November 4, 2003

My Mother and Fibi

I hope no one takes the following the wrong way. I am sitting at the dining room table using my ibook looking across at my mom sleeping in her recliner in the living room. In many ways her daily life seems to resemble that of Fibi, our eleven year old cat, who is sitting on her lap. Mom enjoys eating, welcoming a variety of foods. She enjoys being around people and being touched and stroked. She is touched so much more now than when she lived alone as a widow from 1987 to 2000. I am playing Bach's St. Luke's Passion on the stereo. Mom likes the room warm. In fact the only complaint she reliably makes is if she is too cold or our hands are too cold. She gets more awake and animated when there are visitors or a change in routine; she is pleased when they sit next to her, hold her hand, tell her how good she looks.

She stills wants her gray hair touched up because she cares about looking pretty. She enjoys showering and being clean. She seems to enjoy being outside, notices trees and flowers. She seems content though her daily routine is totally different than it was when she was younger. What her inner life is, I can't guess. For all I know, she could be having thrilling dreams; certainly she doesn't seem to have nightmares. She looks peaceful when she is sleeping.

When I feel overwhelmingly sad about how Mom has changed, I remind myself that I don't feel sorry for Fibi; she is just older, not the energetic, exciting cat she used to be who used to walk across our curtains rods. But we still love her, enjoy her, love to touch her, and are very glad she is around.

All the years Mom was healthy, she wasn't overly fond of Fibi, who is a rather temperamental cat. But now they both have mellowed and spend most of their days together. Fibi seems to know Mom requires gentleness. I don't mean to insult my mom in the least. I am trying to reframe her experience to make it more bearable for everyone. Cat lovers would understand.

Fibi seemed to be searching for my mother for weeks after her death. Her personality seems to have permanently mellowed.

April 10, 2003

Am I a Matriarch?

When I was born in 1945, my grandmother had just turned 47; my mother wouldn't be 24 until a month later. Now, at age 62, I am the oldest member of my immediate family. I am also the oldest of 45 first cousins. My father's parents died when I was a teenager. My grandmother died in 1985; my dad died in 1987; my mother died on Good Friday, 2004. Both my grandmother and mother were true matriarchs, the heart of the family, the person through whom all communication seemed to flow. I was born in my grandmother's house; I have been understudying the matriarch role since birth:) I know I cannot possibly live up to the lives of these two great women.

I have five brothers, 18 months, 3 years, 7 years, 11 years, and 13 years younger. I am the mother of four grown daughters, 32, 30, 27, 23. I now have three wonderful sons-in-law. I was first married in 1968; that marriage ended in divorce 28 years later. Four years ago, I married an absolutely wonderful English computer programmer whom I met on a Jane Austen listserv 6 years previously. From 2000 to 2004, I was the primary 24/7 caregiver of my mother, who suffered from dementia and Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.

Professionally, I have worn many hats. In my twenties I edited psychiatry and psychology books. I stayed home full-time with my daughters for 15 years, volunteering as a childbirth and parenting educator and a La Leche League leader. Then I went back to school, got my master's degree in both library science and social work. As my children grew up, my parents needed more of my time; my dad died of Alzheimer's Disease in 1987. My mom was splendidly independent until 2000; then she needed help with everything and could not be left alone until her death in April 2004. I was only able to care for her because I had the magnificent support of my husband and brothers. We are all so grateful that we could give back to her a fraction of what she gave to her mother, siblings, husband, children, and grandchildren.

A lifelong feminist, I am jaundiced and disillusioned. If anything, it seems harder to combine caregiving and career than it did forty years ago, when I began to struggle with the dilemma. I want to explore why and what to do about it. Dramatic social change is needed for my daughters and sons-in-law to be able to raise their children without damaging their careers.