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Lions Roar : March 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2008 74 for the worst. But to my surprise, in 1999 she packed a tiny suit- case with a toothbrush, two bathing suits, and a pair of pajamas, and declared herself ready to come home with me and my hus- band to a remote island in British Columbia. She lived there with us in a little house just down the road from ours, pretty much until she died in November of 2004. To care for a parent with Alzheimer’s is to practice losing every day. I wrote a lot during that time, which was part of my practice. These are some entries from my blog. August 17, 2003 So, my mother said to me the other day, “When I die, are you go- ing to start renting out this house I’m living in to other people?” “I haven’t thought about it,” I replied, hedging. Obviously I still don’t like it when she talks about dying. “Well, you should take the washer-dryer up to your house be- fore you rent it to anyone.” “The washing machine...?” “Yes,” she said. “I don’t know why you put it in this house. You have to come all the way down here every time you want to do your laundry.” “We put it down here so we could all share... ” We put it down here so we’d have another excuse to hang out with you. We put it down here because we are afraid you’ll become bedridden and incontinent. “Well,” she said, “that’s very nice of you, but after I die I don’t want to have to worry about you not having a washer-dryer.” “Mom,” I told her. “Please.” She’s had Alzheimer’s since the mid 1990s, she’s just been diagnosed with what looks like jaw cancer, and she’s eighty-nine years old. She has enough on her mind without worrying about our laundry. “So you’ll take it back up to your house?” “Mom, when you die, I’m burying the washer-dryer with you.” “Don’t be silly.” “I don’t want to have to worry about your dirty clothes when you’re in heaven.” (I don’t really believe in heaven and neither does she, but I know she will humor me.) “Clothes don’t get dirty in heaven,” she said, staring at a tall Douglas fir outside the window. “Clothes are always clean in heaven.” “They are?” “Yes. They have angels there who do all the laundry. Now, isn’t that a lovely tree? What kind of tree is that?” May 25, 2004 A lot has happened. My mother turned ninety last month and we had a little birthday party for her. “How old am I?” she asked me. “You’re ninety, Mom.” Her eyes widened. “I am! That’s unbelievable! How can I be ninety? I don’t feel ninety.” “How old do you feel?” “Forty.” She was perfectly serious. I laughed. “You can’t be forty. Even I’m older than forty.” “You are?” she exclaimed. “That’s terrible!” “Gee, thanks.” She shook her head. “You know, I must be getting old. I just can’t remember anything anymore.” She looked up at me and blinked. “How old am I?” Later on, I asked her, “How does it feel?” “What?” “When you can’t remember things. Does it frighten you? Do you feel sad?” “Well, not really. I have this condition, you see. It’s called os... oste... ” “You mean Alzheimer’s?” I said, helping her out. Ozeki and her mother in scenes from Halving the Bones. MAR 68-77.indd 74 MAR 68-77.indd 74 12/19/07 2:16:11 PM 12/19/07 2:16:11 PM