Being old

At the moment I’m spending time with my mother. It’s a rare occasion for me because Germany and the USA are still an ocean apart, and taking time off to take the trip is not always easy.
muff+anneIt really bothers me that I can’t just pop over to spend time with her. How I wish I could do this, say, every Friday afternoon, it would be the most normal and natural thing in the world. But I can’t.

Being together, I’m thinking a lot of what it means to be old and frail and suffering from dementia. You can’t see, or chew, or walk up stairs, or remember names or faces or even what you just said, where you are or who you are talking to. Frankly, it must be quite unbearable. The worst part is the feeling of isolation, having lost your partner and not having as much family and as many friends around as you used to. My mother has been complaining about being bored and not having anything to do ever since her dementia set in and she lost the ability to read. She seems happiest when the house is full of people. Otherwise I think she gets by on her sense of humor. But of course, sometimes that fails her. My brother Mike has been caring for her for the last few years, while she lives in a facility with assisted living, and has made sure that she gets the medication she needs, and she takes it like a lamb now. That means that she is generally relaxed and easy-going. She does get panic attacks, however, that are unsettling and remind me what must be going on under the surface.

Now that the rest of the family is away, we’ve been spending a lot of time remembering things – usually I remember for her and she doesn’t quite remember, but likes the story. It seems to me that we don’t really remember, we just repeat stories in new interpretations that suit our current state of mind. Our “memories” are actually fictions derived from what our mind stores from the last time we thought about something. So painting pictures of what used to be is soothing for her and satisfying for me. I do notice that she no longer works at all at trying to remember or find the right words, and it is sobering to recognize that her condition is degenerative. Yet she has very lucid moments when she can express things that she has been thinking about. She also says that she likes to hear her own voice.

Most of the neighbors here on Drummond have been coming here for years, and a community has grown spanning several generations. Everyone knows my mother from way back, when she spent months at a time with her four little boys and later on with me, so she enjoys the respect here that she doesn’t always get from professional care people, who know only her frailties. This is an important aspect of Mike’s driving her up here to spend weeks with her, and also my brothers Larry and Adam and their families coming to stay with her. It’s so different from the anonymity that many old people are subjected to – e.g in my neighborhood in Munich.

What I really enjoy on Drummond is good, old-fashioned neighborliness. The cabin is about 10 miles from the nearest settlement, and I don’t drive, so I need help to buy provisions, get rid of trash, or go to the post office. But the neighbors are simply lovely, calling and offering to drive me into town and asking if they can bring me anything.

Incidentally, this time around I’ve learned some useful things: How to bake bread using sourdough, for example – it’s easier to chew than French bread from the store here, which has a tough crust. Hmm, I’m not at all happy with the consistency of my bread. Not exactly German bakery quality. I’ve also managed to finish fixing oars using fiberglass, though the job definitely looks handmade. Anyway. All of that is very nice, but clearly the most rewarding part of my stay here has to do with spending time with my mother, sharing her being old.

Learning the ropes – Vokabeln

pop over – vorbeischauen
say – sagen wir mal
frail – zerbrechlich
dementia – Demenz
chew – kauen
unbearable – unerträglich
get by – zurechtkommen
fail – im Stich lassen
care for – sich kümmern um
assisted living – betreutes Wohnen
easy-going – entspannt
unsettling – beängstigend
suit – passen
current – derzeitig
state of mind – Gemütsverfassung
derive – ableiten
soothing – entspannend
sobering – ernüchternd
lucid – klar
wallow – schwelgen
span – umfassen
way back – vor langer Zeit
fraility – Zerbrechlichkeit
subjected – unterworfen
neighborliness – Freundlichkeit
cabin – Hütte
settlement – Siedlung
provisions – Vorräte
get rid of – loswerden
trash – Müll
incidentally – nebenbei (bemerkt)
sourdough – Sauerteig
tough – zäh
oar – Ruder
fiberglass – Glasfaser

Tip of the week

The “Silver surfers” are spending more and more time online, staying in touch with each other and with their busy children and grandchildren. But many people over 65, and more over 80, have missed out on the internet revolution. Still, the internet has intelligent entertainment for the elderly, much better than TV. At the top of my mother’s list: Watching Fischer Dieskau perform on YouTube.

learning english – englischlernen – learning english – englischlernen

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Anne

Teaching English for business communication skills, writing online for learners, translating, sailing whenever I can, from Washington, D.C.

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