No escape

There is a place of no escape. It is in a forest, an overgrown garden, a swamp.

It is lashed with shadows. When the sun is strong, you can see clearly, then clouds cross over and you can’t make out what is lurking, ready to strike. Deep in the hidden places strange and menacing things lie in wait.

Did something move there? Have you been here before? Do you even know this place? A ray of light reveals a familiar face.

And then darkness descends again, too soon, too soon.

My mother lives in such a place. Thoughts and memories encircle her, maddening in their incoherence. Then suddenly all is crystal clear, she knows, she remembers. But she knows the crystal moments will not last, so clutches to hold onto them. She writes messages to herself on scraps of paper, then has no idea what a note says or means when she comes across one. “What’s this say?” she’ll ask, or “Did I write this?” She is consumed by the fear that something important has been lost.

As indeed it has.

At 96, my mother is lucky. She can afford to live in a small facility where she is known and loved, where every staff member understands dementia, where she is hugged and fed well. She is drawn out of her room several times a day, urged to do both familiar and creative activities. Because they know she was a drummer in the old swing bands, she is encouraged to play her snare drum. Because she was an award-winning gardener, she is enticed into the courtyard to plant and water. Because she was a fine tennis player, she is placed in front of the television during the Opens, where she follows the ball and gets excited when someone makes a great shot. She gets to listen to the music of her youth.

But there is a shadow world where the cable guy steals her purse. When the purse shows up, it turns out he’s stolen her cash and cards. She’s sure the care home where she lives belongs to her mother, and can’t figure out why all these strangers get to stay there. They are not her 8 siblings, though this lively environment must be her childhood home. She sees a woman at the shops wearing her red housecoat, and now that it’s been returned, she has to hide it so it won’t get stolen again. She can’t remember that she went out for lunch today with her granddaughter, but when the pianist shows up in the afternoon she can sing every word of every one of the old songs, and brushes her single drum with her hallmark skill and panache.

Every year God inexorably takes his 10% before moving on. The shadows deepen, the daylight hours become shorter, the underbrush more dense.

There is perhaps one escape but so far my mother’s strong feisty body has not allowed her to flee.

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  1. Adele

     /  May 11, 2017

    Heather this is a beautiful touching and heartfelt piece. It brought me to tears. Stories such as this one need to be distributed widely and writers applauded for their skill humanity and compassion.Thank you.

    • hbolstler

       /  May 11, 2017

      Thanks, Adele. I really appreciate your sensitivity to the story. It was a good exercise to try to capture some of the flavour of the whole experience.


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