It begins. In a sort of muddle internally — and a burst of energy rearranging an old reality into the new.
This little book, its gravity juxtaposed with a toy soldier’s whimsy, sitting on the shelf beneath the tiny table next to Mom’s new door
in her new apartment, says it all.
Her new place features a breathtaking view of Seattle, Puget Sound, the Cascades beyond — and the sky, an opportunity to expand, to soar.
We decided to move her, since she is working with mild dementia, to this smaller place on the same floor at Mount Saint Vincent that opened up magically the week Dad died and which, she says, excitedly, “feels like a nest!”
Last time we moved the folks, seven siblings (all but me), kept them away until they had set up the new place in late April, when it was apparent that Dad was failing. That first apartment, two large rooms, was one of the largest at Mount St. Vincent’s. This one is tiny, a studio, so that she can feel secure and safe, and less likely to get disoriented and forget where the bathroom is. Now she can see the bathroom, no matter where she is in the room. That’s a comfort for us. To keep her safe.
This move took place during the two days following Friday’s funeral and numerous evening gatherings held over the last week in siblings’ homes who live in Seattle. A very full, fun, poignant time. A time for food, reminiscence, logistics and song. And always, always, the concern for Mom. How does a 94-year-old woman with mild dementia navigate the loss of her husband of 70 years? How can we help her adjust? What measures shall we take? The decision to move to the studio was hers, and ours, a decision arrived at the way all decisions seem to come about in this nuclear family that is growing closer as time goes on, organically, emerging from ongoing, dovetailing discussions among two, and three, and four, and finally seven out of eight of us (one had gone on a previously scheduled trip the day after the funeral) together with Mom.
The decision, tentative until Saturday, solidified then, in a family discussion in the early afternoon. YES!
That very hour we began, sorting, keeping, repurposing, giving away, what no longer fits, and schlepping what she will need now from #218 MSV to #205 MSV.
This time Mom was an active participant, telling us to adjust the position of the table here, the chair there . . .
She and Dad had slept in a king size bed since I was small. Now, only days after his death, we purchased a twin bed and bedding, and placed it against the west wall, with a stuffed angel above, watching over her, and her hutch with treasures inside and funny stuffed animals on top. John got the bed and some of the bedding. Kris got the rest. Neither of them consulted with each other. When they arrived, the colors matched. Not just harmonized. Matched!
The evening of the day we put the bed in, Mom complained when Paula and I put her to bed that it was too high for her to sit on it comfortably. She was right. I tried to ignore her. Told her she’d have to get used to it. Then I left her for the first time alone at night and went back to sleep on an air mattress in #218, where Dad had died and where the soggy energies of his final suffering were still wafting through.
When I walked into the apartment I felt smacked with his presence, something I didn’t expect. A powerful, eerie haunting, full of energy. Then I got the message, strong, very strong: “Take care of that bed. Fix the bed.” Still not quite believing what I was hearing I got in the shower, undressed and got into bed, my mind buzzing: what to do? How to fix the bed? I felt anxious, driven, commanded! Then I realized: of course, there are lots of ways to fix it. And called Paula who was staying with Kris about a mile away, saying that I had been thinking about the bed, and how can we fix it? Paula said they had just been talking about it also, and we should figure it out right away to make Mom more comfortable. I said I would tell her in the morning that we would decide how to fix it and rang off.
And then, the second impulse, this one even stronger, a direct order: “You go tell her right now. NOW!”
I tried to ignore it.
The message kept coming, insistent. DAMN!
I got up and dressed and walked back into #205, went over to Mom lying there on that high bed and told her we would fix it. She laughed weakly. I think I woke her up.
Dad was still directing things, still protecting her with his usual abrupt orders. Nothing had changed. Kris told me that she too felt it. That during the time I was talking with Paula on the phone she felt a rush of energy through the room and turned to her husband and said, “we need to go over there and fix that bed, right now!”
P.S. The bed was fixed the next day. Took the wheels off, and two inches magically disappeared. The bed is now perfect.
This was not the only occasion that Dad has strongly presented himself, but it was indicative of just how he is working on the other side.
I also get the feeling that he is, somehow, back in school, and loving it. My sister Mary and her husband John also got this information, independently of each other and of me. We all laughed to realized this, as Dad was always such a student. I told Mom he probably doesn’t want her to join him just yet as he’s got too much to learn for the next little while.
I have a feeling that his learning involves letting go of the rigid limiting beliefs he held onto so tenaciously while in-body — dogmas of Catholicism and of allopathic medicine — and that this effacement of the membrane of the western conditioned left-brain mind is exhilarating!
So yes, back and forth, back and forth, last weekend, through the hallway and back, from #218 to #205, my brothers and sisters and their spouses and a niece or two, for those two days, sorting, packing, discarding, moving.
Now Dad’s big chair is Mom’s.
Paula and I leave Saturday, one week ahead of schedule. Mom no longer needs us on a daily basis. She both fears and looks forward — to her solitude, and her gradual inclusion into the Mount Saint Vincent family, this community of elders and nurses and aides within this “institution” that is so filled with love.
The grieving time begins. For her, for us.