caring for a grandchild, Caring for a parent, conversations, Death & Dying

Hiding in Plain Sight

Elliot has been into hide and seek lately, sometimes really hiding, but mostly hiding in plain sight. “If I can’t see you, you can’t see me.” He giggles when his moms “can’t find” us.

It got me thinking about Mama and her vision talk. When someone greets her, she has to ask who they are if they don’t tell her immediately. Then she often opens conversation by telling them what she can see of them: “I can see you have light (but not dark) hair, and you are wearing a bright color (but not always a dark color unless there is light behind them), but I can’t see your face.” It seems far-fetched, but I wonder if she explains all that out of a sense that if she can’t see them, maybe they don’t see her. David Whyte writes in his poem, “Sweet Darkness,” ” When your vision has gone/no part of the world can find you.” The idea rivets me.

One of her favorite topics of conversation with me (after how horrible the food is and her daily bathroom history) is describing what she can and can’t see in her world. Mostly what she can’t see since she can only see light and dark and shapes. I know this, and I get weary of being reminded. I don’t know if she’s bragging in some way about her “blindness”—it’s become her identity and she knows a lot about it—or wanting me to feel sorry for her or wanting me to know how courageous she is. I don’t think it’s the latter, because I have to tell her how courageous I think she is; if she thinks of herself that way, she doesn’t let on. But maybe it’s nothing to do with informing the listener. Maybe she’s guarding against disappearing from herself. “Here’s what I can’t see, but I am still right here not seeing it.”

Our neighbor, my mother’s dear friend, about whom I wrote last week, left the world as I was writing the post. Such a dear person. I will miss her presence up the driveway very much. Before we knew she had died, Mama told me about a dream she had when she fell asleep in her recliner the day before.

“I was in the woods looking for a place to sleep. There was a family there too, trying to find a place to lie down, and to get away from the ‘enemy.’ I don’t know if it was loggers or what. I woke up and had to shake my head and figure out where I was. It wasn’t a bad dream, just complicated and surreal.”

Living here, on the edge of the forest that they both loved so dearly, the implications of her dream seem telling to me. And then Sandy found a place to lie down and let death take her. After the fourth big loss this winter, I wonder how much longer my mother will soldier on, or when her still pretty sharp mind will go and she will disappear into herself.

Memory hides in plain sight. It can be so clear and so elusive. My family lived for a few months in the house our neighbor lives in now, while our house was under construction. The family who bought it from us put on an addition that became the living room. The original living room was divided into a small entry and a third bedroom. Even though “our” house is still there inside the current house, I have no memory of it as it was then, except for one thing: the interior doorknob on what was the front door, and that the current neighbor still uses as the main entry. When I take them vegetables from my garden and put my hand on that knob, my memory clicks in and I’m eight again. “We always meant to change it,” Sandy told me once. I’m glad they didn’t, and I will miss her turning it to open the door to me.

Speaking of vegetables, my seeds came in the mail last week. I’m ready, but the earth isn’t. It’s been raining too much to get the garden boxes ready and the March planting done: peas, spinach, carrots, lettuce, chard. I was figuring this week I was going to have to do it rain or no. I’m not an experienced gardener, and it occurred to me only belatedly—like last weekend—that I should check the Almanac for THIS year’s planting dates, not rely on when I planted last year or the year before. Duh. It’s been cold in the soil, not just in my world. It’s all moved back. Mid-to-late March dates are now mid-to-late April. Now the question is, will there be enough sun and warmth before the autumn chill for the garden to flourish and be harvested.

There’s still a lot to do in my mother’s flower gardens, and trails to clear, and blowdown to pick up. It’s a daunting task to get done, even in sunshine. Karen Maezen Miller tells me when it comes to the garden: “It’s too big a job to finish, not too big to start.” She would know about that. If it was just rain, I would go out in it—this is the Pacific Northwest, though truly we are not accustomed to this relentlessness (just heard March was the fourth wettest on record—but it’s cold. I don’t like bone-chilling damp. I’m hiding out in the house a while longer.

As I write this, I’m a little distracted by sawing and hammering downstairs. I’m getting a new floor in the bathroom of the AirBnB/personal retreat to be, and a lock on the exterior door. Coming soon! I will keep you posted.

4 thoughts on “Hiding in Plain Sight”

  1. What a thought-provoking post… I found myself wondering, if I were in your mothers vision loss situation, how I would respond. I could easily see myself putting what I was seeing into the most descriptive words possible as my major sensory ability to see became more shadowy. For me, words would help me cope with slipping into a foggy place and I would also want to share with my visitor a sense of the new place my body was taking me to. It feels like a powerful analogy or reflection of the process of slowly transitioning from this world to me. Mysterious. Sacred.

    A lovely post. Thank you.


  2. I continue to marvel at the crossroads you arrive at between caring for your mother and caring for your little ones. It is always a thoughtful perspective and I loved the photo ( the smile on your Elliot is contagious ).
    And once again, I learned something new. I have read your words enough to know that each is deliberate. I don’t think I knew the difference between elusive and illusive ( or even that illusive was a word … ) Thank you for that.
    Sweet story about that doorknob. I love how memory catches in the throat or grabs us by the hand or how maybe sometimes it appears in the vapor when our eyes start to fail. I am sorry for your loss, Gretchen.


    1. I didn’t know the difference between elusive and illusive, so now you have taught me something! And I think the dream was illusive, the memory was actually elusive. Do you agree?

      I’m hoping to get a photo of the doorknob; when it shows up in my inbox I will add it. And you have a beautiful way with words yourself.

      Liked by 1 person

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