The Specter of Separation
This weekend is Mother's Day and I'm spending it with my mother. Now it may be the fact that it gives my mother lots of time to think, or it may be the grey Maine rain, but she is haunted by the idea of Alzheimer's Disease or dementia. It never occurred to me when I arranged this weekend away for her that I was bringing her to a place of memories. She saw my grandfather sitting in front of the restaurant where we had dinner on the bench with his cane. She saw my Dad laying out the picnic blanket on the lawn in front of the museum by the sea. She saw my Aunt and Uncle rocking and laughing on the porch of the old inn we drove by. All just ghostly images from her memory transparently laid over the here and now. In fact, my mother is terrified of developing Alzheimer's Disease like her mother and aunt. She fears the separation that will occur from everything she knows and loves. She fears losing touch with what is right in front of her and becoming lost in the images from her memories. But at the same time, a sort of separation has begun ... almost imperceptibly. She spends more and more time sleeping and living in dreams that vividly return her to those very memories.
Separation I think, is a necessary part of approaching the end of this life. I almost wonder if Alzheimer's is a way of prying someone from their life when the ties are so strong and the bonds seemingly unbreakable. When leaving so much behind would be not just unthinkable, but emotionally devastating. To witness the tearing away of a loved one suddenly, inexplicably, wrongfully is damage that lasts a lifetime.
Another dear friend of mine has an aging aunt who is so close to the end of her life that it's become the agony of waiting. In this time, her aunt has begun to see people in her room that aren't there. Friends, loved ones have gathered at the foot of her bed who have made this journey before her. Each time my friend visits her aunt, she'll find her aunt staring over her shoulder at the corner of the room passing silent words of understanding to whomever is standing there. It is gradually populating the empty space with another reality to ease the separation from this reality.
I think the specter of separation is an incredible presence within our experience. It is another example of our body's capacity for protecting us psychologically and emotionally. In fact, it may be our body's last act on the stage of life.