When my Sner (my mother for those of you who aren’t familiar with my personal term of endearment) comes to visit, she and I almost always wind up making the 10-12 hour drive from south Mississippi to southwest Missouri to visit with my GrandSner. It’s always good to spend time with the Sner, but the real purpose of the visit is to see the GS – spend time with her before she is no longer around for us to need to make these visits. That means that twice a year, Sner and I are here; I usually come again by myself (or with Sweet Husband) at Thanksgiving to see the GS again. Dealing with family can be difficult, though, particularly when you have a family as marred by mental illness and hefty doses of dysfunction – which mine is in spades. It brings up all kinds of stuff, and this trip has been a deluge of all that stuff.
It’s hard to choose what’s been the most difficult piece to process, but I suppose it’s that the GS is fading. Intellectually, I know this. I knew it like a punch in the gut the first time she asked me, “Do I know who you are?” It’s easy to forget it when I’m not here dealing with it all the time. I am a watcher: I don’t speak a lot and I sit back and watch. I see her look at me, confused and wondering, even after I’ve just told her who I am.
This morning because her hallway was being painted, the Sner couldn’t come sit with us while we waited around for my brother to make an appearance, so it was just the GS and me. I sat in her chair; she laid in the bed. I crocheted, and I could see her looking at me every once in awhile, unsure. I’d talk and work it into the conversation so she was saved the embarrassment of having to ask because at this stage of the game, she is aware that she should know but for the life of her she can’t figure it out. She’ll apologize and duck her head, saying, “My memory isn’t what it used to be” or “I don’t remember so good these days.” At several points she thought I was my Sner, and at still others she had no clue. There were moments, though, when she was with me and knew me.
I think that if she ever gets to the point that she doesn’t know at all it will be easier, but I don’t know. We’re not there yet. I hate the embarrassment for her – the struggle to remember and not being able to, the frustration of trying to sort through the years of mental files and being unable to open the drawers where those specific memories are stored. They’ve got to be big files – things like her wedding date escape her – perhaps they grow too heavy to pull open, the slides stuck.
I’m not so arrogant to be hurt for my sake; she raised me for awhile and I’m sure that had as much of an impact on her as it did on me. But I’m a tiny part of a life that is further and further out of her grasp, and I can’t imagine how hard that has to be for her. Much larger parts like her husband, her children, her life grow darker. We took her to see a beloved cousin today, and in watching her there, even with this woman who said, “Oh this is my other sister!” as she shuffled through the door, there were moments when I could tell it was all blank. She didn’t know where she was or why she was there.
As if that weren’t enough, because there have been increasing concerns about her heart, we also made a stop by the funeral home today and made preliminary plans. We had those frank and painful discussions. We discussed money. We picked out caskets and vaults and guest books and thank you cards and so much of the rest of it. At the very practical advice of the extremely sweet woman at the funeral home, who remembered helping with my Grandpa’s funeral in 1989, we took a little booklet that will be immensely helpful in writing an obituary and creating the “program”. She also suggested that perhaps now might be the time to start writing that obituary; it will be easier for us to pull together the details while we are clear and relatively unemotional rather than in the moments after her passing. So very sensible and so very true. I suppose I will begin reading some obits and begin figuring out how to make it flow.
That was really the biggest part of it. There was other stuff, other scabs that were ripped off today, but really, that’s the worst of it. I suppose that these are the things you do when you’re a part of a family, and these are the things you handle when you’re a responsible adult. Accepting that and knowing that these are the things that must be done, that this is a part of a life well-lived (the GS will be 87 in October), doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.