Not for Sissies

[ Image: georgia and sue.jpg ]

Imagine a woman who knows she enjoys this soft friendly dog who likes to get in cars, even though she can’t remember its name or gender (you can bet she never blanks out when it comes to #TeamPetey, ha!), but that’s okay because she doesn’t always remember who our kids’ parents are, just that she loves all of them, and us. Emotional memory is powerful like that, seeming to outlast even memories of youth and jingles and nursery rhymes and the re-discovered joy of playing with sticks and leaves when she sits outside and of fiddling with trash from the console of the car (ignoring someone directly talking to her by name in her wonder over an empty Gu package), until eventually those all leak away, too.

But not yet for her. She is still very aware she likes to ride with the sun on her face and that she prefers to do it with a hat (which was confiscated on the day of this picture when she’d filled it full of foul armadillo shell pieces and stinky deer bones to ask what they were), so our ORV/Razr was a lovely surprise every day. And horses. Every day she became braver and more in love with horses and was elated to learn we had some! At the end of two weeks she had an epiphany, that once she had a horse (two in fact) and it was a beautiful moment for her, and bittersweet for us as she wondered if there was ever a way to see a picture of the horse again (there is, her son included Peanut Butter in a slide show a few years ago, one she used play incessantly on her computer, running through the hundreds of images and cherishing the memories they evoked, while they were still clear to her).

Imagine, if you dare, imagine the courage it takes to face each new day like this, with most current things new and scary again, like 50 First Dates, but without Adam Sandler’s helpful video for Drew Barrymore’s character to get you up to speed. Imagine the leap of faith and trust every morning, the pretending and hoping no one notices. We helped her keep a diary each day, although it was a) mostly oh-so-slowly dictated by us to her to write down because she couldn’t recall her day and b) augmented by us before she left to make sure the things she enjoyed all made it in. We pasted in and captioned pictures. Each day she read haltingly from the beginning all the way through before she would attempt the current day, and each time, she expressed shock (and asked the same questions about) the things in it. Even on the plane ride home, Eric once again took her through it over and over. I doubt she’ll open it again unless someone picks it up and shows it to her—the near past is *past* (bits and pieces come in and out of focus) and she doesn’t notice much around her unless someone gets her specifically onto something—but maybe I’m wrong.

On the last night of her visit, we reminded her she’d spent a few weeks in St. Croix before she came to visit us. “I did? When? I really did?” she asked, and burst into tears. The anxiety of traveling home, even with Eric, was crippling and in those moments she blurts out anything. Like, “how can I be sure I won’t starve while I’m here?” Or “I don’t know why no one believes I didn’t go on a church mission to Haiti last year, even the people at church don’t believe me, which is so embarrassing, because I DID (She didn’t, sadly).” Or “but I can’t wear these socks they have holes, and no I didn’t bring other black ones and they have to be black and no I can’t borrow yours” until Eric becomes the parent and has to say firmly, “Mom, I’m putting these socks and shoes on your feet right now and then we’re getting in the car,” because there’s a plane to catch, and no time for the senior-to-toddler moment. It’s when she is talking to your son’s new fiancée who she has only met once before and saying, “But I don’t understand why they won’t let me live here, I would cook and clean and help out and wouldn’t be any trouble, I promise. Why doesn’t anyone *want* me?”

And what is left in those moments is the holding of hands, the sudden smiles, letting her sing the nursery rhymes and agreeing that yes it is amazing she can remember the words to so many, the knowing you can make it happier and easier, for a time, and accepting that you can’t turn back the clock and restore her ability to remember. But you can remember. You can remember all the things she forgot, like the times it was your hand she held and your nursery rhymes she listened to, your socks she put on your struggling feet, and your tears she wiped away. You can remember it all for her, as your kids will for you someday.

Aging is not for sissies, I tell you, not for sissies at all.

(The inspiration for Evangeline Sibley in Live Wire)

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