Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The most reassuring lie

She is sleeping too much. When I was here three weeks ago, I noticed it and thought she was tired from the week. She gets out of bed and dresses. Then she nods off in the leather recliner, her head tipped back, mouth open, snoring, audible over the impossibly loud volume of the television. In the winter, it's basketball; in the summer: baseball. She rouses briefly to drink an ensure at lunch time, then sleeps away the afternoon. She falls asleep in the car on the way home from dinner. This does not keep her from sleeping at night.

My dad and my brother silently pass sections of the paper back and forth. My brother points out a half-page spread advertising the book The Lonely Polygamist, featuring the author Brady Udall. I sneer. Brady and I were friends (?)/friendly our freshman year of college at Brigham Young University. He is part of the fabric of my memories from that time, that luminous time in my life. We went to a dance together (Sadie Hopkins), and sat on an outdoor grate in the dark with hot blowing air warming us. I think it was November, but it probably wasn't that late into Fall. I don't remember what we talked about. I still have old pics around somewhere.

I sneered because when I knew him, he was a reader, and I the writer. (As Dereck just pointed out to me, "Hey, he got out there and did it." True.) I remember walking through downtown Provo with him during the spring term of our freshman year, when the town had emptied as much as Provo ever did, and perusing used bookstores. He asked me if I had read Harlan Ellison. I still have not.

Now our roles seem to have reversed. I pick up his book at the airport and read the jacket, look at his largely unchanged face. Ah, men, since you don't carry other people within your bodies, you are so much less subject to change than we are. Then I set it down and buy a paperback instead.

Almost every time I come to visit, my mother persuades me (mostly through asking incessantly) to take her shopping. She buys clothes she regrets within 5 minutes, and my father is left to return them. This visit is different. My brother drives our dad to the doctor, so I spend the day with our mother. She really can't/shouldn't be left alone for longer than a half hour. On the rare occasions that she finds herself alone, she calls the neighbors and frets. She speaks of buying a bathing suit. I do not answer.

Instead, I drive her to the Senior Center. We ask about classes, buy a membership for $3. I sign her up for a beginning computer class that she has already failed. An oil painting class she will never attend, because it meets too early in the morning, but I am feeling sort of desperately optimistic. There is a chance she will attend one of the free handicraft classes. The woman at the desk says, "You can bring your project."

"I don't have a project," my mother tells her.

"No," I say cheerily, "but you have a crochet hook and yarn! And maybe someone can help you get started." Actually, I know from experience that this has about as much chance as the computer class. However, even if she can just show up and sit and not nap, that will be enough.

She repeats like a parrot that she wants the crochet class. I tell her that this is the handicraft class. She tells the woman at the desk she'd like to take an art class. I point to the oil painting class description on our brochure, upon which I have been circling classes and writing "Free" with arrows pointing to them. I ask for a stapler and staple all the receipts together to the brochure, to put on the refrigerator later. My mother bristles when I say about oil painting, "We just signed you up for this... remember?"

Next, we go to the art supply store. However, it's not for supplies for her class. There is a difference between paying $3 for a class and droppi9ng $100 on supplies I'll just end up sneaking into my suitcase on subsequent visits.

We get pastels, a coloring book of geometric shapes she picks out and hates 5 minutes later. We get some sketch pads and pencils for me. I get an instruction book on drawing Mythological Creatures for Sam, but dissuade her from buying a $20 water color instruction book. In the evening, she watches me make rudimentary sketches: circles with shading. A tree and some grass. She wishes out loud for an instruction book, but I am loathe to give her Sam's. She won't use it. And I have already told him about it. I bought a paperback the other day, and she immediately asked me if she could have it. I order chicken with goat cheese for supper when she gets the Marsala, and she stares longingly at my dinner and picks at her meal. She drinks half my beer, after asking for a "taste." She wants what other people have. However, as soon as she has it, her interest immediately wanes.

I get out the pastels and coloring book. She no longer likes the geometrical shapes, and claims she needs something more whimsical. She knows that I am worried because she literally eats, sleeps, and poops. That's it. She is in pain and depressed. She isn't allowed to drive anymore. But this sleeping bothers me intensely. It's pathological. Even if she colors like a child, it is better than the newborn state she has entered. My father says he'll consider... something when she is either incontinent or hurts herself or others. My brother and I hear the sound of inevitability and wonder why the consummate Eagle Scout is failing to prepare. My brother and I take a walk after dinner and discuss the issue. We fear our window of getting our parents to move to one of our states has passed. We envision continuing to trek to Utah to visit them in assisted living. My father is an immovable object. He is still cognizant, competent. I read a copy of his will. It takes a court order or two doctors to declare someone incompetent. My father is in no danger. My  mother is another story. I suspect I could find more than two doctors who would be willing to sign away the remaining remnants of her independence and dignity.

She looks at the coloring book she picked out and now hates. She says she is tired. She repeats that it isn't whimsical enough. For 15 minutes, she pleads to be let out of the task of picking one shape from one page to color. She says she will do it tomorrow. I insist, until she has colored 5 geometrical shapes. She pauses after the first square to ask if there are instructions somewhere for the coloring book. I stare. "Have we really come to this?" I say quietly. "Can you truly not do this?"

I mentally shake myself afterward. I give her the crayons and colored pencils I have brought with me. I give her two of the three blank sketch pads. I give her my unread paperback. I put my arms around her and tell her everything is going to be OK.


  1. Ugh. I feel for you. I'm sorry it's coming to this.

  2. Earlier I was out walking and pondering the idea of equanimity which has been on my mind and in my heart lately. At some level, I do believe that everything will be OK no matter how much we suffer.

    I'm also aware that it is easy to feel equanimity when things seem to be going OK and am trying to re-calibrate my frame of reference.

    I also think it is funny that the wikipedia page for equanimity mentions Buddhists, Yogis, Hindus, Jews, Christians, Muslims.... and Snipers as people who strive for equanimity.


    P.S. For some reason Twitter is popping up a login box when I load this page. Canceling gets me past it OK. I am also logged into Twitter under my account, so maybe it has something to do with that?

  3. Your mother is lucky to have such a caring and tenacious daughter. Be strong, Sweetie.


  4. Has she been tested for sleep apnea? My mother was found to have it, quite badly -- hence all the daytime sleeping (she seemed to be sleeping at night, but was constantly waking up due to the apnea).

    Various apnea treatments left my mother improved, but... still broken. She doesn't nap during the day now nearly as much, but she is still very broken.

    I feel your pain. Hang in there!

  5. Mwah.

    Michelle de Seattle