Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Manor Revisited

I am just now, after some months away, spending an extended time at The Manor, which is the term my brother, sister and I use to refer to the house my mother designed and my parents lived in for the last 25 years.

I came here to savor the quiet, to hear my mother’s voice again, and to write with some extended times to concentrate.

The Manor is much neater now without those endless piles of folders, notebooks, and newspapers that my mother generated, saved, stacked, sorted and resorted, and which gave structure, in their own chaotic way, to her life.

Everything else sits where it did before, with the exception of one table. I moved it to a window where I sit and write and think. My dad’s chair had owned this spot before. After his death. Mother claimed it as her own. For now, it is mine. It is the best spot in the house.

Yes, it is cleaner, but most definitely not empty of her presence. I see her mind everywhere, her habits showing up in the accoutrements of living. 

She was truly an awful cook, and I’m not far behind. But since I was planning to be here for a while, I needed to make the kitchen workable for me. My mother worked with minimal equipment. Not one single decent knife in the house. The only frying pan looks like one I bought in the early 1970’s with the original non-stick surface now so badly pitted I suspect it would poison anyone who cooked with it. The only reason a microwave gets to live here is that I bought one when I lived upstairs for a while and used it for my own meager meals prepared up there. Mother was sure that microwaves caused cancer and she would not have one of those contraptions in her kitchen.

I opened a cabinet where, in my kitchen logic, serving bowls should reside. There, once again, I found myself confronted with notebooks and papers, all stuck in Hefty Bags. I thought I had seen the last of them. I was wrong.

As I sat down to go through them, one notebook opened on my lap. My mother’s familiar scribbles, always hastily written, brought again that wave of sadness, of missing her. 

Before me was another account of her many struggles with my dad, another plan to make herself over so he would not be so unhappy. I grieved over the fruitlessness of her task. She could not make him happy. That’s an internal choice, and he had made his. The two of them danced to this music all their lives—each blaming the other for miseries brought upon themselves. 

I chose not to keep this notebook nor read further and sent these notes, along with multiple others, including yet one more of her hundreds of schemes to organize her life, into the recycle bag. Friday, it will leave for the facility where it be separated, sorted, and perhaps rebirthed on someone else’s notebook. Perhaps the purchaser of that notebook will also try to make sense of his or her life, scribbling notes and making plans for self-improvement.

Yet that person, too, will eventually reach the end. That person, too, will leave pieces of herself or himself behind for others to examine when death overtakes the known life. Some other child, or junkman, or estate-sale specialist, or special friend will sort through the leavings and wonder, “Why did she keep this? What made that so important to him?”

What will I leave behind? How will I plan for and face those last days, assuming my own ordinary death: a leisurely decline with the eventual rapid avalanche of multiple system failures? 

If I do this as well as my mother, then I will have indeed done well. I will leave messes behind, of course, but I will also have faced reality squarely and said, “This is what I want done. These decisions are mine, not left carelessly or thoughtlessly to others.” 

There are ways to do this and we need to implement them. For ordinary people, which most of us are, none of this is terribly complicated. We each need to appoint someone to hold our Medical Power of Attorney. We each need to think carefully about what we want to happen when it becomes clear that our bodies are reaching that tipping point from which no return is possible. We each need to make sure that others know well of our plans since it is likely many of us will be unable to articulate our own well at that point. In other words, we need prepare for our deaths with the same joy and anticipation we prepare for births so we can welcome it with open arms when it comes.

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