It’s stunning, what we go through, individually, and all together, during these days and nights prior to tomorrow’s funeral. There’s all the logistics of death, and the conversations, parties, and ceremonies attending. There’s the feelings, running rampant, usually underneath, but abrupting into the air unpredictably. There’s what I call the personal narratives, each of our stories as to who Dad was, who our Mom is, their relationship, our individual relationships with them. How different they and we all are. How much each of our narratives depend on, not just our unique natures and conditioned personalities, but on our chronological roles in the family, and the shifting cultural background.
For example, as the first child, I was alone with Mom and Dad for nine months. Then he left for the war. Seven months later Marnie was born. In October, 1945, Dad came home. Marnie and I were the war babies, everybody else was a post-World War II, what we call “baby boomers.” Two drastically different cultural contexts.
And there is Kristin, the youngest, her narrative. There with the folks as one by one as we all left home. I left for college when she was a toddler. She watched each of our narratives, how we interacted with the folks and each other, and perhaps inevitably, she had more their perspective on us than ours. And she, as many youngest children do, took up the mantle of responsibility for the parents during their declining years, now accelerating to warp speed.
Four days ago, Dad died. Since then, worlds within worlds have been breached, broached, brazenly branded this or that. So many many stories I could, but will not tell, in the interests of family privacy. Many of them jaw-dropping. How we do surprise each other up until the day we die — and beyond! How we do continue to unfold, and evolve, expose and express deeper and deeper layers of our mysterious unique natures — or not. Sometimes we get stuck, and stay stuck, for years. Decades even. Sometimes we move at light speed, crossing boundary after boundary, both ahead and behind. Here’s one. For I can tell stories about me and my reaction to the cascade of feelings pouring through all of us.
Mom is our central focus. What does she need during this time. How can a 94-year-old woman who has been in the process of losing (loosening) her memory for years now, process through the unfathomable grief that attends the death of her lifetime partner?
As the only sibling who has lost a husband, I have a certain perspective to bring to bear, but my experience was lightweight compared to what hers must be. After all, I was married to Jeff for 12 years, not 70. And I was already 48 years old when we met, fully formed, comfortable with my own life and calling. And, my memories are (mostly) intact.
But as the one widow among us, and for other murkier “reasons” that will emerge here, I felt that I was the most appropriate person to be with her during the immediate transition.
I knew she would need to not be left alone. So I decided to even sleep with her, in their kingsize bed, occupying the space where he had been. I wondered how it would go. Would either of us sleep? We did. It was fine.
Next I have spent a number of 20-minute periods with her during these three days (I arrived Monday evening; he died Sunday evening, 24 hours earlier), discussing the difference between the soul and the personality, and the needs of her soul, what they might be.
Of course, as one-half of a devoted lifelong couple, she may elect to follow him soon after, within days, or weeks or months. Or not. And if not, I told her, then her soul must have another plan for her. Perhaps there are things she can learn about herself, aspects of her very full, very creative nature that have not been tapped, ever! That simply could not be tapped while in a long marriage with a strong, dominant German man.
I resolved to perhaps help her transition by creating and maintaining an energy field of allowing for her untapped possibilities to begin to emerge. Not that much would happen, I thought, while I was here (I planned to leave September 15th), but perhaps I could help her set her feet on new ground.
“And if not,” I told her, “if, as you tell me, what you still enjoy in being on this earth is ‘being with my husband, and now that is not possible,’ then, if your personality and your soul are in alignment, here’s what I would do if I were you. Every time I lay down, for a nap, or in the evening, I would pray to be let free of this world, so that I could go to my beloved who is waiting for me on the other side. I would ask to be allowed to leave this body easily, in my sleep.”
“I thought about that,” she remarked, cryptically. And I could tell that my saying that to her was another kind of allowing.
Meanwhile, she is starting to “come out,” to express herself in new ways. Already! And it’s starting to blow us all away. Now, here’s the story I want to tell, my own “personal narrative” that none of the other siblings would have any inkling of, just as they have their own personal narratives that I’m sure they are encountering during these few intense, dramatic days leading to the funeral.
I had been contemplating the fact that I was sleeping in the same bed with her, and thinking about how just as, in the war, she and I had been alone together while Dad was gone, so here we are again. Some kind of visceral memory that bonds us, connects us, which I don’t know consciously, but I certainly do feel deeply. I have not said this to her.
And perhaps it’s good I didn’t, because today, not wanting to hurt my feelings directly, she told two of my siblings that she wants to sleep alone! All of a sudden, out of the blue. She wants to kick me out of her bed! Well, that’s what I felt anyhow, that’s what the little kid in me felt, devastated. Utterly desolate.
I’m feeling these feelings while all around me the logistics of planning the funeral (and now, planning where I can sleep instead!) are proceeding. Nobody has any idea this is going on in me, and there’s no point in airing it. I just want to stay conscious, present, to these feelings, to see what emerges.
Ah. Oh yes, a memory comes back. Not from childhood, but from a time when she told me that once, when Dad was gone to the war, there was a huge wind and thunderstorm storm that had started to hammer her parents’ home, where we were living. Immediately, she thought about me, in my crib in the next room. She rushed in, only to see that the doors to the garden had sprung open. The room was full of freezing wind, and I was huddled in my little sleeper, in one corner of the crib.
“And then,” she told me later, full of remorse and wonderment at her own unthinking insensitivity to her first child’s needs, “I just covered you up and went back to bed. Why didn’t I pick you up and bring you to bed with me? I should have picked you up and held you all night, kept you warm, kept you safe. I didn’t do that.”
So, back to now, this morning, when she said she wants to sleep alone. Get the picture? On the one hand, I had been encouraging her to begin her own independent life, and on the other hand, when she did, when she made her first independent decision, to sleep alone, she triggered, without knowing it, that early experience of ours that she, at least when her memory was intact, remembered, and that I did, and still do not, but that, certainly, did affect me tremendously. How do I know? Because of the way, on an inner level, I crumpled into a puddle of nothingness at this need of hers that I only found out about when my siblings told me.
Aaah, one story among many. The world is full of such stories, and they can be healing, if we allow them in, if we consciously process through them. All grief is like this, just needing to be fully acknowledged, so that it can move.
What would happen if all of us began to consciously touch into, process, and release the layers upon layers of frozen, untouched grief? So much vital energy, lurking, locked into dead forms we no longer need.
What would happen if all of us suddenly released all this old gunk that has kept us mired, enmeshed in suffering?
Can you imagine it? Like a nuclear bomb turned inside out, this extraordinary explosion/expression of creativity and love such as the world has never seen.
I am so very grateful for a (mostly) clear mind and full heart.