Posted by: Robin | October 17, 2008


I recently read Gregory Maguire’s novel Lost and watched an obsure independent film with an all-star cast called “Autumn Hearts: A New Beginning” in quick succession. Both dealt with the same theme: a cataclysmic life event that keeps us stuck, unable to move forward and unable to look back, not only unstuck from life but also from time in any meaningful way. In Maguire’s novel, he portrays such a life without the reader knowing the reason for his heroine’s behavior until the last couple chapters. I read it by perseverance alone, never being able to warm up to the character, let alone create a relationship with her–just like everyone in her fictional world.

In “Autumn Hearts,” the reason for the heroine’s (played by Susan Sarandon) displacement in her own fragile life is up front. As a child she was in a concentration camp and at the end of the war she was torn away from the two people who’d been her “family” during those horrendous years. With the literalness of the child, her father figure had charged her to record the names and to always remember. That well-intentioned assignment shaped, and in many ways, ruined her life. The fascinating thing was how her being stuck held hostage everyone who loved her–husband, son, and grandson. They were as equally stuck, held by the bonds of family and love, and for the son and grandson, never knowing what it was that was inexorably strangling their family and every individual in it.

These two stories struck me profoundly. I have seen such things happen to people, and to a lesser extent, to me, in my twenties and thirties. But more critically, it made me see with unnerving clarity that the events of last June, my mother’s fall and her catastrophic financial choices coming home to roost, had the potential to make me stuck, stuck as a caregiver with my life displaced and everything revolving around her needs and increasing disability, straightening out her messes, and wrapped up in her dramas and the conflicting emotional fallout they create in me. My novel lays in the exact shape it did in July. My days are to-do lists, always three-quarters or more dealing with her and her needs and circumstances. What free time I find is spent in a fog of exhaustion and a need for the mindless. And possibly hardest of all, I see how the ripple-effect of my choice to be my mother’s caregiver affects those who love me and limit their choices, too. It is happening to all of us.

Some of it is the nature of making the choice to be responsible for another, especially a person this needy, but the novel and the film helped me to see being stuck is also a mindset. It is a choice to avoid the pain and the reality of what happened and all the consequences and baggage that came with it. It is a desperation not to feel, and in these stories, far more cataclysmic than mine, a need to be dead inside as the only way to bear being alive. So this is my challenge. How do I get my life out of stasis and flowing again? I’m not sure, but I’m working on it. I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m not sure that it will look all that different if I figure it out, but at least I may not be so exhausted from all the energy I spend trying not to feel.



  1. Great post Mom. These are great questions, and I think it is necessary, or at least can be important, when these sorts of major changes and transitions occur that they consume us for a while, but there does come a point where we start to understand a little better this new playing field we are on, and that is when the choice comes to step up our game or not.

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