And now this…

September 1, 2013

Alice called to tell me that her birthday flowers from Ketzel were missing.

Ketzel's flowers

“They were holding up just fine,” she said, “but then somebody threw them away.”

She wondered at first if I’d tossed them out as I was leaving after a visit earlier that day. I assured her I hadn’t.

“Assisted” living means a lot of interaction with caretakers, whether it’s needed or not. People open your door unannounced all day long to bring you medications, empty your wastebaskets, clean your room, fix broken doorknobs, etc. Alice’s favorite caretaker, Karen, sometimes drops in to visit and sit in front of the air conditioner to cool off from hours of being on the run.

We went over the list of people who had come and gone that day, but there were no likely suspects. It was Karen’s day off, the housekeeper hadn’t come, and only the morning and evening medication people had entered and left. These aides are always on a timeline too short to allow for cleaning up.

“I loved those flowers,” Alice said. “They were from Ketzel’s garden, and they were still fresh.”

Puzzled, we hung up.

The next day when she called to report on her day, she said she knew who had removed the flowers. “You’ll never guess who it was,” she said.

She was looking at the vases on top of the refrigerator, she said, and there stood the vase that had held the bouquet. All at once, she remembered removing the wilting flowers, putting them in the wastebasket, washing the vase, and putting it away. “It was me,” she said. “I did it.”

This has never happened before, this kind of complete forgetting. “I feel bad,” she said quietly. “Depressed.”

For some reason this 98th birthday is a marker. We both feel it. She has mentioned more than once that 98 feels quite different from 97. She’s been talking of dying more often lately (listen to Ketzel’s interview at the end of the birthday post, for one example of this). The past year has brought about a much greater loss of both sight and hearing. She has little to do any more. TV is hard to follow. Books, even large print books, are no longer an option. She can’t hear audio books. The jumble puzzles are hard to see. The other night she said she couldn’t see the food on her plate and had no idea what she was eating until she tasted it. She’s glad not to be in pain and considers herself lucky in so many ways, but really – must memory loss be added to all these other losses?

Neither of us wants to overreact to the flower incident, but there it is: an action taken, forgotten completely, then resurrected in one whole and sturdy memory that leaves no doubt as to what happened. And leaves no doubt as to what is actually missing, or at least showing signs of leaving.

It’s not hard to know what to wish for, it’s just hard to wish for it.

32 Responses to “And now this…”

  1. As I watch so many friends manage so well in hospice, so peacefully, it is interesting that old age sometime doesn’t seem as peaceful. Why is that? Or is that even so?
    xo marcy


    • I think it certainly can be so, Marcy. There are lots of people, of course, who feel fine. I was reading the other day about a woman who can see and hear very well and continues to be fully engaged in her nonagenarian life. It’s all peaceful, I suppose, on some level, if we let it be.


  2. teufelj Says:

    On Andrea! Oh Alice! To see the future, but not know the time – a state of waiting.
    How hard for both of you to see this forgetting so boldly written.
    I hope Alice can find her spunk again. These birthday set-backs come along at many ages. Turning 98 was just a mark in a long string of marks.


  3. Morning Waters Says:

    Dear Andrea, How bittersweet, to arrive at 98 only to have so much slip away, like sand swirling out from under one’s feet as the tide comes and goes. My heart goes out to you and Alice.


  4. Oh, my dear Andrea, I feel sometimes that we are sisters when I read these posts. As I type this, my mom is on the patio talking and groaning. She can’t hear herself. Yesterday her eyes led her to believe that a man was swimming nude in the marina. At least that was funnny; most of these incidents that remind us of these incremental losses are anything but funny. Love to you and to Alice.


  5. janeleft Says:

    Lovely and sad. I think it must be even harder when you are able to remember what you forgot. My mom was more or less blithely oblivious to these faulty memories…much easier, methinks.


    • Yes, maybe it is easier, though I’m sorry your mother had any experiences of memory loss. With knowing comes the fear factor: Is this a one-time thing or does it mean the door is now cracked open and more of this kind of forgetting will soon come rushing in.


  6. dehelen Says:

    We will wish it for you both. Love and peace, Sandra


  7. Please take good and kind care of yourself as you wish wellness and peace to all


  8. I feel as if I’m walking along with both you and Alice. Kerry Vincent’s wish for you is mine as well, though it’s hard to remember how to follow this wish.


  9. Dee Says:

    Oh Andrea, You have brought us such cheer in these posts. I am afraid that for me, Alice has become almost a beloved comic book character that I can safely count on to go on and on and on engaging in life, exposing its sweetness and tenderness and wonder.

    This one brings an end to that. And now we, with you, start the
    leaning in, measuring the losses against what remains, negotiating with the feelings of our inevitable loss and her
    inevitable freedom.

    May you both find what you need for the journey.

    Much love to you both,


    • I love this “comic book character” idea. Alice’s life does have much of the heroic about it (as opposed to the Archie and Veronica style, although there is some of that in the distant past). I’m not sure what all we need for the journey but having you all along is certainly part of it.


  10. Sandra Yudilevich Espinoza Says:

    I wish you both peace on this journey you and Alice are on…and that the love that surrounds you provides the mercy it takes to be on the ride…


    • Today Alice is so incredibly cranky it feels like heat is blasting from the phone into my brain every time we talk. She reacted with sadness and fear to the forgetting, and now she’s afraid that she might be misremembering this or that. I think it (the fear) will die down a little, but right now we need all the peace and love and mercy available. Thank you!


  11. (I hate WordPress, eater of comments)

    I am so sorry. Bless both your hearts. I mean that in the good way (it’s like aloha – can go one of two ways). I wish (and so do many others, I imagine), there was a magic wand that could be waved – making everything better.


  12. Anne Showalter Says:

    Sending peace and love to you both.


  13. John Says:

    The last line of this post resonates so much … my mom is turning 90 in November, and, over the past year, I’ve heard her more frequently mentioning death. The other day she went somewhere with a friend of hers (one of the few that’s left –), and when she got home, she was tired, and said that it had been a bad day, and that she wouldn’t mind just closing her eyes and not waking up.

    The aches get a little worse each day, the memory gets a little worse, the boredom becomes a little tougher to bear.

    There’s so much guilt involved in thinking about a parent’s death … even when the thought is compassionate, not angry or mean-spirited. We don’t want to see our parent’s suffer, but, we’re pretty much left with no options other than just being there, and trying to make their last days, weeks, years comfortable…..

    This whole experience with my mom has made me rethink a youthful desire to want to live to be 100. No one reaches 100 in perfect health — some are just in better shape than others. But, to reach an age where most of your family and friends are gone, where there’s not much to differentiate one day from the next …. no, I don’t think I want to be 100.

    Here’s a big ol’ Colorado hug ….


    • That was a lovely hug of words and compassion, John. Thanks so much. You’re so right that what we do is be there, trying to make things as comfortable as possible. I think sometimes it takes being around one or more elders on a regular basis to appreciate the courage it takes to keep on going. And going.


  14. Your commenters have said it all more eloquently than I would have. You and Alice remain in my thoughts. I wish you both comfort and peace.


  15. Cheryl Says:

    Again I am thanking our friend Leslie for helping show us how to die, and how to be with those who die, which will be all of us. And I am thankful too for Alice and her tenacious yet gentle yielding to the passage of time, to the truth about life. You are both treasures.


  16. Holly Says:

    I arrived home just now from three days of backpacking (grateful for the good health that enables such rugged pleasures). Awaiting me: this post, and on my front porch, a river stone beautifully carved with my grand mother’s name, Helen Jervis (a remnant from Soapstone). I remember how she was ready to die well before her body released her. She wasn’t depressed or morbid. She had lived a good long life — some parts, like her romance with my long-deceased grandfather, got better the more she relived them in memory — but at a certain point, she was done. Done with the failing eyesight and troublesome digestion and aching parts and confusion and medications, not to mention the things she disapproved of at her Place. Done and ready.

    Sometimes I wish for the next Big Bang to take all of us out together so no one would have to suffer the loss of another loved one. And so we could stop wondering and worrying about how much time we have left.

    But in the meantime I wish you and Alice the best possible version of each day remaining. Thank you for sharing her with us – the parts that are working and the parts that aren’t, the parts that are fretful and the ones that are at peace.


    • Thank you for this eloquent response, Holly. The parts that are working will, I hope, keep on working as best they can.

      I’m glad Helen’s river stone is safely with you. Just think of all those Soapstone treasures finding new homes. Seems impossible, but here we are, getting older ourselves, watching the changes.


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