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Monday, July 14, 2014

Stasis and Grief

Hello again. If anyone out there still gives a rat's ass about what I have to say.

It has been a while, hasn't it?

When I first began blogging, I took the advice of more seasoned writers to heart: don't blog just for the sake of filling empty space-- just blog when you have something worthwhile to tell us. And I always swore not to make it too personal. That would be unprofessional, right?

But letting months of silence go by is even more unprofessional.

I did a good job of posting regularly for a good long while-- a few times a month, or even just once or twice-- but last year, I hit a point of stasis in my writing-- a tantalizing 15k from the end of the draft--  and I felt like I had nothing much to say. I didn't want to write whiny blog posts about losing my mojo. I concentrated on trying to sort out the rather more pressing concern of getting a grip on my work situation. I had next-to-none, you see. Not a good place to be, and a place I've been too often in my life. Wears one down. Kills the creative spark-- which is ironic because God knows you have time on your hands! But all I cared about was how to eat, pay bills and not lose my home.


[Pay attention to that rumble in the background.. it will mean more soon.]

I did finally get a full-time job. And not just any boring old job in a soul-eating company. I am happy to get up everyday and not simply go to work or the office, but to the theatre: the Stratford Festival.

My arthritis kicked in so badly for my first three months of probation that I despaired of getting through each week. I'd fall to bed exhausted by mid-evening (so much for the theory of working on my book on evenings and weekends). Why the fuck? It's not like I was shovelling coal all day, or working someplace I hated. But RA doesn't care about that sort of thing when it gets a solid grip and wants to let you know who's in charge.


That rumble's getting a bit louder, isn't it? That's because by this time the nightly phone calls with my mother were becoming increasingly more bizarre and worrisome-- had been for over a year at this point, really, though I was in denial at first. But NO. She and Dad were both FINE. They didn't want home support or people interfering. "Don't worry about me, dear."

The beginning of this year saw me able to turn the tables on the RA: my boss agreed that I can work from home on Wednesdays and give myself a break in the office routine. The specialist I'd waited 18 months to see gave me some new drugs that really helped pull me back from the cliff edge, and I started working with some additional healing therapies... meditation, EFT.

"Maybe I can get back to that manuscript at last," I thought. "I have more energy again."


What's that? Mom's falling apart had reached the point of no return. A mind is an amazing universe unto itself, and when it starts having gaping holes where once there was solid matter, and deludes itself with bizarre imagined realities and forgotten faces/names/connections... well, there comes a point when those of us hovering around are forced to watch hopelessly as your beloved best friend, mentor, stalwart life-long champion and Mom is chipped away at from inside her skull until she lands up in a hospital ward-for-the-forgotten. Straight from a doctor's office after a mental assessment which left her enraged, and straight into an ambulance-- right past my baffled old father and worried relatives in the waiting room. Do not pass go; do not collect $200. Not even a chance to go home first for a few things.

Six nightmarish weeks followed of her convinced she was at work at "the college" and staying in the dorms (all while surrounded by poor souls in far worse condition-- screaming in their beds for help or slumped over in wheelchairs, unresponsive.) My three brothers and I-- for whatever complex reasons in our wildly disparate and rather polarized lives-- did, and did not do, everything in our powers to ease the way.

In my case? I live at a distance and don't drive, and public train and bus service is shit-to-non-existent from my town. I'm also on contract with no vacation or extended benefits, and every penny of my single income counts (if Canada still had pennies to count, that is)... so I cannot just up and be there in person. And what good would it do? I can't fix the holes in her mind. I have done all I can on the phone helping direct health care and making agonizing decisions-- and it really came down mostly to me, my brother Mike and his wife: them up front in the trenches and me doing what I can from behind the lines.

My father is home alone, more quietly, straight-forwardly suffering a more "gentle" dementia and a host of physical problems-- so many potentially fatal ailments, and suffered for so long that I honestly don't know why he's alive. And he hates life. He's the most negative person I've ever known. I spent much of my life trying to win his attention (he had two defaults while I was growing up: full-on screaming abuse or utter silent apathy). I got to a point where I'd hurl the abuse back. I hated his guts. I left for university at 18 and couldn't wait to get out from under his roof. My brothers being so much older, they had long since flown the coop.

So Mom got left alone with him.

For all the darkness he engendered, she was the light. She taught me to read and love books. She taught me that books are worlds and you can escape into them. God knows she needed the escape, and she always had a stack going from the library. That was our favourite trip together: the library.

Though our relationship had to take on a more distant form, we have been the closest of the family all these years. Now she's temporarily in private long term care-- a pretty, gentle prison with decent food and little outings. Dad will be moved under the same roof once she is in the... I hate to use the word, but final home that she'll live in (she's on a crisis list for a regional care facility). I call almost every day and she's always packing to get home to her Mom's. Or she is at her Mom's, or at the college, and wondering when Dad is coming to pick her up after work. She claims she's seen all of us as younger versions of ourselves, laughing and joy-riding in her car (the one we were forced to take away last year). She's in Barrie, Midland, Brockville, Mallorytown and Athens all at once... and nowhere all the time. She's working at the college. She thinks I am me and--within the span of a sentence-- that I am her sister Shirley, long dead.

I have spoken more with my father in the past couple of months than I have all my life put together. Almost daily. He is quiet and passive in his dotage. I listen to him and answer the same question 17 times in a row. It's what you do.

Rumble... RUMBLE... SMASH!!!!

A few days ago, I found out my eldest brother Chris-- my godfather, former RCMP officer, strong-and-silent type fellow bookworm and history lover-- has leukemia. He's been ailing for a long time-- and was rushed to ER the day after he and his wife had moved into their retirement dream home. I thank all the friends who have offered healing prayers and positive energy, but he is likely too weak to fight with too many underlying complications. An emergency trip over the weekend to Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital was made, courtesy of a generous dear friend with a vehicle and a great deal of care for my wellbeing. A million monitors and drip bags and tubes. Utter stillness and stasis. The big tough Mountie unresponsive, battered and bruised from repeated internal attacks of brain bleeds and multiple seizures. His wife of 38 years is shell-shocked but holding up under the hellish circumstances. Gowned and gloved and numb, I talked to him about a few things-- remembering us standing together on the walls of York, summertime hours spent inside reading silently in the same room, shared hours in movie theatres, how we spent a year at Trent together (it was my first year, and he was back on leave for one year to finish the degree he'd been studying for part-time around his considerable RCMP duties-- he went on to law school after that. He was meant to have a second career, but his health wasn't good enough over the past few years). I told him I loved him. That he was one of my heroes. That I wish to God our family had possessed better communication skills over the lost years. And I told him that if he had to go now, that if it was too much, that it's okay.

He's 62.

It's likely a matter of a few days now. And both of my other brothers have both been to see him too, and have had their say. We all did this at different times and never crossed paths-- in typical Barrett clan style-- but we all did it.


And the question now is how to tell our parents that their oldest boy is dying and that they can't go say goodbye? Tell me how we go about doing that, Universe?

So you'll forgive the long silence.