Distractions! Flowers and kittens and my dog and funny hats and clown noses. Whatever it takes. I’m not talking about distractions from my writing time, all I need is my phone for that. I’m talking about distracting Babu from things that upset her. This is more important than making her happy, it’s keeping her healthy. Sometimes when Babu gets going on something, we call it “looping” it can go down a very bad path for her.
The other day, I knew, was going to be a day in need of distraction. She had already called herself a “Dumbbell” twice for mistakes and confusions you’d expected from a 99 year old, and had begun ramping up about her grief over her husband’s death. I completely believe in letting her speak. Letting her purge bad feelings. At these times we talk and we learn so much from each other. Occasionally, I even find something to comfort her. Most of the time, however, it isn’t good for her. It can be the same loops, the same voice high pitched in anger loss and concern, the same never getting to any place of comfort.
So, I exaggerated the excitement, downplaying my fearfulness, and told her all about my process querying.
She always asks me if I know someone who is published. I wish! I explain to her that I’ve done so much reading, I tell her all the information is on the internet, even to get a laugh out of her I tell her about how I’ve been reading “The Complete Idiots Guide to Getting Published.”
Again, as always when I tell her about my writing, she looks off into the distance and and tries to remember. She’ll tell me she thinks she wanted to be a writer. She wont be able to remember what she wanted to write but then we will talk about her journals. I’ll tell her I loved how she wrote them.
“I loved to read. I go to the library every day. I read so much because, you know, I was an only child…”
Alert! A topic I want to avoid with her. Whether she remembers that it was her mother with the terrible doctor who couldn’t have more than one child, or if she gets mixed up and thinks it was she who could only have one, the conversation is never cheerful no matter how I try to spin it. So I, you guessed it, Distract!
“Did they know you by name at the library?”
She laughs. “I assume so.”
I tell her how I am so relieved to have sent the first 10 queries out because I want to work on a new project.
“Well, of course!” She tells me. “You cant be a one time success!”
I grin at the way her confidence in me is a million steps ahead. “I’d take one success if I could get it!” I tell her.
“Well, I’d love to see it before I go.” And I have to hide my tears. I know I can’t make that happen in time and all the feels about that statement hit me.
Then we begin our usual talk about the afterlife. She says she hears her parents every day and can’t discern what they’re saying. An every day conversation. Some days she finds no comfort in it, like the days she thinks she hears her father repeating “I’m alone, I’m alone…” or when she thinks her husband’s got a new girl because she doesn’t hear his voice. Some days she thinks it means it’s her time and rarely I can get her close to believing it means she’ll see them again when she dies and that they are looking out for her.
She tells me today that she doesn’t think anything happens after you die. This is a little different. And a little disheartening. She is always unsure but now she is, what?, becoming more cynical?
I tell her: “If you do go somewhere, I’m sure you’ll go to the library. You’ll see my book there if I ever get it published!”
Then she starts with something I have begun to just hate: “I’m making us for my husband!” What she means, and she has made this clear, is that she thinks he was the amazing, smart, talented, useful one. “He’s the hero” she has said to me. She thinks he should still be here and not her.
I always tell her: “I think you are here because you have a purpose here.”
“I have no purpose!” It breaks my heart that she feels so useless.
“You mean so much to me. I’m so glad you’re here!” Some days that comforts her. Not today. She’s getting to the point where the end of her sentences go up in a breathy, loud, but at the same time mournful way.
“But such a wonderful man to die slovenly! Because he couldn’t live without smoking!”
I say I know, I know. I keep trying to get her mind on other things. Sometimes, I have to cheerfully leave the room so that she has no one there to feed off of and ramp up and she’ll settle down and read the paper and the next time I go in I can usually get her on a good track.
What does go through her mind and heart at those times I leave her. I can watch her from our monitor. I know she immediately picks up the paper and gets to reading. But what, I wonder, is she thinking?