I woke up early this morning and paged through the latest issue of Time Magazine. In it I found a recollection by Patti Davis, daughter of former President Ronald Reagan, sharing some of her thoughts and memories about her father. In just the few minutes it took to read the article the aching began. It rises fluidly from some unseen place deep inside of me. It has been a little over three-and-a-half years since my mother, Hildegard Warner, died. Even today the grief has not disappeared. What was for a time an almost inconsolable agony has softened over time, but it remains in languid dissipated form just under every thought, very sentence I write, every new experience I have.
There are just so many “should-haves” that still torture me late at night or now, early in the morning when I am alone with my thoughts. I cannot hear about dementia or read an article without reliving the moments of her terror as the world grew dark and unfamiliar. And I grew increasingly unable to protect her against my own fragile humanity. I wanted to be the perfect caregiver, but I wasn't. There were times I wanted to be absolved from all the responsibility even as I drove down I-90 towards Chicago. The fact that I didn't run away has more to do with her grace and bravery and her desperate need of me at those times and far less with any honor on my part.
Because I am a Psychology major I frequently encounter lectures and discussions surrounding the mental health of older adults and every time I contribute the tears still well up, my voice shakes... Whenever I encounter others who have traveled a similar journey their anguish vibrates inside of me, intensifying my own. I seldom speak of it today, most of my family and friends expect that I have moved on more successfully than this and to raise such issues would be to bring a level of disquiet into their perceptions of me that would only make this process of letting go worse. So I turn to my writing, and my recollections.
I wear the ring I gave her for her 50th birthday. Its tri-colored gold bands were a symbol of her three children. I received it from the nurse the afternoon she died – she had continued to wear it long after she discarded her other jewelry – just a few months shy of my own 50th birthday. As each new day and new experience unfolds I bring her with me – and somehow it cheers me to know that I can still bring new things to her, much like my brother, sister, and I did as children. From us her world expanded to become American. Today her eternity is still somehow gilded by my continued humanity. My memories of her and of my last journey with her into the hellhole of dementia will continue to tint the occasional blog here... my hope is that my words will honor her as she deserved. For me it will be the solace I cannot allow myself in my everyday world...