Each time I get in to Ann Arbor to visit my mother, I try to do some sort of activity with her and some of the ladies in her wing. In November we made cards using stamps and last week we decorated cookies.
My mother was recently moved to the “memory enhanced” unit of her assisted living facility. They are able to keep a closer watch on her there and engage her in more activities with the other residents. There is a mural on the wall directing people to her wing. The sign pointing toward her room says “Memory Lane.” The staff don’t use this term, but the mural broadcasts it.
It’s a strangely sad, ironic, and not very sensitive moniker. Every time I visit, I pass by this signpost reminding me of my mother’s declining capacities to clearly differentiate between dream and reality, between fantasy and the real world. In her stories that venture into a surreal space, we remind her that she must have dreamed it; she says that is what everyone always tells her— that she must have dreamed it. Sometimes she will get quiet; sometimes she will fight for its truth. Often I think that she is living in a magical world where she has become attuned to the nuance of other energies and forces that abound but remain unseen, unrecognized by those of us tethered to cognitive literalness and logic.
Sometimes it feels wrong to gently argue with her about the existence of someone stealing her clothes or the bank calling her about lack of funds or the cards she insists she has written and mailed or about that persistent white dog that follows her everywhere. There is some emotional truth and logic, however, underlying these imaginings. No one is stealing her clothes, but she does have enormous issues with trust. The bank hasn’t called her, but she has lived her whole life worrying about money. She hasn’t written any cards, but she made them with me last month and has always been incredibly stressed by familial responsibility and obligation. There is no white dog, though she has always struggled with loving unconditionally and being unconditionally loved. The fantasies feel as if her deepest desires and fears have become manifest, visual, tangible to her. Now they have materialized into actual stories, myths even, with beginnings, middles, and ends enhanced with cinematic detail and often amazing special effects. Perhaps this is the best way to handle what has never been fully resolved; perhaps it is too difficult to deal with such things in the abstract.
So my mother is being quite creative in Memory Lane. She has found a way to look at her demons with inspiration and imaginative resourcefulness. Vividly and literally conjuring up into redolent story what lies at the deepest recesses of her heart, she can watch it play out. She can talk about it. She can process it. Sometimes she can actually even see it for what it really is.