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On Learning to Love Loss

We have now come to a turning point in what feels to be a long long fade — a kind of toboggan slide downward— as my mom continues to lose her bearings and now, according to the staff around her, needs to be placed in another facility with full time nursing care around her. I can recall my mom standing on one leg in the kitchen years ago drinking bancha tea. She always loved to stand in tree pose in the kitchen for family conversations over the breakfast hour. She told me on more than one occasion to never let her get put in “one of those places” where everyone was slumped over, eyes glazed and drooling from the corner of the mouth. My mom was an early feminist, an advocate for “Women’s Lib” inspired by Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. There were always copies of Ms. magazine on the coffee table in the den. My mom’s stature was not only built from 40 years of Iyengar Yoga (my mom studied with Silva Mehta when we lived as a family in London in 1978, back when Iyengar Yoga was  incredibly fierce and demanding) but from her commitment to hold her ground in a working world dominated by men. My mother was a dean at Amherst College in Massachusetts for 20 years. Today, Alzheimer’s dementia has turned her brain to a gauze, a grey and sticky disease that turns the mind blank. What my mom loves most is to speak of the weather: “So what is it like there for you today?” she will ask four or five times on a phone call. Her brain seems intimately attune to the solar, as if the sun casts a glimmer of light into the darkness of her brain. She speaks in generalities, a language that has lost all form, name and measure. In speaking with her it comes clearer to me how my mind too is imperfect and how fragile the mind in general is a fragile thing. Now that she must must leave her independent living and move to a room on a hallway in a ward with polyester upholstered couches in the communal area and group Bingo every Friday afternoon, my heart breaks in bearing witness to the infirmity of age that overtakes us all, at some point, in the end.

Alchemy + Aim