Friday, June 19, 2009

I'll Always Be With You ~ Lessons from Pooh and Piglet...

“If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together.. there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart.. I'll always be with you.”

Winnie The Pooh by A. A. Milne
Illustrations by E.H. Shepard

My mother and I have said that to one another in hundreds of ways through her long, slow dying process, and she said she will always be with me, looking out for me. I believe her. I believe, at the moment of her passing, I will know, I will feel her fluttering around me for a moment until she ascends to her Heavenly Home. I believe that our loved ones are always with us and that we never really lose them. That doesn't mean we don't grieve their parting, but it does give some comfort.

Also, in the quote when Milne wrote, "You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." I really needed to hear that just now. One of the scariest things for me is not my mother's passing -- she has been going through a long, slow dying process for over 4 1/2 years now so we are as ready and prepared as we can be under the circumstances, and we now just want her to be at peace, no longer in this suffering body -- is what comes afterwards, when I face the world alone. No husband, no mother, and a whole laundry list of practical things I've never had to take care of in my life that will all fall into my lap at once, practical matters, legal things, buying a new little cottage on my own, and so on, and so forth. It makes me shudder.

The truth is I have not been in good shape at all. I saw my psychiatrist today and she was gentle and loving and is going to help see me through this. Two of my medications were raised for the next month or so to get me over the rough patch, and my doctor is seeing me more often. In addition to my cocktail of mental health diagnoses, I have what my doctor calls "Anticipatory Anxiety," and it has always been a factor in my life. I dread something out of the ordinary so out of proportion to the situation it freezes me, numbs me, and makes me pull back into my shell and hide. I cannot afford to do this now. Of course the first bit of time after it happens there will be the shock, the grief, the collection of feelings, fears, and more that come after the death of a parent. And when my mother dies I will be the Matriarch of the clan. All of my children's grandparents will be gone. As I move into my new position, I want to be strong, but I've felt that "anticipatory anxiety" rising in me from my toes to the top of my head. When I came across the next quote from Pooh Bear, I felt an easing in my innermost self. This quote really spoke to me...

“Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”

Winnie The Pooh by A. A. Milne
Illustrations by E.H. Shepard

There is a reason adults love the Winnie The Pooh books as much as children do, and the books that came out some time ago, The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet are wonderful books that carry on the philosophies for we adults as we move through life, trying to remember that if a chubby darling bear and a wee little piglet could handle what life had to offer, so can we.

I think there is a reason that the Pooh books have stood the test of time. They are simply written, incredibly sweet and wise, and take us to a place that feels safe. I think sitting in Rabbit's little rabbit hole at his table and having a smackerel of honey with a hot cup of tea must be an incredibly soothing thing. Or living in a little cottage with Winnie the Pooh, or cozying in with Kanga and Roo. I get to treasure these books with my little grandson now, and it's like reliving my childhood when I clung to books to feel safe. I think I will hang out with Pooh and his crew in the Hunded Acre Wood for awhile. I think they will surround me and help me when the time comes, and it will be soon.

My mother has made the decision to stop the medications in the week ahead, and hospice will be called in. She is not expected to live past early July at most. It will not be an easy death, but she is unafraid and at peace with it all. The time has come, and once the rough last days have passed, knowing that she is going to a place where she is light and free of her long-suffering body is one of the greatest gifts I will ever receive.

I have written in these posts more than once about what a great heroine she is to me, that on her worst days if you asked her how she felt, she would say, "Everyday's a good day, it is what you make it. Never forget that honey..." When I spoke to her yesterday, her voice was very tired and weak, almost ethereal, that time when, I believe, part of the spirit has already begun to leave and she is straddling two worlds. It is an awesome and precious time as, to the very end, she is encouraging me, and still more concerned about everyone around her. She will manage this final difficult time with grace, and the peace that passeth understanding, and I will hold tight to my dear one's hand, as Pooh did, and I will remember what Pooh said, that watching the river slipping away from me below I will know everything that there is to know. At least for now. I'm going to hold onto that. It gives me strength just now.

And so it is late now and I am very, very tired. I shall perhaps have a smackerel of honey in my tea, and go to sleep, with a pug snuggled against me, as we hope for a peaceful night's sleep, and wake, once more, tomorrow, to watch the river, the waves of my mother heading toward a distant shore, and I will know what I need to know, and I will survive.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Death Uninterrupted ~ Lolla's Lesson...

To start, today, I want to share with you a passage from one of my most favorite, treasured books. It is a book of tiny chapters, some only half a page long, sometimes a whole page. It is by the amazing Pierre Delattre, part of the Beat Generation, now still a writer and painter with a gallery in New Mexico. The name of the book is Episodes: Allen Ginsberg, Charles de Gaulle, Richard Brautigan, and the Dalai Lama Meet In The Pages Of This Wild Distillation of Bohemian Life. This post is an homage to a great man, and a book that has made me laugh and cry and learn more than I ever knew I needed to know. The passage I am going to quote for you is about the death of his dog Lolla, which I have been here reading at the time of my mother's near passing. Lolla was his dog, and she has taught us all, through Pierre, a deeper, more profound knowledge of death, and the journey we must walk alone...

To Pierre, To Lolla, to my Mother...

"After my dog Lolla was poisoned by strychnine a second time, she didn't seem to want to go through the agony of the long recovery again. I was keeping her bedded down near the fireplace. But every time I went into another room she would get up and drag her body into the backyard, lying down under the peach tree and somehow covering herself with dead leaves. I'd go out, brush her off, pick her up, and carry her back to where it was warm. One time I returned from talking on the phone to find that she had made it only as far as the steps into the garden, where she collapsed. I decided not to try to save her anymore. I carried her out to the peach tree and lay her down. She let me know that she didn't want me to stay too close to her. She didn't want to be touched or talked to. She just wanted me nearby. So I sat on the steps and watched while she wiggled into the leaves, a maneuver she seemed to know by instinct. When her body was entirely covered, except for her snout -- which as pointing directly at the late afternoon sun shining there on her from over the fence -- she lay quietly alert. Just as the sun set, she gave off a shudder that took away the leaves. I saw a pale silver glow surround her. The glow lasted for about 15 minutes, faded away, and left her body quite dead. I dug a grave there under the tree. From Lolla I learned once again that dying is a solitary act of enormous spiritual concentration that should not be disturbed by our tears and words of grief or consolation. The best we can do for dying creatures, human or animal, is to let them connect somehow with the earth and then guard them so that they can die uninterrupted."

I read the above passage by Delattre and tears ran down my cheeks and I couldn't breathe. That I would pick this book up after some time and it would open to that passage. You see, my mother has been in the hospital for the last few weeks, and her dearest wish has been to go home. My Aunt Babe, her younger sister, cleaned the whole place until it shone, and Tuesday my mother went home. I know that she went home to die.

My mother's family, that generation of Irish Catholics (and many others I'm sure, this is simply what I grew up with, what I know...) didn't let their people die in hospitals and nursing homes. They brought them home and loved them into death. Being close, reverent, tending to needs, and letting the dying one rest. I was there when my beloved grandmother died. I just missed her passage because I had a new baby at home I had to go home and nurse. Shortly after my grandmother passed, I got the call that she had gone. I had been there for hours and hours. Something told me then that she didn't want me there when she died, just as I know my mother wants to die at home. She has a nurse practitioner in 8 hours a day, which she really didn't want but that's the only way they would let her out. Now she is home, and the rest will take it's natural course.

I was trained as a lay midwife to work with a doctor who did homebirths. I would examine the mother, sit with her until the doctor arrived, giving him reports along the way if he was in the middle of another delivery, and on the odd chance he didn't make it, we were trained to "catch" the baby. I had two babies at home and at my 2nd child's birth both my mother and my husband's were there to see their grandchild born. 3 year old Jenny sat on the end of the bed watching. It felt like the Nativity. And unto us a child was born.

I sit her wondering when it all changed, when birth and death became institutionalized and homecare, surrounded by your loved ones and your familiar things, drifted into the mists making way for a clinical process that leaves you just a name and number on a chart. I know that there are very wonderful and caring hospital personnel, but it is not like being at home. Something very precious was lost when we gradually drifted from one way of being to another.

Now I know full well that many a birth and death need to be in the hospital for medical issues that cannot be handled at home, but where it is possible, I believe it should be, surrounding the new mother with babe at her breast, or the dying one, about to walk through the passage from one world to the next. It should be a precious Holy act. The new little one comes through the tunnel into the world, and the dying one goes through the tunnel to a world we cannot, yet, know. The beginning and end of life, the two great mysteries.

And so Pierre bent to Lolla's wishes and witnessed a beautiful, natural, instinctual death. We all deserve that, the death of our own choosing. My mother has gone home to spend her final days in her home, amongst her familiar things, with her family surrounding her and yet giving her space, allowing her the silence she needs and must have to ready herself for the walk through the tunnel into the light. No matter what your belief system, none of us can really know what is on the other side of that tunnel, just as none of us can remember, once we have exited the womb into the world, and the veil of forgetfulness drops, what life was like before our birth. Some young children have an amazing recollection of time in and before the womb, but most adults write it off as fantasy. We should listen more closely.

I cannot carry my mother out under a tree and cover her with leaves. But she will be in her own familiar bed covered with the sheets and blankets she has known, with all of the objects surrounding her that are full of memories, and perhaps when that stillness and that glow come, those around her will have to grace to honor it in silence, and allow her a safe and peaceful passage to the unknown world beyond.

I am about to call my mother to check on her. I do not know how many more times I will be able to do that. She is sleeping most of the time now. She is gathering the leaves around her. It is very close to the time of her journey.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tonight I Sang To My Mother...

Every night in my dreams
I see you, I feel you,
That is how I know you go on

Far across the distance
And spaces between us
You have come to show you go on

Near, far, wherever you are
I believe that the heart does go on
Once more you open the door
And you're here in my heart
And my heart will go on and on

Love can touch us one time
And last for a lifetime
And never let go till we're gone

Love was when I loved you
One true time I hold to
In my life we'll always go on

Near, far, wherever you are
I believe that the heart does go on
Once more you open the door
And you're here in my heart
And my heart will go on and on

You're here, there's nothing I fear,
And I know that my heart will go on
We'll stay forever this way
You are safe in my heart
And my heart will go on and on

My Heart Will Go On
Lyrics: James Horner and Will Jennings
From the movie, The Titanic

Now, we are so very close to the end. I talk to my mother twice a day. She is fading, weakening, she is ready, and yet she is sad, as are we all. Last weekend when my dear ex-husband flew all three of our children and their spouses/partners plus our precious grandbaby back to see her, it meant the world to her, and my daughter told me that after they walked out of the room for the last time they walked out with their arms around each other, crying. They knew it would be the last time they ever saw her alive.

Since I am so far I feel the need to talk to her often while I can and tell her how much I love her. I read things to her, I share my heart and my love with her, and she with me, and tonight I sang to her.

Today I babysat my five year old wee little man, and in the car on the way home I was listening to Celine Dion sing "My Heart Will Go On," and I started weeping. I know my mother will be with me always. We have talked much about this, and we both believe it's true. I kept singing the song after I got home and in a rather shy move I called her and sang the song to her. By the end we were both crying, telling each other how much we love each other, and I reminded her of the poem she always read to me, her adopted child...

~ Adoption Creed ~

Not flesh of my flesh
nor bone of my bone,
but still miraculously my own.

Never forget for a single minute,
that you grew not under my heart,
but in it.

Author Unknown

Time is short now, and there is no longer any reason to talk about the end. She is ready, she is at peace. She is tired. I sit now in a vigil, silent, close to all that is holy, the only movement, my prayer beads through my fingers, while the pug at my side snores loudly. He grounds me, this funny little snoring pug, and he sleeps with me to let me know that I am safe.

And so as the song and the poem speak, she is safe in my heart, and I in hers, where I grew, and our love will go on and on...