August 24, 2016
I wanted to go steal some roses from the chapel wall this morning for Alice’s birthday, but I’m a little sick with a bug so thievery will have to wait. Today she would have been 101, an age she, possessor of a monumental life force, had no desire to reach.
A year ago today I sat on her bed in Northwest Portland reading her cards and letters from many of you – gorgeous cards, such tender messages, even poems written for her – and from her best friend of sixty some years, Lorraine, and the few scattered relatives in our tribe who knew Alice and are still around.
Hard as it is some days to face the loss of her, I believe this last year would have been unbearable for Alice if she’d continued on. I’m troubled whenever I think of the people who try so desperately to keep going by one measure or another because of fear or because those who love them can’t let them go.
My friend Dee sent me an email today addressed to Alice: “Happy birthday! You have arrived where you wanted to be at 101 – not here!” Absolutely true. She went on to describe where Alice might be after this year-long passage:…maybe after floating in the great Ocean (of light) you have become a wave again.
May it be. One of my happiest memories of Alice is watching her roll up her pant legs, kick away her shoes, and, at age 67, step into the warm Pacific for the first time.
It’s been a beautiful day, starting with cards and messages, and now drifting along into late afternoon light. The sight of a neighbor’s new puppy in the parking lot a while ago and then watching a baby otter scurry along a log in front of my houseboat brought me back to the reality of how reliably new life comes along. I like new life. Also, I miss old life when it’s gone. Earlier today, I thought I would not be able to stop crying, but the crying came heaving to an end finally. It will start again and it will end again. That much I know for sure.
Tonight Meg arrives and we’ll find a way to commemorate Alice’s dying day, which is on Friday. I might snatch a few of the roses over in the alley behind The Place, after all.
In one of her notebooks, the author Katherine Mansfield wrote, “Dear Friend, From my life, I write to you in your life…” That’s how it feels for me with this blog. I’m writing to you in your life and I hope this message finds you well.
P.S. Meg and I visited the chapel wall on Sunday and found this perfect rose waiting for us.
February 24, 2016
I am sorry that I sent out the wrong post a few minutes ago. What I meant to send was the following:
Alice’s 100th birthday was six months ago today. You were all a big part of it. I think about you all and miss you. It’s quite a change to go from the large, warm, connected crowd of us observing Alice’s life, her last birthday, and her passing to the presence, love, and understanding of a few close to me. All is well, in that life moves forward as life will just go ahead and do, despite monumental personal events.
And I’m okay, even without Alice. Nothing could surprise me more than this fact. I’m still going through her things and trying to make decisions about them, still have not taken her ashes to Iowa (that will happen this spring, I think), still haven’t found that secret path that leads to waking up in the morning and simply knowing she’s no longer here, still hate that little emotional lurch that happens when I remember that she’s gone, still haven’t responded to your comments on the last few posts, all of which I’ve read through several times and find so moving I don’t know what to say. But I will respond to them.
My hope is that the book will express some of my gratitude to all of you. And on that topic the news is good in that the project is moving forward and ready for final touches. Then off it goes to meet some editors. I’ll let you know the moment one of them accepts it.
Meanwhile, hugs and thanks and love to all of you. You know how much you mean to me and what you meant to Alice and me. You have to know that by now. Take good care of yourselves. I hope to be back in touch soon.
September 22, 2015
Today I’m closing down the blog I started in order to document the old, old age of my mother, a woman who, when transplanted from her familiar world into a new geography at ninety-four, flourished. As all regular readers know, Alice died at age 100 on August 26, 2015.
The blog has also chronicled our relationship these past six years. Alice and I cruised along well enough when I was a child but soon meandered onto a parched and rocky plain. This remained fairly unchanged over several decades, but in our new roles as caregiver/care receiver, we found our way to an oasis of serenity, warmth, laughter, friendship, mutual respect, and great love.
We didn’t know this transformation would occur as a result of Alice’s move to Portland, of course. In fact, neither of us imagined that any such thing could be possible. But living close together in a new context gave us the opportunity to build on what we knew and felt in common, to bond, and to let our differences be differences. Thanks to the example of people I’ve been fortunate to know as good friends, I learned skills along my way in life that I could call upon with Alice, some more successfully than others: actively listening to what someone is saying, standing up for myself, and a commitment to peaceful exchange of thought and ideas vs. I’m right/You’re wrong. As for Alice’s learning curve, she’d been no slouch in our years spent apart. She had those and other things in her quiver, plus a bonus card up her sleeve that trumped every trouble and disruption thrown in our path: mother love.
I also wanted to record here several pieces from the narrative of our extended family, a survival story despite great poverty, and one that included remarkable resilience, intimacy, wit, imagination, and the grit that kept that family strong.
Although I’ve been a writer all my life, the writing I’ve done here has revealed me more profoundly to myself than anything else I’ve endeavored. Countless times I’ve been disappointed with my shortcomings, but keeping this online notebook has also delivered me to the shores of compassion for myself as well as for Alice and the many millions of other women and men in caregiver/care receiver positions. The vulnerability experienced on both sides brings us all many, many times to our knees.
When Alice was in hospice care in July, I told her about the book I’ve been writing about her. It’s based on this blog and it’s almost finished. We were in her room at Hopewell House, the hospice center, and it was dark outside and in. Because she’d been experiencing terrible fear, she always wanted me to dim the lights and close the curtains in her room there , but she was starting to emerge from that fear. I sat beside her and told her the book news to cheer her on.
“What will it say?” she wanted to know.
I told her it was the true story of a little girl born into a poor family in a small town on the prairie and the things that happened to her as she grew up into a smart, beautiful, inventive and very funny woman, and the ways she lived through heartbreaking events in her own life and through wars and other enormous changes in the world and came to be very, very old, and in her old old age she made new friends and did things she never would have imagined doing before. I went on to say that it would include as many of her adventures and thoughts and inventions as an old woman that I could cram into it, and a lot about all of her sisters and her parents, too, and the people, both strange and wonderful, who populated that tiny prairie town where she grew up. And it would feature also the story of the two of us, our relationship.
“Who all is in your book?” she asked a couple of weeks later when, her fear gone, she had settled into foster care. “Is Mr. Fickle in there?”
I assured her he was and named as many of the people from The Place as I could remember. She added a few of her own.
“And what are you going to call it?” she asked. She didn’t wait for an answer. She had her own idea. “I think you should call it You and Me and the Rest of Us.”
That probably won’t be the title, but we both laughed because it did strike us as just about right.
I haven’t got a publisher yet, but I do have step one, a smart and sensitive agent in New York who is working with me to complete the book and find a publishing house.
Which brings me to this set of options for you: If you are a subscriber to this blog and want to be notified when the book comes out, you don’t need to do anything. I have the email addresses of subscribers, and I’ll send you a notice.
If you are a subscriber and you do NOT want to be notified about the book, please send me an email: andrea @ andreacarlisle . com (you know the trick, mush all that together so it looks like an email address). When I receive your notice, I will remove your name from the subscriber list.
If you are not a subscriber, but you still want to be notified about the book, send me an email at the address above and I will put you on the list.
You can do any of these at any time in the next several months, even after today when the blog is officially closed down.
You and Me and the Rest of Us of course includes you, dear and attentive readers. Without you, would the road ever have opened into that oasis I mentioned above? I don’t think so. You’ve helped Alice and me through many crises, large and small. Hearing your stories and writing to and for you made me a better caregiver. Your love for Alice helped me to better see, appreciate, and affirm her. These last few months of Alice’s life and after her death, your comments, emails, and cards captured her spirit and have sustained me. In closing down Go Ask Alice…When She’s 94, I feel like I’m waving good-bye to a field of wildflowers. You thought you were just reading a blog, didn’t you? And instead you hung the moon.
August 28, 2015
Alice died peacefully on Wednesday at 1 p.m. Meg and I were with her. Her breathing had been ragged and labored and then it evened out a little. Finally it changed to slow, shallow, and steady, and then stopped.
She had not been conscious for some time. The last time she was awake and understanding some of her world was Tuesday morning. Once again I read her the messages on the birthday cards, but this time after each message, she’d say in true appreciation, “That’s nice.”
I’d read a few and then ask if she wanted me to stop because I thought she might be getting tired, but she always answered, “No. Read more.” Read the rest of this entry »