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peering into the aging process

by Judy
March 21 

I feel like I’m peering into the aging process. I’m rubbing up right against it, observing its contours and planes and how the landscape subtly changes. About ten days ago I wrote in my journal:

“Mom is fading. The hard edges have softened even more. She’s merging into pink. That’s who my mom has become – softening shades of pink and white with a dash of red every now and then. When she smiles at me in that simple unadorned way, I always melt. My mom used to have that smile in the morning just at the break of dawn, but recently now it comes much later in the day – if it comes at all. It seems like she sleeps most of the day. She reminds me of a koala bear curled up in a tree and semi-hibernating.

These days my mother can’t see very well. Her eyes are often barely open. She can only see faces that are very close to her. So her world is fuzzy a lot of the time. In that state, lying in bed so much, she loses track of time and can become more “out of her mind,” slipping in and out of reality…dreams merging, not knowing if it’s morning or nighttime. Also lying in bed so much, she listens a lot. She told me the other day, “It’s very nice to listen.” This is a different woman. Now she likes to listen and is acutely aware of sound. When I read to her, which I often do, sometimes she is totally listening and absorbed in the content and other times it seems like she enjoys the sound more than anything else.”

As I reflect on this aging process, the overall picture is of decline, but within that picture there are ups and downs – it’s not a straight line downward. There are surprises - the dashes of red that pop up very unpredictably. For example, after she seemed to be immersed in a sleepy or semi-sleepy state for days, for no apparent linear reason, my mom became very alert. I have no idea why. This is what makes being a caregiver so gratifying - those dashes of red that emerge out of the blue. Life is not predictable thank goodness. There really is this “unknown” factor. So the other day she just perked up and was so accessible and cheery - wanting to interact after days of being sick, tired and out of range for contact. Why today? I don’t know but of course it affects me. I felt happy and relieved. How could I not? As a caregiver and daughter, you are so affected by the parent or whoever is being cared for. It’s not that you aren’t fine, but that’s different from being happy. We have such an effect on each other.

In these dashes of red, my mom never ceases to amaze me. She has continued to be more awake since I wrote in my journal. I recently travelled up to New York City and was carrying a large flat canvas bag. That morning when I called my mom from the airport, she asked me if I was able to get the bag through security. Now this might not seem very unusual, but given my mom’s consciousness and memory in addition to having a cold, that she would remember this detail and in her mom-like way be concerned (as she would have in the past) astonishes, amazes and delights me. Consciousness and how it works is truly a mystery. Again it’s unpredictable. For no apparent reason, my mom came out of what seemed like a fog that was hanging over her. The wheels start to turn again…the eyes wake up and you can almost see the mind mulling over things behind the face.

It’s not always easy being a family caregiver. That’s for sure. We can’t choose our parents or how they are going to age or our particular situation that we find ourselves in, but we can cherish those “dashes of red” moments and as Andrea beautifully expressed in her last blog, “We can choose to see the miracle that life is no matter how difficult our circumstances…” Yes, we can cherish those small miracles and hopefully develop a different attitude to the whole process of aging.

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