The milestones in life, birth, adoption, birthdays, illnesses and death. My mother’s move from hospital into a nursing home under hospice care on Tuesday, and I find myself returning to the sorrow and leavetaking from my puppy Samantha in February. I have photographs of her in my lap at the veterinary hospital when we brought her in and decided to have her euthanized.
Warm, here in my lap
I held her tight,
letting go forever . . .
Mother and I were quite close before I left for college, and then starting again perhaps ten years after my graduation. Restaurants, plays, lectures, faculty recitals, orchestra concerts, telephone visits once they were no longer metered. After I married, she and I spent much less time together, which was inevitable. Now, over the past five years or so, as her eyesight failed (which fact she did not share with me until earlier this year), her loss of hearing increased, and she isolated herself, so as to remain with Dad in their home, and I no longer see the person that I’ve known all of my life. She did not say until just a few months ago, and much more as she more quickly fades: “I am changing, now. I have been changing. I have changed and cannot be the person that you thought you knew. All these things about my past, I am telling you now, so you will know why I am leaving with so much pain, fear and regret. So much rage.”
After my husband and I returned home, the next evening, we talked openly about our experiences of growing up, our decisions and transitions, our self-understandings and our separate but parallel growths of who we are. Our turning away from “career”, “ambition”, plans and goals very early on, to more immediate living of our lives. Al deciding that he did not want to be an electrical engineer, but instead applying his knowledge and genius to his love of computers, after discharge from the Air Force, and taking a field tech job with Burroughs, much sought after by the local office. My epiphany came earlier, my sophomore year in college, when I asked my organic chemistry teacher to help me find a way to explain to my parents that I had no desire to spend my years doing research in a corporate laboratory, but instead absorb the humanities. No goal but learning how to learn and continuing to do so and expand, not narrow my experience of and involvement in the immediacy of the world. As our own lives become more intimate with old age, they do not become less rich. They gravitate toward each other and toward the many activities and interests that still are well within our reach. Al’s family is long-lived, barring illnesses. His mother died only a few years ago, enjoying life until perhaps the quick decline during the last few months. My father’s still living independently, pursuing quiet interests and activities at age 99. I expect that I am more like my mother and will start to fail more rapidly as I approach my 90s.
And so, as we have already been using our parents’ lives as general guidelines, we continue the process of shedding what no longer works, expanding into new interests and activities and relationships that are closer matches to who we are now and are becoming. Discarding personal possessions that have become burdens. Spending more time with/on our latest pair of dogs. It is much more difficult to housebreak and see to two puppies at once, rather than having an older dog to mentor the incoming puppy!
A more recent change, also, is the return to waking in the middle of the night and writing, returning to sleep, and then taking a nap in the late afternoon. Which I now will do, since I have to get up at eight o’clock to out and feed the puppies.