Monday, February 20, 2012

A Blue Night

Her house has the same acrid cigarette smell and yellowish walls.  A sixty-pack year history of smoking will do that. The family photos are the same: my children, my sister’s children and the one from 1918 of my grandparents’ wedding.  

Our similarities out way our differences.

I spent a weekend night with my 92-year-old year old aunt.

We had some financial matters to attend to.  Most are left over from my father’s small estate.  Checks needed to be signed.  Forms needed to be mailed.  Newly arrived earning statements for filing taxes needed keeping. Things that took several months to get settled. Kitchen tables are good for these sort of things.  

I skirted the real issues. 

They were staring at back at me: the aged eyes, the now barrel chest, a wider based gait,  and a much-needed cane.

I just finished Joan Didion’s book “Blue Nights.”  I had started it months ago but left it at my Dad’s house interrupting my flow of reading. I had forgotten where I had left off.  Didion is such a deliberate writer that for me she’s a slow read. So I started it again.  Her sentence structure is masterful and demands rereading many of her words to understand her repetitive, circular thinking. But she makes her point like an arrow piercing a spiraling target:

This book is called "Blue Nights" because at the time I began it I found my mind turning increasingly to illness, to the end of promise, the dwindling of the days, the inevitability of the fading, the dying of the brightness. Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.

Joan Didion contemplates her own aging and now her need for her daughter who unfortunately died several years earlier.  I couldn’t help but think of my Aunt, a surrogate mother to me and me a surrogate daughter now for her. 

We talked for longer than usual this weekend.  In going over some financial things, she unexpectedly asked the cost of my father’s recent stay at the assisted living facility and who “signed the papers” for hospice care.  I answered that I did after much thought and advice of the staff.  I had no choice.

“You did a good thing, “ she said, “He was well taken care of.” 

"I know, " I responded.

We didn’t need any words after that.  She turned away to get something from the refrigerator. I concentrated on opening some more envelopes. But I could tell what she was thinking. She could tell what I was thinking too.

No words were needed for me to say:  I will do the same for you.

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