chocolate is a verb

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Tag Archives: aging

found poem: for a few years

found poem: autumnal

found poem: fascinated

found poem: hours

found poem: the broom

found poem: my face

found poem: there’s no today.

found poem: PAST

found poem: In the mirror


random gratitude…

Dorothy at 36
My mother made the Two Hardest Decisions entirely on her own, without discussion or persuasion.

One day, when she was in her 80s and my father was still alive, Dorothy announced that she was not going to drive any more. Another day, about three years after my father died and my mother was already on the slippery slope of dementia, she turned to me and, absolutely lucid, said, “I’m feeling too isolated in the house. I want to move to assisted living.”

In each of these choices, once she determined her path, she never looked back. That’s not to say there weren’t some terrible struggles getting her into and out of the car, when she would plant her feet and stiffen her frail 100-pound body, refusing to bend, responding to a Stop sign that only she could see. And that’s not to say that she didn’t sometimes complain about the food at the place she called “this hotel.”

But for all the difficulty we had being mother and daughter, these two decisions were immeasurable gifts and I continue, more than a decade after her passing, to be grateful.
. . . . .
photo: Dorothy at age 36


the ossified…



the line of defense…

Dorothy in 1917Toward the end of her life, her faculties compromised by dementia, macular degeneration and the cumulative wear of some ninety years of minor ailments, my mother never lost her appetite, her fashion sense or her eagerness to be the center of attention.

If she couldn’t bathe or dress herself, she was still emphatic about how she looked and insistent upon a careful, daily review of all the options. Though the choices didn’t change, deciding what to wear took up more and more time.

She loved going out and the promise of a restaurant meal or a walk through a museum would fuel her with anticipation. Yet these small adventures were, again and again, the most challenging interactions we had in those last difficult years.

Excited as she was to go, as much time as she had spent preparing — choosing the right clothes, earrings, accessories — when we arrived at the car she became mulish and angry and refused to move or be moved. She was always small, but she might as well have weighed a thousand pounds for all my ability to budge her from her wheelchair.

Any evidence of new-found passivity or compliance would vanish as she seemed to concentrate an entire lifetime’s worth of complaint and blame into this minuscule geography: the stand-turn-sit between the wheelchair and the passenger seat. It was not as if she couldn’t; she still could and did transfer in and out of the chair and she still walked, if very unsteadily, with a walker.

It didn’t matter where we were going or even if Southern California was having one of its rare rainstorms. There we would be, at the curb or in some parking lot, she unmoving, I cajoling, flattering, joking, soothing, looking for any wedge into her stubbornness.

Sometimes, if there was time urgency, I would have to recruit help — a man to lift her from the chair and set her in the car. The rest of the time, I’d just have to wait until her determination weakened or her mind signaled readiness. She’d seem to lighten, set her hands on the chair arms and push herself upward. Buckled in at last, she’d look around eagerly, excited, again, to be going somewhere. But arrived at the other end of our journey, the scene would unfold once more as she refused to emerge from the car.

It wasn’t just me; she did this with other people too, and, not surprisingly, the number of friends willing to drive her diminished fairly quickly. From one time to the next, she had no memory of these confrontations and no awareness that her obstreperousness might have a negative impact on someone’s desire to take her out.

For whatever reason, and I still don’t understand it, this was the line she needed to defend. Whether it was some unexpressed fear or simply the disconnect between the way she imagined herself and the reality of the moment, she would not or could not say and I will never know.
. . . . .
photo: Dorothy at age 6

drawing inspiration…

DAK and Twombley

In the last years of her life, her sensibilities diminished, Dorothy continued to draw, occasionally and, with her impaired vision, awkwardly. She drew with thick pencils, crayons or black Sharpies on blank sheets of fine paper, or on the back of used sheets, or on top of other drawings, or sometimes, like a child, in the pages of her art books.

A large book of drawings and paintings by Cy Twombly often sat open on her table and became a veritable sketchpad, Twombly’s scratchings and scrawlings and loopings inspiring her own. Maybe she even believed they were hers. It’s only where her crayon or pen strays outside the printed painting, or a wash of watercolor has left the book page slightly deformed, that these emendations become apparent.

She also spent hours of every day sorting things, a small pile of drawings, both old and new, providing her with endless possibility. She turned from one to the next, studying the runes of each image, sometimes lingering, or stalling, or falling asleep. She eagerly showed the drawings to visitors, turning four or five sheets, then replacing them on the pile and starting again. With painful and poignant simplicity, she seemed content in these modest pursuits, her recollections shortened to the moment, each image a discovery: fresh, surprising, delightful.


stepsLance coughed. His ribs ached. His chest held the certainty that one good cough would dislodge the congestion and all would be well. But it clung to his lungs as he barked and hacked, his face red. He had no patience, no time, for illness.

Even now, in his 70s, he saw himself as the young tennis champion, the star quarterback. How he had run! Down the canyon, along the curving highway to the beach, crossing the wide expanse of raked sand to the wet-packed shore, then the mindless miles, the nimble sprints.

He could still feel the heat in his quads as he had stormed the steps each morning, lapping other runners on the way up and again, later, on the way down.

How many hundreds, thousands, of miles had he clocked, swimming just outside the break between the jetty and the pier? His arms still held the ocean’s sluicing coolness, his eyes still watched the way the sun colored the sand and palms each time he turned his head to take a breath.

That young man was alive inside him, fast, invincible. But now it was all about the breath. The steps, the ocean, the running, now something remembered, something burned away by the vodka, the cigarettes. Something he had taken for granted as he became the champion of boardrooms, traded the tennis courts for law courts, kept score with dollars, houses, wives.

Lance coughed again…
Santa Monica Pier steps by Angel Aguilar

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