Wednesday, August 19, 2015

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas: The Ways in Which We Make Our Peace

Among the many motifs and archetypes authors weigh are the ways in which we humans make our peace with terrible times. Matthew Thomas reveals the way in which protagonist Eileen Leary of We Are Not Ourselves makes her peace with the force of nature that was her father, her mother’s diseases, and her husband Ed's slow descent into Alzheimer’s horrors.

Eileen wrestles with her own conscience and the impossibly high expectations she sets for herself after her husband’s death. Ed had been her bridge to a better, economically secure, upper middle class life, but he obstinately refuses to cross that bridge.

Eileen cajoled, manipulated, and waited patiently for fate to persuade Ed to move to a better neighborhood, a finer home, and the future she imagined. When fate did intervene, that future still failed to emerge from dreams intact. Only when she learned the diagnosis--early onset Alzheimer’s--did Eileen surrender her future. It was now consigned to caregiver as it had been in her parent’s home and through her nursing career.

She would never enjoy the social life she imagined. She would never laugh as others without heavy cares did. She would never have the financial comfort others seemed to enjoy.

Eileen kept Ed at home as long as possible. She asked her son, Connell, to help, but the young have little experience with consequences. They don’t imagine unfavorable outcomes so they take safety for granted. Ed fell on hard tile. He broke a tooth that Connell carried--as a token of penance perhaps.

Indeed, Ed’s limbs began to seize, refusing to follow the brain’s advice. He couldn’t feed himself reliably, and he had little control over his bodily functions. Eileen admitted him to nursing care, at first telling herself he would return home, but Ed never came home to live again. Eileen visited every day after work. She befriended him. She was his advocate. She was his beloved.

Photography of a storm overhead that parallels the storms that steal
our sleep. Provided by Al Griffin.
After Ed finally dies, a gift to Ed, Eileen can’t sleep well. She tortures herself with guilt about admitting Ed to a nursing home until she tells herself that her entire life had been rehearsals for Ed’s care: slipping money into her father’s wallet so that he’d be able to pay for the drink he drank in neighborhood bars, facilitating her mother’s rehabilitation with the help of AA, nursing her mother as cancer claimed her, a career in nursing--all of this had prepared her for her greatest life’s work. 

Eileen realizes that the other careers of which she’d dreamed, the other lives she longed to don, and the ease in which she once needed to live were not her purpose or even her choice. She was born to care for others and tells herself caring for Ed “was his final gift to her: to silence her regrets about the paths she hadn’t taken” (Thomas, Matthew. We Are Not Ourselves. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014. Kindle File.)

In such ways do we all rationalize our life’s outcomes. In such ways do we all abide. 

 Reading Challenge:

Read “We Are Not Ourselves” by Matthew Thomas.

Writing Challenge:

Explain what you were born to do.

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.
She also writes for Our Eyes Upon Missouri.