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Contemplating relationships and age...
We’ve walked in the same vicinity of the “muskrat incident” in the last couple of days, and this photograph telegraphs my mood.
Scoutie has been good and hasn’t ventured too far away, even stopping and pausing every time I have yelled, “Wait!” until I was close enough to touch her curved back and hold her collar, the training tip we received many years ago now.
Life is hard enough without having to deal with trauma in your moments of zen … at least recent trauma…and even death.
Yesterday was the two year anniversary of my father’s untimely death. I say “untimely” because we were not expecting it, although whenever I tell people how old he was (on the way to 101), they look perplexed and nod their heads, as if it is not as bad as I made it out to be and how could I not have expected it.
Truth is, it was and we didn’t.
I remember sitting at my “mother-in-law’s” bedside when she took her last breath as her son was out pacing the hospital hallway. There was no connection, no emotion other than the feeling of fate. When someone is failing for so long, as she had been for years, it is natural for that to resolve in shallow breaths and then silence. Everyone had expected it. She was one of many who had likely faded away in that sterile place. She was not lucid and that was probably good because I don’t think she would have even known who I was. I’m glad he was spared those moments even though I’ve had thoughts of resentment because it was I who had to hold her hand and not him.
In contrast, my Dad’s death took place at a time and place that we were least expecting it. My mother had been admitted to hospital a month earlier after suffering delirium due to her Alzheimer’s disease. With our help, he visited her every day and they sat, like this, holding hands and barely speaking. She is still alive. He is not.
I think of him all the time and wonder what he would say about recent current events. He was the one who said, “I’m voting for Justin” and that surprised me. I said, “He’s too young!” but after I saw him in a televised debate, thought maybe he was up to the job. Dad had a soft spot for the Trudeaus. In his life he had voted Liberal and Green, but never to my knowledge Conservative. It surprised me more, to be honest, that he had embraced the Green Party more than he had rejected the Conservatives. He was a fiscally responsible economist, after all.
I look at this picture and wonder why the two of them were not weeping. Of course, when one is experiencing what will likely be the countdown to the end, it is not immediately clear. But he certainly had become viscerally aware of her disease and thought he’d have to be her primary caregiver even though we had gone to great lengths to bring in extra help and assure him that he was not alone. We didn’t know until later how she would waken in the middle of the night, calling his name. He would struggle to get up (they were in separate bedrooms) and they would meet on the couch in the living room, sitting there, holding hands, with her head on his shoulder, until morning.
I’m sure we all struggle with connections. What we consider a “deal breaker” in relationships, how we might roll with the punches, turn the other cheek or just move along because in the end, finding someone to share your life with is a crap shoot really. It is a rare relationship when everything runs smoothly and there are no recriminations or betrayals or resentments. But as we age together, we suddenly recognize that it will indeed take its toll — maybe it’s mental deterioration, maybe it’s physical, maybe it’s both. And it’s not a role we have necessarily planned for. Not the way we have seen old age gently play out in movies. No sooner have we shepherded our parents through their declining years that we experience the very same thing ourselves, with our own partners and friends.
I hope that we can be guided by grace in the last few decades of our lives, that we can go softly and with clear-eyed gratitude. Truth is, I never thought about being this age (62) and I’m sure people older than I will laugh (like my Dad would), saying, “You’re still young!” And I guess that’s true.
I have plenty more walking and looking and living to do. And I look forward to it.