Saturday, November 01, 2008

A funny thing happened on the way to the third degree

Summer's over, fall's in full swing, I'm taking statistics and, surprisingly to me, enjoying it. But, it's the only class I'm taking and I think that's a lot of why. The other part of why is that I have a great professor who is taking it nice and slow, step by step, explains everything well, uses lots of examples from real life research she's been doing (sociologist). But --

It's a really, really good thing I'm only taking one class this semester because lifelong learning is coming fast and furious from an entirely different sector of life right now, and I sure do need the time I have freed up to submerge myself in what these lessons have to show me. My mom is teaching me, as she always has, how to struggle to keep going, how to adjust to changes, how to keep your independence, and, ultimately, how to let go of things too. How on earth does she manage this? She's got alzheimer's, diagnosed 3 years ago and on meds for 2 years now, slowly, but steadily declining. Yesterday I worked from 9 in the morning until 10 at night packing up the things that she convinced me (only after much painful effort on her part, because I really didn't want to believe it), that she didn't want or need -- about 95% of what she had in her apartment when I moved her into assisted living last weekend. To her it was just clutter, confusing her efforts to learn her new routines (where light switches are, how to turn them on and off, etc.). So, that was a bit of a shock.

Then the nitty-gritty of packing up for the second hand store was as grueling a task as I ever expect to undertake the rest of my life. Every little thing, from pouring out old spice container contents (to recycle the containers), to wrapping up little crystal vases and gold-plated soap dishes, just put me in hysterics, all day long. This is the person who taught me how to cook, how to walk around the block, how to deal with adversity, how to do the right thing when you're tempted not to. There were just a million little reminders that she was giving up all those things. I saw them as *her.* She was the collection of little crystal sugar bowls. She was the makeup containers all organized in little plastic bins in the bathroom drawers. She was the neatly stacked towels and sheets. She was the myriad lazy susans that organized everything in nearly every cabinet or closet where one could fit.

She wasn't any of those things.

They're just things. And she hadn't used most of them in months, maybe for as much as the last 2 to 3 years. But as long as she was there, surrounded by them all, there was this semblance of normalcy and I could keep on ignoring what was happening. Yesterday that was no longer possible and it just killed me to have to let go of the her I have known for my entire life. But then I realized, even though she's not being explicit about it like she was when I was little, she's just showing me how to let go. Well, how to not let go, until it's time to let go.

I found so many little things that showed me how hard she struggled to keep it together as things fell apart. Her little lists, her reminders (of her name and address and phone number), the little plastic container of cut-out labels from the food boxes she wanted from the grocery store so she could match them to the boxes on the shelves in the store. And there were the notes I had made for her -- how to use the can opener, how to microwave a Lean Cuisine, when she could still read relatively well. She loved to read. Read like there was no tomorrow.

So, today I have a little better perspective on it all. Especially as I look around at my own house and my own things, and hope I'll know that it's time to let them go. Not too soon. But not to hold on too long.

Now she's got a little two room "apartment" at assisted living and the transition begins, getting used to the new place, the new people, the new routines, especially getting used to being helped a lot more than I was able to help her. She lives close to me, but until this summer and fall, I've been scheduled to the max so I wasn't "helping" that much until May. Thank God I took some time to spend with her over the last 6 months. Maybe that helped, not just helped me, but maybe it helped her to see that it was taking a lot more "support" to be independent than either of us could continue to pretend was really being independent. When I finally suggested late September that I thought it was probably time to move to assisted living, she quickly said, "ok." Then for the whole month of October she always wanted to talk about it, when she was going, what she needed to take (very, very little, from her perspective).

Well, life just doesn't quit teaching us, ever. The most valuable lessons are not learned in school, in class or in the process of getting a degree. I'll worry about the degree later. I'm going to keep it together for many years to come. I had a good teacher.

1 comment:

Mary said...

Great blog. I really like what you said about your mom. And nice visuals too.