“We were children”
Going on vacation was very exciting for me when I was a child. Our trips were always local. I had never even been on an airplane until the age of twenty. On all of our family vacations my parents allowed me to invite a friend, which certainly made it more enjoyable. Before we were teenagers, my neighbor and childhood friend, Joni, was the friend I always wanted to invite.
I would never forget the time when we were all packed and getting ready to leave for a weekend trip to the beach. Joni came to my door, and I was eager to talk about the fun we would have. However, I could see from her bloodshot eyes that she had been crying. She gasped and between her sobs told me that her father would not allow her to go at the last minute.
I couldn’t believe it. As she wailed inconsolably, I was astounded that her father offered no reason other than she couldn’t go.
My parents were aghast also. My father walked over to speak with her parents. However, he came back and said he was unsuccessful at convincing Joni’s father. Our car was packed and ready; it was almost time to leave. I was very sad and began crying because I felt so badly for my friend.
My father started the car. Suddenly, my heart danced with joy. Joni was running toward our car. Her father had somehow relented and she was now allowed to go. She told me she would have to work extra hard when she returned.
Joni always had to work as a child at her parent’s dry cleaning store.
My parents and I waited as she quickly went to get a suitcase ready. My poor friend, who was perhaps ten-years-old at that time, was exhausted from her ordeal. As our car pulled away to leave, she curled up with me in the backseat and laid her head upon my shoulder. I felt so sorry and protective of her. My family was her safe haven.
Recently, I had those same feelings when she showed me the scars on her arms. She told me her father used to hit her with a belt. I never knew she had been beaten and left with those scars as a child.
But I did know about the psychological scars.
“They both sang along and knew the lyrics to my songs”
It was such a lovely morning. I was in the garden area of my mother’s nursing facility. In the cool shade, I sat with Joni, my mother and her caregiver, Miriam. I had brought along my guitar. The warmth and love between all of us bathed me.
I was with three, very special women.
My mother was the mainstay. I absolutely adored Miriam; her love for my mother made her like my sister. And Joni, was completely connected to me. This wonderful morning was Joni’s idea. I had asked her last week where I could take her out to eat to celebrate her birthday. She said it would mean a lot for her instead to visit with both me and my mother.
I found it unbelievable to think I had known Joni since we were toddlers. Miriam had not met Joni before, but they were very comfortable together.
Since both my friends were very familiar with my music, I took requests.
As I sang from my heart and played my guitar, it was extremely beautiful for me that they both sang along and knew the lyrics to my songs!
Although my mother was delighted with the music and company, she skirted on the periphery of every conversation. She had bruises on her legs from trying to get out of her wheelchair. I often received calls from her facility because it was their procedure to notify me of every injury. The prior evening’s call explained the bandages.
I was sad that she was not comfortable, but I could see she was trying hard to muster the stamina in the beautiful garden atmosphere.
However, she traveled in her own world, confused and agitated about many things. She was challenging to reason with. However, love was the best communicator. I stroked her hand and smiled patiently as she adamantly spoke about things she was worried about with words that often made no sense at all. Every fear my mother had, every single element of dread was palpable in her words and in her eyes. She could not help it, and it was unrelenting and exhausting to witness. Most of her fears were about death and not having money in her purse. She was often angry at my father and called him her “ex-husband.”
I started to feel depleted from exuding nonstop smiling and sweetness to counter my mother’s dementia. It wasn’t about not feeling patient or not wanting to constantly smile.
It was about encountering a demon. It was as if she were possessed, and this was not my mother at all.
All four of us went to a nearby restaurant for lunch. We took many pictures and celebrated my mother and Joni’s birthday, which coincidently were on the same day. As I ate my lunch, I was overflowing with a myriad of emotions.
When I kissed Joni goodbye, I felt amazed at how close we were. Our bond had definitely deepened since I had shared so much of my writing and music with her.
As I said goodbye to my mother, I was startled by her words. She emphatically said, “Thank you for keeping me alive.” I looked over at Miriam who was unfolding the wheelchair at that moment. She reached over and squeezed my hand. Before I left, I gave Miriam the tightest of hugs.
“I was touched by Judy of the Past”
When I came home, I wanted to write because I had many feelings to express. I searched for pictures to help me write my story. There were some snapshots on my computer that came from old home movies I had viewed last year on DVD’s. The images were perfect because they were taken on a day at the beach with both my mother and Joni. All three of us were rough housing and playing together.
Then, in one of my memory boxes I came across two poems I had written when I was very young. It was so interesting, because both of those poems addressed many of my feelings!
When I was young, I used to write in my diary to “Judy of the Future.”
Now, I had become “Judy of the Future” and I was being touched by “Judy of the Past.”
The first poem was dedicated to my grandmother. It brought up a lot of feelings with the line: “I hear my mother’s wail that in years to come will echo my own.” I remember it was traumatic for me to witness my mother’s grief when her mother died. When I was younger, I dreaded losing my mother and facing inevitable grief.
I am no longer afraid.
I feel like I have done a lot of grief work ahead of time because I have grieved losing my mother incrementally from her dementia.
The second poem turned out to be so interesting that I decided I would write another post about it. I had it here, but removed it.
Today, Joni and Miriam clearly witnessed the challenge of my mother’s disease. Miriam told me that my mother occasionally didn’t recognize her and would become angry. She said, “Judy, at those moments I go outside and take a deep breath. Then I’ll go back in and she’ll recognize me again. She’ll ask me where I was all morning!”
This morning, all of us maintained an upbeat demeanor, which made the day poignant instead of sad. Perhaps that was why we had taken a lot of pictures. The picture I treasured most was one where my mother looked truly happy. A lot of times when I snapped a picture she looked fearful, so when I captured her smiling in any photo I was elated. I wanted to maintain memories of her smiling instead of countering her dementia and fear.
“All grown up”
In many ways, I feel almost the same today as when I was younger.
Joni knew I had gone with my family to the beach over the weekend. When she asked me if I went swimming in the ocean, the notion that I was like my younger self was dispelled! I used to be a consummate boogie boarder and risk taker. My mother would go crazy yelling at me to not swim so far out, and she would have the lifeguard booming for me to come in over a megaphone!
I told Joni the truth.
I said, “Are you kidding? You won’t catch me near the freezing water. I am not going to take any chances getting smashed by a wave! It’s too important for me to maintain my health at this stage in my life.”
I told her I took a nap listening to music and covered myself with a blanket so as not to get burned. I didn’t even wear a bathing suit. Such are the advantages of getting old!
With the expression of my honest feelings came the stark realization that I was all grown up now.
It was such a beautiful story for me knowing that Joni and I would always carry our history and the wisdom that came with growing older. Like a sister, she also deeply loved my mother. My new friend, Miriam, was another gift for me to treasure for the same reason. Our history had simply not been written yet.
Earlier in the day, I had contained many feelings. Through writing, I had released them. For many years, I had forgotten how to feel as a result of grief and scar tissue.
So as my precious day faded into night, I decided that my life held artistry that was a challenge for me to capture with words.
I viewed the poignancy of my life as an exquisite palette that held infinite colors.
What was so beautiful for me now, was that I could finally experience a dazzling spectrum of emotion.
© Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.