4:13am Mother’s Day
I’ve been awake worrying about Mom since she got sick two weeks ago, and now, moreso that we moved her into the so-called Skilled Nursing Facility yesterday. It’s located in the same building her independent living apartment is, where she has thrived in a more constrained way for the last 7 years than her previous 90 years.
Still she’s thrived. She’s made new friends, always making new friends, enjoyed the food, though it is the worst of American cuisine, and forced herself to go to exercise and craft classes and talks on current events and appreciated what she still has and allowed herself only a little time to feel the feelings of missing her husband who died 9 years ago. She’s been at all times generous to her children and grandchildren, and at all times happy to hear of any happiness we wanted to share with her.
Mom is alive, but after a bad illness and five days of hospitalization, she is seriously weakened. She has always bounced back in a remarkable way, even from a fractured pelvis last year, but this time there seems to be a sort of decline that, at 98, will be hard to reverse. I imagine that tomorrow, Monday, she will begin physical therapy, and then, who knows? Perhaps another remarkable recovery?
This is mom last year after a pelvic bone fracture with one of the physical therapists she will see now. They totally got her healed and back to her life after 4 weeks!
The nursing at the Skilled Nursing Facility is pitiful, but the physical therapy team is stellar. Mom, with all her mom-ly ways that drives each of her children a little bit crazy, is a lover of life and by that I mean of us, though if we weren’t here, I think she would still love it, life, that is, as long as there were people in it willing to receive her smiles and her questions about whether or not they have a boyfriend (or girlfriend) and other overly personal questions, but really she is just checking for their happiness, because happiness has always been important to her. Through her questions, she is looking for connection, because… who amongst us isn’t?
My friend, Maxe came over for dinner last night. We talked about a lot of things and Maxe was saying how difficult it is to be happy when there are so many bad things happening and so much suffering everywhere. I know this line of thinking because I’ve thought it. A lot. First, there’s the question of guilt. What right do I have to be happy, lucky, privileged when others are suffering so? There is also the question of sorrow, of feeling so deeply the pain of the world, you miss out on the moments you could feel happy.
I told Maxe that I had tried depression for years, (most of it unconscious but still working its damaging effects on my mind and body) and I have tried guilt and all that, but none of it worked, and anyway, if you go around miserable, or decide you can’t go on anymore, what do you do beside create suffering for those around you and especially for the ones you love and who love you most.
I told her that since everyone has a right to be happy, that includes us. I understand the us part of that equation is a slightly elusive idea.
And not only a right, but a duty to be happy.
At this point, Maxe said, But of course you feel that way because your mother put you in your room whenever you weren’t happy and told you not to come out until you put a smile on your face. This is true; Mom thought she was training me to be happy. She thought she was doing a good thing with her sometimes melancholy daughter.
I spent many years refusing happiness, or just not being able to get to it. I saw so many kinds of suffering I didn’t know how to navigate.
I said, yes Maxe, it’s true, that happened. But this happiness I’m talking about is not that. It’s the happiness that first of all we deserve simply for being alive and being able to perceive the good and experience pleasure. That’s our birthright.
It’s the happiness that will make those around you happier, that will give you the energy to do the things you want, including whatever work that is yours to do to relieve suffering. Maybe I can’t personally, directly help all the starving children in the world, but maybe my presence, my joy as well as whatever tiny things I can do — a photo, a hug, making my garden beautiful, (which also helps the bees and butterflies), something I say, or the way I listen.. those tiny things might inspire the very person who just might directly help the starving children. We never know. We can put ourselves in the network of people and animals doing life-affirming work, people who will stand up for change, who will work for it. We can contribute our happiness and its results to the energy field.
Anxiety, depression, and other mind states work in myriad and weird ways, so I’m definitely not saying that everyone can be happy at all times. I’m just saying if you have the choice, if you have the possibility of contemplating and choosing happiness, well, it’s not a selfish act. It can feel selfish in the moment, especially if you have the internal narrative of what right do I have to be happy when others are suffering? It can seem selfish. But it’s not. It’s not.
Now, don’t go bullying people into happiness! Don’t send them to their rooms until they can put a smile on their face or guilt trip them for their sorrow.
I love the tenderness and vulnerability of those who are able to feel, to suffer with, to hear the cries of the world, but that said, I am mostly inspired by those who choose happiness as a path of being.
For instance, the Dalai Lama. How can he even be happy, especially after all the suffering he has endured personally and witnessed? And yet, his happiness (and the ways he manifests it) is a great source of inspiration for millions of people.
I am sure there are many other examples, but it is 4:43 in the morning. Before I started writing this, I read several Mary Oliver poems from a big fat collection of her poetry. I was looking for poems about serious aging, possible dying. I was looking for some instruction, for some light on this particular new and poorly lit path I am on, the path of holding on tightly while letting go.
This terrain is the oldest known to humans, but still new to me. I’m in need of the wisdom and kindness of those who have traveled this path, who have something to tell me. I have loved and let go of dear patients of mine, of dear friends of mine, of my father. But… this… is new terrain.
Me and my sister, Terri, last year at Mom’s.
My mother asks overly personal questions to strangers; I write words and send them and pictures out into the world, Mary Oliver walks in the woods and writes poems about it, our nation sent up a space capsule with all kinds of information about us, Earthlings. The Dalai Lama belly laughs and invites scientists and meditators to talk with him and each other. My friend, Maxe spends days taking care of the animals she loves and making phone calls to get people to vote. She is an actor in Netflix’s Sense8, a series about connections and interconnections.
We are all looking for connection.
And now it’s 5:13. I just wrote for an hour. I hope Mom is asleep, and my sister too. I hope the nurse’s aides were kind and took good care of her last night. It’s Mother’s Day today. For now though, for me, everyday has become mother’s day, and night too.
In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
9 thoughts on “Update on Mom in the form of a riff…”
Yeesh Gayle you are so amazing with words and expressing in such beautiful, raw, honest, heartfelt, soulful, wisdom. And boy this one really speaks to me as I too take care of my mama 24/7. And I too, like Maxe, have noticed how difficult it is to be happy with all the suffering and, for me, especially with what my mama is going through now. And there’s the getting older thing which I’m watching my ma struggle with, saying things like everything has gotten difficult. Watching her struggle with the limits her body has recently churned. She says things like I wish I was 20 years younger or I wish my body could move that way and each time I feel a piece of my heart break. So I wonder which is better, to die so young like my dad or to go through what seems like some kind of cruel torture as one ages. Then there is the wondering what will happen if I grow old, who will be there for me the way I am here for my mama? I am trying to be strong and positive for her and then I am not and allow her to see my sad my worry my anxiety. Last night I asked her if she was afraid to die. She said she’s really not because you dies and then you’re just gone. I asked her about staying in touch after she dies and she said well I would love that if it’s possible. I told her I know it is possible and reminder her about recently going to s medium and talking with my dad for hours. She said, you don’t have to go to a medium to do that. I’m relieved that she doesn’t seem to be afraid to die. Anyway rambling in response to your inspiring writing.
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Dear Cj, I appreciate your raw, honest, soulful, heartfelt wisdom too. Your questions are good ones, and sometimes there are no good answers, and even if we have them, life still happens while we’re busy making plans as they say. I don’t thinking dying young or going through the “cruel torture as one ages” are the only two options. But each situation and person is different and therefore there is not any single answer, except to keep showing up, paying attention, tell the truth, and not being attached to the outcome. Small task! Eh? You say you are strong and positive and then you are not. That seems an entirely normal response to such a challenge. I am so happy to hear your Mama is not afraid to die. It’s so wonderful that you are standing at her side with her, willing to be present, and do your best. She must be SO grateful. That itself is the biggest gift. xoxo, g
I love your writing and raw honesty also. CJ – I’m sorry for what you are experiencing too. Like you said this is a difficult and very poorly illuminated path. Love you.
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Love you! and grateful for you! xoxo, g
Yes. Those three things the last of which seems almost impossible to me, still.
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Yes, dear KND, it’s lucky Mary Oliver wrote it, or else we probably wouldn’t even have had words for such an extreme challenge. But having the poem, flowing in its natural wisdom there to contemplate helps. It lets me know I’m not the first to wonder at the difficulty, not the first to not accept the easy religion-provided answer of heaven and hell… Not the first to grapple with the gob-smacking enormity of mortality, esp. of those we love deeply. Miss you, xo, g
Dearest Gayle, I’m just reading this Mother’s Day one–maybe again, but feels new and how did I miss, but feeling I’ve been missing things–in one of my spirals of blues. Tired by the current quandary–which often means what I decide doesn’t really matter, just DECIDE–I did wake with old wisdom via Efrem, “You are the source of your own boredom,” with all the spin-offs. I am the source of my own happiness, purpose, meaning. This holding on and letting go, the intensity of the love we both have for our mother-daughter realities, your phase of the process just speaks volumes each day. Specific and yours, Bea and Gayle, and Mother-Daughter of post WW II. Hopes, happiness, disappointments, and losses all simmer and are reflected.
I love you, I’m holding you, thinking of you going through this mortal, inevitability. You are doing and being everything you need to be. I feel the vividness of your being alive in it, with it, and am here simply as your old friend, an echo–everything you are doing with and for your Mom is perfect. You can’t fix what is unfixable. You are walking her home, or getting her through this current crisis, for another day. How very lucky you are to have Bea, how lucky she is to have you.
I’m feeling your loving and holding, Melody.. Also a piece of advice you offered (I think it was in response to a FB post) about just BRING WITH her resonated deeply and returns to support me in doing just that, as much as I can. Yes, there’s all the “doing” that needs to be done, and then there is the exquisiteness of “just being with”. Thank you for that teaching and reminder! xo, g
OH AND…fascinating how your Mom asks overly personal, intimate…or in her experiences the really IMPORTANT questions of life–are you happy so often connected to “are you connected?” As young women, these questions from Mother or ADULT women felt prescribed, limited, locked in, overly focused on do-you-have-a-boyfriend? I can recall bristling that it was the RX, the formula, for happiness…it is what they knew it “boiled down to”….are you connected and sharing yourself in regular increments? I love how you see your acts may reach the person who may change the world. The pressing quest? It wasn’t off-the-wall at all, really. And what we know is what we know brought meaning or happiness to “us”, what can we do but attest to it? We also know having the imagination beyond those truths of centuries, well, appealed and called us, some changes and redefinitions were and are afoot.