Note: This post is part of a series that began in June and is now archived chronologically on a new page: The Grieving Time.
Flying home from Seattle from being with Mom after Dad’s death. Sleeping mask over my eyes, in a auto-drugged state, I am feeling myself, my awareness, inside Mom’s. Inside that dark cave of blind, fearful, confused unknowing. Sitting there. Centering there, in that communion, that confusion, that fusion which characterized my early life with her, from the time I was nine months old — when Dad left for the Phillipines in World War II — and when he came home, in October 1945 and I was nearly three years old. All that time, inside her terrible fear, and struggling for air.
All that time, trying to entertain her, put on a show, make her laugh, desperate to distract her from the listlessness, the paralysis — that not knowing which way to turn, what to do now, how to go about living — that characterized her condition during the war, and yes, this failure to thrive had set in so deeply that her parents, not wanting us to starve, would bring dinner to her apartment every evening.
That’s what I, alone of the eight siblings, am aware of as I move through these first lugubrious days of grieving our father’s death on August 27. That’s what, I, alone of the eight siblings, am re-living, re-enacting, deep inside. That poisonous communion with my mother who could not mother. My younger sister Marnie was born during his time away, 16 months after me (he must have come home on leave nine months prior to her birth), but she was so young during the war that the awareness of war, of how war kills, not only those who are caught in it, but those who are left behind for its duration, is not hers to consciously bear.
Dad’s obituary speaks of all the medals he received during his time of service, medals which sat, along with other memorabilia from the war, in his top drawer during his entire life. He never spoke of the war, but surely he carried it with him until his death.
Just as he carried his wife, Renee, with him until death, even though, in their later years, he once complained to me that she followed him everywhere, even into the bathroom. That she wouldn’t leave him alone. This was eleven years ago, when they were in their early 80s, during a visit with them in their rented Palm Springs condo. They had gone there for a month, to be near their daughter Marnie in her winter home. They didn’t know anyone except Marnie and her husband. The streets felt too big and fast for them to feel comfortable driving. Plus, barely any sidewalks to speak of along those fast, noisy, dangerous streets. So they felt stuck inside the condo.
On the same trip, Mom complained to me that Dad kept leaving her alone. That he would sleep in the afternoons, and get up to sit and read alone in the middle of the night.
That dance between them, his need for aloneness and hers for company, never changed. And yet he was devoted to her, and spent the last few years of his life, as she slipped into what appears as a mild form of dementia, caring for her. Helping her dress, fixing and serving and cleaning up after breakfast and lunch, giving her little tasks to do — now Renee, set the table, now Renee, don’t forget the salt — while patiently lumbering about in their tiny kitchen at Covenant Shores, a retirement community on Mercer Island where they slowly walked, in the final few years with walkers, to the beautiful lake-front dining hall for one main meal each day.
We always assumed that she would go first. That he would then enjoy the blessed solitude that his sensitive Pisces nature craved, and instead swerved into the life of an old-fashioned doctor who made housecalls after dinner and then returned to eight fractious children and a devoted wife.
We always wondered: ommigod, what would happen if Dad goes first? How would Mom cope, she who had never been alone except during the war?
And then he did go first. Twelve months after his creatine levels started to markedly change (showing kidney deterioration), he died. In April of this year, Kristin moved them to Mount Saint Vincent, to be close to her in a facility that she trusted. He lived four more months. In the weeks before his death, each time one of her children would hesitantly broach the subject. “Mom, how will it be for you when Dad dies?” — she would always respond, instantly and flat out, “I don’t want to think about it.”
And when he died, after months of physical and at times, spiritual agony, his last breath was taken with her hands cradling his face, kissing him goodnight. His very last breath he took with her lips upon him.
And now, at least three of us who are left feel him in school! And loving it! Exhilarated. Blasting through his Catholic “belief system” to the cosmos. When I told Mom that, and joked that he probably doesn’t want her coming too soon, as he’s learning so much right now, I meant it.
But now, two days after Paula and I cleared out, flew back to our respective homes, my sister Kathy reports that on their visit there yesterday that Mom was “listless.” The word startles. For it reminds me of those months during Dad’s wartime absence. I entertained her then. And let’s face it, I did the same thing when I was with her these past two weeks, making faces, joking, doing little foot dances, all to elicit a bit of cheer during the long, slow, foggy slog that is bound to be her living condition at least for awhile — if she lives.
Listless, as she had been listless then, so she is now. Failure to thrive. Will it continue? And so what if it does.
In an email yesterday to my siblings, I spoke of a window of opportunity for her to exit this earth next May, nine months from now, when Jupiter the planet of expansion, connects with her Moon in Gemini. I want to think that she will “last” that long; that her soul, given this opportunity to experience her life on earth without Ben, will learn how. At least for a little while. That she will get a glimmer of how one does go on, despite the desolation of loss. That one can learn to eat loss like food, and incorporate a larger life.
But perhaps I kid myself. Perhaps this is just my need for her, not hers for herself. And even more relevant: perhaps her mild dementia is so unpredictably and periodically disorienting that it erases or obscures all personal goals.
And if that’s the case, then she will more likely use a window closer to now, perhaps even this month, September 18-19, during the second “sudden changes” Uranus square Pluto which culminates on the day after Pluto turns to go direct. The window opens wide a few days after that, for her, when Mars ignites her Mars/Uranus/Saturn configuration and the Moon crosses over Neptune.
BTW: contrary to what you might think, what we call “death” does not usually feature difficult planets. Instead, the signature of the soul’s departure from this dense body typically includes one or both of the two spiritual planets, Jupiter (expansion) and/or Neptune (dissolution of form).
In any case, I realize that at the very least I am projecting my need to not continue in this poisonous communion of consciousness, this obscure sense that I am sunk down into her being, her desolation, once again, just as, at the beginning of my life, my own determination to thrive was at odds with her paralysis as my mother.