Staying with my mum in a senior-living residence – not assisted living, thankfully not that as yet – can be terribly depressing. It’s easy to lose sight of the point of it all when you see not just where but how many of us end our days: bent, misshapen, fumbling, confused, attached to an oxygen tank or a walker or, if you’re lucky, a compassionate arm. Mealtimes are worst, for it’s obvious that for many of the residents, the dining hall – and it’s an airy and pleasant room – provides the high point of their daily routine. Most people dress well for meals, and I can see the dismay that my usual attire of T-shirt and jeans incurs, perhaps interpreted as a lack of decorum; perhaps a lack of respect. What do these people do all day, I ask myself, and then am ashamed of even asking the question. But I cannot imagine what it’s like to be inside their heads. I try, but I cannot.

So I feel something like pity, maudlin pity, and am ashamed of that as well. And of the small flicker of fear, a cold ember still, that hides behind my breastbone: will I too end like this?

If I were an artist, perhaps I’d be better able to picture the bones beneath the sagging flesh, imagine the child and teenager and young parent and career woman whom each of these people carry within themselves, layer upon layer of lived life. It almost seems as though it’s the weight of all those memories that bows them, in the end.

Then this morning at breakfast my mum yearns to watch Dirty Dancing, her favourite film, though she would hardly be able to see or hear it. I ask her why she likes it so much. ‘Because it reminds me of myself,’ she answers. ‘I used to go dancing all the time, you know.’ And for a brief instant I have a flash, not just of a young, vibrant woman in the swing and flare of a shoulder-padded 1930s dress dancing through the night, but of the imaginative power of the woman she is now: inside her head, she’s dancing and will be dancing still into her long goodnight.

8

8 thoughts on “Dirty Dancing

  1. Anonymous 14 years ago

    This is beautiful writing – thanks. It is honest and thoughtful and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I often think about ageing- as you near your dotage (!) it tends to hit home.

  2. Debi 14 years ago

    This is so beautiful, Lee.  I cried at the beginning and was prepared to feel (even more) miserable.  But then you took flight.  Or rather your mum did . . .  I also had some wonderful times with my mother when she was dying.  Who’d have thought it possible?  And my dad’s 91.  Forgets everything but is so full of wisdom, wit and humour . . . 

    Occasionally I hear that some professional (don’t even start me about his GP!) has treated him dismissively or with disrespect and it enrages me beyond measure . . . 

  3. Tockla 14 years ago

    What a deep post to read on a sunny Wed. morning. I think about this too – how somehow, when we pass a certain age, we seem to lose our importance and relevance in society. Instead, up to that point we walk around, dismissing old people into out-of-sight homes, forgetting that we’re all going in that same direction ourselves. But thanks for the flash of insight at the end, which softened the sadness. I hope this time spent with your mother goes well.

  4. Anonymous 14 years ago

    Strong post Lee, our parents seem to be able to this.

  5. Ovation Leader 14 years ago

    And for a brief instant I have a flash, not just of a young, vibrant woman in the swing and flare of a shoulder-padded 1930s dress dancing through the night, but of the imaginative power of the woman she is now: inside her head, she’s dancing and will be dancing still into her long goodnight.

    I was blessed to spend the last two months with my mother as she lay dying of cancer. The moments we shared, particularly when she’d catch “the fancies,” were priceless.

    I hope you’ll have many more meals and delicious chats with your mother in the times ahead.

    I would like to blog link with you. Do you mind?

  6. Susan 14 years ago

    This is a lovely, sensitive post Lee!  I’m glad that your mother is having a chance to show you off to her cronies.  I’m sure she’s very proud of you.

  7. Lee 14 years ago

    Clare, I haven’t read Patchwork Planet but will fetch it today from the library. Thanks for the suggestion.

  8. clare 14 years ago

    Hugely evocative post, Lee.  Been thinking about this a lot myself since ‘the confused relative’ has just been admitted to a similar place for recuperation. 

    I think the importance of mealtimes is something peculiar to institutions where people rely on others to feed them.  I expect it’s the same in hospitals, boarding schiools and prisons too – but perhaps not to the same extent. 

    Have you read Patchwork Planet by Ann Tyler?  That book is incredibly moving on the business of aging.