Jane Silcott on The Change that Ends Change

Silcott writes on all that one unlearns later in life @ Eighteen Bridges.

My husband is a liar. When I complain about the wrinkles on my neck, he says, “What wrinkles?” Then I laugh because I don’t want to press the point. Would it be a good idea to have him examine, truly, the decay that is my neck skin?

Think wattle. Think chicken with pinfeathers that spring out overnight. I care about these things now, but can imagine a future where I won’t. When the dementia was first catching my mother, there were days when she might open a suitcase and put a hanger in it and then a shoe.


A while later, when her mind clicked back again, she’d say, “It’s terrible getting old. I don’t know things anymore, and I get so upset.” It was awful seeing her in that phase. Later when she didn’t know me but would smile when I visited her in the home, it seemed better. But maybe it was just better for me. In childbirth, there’s a phase called transition. The cervix isn’t quite fully dilated so it’s not safe to push yet. The experts talk about this as a time when a woman may feel as if the walls are closing in, and then they talk of the pushing that comes after as though it will be a relief, and everyone in prenatal class nods and says, “Oh, good, pushing.” And so begins another of those lies you buy into until you’re in labour and realize that this “pushing” word is just another euphemism for agony.

Everyone yells encouragement at you when you’re in childbirth as if you’re in a race, and so you do the best you can, but you want to scream at them all to shut up so you can concentrate. But you can’t scream, because something in your personality or your upbringing has bred you to be silent when stressed. Besides, you know if you start, you might never stop. You might become the screaming woman, the woman who goes into labour and stays there.

Chaos, disorder, mind-ripping pain. That was pushing. And that might have been transition. I don’t know if I recognized the borders of either during the labours of my children, but I recognize them now—a feeling that the edges are closing in. Maybe that’s what my mother felt, and the hanger and the shoe in the suitcase and the following around of the cat with the tin of food were all part of her trying to make the walls bigger, trying to make sense of them. I’m not sure. How can I ever know unless I follow her into Alzheimer’s myself, and then what good will that be? None, except to find (as I do, the older I get) how much there was to admire in her, and how little I understood her when she was alive.
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