Present Tense

2016: On completion…

mom-and-dad2016. A year that lived up to its destiny.  In numerology, this was a ‘9’ year.  9 represents completion and that is exactly what this year has been for me.  Endings, goodbyes, letting go of all that no longer serves me.  Closing the circle on a journey that began several years ago.

On December 28th around 3:45 p.m. my mother took her last breath, as I sat on her bed with my hand on her chest.  It was peaceful and sacred and felt completely natural as I sat with her through her transition into spirit.

I won’t go into all of the particulars, other than to say that hospice is such a fantastic resource and I predict that our next big national discussion will be how we die.  Hospice plays such an integral part in the process and providing help and dignity, to not only the sick and dying, but the families who are often overwhelmed.  The hospice folks seemed to magically appear, exactly when we needed them.  It was almost mystical.

Five years ago, I would NEVER have even entertained the notion of sitting with my mother as she died.  I would have found excuses and justifications for staying as far away as possible.  It seems like that would be hard to admit, but I know myself and I can honestly say that I couldn’t handle it.  I wasn’t mature enough.

But, we change.  We evolve, particularly if we are open to it and often, the universe conspires to change us and open us up via shocking events and losses.

Until October 2013, when I was almost 54 years old, I had not really had to deal with death.  I feared it and dreaded losing my parents in particular, but in a compressed period, death has come and forced me to look at it.

Two dogs, a parent and a dear friend all passed in fairly quick succession before my mom began to fail.  I can see now that every one of these losses served a purpose. I suffered and felt grief that I never thought I could bear.  Each successive death brought back the pain of the others.

But, with each loss, I learned to cope and I also allowed my heart to crack open and my fear to dissipate.  I delved into death and dove into death.  As I survived the deaths of those I loved, I began to understand that death isn’t to be feared.  It is to be celebrated. It’s a change of address for their spirits.  And we all make that move one day.  Death begins at birth.

My mother always said she hoped that she would die peacefully in her sleep, but rarely do we get to choose our mode of passing.

With the help of hospice, she did get her wish for the most part. Unfortunately, some painful and violent falls preceded that peaceful transition, but I believe that was her soul’s way of telling us she was ready.

I was the youngest child.  Her last born and my siblings are all older; 15, 13 and 11 years my senior.  It felt fitting that as the last born, I should be with her as she died.  I was the last one whose heart beat with hers and I was there to feel her last heartbeats.

As I felt those last beats and watched her final breaths, I felt curiosity and relief and yes, beauty.  I did not feel fear or revulsion or panic.  The circle was closed.  Her life was complete, as was my role in helping her die.

We moved back to Michigan in the summer of 2013.  When people asked me what brought me back to my home state after being gone for 27 years, I couldn’t answer them. I honestly didn’t know.  It happened quickly and with some invisible guidance that I just didn’t question.

I loved Colorado and I miss it desperately, but for some reason, we needed to be here.  Now, I can clearly see the plan and the unfolding.  I moved back to help my mom die.  In the process, I lost others who prepared me for this mission. The other deaths forced me to come to terms with the impermanence of everything.

I also think that it’s no coincidence that our northern Michigan farm sits behind a cemetery.  I’ve spent hours wandering through it, feeling the energy, pondering the notion that all of its residents used to walk the earth, just as I am now.  Some died relatively young, but many lived into their 8th, 9th and even 10th decades and now they are a memory.  As we all will be. And that’s okay.  It’s not scary, it is the human condition and better to embrace it, than deny it.

And so, 2016 and I fulfilled our destiny.  This was a year of completion.  My obligation and commitment to my mother is finished; we watched over her, protected her and ultimately, fulfilled her wishes.  She and my dad’s ashes will be combined and buried together sometime in the early summer.  They are back together in the ether, surely dancing and laughing and holding hands.

RIP Mama. RIP Ember.  Thank you 2016; you have been a gift.

If you feel moved to make a donation in my mother’s memory, I would love to suggest Great Lakes Hospice Foundation .  Thank you.

January 1, 2017 Posted by | Musings | , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Cracking open…

eggWhat am I learning? That is my new mantra that is barely beating out “what am I feeling?”. I guess as I approach a sort of milestone birthday, it’s about time to begin asking myself some probing questions. I do have a journalism degree, after all.

What I’m learning is that it’s never too late for new reactions and behaviors to blossom; it often just requires a catalyst. The losses and challenges of the past 12 months have cracked me open and stuff like love, patience, empathy and generosity are oozing out and the more it oozes, the bigger the crack becomes.

My dog Chili died almost a year ago and that was a searing pain that brought me right to my knees. Then, my dad died in April and that knocked me completely off my axis. I had no idea that losing a parent could be so disorienting and shocking. I thought I was prepared. I wasn’t. You probably weren’t either.

Those deaths numbed me, but my mother cracked me open. Seeing her lose her husband and lover and companion of nearly 75 years drove an arrow deep into my heart. She relied on him so completely for her physical and emotional support and then in an afternoon, she was without him. Forever.

My husband and I are childless by choice. I have not regularly had to put someone else’s well being and needs above my own. That’s just an honest assessment. Yes, we’ve taken care of each other over the years. He had cancer. I’ve battle alcoholism, but it’s not the same as caring for a child. Or an elderly parent.

My mother will be 94 in a couple of weeks and the past month has been very difficult for her, with a couple of hospitalizations and now a rehab facility to get her strong enough to return to her assisted living facility. She has needed us in a way that I’ve never felt needed before.

I’ve cut up her food, cajoled her to eat, changed her diaper, helped her dress, undress, brush her teeth, advocated for her care, nagged health care providers, often on weekends. She has at times been so foggy about her circumstances that it scared the crap out of me. She asks the same questions over and over and I’ve patiently answered over and over. I’ve tried to reassure her that she’ll get better and ‘go home’. The hardest was when she woke up and groggily asked me why my dad wasn’t there.

Here’s the deal: I’ve never been patient, I’ve never been all that nurturing (to people…different story with my pets) and I’ve always run away from hard stuff like this. This time, I’m running toward it. Toward her. And I am getting so much out of being with her right now. The love and protection that I feel is nearly overwhelming and I have more clarity on so many things in my life, but the one thing that I am sure of is that we moved back to Michigan for a reason and this is it.

I bought our farm over the course of a weekend, with very little research or thought. I went back to Colorado and told my husband that I wanted to move back ‘home’. We put our house on the market, I informed my co-workers and bosses of my plans and we packed up and moved, even though I loved Colorado and I loved our place in the mountains.  There was no questioning this feeling that we had to go.

Something was compelling me home and I didn’t resist it, even though I didn’t quite understand it.  Now I get it. We spent more time with both of my parents over a six month period than we had in years. We spent Christmas and Thanksgiving with them and my dad got to see our little farm. He was so proud and then, he died and I’ve been here to help my mom transition to life without my dad and eventually to transition to join him.

It’s been so hard and it would have been so much easier to be in Colorado for all of this; far removed from all of the drama and dirty work.  Love shoved me home; love cracked me open like an egg and for that, I’m so grateful.

September 28, 2014 Posted by | Musings | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

It’s like gum on your shoe….

We’ve been in our new home in Michigan for about 6 weeks now and I love it. Love it.  Everything about it.

It’s weird because I dreaded leaving our house in Colorado.  I adored that house and even though I was ready to move to our new life, I was clinging to that house right up until the very last minute.  In fact, as I did my final walk-through, I sat down on the toilet in our master bath and bawled my eyes out.

Now that it’s in the rear view mirror, I have some thoughts on that whole clinging thing.  It’s a beautiful house.  We designed it from the ground up.  We made every decision right down to the drip edge and the door knobs.  It was mine.  It represented my success.  A beautiful custom-built, mountain home in a beautiful setting, close to a ski resort.  My American dream.  Hard to let go of that kind of symbol.

The funny thing is, I haven’t thought about that house once in the last 6 weeks.  Haven’t missed it for one second.  How can that be, when I was in such pain when I had to leave it?

Here’s what it teaches me:  letting go is the key to happiness.  Think of all of the stuff that we cling to; that we can’t imagine giving up or leaving or changing.  The stuff we hold onto is endless.  It’s hard to imagine a life without booze/job/lover/house/destructive and unhealthy habits/income/lifestyle/church/TV and the list goes on and on.

It’s like walking around with something clinging to the bottom of your shoe.  That irritating feeling when you get gum on your shoe and it sort of sticks with every other step.  You’re constantly looking down, scuffing along, trying to get that goddamned gum OFF YOUR SHOE.  That’s how clinging feels.  Distracting, annoying, nagging, sticky.

Make the change, walk away, scrape that shit off your shoe and guess what?  Life goes on. Every time I’ve made a major change in my life, it was scary and overwhelming and produced “what the hell am I thinking” nightmares, but it’s always turned out fine.  No, it’s turned out great.  I’ve grown and learned and adapted and morphed and evolved.  And I always ask myself, “What took so long?”.

Change isn’t all that scary.  It’s the thought and the planning and the worrying about change that creeps us out.  Think about something that you knew you COULD NOT LIVE WITHOUT and now you do.  It could be a person or a material possession or a home or a job or an addiction.  You can live without it.  In fact, you will thrive.  You will grow.

If you’re in a situation where you’re squatting between what is and what will be, project 6 months forward and envision your life.  You’ll see that all of this is behind you and you’re in your new place on your new path.  Feel good?

It is good. You’ll love it. Change isn’t scary.  Change is life.

August 14, 2013 Posted by | Musings | , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Is that a unicorn I see?

The cosmos has seen fit to teach me another lesson over the past few days.  I wish it was a new one, but it’s not; same lesson, different day.  Someday it’ll sink in. The lesson is:  planning, schmanning.  Is that a word?

Planning is my forte, my air, my area of extreme expertise.  It makes me feel as if I’m competent and in control and leaving no stone unturned.  I think it’s also a way to avoid being blamed when everything falls apart.  “But I did everything I could!!”

When I made the decision to move from Colorado to Michigan many months ago, I contacted the telecom company that serves our farm to find out about installing a broadcast line.  I wanted to know well ahead of time that I would be able to continue my morning radio show in Denver, even though I would no longer be in Denver.

I was assured by several reps that all was well.  We had a date set to install this special line.  I moved 1500 miles with every confidence that I’d be connected in no time.  HA!  Two days after my scheduled installation date, they informed me that my lifeline to my job was not going to happen.  Seems that nobody had actually checked on the technical availability.

So much for planning.  After a weekend in full-blown panic mode, I turned it over to a higher power:  the radio station’s engineers.  Something I probably should have done months before.   The illusion that if I am in charge, if I expend the energy, then things will go my way blew up…again.

All is well.  We are using a different (and cheaper) technology to beam me back to the studio in Denver.  In fact, I must admit that one of these engineers suggested this technology from the get-go, but I insisted on using what I was familiar with, even though my technical expertise is…um…well…limited.

Letting go. I was forced to turn it over to someone else.  We all have a lot of balls in the air and it’s very difficult to let one drop. It’s nearly impossible to just let them all drop.  Too scary.

We have this cultural ideal that we can never give up.  Don’t give up.  Don’t be a quitter.  Only losers quit and only quitters lose.

I’m calling bullshit on that.  Give up.  Give in.  Let go.  Let someone else take over.  There are people that will line up to help, to ease your burden, to solve a problem, to offer advice and guidance, but we have to open up to these offers.

When I finally made the shift from clinging to my old idea of how my broadcast HAD to be accomplished and embraced the new technology, I heard angels singing and saw unicorns dancing in the yard.  I actually felt a release out of the top of my head; mind blown.  “It doesn’t HAVE to be this way.  It can be THIS way”  Release your grip and check outside for unicorns.

 

July 13, 2013 Posted by | Musings | , , , , , | 14 Comments

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