Not the knees of my youth

Nearly a week after writing last week’s post, I discovered I hadn’t pressed the “publish” button. I’ll blame aging — now a convenient excuse for almost anything.

It also explains why I’m here again, in short order, trying to stay reasonably close to my every-Wednesday Chronicles intention. But also to say that I’ll skip next week’s because we’ll be away again. In Paraguay!

A couple of posts ago I wrote about missing my siblings. I’m not the only one. Husband H. is the youngest of ten and his remaining five siblings all live in the Chaco, Paraguay. The brother next in age celebrates his 50th wedding anniversary next week and another brother reminded by phone that everyone there is getting older and wondered when we would visit.

So, we decided we would. But we didn’t give ourselves much time to prepare. Since it’ll be hot and there’s a fest to attend, a summer dress was a first quick priority. I recorded in my journal how that day went, cartoon style as inspired by Carrie Snyder (though she can draw). To summarize: current dresses in stores too short, current knees on me too wrinkled.

When I muttered aloud what the mirror kept telling me, a young salesperson replied that all knees are like that. Nope, I thought, these are definitely not the knees of my youth!



One of those weeks

We’re not long back from a week in Toronto with second son, his wife, and three granddaughters, and everything shifts into different categories when away, including thought, so there’s not much of a theme in this post. If anything, it’s the role of grandparenting, key in such visits: enjoying the children, collecting memories, hopefully blessing them too.

IMG_20180316_104221524Theirs is a busy household — the girls are 7, 4, and nearly 2 — and I was reminded of going through those years myself, how relentless the responsibilities of work/house/family, how exhausting it can be. They seemed endless at the time, but they passed of course, a fact we can now haul out as a cheerful platitude! 🙂

Besides walks, reading, a movie, McDonalds, and many wonderful interactions, H. and I “helped”: things like mending wounded stuffies and ruffly dresses (me) or putting up hooks and mudding a wall patch (H). We quite like getting involved in this way and fortunately it’s received as meant, as love. I remember my mother-in-law, in Paraguay, back in the 80s, quietly mending for me while our youngsters tumulted around her. She was the picture of contentment, with us but useful too. Useful and content combine well at this stage.

And one night I had a dream which I actually remembered come morning, rare for me. I’m shy to recount it, but can say it radiated creativity and abundance and all that day it buoyed me, and it buoys me still.

While we were gone, our Tsawwassen daughter-in-law’s mother died. Though expected, the news felt a heavy thud. She was a wonderful woman, only 62. I loved sharing grandchildren with her. Free from pain, yes, wrote d-i-l, but “I think our hearts will hurt forever.”

One of those weeks, in other words, with a whole lot in it.

A specific kind of bond

Two Sunday mornings ago I was feeling lonely with a specific kind of loneliness, so I texted my sister in Abbotsford, about an hour away, to see if she and her husband could join us for church and lunch. Happily, it suited, and we enjoyed some good hours together. After years with no siblings nearby, it’s wonderful to now have one (of my three sisters and four brothers) within driving reach.

Atul Gawande in Being Mortal notes that priorities “change markedly” in the latter half of adulthood — common enough knowledge, really — and whereas young people generally prefer meeting new people to spending time with a sibling, the opposite is true for olders. Another study says that sibling rivalry lessens over time and most people over 60 have close ties with their siblings.

Perhaps it’s because striving outward also eventually lessens, the work of separating from family of origin (necessary in youth) long done. My mother and her sisters, who as seniors ended up living in the same city, often met for breakfast. They sometimes tangled over versions of their shared childhoods or were grumpy with each other, but their bond was strong. They could relax into the unique comfort of having earliest influences and frame of reference in common.

My Abbotsford sister and I are 13 years apart so were never really sibling rivals. We now compare the first and later editions of our parents’ parenting. I love her, and the rest of them, and I’m at the point where I would gladly interact more frequently. In fact, if I had a genie in a bottle at my command, I would get the eight of us and partners together for regular breakfasts, even if just to bicker about the past.

On Ignatieff’s “Scar Tissue”

I’ve just finished Michael Ignatieff’s 1993 novel Scar Tissue. It’s on Andrea Charise’s “Aging and the Arts” course list (see previous post), and concerns two brothers and their mother’s memory loss and death. One brother, a doctor/researcher, responds clinically; the other, the narrator, a philosophy professor, submerges himself deeply — at the cost of his family — into all the conundrums of selfhood that loss of self in Alzheimer’s and dementias involve. An ideal book for a class, I thought, so much here to resonate with, wrestle with, discuss. 41XWCW0TIxL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_

Ignatieff is a good writer. I remember how I savoured his nonfiction The Russian Album many years ago. (“Reminiscent of our Mennonite past,” my friend Sarah Klassen said, recommending it.) Scar Tissue didn’t work for me as well, not as a novel, that is. The characters never quite transcended diverse positions around the dilemmas of neurological illness. (“I began to think my mother as a philosophical problem,” the narrator says). I wished Ignatieff had mused on stoicism, the relation between selfhood and memory, the difference between giving up and letting go, etc., with the more compelling integrity of memoir. (After all, the book grew out of his own mother’s Alzheimer’s disease.)

What haunts me in Scar Tissue, though, is the narrator’s stark and subterranean fear, the mother’s illness “passed from cell to cell…the dark starbursts of scar tissue [in the brain]…the inheritance,” taking hold also within him by the end. I recognize that fear. But haunting too is a curious beauty when this “form of dying in which everything familiar becomes strange” is done, plus the vision of some kind of wondrous illumination/knowledge possible even within the blinding journey itself. That felt almost optimistic.