Sunday, September 07, 2008

Walking the Line


There is a fine line between walking through life with happiness and joy and walking it with only an awareness of loss or grief. I have seen both as I visit my family in the small island town of Douglas, Alaska.

My father tells me that Douglas Island was once a peninsula...that Taku Glacier once connected the main land of Juneau with that we grew up calling the town of Douglas. Eons of glacial erosion and alluvial sands changed topography and then geography.

Even my childhood town of Douglas officially changed to Juneau-Douglas after a borough incorporation. And even then, most tourists simply see it an island housing area of Juneau, separated by the Gastineau Channel and connected by a fairly new, modern bridge. As they say, 'everything changes and everything stays the same.'

As I walk the streets of my little home town, I see buildings, that while freshly painted or re-named and re-purposed, are still the buildings of my childhood. Behind their fresh facades and concealing exteriors, the old world still remains at their root. So too, is my own life and the life of my family and all of the families that I might pass on our 'Main Street'....shown above.

None of us knows what goes on in other's lives, what happens behind each of our facades. We don't know how our lives have been re-made or re-purposed, or even how hard it might truly be, day by day. In our house on '4th Street', we face the challenges of not only an aging house, but aging residents. A family, like any family with illnesses and problems, loss and grief, sadnesses and joys.

For the past three days my father and I have focused on bringing my mother out of a deep place known only to Alzheimer's patients and those that love and care for them. The rest of the world, the rest of the family, went on in time and space..but we were in a place where time simply disappears.

There is now no memory of a Monday birthday or family members who came to visit or phoned, or even what she might have eaten for breakfast. We share together and try to re-create those memories, re-place and re-purpose those places, spaces, and times. Three days have simply disappeared in her mind, and are almost frozen in place in ours.

On Thursday, there was a disconnect in all of 'the spaces in between.' My 83 year old mother had an Alzheimer's moment (that lasted a bit more!) between body and brain. All strength just slipped out ....and with that slippage, she simply forgot how to walk. She sat down at the top of the stairs, lay back flat and could not/would not budge.

My 91 year old father and I spent two solid hours trying to wiggle and jiggle her away from the danger of the stairs, themselves. Something that might seem so very simple....became an impossibility. And impossibilities don't exist in our vocabularies...so we kept on trying!

When there is no connection between mind and body, there are no nerve synapses to act upon, no command to lift your right arm, or bend your left knee comes through. We become solid flesh, with spirit hiding within and our physical weight, the sum and mass of which we appear, takes over form.

We tried everything from prying her up with pillow by tiny inch of pillow, to using my body as a wedge, in all shapes and forms, to using a mechanics creeper as a sled (no luck there!) to over- turning two walkers to create chin-up bars and handrails. We could not get her to hold on, or roll over, or most certainly not sit up and hang on or walk!

After 2 hours of trying all of these highly creative attempts, we had only managed to move her back and away from the edge of the stairs to the safety of the upstairs hall opening. My dad admitted that we needed help and using our own 'in be-tweens', we managed to contact my brother at work for help.

In ten minutes, he'd borrowed a car, raced through Juneau, across the bridge and home to help. She was lifted up by strong arms and a sturdy back as if she was a puff of cotton. For whatever unknown reason, he simply said 'put your arm around my neck' and she did.

Something she would not/could not do with us...even if we could have carried her...which we couldn't have. There are limits, we learned beyond the best intentions or most fervent of desires to accomplish. Some things have to just come in their own time...or in her case, her's. And when it is that special time, the synapses connect again, and mind-body-spirit connects, as well.

I realized then, just how the body works over the mind and even over spirit. I realized how connection works and disconnection does not. It was a hard lesson for me with my own resulting intense muscle spasms, back ache and a migraine to follow......as I tried to ease the negativity both physically and emotionally from all of that hard experience. Now, on this the fourth day, my mom is still bedridden but at least she is in her own bed and not on a cold, hard floor.

My dad and I must feed her, change clothing or linens from around and beneath her and still try to recall spirit and optimism in all of us from that hard, dark place of future fears and challenging present

Such, are all of our lives, I think. We live from day to day, dealing the cards that we are dealt, walking the line down the center path the very best that we can. And always, looking straight ahead and hoping things get a bit easier and a little bit better.

We can only know the good times by the existence of the challenging ones. Without the contrast there is no perception or appreciation. So, today, I walk the line, appreciate what I can, and feel gratitude for the goodness of the day and a memory slowly coming back to forge the bond...the bond between the body and the mind...the mind and the spirit.

Welcome back, Mom. Back to walking the line, this strange and challenging journey, once again.

5 comments:

  1. My heart and prayers are with you... and I'm sure you are asking yourself over and over, what if...

    (beautifully shared, as always...)

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  2. my heart absolutely breaks for you and your family. I am thinking of you and praying for you.

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  3. Michelle,
    This journey you walk is difficult and you are giving caring and courage to both of your parents. You are giving your father love and strength and somewhere you are finding the reserves necessary to deal with these circumstances. Walking the line is a good description.. My thoughts are with you and yours as you face these challenges of your journey.

    Regards,
    Anna

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  4. I am counting my blessings as I pray for you and your family. {{{hugs}}}

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Michele Bilyeu blogs "With Heart and Hands" as she journeys between Douglas, Alaska and Salem, Oregon.