The Turning Gem

Music, Film, Family



“The truth is of course is that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time.”

— David Bowie

A couple of months ago, in a box with a bunch of family photos, I found a picture of a little girl. An old one, too. Sort of ripped at the edges and aged to a perfect sepia tone. Through some discussion, my sister and I determined that this is a picture of our mother. Aged approximately five-years-old. We do not know this for certain, of course. When it comes to our mother as a child, we know precious little. The reasoning behind this is a story for another time, but save to say we were very excited to have found this photograph.

I don’t know how long it has been exactly – a little over a year now, I’d say – Mom’s health started to decline quite dramatically. Complications from diabetes is how it started. And I suppose that’s all there needs to be if it’s bad enough. Before long, signs of dementia became obvious. Those early stages are confusing and scary for everybody, but we were all – seemingly – handling it all fairly well, considering. Then Dad got hurt. I’ve written about that already [See the entry titled “The World We Knew As Children” for this information, if you’re unaware and possess a curiosity].

This was right around the time Mom was experiencing the middle stage of the illness. She wasn’t exactly forgetting things at the time, just… getting it all twisted. An insensitive way to put it would be that she was losing the plot, but that is sadly the most accurate way to describe what was going on. While Dad was in the hospital, Mom didn’t know what day it was, or what season we were in. She knew Dad wasn’t there, but she didn’t seem to know why. Well, that assumption turned out to be heartbreakingly false.

One evening Mom completely broke down. I’ll never forget this. She and I were in the kitchen, and Mom was just standing there, staring at me with tears in her eyes. I asked her what was wrong, and went in closer to her, but she put her hand out to stop me. “I don’t know”, she said, “I know. I know that I don’t know, and I can’t help it. I can’t help.”

Then she sat down. Right there in the kitchen, like a little kid. No more than five-years-old. Terrified. Defeated. Knowing what was happening but not having the words. Grasping to understand the concept of time, with her hands on her knees – palms up – sobbing to the sky. I have never been so sad in my entire life.

Please forgive me. That’s all I’ve got in me tonight.

But take another look at the photo above. That’s our mom. If you’ve got information to the contrary, I hope you’ll understand me asking kindly for you to keep it to yourself.

5 responses to “FIVE YEARS”

  1. What a sweet little girl. Thanks for sharing your real life. There is something beautiful and healing about acknowledging the whole truth of our existence, including the moments of exquisite loss and sorrow. I send my love to you and your family. May you be sustained as you traverse this strange, new landscape together. May a kindly light shine on your path, and show you love.

    Peace Be Still

    “There is nothing new under the sun”;
    no untried act, no path unknown.
    But this pain is new to me, Lord,
    it peels the flesh off of my bone.
    Take it from me, take it off me,
    give me back my mom.
    Carest thou not that we perish?
    What use is a body when memory’s gone?
    Where is the mercy, where is the justice,
    where is the little girl?
    Why must she live as a stranger
    to her own life within this world?
    And where is love, and what is love,
    when love can’t be recalled?
    I remember the love, Lord,
    Oh God, I remember it all.
    Please grant us some wisdom,
    please give my mom comfort,
    hold my raw heart together until
    this boat stops capsizing
    and these waves quit engulfing.
    Lord, give us a “peace, be still”.



    1. Thank you so much, Cous. Sometimes writing these things down makes the experience easier.


  2. I feel you. So true. Life is too big to keep inside our heads or our bodies. We’ve got to shout it out, write it out, sing it out. It helps when other people share, sometimes it gives us the words to name our own feelings or allows us a companion upon our private road. Your writing is beautiful and lifts others.


  3. Joel, this is your dad’s cousin Judy, writing from Maryland. You are as gifted a writer as your father. I’ve known your mom since our Wittenberg days. Your loving account of her breakdown made me weep.


    1. Hi Judy. I’m so glad you enjoy reading these posts. Something about family… that’s what we’re all here for. And sharing stories about people we’d like to know better, for better or worse, is what we do best, I think.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: