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Twilight Sleep

I am not, for the moment, living in the real world. I am staying with my father, in the house in which I was raised, as he recuperates from an illness. He requires tube feedings, and is on a regimen of blood thinners that make it dangerous for him to live alone in his temporary state of weakness and physical instability. This is not an act of martyrdom; I love him fiercely, and it would be unconscionable to let him be alone at a time when he is both ill and grieving the loss of my mother. I am lucky that I can do this thing without quitting a job, and lucky that my own household is willing to adapt to this strange cross-town family arrangement for a while.

Life goes on at my “real” house, and in the rest of the world. My son went on a vacation with a friend, and returned to school. My husband works, does the laundry, keeps the house clean and comes to this house to share meals with me and bring our dogs for visits. I see on Facebook that other people are going to basketball games, trying new kinds of sushi, and going to the gym.

Here, I live on a schedule that is not my own, making no plans more serious than a one-hour outing to stock up on Greek Yogurt and whole grain pita chips. Every day I wake at 7:00 for the first of five feedings, one every three hours. I grind up pills with a mortar and pestle, and dilute them in water that is not too cold or too hot. I change dressings. For a while I was giving two daily injections, a thing at first terrifying and then a point of pride. The phone rings all day long – friends of the family inquiring about dad, doctor’s offices, and the bustling home health care outfit that sends to us speech therapists, physical therapists, nurses and aides. Nothing is about me, which is oddly fine.

Every morning I watch “Charmed” reruns and drink my coffee. I make myself a pot every few days and drink it cold until the day when the pot is down to sludge. I read voraciously. Sometimes I try to write. I tend to the Corgi who still misses my mother, and regards me with visible disappointment. Sometimes I don’t take a shower, and I almost never put on any makeup.

At 11:00 I give dad his last meds, and settle myself on one of the couches in the beautiful, windowed room they added to the house after I “grew up.” I look for the moon through the triangular windows under the eaves, and I talk to my mother who is everywhere in this house from her cookbooks to the pressed table linens. I text my husband and son, trying to be in touch without disturbing them, trying not to be too alert to the distance I have travelled from my home, a distance far greater than the real, practical couple of miles that separates me.

It isn’t difficult to avoid alertness here, in this cocoon of busy-ness and suspended time. I am lulled by the routine, and by the constant emphasis on “support” and “caring” radiated by the parade of paramedical folks on the phone and at the front door. It is a sharp intrusion when I have to tend to my real, actual work, or when I get a call from my “real” house asking if I know where something or other got put. It’s like the shaking that jars one from a deep and satisfying sleep. Am I not doing enough already? Isn’t there someone else who can do whatever it is, find the thing, fix the problem? I am not confident in my ability to move between my twilight world and that other, louder, brighter, faster world quite yet. I am exhausted, a little, by the prospect of doing my hair, driving my car, interacting with people unaware of my breach with their universe.

This twilight period is not a bad thing for me, of that I am sure. My father, sick and grieving, is still himself in every way that matters. I promised my mother that I would look after him, and there is rightness to this, despite all the oddness, and disruption. Yesterday I asked him about a Renaissance Florentine philosopher mentioned in the novel I’m reading, and he responded with a Yeats poem about the man in question. How could I abandon such a man to an army of high-pitched squealers who know nothing about his mind, his heart, his essence as a gentleman and a scholar? How could I live the rest of my own life knowing that when he most needed an ally and a loving heart, I left him to people who would categorize him as a “cute old guy” and call him “Mr. Edward” as they wheedled and cajoled him to do his exercises?

A few nights ago, as I bent over him at the end of a feeding, my father told me I looked sad. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I feel like I’ve let you down if you need to talk about your mother. Would you like to do that?”

“Well,” I said, “if you want to…?” He shook his head. I tucked him in and kissed the top of his head. In this drifting, dreaming twilight world of routine and comfort, she is with us all the time. We don’t need to talk about her as if she weren’t here.

When it’s time to wake up and move briskly back into the crackling tumult of real life, she may recede. But she may, like the downy feathers left by dreams, stay with us, and float across our cheeks when we need her most.

8 responses »

  1. The recalling of a relevant poem and sharing it with you brings it all into focus, the brilliance of the person inside shining through the haze. The task of caring for him will someday be forgotten, just as the trials of raising you were to him. Heres to hoping that you two will be sharing the sunshine and fresh air soon……..

  2. life, the dailiness of it, the shuffling and gliding, the details that pass the time, wraps you and the people you love like a blanket. i used to think that people who had to take care of their ill or dying parents were suffering a terrible burden; now i think, mostly, that they’re the lucky ones. thinking of you, annie.

  3. Also been there. It was my Moms best friend who cared for my Mom in her last year or two while I was caring for preschoolers. I was then able to care for her for what turned out to be maybe 8 years? I never counted really, it has some of the same sence of bringing a new baby home, the careful care , the scheduale and yet the lack of real time , I always thought it was just a year or so, it never seemed hard unless for an instant some person would say oh how hard or poor me , then I’d be forced into a harsh light for a moment that seemed jarring and then I’d slide back into the waves that were carrying us forward .

  4. I’m feeling my way around that kind of quietude as well — absent the paramedicals now. It is v-e-r-y quiet.

  5. Annie, Today I am making the macaroni and cheese recipe you posted several years ago and taking it to a friend. That prompted me to come and check your blog and see what you’ve been up to. I’m sorry to read back through several recent posts and see you’ve had some very hard and sad stuff to deal with. I am so sorry. Your post about caring for your dad really touched me and reminded me of the state of suspended animation I lived in while caring for my dad in his last months.

  6. Hi, you have a real down to earth, engaging way of expressing yourself. It must be a great way for you to reflect upon and make sense of the world and relations, particularly of close family,

  7. The twilight sleep….the twilight wakefulness. The state of peace and limbo are very familiar to me: waking at 3 a.m. in the hospital with everyone busy elsewhere; working IN the hospital before my illness, running meds here and there in peaceful hallways and abandoned waiting rooms; now, sliding in and out of insomnia, sometimes from bipolar and moon-phase sensitivity, sometimes from aching and pain, sometimes just because I enjoy the night. This is a beautiful piece, one of my favorites I’ve read of yours. I’m sure that was a terribly difficult time, but I so understand what you refer to here. Peace to you, Annie.

  8. That is an extremely smart written article. I will be sure to bookmark it and return to learn extra of your useful information. Thank you for the post. I will certainly return.


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