The Essence of Being (the great banana caper)

“I wish you could meet Julie. You’d really like her.”

My mom says this to me while I drive her for an outing to watch my grand daughter, her great grand daughter, go swimming.

I reply, “I bet I would like her.”

I briefly wonder if the Julie I know would be the same person she does. I conclude it’s not likely. My mother was never realistic about me. Her subjectivity was a handrail when it felt like life wanted to push me down its steps.

Mom has dementia. She is aware of me but sometimes forgets I am her daughter. It doesn’t matter because whoever I am to her, she loves me.

She is 83 years old and has beautiful white hair and the same strong jaw she always had. She walks like a woman on a mission. Her mission now is mostly wandering around the large yard outside her home with her dog. She stops and looks up frequently and I suspect she is talking to whoever she imagines is up there, but I don’t know. If I ask her she cannot remember stopping or looking up.

Mom has lost most of her memories, her sense of self and her husband who died a few years ago. Her brothers and sisters are gone now too.

She does not care about her purses or jewelry or how the days go by. If I showed her the files of her clients whom she loved and nurtured as a social worker, she would not recognize her own signature.

So what is left when we’ve lost everything?

What happens when your once brilliant mind tells you to hide Coca Cola cans in book shelves or car keys or pieces of chocolate? Where is your soul under all that loss which tells you so little about your life?

In the case of my mom, she tells me in her own words:  there is love.

Late one night unable to sleep, I came down the stairs I have descended for more than fifty years. I wanted to see my mom, maybe just to hear her voice in case I might never hear it again. When someone you love is dying a slow death it’s a kind of torture. Every word they speak may be the last one–so you hold on.

She was sitting alone in the living room and she reached out her hand to me. I sat beside her on the sofa and she said this, “I don’t know why it is true but we are deeply loved. All of us. There is nothing else but that.” She told me how “God loves us just the way we are and all we have to do is give that away to other people. To help if we can and to love–always.”

Then she smiled and kissed me on the lips. “Well, that’s all I know.”

She knows one other thing: humor. She has always loved laughter. Once she told me she married my father for the jokes.

This humor is now her other way of rolling with dementia.

Somehow she is aware that she hides things, she is vaguely alert to the fact this comes from some misshapen part of her mind and it is odd but also funny. We find little boxes of chocolate and breakfast sandwiches in the china soup bowls. “That’s mine.” she’ll say raising her hand with a goofy smile and a comedic shrug.

We decide to go out one morning. Folks with dementia don’t like taking showers or baths or changing their clothes. Actually, all kinds of people are like this, but most certainly old people. Getting her to bathe and change clothes is like producing a play. There must be a story line or she won’t do it.

The story line on this day was going out for frozen yogurt. She will do about anything for a good bite of sugar.

We pile into the bathroom where I run a bath and my grand daughter lays out clothes for her. She looks nervous. “I’ve got this.” Her voice trails off and then she quickly reaches into the waistband of her pants and pulls out a banana. She widens her eyes, leans her face forward and flashes a crooked smile so comedic my grand daughter, mother and I begin howling with laughter. Why does she have a banana hidden in her pants? No one knows. It is beside the point.

In life there is love and humor and those things are choices.

Mom did not pick being the lone survivor of her tribe nor did she pick dementia. But somehow when she is literally reduced down by the pressure of her own old bones through osteoporosis and no memory through the painful shrinking of her brain she remains in contact with the essence of being Mary. She has fierce humor and graceful love.

If I should find myself on that same shore one day where all of me is gone but a little body and shrinking mind- I hope that I discover I inherited her enormous soul.

She is culling life down to its core and knows what the great writers and philosophers knew even if she cannot remember their names–there is nothing more than love and laughter.












2 thoughts on “The Essence of Being (the great banana caper)

  1. Love and Laughter

    “The Essence of Being” is a contemplative short story in which Julie Akins, the author, offers an unheard of peek into the world of dementia. Dementia is a change in mental capacity that has caused her mother to be unable to think clearly or to understand what is real and what is not real. Evidence of her mother’s condition is the opening line: “I wish you could meet Julie. You’d really like her.” In spite of this condition, where help is not coming, the author’s mother is still able to poignantly express the meaning of life in the simplest terms to her daughter rather than the desolation of confusion during a sweet late evening encounter. The endowed knowledge that “there is nothing more than love and laughter” has made the author, and anyone else who is willing to listen, a stronger person and more compassion-oriented.

    The author’s story line is the stage for personal introspection. For example, the author states, “My mother was never realistic about me.” The author, born in 1961, is from a family of five children, fourth in the birth order, and the first of two daughters. Parents want their children, whether they are girls or boys, to be happy and successful. What were the “realistic” hopes and expectations for daughters and sons born in the early 1960s? The author provides a context clue in the very next sentence, “Her subjectivity was a handrail when it felt like life wanted to push me down its steps.” But this is only a hint of something deeper that is unexplored, and doesn’t help the reader understand the situation. Since baseless speculation is amusing, let’s try it her. Perhaps her mother was never “realistic” because her expectations were set very high and she was refusing to yield to the status quo, living with a faith that could change fate. Perhaps her mother was not accepting the delusion of the path most taken.

    The author’s story line is the stage for two deeply philosophical questions. The author’s first question is, “So what is left when we’ve lost everything?” And her second question is, “Where is your soul under all that loss which tells you so little about your life?” Her mother has lost most of her past, her identity, her husband and siblings. Her ability to imagine her future depends on a part of the brain used to store general knowledge, which may be affected by her form of dementia. Her ability to imagine herself at a point in time in the future is likely impaired. Perhaps all she has is the present. Eckhart Tolle writes, “The mind is always concerned with keeping the past alive, because without it – who are you? It constantly projects itself into the future to ensure its continued survival and to seek some kind of release or fulfillment there. The present moment holds the key to liberation. But you cannot find the present moment as long as you are your mind.” So, what’s really happening here? In spite of all this loss, in a moment of clarity, perhaps channeling John Lennon, or perhaps channeling the universe one last time for the author’s sake, her mother offers an inspired response to the author’s questions, understandable by everyone, without possibility of misinterpretation: “there is love.” This signal, a clarion call, was coming through loud and clear: “I don’t know why it is true but we are deeply loved. All of us. There is nothing else but that. God loves us just the way we are and all we have to do is give that away to other people. To help if we can and to love – always. Well, that’s all I know.” Wake up kids. Maybe, just for a moment, she was being a conduit. She was giving a reason to live. Perhaps she was giving the only reason to live, and that reason is to love one another.

    Marcel Proust writes, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Perhaps, similarly, the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new ears to listen to the voice of the universe from a mystic, saint or poet, like the main character of this short story, who has been put in the author’s path, who is sharing simple and powerful truths. In the end, the author becomes mindful of her mother’s enormous soul and her message that there is nothing more powerful than love and laughter.


    1. Thank you for your thoughtful review of this blog. You have added to its clarity and value with your thoughts and reflections. In answer to the question regarding my mothers expectations–it was meant more as a general response to most mothers regarding their children. My mother was not objective and I am glad for it. I also, was not objective regarding my children. It seems to me that is the work of someone else less close to the subject of one’s own children. I would not have wanted an objective mother to size me up. Instead I had a cheerleader who encouraged me through her unfailing faith in my good outcome. She believed, I manifested. Most likely this happened because of her belief, her faith if you will, in what she perceived as my unbounded ability.
      You honor me by your careful reading. In this case it could be that your reactions to what is written exceeds the material itself.
      Thank you.
      Julie Akins


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