Five months ago. That was my last blog post. Two days before my mother died. I haven’t had the emotional energy to share and process online what has been fermenting in my mind, my heart. Yes, brief Instagram™ posts have popped out, but they are snippets of my internal landscape. Today is my first attempt to take my small, personal experience and offer what has been unfolding—to let you know that your personal experiences matter. That your grief matters.
She didn’t go as easy as I wanted. And I didn’t have any “tricks” up my sleeve to make it so. It was my mother’s journey to the end. She had Alzheimer’s and I don’t know how much that wily disease played into her process. She came of age in London during a World War. I don’t know if that came back into her deeper conscious. Maybe it was just a fear of leaving the known for the unknown. I will never know the answer. I do know she allowed me to be there when she took her last breaths (and I do mean “allowed,” for I did not stay by her side 24/7 her last two days and offered her permission to go with or without me there.) I experienced sacredness, sadness and even a bit of humor at the end. I had the comfort of a dear friend, the hospice chaplain, by my side. I felt relieved when the last breath finally came. I participated in bathing her body. I walked out with her when the funeral home came. And insisted she went out the front door of her assisted living, just as she came in. (A pet peeve of mine is when deceased residents are “sent out the back door.”)
I cried with my children. I cried over the phone with my brother and sister-in-law. My brother flew back and we cleaned out her apartment. We tossed, we donated, we saved. We shared stories we never shared before. I heard new perspectives on our growing up. Death can do that if you are open to it.
I went back to work. I started making the necessary “paperwork” phone calls. Worked on her estate. Memorial planning. Kept up on my own life responsibilities. Grief would filter in like wisps of ocean fog in the spaces left untended. I found those moments nourishing. Desired them. Bided my time until the small spaces could expand and I could invite grief into an unhurried heart. I had those days, but they were sporadic and came with intention on my part when I told "the busy" to stop.
I am beginning to scratch the surface of what my mother’s dying and death has taught me. About my increasing comfort with my own death and my need to share my changing wishes with my decision-makers. My love for life and all I still want to be, do, and create. In labyrinth terms, my life has come to a turn on the path. This is the first time since I was newbie adult that I have not been responsible for anyone besides myself.
My father died thirty-two years before my mother (she was the same age I am now)—a long time to be a widow. My brother and I were already grown. She retired a few years later. She spent those years traveling, loving on her grandchildren, nurturing friendships, gardening, reading, and taking care of her parents until they too died. The last five years, dementia took energy from what brought pleasure and meaning and she seemed to focus on being a person she couldn’t muster anymore. My sense is part of her never gave up wanting to be the pre-Alzheimer’s Audrey, though that voice was growing dimmer by the day.
One gift received as I prepared for her memorial June 17th was going through old photos, including some I had never seen from my grandparents’ boxes stashed in her boxes. A photo of my mother at three has captured my heart-arms raised ready to twirl? Dance? Her look is determined.
Photos of my mother and father as a young couple show connection. The four of us as a family reflect life events. Vacations. Picnics. Graduations. Weddings. Visits from family. And the ordinary. She is smiling in most of the photos.
Through these photos I am reclaiming my mother. I didn’t even realize I lost her while I focused on her care and comfort the last few years. While being present to who she was becoming, letting fade into the background who she was must have been how I coped. Now who she was the last years of her life is fading and my amazing mother is coming back into focus. Yes, she was both those women, but she was so much more than the last few years. Now I have time to welcome all the grief and allow it to flow.
I am entering into what I am calling the Year of My Unfolding. I have left my part-time job. This will allow time and energy for my practice and business to grow. It will allow space for grief and I to dance more intimately. I will be Nurturing My Journey as I continue to dive into wells of wisdom so I can continue to Nurture Your Journey. I will be exploring my passions and reading...a lot. I look forward to writing more. Sharing more. And it won’t be five months before you hear from me again.
What is unfolding in your life this week? This month? This year? What would you like to invite into your life? What image comes to mind when you consider ”allowing grief into your unhurried heart."
Would you like to join me for my next workshop Recognizing & Honoring Life Transitions? Sunday August 19th from 1-5pm in SE Portland. Go to: http://nurtureyourjourney.net/workshop-schedule/2018/8/19/recognizing-honoring-life-transitions for more details.