My niece (in law, the wife of Tommy's son) lost her mother recently to an almost two decade struggle with cancer. She is awash in grief and asked me how one "gets through" these things and I told her I think we gently find our way.
During the final days before my mother's passage she frequently (Momma) asked me, "Do you see that?" "No Momma" I would say everytime, "but I don't doubt that you do. These things are not for me to see."
And, I believed that when I said it.
When the small dog she was seeing became too "rambunctious" I opened the door and whistled for him to go out. She was satisfied by that. I laughed at her shocked dismay when she spotted her least preferred brother-in-law, Kenneth, "WHAT is HE doing here?!?" she demanded with arched brows. She wanted me to turn around for the stranger who was taking pictures of us. I was sitting near her, on her bed with my back to him. "Why is he taking pictures?" she whispered pulling me closer. "There are always pictures at parties Momma." I kissed her cheek and leaned away as she directed one of her brilliant smiles towards the corner of the room.
I guess it was just the week before that I had packed her up for a six hour drive to visit her sister, my aunt is in a wheel chair and doesn't travel, but she and momma spent hours each day on the phone with each other. I knew my aunt needed to see her this one last time. Momma began seeing "little people " at the WHATABURGER drive through window which was her lunch request at the very beginning of the road trip. "DeAnn, what is that little man doing?" I looked everywhere for a little man. "He's right there!" she said pointing at the hood of Tommy's truck. "Hmmm, what does he look like Momma, because I can't see him." That was the first "thing" I couldn't see and honestly, I was pretty sure she was pulling my leg about seeing it herself, but ... I went with it. She was aggravated that I couldn't see it too and I hadn't figured out how I was going to handle her invisible world yet. I remember thinking 1) this trip may be inadvisable 2) hope these hallucinations don't get scary for her and 3) if she totally freaks out will I be able to maintain control of the vehicle. She wasn't on a very high dose of pain meds, her "guy" seemed friendly enough and the truck cab gave me plenty of room to respond if she started grabbing for the wheel which was my primary concern. I thought she'd be asleep during the Houston traffic and she was. Anyway, back to "the little men". I asked her what he looked like and she held her hands about 10" apart indicating his height ... she was watching him intently as we waited in line for her burger and fries. "He's wearing a bow tie." I can't remember his specific "outfit" beyond the bow tie - that struck me as weird because I didn't think she'd seen many real men wearing bow ties. My dad certainly was not the bow tie type.
"Oh my goodness! He moves so fast! Like a humming bird!"
"What's he doing Momma?"
"DeAnn (hear exasperation creeping into her voice), he is checking the engine! Yes, he is satisfied with the engine.
(I'd had the engine serviced earlier in the week, Tommy was a sticker about the oil especially.)
"Now he's checking the wipers!" she practically giggled. "He is checking everything!" She was very animated about the whole thing. "How can I have lived so long never knowing about this? We pray for traveling mercies but I just never knew ... he's making sure everything is good for our trip!"
I called my brother,
"Uhhh, Momma is seeing little angels ... do you think she is up for the trip?"
I was worried about how the meds were affecting her. She saw bunches of "angels" as we made our way. She described them as wearing brightly colored clothes but was careful to point out to me that they didn't seem clownish at all and that as a matter of fact, she thought angel wore only white garments, but these little guys were quite colorful and happy ... and they weren't all directing their attention towards us. They were doing all sorts of things on behalf of the people around us. She was worried at first that the "engine angel" (my words) wouldn't be able to hold on as fast as I was driving (I love those 85-90mph Toll roads) but I told her he could come inside if he wanted to ... and that I didn't think our stuff affected him anyway.
"There's one waving at me."
Yeah ... that's how it started. Once it got dark she stopped telling me about the little men. She began counting (aloud) the orange reflectors on the guardrail posts. How high will she go I wondered as I calculated the remaining minutes before I could rest. By time we pulled in to my aunt's home, Momma didn't recognize me at all. Her first words to her sister were, "I don't know who that girl is, but she doesn't look like us!" Gosh I was relieved to be there. I was desperate for sleep. I had planned to stay for a couple of days and then drive on with her to my home, where I could sleep for a week if I needed to. We thought momma had more time than she turned out to have and I was hoping to spend a week with my family where I'd have some help with Momma. As it turned out my sister-in-law texted me that Tommy was back in the ER - septic - and I opted to drive back to be with him with Momma wrapped up in her sister's flowery moo-moo and flannel pajama bottoms. All of that is so much a blur for me now. Momma's health declined rapidly and somehow we found ourselves at the Hospice house within a few days of arriving back at her home. I was so tired by then that I wasn't sure I would know how to switch on the oxygen that Hospice had delivered with a hospital bed for Momma. It was such a bizarre time. Momma was at the Hospice house for a couple of weeks I think. After the first two nights I began to stay there with her leaving only to visit my brother who was in the hospital about 20 minutes away. The doctors at Hospice thought Momma might survive for several more weeks, maybe months. They helped me find a full care facility for her to be discharged to.
I don't know why I'm remembering all that.
Momma died sooner than anyone thought she would. I woke up on the morning she died and watched her sleeping so sweetly. She was smiling. When she opened her eyes I told her that the ladies would be in to help her freshen up and we could have breakfast if she felt like it. She said, why don't you go check on your brother. (He was scheduled for surgery that day, but I never told her anything about him except that he was getting better.) I remember I saw him briefly before leaving to get back to Momma. The hospice nurse had informed me that Momma had "taken a turn" so I stopped at the grocery store to stock the little frig. in her room with apples, orange juice and yogurt for for me. I thought it might be more difficult for me to step away for meals. My phone was ringing as I came through the courtyard at the Hospice house. As I stepped into the room the nurse told me that my momma was passing. I remember I took my long sleeved overshirt off and got in bed with my momma to hold her, I thought she might be comforted by the feel my skin. Her eyes were open but she was unable to speak. Our noses touched as I held her close and told her I loved her. I saw regret which I interpreted as her saying "I am sorry." I whispered shhhhhhshhhh, Momma, I forgive you. I love you. I always have and I always will.
She seemed to nod ever so slightly before she closed her eyes. She passed on a sigh.
“All falsehood is a mask;
and however well made the mask may be,
with a little attention we may always succeed in distinguishing it from the true face.”
The nurse came back in the room. She had been waiting just outside the door. I was entirely unaware of her, but ... she must have been right there, because she came in immediately. She said, "Your mother has passed." Maybe she offered soft words, I don't know. I stopped hearing her. I was moving away from the bed and looking at apples on the floor. They had rolled out of my shopping bag. I sat on the couch for a minute then asked the nurse, "What happens now?"
“Belief consists in accepting the affirmations of the soul; unbelief, in denying them.” ~RWE
“All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
That soul that rises with us, our life's star,
Hath elsewhere had its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home."
(a few lines from "Ode: Intimations of Immortality" - From recollections of Early Childhood)
One of the things I was compelled to think about as I sat with my mother was "how we see ourselves" and with that, maybe a little bit about "why we see ourselves thus". from May 2014
So ... what happens next? after they have gone to forever?
Surely a lot of it depends on what happened and what you "made" of what happened while they were alive (here). For me ... I compartmentalized. I am outstanding at that - sometimes to my detriment. I picked up the apples, drove to my mother's home showered and drove back in to the hospital. Tommy's surgery was for a colostomy bag. It leaked ... not leaked, that is too weak a word. He was mercifully unconscious until midmorning the next day. The hole in his colon under his ribs seeped continuously through the night. The bags that the hospital had for him were "not right", the seal was wrong for his incision. His skin was raw from glueing, scrubbing away glue to reapply a different seal ... on and on through the night. My phone alarm was set for every 15 minutes because it had been "suggested" that a pain med push every fifteen minutes would help him not wake up in screaming agony. Between pushes we ran through every clean towel and sheet on the wing. The nurses were ... they became family to me. I did what my mother had requested. I took the best care of my brother that I was able to. I focused on helping him. He died the day after Christmas that year ... and unfortunately, the chairs in front of his casket were sitting on top of my mother's grave. I sat on my mother's grave and watched the pastor move his mouth saying ... something. All I could hear was a voice in my head saying, you're sitting on your mother's grave and they are going to put your brother in the earth beside her.
After that I went back to my life. It has taken awhile to find it. I had a lot of "unpacking" to do. It takes time and it seems right to be gentle with oneself.
I cleaned my house really thoroughly ... I'd been away a lot during the past year and I'd missed all of the routine things I did around my home. The garden hadn't been seen to properly for example. Windows hadn't been washed, and there were spider webs all over the screens. It wasn't that people hadn't cleaned while I was away ... it was that nobody knew to vacuum out the couch and wash the slip covers once every month. I did "stuff", stuff that required enough thinking to keep me doing something but not so important that I couldn't stop and look at the bird building a nest in the rose bush. I worked at living my life again. I worked at finding a new normal.
I didn't feel like flying (which had been my thing). That's just now started to become a pleasure again. I am grateful.
I walked my dog a lot. Still do.
I read, not as much as I used too, but more then I did that year.
I found a chorale to sing beautiful music with.
Last week I joined the gym and selected pilates and yoga classes which meet several days a week.
I'm starting to think about the 40 year HS reunion planned for next month.
I finally succumbed to learning how to Snapchat ... my two youngest children think that's fun and it is - silly fun. See -
|with a filter (a mask)|
|without the filter|
I kayak for an hour or two most days and I look for the baby Heron that lives on the river, and ...
... I live. No only does it seem to be the best way I can absorb the loss, it seems the best way to honor my people.
I think I have come to feel more comfortable with being the sort of vulnerable that loving as well as I am able to makes me.