Sunday, December 26, 2004

gently snowing

Someone said recently that we become who we truly are at the end of our lives, and as i watch my mother dying, i suspect that this is true.

Unable to call upon her old friends, alcohol and cigarettes, she is alone without those steadfast companions. She lies in bed without defense, begging for the Atavan. She has stopped eating. Sleep is her only comfort. She must face herself, and I, for the first time, am facing who she really is in order to find whatever compassion, patience, and selflessness I have. It sounds odd to say this, but as I struggle to acknowledge what is actually happening -- that these are probably her last days--I can see that we are both shedding our separate skins, albeit at different phases of our lives. She is stripped down to her most basic functions -- breath, voice, smell. Her pleasures are only in memory. The other day she told me that when she hadn't been able to sleep the night before, she had played all eighteen holes of the Army Navy Country Club in Washington, D.C. in her head. "And quite well, too," she said, her sad blue eyes flickering over at me.

I, on the other hand, have reached a place on the trail after a long climb. Not a place where I can pitch a tent or even take off my shoes, but a small clearing that holds me for the moment, way above the treeline where the air is thin. I can choose to climb higher, or turn around and go back, can pick any point on the compass and head for it. I am middle-aged.

Just writing those words is difficult, almost as difficult as it is to say that my mother is dying. Middle-age feels like a kind of death, too. I grieve for the possibilities lost, the chances not taken, the consequences of decisions made. Much the way my mother plays those holes, counting each stroke, remembering the sandtraps and the fairways, going over and over in her mind the choice of clubs and how she might have hit the ball differently.

If only.......


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