What Will You Bleed?

The patterns for our personalities are set early on.

My friend, Susan, used to talk about someone she knew who, in the delirium of a high fever, mumbled out Bible verse after Bible verse. When she had been poked, she bled the Bible.

“I want to be the kind of person who does that,” Susan said to me thirty-some years ago.

Years later, when Susan was poked, she bled praise. She suffered a stroke in her 40s and I have never heard her utter a bitter word about it. After seeing Susan last June, I asked another friend, Jennifer Trafton Peterson, to make this custom artwork for her. The words are ones I have heard Susan say many times.

The other day I was wearing a new-to-me shirt and my father noticed.

“That’s a nice shirt,” he said.

“I got it at the thrift store,” I told him.

He grinned, fist-bumped the air, and said, “Hurrah!”

My father has always liked a bargain. It’s the Scotsman in him, I think. My mother had to live with it and work against it.

She was also very frugal, but, at the same time, she wished she could do some of the things that the other doctors’ wives got to do. After he retired, he yielded to her and they went on a trip to Hawaii.

It was life-changing. He still talks about it.

“I’m so glad that I listened to Mom and we made that trip to Hawaii,” he often says.

“Everyone should go to Hawaii. When are you going?” he asks me, when he’s thinking about that trip.

But my father bleeds frugality. As dementia takes hold little by little, I see a deeper austerity emerging. He sometimes wears corduroy pants that are nearly threadbare. “There’s still some wear in these,” he says when I suggest he change.

“How much is that going to cost?” he asks, when I suggest a necessary home repair or appliance replacement, in a can-we-possibly-do-without-that sort of way.

The pattern, I think, was set early on.

My sister’s mother-in-law was a fairly passive woman. In her elderly dementia, she became more and more withdrawn into a unresisting submissiveness. When she was poked, that was what she bled — utter compliance.

My mother — I had to think about her for a while to come up with what she bled — I think she bled marmalade, both sweet and sour, involving food, and serving others. She wanted to help, but she got frustrated with the muddle in her mind.

And I can’t help thinking, What are the patterns being laid in my life? When I am poked, what will I bleed?

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