Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sad Eyes

Bad day. Actually a rock bottom day. Today I was at the bottom of that abyss I swam over in Mexico, but this time I was without air. It caused me to stay in the fetal position most of the day.

Too much loss and betrayal in 9 months. I screamed, " Uncle!" "Life!You win!"

Watching Glenn die so violently and so unexpectedly last June was such a trauma. The last time I saw him at the ER, no one even bothered to take the trachea tube out of his mouth or clean the cut on his lip. I held his body which was packed in ice. There was little dignity offered to him in death.
I replayed that today over and again. He deserved so much more. 

Watching my mother die last week,was not so surprising, but traumatic nevertheless. Five days, nearly round the clock, and I couldn't help but notice that, when she died, just how ugly death is. It is not pretty.
It is lonely and traumatic, even when peaceful. 

But unlike Glenn, she received every dignity.  She was cleaned, changed and positioned to honor her self as a human. She would have liked that.. 

Early this afternoon in a casual text exchange with Sandy, I mentioned that I was rolled  in a ball, just hoping to die. Her response? , " Nope. Not gonna happen with my new dive buddy." Be over soon." 
And there she was. And I unrolled a bit. She left, I remained in the curl, but a little hopelessness left me.
Chris and her wife Karole instructed me to " come over  in PJ's and with Boo" I did. Surrounded by love and empowerment.
My friendships are biblical. 
My son Chris called my friend Chris this evening,  concerned over my well being, knowing I was with them.
I think she said that I wasokay, but that I had sad eyes.
I do. 
Sad eyes.
On the journey.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

There will be peace

What a difference a day makes.

Last night I wrote about anger and frustration that my mother was losing dignity on her journey out of this world. It was writing born of grief, exhaustion and ultimately, love for my mom. I concentrate on being authentic in all parts of my life, but especially here, a written record of this magical year.
My friend pointed out that we get so caught up in watching the clock, instead of relaxing and realizing that the forces of nature will  prevail when the time is right. She will cross over when it is meant to be over.  "Enough is a feast", in the words of the late  Rev. Deb Celley.
My sense of spirituality does not believe that we are puppets on God's strings. God  will welcome us with wide open arms when we cross over, but until then, our imperfect bodies will determine when and how. It is part of my belief in the ultimate gift of free will.
And so today was a blessed day. Blessed. Peace filled.I will never forget my brother suggesting that we hold her and pray the Lords Prayer. We aren't that kind of family. We have private faith traditions. It was so powerful. And how he waited until the absolute last minute to go before he had to say his final goodbye to our mom. It was crushingly tender to witness. The three days that we spent together were a precious time , where we were just those two kids eating Butterfinger candy bars again, and laughing at ridiculous things. It was sacred time that will never be repeated. 
Tonight I came home at a reasonable hour. Before I left I sang my mom out the door if she chooses to go while I'm away. Being a church organist's daughter I know all her old time favorites I grew up hearing. I truly believe she heard me. I do. It was sacred.
So, tonight, rather than feeling angry about my mom's struggle, I am treasuring it. I've had lots of time to work through her loss while she lies unresponsive. Hers will be a beautiful death, if there is such a thing.
Some of her last words to me were that I shouldn't grieve for her; I said "As if". Hah! But I understand what she means. Her death will be correct and in order and grace filled.
On the journey.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Snake Belly Night

The other night I wrote about my mother leaving this life graciously. She was headed that way. She was ready. The stages were coming in order. I honored her after she became non verbal by making sure she had every comfort that I could provide. She even smelled like her for Pete's sake.. You see,every day at 4:30 my mother would completely change her clothes, reapply fresh make up and spray on Shalimar in preparation for my dad's arrival home from work. It was a different era. But that is what she always smelled like, and it is comforting to us all.

I said everything I needed to say. My daughter rushed up to say one more goodbye and support me on Wednesday.  I told my brother on Thursday as he traveled that he probably wasn't going to make it in time, but he did. We settled in in tears and with the desire to make our precious mother's passing the way she lived in life.

We played her music. We gave her permission. We thanked her. We reminded her of funny childhood stories. We assured her of our belief in life eternal and that all her trials would be over. We told her to look for our father, and Glenn and her parents and especially Jesus. We celebrated that she lived for 3 weeks shy of 90! What a great, productive life she had. Over and again. Last night we even treated ourselves to a drink of Kentucky bourbon in her honor (her birth place) in her presence, and brought up memories of her precious parents. We reminded her she would soon join them.

But tonight, as Glenn used to say, "I'm lower than a snake's belly."( He had a cache of sayings like that.) And my brother Chris, my childhood pal and protector, is suffering too. He has to leave tomorrow at 4:00 . It feels incomplete for him, and he feels badly leaving me here to work through the final moments and events alone.

Part of my sadness is that I'm worn down. I can't tell if my tears are from exhaustion, pity or grief. And yet, I believe strongly that a loved one's going out should be everything the living can practically provide,  to make it as intimate as it is to be born into this world. And part of that is going out surrounded in love.

I'm home tonight because we have reached the point that we believe she is gone somewhere already. Her essence is missing. And it hurts to watch that more than it will when her body is completely gone I think. I will go back if they call tonight and certainly I will return in the early morning.

 But right  now, my proud  beautiful mother looks  like a marionette doll that is waiting for the puppeteer to bring life back to her.
 Her face is lifeless and limp, but her body continues to breathe. It is completely breaking my heart to see her like this.

Tonight I feel raw and slightly angry at the process. At this moment, even though it is as sacred  a time as it can be, imminent death that drags on and on or unexpected death pisses me off in its seemingly careless abandon.
Irrationally I know, it feels that one should get to direct one's own damn death when the time is at hand. Like we've earned a shot at how we go out.

Yep. Snake belly night.
On the journey.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Graciously going out

My mother is dying.

I'm working valiantly on accepting the invitation to stay in the moment with her. These are, after all, the last moments I will share with her forever. And for real this time. I realized that writing would help me in that pursuit, since it is ultimately how I process my life and my thoughts most effectively.
The act of dying is such a mystery to me. Some  of us, like Glenn, complain of nausea and just die without warning, within an hour.  Others, like Momo come up to the precipice so often, and despite numerous health issues, step away from the ledge and continue on with life. That is, until this time. This time she will step over and ascend to a place of glory. It is no longer if, but when. Even she wants to know when.  When? She asks me with her eyes, or occasionally in a whisper. And when is the hardest question. My daughter Emily, used the analogy of watching a pot of water boil. You want those bubbles to appear, but when they do, the shock will still be palpable. Emily wisely told me to try to enjoy the water while waiting. Stay in the moment.

I think however, that my mother is fortunate to be going out more slowly, hard as it is. Hers has been a life well- lived , and an orderly death, of almost 90 years. The tears that have been shed from near and afar are witness to that. There is simply nothing left to say but goodbye.
 And thank you.

The hospice company left a little booklet, with helpful hints I guess, about the end. One thing that it said was to talk about what you will miss most about your loved one. I realized and told her, that I would miss having someone love me so unconditionally. Recently she always greeted me with, " I'm so glad you're here. I just like to look at you." Thank you for loving me so completely Mom, through all the journeys of my life so far. And some of mine haven't always been easy for you, I know.

My mom is one of the most gracious women I've ever known. She has spent her life inviting people into her life, and then treating them with warmth and love. She is going out in the same way she lived her life; graciously. Yesterday, while still verbal, she asked me if I didn't want a glass of wine. I declined for many reasons, not the least of which was that it was 11:00 in the morning. (Snarky friends decline your jokes:))But that is Momo. How can I serve YOU?

My friend Sally just called; of all my Brainerd friends, she knows my mother the best. She said
"Your mother is a grand lady."
Indeed she is. She is very grand.
In the moment. On the journey.

JS Bach, my mom and me.

My mom was a church organist for almost 30 years at our large Episcopal church in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  She took lessons from a prominent classical organist and worked harder at her avocation than most anyone I have ever known. She loved routine and a schedule, and her routine as I grew up, and even after I became a young adult, was to spend the morning at the church practicing for Sunday, or for a major holiday.
It must have been fate that I ended up married to a  person of the clergy, because I grew up with the weekend ending on Saturday night after dinner. My mom would carefully iron her cotta ( the white vestment musicians in classical settings wear over another vestment) and then carefully  lay out all the music for the next day. It had already been recorded on a piece of what was called then, "shirt cardboard" because it was the size of shirts that had been sent out to be laundered. At the top of each page, she wrote "Sol Deo Gloria" which is Latin for, "To the glory of God" It was her gift of herself every week.
Every Christmas Eve, our church had an extremely Anglican service at 11 pm. But the service, complete with every brass instrument and incense and choir available, was preceded by my mother's organ concert.
Being my mother, she would work tirelessly on this concert the entire year, picking out music usually as soon as the current holiday season was over. But always, there was one constant. She always ended it by performing JS Bach's Tocatta and Fugue in D minor. It is the" ski-jump"  piece of an organist's career; the music being filled with many challenging passages where one's feet and hands are all performing in alternate directions.
As a child growing up, I usually just wanted to get the whole church thing done so we could get the party started...presents you know. Here is another poignant she left for church at 8:00 or so, to get in the organ zone,  my father and I would traditionally roast chestnuts in our huge fireplace. I think that must have been after my siblings were grown, because it was strictly my dad and me, which  was a rare thing .
My job in this concert, was to be the page turner. If you grew up with me, you are smiling right now. Yep that was me up there. I learned to read music at an early age, and apparently I was the person who wouldn't make my mom nervous as her appendages were flying in different directions. It took concentration of following usually one line, so that I  would know just when to turn the 11x14 pages of the music. Usually, she gave me a signal as well, such as "ok" or "now". After a few years, her fingers knew the music so well, she could anticipate what was coming before the page was turned.
I wish I had known then what I know now. What a privilege that was.
So tonight, as I continue to keep the vigil, I played it for her. Not at the volume I wished, others live there too, but when I got it my car tonight to come home for a bit, I blasted it.
Full on. I can't believe how well I still know the music. I could conduct it and know exactly what run or musical pattern was coming next.
Memories of music.
On the journey.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Rolling in the deep

     Last Thursday morning, while still in Cozumel, after an hour long boat ride out to a spot in the Carribean, I strapped two oxygen tanks containing 3000 pounds of air to a vest on my back, adjusted my mask and  fins and put a breathing regulator in my mouth. I hoisted myself up on the gunnel of the boat, and on the count of three, threw myself backward into the deep water.
      I wasn't completely unprepared, having taken a class two days before which taught  me techniques, safety basics and how to communicate in the deep. That day we did a " beach dive" going down about 25 feet.  
     Then came Thursday. The day of the reef dives. The day we would descend to about 40-50 feet underwater. Because I am not a certified diver, I was accompanied by a dive instructor the entire time. I knew I was safe. There was a moment, however, as I was purposefully letting the air out of my vest so that I would sink, that I wondered , just what in the hell me, a 57 year old mother and grandmother and usually sane woman, was doing. But I really did know the answer to the question. 
You see, from the time I was about 12, I have had a recurring dream that I am swimming in deep, deep rolling water. The fish are bright and iridescent and the coral beautiful.. 
    The feeling and essence of the dream though, is one of complete and utter freedom. I am always saddened to awaken from it. 
      And so, after years of hearing my friend Sandy talk about her diving experiences, and being invited and encouraged to participate, I knew my dream could become a reality. 
    And it did. It was as if I was living that dream, which in itself was overwhelming.  I think the power of what I experienced mainly,  was the melding of my conscious and subconscious minds. Contemplating THAT truly blew me away.
     My dive instructor Roberta and I had decided before going down, that the sign language expression for "beautiful" would be what I would use to express myself, since thumbs up means " I need to go up".  If you can shout in sign language, I did. Over and again. The beauty caused me to forget I was breathing underwater. 
      I can't even begin to think I could do it justice by trying to paint a word picture of what I saw. It is truly like traveling to another dimension. A life- sized aquarium. And we need to protect this earth of ours. I am a woman of faith, with my own definitions, and what I saw? Oh yes. Yes indeed. Not humanly created.
     I've been told I'm good at this and that in my life, but apparently I'm really good at, (as they say in the diving world), "air." Who knew? Because I didn't use my air too quickly, I could stay down longer.    Which is why I was able to swim as far as "the wall". It  is a reef wall(I think?) where, on the other side, there is ahuge cave, that drops down 100 plus feet. Experienced  divers  who reach the bottom, often tattoo the name of it on their body. I briefly swam above it, looking down, and it was amazing. It was, as I imagine, like being in space. It is an intense blue  and it feels as if you are gazing into the abyss.

Endless. Amazing. Glory filled.

The dive started out as the fulfillment of an unconscious dream. It became so much more. 

It became a realization of who I have become. Strong, and able to breathe when breathing is anything but natural. I choked up on thanking Roberta, who has thousands of dives under her belt. I told her that for me it was so  much more than the scenery. It was about practicing trust- I'm not very good at trusting-and I  had to trust her with my life. It became about strength- mental and physical. And it was about believing that for those two hours, I could do anything. Anything. And that as in my dream, I was completely and utterly free.

An unbelievable experience.
On the journey. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Mexico, reflected

As I sit waiting to board my airplane, a day early due to my mother's worsening health, I have a chance to reflect on Mexico. I know as soon as I hit Minnesota soil, I will lose some of it, so I'm writing fast and furiously.
The real Mexico sucks you in if you are willing, open and accepting, and it will make you one of its own almost immediately. If you are perceived as a " gringo" you don't stand a chance. You will still enjoy Mexico but you will never KNOW  it.
Mexico and I were as new lovers often are. There is not enough time, smells, words, or energy to satiate. Always I looked, looked and I saw. I saw an island that is alive, 24/7. I drank in the beauty of the Caribbean with it's pristine water. I bounced in it's swells, swallowing it while waiting for the dive boat to pick us up. I tasted it.
I listened. Mexico is noisy, because being alive can be noisy at times. The cars, the taxis, the mopeds, the people speaking their beautiful language. I soaked in the sounds, as they are not the sounds I hear in my world. Street music, impromptu parades by children, music always music somewhere...these are all the sounds of Mexico. 
Mexico smells. Yes it does. It is a delicious, earthy, human  smell. At times I smelled urine as we strolled or stopped at a local outside eatery. In America I would gag...but the rest of the world smells at times. So do we , but we cover it up. It also smells of saltwater, fried food, cigarette smoke, and at times a whiff of ganja. It smells like the stuff of life. Animals are everywhere; some have owners, some belong to the street. 
Mexican people humble me.  I tried to fit into their world, their language, in my infantile ability. But I learned so much. Mexicans are not lazy. That is completely offensive to me now. There is no OSHA here, there are no pay scales, or laws on labor, or at least not the kind we employ.  Mexicans may work slowly as part of their culture in the heat, but they work all the time. All the time. I spent the week watching a young man repaint the sign for the hotel. He was on a tall ladder held together by ropes. He worked when I had breakfast and he was working in the evening. I doubt he was 18. Restaurants stay open until people stop coming. And then they start again. One place we ate could only stay open for as long as it was light out, as they operated with no power. Food was kept fresh in coolers and cooked on a stove run on a generator.
Corn tostadas , refried beans even for breakfast, fajitas, tacos and and things I couldn't pronounce were part of my diet everyday. A giant pork leg cooking over a flame would provide meat for my tacos while I watched. Fresh seafood of all kinds and chicken, lots of chicken. Why? Because it's cheap and chickens are easy to raise. Last night at what would be my last meal there, we ate at an open air stand where no one spoke English. Across the street there was a chicken, in the house. It's fate is sealed.
And I watched. I watched with no judgement, but purely with open eyes. I watched the children, passing the time while their parents worked in the shops and around the town. I watched the workers in the hotel, on the dive boat, in the street, at the animal shelter, everywhere.  And I think I saw them this week, as I am more apt to do these days. And they are amazing. 
Clean water is an issue in Mexico and the world. Most American women would cringe at the fact that around the island, you are not allowed to flush your toilet paper. Their sewage systems just can't handle the bulk  But they are trying. This morning there was a parade of school children marching in support of "Clean water for  the family".
 But there is still so far to go. Generations of people used to disposing of their biodegradable trash outside, are now met with the "new" plastics that will outlive our planet. It opened my eyes widely. There is trash everywhere. You can pick up bags full, and more will reappear the next day.
And now I am on Sun Country Airline  flying back to my world. Even after five days, it felt strange not to say "Hola" or "Buenos Dias" as I boarded the aircraft. And Cozumel? Yes I've been saying it wrong all these years. It is Coe-za- mel....not Cah-zu-mel. Always there is something to learn in this life
And so, Adios Mexico. 
My life is infinitely richer and fuller than it was a week ago
On the journey.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cozumel, again.

I've been here before. Cozumel that is. I've not mentioned it, as that Cozumel and the one I'm experiencing are very different. This one requires a Hep A shot and an Rx for an antibiotic, just in case. It is the destination, not just a " If it is Tuesday it must be Mexico."
But I did realize today that there is some kind of circle being completed in my life.

The last time I was here was June of 1996, and I was on my honeymoon. I had just married Glenn Derby on the 26th. We took the train"The City of New Orleans" from Chicago to New Orleans and boarded a cruise ship where we explored different ports of call for a week. It was a great experience, but my children were young and I'd never been away from them for that period of time, so there was anxiety as well.

Cozumel was a one day stop. I remember it vividly for several reasons. The first was that as we were disembarking, we both heard a man whisper to his wife, "Look at that poor girl. (meaning  me). She's going to be such a young widow." I was 39 and G was 52, and had yet to suffer all the ravages of football, ranching, and being a giant sized human being that followed him to the grave. I was insulted and hurt. Glenn's response was, "He's right you know. " I blew it off, but we still  used to mention it over the years.

It was prophetic. He did die and leave me while I still have years of the journey left, hopefully.

The other reason I remember that day is that we spent the afternoon escaping the heat at Ernesto's Fajita Factory, drinking WAY too many Dos Equis under a covered thatch type of building. That establishment got ruined in a hurricane, but has been rebuilt across the street, closer to the lucrative cruise ship port. At that time there were many, many hawkers on the street too. They are gone, probably chased away by the politics of the big money to be made by cruise tourists. They are still here, the impoverished I mean. I barely had to go off the beaten track to discover them yesterday.

The dive shop, where  I am taking lessons, is built on top of the old Ernesto's; that makes me smile. Glenn was always my biggest cheerleader when I wanted to try new things. "Live like you mean it."

That man on the ship was correct as it turns out. But there was no need for him to pity me.

Full circle.
On the journey.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wile E. Coyote

There was a cartoon while I was growing up called "The Roadrunner." He was this speedy little bird of a creature who was always outsmarting the coyote who was trying to eat him. Most often, he would set it up so that something, often a train, would flatten Wile E. Coyote into a pancake. But because it was a cartoon, the coyote could peel himself off the pavement and regenerate.
I was that coyote today, peeling myself off the pavement.

It actually began earlier in the week, when I realized that last year at this time, we were getting ready to leave for what would end up being our last vacation together. We rented a house in Florida for more than a week. I'd like to say that it was the perfect last vacation, but we both came home saying that we wouldn't choose that option again, for many reasons. One always thinks there will be a next time.

A few weeks ago, Atticus decided that my jewelry box didn't deserve to live. Jewelry box makes me laugh....I have no real jewels, but it did create a huge entanglement of necklaces etc. to sort through. So last night I sat at the kitchen counter to sort through it all. I came across a set of prayer beads that were the very first thing G ever gave me. He spent the month before his ordination thirty years ago in Pecos, New Mexico, learning the ways of the early desert fathers, and acquired these beads. He taught me how to say a mantra-like prayer with them, that has served me well over the years. The cross on the beads has a worn spot where his big thumb had worn down the wood in the years before he gave them to me. I clutched these beads during his funeral, but I hadn't  seen them since.
Boom. Roadrunner. Peel myself from the pavement.

Today is Ash Wednesday in the Christian tradition. All my life I have heard these words on this day:
"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Those words kicked the shit out of me this year. Like Wile,  I didn't see it coming. The time between dust and returning to dust is often too damn short. Words became truth.
There is a beautiful, sealed handcrafted box in a special place in my home with that "dust" awaiting a permanent resting place, probably this summer.

My job is all about the kids. It isn't about me or my life. But for the first time ever,  they intersected a bit. I was having a tough time first thing this morning. And they were wonderful.
Big breaths and a hefty dose of professionalism got me through. I came up off the pavement and ended up having a really good day.

Nice try Roadrunner.
You can't flatten me on this journey. I'm looking forward with anticipation.