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I’m Seeing Dead Children

by MISSY BEATTIE

Early in the day, I made another commitment to meditation. I sat for 21 looooonnng minutes, my head littered with stray thoughts and redirects.

Mid-afternoon, WidowRica called to talk me into a movie—“Amour.” “While most of Baltimore preps for the Ravens, let’s go to The Charles.” Told me M said the film’s about cohousing.

I’d read a review. Knew it was a story of devotional love. The husband, Georges, becomes caregiver to his increasingly dependent wife Anne after she endures a stroke, surgery, another stroke, indignity, dementia, and more indignity.

But cohousing?

Insert: Some months ago, I accompanied WidowRica and two of her friends to locations in downtown Baltimore. We looked at property for the construction of an intentional community, owned and designed by the residents, where each of us would have private space, share a communal kitchen, other planned areas, have company when we wanted and solitude when we didn’t—caring for each other during good health, bad, the ugly, all the way.

And the movie, well, it’s intense. Poignant. Painful. Excruciating. Real. Emmanuelle Riva brilliantly portrays Anne, the wife so cruelly assaulted by illness. I was jarred by her resemblance to my mother who died in 2011—the facial features, hair color and style, the wit and intelligence. Well, the wit and intelligence of Anne before multiple strokes.

Laura, Erma, and I (The Sisterhood) were at Mother’s side during her nine dying days when she refused food. She was snappy (“I guess breakfast is out of the question.”) through day six. Hospice came.

I thought too of my father. The transient ischemic attacks. A stroke. Another. Anne’s condition and the level of care required after her first stroke reminded me of him.  Unsteady, wobbly, he must’ve hated hearing, “Get your balance,” each time he struggled to stand. He fell and broke his hip in May of 2008, a few days before my husband died. Seven months later, my father had another stroke at the breakfast table. Laura, Erma, and I somehow moved him from the wheelchair to his bed. He was conversational, lucid, unlike Anne, who became demented. Then a third stroke affected his swallowing. Hospice came.

Of course, I thought of the months I was my husband’s caregiver—the small hopes and a surgical procedure that could have been a cure but wasn’t. No hope.

So, there was all that. The memories. Connections. My parents. My husband. The caregiving. The isolation. The horror, the diminishment, the downward spiral to helplessness.

My parent’s words, “Old age is a calamity.”

I saw an elderly neighbor and spoke with her briefly before the movie began. Later, she said, “We need better choices at end of life.”

“Final Exit Network,” I said.

WidowRica was seated beside me. WidowRica who’s been mourning four years, now. WidowRica (aka Sparkin’ Light) with her smile and joie de vivre. WidowRica whose widowy adventures, quests to feel alive, are similar to mine. WidowRica believes, as I do, that if she dies tonight of a massive coronary, FINE.

And, yes, I could see M’s “about cohousing.” Unlike Georges and Anne, those of us living this particular nexus would be among caring friends, lessening the burden for spouses, partners, our children—distributing it, really.

I just don’t want anyone to bear my weight.

My sons understand. The when. Before indignities define my life.

I drove home, preoccupied, chest pounding. Missed both exits near the Kingdom. This wasn’t a negative—the extra miles. I stared at the night sky and began to relax.

A piano passage danced softly. And then a radio voice interrupted with: “The Happiness Movement” and “World Database of Happiness.” I shook my head, as if to clear an aisle or two. How can any of us be happy when children are being droned?

I’d shifted from the brutality of devastating disease and old age to drones.

At home, I typed “The Happiness Movement” and “World Database of Happiness” into a search, finding several sites. One took me to “Politics,” where I saw a clickable “Peace.” Soon I was on another web address, reading, “The world has become more peaceful for the first time since 2009…” This was written in 2012. But it’s February of 2013, and I’m seeing dead children.

This day is an article. This article is a day. These words are as littered as I was when I sat, trying to quiet my mind. As littered as I was when I sat in the theater, littered with the past, littered with all the uncertainties of the future, choices, medical events that might make decisions less controllable or beyond any control, and littered with images of my parents, my husband, drones. All this as I drove, stared at the sky, came home, looked at the sites, clicking on highlighted words, leading to peace. Linking to peace. As if it ever could be that easy.

Missy Beattie lives in Baltimore. Email: missybeat@gmail.com  

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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