Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Looking elegant.
(This post also appears in The Indie Exchange.)

And here it is, that date. Nine Eleven. It’s a date I have dreaded for a while.

A year ago, my mother passed away, on the eleventh of September. She had suffered with Alzheimer’s for years. It’s a foul, disgusting disease, both for the bewildered victims and for those who know exactly what is happening.

The thing is, my mom was supposed to be that old lady who would drive us all in her VW bus around Ireland and Arizona into her nineties. She was one of the first people to keep an organic farm in our town. She was an English professor, and there were always one or two students huddled around our kitchen table, chatting about Joyce or Yeats or sophistry.

Her speaking voice was incredibly beautiful. For years she read poetry professionally. Her tour de force was the section in The Waste Land spoken in a pub, in a cockney accent. For my 21st birthday she took me, my sister, and our friend to Paris. We stayed in a cheap boarding house on the Left Bank. It’s still my favorite part of the city.

Was she perfect? No, in italics. Her temper shook our house at times and drove my sister and me to our rooms. I swore that once I saw dragon smoke arise from her nostrils, during one of those rages.
Old snap of Mum walking through Dublin

She studied at Trinity College, in Dublin. She backpacked around Italy. She volunteered at a birdwatching center. To watch all of that personality and intelligence ebb away was pure torture.

The night she finally ended her long fight was very peaceful. A full moon hung outside the window, kept open by the wonderful nurses at Mum’s final home. A slight breeze blew the curtains outward. My sister and I sat there and chatted and wept, while our kids played and decorated Granny’s bed with the stuffed animals and teddy bears she always had with her in her last years.

It was exactly the type of passage she would have chosen for herself. There were no tubes, no machines, and no drugs beyond those that kept her in a simple sleep.

 “Her diminished size is in me, not in her…” There are many others who sense that same thing as autumn begins. They lost friends and fathers and sisters on that date, the day years ago that was far more terrible than my own personal Nine Eleven. I can only wish for them a moment of peace, the calm I felt when the moon glowed outside the open window, when the curtains blew in the soft breeze.

And just at the moment when someone
at my side says, "There, she is gone!"
There are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout;
"Here she comes!"


Hart Johnson said...

Oh, Alison, this is a beautiful tribute. I think that is when Alzheimer's is cruelest--with fiery, intelligent people. They can so often be angry because they know what is missing... just not in specifics. I'm glad her passing was so peaceful.

karastewart said...

What a lovingly and beautifully written tribute, Alison.

Dwight Okita said...

Very nice. I would have liked to hear your mother read from "The Waste Land."