In search of story



I’m stuck. I want to write about something but can’t seem to do it; I’ve tried.

The scene is my Aunt Jean’s studio apartment. She is dying of leukemia. Her sister, Edna, and the hospice volunteer are there. It is the day after my father’s funeral, so my California brother is there too. And me.

My aunts, immensely strong-minded women, had made their own ways in a hostile world, one a CPA and the other a PhD. So there, in that tiny space, are three great forces of nature — Jean, Edna, Death. A humidity of exhaustion and grief makes the air thick. The epic warfare between emotion and O’Hern control has become grim hand-to-hand combat. I have walked into this as one being ambushed.

Edna attacks me with cold, angry words. I am in no shape to handle them. I stare at her while I feel something tear inside me. I am conscious of knowing I am not going to be all right.

I do not look back on that moment; I re-live it. It is as immediate to me as the breath I take as I type this.

In that room an entire family history crashed into itself. Past collided with present, living with dying, unkown with known. How do I write of such a room, of such a moment? I can’t seem to do it, yet I know I must. I want it in my book about caregiving.

I admit there is much in that room I don’t want to write about. When I’ve made myself write it, as a writer must do, I’ve ended up with mayhem on the page. Craig’s List makes better reading.

There is my lament. I now return to my writer’s pacing and muttering.


Remembrance of things never past

February. It has nothing to do with groundhogs or valentines or Lent or the aching drab of late winter. It’s about assisted living. It’s the anniversary of separating Dad from his own home. A Caesarean without anaesthetic. An amputation without tourniquet.

When the memory came back to me a little while ago, I could feel my hands go clammy. I looked: my palms were sweaty. So quickly does memory turn to flashback.

Home is much more than worn highways in the carpet; it is independence, control, identity. All that is lost in assisted living. And, for Dad, by my hand. Rocks in my chest. I feel them now.

Dad’s dementia was non-Alzheimer’s, a cruel state of awareness and unknowing. Dad might seem fine during the day (he wasn’t), but at night he wandered, goaded by that unknown, a danger to himself and me. We were both sleepless but he didn’t know it. So he, uncomprehending, had to go into a secure place. He had a lovely apartment with his own furniture — and a locked door at the end of the hall. Incarceration became cardiac stress and in five days he was in the hospital.

Simultaneously, Dad’s sister Jean was dying of leukemia, his sister Edna showing signs of her own dementia. I was saturated with aging and dying. My face twitched so badly that I seemed to be winking.

No part of caregiving occurs in a vacuum. Always other things are going on. When I see this sweat on my palms today, fifteen years later, I also see my empty-eyed father, my deadly white Aunt Jean, my muddled Aunt Edna, and I long for sleep.

Caregiver flashbacks. Will anyone believe them?