Measuring Time through Symptoms

Now we are moving into more difficult territory. Mom’s dementia is pushing onward and she is starting to suffer from muscle rigidity. As she soldiers through this new challenge, I reflect on other symptoms that were once so terrifying and now seem familiar as old friends. Remembering her list of symptoms is a weird method of tracking time —  but it’s the wrong way to measure a life.


Before and during this long, sinister illness, my mom added up to so much more than her catalog of lost skills. Even today she loves people with a passion and her cheerfulness is amazing. A friend of hers told me recently, “Janet is an angel spirit.” Feels true today, though I seldom thought about it in my youth.

She was a disciplined and orderly mom. Her rigid household methods were the opposite of mine. One peek at her regimented closets made me wonder if I’d somehow been born to the wrong parent. But she maintained a deep sense of fun that grew much stronger as dementia erased her tools of organization. Now she is like a being of pure love. I know I’m biased, but I’m not the only person who sees her this way.

While contemplating the power that time exercises over all of us, I came across a beautiful passage in the work of Louise Erdrich. She is the author of many books — including Four Souls, from which this quote is taken:

      “Time is the water in which we live, and we breath it like fish. It’s hard to swim against the current. Onrushing, inevitable, carried like a leaf…time is an element no human has mastered. For what is a man, what are we all, but bits of time caught for a moment in a tangle of blood, bones, skin, and brain? I am a sorry bit of time myself. We are time’s containers. Time pours into us and then pours out again. In between the two pourings we live our destiny.”

Too often I say that time is my enemy. It gets the upper hand as I rush through each day. It may be better to view time as a gift. It is the one resource we cannot increase or store up. To measure it is no sin, unless you forget to cherish it, too.


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