Linda Ronstadt will never sing again. She has Parkinson’s. This is the end of an era. Sites are filled with videos and images of the singer. I chose one that I remember from my youth.
A guy who I dated casually was absolutely in love with Ronstadt; I sometimes thought that he may have dated me just for my long dark hair. Who knows. But we shared a deep admiration for a woman with an incredible gift.
But Ronstadt’s situation seems to have struck an especially tender spot in the collective psyche and triggered a response that goes beyond lament for the fading of a star and an era.
The deeper reason that the news resonates so deeply is that her loss comes with an extra twist of the knife: She hasn’t just lost her singing voice. She has lost her essential expressive gift.
A singer can lose an arm and still sing, can lose a leg or an eye. But her voice?
Ronstadt isn’t the first person to be robbed of her primary expressive gift.
Beethoven, the great composer, went deaf. Monet, the great painter, developed cataracts. Paul Wittgenstein was a concert pianist whose right arm was amputated.
More recently and closer to home, the renowned chef Grant Achatz got tongue cancer, now in remission, though the treatments temporarily took away his ability to taste. In the bombing at the Boston Marathon, runners and dancers lost their legs.
Sometimes it seems that fate, in more than random measure, aims its arrows at what matters to people most.
A musician who can’t hear. An artist who can’t see. A chef who can’t taste. A singer who can’t sing.
Fate seems to strike with a cannily precise cruelty.
I floated that theory past a friend the other day. He pooh-poohed it.
“We just notice more in those cases.”
Could be. And in some cases, people overcome the loss of their primary mode of expression by figuring out new ways to express themselves.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Ronstadt does. Through her long career, she has also shown a gift for tenacity.
And even if she never sings again, which she says she never will, the songs she leaves behind will stay in the minds and hearts of millions of people who through the years have sung along with her.
My favorite Ronstadt song? So hard. I loved “Desperado,” “Blue Bayou,” and “You’re No Good,” but my all-time favorite is “Long, Long Time”
Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire, Wales by Phillip Capper (fotopedia)
“In a dream you are never eighty.” ~ Anne Sexton
Ash Wednesday. Cloudy and chilly.
I spent nine hours on Monday in the emergency section of DePaul Hospital. This time it was not my mother; it was my mother-in-law, my ex’s mother.
Some people find it strange that I still refer to this woman as my mother-in-law. I don’t find it strange at all; she’s been in my life since I was a young woman. I find it incredible to be able to have two mothers-in-law, both of whom I admire and love. How many people can stay that truthfully? My m-in-l here has Parkinson’s Disease, a very unforgiving disease that takes away chunks of the mind without warning.
On Sunday night, my sister-in-law Ann came over and spent a good hour crying. She had found her mother on the floor of her bedroom on Sunday morning. When asked why she was on the floor, my m-in-law said that “it felt good.” As the day progressed, she was better, but she was still talking a lot of nonsense. I told Ann that I was afraid she might have had a mini-stroke. We decided that we would take her in the next day if we could convince her to get in the car. Turns out, we didn’t have to.
When we got to her house around 9 a.m., she was on the floor of the playroom, the first room off the hallway. She was lying there, and it was apparent that she had been there for a while because her skin was icy cold. I went into the bathroom to get a warm washcloth to wipe her with, and the floor was soaking wet as was everything under the sink. When I asked her if she knew how the bathroom had gotten wet, she told me that the people who live upstairs had left their bathtub running.
There are no people upstairs.
Ann and I called 911, and she was transported to the ER. The EMTs asked her if she knew where she was, and she said that she was at the hospital. They told her that she wasn’t at the hospital yet. One of the doctors in the ER asked her if she knew the date, and Ann and I looked at each other—neither of us knew the date . . . Turns out that my m-in-law was dehydrated and had a urinary tract infection, but the CT scan did not show any signs of a stroke. The doctor admitted her to get her stabilized, but there were no available rooms, so Ann and I spent the entire afternoon in the little ER cubicle. I’m certain that the ER staff thought that we were both batty as we got the giggles more than once, and at one point, we were singing.
It had been hours without food, anything. Ann needed her insulin. I needed something besides Pepsi.
“When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.” ~ Mark Twain
During all of this, my m-in-law was in and out of reality. She would be talking to us about something, and then she would turn to her left and have a conversation with her sister (who was not there). It took a bit of getting used to, but we muddled through. There were times when she was eating imaginary food and sewing invisible clothes.
If I sound as if I’m making fun, I’m not. It was one of those situations in which the pain of the reality could become so acute as to be overwhelming, so the better approach was to just go with the flow and try not to think about anything too much.
I finally asked Corey to come and get me around 6:30 when I was certain that she was being moved to a ward. I had been wearing my contacts all day (something I am not yet used to), and my eyes hurt as did my back and my head. Ann was able to leave a little after 8.
In between all of this, I texted and phoned people, including my ex as I was acting as an intermediary between him and his sister. The whole brother/sister thing is very touchy as my ex has been unwilling/unable to pitch in at all with his mother’s care; therefore, it has all fallen on Ann. She makes sure that her mom takes her meds three times a day, that she eats, that she has groceries in the house, that she hasn’t set the house on fire.
I try to do what I can, and I know that it’s not enough. Paul’s reason for not doing more is that “it’s so depressing.” Oh, and I suppose it’s a piece of cake for the rest of us? Yes. I would slap him if I thought that it would do any good.
“The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in seventy or eighty years. Your body changes, but you don’t change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion.” ~ Doris Lessing
Today, Brett and I went to visit with Ann. When we got there we found out that they had to restrain her mom because she was trying to get out of bed. It’s like it was with my mom except that my mom was more coherent during the day.
Brett was not prepared for the state his grandmother was in, and it really upset him. She didn’t know who he was. I wish that I had thought to prepare him better, but the reality is that there probably isn’t any adequate preparation.
After several texts and phone calls, Alexis finally texted me back last night. This is a real sore spot for me, and I am not yet able to go into the full story on why I am so upset with her other than to say that it deals directly with Alexis’s participation in this family.
Last night, Ann and Paul and their respective spouses met for dinner, and Ann said that it went fairly well. Paul has agreed to go along with whatever medical decisions Ann makes, and he and Penny will do research for Ann as needed (big whoop). Ann told him that she isn’t asking for a time commitment but that if he could really try to go have dinner with his mom or spend an hour with her it would take some of the stress of Ann.
I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see how all of this works out.
“To know how to grow old is the master-work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.” ~ Henri Frédéric Amiel
For me, the saddest part of this situation is the loss of the woman I used to know, a woman who sang in her church choir (alto), a talented woman who sewed beautiful clothes, read voraciously, listened to classical music, wallpapered and painted every room of her house, and knew how to grow any kind of flower, herb or vegetable.
This person is gone, and there are only small glimpses of her, and those are appearing less and less. And I am left to wonder if she is aware of this loss. How much does she know? How much does she remember? In one instance, she could name the main road that abuts the hospital; in the next, she was talking about a ticket taker on the train. I hope that this logic makes some sense to her and that she doesn’t really perceive how far from reality she has strayed.
To lose a bodily function from disease, arthritis, whatever—it seems that we as humans have an ability to compensate for such a loss. We use the affected limb less, or we don’t lift as much weight as we used to. But to have a keen mind, a mind that hungers for knowledge, a mind that enjoys continually learning about new things—to lose that gradually must be infuriating. And then after a few years of the slips here and there, to begin to lose great chunks of time and memory—how does one cope with that?
Today, Yvonne held out her fingers to me and asked me if I wanted this (invisible thing). I said that I sure did, and I pretended to take it and put it in my pocket.
I have not yet allowed myself to cry, and I’m not entirely certain that I will because the tears would be tainted in a way. Would they be tears for her, for us, for what has gone, for what is going, for having to watch this helplessly, for not knowing whether or not to acknowledge the invisible things she moves around with her fingers, for the papery thickness of her skin that is blotchy with bruises from the blood that they try to take from her veins, for Ann’s burden, for the resentment that I bear towards my ex and my daughter for their unrelenting self-centeredness, for my sons who are visibly hurting.
What exactly? I have no answers, and that pisses me off more than anything, having no answers. That’s’ the part that really, really sucks.
More later. Peace.
Music by Bird York, “In the Deep” (I know that this is a repeat, but it felt right).
Memory’s Voice For O. A. Glebova-Sudeikina
‘What do you see, on the wall, dimly alive,
at the hour when the sunset eats the sky?
A seagull, on a blue cloth of waters,
or perhaps it’s those Florentine gardens?
Or is it Tsarskoye Seloe’s vast view,
where terror stepped out before you?
Or that one who left your captivity,
and walked into white death, freely?’
No, I see only the wall—that shows
reflections of heaven’s dying glow.
“The various thoughts which arise in our minds are nothing but the scenery of the Life of the Self.” ~ Uchiyama Kosho
Very little sleep again last night . . . I got up early this morning to take my other mother-in-law to DMV to get a replacement license. I suppose this is my first time alone in trying to do something with her since her condition has worsened, and I must say that it was an awakening. When I got to her house, she did not know why I was there, and then we had to spend time looking for her social security card, which she was certain she had lost. As it turns out, it was in her wallet.
I really wasn’t sure if they would replace her license as I put Parkinson’s on the form under medical conditions, but I don’t think that the woman at the counter even glanced at that particular box. In a way I am very dismayed by the outcome. Her license was replaced, which means that she is legal to drive. She assured me that she won’t drive unless she feels up to it and that she will not drive at night, but after spending the morning with her, I am worried that she might get in the car and forget where she is going, only to get lost.
To say that I am saddened by the helplessness of a once-vital woman who has been such a big part of my life for so many years is a huge understatement. Like so many others of us in the sandwich generation, watching my children grow and come into their own while simultaneously my elders decline and lose so much of themselves has become the sad reality of life.
“How hard it is to escape from places. However carefully one goes they hold you—you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences . . . little rags and shreds of your very life . . . ” ~ Katherine Mansfield
The weather here is beautiful, a bit chilly, but sunny and clear. For some reason, when the weather starts to become warmer, Shakes takes to hiding in my closet, nested within the shoe boxes and clothes that have fallen in the back. It’s very unnerving to go to the closet door and hear rustling. Maybe he likes the cool, dark of the closet. Who knows. When I was a child, I remember going into my closet during thunder storms. I wasn’t really scared, everything just sounded better from within the depths of the closet.
A few nights ago I dreamed about my cousin from Great Bridge again. We were very close when we were growing up, but other than the funerals, I haven’t seen very much of him lately, which is why it’s disturbing that I seem to be dreaming about him about once a month now, and he is always in some kind of dilemma, not danger, but facing some kind of problem. Another who knows . . .
Some good news with a caveat: Corey spoke to someone at the port security firm today, and she told him that she had a list of names to call of individuals in whom the company is not interested, and his name is not on the list. The head guy comes back next Monday, so perhaps Corey will get some good news next week. Here’s hoping.
“There is no refuge from memory and remorse in this world. The spirits of our foolish deeds haunt us, with or without repentance.” ~ Gilbert Parker
Tomorrow is Alexis’s EEG, which is supposed to take eight hours (blimey), and then she has her MRI on Friday. It will be good to get the tests out of the way, but then more waiting for results. Overall, she is handling everything really well, or maybe she’s hiding it from me. There is no way to be certain. I just know that I’m on perpetual worry mode until we find out something concrete, which may or may not happen.
I think that Alexis realizes what a worrier I am, so she probably does not let on if she is fretting herself. But she seems to be fairly calm, which is a good thing. I can worry enough for everyone.
I didn’t tell my other m-i-l about Alexis’s seizure as I didn’t see any need to worry her. I was thinking about it, especially when she asked how Alexis is doing, but I decided that in this particular situation, discretion is most definitely the better part of valor. The last thing she needs on her mind is whether or not something is wrong with one of her grandchildren.
“There is an eternal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives.” ~ Josephine Hart
Since it’s getting close to spring, I wanted to feature some spring images from other parts of the world (found on Wikimedia Commons). I have images in my mind of Europe in the spring, the hills in Scotland, vast expanses of green in the English countryside. I know that I saw them as a child, and even then they imprinted themselves on my memory.
Personally, part of me longs to live in a small European village dotted with houses with steep roofs. I hate the suburbs. I hate ranch houses. I hate driving down a road that is one long line of unending convenience store chains, grocery stores, and car repair shops. I wonder if the place actually exists that I have created in my mind’s eye, the small place, with local shopkeepers, a small flower store, and in the background, fields of wildflowers, a creek.
But more, I wonder if I would really love it in reality as much as I think I love it in my mind.