Five Years Later

Mom Painting

I have lived the past five years without my mother in the physical-her-voice-over-the-phone-physical way.  The night I received the phone call that my mother passed away, I crumbled to my knees.  Mom was my closest friend.  There was NO WAY this could be!  Today, the reality of it is still absurd.

Every event in my life, whether small OR significant…every milestone is a reminder.  Grief never leaves, but ‘softens on the edges’.  For those of my readers who have not yet suffered loss, we ‘don’t get over it’ ever!  In timely fashion, CBC radio produced an amazing program on the subject early this week? end of last week.  Just a sec.  I’ll go find the link.

When my grandson was born, I got a bit of a sucker punch in the gut, some time after the elation and after I drove home from hospital for some much-needed sleep.  Hot tears hit my pillow because in my mind the most heaven-filled experience of my lifetime has been the birth of Steven, so what might that have meant to my mother?  I hurt a lot with the inability to share this precious boy with my mother.

Mom and James 1990 5

Mom with my own son, March 1990.

So, there are always going to be those moments.

What can I do, moving forward?  Well, one of the gifts that my mother gave me in moving into the everlasting is that she gave me the relationship I now have with my Dad.  Let’s face it, Moms and daughters can talk A LOT.  As women they become well-bonded through their experiences and their enjoyment in conversation.  Since Mom gave me my friendship with my father, I am so grateful.  I love that man so much!  We have persisted with our 5:00 pm Skype conversations that began to happen daily when Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, although clearly, our timing is a bit more flexible.  My Dad and I talk about absolutely EVERYTHING and this wasn’t always the case.  I thank Mom for this.  I’m very grateful. Moving forward, I can continue to honour my experiences with my Dad.

P1010153

What else?  Honestly, I am very concerned with the growing incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.  It is a hideous disease and it is also very cruel to families and caregivers.  While not the only debilitating disease that is slamming the world population, it deliberately robs individuals of talents, abilities and knowing.

0008_###

As various forms of dementia wreak havoc on aging populations (and this is a bit of a stereotype), we need to explore a number of aspects…health care, supports for caregivers, a more generous perception of personal support workers (paid BETTER and valued for their important work), and financial support for the sake of clinical research.

Finally,  I am interested in spiritual connection.  My mother really valued her relationship with her Saviour.  During my nature walk this morning I was thinking about how human beings are plugged into their devices, around the clock.  My Mom would want people to unplug from those and to plug in to real-time conversations instead.   She would want us to plug in to experiences and to explore the inner workings of our hearts and minds,  no matter our leaning or our ceremony or our practice.  As I contemplate this,  I will take time today to consider my spirit and tend to it.

Let us be gentle with ourselves on our personal journeys of grief.  Time moves on, even though we fight against it.  Today, on the anniversary of my mother’s birthday, I am going to spend time in the garden.  I’m taking my dog walking into beautiful landscapes.  I’m going to try to live an honourable life.  I am going to remember the times of laughter shared with a beautiful woman, my Mom.

1957 Mom and Dad New Years

 

H. J. Mcfarland Memorial Home

Mom’s last weeks and days and hours were spent at H. J. Mcfarland Memorial Home in Picton, Prince Edward County, Ontario.  For me, it was very important that Dad take me on a bit of a journey of the grounds and halls that they shared together during that time. I wanted to see the gardens that Mom saw, before the roses came into full bloom.  I wanted to see the crops in the fields that they saw together, growing and changing day by day, as Dad pushed Mom’s wheelchair.  He said that in the first days, there was nothing but soil…and then the lovely green of spring sprouts came to be.  Gardens and the landscapes of Canada were always so inherent to Mom.

P1110198The day that I visited, I saw the courtyard that Mom would have seen from her window.  I saw the roses in full bloom and I sat in the shade of the gazebo where together, my parents would take quiet rest.  I looked out at the sprawling grounds and saw the mighty trees.  I could not help but connect with a sense of life’s cycles and about the continuity of all life: from the dawn of living things until the dusk…and finally, rest…knowing that the darkness is a step into light everlasting, aptly written by Rabindranath Tagore.

“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”

…and from the Psalms…

Psalm 18:28
You light a lamp for me. The LORD, my God, lights up my darkness. (NLT)

The women and men who cared for Mom during her last days and supported Dad as he walked this journey, were people of great blessing.  Mom was given the dignity and light that she so deserved.  She was given beautiful meals.  She was able to touch soil for the last time, potting small plants in the springtime.  Mom and Dad were given respect and kindness and for this and more, I will always be grateful.

P1110199 P1110205 P1110212 P1110217 P1110222

Recently, I watched a Frontline documentary about assisted living and I know that for some families, there is a huge deficiency in the care that is given for their loved ones.  As our population of ‘boomers’ continues to grow, I think that it is imperative that there be stronger guidelines for the sake of those we love and advocacy on the part of all governments and citizens, for strong practice in the arenas of social, spiritual, physical, mental and psychological responsibility to our aging populations.  While I don’t wish for this post to become political, there is much to be said about these issues not being swept under the carpet, but for light to be shed on related issues.

I am in awe at the strength that my father showed in his walk with his precious wife and my mother and her journey with Alzheimer’s disease.  Because of his inspirational ‘walk’, I am far more aware and sensitive to the vast numbers of caregivers who are daily-struggling with some version of his own truth.  Society has to re-focus their best efforts where all of these interconnected issues come to intersect.

This being said, and looking again at the purpose for this post, I want to close by saying that I am grateful for the care that Mom received at H. J. Mcfarland Memorial Home. Below, a brief description of the man who generously donated the property and facility that in the end, was my mother’s last home in Prince Edward County.

A Man Called Harvey: A profile of H. J. McFarland, Picton’s longest-serving Mayor

Harvey McFarland grew up as a poor farm boy in Roblin, Ontario. His childhood experience drove him to seek a better life. After a series of jobs as a logger, and threshing grain and hauling rock with his team of horses, Harvey started a construction company that made him a millionaire.

Harvey James Mcfarland

Harvey James Mcfarland

Helpless

Sometimes we are helpless in our circumstances.  Tonight I’m writing about helplessness.  I want to make an important distinction, however…because I am not writing about hopelessness. For me, they are different.

help·less 

1. Unable to help oneself; powerless or incompetent.
2. Lacking support or protection: They were left helpless in the storm.
3. Impossible to control; involuntary

hope·less

1. Having no hope; despairing.
2. Offering no hope; bleak.
3. Incurable.
4. Having no possibility of solution; impossible.

 

Tonight, certain situations come to mind.  Some are very large.  Some smaller.  But, in the scheme of life experience, it all matters. With all of my heart, I lift up prayer for those in utterly impossible circumstances. On the east coast, a family has lost their eighteen year old daughter.  Also…somewhere…a sister has lost her brother.  A mother has lost her child.  A child has lost his mother.  And yet, every moment of every day, a new life comes to be.  Birth does not, however, exclude the pain of loss.  Grief is a huge reality.  I pray for you all in your grief; for your loss… divorce, separation, abandonment, disloyalty, death, illness.

lola-hellabrunn-zoo-munich-germany-photo-bancroft-landov

Lola passes at the Hellabrunn Zoo Munich, Germany-Photo: Bancroft-Landov

A facebook offering from Information Blitz.  Orphaned elephant.

A facebook offering from Information Blitz. Orphaned elephant.

My mother sleeps in a long term care facility room and I wonder how she is sleeping and try to remember her laughter.  I want to pull her blankets around her.  I do not know and can not know her thoughts.  She can not communicate any more about the things that hurt her.  I feel helpless.  I have to trust in the love of her care givers.  I pray for all of those who have family members suffering dementia, loss of memory, loneliness or depression, ill health.

P1100418Today it was reported that a baby was left as sewage and then miraculously saved when “a tenant heard the baby’s sounds in the public restroom of a residential building in Zhejiang province in eastern China.”  This and many atrocities against the innocent come to mind and I feel helpless.  Most days it feels like it is not enough to be appalled.  I pray for the unborn…and for children…that they are protected, sheltered, fed and loved.

(Photo: AFPTV AFP/Getty)

(Photo: AFPTV AFP/Getty)

 Photograph: Imaginechina/Rex Features

Photograph: Imagine China/Rex Features

I found a wee nestling when I arrived home yesterday, Mr. and Mrs. flying urgently about, helpless to aid the still-breathing moving bird.  I slipped it cautiously back up into its nest and reinforced the broken vent.  Assistance was generously given by Peter and Rick.  Taking action minimized my feeling of helplessness.  But, today it is quiet at the nest…Mr., as though by instinct, returning again and again, to look in.  Helpless.

sparrowbaby2012

Before the Fall

Mrs. Before the Fall

Mr. After Nestling Returned and Entrance Reinforced

Mr. After Nestling Returned and Entrance Reinforced

Matthew 10:29-31

New International Version

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.[a] 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

We live in a big world full of remarkable circumstances and moments that change us forever.  Some of these moments can only be described as miraculous and others, on the flip side, devastating.  We are very fragile beings, each one unique and irreplaceable.  Love hugely and in the deepest sense.  And when you feel helpless, pray.

When The Body Remembers

I’ve just returned home from a too-short visit with my parents because my mother was hospitalized with a medical crisis, a situation that majorly impacts cognitive function in someone struggling with Alzheimer’s disease.  While the journey for my Mom and for our family is far too personal to write about at this time, (a private journey that will become a huge part of our collective experience over these next several years) it is possible to write about some of the nuances or observations within that journey, one being how the body sometimes remembers.

I read a beautiful blog post by a writer who describes this very thing as it relates to childhood memory and the impact of the experiences that we give to our children for later snapshots of a past that otherwise seems vague or non-existent.  My father thinks that sometimes I embellish my childhood memories, but I think that to some degree, he was just too darn busy trying to provide, to realize the impact certain moments had for me.

I have a whole series of snapshots from my childhood, both positive and negative.  It’s interesting that most of these snapshots are sustained because of what my body remembers…the light, the sounds, the tactile sense of things.  I remember clearly digging clams…the touch of the cool sand…the texture pushing hard under my finger nails…the smell of salt water…the wind in my hair…my mother’s laughter…the spraying holes….the prize, again and again, of a beautiful white object that fit perfectly in my hand.

What I noticed about my Mom this week, even with diminished memory and increased confusion, even when she was apparently agitated and upset, she took pause as her body remembered.

How many times does a mother stop to wipe circles on her dining table, dust her bedside table, clean her kitchen counter?  Countless times…and that is a memory that the body holds.  As my mother places her hand on her meal tray…she takes pause and her body remembers and draws circles with a paper napkin.  Her body continues the work of her life.  It is memory that remains.

My mother also remembers how to fold.  And when I see the gestures and fluid movements of my mother’s hands as she folds the fabrics near her…her gown, the curtains, her bedsheets…it is as though I am watching her fold up the items in the laundry baskets of yesteryear…the family watching Hockey Night in Canada…the smell of popcorn…and the busy hands of my mother.  When I see Mom’s body remember…my body remembers.  The nostalgia of it is a blessing.  The folding unites us in our common narrative.

P1100410 P1100413

Writing

I miss the act of writing, so I open to this crisp white page and begin to write.

Dressed for teaching,  I skidded from the sidewalk across the front yard, in order to top up the bird feeder.  The light is changing these days and the birds are doing more chirping. At minus ten, white crystalline snow blew and bit my skin on the earlier dog walk, so I knew that the birds would be hungry.  Little porkers were puffed and satisfied upon my return and the feeder was empty, but for a few short inches of seed at the bottom.  It had been a great day to be a bird.

Still bound by the cardigan and the fancy socks, I plunked down, hoping to meet Mom and Dad for a visit on Skype.  We meet at five each evening.  I look at my parents’ faces and feel grounded and secure.  At a distance, I ache to feel their hugs, but feel gratitude at the technological wonders that somehow pull our heart strings and tie them in such knots that I forget that we are apart.

My mother has Alzheimer’s disease and our conversations do not stay the same.  I watch my mother grow and change each day at five o’clock.  I also watch my father grow and change as her caregiver.  It is a treat to spend this forty five minutes every day in communion with and loving them.  A conversation with my 74 year old mother comes back to me at this moment; for the sake of writing, I will record it here.

“I am forgetting things.”

“Oh, Mom!  I am forgetting things also.”

“No, I really AM forgetting things.”

It is this writing, shared by a friend today, that has me reflecting on any of this…the cold…caring for the weak, cold, afraid…dignity, discovery and resolve.  There is a story here, for all of us.  Caring on Stolen Time: A Nursing Home Diary

To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart. Phyllis Theroux

Memory Leans Back Into the Branches of a Tree

When Rich Theroux stepped up to the ‘Wheel of Doom’ last evening, he had us duped for a few short moments, but then told us for the 11th Gorilla Battle, the energizing concepts were to be our own.  I stepped toward my blank panel, fairly tanked out.  There was an open space that needed to be filled in just two hours.  What to paint?

My beautiful mother has faced the challenges of Alzheimers disease and my father has been her most attentive caregiver since she turned seventy five.  It is a mysterious  and challenging disease and it is heart-breaking some times (some days some moments) as the expression of its impact on my mother’s brain demands adjustment of patience, acceptance, strength and love.

Whenever my mind is not filled up with the matters of the day…writing or painting or thinking about my three beautiful children or my spiritual tap is not turned on to the ever-supportive love of God,  that wee space is filled up with thoughts of my mother…and of memory.

I’m not certain why, but I came to the memory of warm afternoons with Laurel Beth Barclay under and in the strong arms of a tree.  The year was 1963; the place, Battle Creek, Michigan.  She was another one of my forever-friends.  We enjoyed outdoor adventures, but most special to us was the time shared in one particular tree.  Once my military father received his posting, I began again to let go.  The last picture I have of Laurel in my mind’s eye, she was leaning back in a strong arm of the tree and I was sitting down below, looking up at her.  She asked if I would always remember her.  I told her I always would.  Last night gives testament to the fact that, indeed, I had remembered.

I painted that memory.  It came to me seamlessly and somewhere in the expression of that time, were captured the memories of my mother…all of those that have already slipped away…a dream catcher of sorts…a beautiful place.

Thank you to Sabrina, for purchasing my piece at auction.  I love the painting of the winking gentleman parked on the wall behind my easel.  He seems to know something we don’t!

 

February by Dar Williams

I threw your keys in the water, I looked back,
They’d frozen halfway down in the ice.
They froze up so quickly, the keys and their owners,
Even after the anger, it all turned silent, and
The everyday turned solitary,
So we came to February.

First we forgot where we’d planted those bulbs last year,
Then we forgot that we’d planted at all,
Then we forgot what plants are altogether,
and I blamed you for my freezing and forgetting and
The nights were long and cold and scary,
Can we live through February?

You know I think Christmas was a long red glare,
Shot up like a warning; we gave presents without cards,
And then the snow,
And then the snow came, we were always out shoveling,
And we’d drop to sleep exhausted,
Then we’d wake up, and its snowing.

And February was so long that it lasted into March
And found us walking a path alone together.
You stopped and pointed and you said, “That’s a crocus,”
And I said, “What’s a crocus?” and you said, “It’s a flower,”
I tried to remember, but I said, “What’s a flower?”
You said, “I still love you.”

The leaves were turning as we drove to the hardware store,
My new lover made me keys to the house,
And when we got home, we just started chopping wood,
Because you never know how next year will be,
And we’ll gather all our arms can carry,
I have lost to February.

The Air is Humid and I Feel Like Alice

Last summer, I wrote some thoughts in a post titled What Happens When Your World Shrinks.  While I am not with my parents on Bridge Street, I still feel like Alice as she fell Down the Rabbit Hole.  Of this chapter, one of the quotes that strikes me best is, `But it’s no use now,’ thought poor Alice, `to pretend to be two people! Why, there’s hardly enough of me left to make one respectable person!’  Really, there are so many lessons to be learned from Alice in Wonderland!

As I was watering the garden this morning, I was thinking about how big my world is, although to a great degree, the small bits continue to get larger in my eyes.  The flowers in the garden and the birds at the feeder become bigger with my observations of them and my time spent with them.  Does that make sense?

I meet my mother and father in front of a monitor, via Skype, most days at 5:00 p.m.

As I spend time with Mom this way, it is interesting that I feel I know her better.  Sometimes, when one is present to people, places and experiences, one is not completely wired in and there is so much ‘knowing’ lost.  Some would say this is ‘taking things for granted.” It is the world that shrinks…not the observer.  Given what is happening to me, the world is getting larger…and I am shrinking.  It is a ‘fantasticle’ thing, this, because it means that I don’t have to go very far in order to be amazed!

Recently I have been amazed by this new friendship with a cousin in Kansas.  Bit by bit, we piece together our common story as family.  Yesterday, I visited the resting place of a first cousin once removed, John Boyd Haddow,  here at Queen Park Cemetery in Calgary.  I have learned recently that several of my family members had homes in both Calgary and Drumheller.  These sorts of discoveries are, for me, wondrous.  I feel like Alice.

I Wrote Some Poetry Today

Because I am retired, it is easy to relish a day and to get in touch with everything inside that is natural.  For the first while, there was an invasive sense of guilt that would pour over me.  I worked hard for my entire life and so for awhile it seemed completely unnatural to NOT feel anxiety.  I’m glad that has changed. 

I wrote two pieces of poetry this morning.  I’m writing a series of works based on my mother’s journey with alzheimer’s disease.  I often thought this summer, “What if Mom could consciously describe ‘inside her head’ what her observations are of this experience.”  I’m trying to give my mother a large voice, in my poems.  I’m thinking it’s a tad arrogant to do this because it supposes things that ‘are’ OR ‘aren’t’ OR ‘are likely not’ OR ‘are invented’ from my own observations as daughter-writer, not from the authentic experience of being ‘inside’ my mother’s head.  Long-story-short, today I wrote two poems.  This was over coffee, after bird-watching and before dog-walking.

And then, I headed for the hills.  It has been a spectacular autumn!  Perhaps, we had two afternoons of rain and the rest of the days have been filled with sunshine and golden leaves.  What a restful and meaningful season for me!  The leaves, just the past two days have turned from golden to brown and now they crunch underfoot.  Tomorrow, the weatherman reports that we will move into a cold spell.  Autumn changes.  The hoses are stored in the shed now and the water turned off to the outside.  The bikes, tuned up in anticipation of spring, are stored away.

Max and Walking For Miles

This is what I love about living here.  I was thinking about the landscape that most speaks to my heart and this is it.  I can not help but think of my grandfather, John Moors, when I am in a space like this…with the smell of autumn and a bright dappled sky.

Oh, Captain!

Blue and Gold

 

When we returned home, I got into reading a book, inscribed “To Jacqueline, All my best, Chris Czajkowski”.  It is titled Diary of a Wilderness Dweller.  What an exceptional thing this diary is!  I went on to visit the Nuk Tessli photo blog, with interest in one day making this a wilderness hiking trip for myself.  In the past, I would not have enjoyed this opportunity to dream and relax with a book on a Wednesday afternoon.  Oh, I feel such gratitude!

A Year of Possibility

This year is a year of possibility and wonder!  Now, out I retire to the studio where I will coat the refurbished chair with varathane so that I can move onto the dresser.  I’d like the furniture to be finished before the snow flies and out of the studio so that I can attack the next cribbed panel.

Breath: Fragments

When I went outside

Maple leaves,
thick textured clumps on dark boughs,
bathed in sunlight
blew
and suddenly looking up, my face was wet,
surprised.

And then I knew
the trees were raining.

Warm shirt sleeve, arm reaching for
Forehead, eyes, cheeks.
Again and again, drips dropping.

There hadn’t been any air to breath
all day.

The blue sky still somehow
boomed in the distance,
weather traveling,
as quickly as it had come.
And looking down at my feet, I
was left with this.

Breath.
The cast shadows of trees
bright cement,
making light dark light dark light dark
lines on the sidewalk.
What was chirping?
Cool air and blue sky.
Wet grass on ankles.
Grace.

©Kathleen Moors 2011