It has been almost a month since I’ve last posted on my website; the longest I’ve been silent since I started my blog. My excuse is I have been busy preparing for and hosting a family gathering at our home. I’ll briefly relate the affair as it is pertinent to my journey with MCI: How I cope, or not. How I manage, or not. And how I experience new challenges.
The reunion was planned after my grandson, his wife and our great granddaughter—who live in Estonia—announced their plans for a ten-day stay in Winona (our home as well as Duncan’s parents and siblings’ home). Soon after the announcement, we were getting emails from nieces in Minneapolis and southern Illinois who naturally wanted to come and see their cousin. Our son and daughter-in-law booked a flight from Boston to be at this family gathering, and a dear aunt who was returning from a trip west planned a stop on her way back home to Washington D.C. A final total of twenty people in all were gathering at our home.
Prior to the visit my daughter and I wrote out a detailed menu for the short stays as well as the extended ones. We included easy-to-prepare dishes, cook-outs and meals that could be frozen. We mapped out arrival and departure times and noted who was sleeping where and for how long on a large calendar. I can’t tell you how many times during a day I referred to this detailed calendar to remind myself of who, when, and what was going to happen next. Yet with this aide, I still had difficulty trying to hold on to the details—a repeated reminder of my inability to remember and a recurrent source of anxiety. I can’t image what it would have been like without such a detailed crib sheet.
My daughter and niece took charge of all the meals, while the men did the clean-up. Games, water balloons, hikes, scooters, skateboards, rope swing and sidewalk chalk entertained the children. One could always find at least two or three adults conversing in various corners of the house or on the front porch. Out-of-town folks brought sleeping bags and inflatable mattresses and, combined with our three bedrooms, sofas, and cots, everyone had a soft place to bed down with pillows and blankets.
Yes, everyone did indeed have a good time, and played, socialized and ate well. But in spite of how well things went, I often felt isolated, left out, marginalized.
During previous years of extended family gatherings, I was lovingly referred to as Mat Moder, a Swedish term translated as Food Mother. I felt honored to have “won” this title, as I was delighted to prepare and please my family with delicious entrees and wonderful desserts. While I appreciated all the food prep and serving done by others during this gathering, I simultaneously felt displaced as I stood aside, trying to stay out of the way of the new generation of cooks who scurried around my kitchen.
I had the same feeling of displacement as I watched and listened to the young mothers spontaneously gathered in small groups, coffee cups in hand, discussing child raising, preschools, and the wonderful experience of witnessing a child’s growing wisdom, funny sayings, and ever-changing personality.
I especially felt disengaged when fashions were discussed, or recent travels or future trips were talked about, as well as topics of professional challenges and promotions. All topics I can no longer contribute to.
Two weeks have now passed, and I’ve done a great deal of thinking about my feelings of self-pity at being unable to contribute to conversations or activities. I’ve been trying to sort out what is the real source of my sadness.
What comes to mind is the many visits I made to my Mom and Dad’s home in Illinois when I was in my twenties, thirties and forties. During that time my grandmother lived with my parents. I can still clearly picture her sitting in her rocking chair, often with her hands folded on her lap, silently observing the commotion of a loving family’s gathering. I can see myself bringing her a plate of food, placing it on her lap and walking away—leaving her to eat, all alone. With this picture in my mind, I silently ask Grandma to forgive me for being so unkind.
My thoughts move to the present and I remind myself that life always repeats itself. The young cannot possibly understand how it feels to be old, or to have memory and cognitive issues, or to feel excluded—nor should they. This is not their job. Their role in life is to make the world a better place. To build and improve. To move forward.
My job, is to model “growing old” with as much grace and dignity as I can muster. To reinforce the efforts and accomplishments of the young, and when possible, to offer wisdom. And to live in the moment and relish the beauty of life.
Not always an easy place to return to, but I’m trying.