Tales of My Parents

After a loved one passes, particularly if they struggled with an illness, it takes a while to remember them as they were as robust and vibrant individuals. It seems the longer the illness or decline, the longer it takes to recover one’s sense of that person before they were ill. Both of my parents were ill for a long time, 8.5 and 15 years.

My dad was ill for 25% of the 34 years he lived on the Island. I never realized this until I did the math. He was very involved in the community, interacted with a lot of people, and had scads of friends. In the last 8-years I have heard many wonderful snippets, if not full on stories of how dad impacted someone’s life on the Island. Dad stories from other’s are always uplifting. He touched people’s lives. Eight years after his passing I am able to see him, in my mind’s-eye, as my wry, sly, smart as hell, spunky, mischievous father.

Mom was ill for 40% of the 38-years she lived on the Island. That blows my mind. For the first 11-years she commuted back and forth to work, from the Island to the state where we’d moved from. She spent the next 15-years free-lance editing and writing. That left two years before she started showing external symptoms of her illness. Mom certainly was social within their circle of friends, but was not an extrovert. Not to say that my father was an true extrovert, but he was comfortable meeting new people, mingling and striking up conversation. Mom wasn’t. In the early years of her dementia mom’s tendencies towards paranoia (perhaps a tad too strong a word in those early days) may have been exacerbated due to the fact that she didn’t trust in general. I understand this because my trust is hard earned. For me this is born out of decades of business dealings. Mom’s were born of her robustly dysfunctional relationship with her mother.

For the first 26-years on the Island mom was ‘nose to the grind stone. It did not allow for lots of socializing. Like, for 26-years. In some ways I think this set her up for the isolation factor that comes with dementia. Being social wasn’t part of her every day life.

Today’s mom stories, from friend and acquaintances, are mostly about their experience of her dementia. They are usually sweet, and funny even. Like mom walking into our east neighbor’s house while the neighbor was in the shower… The neighbor rolled with the punches, asking mom to return to her house to wait until the shower was finished. There were endless lost house key stories, many of which I got to live in rea-time. I actually have about a dozen extra keys for the house, as mom kept getting spares made. Harmless vignettes of mom with dementia, but it’s all about mom with dementia. There are few people remaining that knew mom well before she was ill. And those that did are far afield. I rarely get to hear their remembrances of my mom.

I am starting to remember mom, here and there, from time to time, as she was. It’s reassuring having been so traumatized by her illness (and no, it’s not lost on me how traumatized she must have been by her illness). None of us, least of all her, deserved her illness. We should still be making sushi together and singing folk songs after a meal well plundered.

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