September 15, 2011

The Literary Club

My mother belonged to a literary club for most of her life. They met monthly at a member’s home and someone would review a popular book.

 If I close my eyes tightly, I can picture each member of the club. They wore their best dresses to the meetings, with high heels and the good jewelry. In the early 1960s, they wore tiny Jackie Kennedy hats and short, white gloves. They were all married -- or widowed -- and their partners were upstanding men of the community. Most of them were college educated, but did not work outside the home except for a few who were teachers or librarians. Literary group was their big night out, and they all loved books.

Books were selected for review at the beginning of the year, and no one hosted or reviewed on the same night. The review or the hosting sent my mother into a frenzy. When she hosted, she polished silver for days and borrowed extra glass punch cups from a friend. She brought out the linen napkins and the special table cloth for the buffet table, Though the group only had dessert, punch, and coffee, the women always made it an elegant evening.

In this river town of only 1200 people, these women’s lives were intertwined not only in the club, but in churches, school activities, and husband’s employment. They were friends and they supported each other, carpooling to children’s activities, making a casserole when someone died, or talking on an plastic extension phone about each other or nothing in particular.

The club is long gone.  Many of the women have died.  My mother suffers from dementia.

Now ten years since Mom got “lost” on the way home from the beauty parlor, she is late-stage vascular dementia. We received the official diagnosis from a world-class brain clinic in 2009. I say “late” stage instead of “end” stage because she could die tomorrow or live another fifteen years. That’s just the way it is.

 I don’t write about her much anymore, because there isn’t anything new to report. She is diminished daily. Some losses come quickly and others are painfully slow. Having worked for thirty years in health care I know the worst is yet to come. There’s no need to think about it, tomorrow will take care of itself. I don’t even much worry about Mom anymore, but I worry about my Dad who is with her 24/7 and provides remarkable care.

Tonight I read on Facebook that one of the literary club’s members had a brain aneurysm. I don’t know any more about her condition, or even if she has passed. My thoughts have been with the family all evening since I read the news.

 What makes me doubly sad about this woman’s illness is that I see how dementia has also robbed my mother, She cannot help her friend, she cannot experience loss, she cannot even remember this person.
As I pondered Mom’s friend and her life threatening condition I thought how awful it must be to lose the ability to grieve for your friends. Or laugh with your friends. Or know what friends are.

This is what I will remember, and on some level I hope my mother will think these good thoughts. When my Mom hosted the literary group, I often sat quietly in my room and eavesdropped. I was not supposed to listen, but I was interested in the books and the chatter after.

One night in 1971 my mother was hosting and I was listening in. The woman who suffered the brain aneurysm today had the floor, and announced she was pregnant with her second child. Dead silence.  

She was forty. More dead silence.

 And then this group of friends began to laugh, all of these elegant, proper women, who were the “It takes a village” of our village, laughed until they cried. And it was a joyful laughter. That baby boy was born a few months later and brought great love into his parents life and that of his brother, who was and is my lifelong friend.

White gloves and hats, White Shoulders and high heels, Wheels by Arthur Hailey or The Hidden Place by Corrie ten Boom.

Tonight, as I pray for my mother’s friend, I wish her a knowing peace from whichever side of the river she stands.