One Day the Emails Will End

Manley, Stewart (2018) One Day the Emails Will End. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 66 (9). pp. 1845-1846. ISSN 0002-8614, DOI

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The emails usually arrive around once a week. Sometimes they come in spurts. Sometimes weeks pass without one. They say that the wild pigs have been uprooting the banana grove. The cold weather seems to have affected the chickens' ability to lay eggs. The moon is full. It has been raining for days. The old cow at the ranch house has finally died. My mother lives alone. She is 81. My father died in 2009 in a drowning accident. My younger brother lived with her for several years after that, but he has since moved to Wyoming. The house is quieter now. The television remote collects dust. The ants steadily march in from gaps in the floor. From time to time, the thrum of tropical showers breaks the silence. She writes that the guys from Sears came again to repair the lawnmower blade. The avocados have been fruiting and falling; you should taste the smoothie I made. I have finished weeding on the shell ginger side; now moving to the row with the orchids. I got into a small accident by the library return bin and now there is a dent in the front bumper of the Jeep. The gas canister for the stove is almost empty. Sometimes I answer the emails immediately, but usually I don't. I have meetings. I have errands. I have classes and bicycle rides and lunches and papers to write and mooting competitions to attend. The emails sit in the inbox, read but unanswered as they slowly drop down the screen to make way for new messages. My mother has always preferred email to telephone calls or Skype. Before email, she loved to write letters in her scrawling cursive. From Hawai‘i they followed me, to college in Maine, then to Spain, New Hampshire, Ecuador, New York, transforming to email in the late 1990s to Arizona, Thailand, Myanmar, and now Malaysia. I responded in kind, which is perhaps where I started to love storytelling. The letters record our frustrations, empathy, adventures, happiness, sorrows, and love, but mostly they document the ordinary events that make up a life. I receive another email. She had a doctor's appointment, ugh. In the waiting room she tries with all her might to calm herself. If she can just get her blood pressure down. If it is low, she will pray that the doctor will not test it again, but if it is high, she wants another chance. I have seen her practice in the dining room. As Mom continues to age, I wonder whether I should move back home to be with her. She would insist that I not do so. She has always wanted the 5 of us siblings to experience life as an adventure. That means having the courage to travel, study, and explore the world—to live fully. Does this mean that we have to be separated by continents and oceans? In the past few years, since Mom's house has become quieter, difficult questions come to my mind. When is the right time to move back with an aging parent? What sacrifices does it entail, and am I willing to make them? What regrets will I have if I wait too long? What regrets will I have if I return too soon? Can it ever be too soon? On a visit home, I am driving at night with Mom. The conversation turns to death, which has been a topic of interest for me for the past several years. She tells me not to worry, that it is something that she has to go through on her own. I start to tear up. I say, perhaps out of emotion, “Sometimes I feel like there's nothing left to live for. I have done what I wanted, seen what I wanted to see.” She replies, “Yeah, I know what you mean.” We drive on in silence. A child struggles with how to care for a rapidly deteriorating parent. A health crisis has hit. A mother or father has recently died. These are common themes in narratives about caring for older parents, but there is another stage that seems to be addressed less—the stage in which an aging parent is still healthy but surely will not be for much longer. This is the stage before crisis and death, of anticipated care. It is just as full of uncertainties and difficult decisions. The vagaries of health and death are always in the air. Should I wait for an emergency? Should I ask her whether I should return, and will her response matter? More important, are these questions even valid when it comes to caring for the person who has always cared for me and who sacrificed so much to nurture the life that I lead? If a baby does not one day care for a parent, who will? Another email arrives. The chickens are laying again. The sun is out. She has mowed the lawn. The passion fruit and lemons are ripening. I look in my email folder labeled “Mom and Dad.” As I scroll down, I read the subject lines: rats and annuities and fundraising and chocolate and family reunions. I find an email dated June 27, 2009, “Hi Mom and Dad, Just wanted to let you know that I am going to a meditation retreat for a couple weeks. I won't be checking emails or answering my phone for this time. Back online probably on July 12 or 13. Love, Stewart.” The reply comes from my dad, just 2 days later, on June 29, “Hi Stewart, Hope you are having a great time on your retreat and that it is in a beautiful place with wonderful people. Love Dad.” When will be Mom's last email, what will it say and where will I be when she sends it?

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: aging; child parent relation; conversation; e-mail; emotion; geriatric care; geriatrics; human; telecommunication
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Divisions: Faculty of Law
Depositing User: Ms. Juhaida Abd Rahim
Date Deposited: 28 May 2019 02:11
Last Modified: 28 May 2019 02:11

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