The new year comes in like a lamb when you have almost four years old twins and a rapidly failing mother in law and your husband is away on business. I spent the evening at home, fell asleep with the girls, woke at 12:12 to discover I'd slept through both the turn of the year and the fireworks that happened pretty much right outside my door. The only clue I had that the fireworks had happened was my MIL's quivering poodle at the top of our stairs.
New Year's Eve has a fine tradition here in our little 1930s Town. For many years the NYE dance at the Community Hall was an awesome thing - family oriented with kids, adults, the drunk and the sober all dancing into the wee hours and spilling out onto the road to dance under the streetlights and in moonlight and starlight. In the past few years the dance became a shadow of its former self, but this year some of our long term residents worked their butts off to bring it back. How I pondered taking the girls, but the thought of trying to stick handle the kids by myself waaaay past bedtime and leaving MIL for an extended time ultimately made me chicken the hell out. Next year for sure you will find two almost five year olds dancing under the stars with their mommy and daddy. But this year I stayed in and loved my time with the twins, and had much opportunity to reflect back on one crazy ass year.
When I look back on 2012 I will think of it as the year of three years old, and the year of sixty-seven years old. The twins turned three and were as amazing and joyful and challenging as ever. They are such wonderful little kids. They crack me up and drive me nuts and make me want to laugh and cry constantly. And, my mother in law, at sixty-seven, began the process of sliding deeper into a place where we can no longer reach her.
Dementia is a horrible, heartbreaking, unfair thing - but in its own, very odd way, is often fascinating.
I wish I had understood, when MIL first came to Town to be with us, that she must have already been in the early stages of this thing. But I didn't understand and so our relationship was contentious and strained. I found her eccentricity reckless and juvenile. I couldn't understand the laissez-faire attitude she seemed to have toward the craziness of her life (I will not go into too many specifics, but her finances and recently ended relationship were in some pretty serious places). She found me cold and was endlessly frustrated by my inability to accept what she saw as her help. She felt I patronized her, which I did, because I found her childish. She was desperately lonely, and the only "way in" she could find socially was to seek the town gossips and feed their appetites by talking about me. Which made things worse. Every so often we would have a big blow up, and I would promise to try to be a better daughter in law. And I would, for a while. I would ask her to concede on some of the points I felt strongly about. She kind of did.
Once she moved in with us properly (she had had an apartment of her own for a few months) we were suspecting early stage dementia. And once we began to investigate, our suspicions were confirmed.
For many months MIL was still so able that she would babysit the girls, cook for herself, take her dog for long walks, spend hours sorting through stuff for the store she wanted to open. But our relationship was still strained. She wanted to be a bigger part of our daily lives, I wanted to make sure I and J and the girls spent the early years of our family time establishing ourselves as a unit, and I didn't think it fair or necessary that MIL be involved in every minute of our days. She thought I was mean and her public bitching about me hardened me to her even more. This is a VERY small town, and being gossiped about - especially when it was one-sided - was hurtful and embarrassing.
By the summer of 2012 things were getting crazier. And it became clear that MIL was not going to be able to handle running a business. And then it became clear that she could no longer be trusted to care for the girls for more than an hour or so. And then she started to lose language and memory. And just before Christmas she started to retreat from life and hallucinate a reality that involved scores of visitors roaming about her apartment at all hours.
And now we are living with a shadow of the woman who raised my husband. She is rail thin, sleeps most of the day, and sees people who aren't there. On good days she still comes up and eats with us and plays with the girls, on bad days we bring her food and help her dress herself. We are in the process of getting her into a care facility but there will be a few months still, with her here in our house. So I guess now is the time for me to prove myself as a caring, loving person. Because it is all so very sad. Yet fascinating.
There are the sad parts - watching this once magnificent woman nearly collapse with frustration when she tries to dress herself, the loss of contact with reality, the extreme frailty. And then there are the fascinating parts - the hallucinations of visitors from all walks of life - First Nations men, boy scouts and girl scouts, hospital patients, Indians discussing current events in India. There has always been a part of me that believes old people and children have a much clearer view into other realities, and the fact that this 1935 building has been a boarding house, grocery store, pool hall, art gallery, etc. etc., makes it all the more intriguing. What if she really is seeing people who once passed through this place? Who am I to assert that it is all the product of a failing brain. Maybe her brain is opening up to other realms? Yeah, that's a crazy thought, but one I have all the time now.
I am surrounded by a very supportive community, many of whom ask how I am getting through this time in our lives, and I must admit, there are days when I wonder that as well. But whenever it all begins to overwhelm I take a little step outside of myself and ponder how I will remember this time, years from now, when it all slides into part of our family lore and mythology. And here is how I will remember it - profound. There is extreme profundity in beginnings and endings, and right now we are helping two souls into life, and one soul out of life. And the responsibility of it all is a sacred trust that we are trying to get right. Sometimes we do get it right, sometimes we don't. But right now I am acutely aware that what I do and say will be the first experiences for the twins, and last experiences for MIL. And that is pretty big.
So there it is - my musings for the new year. Appropriately, I am thinking about the beginnings and endings of things. And how my middle-aged ass is right smack in the middle of it all.