loving if she loses touch with her other role, that of my mother?
Sunny: I don't know.
Dharma: Seriously there has to be a better solution.
Sunny: If only I know what it was.
Dharma: Well we have to come up with something because this just won't do.
Sunny: I know.
Dharma: Why do I feel like I am talking to a teenager?
What this has brought home to me is I do not want to not have the energy to get up, I want to stay sharp, I don't want to lose me. My recent strivings in meditation, walking, eating better, reading more, writing more, looking at starting up grad school again are all pathways towards those goals. The reality that half my life is behind me is clear. Equally clear is that I still have about half a life ahead and it's mine to create. While I create that I will continue to drive my mother places, have intricate conversations that mingle theatre, politics, and meditation, and practice graciousness in her charm, her frailty, and her clutter.