Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Memory Floor

Thunder to the south, deep booms, like something being split open in slow, slow time. Every afternoon it is like this, that opening of the sky somewhere near here, not here, a tease, an ache in the gut of the ground of thirst.

My mother didn't feel well this morning. She woke up confused and it is scary not to know where you are or when it is or any other blessed thing and we didn't go to the doctor at all. I called and canceled that appointment and then because she is always saying she needs to clean up the clutter, I sat on the floor and went through all of the things she can't force herself to go through, mostly just old magazines, old catalogs, old newsletters from both the facility and her church.
She doesn't want any of it any more. She can't really read these days.
I took all of it and threw it away and she was so grateful for the clean surfaces. It was so fucking easy to do that for her.
The hard part is the talking.
She knows, she knows, she knows that her brain is going. Her mother's brain went too (and Mother says to me, "It's in your blood too" and she's right) and she wants, I think, my mother does to reach the point her mother did where she didn't know a thing, the scary part over, the release of real consciousness complete.
Either that or to die.
That would be okay with her too.

She knows that she'll be moving to what they call the "memory floor" soon. She is resigned.

Memory Floor.
Doesn't that sound like a place where the hallways would be filled with photographs on the walls of little girls in braids and hats, holding hands, maybe in Paris or maybe in Germany or maybe in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee or maybe somewhere where your blood lived? Doesn't it?
There should be tables of heavy books of thick black paper with neat white corners glued in, holding more pictures and more, Easter egg hunts in black and white, the memory (oh! the memory) filling in the pink of the dress, the blue of the hat, the incredible green of the mother's skirt, and Christmas mornings and Papas and Mamas, standing proud with solemn-eyed newborn babies, a devil-eyed little boy standing at Papa's feet, thinking about his own world which does not include babies at all, ready to race off the second Papa's hand releases his shoulder, down to the pond, out to the woods, down the road, gone, gone, let him be gone. He has been gone a long, long time.

The Memory Floor should have a kitchen in it with heavy dark bowls stacked neatly on wooden tables and egg beaters and Mama's fine china and eggs fresh from the nest in a wire basket and a big wood stove in the corner and a pitcher pump at the sink and a pile of logs by the stove and the family dog curled up on one side of it, the family cat in a basket on the other.

The Memory Floor should have a bedroom with freezing floors and instead of nurses bearing medications, sweet mother-faced women who wake you up with a kiss and a come on, get up, got to get your chores done, and there would be chickens to collect eggs from and there would be a cow to milk and there would wood to split and there would be hair ribbons and school books and I don't know.

Whatever your memories are. Whatever the things are which hold memories for you.

Those things.

We talked, Mother and I, always about safe things. We never talk about THAT.
We talk about the people we knew, the houses we knew. Mostly.

I left and she was so grateful I'd come and cleaned up for her. She walked me to the elevator and told me again how grateful.
It was okay although the entire time I am with her, there is a sense of dread that is physical in the center of me and I don't think it's her fault.

It's just the way it is. I guess it is a sort of memory.

Now the rain is actually here, and this is what I realize- it is not the earth's gut, thirsty for rain that aches but my own, too full of all that memory for any sort of comfort on this night, at least.


  1. I know. Not as much as you know, but I know. It's hard. I'm glad you did go to your mother today. I know the guilt tugs at you.

  2. What a powerful post. It's in my blood too, and I fear it deep in my heart. Love your words. Thank you.

  3. Wow. Powerful indeed.

    Danielle had an old lady who would come into the tattoo shop often, looking for lavender oil. They realised she was from the nursing home nearby, and started keeping some to give her. He started visiting her, and by the time she died, she didn't remember that he wasn't really part of her family. A sweet story. But it's easier to be generous to people who AREN'T your family sometimes, is the sad truth of it.

  4. Your description of the Memory Floor sounded like what heaven should be.

  5. This was a poignant post. Both of my parents had Alzheimer’s and I predict it will be in my future. It seems like your mother knows that it won't be hard on her anymore when she gets to that kind of place and I can tell you that that is true. It will be harder on you. I wish I could be there and visit her with you and hold your hand so it's not so hard. I know how what it feels like. I hope your gift of writing so beautifully about your thoughts and feelings gives you some solace.

  6. Oh, the Memory Floor. So beautiful. And so beautifully wrought.



  7. Mary, this is beautiful; the images rise up, eggs and bowls and hair ribbons, luminous and heartbreaking. You're a damn good writer, you know?

  8. Oh, I love the memory floor -- how utterly beautiful that is.

    I'm sorry that your mother is descending -- or perhaps? -- ascending to that part of very old age.

    It seems weird to even comment casually about such things, but I'm glad you were there to throw away the clutter and perhaps make clearer what is around her now.

  9. SJ- Honestly, I don't think that the guilt when I don't go is as bad as the pain when I do. But I could be wrong. It's a balancing act, isn''t it?

    Juicie- What can we do? My mother did all the right things with exercise for brain and body and staying engaged and so forth. And then it descended and there was no going back.

    Jo- That is the honest to god truth.

    Stephanie- Maybe so. For some people, at least.

    Anonymous- Thank you for every one of those words.

    Pamela- Wrought and perhaps wrung as well.

    Sara- Thank-you. I mean it.

    Deb- Don't cry. It'll be all right. Somehow it always is.

    Elizabeth- I truly think it did help. She kept feeling as if she had to do something about it and she just couldn't bring herself to. And such a simple thing- throwing old magazines away.

  10. When I saw the title, my first thought was that they were now making flooring from that memory stuff they make mattresses from.

    It was good to see you. I was going to ask about how it was going with your mom, but then I thought it may not be something you really want to be asked about per se. I am really piss poor at knowing what to say these days regarding much of anything. I hope that somehow you both receive some peace with each other.

    I don't believe that you will necessarily follow the "loosing your mind" path just because you have the gene. First off, it may not have been passed to you and second you eat well and have your cardio walks to keep you blood and muscles moving. I think half of the people who suffer dementia are probably not very physically active. Yes, I could be wrong, but... I don't think so, I really don't.

    Thanks again for the eggs. We love them and love you.

  11. Did you tell her about the Coffee Table of Thoughts?

  12. You said a lot and you said it well. As I read this I was thinking how good it is that you guys got your mother into her new home when you did. Yes, she has to move to the memory floor, but I think it'll be an easier transition than if she were still at her house. This loosing your mind thing is just bullshit. I watched my grandma go through it and I am absolutely certain that I am of the group that will be ready to die if I reach that point. I feel like my grandma's mind failed her first and then in a way her body failed her for another five years because it just would.not.give.up. Mind and body should sync up!

    This is going to continue to be a tough thing for you all. And the loose ends and unspoken words you and your mom have are kind of like wounds being scraped right now. I hope that writing here helps.

  13. My mom is young at age 70 (I am 50) and her mom is 91 and sharper in her mind than most 60 yr olds. However, I know that pain. After I talk to my mom on the phone it takes me a few days to shake it. It is just because I am an extension of her and I am not a separate self to her and there is no empathy. And there is betrayal.
    I am glad that you have Lily and the boys to take sometimes because that is a normal thing to do and they are a good focus and distraction. I am also glad that you had a task to do with the magazines and clutter.

  14. I knew when I read the title this was going to be a heavy post. The way you write and make all that emotion float through those wonderous images is a mystery. You have had such a load to bear your whole life, but in exchange the universe gave you a tremendous gift, which you use with the brush stroke of a master.
    A good friend of mine that is also a great song writer (who has had a very tough life) once told me;
    "these songs ain't free."
    They are not, but like your blog they have a beauty, and they are poignant, and they reach us and help with our heavy loads.

  15. Wow, you can bring it! (as said in the parlance of our times) Alzheimer's is cruel.

    My Grandmother knew us none at all for several years, but the memories would burst through sometimes. We put BabyGirl in her arms shortly after she was born and the mother in her came right out, without hesitation. And she said, "I have a grandson looks just like you, little one"

  16. when i think about you and what you have shared with us about your relationship with your mom, i think about conundrums.

    your conundrum is that you are coming to terms as an adult with the mother you had versus the mother you are while at the same time being forced to come to terms with the mother you have now with little to no recall of what transpired in the past. in short, you are now responsible for being the protector of the person who failed to protect you. that's a pretty heavy responsibility in my opinion and lesser people would simply walk away (hell, i did).

    for that, you remain one of my role model/ heroes. i could never put the past aside in such a way to help my own natural mother.


  17. Ms. Fleur- No, it was fine. I didn't need to talk about my stuff. I wanted to hear about yours. Also, I don't really think that there's anything, no matter what they say, that is doing to stave off dementia if you have the damn gene. Mother was always an avid exerciser- a walker like me and also she swam and went to various exercise classes. Plus, she went to concerts and plays and did crosswords and played bridge AND she ate pretty well. So. I don't know.

    Omgrrrl- Honey. Her coffee table has fallen over.

    Jill- Yeah. Thank GOD we got her in there when we did. And the saddest thing is that she always said that she did not want to go on living if she couldn't do the things she loved to do (see my comment above) and if she lost her mind like her mother did. And dammit! We all say that but the truth is, once we get there, we don't have the wherewithal to do anything about it. It's just horrible.

    Michele- Yes! It's so good to have something of substance to "do" because just sitting there talking is too difficult. And as soon as I leave that place, I head straight to Lily's house.

    Brother Wrecking Ball- Oh sweet man. Thank-you so much. You really don't know how much those words mean to me. I am touched deeply.

    Magnum- Ain't it the truth. I'll never forget when I let my extremely out-of-it grandmother hold my first born. It was so precious. And then, when I nursed my baby, my granny looked up at her husband, my grandfather, who was also there, and said, "Do you remember when I used to do that with our babies?"
    And he said he did and then he said to me in a voice that was STILL filled with pride, "She always had more milk than she needed."
    One of the moments I hope I will remember my entire life, no matter what.

  18. Mrs. A- Well, the truth is, she can remember back to those times. It is more like the things she can't remember are the ones which just happened. Like five minutes ago. And how to read, too. And a lot of stuff BUT, back when we did try to talk about some of that bad stuff, she had no memory of the things which I, as an adult, look back on and think, "Why would anyone see this and not realize that something entirely wrong was going on?" No memory. Not then and not now, I'm sure. "Oh Mary. That never happened."
    You have no idea how many times I've heard that. So what's the point in bringing any of it up?
    But yes, it is odd and thank-you for pointing that out. I am now a protector of her. And I guess, because I can remember times when she did act bravely to protect me as a very, very young child, I guess I can see my way to doing what I can.

  19. My mother went to the memory floor and at the end, my daughter and I were her cousins. Not bad, I thought at the time, one foot here and one foot there. Stepping over the line into the next world, if there is such a thing.


  20. I'm so glad you got your mom out of her house and into a place that has a memory floor. And glad that you could do something easy to help her and make you feel helpful. I know the guilt, it's a bitch.

    The memory floor makes me sad, because this is in my blood too. In my dreams I often have no idea where I am or where I'm supposed to be, usually lost and confused. I wake up pissed. Cruel preview I suppose.

    My cousin Lee lost the ability to read last month, but she fought back for it, and can read again, haltingly, but she can read. She read me some poems on grief that have helped her with the loss of her husband. It nearly broke my heart. I'm planning a trip to see her next month before something else gets lost, and it's a sad trip to be planning. I can't reconcile that she is only 2 years older than me and all this shit is happening to her.

    You wrote a beautiful post about an ugly truth. And you made me want to throw out all the crap I'll never read too.

    Thanks, xxoo

  21. There are such innocuous names for what seems so difficult. I think calling it the Loss of Memory floor would be better or something like the Nobody's Home floor. It is just plain sad but maybe like you write, a blessing to finally succumb to not remembering much of anything except the distant past. I surely hope that I die like my father--in my sleep with all my faculties.

  22. Good God. Wow.
    The opening chapter of a book?


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