March 31st, 2012 - Kirsten Levy
It’s been ten years since we last spoke. Ten years since Mom died, the last of our parents and grandparents. She passed in spring, a time for renewal. The day after, our girl Vicky married. Remember her? Imagine a marriage, contraposed to the passing of the generations. Very strange bedfellows. Life and death—cuddled up against each other—have a way of making you hear the beating drum.
I’m a mother and a wife, yes, but I’m a sister and daughter, too. Taking stock, a decade after our decade of fighting over Mom’s end-of-life. Everything about our plans and consensus broke apart: 11th hour hand-written changes to the Will, wild actions to circumvent power of attorney, her removal from assisted living in broad daylight. We chose options in opposition to each other. Every day brought a new crash of emotions and each day advanced dizzyingly, that drum calling out the play in a raging beat. Are you also berating yourself over how we could have done better? I keep coming back to the absurdity that we only have each other for guidance. We’re navigating alone now.
Mom lost to dementia as we celebrated the family, that’s the thing. She had a long, horrific decline, she of the quick wit. As her road ended, my girls made a path of their own—the home-ownership thing, raising families, making choices, stepping forward in their lives. I loved watching it. Mega-impressed by their careers—educator, physician, psychologist—while I was facing the end of mine in research administration. The ceding of the territory. My brilliant career! Such a disappointment, no longer even fun towards the end. Me, the one who sought it, cultivated it—meh. As many years to limp to closure as it took to grow. (Feel me?) Happy places and sad, the net gain a zero-sum game. Wasn’t it the same for you?
So much of this you don’t know because we don’t talk. Something else you don’t you know: I started dancing (who, me?)! I got a Groupon for Latin dance and stuck with it. Next, I retired. After wrestling with the retirement question, I adopted Mom’s old trick of not deciding anything until there’s a decision. Voila! It decided itself. I found out the hard way: somebody younger took my place. Thought you could relate to that. We still have energy in spades, though.
Good things are ahead on the path. My youngest married. A ninth grandchild. Maybe a second career? Beginnings used to lead straight to endings. Now, endings are flirtations with things that just happen in life—shapeless, timeless—they combine into a new path.
And I still have questions. This path, was I driving forward on it, on purpose, or just along for the ride, dilettante? Is the time ripe for asking where does the story go? Surely it does not end. I dug up notes from the quasi-journal I kept during Mom’s care. I sat down to write. It called up emotions one by one, two by two, in any order, which, in spiral, began to be accounted for. They began to feel familiar, human, to regroup in a way that felt connected, like they (and I) belong to each other. Sounds easy but it wasn’t. It took time, but slowly out came Mom’s story from the crucible, she who couldn’t tell it because she was nonverbal. A memoir was born, fully-fleshed, against the backdrop of pandemic doomsday—feels more like the tolling of bells than a beating drum.
Kirsten Levy writes about family and relationships. Her current project is a book contract with a small independent publishing company for a memoir expected to be published in 2022. She enjoyed a career in academic medicine managing research, grant-writing and administration but devotes her time now to volunteer literary activities such as reading for a literary magazine and recent membership on the editorial board of a professional society and mentor of its author fellowship program. Kirsten enjoys the outdoors and dances Latin and ballroom smooth for fun. Her website and blog are at https://www.klevywriter.com/