I wote this in 2004, four years into being the full-time, live-in caregiver for my mother, who had severe dementia and the object of the abuse heaped upon me by myi brother. It is a reminder that I have been through writer’s block before.
I think I remember a time when I could focus on one thing at a time — a poem, a person, a pleasure — when the process was as important as the product. I’m trying to remember when the last time was that I felt that focus, that stillpoint. Oddly enough, I think it was was a decade ago when I used to go out on Thursday nights to dance the Hustle for hours on end. I would follow the lead with such total focus that all I was aware of was my blood humming to the rhythm of the bass and my body carving sharp arcs through the smokey air.
I think I used to know that same kind of focus when writing a really good poem, feeling the rhythm come, hearing the hum of swarming words. But that was when I lived alone, with long, quiet moments to feed my focus. That was when I would have hours of down-time at work, alone in my own office, with nothing to do but let myself succumb to the processes of dream timethink what happened is that I got really good at my job — multi-tasking, meeting deadlines, serving many masters. Scheme thinking. Quick thinking. No time to dream, alone, in a corner with a window.
I think what happened is I learned t.o care too much. I think what happened is that I let the world nibble away at my layers so that I lost my deepest secrets.
“The Many Breasted Artemis,” my shrink once noted, as I unloaded my distress at being expected to always be the nurturer, the feeder, the source of unlimited resources, the problem-solver, the responsible one.
I thought that when I retired, I would be able to find, again, that dreamy focus. Instead, it takes me until midnight to finally breathe evenly and deeply, to let go of all of the knowing. It takes me until midnight to finally feel the yearning for deep secrets.
But to have secrets, one has to have a life beyond the giving of care.
I’m waiting for my time to come again, when I will, again, simmer and stir, ladle, at last, into mounds of midnight words, that witch’s brew.
I have been through the process before, and blogged about it decades ago (somewhere on my old blog, which is only partially still available on blogspot). Severe sleep issues, depression (only partially helped with meds), and writer’s block have led me to try it again, this time with a different analyst, because my previous one is focusing these days on veterans and PTSD. Jungian analysis connects well with Shamanistic “soul retrieval”, in which I’ve also engaged before and which also has been successful.
One of the concepts Jung espoused is “synchronicity”, which, simply, is meaningful coincidence. And there already have been several as I work with this therapist: we both use a pen with purple ink; we both have hair issues; we both sport wearables that identify us — me my t-shirts and she exotic necklaces. Jungians also deal with dream interpretation, and I had one last night that is rife with meaning.
In real life, I am always worried about getting locked out of the house if no one else is home, so I found a very esoteric place to hide a key, which I wrap in plastic before I hide
it. Last night I dreamed that someone I was with wanted to come into the locked house, so I went an got the hidden key, let us in, and then started to re-wrap the key. Except I was having a hard time manipulating the plastic. I woke up before the story ended.
I have only had three sessions, but already stuff is shaking out.
One of the fascinating techniques that Jungians use is “sandplay.” My therapist has walls of shelves with various figurines, from realistic to imaginary, to use in setting up a sandplay scene. The figure at the beginning of this post was the one I picked to begin my scene. (I didn’t know why until I got home and started analyzing why I might have.) The actual figurine did not have that Celtic Raven on her shoulder, but she did have some sort of a black bird. I replaced it with a Celtic Raven because I have become fascinated with its mythology — and this representation of it. (I even made a shirt with a Celtic Raven on it.)
I have named her “Baba Bogina,” Polish for “Crone Goddess.”
So much is happening, and I have just begun. One of things I will be doing in the next few weeks is making an appointment with a nurse who is also a shaman, to do a “soul retrieval.” Those of you who read my blog eight or so years ago, know about the traumatic five years I spent living with my demented mother and my emotionally volatile brother — resulting in what my Primary Care doctor was convinced is PTSD. There is stuff still stuck in my subconscious that I can feel is keeping me from moving on. I’m still feeling angry. I’m still feeling guilty.
I was in a similar place after my divorce, and, thanks to my former Jungian therapist, I was able to move on. Follow me if you want to get a idea of how Jungian therapy can work from a very personal perspective, as I learn to access the wisdom of Baba Bogina, who is an archetype and who is a part of me.
I have a unique relationship with death. My father was an undertaker, and we lived in an apartment above his business. Contemplating death and dying — my own and others’ — has been a part of my life since childhood. I have sat vigil during the hours and days of the deaths of both of my parents. At the age of 77, I am closing in on my final years. I have no control over when or why I will die; but I am learning about the choices I have about “how”. What I have come to believe is that it doesn’t matter what one believes about an “after-life”; what is important is to live fully while embracing the fact that we, after all, are all “terminal.” Those individuals whose religious beliefs preclude them from participating in such a process can follow the dictates of their religions, but those of us who have different beliefs should be allowed to make our own choices.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is once again considering a Death with Dignity bill. Modeled on the Oregon law, H 1991, Compassionate Care for the Terminally Ill Act, would give terminally ill people more freedom, control, and peace of mind at the end of their lives. It is called “The End of Life Options Act”. I noticed that both the Northampton City Council and the Amherst Town Meeting passed resolutions in early November that called on the legislature to enact “The End of Life Options Act” (H1194 and S1225). I urge other municipalities to become familiar with the intent of this bill and take action to lend their support.
Seven out of 10 Americans who support the end-of-life option allowing qualified terminally ill people to end their lives through physician-prescribed medications support having a process to enable terminal patients to choose how they want to die. Such laws have enacted and practiced successfully in other states. I believe this bill has strong safeguards to ensure that no one – including people with disabilities, the frail elderly, and the low-income –could be coerced or pressured to end their lives rather than live longer or seek continued treatment for their terminal illness.
This is NOT assisted suicide, but rather an option to give people the right to choose to end their suffering (and that of their family) when faced with a prolonged and painful dying process.
I support this bill because I have sat by the beds of both parents as they suffered through their last days and hours of pain before death took them. When my father was in the last stages of pancreatic cancer in 1984, thankfully, we were able to use the services of Visiting Nurses (this was before Hospice was available) to give him drops of morphine while he lay in his bed, gasping for air and enduring a level of pain I can’t even imagine. It took him three days to finally die.
My mother, who died at the age of 94 in the “Comfort Care” unit of a hospital, hung on for a week with renal failure, until I finally insisted that the doctor increase her morphine dosage. A “Death with Dignity” Act would have spared both my parents painful deaths that, at that point, were inevitable anyway.
Please join me in contacting the co-chairs of the Joint Public Health Committee: Sen. Jason Lewis (email@example.com, 617-722-1206) and Rep. Kate Hogan (firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-722-2130). Urge them to pass H1194 before the deadline in early February.
I am going to Maine with two friends next week. While there, I am going to put to rest what remains of the guilt and sorrow and regret regarding my relationship with my mother.
The other day I went and spent some time with a good friend, and who is also a healer of souls carrying burdens of regret and guilt. Ed Tick began as my therapist and over these 30 years, that relationship blossomed into a friendship. I still reach out to him when I am troubled, and I visited him earlier this week in his new home not far from where I now live.
The result is that, next week, in Maine, as part of solidifying this new phase of my life on which I have embarked, I will do a ritual to let go of stuff that needs to be freed. I will build a fire, read this last missive to my mom, and then burn the paper. And then burn the triptych with her images — sending her history as a woman to soar with the gulls.
In preparation, I have set up a little altar to honor the good parts of my relationship with my mother, who died five years ago. I have her wedding ring that I put on a chain, and beads from the old red coral necklace (that has been a part of my matriarchal lineage for several generations) that I made into another necklace. I will wear these during the ritual, but, for now, they are a part of the altar. One of the few things I have left of hers is her old statue of Saint Anthony, the heretic converter. I’m sure that she prayed to him all of the time to convert this heretic. It didn’t work, but this icon,one of her favorites, has become mine. Maybe I like him because he holds a lily. And a child. And an open book. In my poetic heresy, I can interpret that any way I like.
So, here is what I will read. And what I will burn. In place of prayer, I write. Here and wherever. Because I can.
If we become the mother
we wanted, our children
grow the roots and wings
of our lost early yearnings,
Our daughters become
the women we wish we were,
our sons the men we dreamed.
But too often we succumb
to the echo of her voice,
caught in the tangle
of a cord never cut.
There is no burying our mothers,
though we lay them deep.
They live in us one way or other,
whether we heed or not.
I am sorry, Mom, that I was not the daughter you wanted. I’m sorry that you were not the mother I wanted. I know that you tried your best to be the best kind of mother that you knew how to be – the kind your mother was. And I did my best to break away from that kind of suffocating tradition.
Yet, despite how I disappointed you over and over, you were always there for me when I needed you. Because that is what the mothers in our family do, And that is how the best parts of you still live on in me – in the kind of mother I have finally become.
I’m sorry that your last years were filled with such turmoil. I wish I had made better choices about how to give you the care you needed. I guess it was my turn to try my best. That was all either of us could ever do.
I’m sorry that your last days were not what you had always hoped they would be – to die at home, in your own bed, with family around you. I did the best I could, Mom. I tried to make sure that you didn’t suffer. Instead, I suffered for you, and that was OK because it meant that in those last days I kept you safe from enduring some unnecessary familial narcissistic tyranny.
There were good times and bad times during the last of the years that we lived together. I like remembering the time we had then to talk and laugh, to dance the polka, to sing all of the old songs, to share our memories of times that were good for us both. I liked that I was finally able to do things for you that you really appreciated, that made you feel good. Because I know there were many other times before that when I made you feel bad.
All of those years as I struggled to grow up, I never really saw you the way that others did. You would have been glad to hear what cousin Cristine wrote to me about you after you died. She said:
I remember the enigmatic smile she always wore, like the one in The Portrait. I never remember her upset or angry. She was always dressed impeccably and I remember her love for Ferragamo shoes. Odd what we remember from our past — the strange minute things that become permanent strong memories and the important things that fade away. I always remember the bathroom at your house on Nepperhan — the l-o-n-g narrow pink bathroom with a door at each end (how cool!) and how it always smelled of green Palmolive soap. I remember your mom cooking and running back and forth to the kitchen and not sitting down and enjoying her own meal.
Someday, I will write a poem about that “enigmatic smile,” which I now think was a biting back of your disappointment and frustration for the parts of your life that you were never allowed to make your own — but I was too wrapped up in my own selfish agendas to realize that.
I don’t know if you were aware of much during your last days, but there was a sea gull who spent most of each day screeching from and pacing on the roof outside the window of your hospital room. This is what I found out about sea gulls:
Sea Gulls are messengers from the gods, especially ancient Celtic deities. They bridge the gap between the living world and the spirit world. Opening yourself to their energy enables you to communicate with the other side. Sea Gull can also give you the ability to soar above your problems and see things from above. Seeing all the different viewpoints.
So tonight I am here at the ocean, communing with the messenger seagulls, sending this message into the wind, into the endless sky: I miss you, mom, I’m glad we had some good last days together, and I wish we had been able to be closer, sooner. I release what is not worth carrying, and I cherish what is left: the comfort that, at the end, we knew how much we loved each other.
Really, I can’t find my set of keys that hold, not only my car and house keys, but all of those little tags they give you with bar codes that give you special privileges — like discounts at the food market, drugstore, and gas station. It also had my library card on the ring. And a tag that gives my phone number in case the keys are found.
Since I haven’t gotten any calls, I assume that the keys are somewhere in the house. I keep looking. For all I know, they fell into the trash at some point.
There is a place to hang our rings of keys right by the front door when we come in. But I forget to do that.
When I was my mother’s caregiver, and dementia caused her to hide stuff all over the place, I bought a set of key finders and attached them to her keys and her wallet. I would press the remote and the beeping would lead me to the lost article — sometimes tucked in the corner of her pillow case, sometimes in a purse at the bottom of her closet, sometimes under the mattress. Once in the refrigerator.
So I just bought a set of key finders for myself and attached one to my spare set of keys. But I don’t have all of those tags, and now I have to replace them all. I have one “key” finder that can be stuck to the back of something like the tv remote. I think I’ll stick on the back of my iPhone, since that’s the other thing I keep misplacing.
It’s bad enough that, more and more often, I can’t find the word I want to complete my thought. Now it’s my keys that get lost. What’s next? Me?
She spends most of her time in a cocoon she makes of my quilt. Sometimes she buries her head; sometimes she stares into space.
I don’t know if it’s her 9th life that she’s nearing the end of; over the past 17 years she certainly has gone through several, including last February, when I (and the vet) thought it might well be her last.
They were are able to diagnose and treat her then for pancreatitis, and she rebounded. But not this time.
The blood and other tests the vet did the other day indicate she’s healthy. Except she’s not. Her x-ray showed some weird pockets of fat where there usually aren’t any. More tests might figure out what that’s all about. But I have decided that there will be no more tests. She’s 17 and has had a good life.
She’s been coming to sit (or get into her “begging” position) at my feet and make strange staccato meows as though she’s trying to tell me something. If I pick her up and put her in my lap, she makes a whining sound low in her throat. If I pet her, she sometimes hisses.
Obviously, something is wrong.
She eats a little. Uses the litter box a little. Sometimes she stops whatever she’s doing and just sits, silent and glassy-eyed, as though introspecting.
So, I’m just giving her “comfort care” until the next stage of whatever is going on inside her. When she becomes “uncomfortable,” I will take the next step and end her days.
She has been my one close and constant companion, has been with me through the deaths of relationships, the deaths of family members. I will do for her what I tried to do for them — the best I can to make the end of her days easier.
As I spend time trying to engage folks at the assisted living center and small memory impaired community, I notice that those using walkers seem to need a handy place to keep tissues, cough drops, and other small items. This seems especially true for the women; men seem to just load up their pants pockets.
So, my new project is designing and making “walker purses.”
An online search for “walker bags” turns up all kinds and sizes, even some hand made. One of the women in the memory impaired unit has a beautiful quilted one, which must have cost close to $40.
I like combining yarn and fabric, so I made a couple of samples that I’m going to ask some of the women to try and and let me know if they find them useful. If they do, maybe I’ll make more and try to sell them through the facility’s gift shop or online.
Like all walker bags, mine loop over the front bar, providing an accessible pouch for a few necessities. They are 10 inches wide and 6 inches deep, are lined with the fabric trim, and are fastened with velcro. I’m wondering if I need to add a zipper along the top — although that would be a lot more work and would therefore make them more expensive.
A volunteering moment: A memory-impaired nonagenarian pats me on the butt. I just ignore it, since earlier today, for the first time, he actually conversed with me and willingly participated in a group activity. I can’t save the world, but today I make a sad old man smile.
Twice a week I volunteer at a geriatric facility that includes folks in assisted living (where I lead “Trivia” and other such group sessions) and a separate space for individuals who are memory-impaired (with whom I sing songs, share photographs and stories, go out for walks, and even play kids’ games). I think doing these things is my way of compensating for the fact that so much of this world is in such a large scale mess that I have no power to affect any of it in any positive way.
I don’t have the money to contribute to saving abused animals, abused environments, and abused people; listening to Sara McLachlan sing in the ASPCA commercial only makes my distress worse, so I avoid even doing that.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed by all of the horrors of the “big picture,” I cut out a piece of the “little picture” that I might be able make a little better. Maybe this geriatric facility is not the worse place in the world for elders to find themselves, but it’s no Eden, either. However, it is a place where I can make a difference without the effort impacting me in a negative way.
As a matter of fact, I’m always surprised at how much of the time I spend with these folks that I actually enjoy. Sometimes I even get inspired in crafty ways that I’d never expect.
For example, I noticed one woman had a really pretty quilted pouch attached to the front of her walker. It’s just big enough to hold some tissues, a few photos, and a pair of glasses. You can buy similar ones online for about $35. It’s a handy little item that I realized other women who use walkers would find helpful. So, I’ve been inspired to design my own version that combines crochet and fabric. Maybe I’ll try to sell them online. Maybe I’ll just give them as gifts. Either way, I now have the kind of creatively useful project that I like to work on at home as I sit around in the evening and watch escapist television.
In her post today on Time Goes By, Ronni Bennett confesses to having become a “cowardly” about dealing with the overwhelming problems in the world around her. She says:
Confronted with calamity – personal, private or global – I have always been strong, eager to understand and self-confident in my ability to do my best to help when I can and pass the word on to others who might have more resources than I.
Now, I’ve become a coward. If I cannot look at the photos, will not read the news stories, won’t listen to the appeals for starving children and abused animals, how can I possibly be part of any solution.
In a real way, it’s my similar cowardice that has led me to volunteer where I do. I can feel I’m helping to make the lives of at least a very small part of the human population a little better, in only three or four hours a week. And, as it turns out (as it so often does when you give of yourself), I get back unexpected appreciation and inspiration.
Although I can do without the nonagenarian’s pat on the butt.
I moved into this town two years ago after a decade of taking care of my mom. It took me about a year to get over the stress and tension of living with my (demented) mother and (set-in-his-ways) brother for several years. And then my mother passed away.
For a year after that, until now, I have been trying to find a place for myself in this larger community. I joined a gym but found it all very depressing (and expensive). I joined a quilting group, figuring that I like to sew and might enjoy it. But I didn’t for all kinds of reasons, including that I have neither the space where I live nor the design talent and experience to get into quilting. And I find it boring to quilt from a kit.
So, I did more knitting to keep me busy, but that didn’t fill my need for community connection. I tried a couple of book clubs, but they never talked about the books and I didn’t quite fit in with the memberships.
So, I joined the Jewish Community Center, mostly for the Zumba and aerobics and gym facilities, and that helped to get me out of the house. But it still wasn’t what I was hoping to find. The JCC offers some other programs that I might have taken, but they were all at night (and I don’t drive at night) and cost more than I can afford.
So, I joined up to be a Hospice volunteer, got trained, and just met my first assignment. That was a start, but not exactly to the point.
What I miss from my old life are the people with whom I worked and the groups to which I belonged in which I took some leadership. Some were peer discussion groups; some were expressive arts therapy groups. They were groups that dealt with substantive personal issues and opened doors to creative and spiritual exploration (even though I am an atheist). I always made friends with people in those groups because we had those interests in common.
So, I went on a search for a group — preferably a therapeutic group dealing with elder issues or major life transitions.
Uh uh. No such thing. Not even within a 25 mile drive.
So, I drafted a proposal to start such a group under the auspices of the Jewish Community Center, and, since I am a trained study circle facilitator, I volunteered to lead such a group.
I’ve done that before — started a group to which I wanted to belong. It has worked in the past for me, and I’m hoping it will work again.
If it doesn’t, with the SAD season starting, I’m going to find it tough to muddle on through.