Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lacramae rerum: one year on

A year ago today I wrote two posts.  The first announced my mother's death. The second was not so much marker as an unfolding, tissue paper to the chiseled number that comes after the hyphen denoting her life's time: 10/25/1917 - 6/14/2011.

In recent weeks I've been editing many of the blog posts about her final years, constructing a second volume to follow Dementia Blog.  Like any editing project, it involves a lot of machete work, cutting out unnecessary words, adding in poems, taking out entire entries, trying to create a work.  In other words, taking that tissue paper and trying to render it into a sturdier material.  The work is about her life, but the editing process is about the work.  So hard to prise them apart.  The grieving gets mixed up in the process of re-making her life not as life, but as book.

This book, like the previous volume, is grief work.  But the grieving, like the editing, has been different this time.  Grieving is a kind of editing.  Moments of re-collection, re-vision, re-membering alternate with those of letting go, cutting, accounting for the poverty of there being no more time in which to construct a story.  The future will be all memory now.  The finality of her death is different from the finality of her Alzheimer's. The end of metaphor is different from the end of fact. Her body of thought went first, but the actual body's loss is like a deed, the title to which are these words about her. The words themselves feel more final. 

Because I was an only child, and because I did not know family outside my parents until much later in my life, and because my mother's friends fell away during her long illness, there is no one with whom to share stories about her.  It's an odd chamber, this.  No one to sit around a big table talking Martha with. (Some sentences need to end on prepositions.) To start now seems impertinent; no one wants to hear them out, because they no longer signify her, but her death.  Discomfort attends death, and death blocks memory's passages, even when the stories were damn funny.  This elegy has since been revised, too, but folds in many of her old tales, the ones she told before her memory was taken away, apart.

Literature requires necessity, even if life only becomes necessary by way of memory, its collection and redistribution along lines of meaning.  Life writing is so very different from life, even when its origin is writing in the present.  The blog form offered me permission to write now, as things happened, without a sense of there being something truer later on, if I only waited.  (I wanted to write about my experiences after time had passed, so I could understand them better is not a sentence I believe in any more, if I ever did.)  Wisdom has a present tense, too, but it's embedded in what happens, more even than what is thought.  It's what Katie Stewart calls "ordinary affects."

Editing, more than writing, requires a vantage, a scenic overlook. Faced with the death of a parent, one can't be assured of there ever being such a point. The editing is a kind of trail-breaking that might get me there, or closer to there.  And when I think back, I realize that life has its own editions. Alzheimer's revised our lives together, and a lot of what it cut out was weeds. Editing, like writing, has no end that we can imagine. It's the not-imagining that obliges us to keep going.  I can't, I will. Recollection sometimes reconciles; its loss is sometimes gain.

My son just came in the room, carrying his PSP loaded with a Major League Baseball Game. He and his dad will be customizing a cover for the game with his photo in it.  He wanted to show me a play he'd just made.  I said no, I'm writing.  I'd better undo that edit.  The ongoing is all.

Note:

The photograph was taken in January, 2011.

4 comments:

michelle murphy said...

Thanks for this very lovely post. I've been writing bout my mother's dementia, her fading from life, the memory and confabulations (one of her favorite words) as she makes her way through the shadowy hallways of her little opera. & like you, I am an only child (my brothers passed a while ago) left to scrape together meaning. "Her body of thought went first, but the actual body's loss is like a deed, the title to which are these words about her." What exquisite words.

james mccorkle said...

Have been rereading Dementia Blog, as my mother's memory has begun its erosion. I suspect there really isn't a "guide" to all this, but your thoughts do give guidance.

"The end of metaphor is different from the end of fact. Her body of thought went first, but the actual body's loss is like a deed, the title to which are these words about her. The words themselves feel more final."--striking!

Susan M. Schultz said...

Thank you Michelle and James. One thing I neglected to say was that--surprisingly, perhaps--I very much miss my mother's Alzheimer's home, its residents and caregivers. Alzheimer's forms communities. And you are part of a very important one. aloha, Susan

Steel said...

Susan,

I really appreciated this post and respect your grief work and thoughtful reflection on your mother's death. I was especially moved by your remark that "Literature requires necessity, even if life only becomes necessary by way of memory, its collection and redistribution along lines of meaning. Life writing is so very different from life, even when its origin is writing in the present."