Sunday, August 10, 2014

Into the Wilderness

"I’m confused", my mother reports when I call her in the morning. "Where is everyone? I feel like I’m all alone. Has everyone forgotten about me? It's like I’m in a wilderness".

"I haven't forgotten about you", I reply. "Here I am with your morning call and Sally will be there soon". 

Every morning I coax her through her day. "What day is it?" she asks. Time is a slippery devil, it keeps changing, never standing still. On top of the refrigerator is a large digital display with the day and time in red.
She reads it to me. "Monday, 8:35" I remind her to take her pills and she goes to her pill box. "Is today Monday?" she asks. We again establish that it is Monday and she takes out the Monday pills."There are an awful lot of pills", she says, the same statement she makes every day. "Who is coming today?" she asks again. I remind her that is it Sally. It is a short list, the same person virtually every day except when my sister arrives. I repeat myself many times matter of factly. I have long ago moved past irritation. It is what needs to be done. Each time she asks, it is a new question for her. "I’m so glad you help me to know what’s coming in my day," she says gratefully. "I couldn’t live alone without that".

My mother is losing memory. I try to pinpoint where it began. Five years ago she was fine. My late father's memory loss was more severe and perhaps overshadowed her more gradual diminishment. She has been on a plateau for a long time, not great, but not terrible either. My sister and I had adjusted to this new normal when suddenly the ground beneath us shifted abruptly, the floor of a crazy fun house dropping suddenly, our stomachs lurch with it. We evaluate what we need to do to support this change. We worry about her being afraid, but take comfort in the familiar person still there in the middle of this. The core remains despite these changes.
I am intrigued with her description of her experience, a wilderness. I am surprised that she can identify her confusion, perhaps a stage along the way until she is lost in that wilderness and the confusion that it represents. She is an intelligent person and has the vocabulary to put words to what she experiences. I am beginning to think through a series of paintings that capture this experience and I ponder this wilderness, this new and confusing world that she is entering. What would she take with her, what does she see and hear?

We talk about her cat, a special companion to my mother. When we returned from a trip, I was worried about her reorienting, settling back in. When I heard her speaking to her cat in the night I sighed in relief. Her cat is her companion and gives her comfort, another living, breathing creature. Her cat would accompany her into this wilderness. My mother writes a lot of notes to herself. Not always logical, she writes down times that five minutes later will be obsolete. It is the act of writing that helps fix her reality. Today I reported how long before her companion would arrive, 20 minutes, 15, 10. She writes this down as if to capture time, to make it stand still for her like her oven clock, stuck at ten after eight for countless years. 

I picture a path of yellow post-it notes, a yellow brick road of sorts with her cat leading the way, her shadow behind. A thick and tangled forest in front. The red flash of time through the trees. And my phone call reverberating in waves, an anchor for her as she stands before this forest. Into the Wilderness. I often know the title before anything else. I can picture this wilderness with its echoes of noise and light, her following her cat into the unknown. I add it to my to do list of paintings on the theme of memory.

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