Sublimierung und Selbstverachtung

Sublimierung und selbstverachtung

“Dana, can you come here?” Alice called from the sofa, her voice high and panicked, as though a bat might be circling overhead. The blanket that I had tucked loosely around her toes at the start of her nap was now pulled taut. She gripped it from underneath. Only her eyes and the top of her head peeked out. “I think I grew hooves. Can you check?”

She let me peel back the blanket to see. “No hooves.”

“You sure?”

I touched and counted each of her five fingers and toes for good measure. She started to relax.

“And my head? Is it OK? There’s nothing growing there?”

“Just your hair.” I stroked her head to show that it was smooth, that I wasn’t working around hard pointed horns.

 “Thank you. That’s such a relief.”  

It was a moment more intimate than the daily help in the bathroom.  She had revealed her deepest fear—that she was no good. It was an intimacy born of Alzheimer’s, a sickness that often makes emotions tangible. Its hallucinations, assertions, and questions are like a language.

“Are you feeling bad about yourself?” I asked, my hand still resting on her hornless head.  

She swallowed hard. “I wasn’t very nice. I wish I had done better.”  

“You did all right.”  

“How do you know?” Like a student of medicine, she wanted an algorithm, a system, proof.  

“Did you know that to die in peace, everyone needs four basic things?” 

“Like the food groups?” She sat up taller. “What are they?”

“To be loved.” I rattled off a list of people, leaving off the hot spots.  Each name brought a nod and a fresh dreamy smile.

“To love others.” I repeated the list and her nods were emphatic.  

“To forgive others.”

She paused a moment, then said, “You know I would never have gone to college if my sister didn’t pave the way.”  

“And to forgive yourself.”

She took a deep breath in, then let it out. “Forgiving yourself is the hardest.”

“I know… But you were younger then. Maybe you could cut your younger self a break?”

“Where’d you learn this stuff?”

“Not from you.”

She laughed. “I know that. But it’s still good.”


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14 Responses to Sublimierung und Selbstverachtung

  1. Mary Atkinson says:

    Beautiful, Dana! Also leaves me hanging for the next installment. In each blog, your characters and their relationships grow, just like in a novel.

  2. Kim says:

    Dana, your writing, like Andrea’s over at Go Ask Alice, is just wonderful.
    As my mother regresses into her younger self (dementia), I am happy to see that she is much kinder to herself than she used to be. She’s about 4 or 5 and thinks she is kind and funny and good. A real change from how she used to see herself in the “old” days.

    • danawalrath says:

      It’s such a blessing when the loss can open something up like kindness– especially towards the self. I am so glad your mother has that and you! Thanks for your kind words, Kim. I am in good company with Andrea! I love reading about her Alice.

  3. Lindsey Lane says:

    Oh Dana, I am so glad you are writing these moments down. You make them important.

  4. So very tender. I loved that you left the “hot spots” off the list. And that you didn’t give her credit for teaching you the four things. (She might possibly have negated them then. Very wise of you to leave it a mystery, and best of all it amused her.)
    You, Kim, and I (and so many, many thousands of other women) are the mothers of our mothers now–less so for me because my Alice’s mind is mostly well, but true enough that I instantly recognize this impulse to help untwist the mental knots, to smooth the brow with a reassuring hand.
    I’ll use the four things the next time Alice worries over her own bad deeds, some of which I’m sure I’ll never know. Thank you for the list and, as always, for the beautiful writing.
    And thank you, too, Kim.

    • danawalrath says:

      That role reversal, becoming our mother’ mother is really something. And you are right Andrea, that there are thousands upon thousands of women doing this. I wonder how often is it a chance to re-do a relationship and how often it is more like Billy Collins’ “lanyard” poem? I am so glad that you can use the four things with your Alice. It is lovely to be connected this way. Thanks, as always, for your kind words, insights and your own beautiful work.

  5. Sally says:

    Beautiful. As always.

  6. Brilliant! – “…her hallucinations, assertions, questions like a language.”

    • danawalrath says:

      When Peter read that sentence he said he thought that might be the first time that those three words ever appeared in an English sentence together! Thanks so much for sharing this journey with me, Sarah.

  7. Keeley Chorn says:

    Thank you for your honesty and openness in sharing about real life experiences with your mother. It brought a smile to my face to see how you are loving your mother and helping her maintain her dignity and loves. What a blessing, even though I know how hard it can be.

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