That Good Night

I have always loved Dylan Thomas’ exhortation to his dying father:  Do not go gentle Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Nightinto that good night.  Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas on cover of poetry bookYes, I thought, “old age should burn and rage at close of day.”  But Dylan Thomas knew something I didn’t, I think, even when he wrote those words.  He was still a young man, but he knew something that becomes apparent with age:  sometimes it’s time to hang up your hat and say goodbye. Evidently, he never showed the poem to his father.  He wrote it for himself – the child pleading to, and for, the father.  He knew, maybe, that what his dad wanted was to go peacefully and quietly.

Mom holding dog Feb 2012Four weeks ago my mother, my remaining parent, died.  I know in my sensible brain that it’s good that her death was quick and peaceful.  But there’s another part of me that says no, you should have fought to stay, you can’t leave me.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, when you lose your final parent, you feel orphaned.  What will you do without parents?  Driving through our hometown, my brother tried to remember the name of people who used to live in a house near ours.  “There’s nobody to ask now,” he realized, “I’m the one they’ll come to now for answers and I don’t know.  Mom knew.”

You lose your family’s corporate memory when your parents die, all the little bits of information about whose house was whose, where the neighbours moved to, what their dog’s name was.  Does it matter?  Ruby-1939-Pine-StYes, in the history of a community or family.  No, in the continued existence of that community or family.  Other families become the old neighbours who moved away, the next generation become the family elders.  But, like with photocopying, with each generation there’s a loss of the depth and colour of the original.

My mother had Alzheimer’s for the past few years.  She still knew us but didn’t remember many other people.  I hated the disease.  I hated seeing her sharp mind shut down; cried, after leaving her, when she asked “who’s X?” when X was a family member.  Cried even more when she stopped asking, stopped trying to figure out who people were.

However, as she accepted her dementia and came to terms with it, so did I.  Often I’d wonder about something and think I’ll ask Mom, then would remember she wouldn’t Ruby Grace Burwell Anger obitknow any longer.  After her death, I caught myself taking pictures because “Mom will want to see this,” only to remember she was gone.  But it wasn’t the huge shock to me that it would be if she’d had her mental faculties intact.

Maybe that’s a gift that Alzheimer’s gives survivors.  You’ve had to come to terms with losing your loved one before she or he is actually gone from this life.  It is a gradual process, thereby maybe gentler at the ultimate end.  Maybe, as Dylan Thomas’ dad knew, that’s what we all wish for at the end, going gentle into that good night.  My mother went gently, and for that I’m glad.

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5 thoughts on “That Good Night”

  1. Just finished reading the story, I identify with you regarding your Moms Alzheimer’s

    Watching her (my Mom) die a little bit each day was heart breaking.

    But we still have the memories!

    Take care and God Bless!

    1. Thanks, Donald. It’s such a hard thing, isn’t it? You hear people talk about it but, until you experience it, you really don’t know what it’s like. But, as you say, we have the memories. Even when she remembered very little else, my mother always remembered her own parents. So glad you wrote.

  2. Dear Dorothy:
    What a lovely tribute to your Mom. I hope you, Alan and Onalee are feeling better and slowly adjusting to her loss. Like Alan, I sometimes think about the fact that there is no one left who knows or remembers the answers to our questions. Sometimes, too, I think maybe we didn’t pay enough attention. My Mother was a
    great story teller and from the time I was little, I heard sstories of their
    experiences during the Depression. l could almost recite them verbatim. It wasn’t very long after she died that some of the details became a little hazy so I decided to write them down. It gives me great pleasure to read them now and then although there is no one else left to remember those times. The picture of your Mom is exactly as my very first memories of her. The 1st is watching her walking away from us down Pine St. Another vivid one is her again, walking down Pine St. but this time holding little Alan by the hand. Seems she was always going somewhere. Don’t think it was because we were such bad visitors 🙂
    I’m glad to see that you have posted Uncle Charlie’s books on line. I have an original copy (blue cover). I did have a copy of the Christmas Carol but not sure that I do anymore. I can almost remember all the words. I heard Margaret (Lymburner) Brownell play it on the piano a few times.
    I was surprised to learn you had moved to N.B. I hope you are getting settled and will be very happy there. Say hello to the “girls”. By the way, did you know that
    your Great Grandpa Matthias Lymburner kept chickens? Not just ordinary chickens but prize birds – some of whom won first prize at the fair, even with their feet all bandaged up due to cuts from the chicken wire. I still have the ribbons to prove it (from 1924 yikes!).
    Keep well, Dorothy, and cherish your memories.

    1. Hello Anne, and thanks so much. It is still hard; so many times I think about Mom. You did right to write down your mother’s stories before you forgot too many of the details. I’m so glad that Mom made several albums of photos, notes, documents – telling the story of her life, but including all of us and neighbours and towns. It was a lot of work but she knew it was her best way of recording history.

      The “girls” are doing well, slacking off in the egg-laying department but it’s their first winter so they need to adjust, I guess. I didn’t know Mathias had show birds! When I’m looking through old papers again, I’ll keep an eye out for any reference to them. I have postcards they sent to Grandma. Yes, getting settled here and getting prepared for winter. Take care, and thanks.

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