A Beam Of Love

In the wee hours of the morning on September 2, my mother found her way out of this life.  After over a year of struggling on her path towards the next life, she fell asleep.  When she awoke, I am sure she found herself in God’s dwelling place instead of in the nursing home.

All my mother’s life, she lived joyously and richly. She squeezed every drop of enjoyment and meaning out of every day.  She was almost always happy.  It wasn’t that her life was always wonderful or exciting or fun.  It wasn’t even that she had a particularly exotic or interesting life.  Most people would say that her life was pretty conventional. She was a daughter and a sister and an aunt and a wife and a career woman and a mother and a friend.   What made her so special was not so much what her life was, but how she lived it.

My mother had a gift for satisfaction.  She collected fulfillment and meaning in her every action, even the most mundane experiences. When we were out driving somewhere and got off course, she’d often say, “I never get lost; I just have adventures.”  I think that pretty much summed up how she approached life, way beyond just how she approached a road trip. Wherever she was going in life and whatever she did, she was determined to find happiness and pleasure in the process.

She was the kind of person who attracted other people. She was an interesting and interested person.  She was curious about all kinds of things and embraced opportunities to learn.  She relished good, meaty conversations.  She was an excellent listener. She knew how to make people feel safe.  She heard what you said and what you didn’t say.  She heard what was underneath your words.  I don’t believe there was ever anyone who knew her who did not love her.  She constantly sowed love and harvested relationships as she rollicked through her day-to-day existence.  She valued those relationships and nurtured them.  Even in the nursing home in her very compromised state, she radiated a kindness and joy that attracted people.

On the other hand, she followed her own heart in living her own life.  She did what she believed was right and followed the paths that brought her happiness. She used to say that she liked herself and she liked her own company.  She had a busy mind that was always tooling away happily, creating thought and considering possibilities.  I used to say she was her own occupational therapist because she could figure out alternate ways to do almost everything when her mobility started to desert her.   She owned a home computer before most people did and, even in her eighties, she embraced new technology that added interest to her life.

She had courage of conviction.  She walked her life with God as her guide.  She held firm in her convictions and relied on her relationship with God to support her in her journey. She believed in prayer.  She believed in miracles.

She loved God.  She loved life. She loved other people.  She loved herself.  In short, she was a joyful beam of love, illuminating and warming everyone with whom she came in contact.

Now this beam of love has faded into the next life, leaving this life darker and colder and considerably less sparkling.  The thought of going on with my journey without her physically by my side seems unconscionable.  Considering all the memories we shared, all the things she taught me, and all the gifts she gave me, it is inaccurate to say I will ever be traveling through this life without her.  All that she was is embedded in me and will be with me forever. I want to honor all she was and all that made her beam by carrying on her legacy of loving, joyful living.

It seems that now I will have to grow towards the joy on my own, without her walking in tandem with me. I don’t know yet how I am going to do that.  It helps to know that she has found the greatest Joy of all.

Thanks to all of you for your support as I have walked this difficult path with my mother.  Thanks, in particular, to my friends Louisa and Odete, who encouraged me to write this tribute to my mom.  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a joyful day!

Terri 🙂

Special programming announcement:  I’ll be off the grid next week, but will be back with new content on October 4.  

Autonomy

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog piece called Loosening My Grip.  In that post, I discussed my need to find a way to let go of my mother’s situation long enough to allow me to take a trip to California.  Lately, I’ve been thinking that the concept is much broader than just leaving my mom to take a vacation.

I need to figure out a way to let go of my mom’s journey.  Everything I read tells me that this time before death is very important to the person who is dying.  The person has internal work to do to feel complete in this life and to be open to whatever God has ready for her in the next, everlasting, life.  The journey belongs to the dying person and it must be whatever is must be for her.  As much as I would like to intervene and make the process “better,” I cannot.  Truthfully, it is better that I don’t try because my idea of “better” may not be what my mother needs or wants at all.  I’ve always been inclined, when given the option, to shoulder the hard job instead of asking someone else to do it.  I think part of me is trying to do that for my mother now.  I want to take on some of the difficulty, the pain, and the work for her.  However, I’m learning that, on some level, death is something that we each have to do on our own.  Besides, the fact that I suffer pain and grief does not alleviate any of her pain and grief.

I also wonder if my mother needs me to let go so that she can feel confident that it is safe for her to let go.  I think neither of us wants to be the one to turn away from the other first.  I’ve had the conversations with her that all the books recommend- the ones in which you assure the loved one that you will be okay when the loved one passes from this life.  I’ve tried to think of all the things she might worry about and I’ve talked to her about how they will be okay.  I’ve shared memories with her and continue to look for things in her current life that I can connect back to our history together.  I can’t think of anything else I can do to help her feel content that it is safe to let go.  Except to let go of her.

I don’t know if I can let go of her.  I don’t want to.  Traveling this path with her has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, but it would have been unimaginably harder to know she was walking this path without me.  I know that, someday soon, my mother will pass and I will have to let go.

The same books that tell me it is important for the dying person to understand that the family will be okay after the death also tell me that the most important things to a person who is dying is for the person to know that she is loved and that her life has had value.  That is really what I have been doing for my mother for the past year.  As long as my mother still understands the concepts of love and value, which she clearly still does, I feel like my attachment is that validation of love and value.  I don’t want her to go a single second of her life without feeling that she is loved and valued.

At the same time, I can see that my mother is just starting to slip slowly away from me as she continues on her path.  She still recognizes me and seems pleased to see me, but she doesn’t feel as attached in some vague, almost intangible way.  It is hard to explain or describe.  It is just something I feel.  I think the time is coming when we are going to reach a fork in the road on this journey.  She will go one way and I won’t be able to follow her anymore.  I will have to stay at the fork in the road.  I won’t be journeying with her anymore, but will only be watching her.  It will be the part she will have to do by herself.

In the meantime, I, too, have to start taking baby steps towards letting go.  The balance between allowing my mother the autonomy she needs to complete this journey and making sure she understands how much she is loved and valued every single minute is going to be difficult.  I think I have to stop trying to think so much about what the right thing to do is and what the right amount of time to spend is. I have to start trusting my gut to tell me what feels right.

What do you think?  It is hard to let a loved one go.  Have any of you had an experience that might help me release her?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Thanks for reading and traveling with me virtually!

Terri

Quality Of Life

One of my many sources of guilt since my mother’s stroke revolves around my decision to move to Florida.  If I had stayed in California, obviously, my mother would also have stayed.  It isn’t that I think that she wouldn’t have had the stroke if we had stayed in California.  It is just that she had a much more active, independent life when she lived in California.  She drove.  She ruled the docent world at the local reservoir like Glinda the Good Witch ruled Oz.  She had friends.  She worked full time for the school district during the summers. She had my brother living close by.  I hate to think that my mother sacrificed what was to be her last relatively healthy year and a half of life to make sure I didn’t postpone creating the life I wanted in my retirement. 

My original plan was to stay in California while my mother was still alive.  I know my mother had no burning desire to move to Florida.  I know she chose to embrace the move so that I would not put my life on hold.  The irony is that neither one of us wanted the other to sacrifice.  I guess that is a sign of a loving relationship, but it doesn’t preclude pain or guilt. 

Of course, I struggled with the guilt born of the decision to move long before my mother had the stroke.  I’ve argued to myself that my mother is a grown woman and she was the one who made the decision.  I’ve tried to provide as much care, company, entertainment, and love as I could to compensate for the amusements and activities she left behind.  I’ve acknowledged that there are many practical ways that her life improved when she moved to Florida. 

If anything, these months since the stroke have shown the wisdom of the decision to move.  If I had stayed in California, I would have been living over 150 miles round trip from my mother.  Here in Florida, I was only 15 miles from her mobile home before the stroke and I am only 7 miles from the long-term care facility now.  I don’t think I would have been able to do as much for her as I do now if we had stayed in California. That would have been a huge loss to both of us.   

All that aside, I still wrestle with the guilt.  It is always hard to know what the best answer would have been, even with the benefit of hindsight. 

The other day, I was responding to an email from one of my mom’s California friends.  I mentioned that I hoped that the benefits I provided in Florida compensated for the life my mom gave up in California.  The friend replied with a reassuring message about how my mother had always talked about all the fun things we did in Florida.  I decided to use that email as a starting point for a conversation with my mom.  I read an edited version of the email from her friend.  I said to my mom that I hoped she truly had enjoyed the activities and adventures we had together in our new home.  She looked a bit bewildered, so I continued.  I said that I sometimes wondered if I did the right thing moving to Florida because I worried that she gave up so much to move with me.  A light went on behind her eyes and she sputtered, “no, no, no.”  I forged ahead.  Looking around at the nursing home room, I said, “This is no one’s idea of fun, I know….”  She cut me off, insisting, “no, but HAPPY, HAPPY.” 

I think my mother’s cognitive and communicative abilities are no longer anywhere near sophisticated enough for her to try to say the “right thing.”  I have to assume she was genuine in telling me what she really feels.   

It was a gift. It was especially a gift in that my mother could not have that same conversation today, just a few weeks later.  The decline is so gradual and so ephemeral I don’t often realize it as it happens.  However, when I compare her condition today to what it was a few weeks ago or even a few days ago, I see the disintegration.  This ooze down the horribly rough road is so difficult to watch, it is hard for me to understand the “happy” response.  She is so frail and weak and disconnected, I don’t know how she can be happy. Her life has become so small and limited, there doesn’t seem much left that could inspire happiness for most of us.   On the other hand, my mother has always had a talent for happiness.   

Maybe, when you boil happiness down to its very essence, loving and being loved can be enough to generate joy.

What does “quality of life” mean to you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Enjoy the quality of your life today!

Terri