|Ellen and Ed Kiernan 30 years ago|
My mother died over 14 months ago and my father is now permanently in the nursing home of their retirement community; he is suffering from dementia as my mother did during the last 5 months of her life, though his dementia is mild by comparison. The last three days I spent driving down from Western New York to Fort Myers Florida with my brother. We are staying in my father's apartment because we must clear out the apartment within a week.
I'm taking a day to settle into being in this environment, trying to gently push myself towards dealing with the responsibility my brother and I have to take on. I am tired, but I am okay, just depressed and a bit apprehensive. It still has to be one day at a time for me. Just do what I can each day and don't worry so much. I do have faith that I am being watched over by the mysterious Great Spirit. Calling God the Great Spirit is as close as I can come to giving a description of the Higher Power. I just believe that our lives have so much meaning and that the spirit lives on somehow. I am reminded daily of how little I truly know and how much I have to rely on the Unknown.
It is strange being in my parents' apartment without either of them here. I still feel my mother's spirit. This apartment was entirely decorated by her. I'm staying in her room. It is not a beautiful room; it is a practical room and only moderate in size, but with a nice walk in closet. There are pictures all over the walls, half of them photos of our family. My father stayed in the master bedroom of this two bedroom apartment, a prettier, bigger room with a very large walk-in closet and its own bathroom. The two bedrooms are separated by a somewhat large living room/dining room area, so each of them could have some privacy when they wanted it. Really, it was my mother who decided that she wanted a room of her own a couple of decades ago.
My parents lived together for 61 years and this past year my father has been becoming more and more lost without her and now it's essential that he be cared for. He is a good man and my mother was a good woman. Neither of them really had very close friends, they just stuck with each other. Both of them very bright and knowledgeable, interested in politics and culture and very skeptical of most organized religions especially Catholicism which they both endured as children and adolescents. They committed to atheism very young. So for them there is this one life and when it is done, that is it and there is nothing left. I'm glad that I don't have that orientation. It seems very disconnected from a greater picture. Not that I know the greater picture; I just believe that there is one, but it requires a stretch of the imagination to believe that some greater spirit/intelligence is connected to all the life on this planet.
Either way, whether their view is true and mine a delusion or visa versa, our lives matter. I've been feeling this more since I got a small digital converter that I've been converting my black and white film negatives into digital images on my computers. Most of my negatives are from the 1980s when I was in my twenties and my parents were in their fifties before my father retired with my mother to Florida. The shots cover photos from Brooklyn, Manhattan, Long Island and some trips out west. I recognize the people, places and things, but I don't fully connect with them. I appreciate the time that I lived before and really enjoy looking at my family, but now I am very much a different person. I've been through so much. My life is actually richer now. And now I'm at the stage where I need to let go of my parents and continue more deeply on my way through old age.
This is the stage of letting go and deconstruction. We must strip this apartment of nearly everything and then never come back here. I do miss my mother and carry her with me inside. I know we loved each other. Her intelligence and a lot of the joy she experienced in living carried through to me. I do love my father also, but our level of closeness was never very great. And yet I still want to reach him before he goes. We have a small boom box in this apartment and I'm going to bring it to my father's room. Then I'm going to send audio recordings on CD to the nurse's station there over the next several months and have the nurse's play my CDs for him so he can listen for 15 to 20 minutes each time. It's not much, but it might comfort him to hear my voice and listen to what I say to him.
I feel as if I'm waiting, but I don't know what I am waiting for. I guess I'm just waiting for this part of our lives to change into something different, into a new stage. Looking at self portraits that I took in my twenties does show me very clearly how I have changed. Here are some photographs of me from childhood till now going through each decade except adolescence:
I've recently started to do videos of myself, another kind of journal. It takes some courage because I have to accept myself and not be too critical, which I can do. I'm still obese and do not take pictures of myself or film myself with the rest of my body included. It does bother me. I have a large mirror in my living room and one of the first things I did during my last psychotic break was to cover it up. It takes some pressure off me, but I still make faces at myself in the bathroom mirror and laugh a lot.