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.
Lines for Winter
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.
Photo credit: Thank you to prairie photographer John G. White, whose mother, Mary Laurel White, lived to be 100 years and six months. More of John’s prairie photos at Listening Stones Farm and his photography web site.