If there’s a single emotion I would remove from the cocktail of this experience, it would be anger. My anger. I don’t mean acting-out, shouted, expressed, raise voice, smashed-thing, anger – though all that happens. I mean the pilot light of resentment aroused to blow torch flame by the simplest of things. I don’t care how much is justified, I want to be calm for everyone’s sake. We’ll be OK, and then some triviality spreads like forest fire and we must then stew in the aftermath of another failed opportunity to use the love we, surely, know is all around us just as fundamentally as the dust, the tissues and the biscuit crumbs.
Post-yelling, I feel I am a sinner set to the work of saints. Carers come and keep their cool on eight pounds an hour. I pay a pound a minute, some weeks, to talk to a therapist about how I can carry on.
“Don’t get angry…” Dad will say as a prelude to something he knows is contrary to the collective good, this prefix, in itself, being an act of such subtle passive aggression that it is enough to make you… well, you get the picture.
Given my underlying problem might take years to defuse, I have developed what I think of as useful practice by monitoring how long it takes to takes me to get angry on any particular day. Repetition is my guide. A fundamental and fulfilling force in some arenas (music, art, asexual reproduction etc) repeating things in conversation can drive me nuts, and so it is to this I apply myself to better myself.
Mum’s deafness has always been a rule-of-three* thing. By its third time of repetition any statement will have been abandoned or understood or said so loudly there is nowhere left to take it short of reaching for a bullhorn, skywriting, or daubing a message in blood on the walls.
Less standard and so more incendiary are the repeated requests, “have we, can you, did we..?” etc. There is no benefit whatsoever in turning to the elderly querant and saying, however calmly, “you’ve told me/asked me that.” The higher path is to just keep answering the question as calmly and as often as you can. Any reaction on my part, other than calm, I have come to see as vanity. A bad habit.
My Dad, asking again if I have checked the tire pressure on a car he will never again drive, is a mythic test, sent from the Gods, to probe the shallows of my humanity. If I can, say, finish the washing up, and field several old questions and repeated anecdotes while maintaining a beatific exterior, or even a frown, then things, are, I figure, going well.
Though not yet suffering any specific or diagnosed neural decline, my parents brains nonetheless present sometimes as jukeboxes with fewer records available each day.
For a time, my dad had two favourites, sentimental songs he would return to. One would concern a picture above the mantelpiece, a rural scene of the Yorkshire moors, purchased on a driving holiday in the mid 80’s. I was spoiled by foreign travel and alive with hormones at the time. Driving through Yorkshire for a week wasn’t my idea of fun .
“You know that picture?” He would start. Yup, I know the picture. And then he would either praise the picture, or the holiday, or the living room, itself a cluttered pantheon of days gone by. And then all this would happen again. So what? Indeed, so what. But there are days and moments when you can’t play along. The sulking teen in the back of the car, in some measure, remains within us. “YES, I KNOW THE F*CKING PICTURE!” Sorry, please forgive me. Press restart.
There is a similar story concerning a place mat depicting a Lancashire hotel where we would gather with extended family years ago. The house has many photos of this scene, thick with folk, fashions and cigarettes all long gone. He used to hold the place mat up, after dinner and say “You won’t remember this place…” But I did, and now it seemed important to him to remind me. Again, this would happen a lot. For a time, I used to ask, “You know, we went through this last week?” He seemed admonished, but it is a tough thing to reckon, what to accept and what to fight for. You don’t want them to slide easily to the place where they don’t know what’s what anymore. That, in part might be what I was defending.
I stopped when I realised he could no longer remember the name of the hotel. Then he stopped asking. Then he stopped eating at the table, or looking at anything much, even the walls. So, once again, a “problem” from the past feels like the glory days, compared to now.
So why the anger, or at least this expression of it? I think it dawned on me the other day. Imagine your mind is a museum, you are the expert, curator and owner, and then these people wander in, tourists in a sense, it seems. And they start getting everything wrong, asserting this is that, or that is this. But it turns out that they built the place, or at least laid the foundation stone. And if they can forget these former fundamentals, then you will too, and then its values and its contents will be gone.
I think there’s some of that going on, when I snap. But if we must forget and be forgotten (all of which seems certain) then can we not forgive each other and ourselves as we go? All very well raging at the dying of the light and all the rest of it, but rage is no help whatsoever in this long, long run. Perhaps that’s what it’s so upset about. Here is to progress, not perfection. I’ll let you know how we get on.