My body moves in water more like thick, embroidery floss through a needlepoint canvas than a dolphin crossing oceans. I am not a proficient swimmer but water feels familiar and lap swimming is as much a spiritual practice for me as exercise. Only after completing a restless hour swimming on Monday the 15th did I become aware that day, July 15th, marked three months since I took my first steps on the shores of Scotland. I couldn’t settle into the present moment of water flowing over my shoulders, spilling down my spine, and splashing behind my kicking feet, but I didn’t know why. Instead I was distracted by the pain in my left leg that lingers since I fell hiking over two weeks ago; frustrated I can’t walk this land and reacquaint myself with these trees and hills. Distracted by strands of past conversations that dropped into my head, following them into thickets of brambles that poked and scratched me and serve no purpose but to hurt. Back and forth I swam, trying to release the distractions.
My half-open eyes see a cathedral in the darkness of my bedroom before I realize I am home. I hear the first notes of birdsong as the light peaks over the horizon and I float with them across the ocean to another land I also call home. What was familiar seems out of place and old routines lie in a jumble on the floor. In my first week home I lost cash, my spare prescription glasses, and my patience while driving. One of the few things that feels grounding is returning to lap swimming. Somehow the fluidity of water settles me. Crossing the threshold home after Sojourning with Grief has brought me into an old place with new eyes. The familiar is now unfamiliar. I am disoriented.
I didn’t expect her journey to last this long. But it has. Three weeks have passed since the heart “event” that tipped the scales in favor of dying “sooner” versus living “longer.” Three weeks of decline with brief rallies. From spending her days in her chair, engaging with company between long naps and eating small meals, to being bed bound. She spends the hours in deep sleep, sometimes restless, no longer outwardly responding to my voice. I accept after each visit it may be the last time I experience her warm skin against mine. But no phone call awakens me in the wee hours...
The day comes when you are the daughter, not the chaplain. You are grateful for your experiences and for the lessons other daughters and sons have taught you when you walked beside them. Relieved that you invited families to trust the journey of their loved ones and to practice self-care, so that you too can hear the echo of your own words as you sit and watch your mother meander from this world toward the next.
Kevin Kling told a lovely story of when pots and pans could talk. I’m paraphrasing, but here is the essence of the story: A man had two pots. Every day he would take his two pots down to the stream and fill them up with his day’s supply of water and carefully walk home along the dusty path. Over time, one of his pots became worn and cracked and began leaking water. By the time he got home, over half the water would have dripped out along the path. The pot said to the man, “you need to replace me with a new pot. I am no longer serving my purpose.” The man said to the pot, “Look back down the path. See, there are wildflowers growing where your drops have fallen.”