Unexpected Gifts in Letting Go

Funny how old memories will resurface at unexpected times. Maybe it is the sweetness of the blackberries this summer that stirred my recollection of these unfolding memories two years ago. Spring of 2014 blossomed into a summer of unanticipated challenges. My mother had moved to an independent living facility a couple of years earlier after residing in her own home as a widow since my father’s death in 1986. It had not been the easiest adjustment for her, as she and my father had held as a core belief that you “owned your home.” But my almost weekly trek to visit and the few new friends she made had eased the transition and, for the most part, life seemed to be in a comfortable rhythm. Then over the preceding fall and winter she had one fall, I’d received a few phone calls from folks concerned she had gotten lost driving and I noticed of the same piles of mail lay unopened from the week before on her coffee table. There were the partially completed crossword puzzles with no desire to finish them and other subtle clues that maybe something wasn’t right with my intelligent and usually engaged mother.  Fortunately, a few years early when she had hip replacement surgery, she had given me permission to talk with her primary care physician, so I was able to contact him with concerns. And so started the process of diagnosing her Alzheimer’s dementia.

But, back in 2014 I, as the daughter who lived locally, and my brother, the one who lived out of state, were still discerning just what was going on and how to proceed. Besides working full time with a long drive that kept me busy for 10+ hours a day during the week along with occasional on-call duty, life was beyond full most days. One decision we made, with her agreement, was to move her to another independent living facility closer to me, so I could more easily stop by and check on her. That happened at the end of June 2014, a particularly frantic time at work too. To say I felt exhausted and overwhelmed would have been an understatement. And taking time for yard work, well that was well down on the list, as it is NOT my passion, so I would not have considered it self care.

For years I had been in a “battle” with blackberry bushes that loved to grow on a slope among the rhododendrons and mugo pines and other woody shrubs.  I would diligently get the shears and go to war several times each spring through early fall, doing my best to keep them within our “negotiated” boundaries. But in the summer of 2014 with my energy resources drained, I surrendered and they took over the slope, winding their way around the shrubs and leaping out the top of bushes like wild jack-in-the-boxes, as if laughing at me. At least that was my initial perception. And then August arrived and their delicate white peace-flag blossoms turned to sweet tender fruit. Each morning after my walk, I would take a small bowl and pick from this private bounty to add to my smoothy. I had weeks worth of fruit over August into mid-September. I had let go of the battle to control the blackberries and received the unexpected gift of pleasant sustenance.

Within five months my family realized my mother needed to moved to assisted living. Two years later she continues on her journey through memory loss and I continue to learn the lessons of letting go, finding unexpected gifts amidst the ambiguous grief of journeying with someone you love as they fall deeper into their dementia. One gift has been the a deepening of my own poetic voice and finding my mother’s voice in me through poetry. My poem Her Dream (http://www.nurtureyourjourney.net/poetry-anne-richardson/) is one example.

Do you struggle to let go? What are some unexpected gifts you have received in letting go? Have you taken time to taste the sweet fruit in surrendering?

My mother, Audrey Cooper, approximately 17 years old

My mother, Audrey Cooper, approximately 17 years old