Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A metaphor for a young life

The subject of Alzheimer's came up last week because I was transcribing interviews with caregivers. After a break, some legal stuff and then some autism stuff, I'm back to an Alzheimer's caregiver today -- in this case a young woman who left college to help her overwhelmed mother deal with her father's deterioration. Little did this woman know at age 20 that nine years later she would still be a caregiver. She spoke, as the interviewer noted, like a post-trauma stress sufferer, except she's still caregiving.

She was largely very inarticulate, searching for words and thoughts and was painful to listen to, let alone transcribe. When she left college she had been a typical very young woman, self-absorbed, glad to be free of family and still unformed as a full adult personality. But her instinct when she saw her parents in great distress was to help. Now, she has not lived a separate life, has not done the typical things that most 20-somethings do as they finish their education and being adult life in the workplace and get into the serious dating phase looking for a mate.

The young woman came up with a thoroughly poetic metaphor, the full truth of which I suspect she does not realize. Hearing her come up with it out of the morasse of her confused words almost gave me a chill. She said, I feel as though these years have been like a glacier. Glaciers move slowly but they change the entire geology of the earth. I feel I was a desert but the glacier that these years have been has changed my life to one of lakes and I have no idea what is in those lakes. I was stunned by the appropriateness of this metaphor from a woman who had for well over an hour been struggling just to speak a whole sentence. She will some day realize how apt and she will probably be glad that that glacier changed her from a superficial, thoughtless young woman to someone with deep experience of life who can feel that she rose to a difficult challenge and made life better for both her father and her mother.

While she and the interviewer feel this is a very unusual thing she has had to do, that is the first world view. In our blinkered provincialism, we forget that this is how people, mainly women, in less "developed" countries have had to live their lives, caring for aging, needy elders. To what extent are we "developed" and to what extent have we lost our generosity and kindness and love and respect for those who are older and needy? Does cultural "advancment" mean an emphasis on a greed for individuality, that makes people afraid of the natural deterioration and the care tho oldest people or those with Alzheimers, even when when the onset is "early" may need?

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