The Imaginary Machete
There will be two blogs this week ... probably. Both will tell a personal story. If this is not your thing, just fast forward to next week, when it will again be about boarding-schools and ballet, and the family left behind.
I had a strange realisation this morning as I was doing my usual Monday flirtation with urban rush-hour traffic. He had been dropped off at school, ten minutes later than normal, but still in time for registration. The delay had been caused by a rant. I had been having an enjoyable rant and lost track of time. Then, on the way home I realised something about how I've been behaving over the last few months. I think that I've been acting as if stuck in a strange sort of Limbo - that place where unbaptised souls are sent, as they qualify neither for heaven nor hell. My own personal Limbo is suddenly finding myself to have both a missing father and an absent son; one lost to Alzheimer's and the other astray owing to his service to Classical Ballet (admittedly, he comes home at weekends). To be honest, I would not have chosen this for either of them. It just happened.
This synchronicity would only happen in well plotted novels.
I realised while driving home that I was presenting a version of myself to the world which fluctuated between joylessness - at its worse - and - at its best - a state of being broken-hearted. Not a great deal of fun for those around me, I imagine. I definitely have a feeling that even if something is not exactly broken, then something is certainly in need of repair. I'm not exhausted; but I am nearly always tired; I'm not depressed, but I am certainly teetering on the abyss of hopelessness. I'm still productive and I am writing a lot; but this is not my usual level of functioning. Although, some of what I'm writing is actually quite good.
In my view, there is no happy face to Alzheimer's. Any suggestion to the contrary is deceitful sentimentality. Still Alice gets it about right. We know how the story ends, and our anticipation of this ending overwhelms any present moments of joy. There is little comic potential in someone getting lost, or putting the remote control in the freezer, or forgetting their grandchild's name, or no longer being able to ask when they need to use the bathroom. All I see is fear. All I smell is a lingering loss of dignity. Eventual failure is inevitable. I haven't lived in the same house as my dad for over twenty years, but I am now trying to reconcile the cruelty of his condition every day. Both my father and my son are on my mind all the time. For very different reasons, contacting both of them is difficult.
It would perhaps be overdramatic to describe this process as a 'grieving'. Freud suggests that detaching is the primary step in the grieving process. The aim of this process is to return to 'normal functioning'. Detachment is just not an option when you are still required to be someone's dad - even when they do not live with you during the week; and it is certainly not possible when you are someone's son, but you are struggling to remember what he was once like as a father. All my efforts are spent trying to engage with how my dad is now, and I feel a failure.
Unlike Heaven, Hell (and Purgatory, if you wish), those who find themselves in Limbo do not deserve to be there. It just happens. They have become cosmically stuck. But, Limbo is a jungle, not a desert. In a desert, effort is futile. Your feet sink in the baking sand - until the energy gradually drains from you, and you are either rescued, which is unlikely, or you die. Jungles require activity. I will thrash and splice with an imaginary machete - relentless and violent. The pathway I clear must be easy to find. I may be treading it again and again. Perhaps others will need to find the pathway also. I will try to move forward in a straight line. An earthly Limbo can't go on forever.
Next time ... an unexpected transformation which happens to the Dad when the Son starts doing ballet.