I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Before and after

Before puberty   <--->  After menopause
Two sisters who grew up together, and who recently spent two weeks together having fun and remembering. There is only one person in the world who shares those memories with me, and it's Norma Jean. Those two pictures were taken more than six decades apart, and I am so thankful that we are still sharing the planet and getting the chance to make new memories.

I am even more grateful for our wonderful time together after pondering the movie I saw yesterday with my friend Judy. We went to see Amour, a French movie that is up for several Academy Awards. I spent the evening and last night thinking about it. It's the story of two retired music teachers in their eighties. Anne suffers a debilitating stroke and Georges cares for her as she descends deeper and deeper into her illness. Emmanuelle Riva plays Anne and has already received much-deserved recognition for her performance. She is 85 and if she wins the Oscar (as she should), she will be the oldest ever.

When the movie ended, I sat there in shock. This is no movie to make you feel good, or even to appreciate at the moment. Judy and I went home to our respective husbands, and I relayed the gist of the story to Smart Guy. We cried over it together, and I hoped the catharsis of telling it would release me from it, but it was not to be. I woke several times in the middle of the night and thought about old age and debility and... love.

You can never know if the life you have together with your loved one might change into something worse than death. That's what this movie is about. How do you cope as you watch someone you loved all your life turn into a trapped creature who can't even communicate or do anything but hurt? I have thought about the ancient ways of handling this, when the afflicted person would be taken to a mountaintop and left to die. In some ways it seems more humane than being spoon fed, changing diapers, and getting bedsores until the inevitable end comes anyway.

It happened to my paternal grandmother. When I was not very old, she came to live with us after having suffered a stroke. She wasn't confined to bed, but I'm not sure that was actually better. She didn't talk, wandered around all day in her housecoat, and she would take on kitchen tasks that would make my mother very unhappy, I remember. She once ruined one of my mother's favorite pans by scrubbing it until it was no longer usable. I remember my parents dismay about what to do with her. Although I don't think the situation lasted all that long, she disappeared one day and I was told she had gone to a nursing home. Not long after, they told us that she had died, but the old lady who stayed with us for that short time was not the same grandmother I remembered from earlier days.

I am doing all I can to prevent the same fate for myself. When I was in my thirties I gave up cigarettes and began to exercise. Now my sister and I exercise more than most people, but there are no guarantees in life that the same thing might not happen to one or both of us. Or to our loved ones. If I could make a wish and have it come true, I would wish that this situation would never happen to me. Or anyone, for that matter. A clean exit seems so much more merciful, not only for the one who dies, but for those left behind.

I'm a little sorry to be writing such a morose post this morning, but here I am in my usual place, before dawn with my cup of tea, my partner softly snoring next to me, and my mind still wrapped up in what that movie said to me. I wanted to write about my relationship with Norma Jean and its importance to me, to tell you a little bit about why I love her so much. She's as much a part of me as my own body, and there is no better time than the present to appreciate our connection. We are whole, we are healthy, we are active seniors sharing our lives.

There is much to be thankful for, and much to cherish. My ability to walk in the sunshine, smile at passersby, and revel in the moment... I will pass those right on to you, my dear reader, and wish you well on this early Sunday morning.


Rian said...

DJan, I too think of this senario a lot as I saw the lingering effects of Cancer, Stroke, and Alzheimers in my family. But we can only do the best we can and turn the rest over to a Higher Power. You and your sister are very lucky to have each other and it's obvious how grateful you are for that. To be aware of how lucky we are is a gift.

Linda Reeder said...

I'm up at your hour because I couldn't get back to sleep. I hope to return to bed for a few more winks and nods of sleep.
Amour is the only nominated movie we haven't seen. After reading your post, I'm not sure I want to. The topic of aging and debilitation has been too much on my mind recently. On top of my own issues comes the death this week of my uncle. It was a merciful death too long in coming, as he was gone long ago as the person we knew and loved. Alzheimers is, as my son commented, a "shitty disease".
We did watch "The Sessions" yesterday. It is a beautiful and hopeful movie, also about love and enduring.
Hoping the sun shines on us both this SUNday.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Linda Reeder. This is a movie I would not like to watch, especially because of my own disabilities and illness. I just hope I don't become a burden on my husband.

Beth said...

Excellent post!

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

DJan I have been wondering about this topic too.It is hard not to as we grow older. My biggest worry is our Buddy and what he'll have to face. Right now we can offer him our care and attention but his options as he ages are becoming increasingly hard to envision.
You have been on my mind a lot this weekend. I was catching up on posts I missed when I felt ill. You have always come by to check up on my posts but not lately. Have I said something hurtful? I hope not. I know I get crabby but I hope not on blog comments!
I admire your level of activity. I love hearing that you had another day with a friend or a group. I have always admired your comments when you come by though lately my posts have wained.
That you and your sister are very close is visible.

Allistew said...

I love those photos of both of you -- if not just for their time-shifting, but also for how closely you two began, and continue, to resemble each other.

Even though I wish my dad could have spent more time with us before emphysema took him (and, fortunately, with less-than-expected pain), I am glad that he didn't live long enough to suffer the debilitating dementia that struck his father -- he lived most of his last couple of decades in utter fear of that happening to him. I don't know how I would have handled watching my highly intellectual and ever-learning father descend into dementia. I know that it would have irrevocably damaged my mom.

I wish, like you do, that no one should ever have to watch a loved one descend into darkness. I don't see it happening to you or my mom, but you know that I, and most of the family, would stay by your side if it did. Love you!

Jackie said...

Smile graciously accepted...
With love you posted this, and with love it was read.
You and your sister were and still are beautiful...inside and out.
Hugs to you,

Dee said...

Dear DJan, this posting and last Sunday's seem like bookends to me. They span an arc. Thank you so much for sharing your touching response to the movie and the emotions it prompted in you--from deep gratitude for your sister's simply being to the reflections on all you have to be grateful for at this stage of your life.

I'm not sure if I ever quoted to you the ending lines of one of my favorite poems. I quoted it yesterday on a comment I left for a California friend-Debra. It seems to fit here also. The lines are from the poem "Ulysses" by Alfred Lord Tennyson:

"We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."


Linda Myers said...

I was talking to an older neighbor last week. She said she and her husband started coming to this Arizona RV resort about 20 years ago. One day, 15 years ago, he went for a bike ride outside the resort. He had a heart attack right after he rode over the interstate overpass and died instantly. She was sad, but she agreed it was a blessing.

I, too, hope my loved ones don't linger. I also believe - possibly TMI for this post - that we have the right to choose, that we need not linger.

Makes me appreciate my sometimes grouchy husband. We never know how many days of good we will have.

Arkansas Patti said...

All of us who have finally accepted our mortality thinks those very same thoughts. We are proud as a nation of our increasing life spans, but sadly that is seldom a blessing. So many of those "add on" years are a struggle for us and those we love.
We just have to do the things we know to do that should allow us to have a graceful exit and pray that is enough.
Not sure I will watch that movie. Thanks for the heads up.

Red said...

I always enjoy the posts you do on your relationship with your sister. It's a topic that intrigues me. We quite often hear about special relationships between twins but not between other siblings. A sad part is when relationships are negative and toxic.
Yes some movies can keep us thinking and uneasy for hours. All we can do is plan and hope our plan works. I am not at all worried about my end of life care. My wife is completely preoccupied with it and it makes her life completely miserable.

CiCi said...

The movie did much to provoke feelings and thoughts in you that you passed on to Smart Guy and now to us. That is a great movie. I want to see it.

You and your sister are much blessed indeed.

#1Nana said...

I was just visiting my father in San Diego to attend a memorial service for his younger brother. My dad is 87. We had a movie marathon (as a member of the Academy my Dad got DVDs of all the Oscar movies so he could vote for the Oscar) but we didn't watch that one. It was too close to our reality. My uncle lingered and though he remained at home with hospice care, it was a difficult time for his family. I, too, have been pondering mortatily as I watch my Dad struggle with losing the only person who shared his childhood memories.

So glad you had such a good time with your sister. Family becomes even more important to me as I get older. I already scheduled my next visit to California to see my Dad in May.

Retired English Teacher said...

I would like to see this movie on one hand, but on the other, I'm not so sure. My mother is 96 and still going strong. I worry about her so much though. I worry about the day she won't be able to care for herself.

Having dealt with so many health problems in the past few years with my husband and with myself, I am ready for some good days of sunshine and fun. I hope we don't ever have to watch each other suffer. As we heard in church today, so many of us hope we make our exit suddenly in the middle of the night while we are asleep during a time while we still have a mind that sharp and body that fails quickly. Oh that it would be true. In the meantime, we must embrace the days we have because none of us have any guarantees.

I love the photos of you and your sis!

Far Side of Fifty said...

Lingering is not something anyone hopes for, sometimes I think our medical establishment does the elderly no favors. I have a friend who takes total care of her brain damaged at birth grandson..he will be 19 this year..my friend is 62..I keep telling her she won't live forever and then what happens to her grandson..sometimes death sounds like a harsh release..but in some cases it would be a blessing..but God is in charge and I am sure he know that:)

troutbirder said...

Indeed. You last lines summed up my attitude as well. Watching my mother die inch by inch from Alheimers, losing my son to the effects of bi-polar and attendent dementia, estranged from my two Limbaughite brothers. We carry on for the moment, enjoying friends and caring for some, simplyfying our lives and readying for whatever the future bring us as best we can...

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Wonderful and heartfelt post. I think I'm going to skip the movie. I saw this kind of darkness in both of my parents toward the end of their lives - my mother with Alzheimer's, my dad with Parkinson's.

Tom Sightings said...

Sounds like a pretty intense movie. I guess I'd like to see it, but I just finished reading about Cheryl Strayed's experience with her mother dying, in her excellent memoir "Wild," and so I think that's enough for now.

Anonymous said...

I have been reluctant to see this movie. So difficult to watch a loved one slip away.

What lovely photos of you and your sister. So nice to have a sister for a friend in old age. My sis and I are not so close, she being to the right of right in politics, and me being somewhere in the middle... We should not talk politics at all, but reglion is also an issue.

Our mother died from septicemia years ago, so we have not had the issue of caring for an aging parent. I do have an aging husband and he has his limitations I fear. Dianne

Mel said...

DJan, I'm a few posts behind and always love your thought provoking, interesting and lovely posts. I think I'll skip Amour until I'm feeling a little braver. Same with the Impossible movie too - I'm not up for a grueling movie right now, but want something escapist or inspiring with out the misery or sorrow or reality gut check.

The diptych of you and your sister is one of the best things I've seen in a long time and tells a lifetime of stories and love. Beautiful. Keep taking those smiling sister photos, to remind yourselves and us how lucky we can be.

Lorna said...

My God, you think about the same things I think about.