The past couple of weeks I have spent quite a bit of time talking with my family members, and emailing my sister in Massachusetts, and thinking, thinking, thinking, about where my mother can live, and how we are going to pay for it, and a million other things. She could live with me, but that would mean that she would be home alone most days, 40 miles away from her friends, and she doesn't want to do that, and I can understand why. She has visited a few "Senior Living" places, and now, if the sale of her house goes through, we have about a month to make our decisions and get her moved. I have to admit that it seems overwhelming, but I'm just trying to do the next thing.
While all this has been going on, I have been reading Wendell Berry's new (well, fairly new) book of short stories, A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership. In the story I am reading now Andy Catlett is telling about his grandparents' lives. He talks about the way harvest time used to be, with all the men working and his grandmother and the other women working all day to prepare mountains of food for the men. Then he speaks of the year when his grandmother was no longer strong enough to cook for the men.
And then there came a threshing day when Grandma, old and ill and without help, was not up to the task of cooking for the crew, and my father could see that she was not. He had taken time off from his law office to splice out Grandpa, who also was not equal to the day.
"It's all right," my father said, comforting Grandma. "I'll take care of it."
And he did take care of it, for he was a man who refused to be at a loss, and he was capable. He went and bought a great pile of ground beef and sacks-full of packaged buns. He fired up the kitchen stove and, overpowering Grandma's attempts to help, fried hamburgers enough, and more than enough, to feed the crew of hungry men and their retinue of hungry boys. It was adequate. It was even admirable, in its way, I could see that. But I could see also that something old and good was turning, or had turned, profoundly wrong. An old propriety had been offended. I could not have said this at the time, but I felt it, I felt it entirely. There was my father in the kitchen, cooking, not like any cook I had ever seen, but like himself, all concentration and haste, going at a big job that had to be done, nothing lovely about it.
As we move through this process with my mother, it seems to me that something has gone wrong. Recently, I spoke with a young woman who cared for her mother during her last illness. Sometimes, she bathed her mother and sometimes a nurse came to the house to do it. Her mother told her, "When you bathe me, I can tell you love me. You don't treat me like a disease." And I think that my mother will find a place to live, and it will be efficient, and she will probably be happy there. And when she gets sick, and things get difficult, and messy, and painful, I will have neither the burden nor the privilege of being there to take care of her. Someone will do it--maybe better than I could--but that person will be doing it for money and not for love.
So, this is how we do things now. I don't think I there is any other way at the present time, and more than that, it is what she wants to do. It will certainly be easier for me in many ways. But it makes me sad.