Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year in Review & Why Resolutioning Isn't Helpful
These aren’t resolutions, and honestly, I don’t think resolutioning is helpful.
Because they set you up for failure.  You are harder on yourself than you are on any other person on earth.  So you set the bar high, higher and higher still.  Then the minute an ankle twists, a dessert is eaten, a harsh word said, time allotted given away—anything at all and the firm standards that you were so sure of, fall apart as ether.  The reason they did aren’t what you think.  The reason they disappeared and your self-esteem ebbed and the rewards seem to be out of reach are because you decided that self-kindness wasn’t a worthy goal this year.  A resolution of thoughtfulness of self wasn’t to be made.  Forgiveness is the only way to self-absolution.  And forgiving ourselves is the one thing we have trouble with.  The ones that can, who can look towards tomorrow as a fresh start not a failed attempt, are happier, healthier and just honestly easier.

So these are some ideas, inventoried anecdotes from my year-in-review that I need to reference when the going gets tough, and I need to be tougher.  Hope they might make sense for you too.  Ready?

“Happiness is a choice, not a right.”  Those
Declaration of Independence
Founding Fathers were on to something.  We have rights to life, to liberty, but not to happiness, rather it is the pursuit of it.  Something in the chase leads me to believe that they meant it is a choice not a right.  Many people have everything and aren’t happy, others have nothing and are.  Maybe perfect happiness isn’t possible, but waking up with the conscious decision to be happy has made a difference when I could see it through.  My mom, who would have been a shade closer to 70 this year had she lived, had only one wish for me, to be happy.  I didn’t get it then, but looking at the trio I have now, I do. 
remote battles are epic by law
Happiness can be elusive and fleeting.  But it’s a righteous and commendable goal.  We have more challenges as far as the sky is long as I write this, but I am going to really try to put a spin on happy this year coming and let the Zen of it carry me off to possibilities. 

“I feel like we’re drifting apart.  I mean to put a stop to that.”  That statement, two sentences, were said to me by my friend Julie this year.  I wanted to repeat them here because I thought it was simple and brilliant and beautifully direct. In the first part she acknowledged a distance that I’d felt too, and in the second let me know that she valued me enough to
Bridesmaids (2011)  
want to do something about it.  I learned from her that the worrying and fretting changes nothing, friends that matter are worth the effort of a direct missive to the heart.  And those that cannot see and acknowledge it as such, are not worthy of any more effort.  It’s too exhausting.  There’s a lot to do that can be got on with rather than hanging on.
Closing a door opens a window in a lot of ways; I learned that this year. 

“It’s time to walk together.”  My husband moves quickly and with sure steps.  I move a lot slower and am usually holding the hand of someone a lot shorter.  His pace is brisk, and he’s a runner.  Mine is tortoise-like and I am positive I have a running allergy.  It will not always be so, the chase will slow
down for John and mine will likely speed up without the lug of “come look at this” missing from me.  What I’m getting at is, in the midst of bustle and worry, and money and children and in-laws and aging and ends, marriages need tending to in order to remind each other why it seemed like such a good idea to settle down in the first place when you took that first walk down a white aisle. 
It begins with being in step.  Not always in sync, but taking the time to stroll together at the same place has helped a great deal for me.  I learned it is as helpful to tell someone to slow down as it is to speed up if we can both get there around the same time.

“I thought you’d give me the benefit of a doubt.”  I said these words to a friend who I had been kind to and supportive of, had done favors for, and had listened to.  It was an uneasy fit for the introvert in me from the start but when you go someplace new and you are not in classes anymore, effort needs to be made.  So when she threw some cutting phrases at me publicly and seemingly out of nowhere, I was stunned and had the simmering heart-achy discomfort of being made
to feel small and awkward, hollow and humiliated.  It took some stumbling and moments of self-doubt, and even though it has been addressed, a conclusion has come, for me, at least.  We cannot be friends.  There is no time when someone who calls herself with the privileged moniker of “friend” should make you feel badly.  It is never okay.  And you don’t deserve it.  Moving on from it should ensure that a spot in your heart opens up for someone who does.  This is not a high school musical; I can exit stage left whenever I need to. 

“Open books aren’t always safely read.”  I’ve mentioned a tendency I had before, because of my
history, of dealing with difficulty in ways that weren’t honest.  My reaction to that has been one of an “open book” policy.  It makes me vulnerable, sure, but as I have told my own children, lies are always found out, the truth just hangs there and is unvarnished.  So when I write, I promised that I would not write here about my life or ideas in any way that was false.  Perhaps nothing is as vulnerable as the stories we tell and the audience we tell them to.  Usually, the latter is controlled.  But not when you enter the world of a blog.  I always think of my audience as small, but I’ve been surprised when I find out how and who (and especially touched when told why people) are reading my words.  Perhaps because of this, I found myself the recipient of a completely unexpected missive about my family and my way of walking in the world from a person I barely knew.  I did not feel it was kind or generous, I thought it was offensive and overstepped and said so.  In my shock and defensive anger I revealed personal details of my life that I absolutely should not have shared with this person.  It was an error.  I did not seek counsel.  I reacted.  In the end, I’ve learned this year that while being an open book is almost always a wondrous thing, certain chapters have to remain firmly closed.  That’s a secret narrative for a very privileged, very trusted few, and for me, at the top of that list is God.    

“Be kind anyway.”  Do you remember those stickers that say, “mean people suck?”  Well of course they
do.  I’m sure it is a suckfest for them as well, seeing as they have to live with it all the day long.  But I’ve found that when in doubt, being kind has helped in numerous ways, to the person I don’t know, and certainly to the person I do.  Kindness matters.  Holding doors, offering a smile or a word of encouragement.  Giving when you can.  It helps change the entire world.  A butterfly effect of generosity.  And that extends in all aspects.  The same thing your mother told you if-you-don’t-have-something-nice-to-say-say-nothing-at-all applies too.  That’s being kind.  Just don’t say.  Sure you may have been to the Grand Canyon or Cayman a thousand and one times, sure you know the best place to eat in the Village, yes, you enjoyed that spectacle first.  But, just…don’t say it.  Like the post, give a nod, smile brilliantly.  Let their experience lie in its sheer awesomeness and be happy for them.  It’s important for both of you. 
And this lesson is as old as time itself, Instead, let your message be 'Yes' for 'Yes' and 'No' for 'No.' Anything more than that comes from the evil one." Matthew 5:37  The evil here being jealousy or envy, temptation or covetousness (yes, that’s a word.  Isn’t it cool?  Doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue though.) that may lead you to say something that could’ve been better left unsaid.  A simple “happy for you” beats anything else any day. 

“Smiling should not hurt.” Grinning and bearing it is overrated.  When my mother got sick, she began to read her favorite cat centered mysteries with an increased fervor.  It bothered me a bit, but she was
right when she said that she lived long enough and read enough of the highbrow to know what she liked and what she liked was this.  Understood.  We’re all getting on and up and about.  Do what you want to do and in company worth keeping.  Don’t apologize for it. 
Read what you want and make it count.  Don’t grit your teeth in an imitation of Marlon Brando in The Godfather.  I’ve found myself in less than stellar
social situations this year that I entirely opted into in the erroneous idea that I had to finish the commitment even if it hurt me to do it.  That’s done.  Time is precious, and smiling should come with bubbling joy, lesson tucked Mom. 

“I loved it when you said that you loved it.”  You know that really together friend you have?  The one that has kids she wrangles with ease, a body that you cannot understand and energy to burn?  The house that’s lovely, the marriage without squeaks?  I've learned this year that that person, specifically, needs encouragement.   I don't know what is going on behind the scenes, the exterior may be perfect, but the interior may be still and quiet.  When I’ve been called to, when a person appears to me in my mind, in prayer, in a whisper from God, I’ve answered it.  It doesn’t take much, a call, a text, a
message an email.  Whatever it is, encouragement helps.  And it helps everyone.  I did that for a friend of mine, and she said it made her day.  It didn’t take all that much of mine.  And my friends have done it for me.  Friends, some writers, some not professionally so—well a few have told me consistently that they like what I’m up to, and why.  That helps me immeasurably face up to this keyboard and have another go.  We all need encouragement.  We all need acknowledgement.  It’s free.  It’s love.  It’s good.  We need to do it often because it fills us up even more than the person we’re applauding.   

“Love the ones you’re with.”  Isn’t it strange that we save the best for what’s outside our own home?  Maybe because we expect, intrinsically that the people who know us best should just know us.  Just know what we’re about.  How dare we have to explain it?!  How dare they just not know it.  Deep down in their marrow.  So resentment ensues and the happy shining face is best spent outside.  Who
needs me more—the friends I see occasionally or the folks who I see every day to break bread?  Loving someone means really loving them, all of them, all the time.  Not liking them consistently.  That’s near impossible, but loving them regardless.  And that energy is best consumed and best spent at home.  The reaction of that effort to “love without stopping” (1 Corinthians 16:14) gets easier as it’s put into practice.  The first good word has to go to one of the four boys I live with.
  It just has to be that way.  The same ripple effect applies.  They leave lighter.  I stay a bit more calmly.  Whoever you’ve chosen to love or who have been chosen to be loved by you, are the ones that need the first bright gold rays of your impossibly bright sun.  Whether they consist of family or family and a few select friends, tell them, often and constantly how important they are to your well-being.  It’s the best boomerang you’ve ever had in your whole life.  And makes your home a far, far better place.  

“My word this year is ‘story,’ and I’m determined to write it.”  A billion or so yesterdays ago, I found this really great idea I think through Ali Edwards.  One Little Word.  Something to define you and be defined
by you this upcoming year.  I chose story way back when and then everything kind of crashed and it was a word deferred.  But my word for 2015 is STORY.  The one I write, the one I live, the one that I want to be part of.  It’ll be ongoing, and most likely twisty.  The best tales are after all.  What that means for this corner of the Internet, I’m not so sure, but I am sure that the end product will be worth it.  Because I am.  Story is my word.  What word will define you this year?

In whatever way you look at it, and however you chose to let the New Year in, I hope it is filled with more hope than you think is present, more love than you think is possible, and more joy that can ever be contained or considered practical.  I cannot wait to see what’s in store for you!  Have a wonderful, happy, healthy 2015!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Reclaim that Holiday Narrative--Why You're Doing Just Fine

In my memory, there was a lovely soap in a dish wrapped nicely in cellophane.  I think it was a favor from a party.  It was so nicely presented, wrapped up with ribbons, the pressed flowers, a variation on the theme of purple that showed so nicely on the white.  The scalloped porcelain dish on which it resided was delicate and lovely.  You almost didn’t want to use it and break that mirage of perfection.  So.  We didn’t.

For years, the soap gift was left to reside in the guest bathroom, a permanent fixture of temporary perfection.  Once it was opened, the illusion would be abandoned.  The “niceness” gone. 

The shrink wrap and cellophane did nothing to stave off the dust that accumulated under and around it,
Great Expectations 1860
however, and the only way to clean it—to salvage the soap, would be to open it.  Otherwise it would sit, growing brown with lack of care, a
Miss Havisham remnant, suspended in time, grown ill and forgotten from lack of use.

My mom was not a hoarder; she was a frugal saver.  And it wasn’t that we couldn’t afford nice things, it’s just that we didn’t have a lot of them and what we did have, were chosen pretty carefully.  I had started to ask her though, especially in the last years of her life, what we actually were saving these things for?  The china that was on display, the linen tablecloth in the closet that was yellowing with age, but never unfurled for the fear of the stains of the act of living and celebrating.  What was the actual point of keeping it perfectly perfect?

Because when we do, or when we try, often the standards are far beyond our energy or interest.  The willingness is there, the execution not so much (consider, will you, the popularity of the “Pinterest fail” posts?).  If we all can agree that the striving for
"Strawberry Santa Pinterest Fail"
perfection is such that we need professionals to trim our trees and decorate our homes, if the only photos that grace our cards are those that have been shaped and filtered and vetted to a high polish of unreal, if we all agree that we’ve lost the newborn heartbeat of this season, then we’ve got to scale back, reevaluate, and reconsider what it is that we’re doing to and of and with each other.

Hang with me.  I’ve got a point about all this, and here it is: the holidays.  The act of celebration of family, friends and faith can quickly become like that unused but lovely relic in the stories of our family history.

It begins the minute I order the turkey for Thanksgiving and then have to choose a date to pick it up.  It hits quickly and definitively that the holiday season has begun.  And so too has the craziness, and the keeping up and the keeping in and the keeping of perspectives.

The last bit is the hardest to do and see and reinforce.  I want my children to have gratitude and to remember that the endgame in all of this: the presents, the lights are all visceral reminders of the Savior’s birth….

But the anxiety begins at Thanksgiving—the dishes to make, the pies, the baskets to fill for families in need, the lessons to impart while doing it all:

“Why aren’t our decorations up?”
“They have a tree all picked out, what about us?”
“I want the wishbone!”  “Wait!  Me too!  What’s a wishbone?”
“Where’s our elf?”
“Why don’t we have more decorations?”
“I really don’t want to wear that shirt.”
“When are the cookies being made?”
“I need to add something to my list for Santa.”

Clement Clarke Moore 1823
When I was growing up, Christmas centered around church, the constructs of a tree and presents and Santa and chimneys, stockings and cookies left out were foreign ones for my foreign parents.  I felt a distinct lack and embarrassment because of it.  (When you’re in school, you just don’t want to marked as different, that “othering” is also a social construct that we do anything to avoid well into adulthood.  After all, it has taken me many years to stand firm in my own skin to say it’s fine.  I cannot imagine the bone density I would have required at the age of 8 or 12 or 16 or 22 to do that.)

But when I became a mother, I wanted to do it all differently.  Create traditions and firmly plant seeds of ideas of gratitude and compassion that would be sparked into action from memory in the years to come.  And I don’t think I’m a bit different from anyone else in this regard.  It’s not the intentions that do us in, it’s not our kids, it’s the refraction of double vision (much like when you forget to put on the 3D glasses), the double vision of all you see around you quickly turns to tunnel vision and all you can think of are the things you have not done to make your holiday warm, meaningful and bright. 





Shake your head from the snowflakes of cheer that abound and know this.

You are doing just fine.  And the forgiveness and love that comes with this special season needs to start with you.  It’s not easy, you are smack dab at the end of the lengthy to-do list, but you need to forgive yourself and allow every single one of your senses to rest and rejuvenate.  You’re pretty good at giving grace.  How about sparing some on yourself?

I’ve been conditioned to look around me and see what other people are doing, and seeing, and tradition-ing.  All of this is conflated then when the brothers three come home and talk about what their friends are doing: “He said it’s a tradition!  What’s our tradition?”

Whatever your answers are, I suspect that’s truly where your traditions are.  You can reclaim the holiday narrative that has been written in your family.  You can impose the limits you need, you can reinforce ideas, and you can begin new ones.  Grace is like that, your book of grace; your narrative is not static.  It moves along with your life, it has no edge to test, its center moves around.  You can change it.  It doesn’t need to define you; it needs to be defined by you

Meet Milo.  He's on Joe's model
of  the Knight Bus.  I've tried
(unsuccessfully) to convince him and his
brothers that Milo really just wants
to be a wizard and hoped to catch
a ride to Diagon Alley by staying right there.
I could get grumpy.  Truth be told, I probably am.  I still have cookies to bake so they can be decorated to goopy perfection by this trio.  I have gifts to wrap, and to order, Christmas cards to address, cookie swap to bake for, teacher gifts to consider, a poinsettia plant to keep alive, a tree that needs watering, dinners to plan, an elf to move, Advent devotionals...and that doesn’t count all the other things checked off the list.  But here is my response, when we look at Christmas, we’ve got to look at our hand, and count the senses we’ve been given:

Sight: I can see so much more beauty in the house at Christmas, the tree, ornaments that have stories
Advent wreath by Caleb Voskamp
attached to them, an advent wreath that follows Mary to Bethlehem, stockings, all in deep crimsons representing the heart and love and greens offering hope and growth.  Those colors offer surety and comfort somehow.

Sound: Music fills the air this time of year more than any other.  And it usually isn’t the loud, pop music I’m really unfamiliar with, but the old classics that everyone seems to know and hums along with.  My mother loved the Mormon Tabernacle’s version of Joy to the World.  For me it’s the Carol of the Bells and new renditions of old favorites that stir me to imagine something greater and makes me better. 

A Hallelujah Christmas - Cloverton Music Video... 

Smell:  I make twice-buttered rolls a couple times a year, standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding once a year.  But what really reminds me of Christmas is roast duck.  My grandmother made 5 of them one year when she came visiting from India.  My mom
Since my mom's not here to advise
I found a gorgeous step-by-step from
The Hungry Mouse
took up the tradition afterwards and every Christmas Eve, that’s the dinner waiting for us. 

Taste: Sugar cookies have become a battle for me, considering I only started making them in earnest five years ago.  I think I’ve finally got it down though,
my gang, last year, decorating away
and the Martha helped a lot!  In all seriousness, nothing tastes like Christmas for me more than one of those carefully, crazily decorated cookies.

Touch: The laughter and cheer of games and stories.  We are more generous with each other this time of year; at least that’s what I see.  Hugs are given more readily; hands are clasped with earnest grace. 
the boys 2009

“Grace” in the Old Testament, the word used is chesed, which can mean deliverance or favor from God against enemies or adversity.  It suggests daily guidance and forgiveness.  In the New Testament, it can mean the unmerited favor of God.  For me, with this season, with Christ’s birth, it offers a chance of the amazing possibility of salvation and freedom and that kind of present asks for nothing in return but an extension of that forgiveness.  Some compassion, some understanding.  Amazing grace.  I have an opportunity to enact it all the time this season.  When I saw the lovely decorated house of my friends or the amazingly coordinated family holiday photo, I used to get pretty glum.  My house, not so much.  My photos…well, it’s an opportunity and a hope that one good IOS photo comes through.  Our budget was stretched to the extreme, and that meant no formal photos or extras.  But lately, just lately, I’ve taken off my glasses, cleaned them, gotten out of the double/tunnel and put them back on to see what’s really happening: 

  • I don’t know the crazy that took place around that holiday photo, but I can be so glad to see the genuine smiles of a happy family in it, and pray that it stays that way.  And I can file away an idea or two for the future.

  • I don’t know the amount of stuff that has been placed in the unused guest room so the main space can get gorgeous or how many things were broken by the dog before the party started, but I can be glad that my friend has this house and these things and share her pride in them.

  • I’m not sure of how many cookies got broken in the making of the intricately decorated Christmas tree sugar wonder in front of me, complete with miniscule candy ornaments and a glaze so fine, it cannot have been made by hand, but I can look at it and enjoy it and tell my friend how talented she is and how much joy seeing it brought me.

  • I’m not sure why my friend decided to post everything she’s done lately for the holidays or house or kids or classroom, but I instead of allowing the imp of jealousy come and steal my goodwill, I can give her the praise that she really needs to hear, because it isn’t coming from places where she needs it to come from.  She’s asking to be noticed, acknowledged and told that it is well.  And I can do that.  I can do that for her and maybe that will be the words she needs to begin the journey to rebuild whatever is broken in the background just out of the photo frame that will make her stand taller and more confidently. 

In the end, the very end, I cannot impose the intention of any post, photo, card or gift.  It is up to me how I’ve chosen to receive it.  And in the reception is grace.  And the more you give yourself, the more you have to give away.  The season is already perfect.  You are the perfection in the season, just as you are

That soap by the way?  We talked, my mom and me, and it was opened and used, and worn out and replaced.  Because that’s the whole point of lovely things after all, they grow lovelier with use and touch memory will imbibe it with significance.  That’s the alchemy of what makes the ordinary extraordinary

And that’s what I wish for you, moments of extraordinary ordinariness, and the perfection of your family, just as it is.  Merry Christmas friend, and God bless you in the upcoming New Year.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My Dad has Dementia. And It is Hard.

"It doesn't matter who my father was;
it matters who I remember he was."
--Anne Sexton
You know where you are at this moment, physically at least.  You know that you like cereal versus toast for breakfast, that you prefer your tea hot and coffee iced, that you’re partial to all manners and shades of pink.  You know this.  You know the kinks in your character and have tested their limitations.  You know you’d prefer to read than run and look forward to the stretch of a yoga class.  You remember lines from movies that make you smile to remember them.  You can recall just what you wore when you saw it, and the perfume in the air that day.  You can close your eyes and recall your first kiss, the first time you held your baby, what it was like to break…anything.  Over time, the peaks and valleys of your mind and brain have sharpened and intensified.  You’ve given up the New York Times crossword in favor of a daily mediation.  You’ve finally mastered the cryptic tones of your teenager and can decipher exactly what is needed for breakfast.  You feel full of love and can locate it.

Suddenly or slowly, then, pieces of what you knew are gone.  It becomes difficult to discern if bacon always made you happy.  Flower names fade.  You ask for a cup of coffee and do not understand the register of shock of those around you.  You ask for a piece of cake instead of fruit and you think a small bomb went off for all the consternation that follows.

As days pass, and weeks fold into them, the rhythm of daily tasks become decidedly off-key.  The toothbrush is there, but then what?  You put the kettle on and forget that it is there, opting to take a walk instead.  You get in the car and forget where you’ve got to.  One day you wake up, and, nothing at all seems the same.  You may rebel at first, it is scary, you don’t remember the blanket everyone says you made!  Resignation comes later.  An
acknowledgment that perhaps what you know is only the step in front of you.  And that everything else is just moving by like a slide show with pictures, colors, movement and speech but it all comes differently, slowly and with the most extraordinary difficulty.

Dementia does this.  It is like a roiling snake, swallowing whole your life of memory and deciding bit by bit what skeletal remains you are allowed to keep.  There is still so little we know about the capability of the brain to focus, rewire, adjust and compensate.  We are just on the cusp of learning more, ever more about it.  What we do know is what happens when dementia strikes, the bite marks of it darken and corrode, a hole whose crater spreads until areas for breath, touch, taste, and sight becomes enveloped in it.  The progression can be rapid or slow.  It all depends on the size and the type of snake. 

My Dad has dementia.  And it’s hard.  The piece of my story here is just one of the puzzle of how it has come to reside in my family.  There are so many other threads of this vast blanket of loss, each one different and each one important.  It doesn’t seem to affect you, until it does.  Here’s a length of my thread along with a place for some direction and answers if you happen to be navigating this road now.

“I’m sorry Dad.”
“Dad, you cannot talk to her.”
“I said GO!”

If my father could be outlined in color, I think it would be a fierce red.  Angry and passionate, filled with indignation and hunger with a base of the most murky and impossible blue.  They are, interestingly
enough, not in opposition on the color wheel but on the same side.  Which makes sense, I suppose, when you think of artists always speaking of such highs of creativity followed by bouts of true melancholia.

Is he an artist?  I don’t think so.  Not in the traditional sense that we know of artistry, that we applaud or consider.  He has not painted, acted, sung or written.  His performance has solely been for an audience of immediacy.  And I was an unwilling, captive observer.

I’ve mentioned him before here, but a fault line has occurred since then.  And I find myself wondering, selfishly, why it is that he cannot seem to see the love his family has for him as he feigns left and straight toward a life that utterly broke him.

You need some backstory here, but it’s a tale that is so layered and complicated, I don’t know if I’m the one, just yet, to tell it.  But I can tell you a little, and this is only one small piece that can be added to and embellished to fill up a life.  This, in other words, is not the whole story.  But it is a tale in the collection that makes him who he is to me.   

There is the fact that my father seemed to me to be taller than the trees from way on high and that his judgments would fall hard from such lofty heights.  There were years, too many, of anger, drinking, accusations and emotional haranguing that left me often bewildered and looking, if not for a way forward, at least a way out.  A hot temper combined with an unquenchable thirst for whisky then vodka and wine to even things out, left daily imprints on the life my mother and I shared with him.  There were hurtful things, very hard to forget, contradictory joys that seem impossible to remember:

“You are too stupid to live.  You will never make anything of yourself.  You will be a failure.”

“You are my only asset.  The greatest gift I have ever received.”

There are worse things of course, and better things certainly.  But it gives the sense of the balance beam on which I walked, often with my mother an arm’s reach behind me.  With the wisdom of hindsight and life, of my own sorrows and joys that grew me up, I can see now that his rage was utterly misdirected towards me.  It was his own schoolboy self that was in pain.  Of parents who never felt he was good enough, of a profession that he did not attain, his perceived inadequacies come to rest sum total on my narrow shoulders.  I am aware of this now.  But then, no, I just knew I could not.  Not anything.  Those were confusing days.

When I married, there was in my small family a collective sigh of relief I think.  John could be relied upon, for my father, most seriously, it also meant that he could finally have my mother all to himself.  Her life’s work, although she never signed on for it as a newly graduated B.Sc. candidate, was to take care of a broken man she barely knew.  My parents met once before they married.  An arranged marriage that turned, into all things, a love story.  But all that changed when my mother passed away.  And the bottled rage of a life that was just mending, with an uncertainty of an endless future, sent my father into such a shock that he turned to his addiction as a way of coping with his loss and his fear.

He remarried, against my wishes, I thought it too soon, less than a year after my mother died.  An arranged marriage to a widow with four adult children living in the States.  Her sister and brother made these introductions to my mother’s uncle who began the process.  They kept moving up the date.  John and I desperately tried to keep pushing it back.  We secured a prenuptial agreement.  They were not happy.  My father, screaming at me as I was newly pregnant with our first child, blamed me for both my mother’s death and stopping his last chance for happiness.  I was exhausted.  They married.  And then, the truth came out. 

My father’s new wife had no inclination of tenderness or companionship for my father.  In fact, her sister and she planned very carefully and strategically to set her up financially through this marriage—and they did so, with catastrophic consequences.

My father, who was never, ever happy after my mother’s death, spent his days when he would visit here from the flat they shared in India, trying to find a way into her heart.  She denied him again and again.  His drinking increased and I was eventually summoned halfway around the world to come get him.  Without a settlement to his wife, I would never be able to get him out of the country alive.  So, with my aunt’s help, I paid her and I listened to it all.  I even cried for her, because I knew all too well what it was like to be on the receiving end of such a temper.  But in the end, she ruined him.  And he still loved her.  I brought him here and his diagnosis baffled the doctors who saw him, he was not entirely Wernicke-Korsakoff, because huge segments of his long-term memory had also been severed.  His short-term memory was completely gone.  A few truths remained: he had an unspecified dementia.  He would never get better.  Any further drinking would kill him.

When we came to visit this weekend, John checked the phone he had to receive calls from relatives and friends who wanted to know how he was.  When I first brought him here, it was a child’s cell phone (they do not make these anymore that are U.S. compatible), something he could not dial out on because it was essential that he no longer contact the woman whose negligence contributed heavily to his state now.  His diagnosis though, his dementia has no defined path.  He could decline rapidly or plateau for years.  In the four years since that trip to save him, his decline has been such that we thought it safe to get him a regular mobile. 

I stepped foolishly in this belief.  A synapse fired and a number was recalled and he and his (former) wife have been in contact.  She has been calling constantly wanting to see him and, apparently, have him sign something for her. 

When I see my father now, with my children or without, he doesn’t say very much.  He remembers very little.  He still knows me and the children and John, he remembers my mother, but he wants very little to do with us, with me.  He is usually irritated after an hour and sends us away as he stares into something I cannot see—a vortex of memory, a stormcloud of life’s decisions?  He has not remembered my birthday in almost 10 years.  It has come home to me, very clearly, how important these moments are for a child and how a parent is the only person who holds that particular key to that particular lock in your
heart.  I always leave him feeling resigned and a bit more chipped away.  It has been hardest on my eldest son, whose name is shared with my father’s, “Api doesn’t talk to me anymore.”  I hardly know where to look when the earnestness of such a statement is given to me.

And yet, at the mere voice of this woman, he has such strong feelings still.  Of wanting to be loved, of longing, it is maddening.  For him it will always be the elusiveness of wanting complete and utter earthly devotion that will signify love.  Only the corporeal will do.  Something tangible, I think, something that he can touch and feel, if compassion and loyalty and devotion and passion can be made visceral.  But this disease—what in the world does he have left to give her?  We took the phone.  And I feel so small.  His life has shrunk so much; he has so little to look forward to.  His days are endless, and the same and he cannot recall it otherwise.  He cannot take care of himself anymore and needs assistance with the smallest of tasks.  A man who treated justices on the Supreme Court now needs assistance to bathe.  If there is any consolation of the daily injustice of having your mind slip from you, it is that there is no cognizant recognition of that loss.  But the sorrow of it, the whole, huge sadness of what could have been and should have is the burden for
the witness who bears it.

His anger towards me is palpable.  It has been that way for a very, very long time.  This return to red has been pretty slow as his broken mind has tended toward the blue.  But when he turned away from me, curling on his bed toward light and hope that the window provided, a hand flipped over with a finger pointing toward the door, nails that I just clipped minutes before…I feel defeated.  And that I have lost my parents all over again.

I realized then, in my sorrow and my swallowed anger—anger that is so big and bulky that it is hard to force down past your throat—that I had forgiven my father and all I wanted was an acknowledgement of the love that I had being enough for him. But illness and wanting leaves no remedy for this.  His love for me may not have an end, but it is no longer visible. 

“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”  III.ii Romeo and Juliet


While I’m not sure of how the story will end, the trajectory of dementia is such that I believe the blue will intensify until it becomes the darkness of oblivion.  And, at that point, God will place stars for guidance to carry him home to something green and vibrant so he can realize, at last, the world of color that has waited for him all his life.

For more information on dementia resources, the first place to look is your local hospital’s dementia care unit.  Social workers there will have a list of places, specialists and care providers that can help you transition your loved one.

For more information about dementia and to donate to dementia research, please contact, the four star charity navigator ranked: Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.