I enjoy writing and can become engrossed when doing so. I’ve been known to forget appointments and, on occasion, have absentmindedly left my wife waiting for me at restaurants while I merrily click away at my computer.
In some ways though my writing has been just too late. What I mean is that timing the appearance of your work product is important. If only this was always possible.
For example I enjoyed a wonderful relationship with my maternal grandmother, Grandma Corp. She was smart, independent, feisty, and not afraid to state her opinions. She cared for me and I for her. One opinion she shared was that you could tell if someone was “right in the head” by looking into his/her eyes. That is, their eyes provided subtle information about the quality of their thinking processes. I never forgot her observation but it took many years to fully understand it.
Much later when working on my PhD I needed a dissertation topic. My subject matter, oddly enough, became eye movements and eye fixations in various forms of dementia. I wrote of how the eye is the window to the mind and how eye movements (scan paths among other tests) and duration of eye fixations could provide information about how people process visual information and how they think about what they are viewing. I hypothesized varying forms of dementia would process visual information differently and that their eye movement measures might provide diagnostic insight as well as heuristic value.
Yes, the fabric of my thesis reflected the very thoughts grandmother Corp had stitched into my memory at a young age. But by the time I wrote the research grants, received the grant funds, carried out the experiments, wrote the thesis, and successfully defended it, my dear grandmother had become lost in the mental swamps of neuritic plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Sorry about the jargon, she’d developed Alzheimer’s disease.
I had dedicated my dissertation to my grandmother. Sadly by the time I was able to read to her my endearment that began my dissertation, Grandmother had advanced too far into her disease to comprehend it. She responded to me though with a wonderful and endearing smile.
Six months ago my first popular book came out, Carrying The Black Bag. At several points in my memoir, I praise my wise mother who offered sound advice and encouragement. I wrote in my book of when she braved a Minnesota snowstorm (worst blizzard in twenty years) to drive my wife, Trudy, who was in labor to the hospital where I was the intern on call for Obstetrics. Mother went where the local ambulances feared to go. She never was one to admit it couldn’t be done. And I proudly pointed out in my book that she was from sunny Texas and unaccustomed to the northern climes.
This story of my son Andy’s birth along with others in my book where she offered sage advice captured, I hope, how valuable she had been in my life.
Several weeks ago I visited my now 95-year old mother in the Alzheimer Special Care Unit at Arabella in Athens, Texas. I attempted to update her on the progress of my recently released book and to thank her for all that she had contributed. I again was too late.
Again, Mom was too deep into her dementia to track the meaning of my words. But I know she felt the love I had for her and smiled when I stroked her hand and head. Her endearing smile affirmed my presence and seemed to light up the room.
In some ways, two of my most significant writing projects (my PhD thesis and my memoir) proved emotional busts due to Grandma and Mom’s memory and cognitive losses. My testimonials brimmed with profound appreciation for them, but both came just too late for them to recognize my appreciation for their special roles in my life.
But I’ve learned from these unfortunate events. Recognition and affirmation can’t always be earned but can be enjoyed. Perhaps it’s like grace in the Christian religion. It is beyond our efforts to earn grace just like I was unable to gain the hoped for response from Grandmother and Mom. Their love for me and their smiles, like grace, came automatically. For their endearing smiles I shall be forever grateful. I shall also forever hate the scourge that is Alzheimer’s disease.