Smoking in the girls’ room, sneaking a drink, napping
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Taking care of my aging parents is the right thing to do. I don’t regret the decision. But when I came here in 2010, I never imagined that I’d have to stay nearly five years. I’m afraid that, on my mother’s ninety-seventh birthday, I’ll be saying that I never imagined I’d have to stay seven years.
Here’s a surprise: it turns out you can’t just walk into the assisted-living facility where your mother spent her final years, wrap her dead body in a sheet, and take her out into the woods to bury her.
No one, I read online, understands why Parkinson’s causes dopamine-producing cells to die off in a region of the brain called the “substantia nigra.” With my limited knowledge of Latin I translated this as the “substantial dark” — a place in my mother’s head where words such as eyebrow, sink, and broccoli had disappeared.
Today I walk the shoreline only in my mind, when I so wanted to walk by the sea, to feel the wind, to walk through the stormy weather, unafraid. I’m “being held,” I heard them say. For my “protection.” My body and the rest of me, aged eighty-seven years, sit in a tiny cell with whitewashed walls. I might pretend this to be a cubicle inside a monastery were not the devil wailing in the corridor, making free with a man’s body, crying with his voice a pagan slander on the day, possessing a man he’s bought at some slave auction where souls are up for sale. The devil buys the soul and gets the body in the bargain.
Her face registers that frightful blankness I’ve come to know too well during her slow descent into dementia. For her, is it winter? Is it yesterday? Is it now? “I was following these flowers,” she says. “Somebody’s planted them all along this road. See?”
I remember clearly my grandmother’s eyes on the day she became trapped between a world of knowing and a world of confusion. She was sitting at the dining-room table in my mother’s house. My three children were poised above coloring books and other art supplies like tiny soldiers, following the orders of the day.
Now that our mother’s living alone has started to give everyone pause, my siblings and I are gearing up for the battle over what to do next. She will not be asked for her opinion.
When I pull up to my house after work, my friend Eppie is standing in the middle of our shared driveway, clutching her green canvas shopping bag. Her face shows relief and then worry as I get out of my car. “I hate to bother you,” she says, “but would you mind taking me home?”