I don’t recall when Parkinsons shape-shifted husband to patient, wife to caregiver. Was it the day he held up his underpants, asked, “What do I do with these…?” The day I re-taught him how to stand from sitting, use the TV remote, or the day I first wiped dignity from his backside and flushed it away?
In the mirror two heads held my gaze. I peered closer. In one face I saw me, his Liz-darling. The other, a crone I didn’t know.
“Can’t hear a word. Speak up,” crone shouts craning to hear his whisper. “Use your voice…aaah, ooo.” Crone models an intonation exercise.
“Hey, David your mouth,” she insists tapping her chin, a reminder to close his.
“Sit up,” I hear her mutter when he keels sideways in his chair.
“Use your fork… Open your eyes…”
The orders familiar, we all know how they go. Momma-dictator ordering not a child, but a grown man, my David whom I vowed to honor and obey, to love for the rest of our lives? I cower beneath the verbiage — the same words with which I tamed my children sixty+ years ago, when… a single mother with a nursing baby and deaf toddler whose frustrated screeches stripped my brain. I owned a piano then, banged Rachmaninoff’s Funeral March from its ivory piano keys, sedated myself with Valium and a glass of red-too-many. Bad times. No dark night I want to visit again.
My piano long gone, art studio devoid of clay, the New Mexican soil too hard to dig, activity-till-exhaustion is what sedates — and our strict one cocktail happy hour, the hour we socialize. Well that’s the idea.
“It’six. What will it be tonight, my love? G’n’T? Tequila?”
The newscaster interrupts, babbles on. No matter, “Cheers.” Our glasses salute.
Next minute his glass tilts, drenches his shirt, pants, the chair.
“Not again. How many times…? I’ve told you, put your glass down on the table between sips…” My yack-yack strikes up again. I flip-down the footrest, drag from my chair, stomp off for a mop, wipe him down, say sorry darling, it’s not you I’m shouting at,
“I JUST WANT ONE MOMENT’S PEACE.”
Sign me up for a school for caregivers. Hey bloggers, how come one doesn’t exist? Are you, like I am in desperate need of tuition on conflict resolution, the delicate balance between gentle helper: versus bully, custodian: wife? Bound, trapped in a body in sh*t working order, reliant on me to lift cup to lips, fork to mouth, punch buttons on the TV remote, bossed and manhandled, how does David stand it? Well, he has to poor bugger, doesn’t he? No choice. That’s on bad days and not every day is bad…
Not BAD/GOOD I correct myself, a DOWN day, an UP day. His changing states at a flip of some invisible switch floors me. Add that how-to lesson to the syllabus, please.
…and when he was up he was up, and when he was down he was down, and when he was neither up nor down, I hum. How will I find him today?
Crises willing, me-with-me-alone-time is a few minutes each morning before breakfast. The second I inhale my incense stick, light a puja candle, tap three rings to reverberate my singing bowl, tranquility settles. My meditation cushion placed just so, I watch dawn strike Santa Fe Baldy’s distant mountain peak. Birds like the chants I play, it seems, for I see them still on the bush outside the window, heads cocked. Twittering. Perhaps, like me, they gather their intention for the day and summon strength enough to follow through.
From a deep space, I feel the spirits of who it is I really am, who David really is, and see our earthly struggles as no more permanent than Hamlet’s at London’s Globe. I ponder the power of words, the tone in which they are uttered. I swear to let my speech pass through three gates before I ever speak. Remind myself, “…gentleness, patience, kindness.”
“David is a perfect soul I have the honor to serve,” I affirm. “… to treat as I would the Dali Lama, the Queen of England, Mohamed Ali or Pope Francis.”
Behind closed eyes, I draw in the beauty of the man I married. The great love we share. I am his. He is mine.
Calm settles for a few hours, a few days, a week or month. Whistled code-talk, singsong-messages, and love-hugs remind of happiness we share as man and wife.
Oh, dear, my finger hesitated over the keypad. SHARED? SHARE? Is happiness now relegated to the past? I am grieving. I am in mourning.