Things are different now. For the past three years I have been working on the basis that everything is ok.
I couldn’t face the alternative.
A rat in a lab maze, I ran hither and yon, pushing the button, get the treat, try again, and again, and again. Keep on keeping on. Keep calm. Look for the silver lining.
The definition of stupidity, they say, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
There is a magic at work here I cannot control. In truth nothing is ok.
It is three years since my mum had an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and then, three weeks later, a stroke. I was in the first week of a new job, a job I’d been waiting for for almost four years, finally available. My fortunes were about to change. We would buy the house, and do all the things we’d planned to do when we met.
That week my world began to unravel. I know that Alzheimer’s leads to dementia. And I know that dementia is a life-limiting condition. I know that a stroke can make the symptoms worse.
In that week I chose to lock it up, all the fear and sadness, and to do what my family does; soldier on. should have fallen apart. But I don’t do that. I deal with it. I rise to the circumstances. I cope. Grief is messy and my inner teacher tells me there is no use crying over spilt milk and anyway it hasn’t happened yet, so get on with it.
This kind of avoidance, though, leads to something nasty brewing in the woodshed, beneath the surface, half-sensed, , the dull ache of infected tissue, toxic and breeding.
I began to get sick. The job was very stressful, I was working additional hours for myself. I did not understand my symptoms, or their root, and eventually I had to give up the job due to poor health.
It took a long time to recover. I started therapy. Things improved, but something was still “off”. I felt stuck. There was something I couldn’t see. I could sense it, I could feel its breath on my neck, catch the shadow at the edge of vision, but when I turned there was nothing there.
The shadow has been growing.
We made the decision to move in with my parents. Life unpeeled further. Home gone, possessions in storage, my work space also gone, work patterns disrupted, income halved. The helter-skelter picked up speed, I was no longer in control, the first domino gone the rest were falling down, a click-clack spiral, beautiful destruction.
It arrived like an unwanted visitor. Suddenly unlocking the door I had so carefully secured and hidden. She is here now, cloaked in grey, ash-smeared, this grief.
I am sad. I am sad that I am losing my mum. I am sad that my friend and confidant is gone, that I can’t have her back. I am sad that this illness, or a by-product, will take her from me. I am sad that my dad is in so much pain, watching the woman he loves suffer and diminish. Sad about what she didn’t have in her own life, her health having been so challenged the past ten years. I am sad that I can’t do anything to make it better.
There are moments of lightness. She still has her humour, she loves nature and delights in the garden birds. Fairy lights make her smile and she enjoys familiar films and songs. I am holding these moments, like magpie treasures, glimpses of gold. They will pass soon enough.
I had thought I could avoid this place. If, I reasoned, I could understand what I’m thinking about this, if I can rationalise it, I will be able to avoid the pain. I have tried so hard to “keep going”, I have lectured myself into activities, projects, plans. I have driven myself to complete tasks and hold visions and push, push, push as though this will make it better, or will give some kind of relief. I think of the all the cliches of people losing themselves in their work. I would see it in someone else. I couldn’t in myself.
It is sad. And nothing I can do will stop it being sad for a long time.
I open my hand. The petals I have clenched from my dream-flowers are withered. I cannot keep them tight-fisted anymore. I will let them go, borne on the breeze, across the sea. I have opened my hand. They fly to the moon. Dust and ashes. There is no medicine for this beyond time and patience.
The spiral waits. Whisper the words, croon them, a spell woven with breath. Be gentle with the small soul-self who sits weeping in the corner. Be kind to the organised, brave self who offers projects and distractions. Hold them close and show them. It is time. Let go. Allow it and allow it and allow it.
This is just the beginning.