I don’t remember when structure started. I guess you’re born into it. By the time remembered cognition begins, there are people around you, and spaces which encompass you, and rules about everything. The structure seeps into you, osmotically, unconsciously and suddenly you have made contracts. Sleeping at night, eating at given times throughout the day, trying not to get in trouble with your parents, going to school. And over time, the structures define your life. Clocks and relationships and jobs. Time for exercise, time for fun, downtime, leisure time, Appointments for life’s little chores. Deadlines. At least that’s the way it is for most of us who operate within the social construct.
A normal part of the aging process is for structures to mutate, for priorities to shift in malleable hierarchies. There’s a big difference between a baby, a kid, an adult, a partner, an employee or employer, a senior citizen, a person alone. Usually. Things get really different when most of the structures disappear. The price exacted by being mortal and vulnerable, the price most of us don’t want to consider on a daily basis. If we’re lucky the pace of change is glacial. Small subtle alterations are constantly coursing through us, inside and out. Too many to count and many below our level of awareness. In essence, this is the kindest, gentlest way to proceed on this brief journey through life.
The past 6 years haven’t been like that for me. I left my job of 33 years and became a caregiver for my grandson. The plan was to do it for the next one as well. But life happened. My mother moved in with me. Michael and I were stunned by his cancer diagnosis. I suddenly had three people who really needed me. My knees went from creaky to bone on bone. I had to move my mother into an assisted living facility. She was mean and angry and treated me like a criminal.
Michael’s cancer advanced. He had 18 aggressive chemotherapy treatments and we ran off to what we thought would be our last trip. He stayed strong and on the eve of another journey to spend time with Henry alone in Panama, a guys’ trip, I fell into kidney stone pain. I sent him anyway. Got through that part while living with what felt like a golf ball rolling around in my left kidney. Then a close friend died with his wife abroad and I went through what felt like a dress rehearsal for Michael, at my friend’s deathbed with two of his children. My mother got the flu and developed dementia. Into the nursing home she went. The new baby arrived – Michael was so thrilled to meet him. Tristan Michael.
The cancer came back again. We had second, third and fourth opinions. We scrambled to get into a clinical trial and were turned away with the comment, go home and get sicker. Unfortunately Michael obliged. In 2015, the third in our struggle, my brother died in April and Michael hovered at the edge of death until he miraculously received Keytruda off-trial in June. Then my mother died in July, followed that same week by our dog, aged 14 and a half. My older sister and I, who were always a seeming accident of blood, cut ties permanently. And lastly, the family of the old friend who died, fell away, our friendship doomed by an accident in time which left me in their private space. Such a year.
In 2016, there were months of anxious peace and joy, each ordinary day exquisite in its normalcy. But always there was the underlying threat of disease and as the end of the year approached, it was clear to me that Michael was changing before my eyes. Last year, we journeyed through our final time together, ending first with his death, and then the loss of a second dog a scant two weeks later. Five deaths in two years and two significant living losses.
A short time after Michael died, I realized that all the structures in my life were gone. I am unemployed. My parents are dead. My husband is dead. My children are grown. I have no schedule. That was lost while caring for Michael. I have nowhere to be. An amorphous life. The structures of my days have vanished. I am like an amoeba, somewhat shapeless, floating around in the soup. Such a strange feeling. Separated from any framework other than what I create.
I’m trying to build structures to occupy. But I’m not sure what I want them to feel like. I bob like a cork in the water, somewhat buoyed by what was, and yet knowing that going forward is what is required. My new grand experiment. Will I rejoin the social construct or live in the periphery in this amorphous state? I guess we’ll see.