Enter Mourning: A memoir on death, dementia and coming home
By: Heather Menzies
Chapter 1: The Ground Begins to Shift (excerpt)
Ready to sew some voluptuous new fabric, I trawl the pale thread off the spool, channel it smoothly through the loop and begin the tricky descent that will lodge it invisible between the shiny chrome disks furnishing tension in my sewing machine. Then the world seems to tilt, and I’m not sure where the line goes next as a wave of grief engulfs me, the fact of Mum being dead nearly four years seemingly gone in the flash of my forgetfulness. I start again, wondering if Mum herself did the same thing, remembering all those months when she had my sewing machine at her place, the re-stitching jobs for which she’d borrowed it piling up undone and me impatient, muscling in to take over.
I draw out the thread once more, twist its light near-evanescence down and through the tension disks, then up again toward the second loop. Maybe it was her arthritis and the general weak grip she felt at times, making it difficult to grasp and hold something as insubstantial as thread. It’s taut now between my thumb and forefinger, and I hold it firm as I direct it through the intricate steps, twisting it around and up again to slide it inside the wire loop. Was it here that she had trouble, and was it her eyesight failing? Or was it her memory going blank halfway through the threading routine, a routine she knew by heart, for God’s sake. What could have been simpler?
………. A couple of years later, she developed congestive heart failure and chose a high-risk heart surgery rather than a slow crippling of her life through shortness of breath. If she could get back to gardening, she told the surgeon who read her the risk stats, taking the chance was worth it. “I’ve had a good life. I’m ready to die,” she told me the night before the surgery. Sure I thought, because neither of us believed it; she looked indomitable as always. She scrubbed herself vigorously with the pre-surgery anti-bacterial soap, her eyes dancing with excitement at the imminent adventure. And sure enough, she bounced back from this health crisis too, and soon she was back to her garden, as planned. Yet the weeds started to make inroads, not immediately around the house, but in the border beds. She could in fact do less and less; the crab grass was the first to notice.
I did notice that she was repeating herself more than she used to do. She was forgetting the odd word or where she’d put something away. But she brushed it off if I asked her about it, saying she was just tired, and I let it go, her word trumping my sense of things as always. One day, though, I was outside finishing off some weeding while she started supper. She came out the back door to say: “You know, it’s the funniest thing. How do I make lemon-meringue pie? I can’t seem to remember.” I was shocked. But just as quickly, I moved to reassure her, telling her I’d be right in; we’d do it together. That would be nice. A few weeks later, Mum called me on the phone wanting to know where the applesauce maker was.
“’It’ll be in the same place. I just don’t know where that place is!’ she said.” I told her where to look, and didn’t hear back, so I assumed that all was well and I, feeling relieved and reprieved as well, carried on with my life.
All Contents Copyright © Heather Menzies