Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Great Questions

This is the final test of a gentleman: his respect for those who can be of no possible service to him.
- William Lyon Phelps
Mom isn't really with us.  She's here, but she isn't.  She keeps calling Wolfgang "Jack".  That's maybe something that any elderly person might do - remembering things long past more vividly than the events of the current day.  But last night she told me that she's really like it if I had kids, because she wanted grand children.  The kids were shocked, not having known just what Grandma's condition had become.  I sort of knew, but hadn't dreamed it would have deteriorated so much in five months.

I look on this as a meditation.  It's not a test, sent to proof my faith (easily done, sad to say); rather, it's a lesson that can maybe lead me to a better understanding of the Great Questions: what is it fully to be Human?  What is it to be happy?  What is it to lead - and to leave - a Good Life?

Worthy questions.  Questions where glib answers dissolve in the face of Life Speaking In Its Outdoors Voice.  Questions that quite frankly have eluded me.  I like to think of myself as decently smart, but boy, howdy - this is is distilled, 100 proof Life.  If you can handle it.  Quite frankly, I'm not so sure I'm handling it at all well.

The Great Questions have hard answers.  Which is strange, because the answers are laid out before us:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
- 1 Corinthians 13
We typically see this quote presented to newlyweds, as advice on their coming life together.  That's not a bad thing, but the quote's power is perhaps greater in other contexts.  People are wired so that this advice really isn't needed regarding their small children: people naturally answer "Sparrow" over and over and over, because they know that their children's minds are a special place, different from ours.

This is a meditation for me, as I pass the day with Mom.  It's not a burden if I mind the meditation which hints at answers to the Great Questions.  In a way, it makes it easier when I answer the same question over and over.

With Dad, everything was clear.  The cancer burned his body out from the inside, but his mind was sharp, right up to the end.  He was him, even when there was almost nothing left.  It looks to be the reverse with Mom - she seems to be physically in quite good health, it's just that she fades in and out.  It's more complicated because while I see what answers to the Great Questions have been given, I do not see.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
- Shakespeare, Sonnet 73
The greatest minds, the deepest thinkers, the most subtle spirits of Civilization have grappled with these questions.  They've left their thoughts for me, as a guide on my own journey.  And I find that I have (mostly) not paid attention.
The Kingdom of the Father is spread upon the Earth and men do not see it.
- The Gospel of Thomas
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.  I have been prideful and have trusted to my intellect where I should have listened and learned wisdom.  That's a hard lesson that I've come to more than once in these last few years, belying all pretense of being "smart".  Mom could tell you that I was always a bit of a slow child, if you catch her in the morning.  She's better then.

And so I find myself doing what each generation has done.  I'm doing what needs doing.

The circle is closing back upon itself, and will some day be complete.  I see in that closing what may be my own future, and a nasty thought that is.  If I'm lucky, I'll be the Sparrow.  If not, I'll remark on the sparrow.

There's a reason that they're called the Great Questions.  If they were easy, they wouldn't be Great.  The greatest minds, the deepest thinkers, the most subtle spirits of Civilization have grappled with these questions.  They've left their thoughts for me, as a guide on my own journey.



ASM826 said...

Your writing is at it's finest when you are writing about personal things.

I am grappling with some of them myself and while they may be the Great Questions I am not sure there are Great Answers. Sometimes I think there is only life lived the best we can with what we know at the time.

libertyman said...

The beginning of a long goodbye. Thinking of you Ted, and sending warmest wishes to you and your family.

eiaftinfo said...

If they were just questions we would learn nothing from the answer. But . . . "Great Questions" . . . they mold and shape us. I suspect you will walk this leg of your journey with love and strength . . . a last gift to a mom that a son can give.

Peace sir.

Jay G said...

Never be afraid to lean on your friends. Never.

It is never a burden to carry my brother.

Be strong, my friend. And if you can't, let me be strong for you.

You know how to get in touch if needed.

Wolfman said...

Stay in there BP. Its a long and weary road she walks, and although it may not seem like it sometimes, she knows you walk it with her. You mentioned distilled life- I have found that the smallest of moments come to mean so much, when the smallest remark, once a matter of course, becomes a joy enough to light the whole day. Live for those moments and stay strong.

Anonymous said...

What everyone said!

My roommate's step-mom has dementia, and every visit it gets weirder.
And sadder.

Prayer's your family's way, and hang in there!


Dave H said...

And so I find myself doing what each generation has done. I'm doing what needs doing.

And by so doing, you show an uncaring universe what it's like to care. 1st Corinthians helped me through troubled times; I'm glad you're able to find some comfort there too.

Is your mother in distress over her state? If not, be glad for her.

Prayers for you and all your family, BP.

Wally said...

I am all to familiar with your plight. BTDT and effing earned the shirt.

Your mom still loves you, that is a blessing. She may forget a lot, and sometimes with no apparent pattern for what stays and what sticks around, but she's still that loving person. As tough as it is to relate at times...

Enjoy every one of the good times, and remeber the hollow times are just the disease - they don't do a damned thing to demean the good times.

It's getting awful dusty in here. Godbless you and your mom. I can completely sympathize and will do all I can to keep your head held high.

Jennifer said...

Thoughts and prayers are with you. No words can make it better, but know that you are loved by your friends.

WOZ said...

Thanks for sharing a part of your soul with us.

Anonymous said...

I've watched others fade as they grew older, and it was one of the most heart wrenching things I've ever done or watched others go through.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to you and yours.

Andi said...

You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers, Borepatch... you have a tough row to hoe.

From one Browncoat to another:
"When you can't run anymore, you crawl... and when you can't do that--you find someone to carry you."

You are carrying your Mom, we are carrying you.

Anonymous said...

Thoughts and Prayers to you and your Borepatch.

Others have eloquently said you are not alone in your travels although your path may appear lonely.

Please know if you need to reach out -- when you need to reach out, we'll pick up the phone.

And so I find myself doing what each generation has done. I'm doing what needs doing.

As I said one time "I know God promises to never give me more then I can handle, I just wish He wouldn't trust me so much." I know you can handle more then you think; believe in yourself and lean on him. Philippians 4:13 my friend.

Rev. Paul said...

In the end, BP, all we have is how we treat each other, as well as ourselves.

Don't be too hard on yourself for being human; it's very, very difficult to watch a formerly sharp mental acuity descending into a childlike forgetfulness.

My journey thus far has been as yours: my dad was himself, right up until the last hour of his last day. Mom, the one who mostly raised me - taught me to read when I was four, instilled a lifelong love of literature, and encouraged my first faltering steps on the Christian path - is slowly becoming ... well, less than she was.

I will pray for your mom, as well as you & your family. May you all find God's grace to patiently endure whatever is still coming.

Borepatch said...

ASM826, thank you, but I sure with that this particular muse didn't drop by so often.

Everyone, thank you for your comments. It makes a difference.

Opinionated Grump (Rich in NC) said...

You write as I feel.
My dad's 92, and his memories are melting into one another.
He's fine physically, and his personality hasn't changed, but "...is it Sunday or Monday?" on Thursday, five of six times in a half hour, can really help you pray.
Yeah, you do write good. It's dusty in here, dammit.
Rich in NC

instinct said...

My grandfather went through the same thing. It's heartbreaking to watch and my heart goes out to you and your family.

I know you can handle it, even though it's hard but I wish you didn't have to.

Be strong and if you ever get out to NM way, give me a holler.

JohnMXL said...

Damn. Sure is dusty here.

Hang in there.

Goober said...

Being alive to endure the hardships of life beats the alternative. I'd rather lose 100 loved ones in my time than to have never had a loved one to lose. Remember the good times with fondness anytime being with her in this state gets too hard. They are a piece of the path that brought you here to where you are now. That makes it worth it.

TinCan Assassin said...

We're here for you, Brother, if you need us. You have my e-mail, if you need to vent. You and yours are in my prayers.

Ajdshootist said...

Been there my friend with father, mother now coming up to 94th B'DAY some days she is fine other days can
be very confused,i bought her a Day Clock was very useful stopped her asking what day it was now its gone missing! The Home she is living in she loves but have been suffering with thefts they caught the person the Managar! but still things go missing.

Anonymous said...

Dementia is a cruel disease. I have a bad enough time watching it at a distance. I can't imagine the pain of watching it up close.

Prayers to you and yours, Borepatch. :-(

Eagle said...

Some weights are easier to bear than others. Some are joyful while others are full of grief. And some cause us bewilderment: we don't know whether to be happy or to be sad, and the confusion leaves us heavy-hearted and empty of emotion at the same time.

Be thankful that Mom is in that place where her "now" is your memories, and that those memories for her - and for you - are sweet. What could be more loving than a mother's concern for her son's future happiness, even when she doesn't quite realize that that future has already happened?

My mother-in-law is 90, and has her moments of clarity. And those other moments as well. She's in that "now" of many years ago but thankfully doesn't realize it. Or care. Surrounded by the young and the old, family and friends, her days are spent in that twilight place where life seems more dream than of reality.


Chickenmom said...

I know just what your are living through. My Dad had cancer and was sharp until the very end. Mom went down the path of dementia for three years - slowly at first. There were good days and bad days. Good times when she could remember and bad times when she was so frightened. It's hard to realize what is happening. You don't want to believe it. Denial first and then acceptance. She was so afraid of being put in a home. We always assured her we would never do that and we didn't as we managed to care for her until she passed from a heart attack. The only advice I can give you is accept it and treasure the moments that you can share. A warm hug, holding hands and a kiss will work wonders for both of you. Reach out to family and friends, cry sometimes and know that she does love you. I will keep you and your family in my prayers and please give your Mom a hug from me.

Phyllis (N/W Jersey)

Anonymous said...

I went through all that with my mother for almost ten years, first very slowly, and then the last couple of years very fast. I'm not sure when she stopped recognizing me as her son and started thinking of me as...the nice man who helped feed her and said hello every morning and night. She developed a habit of asking me to marry her. (I kept her at home, with a woman in the house for her round the clock when dressing her and feeding her got to be too much for me to handle.)
And even though she was just down the hall from me in my own home, I had those same moments of asking myself "when did she get this bad and why didn't I notice it before?"

But there's nothing you can do to arm yourself against the shocks in store for you. The second worst one for me when I had to face the fact that she had no memory of who I was. The third worst was when I had to face the fact that she didn't really have any idea of what was going on around her at all.
The worst was when she died. Even knowing it was coming, probably sooner rather than later, I didn't handle it very well. The only bright spot is that she died in her own bed, with me holding her in my arms. (Not giving her a hug, or anything sentimental--just the cold practical reality of trying to help her cough up a load of mucus, and suddenly she was gone. The immediate cause of death was pneumonia.)
If that sounds a little raw, it's because it's still too recent--last August. If she had lived until December, she would have been 84
But you have a rough road; just know that we and others have been on it, and others are on it themselves with their own families, and you have our prayers/whatever non-believers do instead of praying.

Six said...

When my mom passed you had words of kindness and wisdom for me. How I wish I could return them to you now. All you can do is all you can do. Self recrimination is far different from introspection. As you told me then, sometimes being brave is simply talking and surviving as best we can. Lu and I send our prayers to you and your beloved mother. May both of you know peace.

2cents said...

Sorry I was late to post. I had the distinct advantage of knowing your folks growing up. Actually, advantages, as in plural. Too many to list. Knowing your Mom and knowing that she was a librarian with an advanced degree, my only hope is that she does not realize what is happening. I do not think she could bear the thought of slowing down.

mikelaforge said...

I too hope that she does not realize what is happening. Too tragic. God's strength to you.