Life and loss

In my last post, I wrote about my despair at what is happening in the US. I thought that blogging every day might help me navigate it. I had good intentions.

That night I woke up in the wee hours (hello menopause) and looked at my phone. It was 4:30 and I had a text from my brother, who had gone to New Mexico just the day before, summoned by my father in a dream, to be at Mom’s bedside:

Mom … is resting in peace. 

What? Is she sleeping? Is she dead? I didn’t know. Yes, I did know. How could she have gone? She, who hung onto life with every fiber in her being?

I got on a plane at 7:00 — my superior packing skills come in handy at moments like these — and went to join him. My two other siblings also boarded planes from their own corners of the Earth.

As I sit here writing, a month and a half later, waiting for a prospective buyer to come and look at our house, a petal falls from a tulip in a vase on our table. Another. It’s raining outside. It has been cold and wet for weeks. Nothing is blooming. It’s all gray sky, gross mud and green slime.

The first night in Mom’s house, unable to sleep, I wandered around and felt her presence there, and it scared me. This last year had been excruciatingly difficult for her. In fact, since my father died seven years ago, she had been suffering, both physically and emotionally, without interruption. We did our best to accompany her from one medical intervention to the next, from one crisis to the next, one hospitalization to the next. I want to think that she is finally at peace. But that night her spirit was still roaming the halls of her house, unwilling to relinquish everything she had built and held on to with such tenacity.

For a week and a half my siblings and I worked to dismantle the edifice of material things she had surrounded herself with to help her feel safe in the world and to shield herself from her emotions. Mostly it went well. We were able to get outside to wander the hills we hadn’t walked in so many years, because we had been inside caring for Mom. We ate at our favorite restaurants multiple times. We threw a party in her memory, inviting everyone we could think of, where we all shared stories and memories and photographs.

My own emotions regarding my mother are complicated and difficult. I tried so hard, for so many years, to understand her, to be compassionate, to forgive, to let go. I am a mother myself, after all. But still, I don’t think I tried hard enough.

I don’t feel very much. I’m sad, but not devastated. The sheer volume of wound care material in her bathroom was testament to the fact that her body was not able to hold itself together. Her death was not unexpected. In fact, it is a relief that she is no longer in pain, no longer suffering, no longer trying to find another way to fix her body.

When will I realize she’s gone? When will the tears start? I thought I understood grief. But now I know that I know nothing at all.

You were already grieving all this year when your mom was so ill, my well-meaning friends tell me. Maybe.

But all I feel is a bleakness, a weariness with the world, a fatigue that can’t be fixed with a new vase of tulips, a cookie, a mindless game on my iPad. Not for lack of trying, mind you.

I think what I need to do is wait. Wait for the sun to come back out. Wait for the buds to swell and burst. Wait for the tears to finally come. Wait for my joy to return.

Butterflies of love

The other day a friend asked me if I was still volunteering at the hospice. I told her I was.

That must be so hard, she said. Actually, I get that comment a lot. It must be so hard.

I didn’t quite know what to say. My immediate reaction was to say that it wasn’t hard. But I couldn’t explain why. Continue reading

Volunteer

One of the things I have wanted to do since coming back to the land of English is volunteer with a hospice organization. Hospice, in case you don’t know, is caregiving for people who have a terminal illness. When there is nothing that can be medically done to turn a disease around, when there are no more treatments left, then patients and their families are eligible for hospice care. A hospice team – in a facility or in your home – makes sure that you are comfortable, as free from pain as possible, and supports your family as you make the transition out of this world.

Volunteers are a part of this team, doing nonmedical stuff like listening, bringing water or coffee or tea or warm blankets, wheeling patients outside for fresh air, and generally trying to be helpful while at the same time not making things worse than they already are. I just completed a 26-hour training program for hospice volunteers. My first shift at the hospice on the UBC campus is tomorrow afternoon.

The reason I wanted to do this? My dad.

Continue reading

Reality check

Think for a minute: When was your last existential crisis?

Who, me?  you say. Existential crisis? I don’t have existential crises. I’m a rational thinker. I’m practically an engineer.

I think everybody has existential crises, whether we recognize them as such or not. They’re in the high points, in the low points, in the situations that push you over an edge into a new thing. They’re moments in which you get a glimpse of the uncertainty at the very root of everything that is, and wonder about what your place in it could possibly be. You, this little wad of flesh and bone and bacteria. Continue reading