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.
“Spring Rain,” by John Sloan (1912, oil on canvas)
“Between the wish and the thing the world lies waiting.” ~ Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses
I’m back. Had a brief hiatus while waiting for our Internet to be restored. Usual problem. Anyway, as a result, I am behind on posting as well as reading my favorite blogs, which I plan to do after writing this post. I did spend a bit of my time experimenting with making a couple of videos with Windows Movie Maker. Interesting. Now I just need to figure out how to grab clips from existing movies . . .
My life is so full.
Today is my mother’s birthday; tomorrow is Eamonn’s birthday, and tomorrow is my other mother-in-law’s birthday. Speaking of which, yesterday, my other mother-in-law dropped by the house. I was mortified, of course, because the house is in its usual disarray, but what can you do? My o-m-i-l has Parkinson’s Disease, so I was actually quite surprised that she drove over to our house. Surprised, and a bit scared. Her condition has been worsening, and I’m not sure that she should really be driving, but I truly understand how having driving privileges taken away is one of the last vestiges of independence.
She realizes that she is getting worse, and it really consumes and frustrates her when she is talking and forgets in the middle of a sentence. Parkinson’s is a relentless, unsympathetic condition that gradually eats away the brain. I have known one other person who had it. For those of you who don’t believe in stem cell research, I give you brain tumors and Parkinson’s—two medical conditions that definitely benefit from such research.
The weather here has been chilly and rainy the last few days, but it is supposed to get warmer towards the end of the week. Spring would be nice. It usually arrives in this area suddenly, and lasts less than a month before becoming hot and humid.
“Each moment that I wait feels like a year, an eternity. Each moment is as slow and transparent as glass. Through each moment I can see infinite moments lined up, waiting.” ~ Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife
In other news: Brett’s two gerbils, Ben and Jerry, both died within one week of each other. They were brothers, and Brett had them for more than three years. Of course he is saddened by the loss, as am I. They were actually pretty adorable. Fortunately, both Corey and I were around when Brett discovered Jerry, and then later, Ben. I know that made it a bit easier for him as opposed to finding out by himself.
On Saturday, Brett took his SATs (college board examination). It’s late in the year to be taking them, but he really wasn’t sure what he was going to do this fall. Now he is thinking that he wants to go to Old Dominion for a year. With any luck, he’ll get credit for some of the freshman classes that he has taken in high school, which will save us some money. No point in asking the ex if he plans to help pay for college as he wouldn’t even cough up half of the co-pay for Brett’s medicine. Such a loser. Such a disappointment.
Alexis had her appointment with the neurologist last Thursday, who confirmed that her seizure was a grand mal seizure, also known as a tonic-clonic seizure. This kind of seizure features a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions. Since Alexis has been on a medication that also functions as an anti-seizure medicine, the neurologist thinks that perhaps she may have had seizures before that were prevented by the medication but that this one was particularly bad. She is scheduled for an EEG on Thursday, and an MRI soon.
The neurologist says that after seeing the results of those two tests he will have a much better idea as to whether or not she has developed epilepsy, which usually presents between the ages of 17 and 21 when not caused by an injury. That I know of, there is no history of epilepsy in our family, but the doctor says that it is not always genetic. I had a cousin on my mother’s side who had epilepsy, but it developed after she was in a serious car accident and suffered a head injury. Other than that, I know of no one else in the family on either side, but then again, I do not know everyone on my father’s side in the Philippines.
The neurologist also said that he thinks it unlikely that her Wellbutrin caused the seizure since she has been on it for more than four years. All of this is worrisome, but I had a feeling that it wasn’t her medication. Now it’s more waiting until after the tests for some definitive news.
Corey still hasn’t heard from the port security firm, which is so disappointing. They had told him that they hoped to make a decision by mid week last week. He plans to calls them tomorrow. More waiting.
“I’m killing time while I wait for life to shower me with meaning and happiness.” ~ Bill Watterson
Last night I had a very strange dream in which it was Fashion Week, but it was here and not in New York. Bizarre. Equally bizarre was the portion of the dream in which I was on the run from someone and wanted to change my appearance, so I went into a hair salon and asked a woman to cut and dye my hair. She recommended a color, which I agreed to, but then she said that my hair would be several different colors, including bleached blonde, and the colors wouldn’t be blended but in horizontal stripes. I told the woman that I really didn’t want striped hair, especially not blonde. She told me that that was what I had agreed to, so she was going to do it.
Other than that, the long wait continues: the wait for decisions, decisions about jobs, decisions about funds, decisions about school; the wait for warmer weather and spring blossoms; the wait for better sleep and less anxiety; the wait for things to fall into place, or not. I spend so much time waiting, that I am forgetting to live, forgetting to experience, forgetting sometimes, even to breathe deeply. The wait is interminable. The interminable is vexing.
I am reminded of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”—the wait for what, exactly? The unknown continuing to rule the minutes, the hours, the days . . . until, what? It is March 15, the ides of March. One quarter of the year has passed. The changes I predicted are no nearer now than they were last December. Corey and I were watching something last night, and the ending was too perfect. And I suddenly said, this had better not be a dream, and sure enough, it was a dream, and when the man dreaming awoke, he was still in the same place, still facing the same uncertainties, still pining for change.
This had better not be a dream.
More later. Peace.
So here is my first YouTube video, Jann Arden and Jackson Browne singing “Unloved.” Most of the images are mine. Hope you like it.
“Memory is the primary and fundamental power, without which there could be no other intellectual operation” ~ Samuel Johnson
I cannot write tonight. There is just too much pressing on my mind. I am waiting to hear about my brother-in-law in Germany. He is in the hospital with pneumonia and is on a respirator.
Maybe if I tell you about him that will help. Patrick is my ex’s older brother. He has always been the serious, intellectual one. Patrick was in the R.O.T.C. in college, and then he went into the army after graduation. Patrick was stationed in Germany where he met Helma, the woman he married. After a couple of years, they were transferred back to the states, somewhere in Tennessee.
In the meantime, Paul’s younger sister Ann was engaged to be married in the spring. Patrick and Helma were going to drive to Virginia on President’s Day weekend for a visit and for a fitting of brides maids dresses as Helma and I were both going to be in the wedding. Then the unthinkable happened. Helma fell asleep at the wheel, and Patrick, who had been asleep in the back seat was wedged in the seat when the car stopped. Helma had a broken nose and lost some teeth. Patrick had been deprived of oxygen and had spinal cord damage.
After all of the operations, Patrick was left a paraplegic, but he still retained his mind, his long-term memory, his wit. The army retired Patrick as a full Captain. He was unable to speak, but they worked out a communication system using arm movements and eye blinks and mouth openings and closings. Patrick was quick-tempered and impatient before the accident, and he was just the same after the accident, but never with me.
Whenever I tried to spell with him (which is what we call talking), I would tell him quite plainly that if he started to get all mean with me, I would stop and walk away, which would usually make him laugh, and then he would be patient with me as I tried my best to get things right the first time.
Just to show you how smart he remained, while they still lived here, we used to play games, like Trivial Pursuit, usually men against the women, and it would usually come down to Patrick against me. He loved to kick my ass with history questions, but I could usually get him on literature.
Eventually, he and Helma were able to have two children of their own: Phillip and Hannah. Helma’s sister Kerstin lived here in the states for a while, and she was married, and members of her family would visit, but Helma was always lonely for home, and it was very hard for her. Patrick had a physical therapist who came to the home, and Helma took really good care of him. But finally, they made the decision to move to Germany so that Helma could be closer to her family.
It was hard on everyone, especially on Paul’s mom, but Helma promised to come over every year for a visit, and for a while it was every year, but then the dollar dropped, and then after 9/11, everyone was afraid to fly for a while. They had just started coming back over a few years ago. Patrick had a big 50th birthday party in Germany, and several of his best friends with whom he has stayed in contact flew to Germany to celebrate with him, as did his mother, who hadn’t been to Germany since right after Patrick and Helma were first married.
That he has stayed so healthy for so long is directly tied to Helma’s dedication to keeping him that way. He has had two major health scares. And we have spent our time making visits to VA hospitals, which are incredibly depressing places. But overall, he has been incredibly lucky. They have made trips all over Europe, and when they have been here, Helma has taken Patrick to just about every Revolutionary battleground in the area.
With Helma’s assistance, Patrick has kept up his massive stamp collection, his alphabetized CD and LP collection, including anything ever put out by the Beatles. He reads constantly (books on tape have been a wonderful development for him because before that, it was books by whoever was designated reader). In other words, Because of Helma, Patrick’s hobbies have all been attended to, and his life, although far from normal, has been turned into the closest semblance of normal that it could be.
He has a computer that he can control to write letters to his friends. His children may have had times that they were embarassed by their father, but I think not any more than any teenager is embarassed by a parent. Just ask my sons.
The last time they were here, I noticed how tired Helma looked, and I was actually surprised, because she really takes care of herself. She is a championship swimmer. She coaches swimming. That is her time for herself. She is in very good physical shape, but she really looked thin this time. Not thin as in skinny, but thin as in worn thin. I wrote her an e-mail about it, but she never really responded, which I did not expect that she would. She is just not that way.
She had told me before coming that this time she was not running around to see everyone the way that they usually do. She was just going to take it easy. Normally when they visit, they are on the go from the moment they arrive until the moment that they leave. But this time, she really didn’t go very many places. Even when she went to Busch Gardens, she didn’t close the place the way that she usually did.
I’m waiting until it’s 2 a.m. here so that it will be 8 a.m. there so that I can call. I always forget about the six hour time difference. I’m hoping that the news is good, that they have turned down the ventilator and that the pneumonia is clearing. That’s the news that I am hoping for. After all, Patrick’s grandmother just died last week. I’m not sure how he took the news I don’t know the last time that he saw her. But he does get very emotional.
His mother, my other mother-in-law, is noticeably worsening with her own health problem. Parkinson’s does not respond well to stress. So I’m just hoping that she holds up well for the next few days.
I suppose for someone who said that she didn’t have anything to say tonight, I managed to run on in my usual way.