I haven’t written a blog post in months. At first I didn’t know why. I have time, I have ideas, and a lot has gone on in my life. So, you ask, where have I been? My daily life goes on as normal. I attend to township business, my volunteer and nonprofit work, supporting political causes and candidates, a social life, and the mundane everyday work of cooking, bill paying, laundry, gardening, and the dogs. But beyond that, I have been paralyzed. Unable to get beyond the daily grind, to write or think deep thoughts, or even to look beyond tomorrow.
How did I become paralyzed?
Optimism in the future is a wonderful thing. It allows us to dream and to plan and to wake up each day with happy thoughts for a productive day ahead. Instead I have been stumbling along day to day, doing little and planning naught. I have become paralyzed by thoughts of the future.
And so I stopped blogging. Stories left my head. My life was on hold, filled with hours but no meaning. Then I remembered something I used with my kids years ago. Take a big task and break it into smaller pieces. That way, even though the job remains incomplete, you make a start, working on parts of the whole. I brought up a box from the basement that hadn’t been unpacked yet from the move. That day’s accomplishment became about uncluttering.
More weeks go by, and I remained paralyzed
My father fell and broke his hip a few months ago. Because of his advanced age — he’s 90, the doctor advised against surgery. And so he went to a rehabilitation center to try to learn to walk again. I may have mentioned earlier that my father is in the late stages of dementia. His life is like the women in the movie who wakes up each day and can’t remember the day before. He goes to physical therapy to learn how to put one foot in front of the other, to bear weight, and returns the next day to start over again. His progress is inconsistent. Sometimes he doesn’t want to do it at all. He has forgotten how to feed himself and to speak in full sentences. His mental decline continues in his shell of a body. In his working life he was a scientist, an intellectual whose life was driven by reason and logic. Now he is in the hands of doctors and nurses and aids and us, his children — who watch from afar and support the management of his life.
My mother waits for him to return to her in her little apartment in the facility where she lives. Though in better cognitive and physical health, she mostly spends her days in front of the TV. The outside world is no longer of interest to her.
My father can’t go back to my mother. His cognitive decline is too great to function even in her limited world. If he was able to get out of bed with some help, he could come back to another unit inside the same building, and they could see each other regularly. But he may never be able to do that because he can’t remember how to put one foot in front of the other. He may have to remain in nursing care for the rest of his life. He needs two strong men just to get him out of bed and needs a special machine to lift him. He is facing the end of his life without his mind and with his body failing him. He needs my mother’s emotional support and warm contact to hang on. We wait patiently for him to get stronger, but know that it may not happen.
Decisions about their care are in our hands now. Sometimes we disagree, or wonder if we have done the right thing. But all of this goes on behind the scenes. In truth, my parents have a good life. They have the means to live in a nice facility with good food and attentive staff. They can afford to pay someone to wash and dress them, to put the TV on and get them to meals.
An uncertain world
And so I am paralyzed. As I watch my parents deteriorate and step closer to the other side, I see my own world begin to crumble. I read the other day that the birth rate is going down in the States. Optimism for a better world no longer exists for some in my children’s generation. They have lost confidence that their lives will be better than their parents.
So maybe my father isn’t so unfortunate after all. He won’t live to see the breakdown of the institutions he saw grow and develop. The world he was born came with a promise that with hard work anyone could get an education and a good job and send their children to college. My father survived the depression and World War Two, the McCarthy era, and the threat of nuclear war. He married and raised his family in an age when despite setbacks, life did get better.
My paralysis is starting to lift, but I still fear for what is to come. Sometimes I doubt my ability to make a difference. I feel paralyzed by the size of this horrible no good really bad scary overwhelming time we are living through. It feels alternately like an Orwellian version of 1984 and a late season episode of House of Cards. But inaction is not an option when our democracy is under threat. We each have to play our part in this play, and hope it won’t end like a Greek drama, in tragedy.