This is shaping up to be a winter of loss. I just had an e-mail from a colleague with the news that another colleague who's been battling metasticized cancer now seems to be in the last stages. This man was always a "lemons to lemonade" kind of person: a displaced worker in his forties, he landed in one of my classes, then went on to earn a doctorate and returned to the college as a faculty member and, eventually, an administrator. The possessor of one of the best baritone voices in our area, he was a fixture of local musical theater for decades. Just sixty, he's always seemed too full of life to be leaving it so soon.
My mother seems now to have entered another stage in her dementia. She's been in assisted living for three years now for her own protection and to try to provide her with company, but she can no longer remember the names of any of her neighbors and has made no real friends. Most days when I call, less so when I can actually visit, what she tells me is how lonely she is and how she "never thought it would be like this." The loneliness has gotten worse since her cat had to come live with me because memory didn't extend to checking the litter box, and Miss Kitty nearly ruined the apartment's carpeting and the couch's upholstery. With the cat gone, Mother on most days has no living thing to touch.
Paradoxically, there is a blessing to the holes in Mother's memory. She now seems to remember only the good things about the past, totally oblivious to much of what I recall: the episodes of violence in our household caused by a combination of poverty and mental illness, the stories of sexism and grinding poverty she told me about her own childhood. She also doesn't realize the speed and degree of my sister's deterioration as she spirals toward a death that may well come before Mother's.
This is a winter of professional loss as well. A project that was the focus of much of my work life for the last few years seems to have died, disappointing some very fine students and leaving me questioning my ability to be useful. Retreating into an exclusive focus on the classroom is at least partially salvaging this stage of my career.
Spring can't come too soon.