What If Dianne Feinstein Was Your Mother? Or, Saturday Morning at 8:29am

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An older woman wearing large pearls sits next to a woman wearing smaller pearls
Nancy’s 84th Birthday, 2016

As you may know, Dianne Feinstein is one of California’s two senators. As you may also know, she’s 89, reportedly suffering from pretty severe short-term memory loss, and recovering from a case of shingles. She hasn’t attended Senate votes since February-ish. As a result, a California congressman, Ro Khanna, called for her to resign.

What do we think? The public discussion includes setting age limits in Congress, the need for Gen X representation, and all the insults you might imagine.

I wonder, what if Feinstein were my mom?

As you may also know, my mother died of Alzheimer’s in 2019, having first shown undeniable signs of memory loss–that I saw, her husband must have been aware sooner–in 2011. When her husband could no longer care for her, I took over trustee, health care power of attorney, and all that comes with those roles, including lots of time with her.

I read the stories about Feinstein’s lapses, and the concern among the other senators, and then I read the statements “from Feinstein,” and I’m pretty sure it ain’t her talking. Here’s are some things I think I learned about this kind of aging, for the person and those around her.

  • It comes on slowly
  • Denial is rampant, for the person and those who depend on her remaining in her role, her being “herself”
  • Mood swings begin, get worse, become unmanageable without medication. It seemed that it can be terrifying and frustrating to be a person experiencing your very personhood disappearing. The euphemism is, “agitation.” Yeah, you think?
  • The best way to relate is to go with the flow. If she thinks she’s getting ready for a visit and the closets need checking, you check the closets.
  • The person, just as you think she’s gone forever, will say something so lucid, so to the heart of the matter, that you will be glad they’re here on the earth. No matter the 90% of the time that they are sleeping or kicking someone or other difficult stuff.

So what about age limits for important jobs? The primary issue as I see it is we all age so differently. Remember when one friend’s kid walked at 9 months and the other not until a year and a half? Well, 9 months in baby is 9 years in elder. My father probably could have been a valuable senator until it ceased to interest him, and took time and fading energy away from what he cared about. So, let’s say 85? Not just valuable, invaluable. Those who age in power–mental, physical and most importantly, emotional–learn lessons we as humans in society need.

That thing we call wisdom is often just practice.

So let’s assume Senate aging is addressed carefully, case-by-case. Probably won’t be, but I’m the one writing here. For Dianne, trail-blazing, dedicated public servant that she is, I imagine without any knowledge that her staff wants her to keep the job. After all, she loses hers they lose theirs. I imagine in the same ignorance that her family doesn’t want to set her off/deprive her of happiness, depending on how much they operate from fear vs. affection.

If she were my mother, and her state of mind really bad, I just might check into having her declared incompetent. That’s a poor word, as is “dementia,” but it’s what we’ve got. Then the person who becomes her trustee, probably a child since her husband died very recently, could tender her resignation. We do need all our senators; we should start to empower a younger generation.

The thing is, you wouldn’t have to tell Senator Feinstein. She could keep “working,” reading papers, taking Zoom calls, and sending emails. If she recovers enough to travel, they could set up a seat for her in chambers. Honorary, with all the implications.

But I know that can’t happen. Too much work. Too much vulnerability in the halls of power, probably. And maybe I’m just remembering my mom. I miss her, and am so glad she had that 84th birthday moment when she was safe from herself and there for me in ways she could not be before she got sick.

Have a wonderful weekend.

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