adversity · aging · change · Family · poetry · spirituality · writing

Death Reveals Inadequacy

Mother is fearful,
time slipping through her fingers,
loneliness enveloping her.

I hold space for her in my thoughts,
my heart aching in beat with hers.

Guilt tosses me up and down –
inadequacy knows no bests.

 

aging · Family · health · poetry · writing

The Last Train (Sonnet)

We wait at the station, Mother and I,
one final stop for her – painless she prays;
I linger at bedside – prolonged goodbye –
memories and regrets filling our days.

“We live too long,” she wearily proclaims,
“Why must suffering linger till the end?”
I plea and bargain, call angelic names,
yet the will to survive refuses to bend.

The urgency builds as my time dwindles;
must I leave her in this compromised state?
She rallies and stands on wobbly spindles
dismisses fears – has accepted her fate.

Some destinations are clearly defined –
death is a train whose schedule’s unkind.

(Penned for dVerse’s poetry forms – the sonnet.)

creativity · dreams · Family · health · poetry · spirituality · writing

Talk To Me Of Horses

Talk to me of horses,
the young man says,
thin locks of blonde matted
on a sweaty brow, flashes of blue
that fade as eyes succumb
to weariness, the constant
whoosh, whoosh of respirator.

Talk to me of horses;
the world is losing its grip
and I have no cares for

the weather or car mechanics,
but I dream of horses
and I am feeling so emotional,
help me understand.

So I come to his bedside,
wait for moments of lucidity
ponder the implications
of his questions, wrestle with
my own inadequacies –
I am merely student here.

And we discuss horses –
the power of their bodies,
their beauty and grace,
their relationship to people –
decide they are ferrymen
transporting souls across worlds –
an explanation that satisfies, then

I am seeing things, he strains
embarrassed even in these final hours
to describe what seems inconceivable –
between sleep and awake – figures grey

and frightening that hover
over my bed like body snatchers…

A chills runs over me, as if icy
fingers have caressed my skin,
and I shudder despite myself,
scramble to maintain calm,
wonder aloud if it is not just fear
projecting grey into light –
clouding his vision.

My timing is off the next day,
arrive too late to see him pass,
find his mother waiting to receive me,
with a message from her son, my kin,
says that it makes no sense to her,
but he assured her I’d understand.

“You were right about the visions,”
he’d said; “there was nothing to fear.”

I smile through my sorrow –
ever the teacher that one,
now dead at twenty-one –

“Oh, and one more thing – could you
talk to me of horses.”

(Today’s prompt for NaPoWriMo is to write about the mysterious and magical.  This poem is dedicated to my cousin Tyler, whose aspirations were to be a physicist, but for whom life had another fate.  He taught me so much.)

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aging · culture · dreams · life · poetry · women's issues

Where Servitude Ends

Born to be domesticated
in a white, controlled desert
tending to two-leggeds –

blamed for delinquencies
I fed but did not groom –
privacy overrun by wannabes

everyone has their own scheme –
I am finished, threaten to disclose
neglect – no limitation to disgust

What fate is this? Abandoned
only to perish – Have I not been
loyal?  Accepting of my role?

Tending to young, in charge of
personal care – translation:
laundry – only comfort solitude.

Past – as industrious as a line
of ants – no longer viable, I am
nothing, dependents gone;

bodily restrictions now claim me
forgotten dreams dissolved – I am
dependent, unwilling legs confine

care unpredictable – ward of the
state – semblance of nutrition
provided, encouraged to sanitize

my body, my attitude; no rest
this home is overpopulated –
vocal laments torment old ears

Pestered by small things, would
leave, stop being a burden, am
decidedly stuck, until life fades.

(Image: favim.com)

dreams · Family · life · Love · memoir · spirituality

Learning About Death

Taylor was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of twenty-one. Although he never smoked a day in his life, his father’s family were heavy smokers, and he suffered for it.  He was my cousin Lynn’s only son.

I belonged to a weekly meditation circle at the time, and Taylor, who was studying to be a physicist, asked if he could join.  I told him that we not only meditated, but liked to explore the realm of intuition as well, and he said that was fine with him.  So week after week, Taylor would join in and add his scientific musings to our experience.  He told me that while he was skeptical, he was sure physics was going to bridge the gap between the rational world and the irrational.  He said that I needed to involve myself in research, if I was ever to prove the existence of anything beyond the accepted norm.  I would laugh and tell him that I was a Literature major, and research was outside my norm.

Taylor’s bald head, and limping figure became a fixture at our weekly meetings, and we all came to love his gentle banter.  Unwilling to accept anything at face value, he brought a healthy balance of skepticism to our circle.

Then one evening, he did not attend. Nor the next.

His mother called me.  “Taylor is in the hospital, and they think he has three more weeks to live.  He is asking for you.”

He was asleep when I entered the room.  His girlfriend greeted me and told me that he slept most of the time, but that if I could wait he would wake up.  She excused herself and left us alone.

Taylor’s body look so fragile and boyish lying in that bed.  An oxygen mask covered his face, so that only his closed eyelids could be seen.  His head was still bald, and he looked more like an infant than the young man I had come to know.  At this point in my life, I had not been this close to death, and I wasn’t sure what to say.

Taylor’s eyes opened and I saw him register my presence.

“Hey, Tay!”  I tried to sound cheerful, compassionate.

He reached up and pulled the oxygen mask down.  “Thanks for coming.”

“No problem.”

“I asked you to come, because I want to talk about what’s happening to me.”  His words were laboured.  I could see it was an effort for him to talk.

“Okay,”  I began.  “Are you sure it won’t be too much for you?  Are you okay without the mask?”

“Oh, yes.  It just keeps me comfortable.”  He replaced the mask and took a few breaths.  “I fall asleep a lot.  Even mid-sentence.”

“That’s okay,” I reassured him.  “I’ll just wait.”

“Thank you,” and he was gone again, sleeping behind the mask.

I looked around.  The room was spacious with a large picture window overlooking the southwest part of the city.  A recliner sat in the corner by the window, and several other chairs allowed for many visitors.  The blue walls reminded me of the night sky just as the last rays of light are vanishing:  a blue tinged with indigo.  So this is where people came to die.

“I want to talk about my dreams.”   I understood now why he had invited me.  I had enrolled in a course at the university that explored the meaning of dreams.  It was actually a religious studies class, and examined how God speaks to us through our dream messages.  “Everyone else wants to talk about things that have no meaning for me anymore, like getting their cars fixed, or the weather.  I don’t have time for small talk.”

He closed his eyes again.  I waited.

“I have been dreaming about horses.”

“Interesting.  Horses were the original mode of transportation, so they are seen symbolically as the vehicles that transport us from one realm to another.  Apparently horse dreams are common at the end of life.”

He nodded.  “Sometimes I can’t tell if I am dreaming or it’s real.”

“What do you mean?”

“I am so emotional.  I can’t seem to turn it off.”  I had to smile.  My highly rational, intellectual cousin not being able to control his emotions.

“Well, I’m no expert, but I’m going to guess you are going through one hell of an emotional time.”

His eyes met mine and we both laughed.  “You’re right about that.”

We both fell silent.

* * * * *

Our visits became a daily occurrence, but I never stayed long as it tired him too much.  We talked about his dreams, his emotions, and as it got closer to the end, we talked about his fears.

“I’m not sure if I’m actually dreaming,”  he told me one day.  “More and more I feel like what I am experiencing is real.”

“Describe it to me.”

The silences were growing longer.  Speaking, or even staying awake, seemed to take great effort now.  I would hold his hand to let him know I was still with him.  I felt such reverence towards my young cousin for letting me share these moments with him.

“I see figures.  Grey figures.”

“Do you know who they are?”

His eyes stared, unfocused, into the space before him.  “No.  Can’t really say they are people.”

I pondered this revelation while he rested. I thought back to a story my mother told me about my birth.  During my delivery, she suddenly lost physical consciousness, and found herself, disembodied, floating above the delivery table.  She said she saw her father beside her reaching out his hand, and as she went to take it, she realized what was happening and pulled back, being jolted back into her body and the labour pains.  She claims that she had refused death in that moment, and remembers telling her father that she had five babies to look after and couldn’t go with him.

Taylor’s eyes were open again.  “What if the figures that you see are here to escort you to the other side?”  I asked.  “How do they make you feel?”

“Afraid.”

“Maybe your fear is what is clouding your ability to see them.”

He didn’t wake up again that visit.

* * * * *

The next day I arrived at the hospital later than usual.  Taylor’s mom met me in the hallway.  “He’s gone.  He tried to wait for you, but didn’t make it.  He did leave a message for you, though.  I don’t know what it means, but he said to tell you that you were right, that all came out clear in the end, and not to worry about him.”

As I hugged her in condolence, I thought my heart was going to burst.

In his short life, this beautiful young man shared so much with me:  his theories and questions, his deepest vulnerabilities, and his experience of the beyond.   Together, were we able to strip away all the noise and distractions of everyday life to touch something much more sacred and real.

 

 

 

 

abuse · Family · life · Love · memoir · relationships · spirituality

Saying Goodbye To Father

My father fought against death at the end, even though he was wracked with pain,  had difficulty breathing, and spent many of his nights in hospital.

“At what point do we stop all this intervention, Dad, and talk about keeping you comfortable?”

It was the early hours of the morning after another night spent in emergency.

“Now,”  his voice cracked as he spoke.  Dad was so clearly in distress it was alarming.  Involuntary spasms of pain kept him from resting, and the strain was telling on his ashen face.

I took his hand in mine.  “Dad, all I want for you is peace,”  I hesitated.  “To be honest with you, Dad, I have never known you to have peace in your life.”

He squeezed my hand.   “Not a lot.”

“Do you believe that there is something for you on the other side, Dad?”

“I don’t know, Honey.  I don’t have the faith that you do.  I don’t know what to believe.”

“Some say that our feeling about God is related to our relationship with our own father.”

“How so?”

“When you were a boy, huddled in the coat closet, hiding from your father, what were your thoughts?  Did you ever think about God in those moments?”

“All the time.”  My father closed his eyes and laid back.  “I remember asking God over and over, what I did wrong to deserve the beatings.  I thought  God was punishing me.”

“Exactly, Dad.  Maybe your fear of death is because the little boy in you thinks God will reject you, or inflict more pain.”

He opened his eyes and looked at me.  “You could be right.  I know I’m afraid.”

“God didn’t punish you, Dad.  Your father did.  I have to believe there is something better awaiting you.”

He closed his eyes again, processing what I suggested.  “You were a child, Dad.  It wasn’t your fault.  You need to forgive yourself.”   A tear trickled down his cheek.

We didn’t talk about it further, but we did speak to the doctor on duty about changing Dad’s care.  Plans were made to transfer my father to palliative care.  The day he was to be moved, my father announced that he didn’t want any visitors.  He said he needed time to settle in.  They moved him mid-morning.  He died within hours.  I rushed to his side, but it was too late.

“Good for you, Dad,” I cried.  “You finally made it.”

 

life · nonfiction · spirituality

A Witness To Death

My mother told me that when she was a child, she would wake up in the middle of the night to find her mother slaving over the woodstove.  Grandma was a midwife.  Mom said Grandma’s dreams would tell her when a baby was coming, and she would get up and cook for her family, knowing she would be away.

Grandma’s gift passed on to me, with a slight variation.

I first learned about it the night my four cousins perished in a fire.  I awoke in the middle of the night with an awful chill.  When my mother told me the news, I realized that I’d already known about their passing.

Walking home from school one day, at the age of eleven, something unseen stopped me in my tracks.  The image of my paternal Grandmother filled my mind along with the sensation of her love, and a farewell.  I arrived home to find my family gathered around.  “I know,” I said, before anyone could speak.  “She told me.”

Lying beside my ailing sister one night, I had a vision of a spirit.  He told me to listen for the howling of the wolves, and that my sister would pass through the fire on her way to the other side.  I was with her the night an unexpected storm came in.  The wind it brought sounded like a pack of wolves howling outside the window.  I had been holding her hand, but the heat from her body was so intense, I had to let go.  The nurse said her temperature was higher than her thermometer could measure.  She passed away ten minutes later.

Do I believe in life after death?  Yes.  Does that lessen the grief of losing a loved one?  No.

Grief is the natural response to loss.  Life may go on, but the relationship has been permanently altered, and that is loss.

When Dee found out she was dying, she made me promise I would be there to hold her hand.  Death, like birth, I told her, is not something we have control over, but I would do my best.  The call came at 6:30 one morning.

“Dee says it’s time,”  her mother told me.  “Can you come?”

I had children to get off to school, and so it was two hours before I arrived at Dee’s bedside.  She was already well on her way.   With one hand I grasped hers, then placed my other over her heart as I leaned in to whisper: “I’m here.”

Dee’s eyes opened and she took one last gasping breath and died.  Her spirit, like a breeze, flowed through the house, flickering all the candles her mother and sister had lit to mark the occasion.  She was free!

I witnessed the miracle, and then I grieved.