Monday, December 28, 2015

"Elements unaltered— / Universe the same"

Back in 2008, I wrote a post about seeing more and more of my mother in myself as I age. It was a happy, loving post, and I was especially pleased with the way it conveyed the complicated bond I feel with my mother. I went back to that old post today, after not revisiting it in quite a while, and I was struck by something in the final paragraph — something I didn't remember was there:

It’s strange to be reminded that characteristics we think of as profoundly our own—even ones as seemingly individual as a facial expression—are built into our DNA; stranger still to think that they can be wired to hide themselves for decades, emerging when the organism hits just the right level of decay. Not that I’m complaining. As genetic time bombs go, a quirky walk beats the hell out of early-onset Alzheimer’s.

That reference to Alzheimer's startled me because my mother is now entering the moderate stage of that disease, or perhaps I should say that she appears to be. There's been no official diagnosis, since she shuns doctors, but her progressive memory loss and other cognitive problems present a textbook picture of someone suffering from Alzheimer's, and her list of risk factors is long.

As sad as it is to think about my mother's fate, there's a lot to be grateful for. Her partner is looking after her, and she still reliably knows all her close family. She's physically well, and best of all, she remains essentially the same happy, sweet person I described in that original post. I brought her some gifts and took her out to lunch on Christmas Eve, and even though I'm not sure she grasped the significance of the holiday, she clearly loved every minute of my visit. Things are likely to change down the road, but right now she takes her characteristic pleasure in living, and every day she hangs onto that will be a gift.

Given the way I blathered on back in 2008 about my potent genetic inheritance, you'd think I'd be pretty freaked out these days over my own prospects. The sentence "I could do a lot worse than to end up like my mother" suggests a whole new set of possibilities now, and some of them are truly terrible.  Strangely enough, though, I can't seem to get scared. I'm 54 and life feels too short — death feels too close — to waste time and energy kicking against an unknowable future. It seems foolish even to invest much mental energy preparing for my mother's future, since she, like any of us, might die tomorrow. Still, I do have moments of dreading the day she no longer lights up like a delighted child at the sight of people she loves. I came across these lines from Emily Dickinson last night and couldn't help imagining the sad moment when they might apply to my mother and me:

Now I knew I lost her —
Not that she was gone —
But Remoteness travelled
On her Face and Tongue.

Alien, though adjoining
As a Foreign Race —
Traversed she though pausing
Latitudeless Place.

Elements Unaltered —
Universe the same
But Love's transmigration —
Somehow this had come

The complete poem is here.

Photo by BitterGrace

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