Thursday, May 11, 2017

My Matriarch (To Nancy)

A languorous lady’s eyes alight as I stride by, raising her hand in a wave that belays the lack of neural relays legitimately lining up; how could she know me? I’ve never seen her before in my life. However, I smile nonetheless, because I know what the gesture means, what it symbolizes, and the need it masks: a desperate desire to be connected. This is why I smile, even though I am just barely skirting tears.

I find my matriarch at a table filled with rheumatic Augen and jittering jowls. How superficial is the conversation between mutual prisoners of intro-musculoskeletal war, I wonder. Is it all small talk, or the exact opposite? Is every word of theirs precisely precious, every syllable sacred, every letter beloved, never belaboured? Swooping in to her side, I gently kiss her scalp, ever deprived of ever more hair, and try to impart as much warmth as I can—after all, it’s been ages since I last attended to her so tenderly.

I make the mistake of asking her how she’s doing, a consequence of retail-Me existing for too long, thinking that she’ll answer with a curt “Not bad” when she’s far too tired, too old for banalities and certainly too tired for untruths. “Not great” is the actual admission, and in this moment my fears become reality: she’s in pain, she’s tired, and she is very much alone, because although the geriatric compeers compose a crowd, she has no family there, only emptiness, an empty room, an empty body.

She asks to be taken to her room; her back pains her immeasurably, unknowably, and I wonder how long she would have been sitting in deep-seated dolour, wincing in her wheelchair until some nurse or concerned companion asked if she needed to lie down. (I am suddenly so very grateful to have arrived when we did.) I take the back of her wheelchair, rotating the footrests so her limp legs don’t dredge the carpet, and guide her to the elevator. She asks a question about school, something well-intentioned, but I can tell she’s simply trying to push through the pain stemming from her spine, and I curse the vertebrae squeezing la joie de vivre out of my most venerated and violet-loving lady. Her words push past her lips, and I see now that she can barely even go through the motions.

When we enter the elevator, a man enters, another resident, and asks, “Are you one of Wilf’s grandsons?” to which I reply, “I am. One of them, at least,” awaiting some further jocularity, but he says nothing more than this and all I can think to myself is How dare you mention the dead amongst the still-living?, but I know this wasn’t his intent. However, that particular ache is not one that leaves the body before the lights therein do.

My matriarch struggles in transferring her failing, frailing body from wheelchair to bed, but fortunately my mother is now here to secure her other side. When we get her firmly onto the mattress, she collapses with welcome relief, and her eyes half close from the sheer absence of pain assaulting her fraying senses. I pull up a seat beside her bed, and simply stroke her shoulder; I make all sorts of silent pleas and quiet bargains to assume some of the pain she is suffering—in vain. Curled into the foetal position, her quiet excruciation more quietly kills me, but the minor relief is written across her uncreasing forehead.

I gently kiss her forehead, my matriarch infantile and immobile, and in the dialectical parent-child relation, I find myself caring for my matriarch as she doubtlessly once cared for my infantile self, invalid and unassuming, unsettled and afflicted.

I love my matriarch dearly—not dearly enough to depart with a clear conscience.