Note: This article is part of a series.
I had been back on U.S. soil only 24 hours when I underwent an experience that was so remarkable that I can’t help but ascribe my changed capacity to the Vipassana meditation training I had been undergoing for three weeks in Thailand. Here it is:
In Seattle for six days, I had told my sibs that I would do four “shifts” with our dear old 94-year-old Mom, who’s so frail and “demented” now that she needs 24-hour care.
The story starts during my first shift. I sat by her dining room table and on it happened to be a travel journal she and Dad (who died in August 2012) kept during a Catholic tour of Mexico City, several decades ago. Reading to her from old family archives, looking at family photos — these activities help Mom stay oriented to this world and help her kids maintain their bonds with her. She spends a lot of time “zoned out,” something she has always done, we now realize, but with dementia, it’s now more obvious. And/or, she stays in an intermediate zone where she’s polite, obedient, at least on the surface, exhibiting what I think of as her “good sport” attitude. She didn’t want to be alive after Ben died, and yet, here she is! Rather than dying — like she, and we expected — at some level she appears to be living in a new way, alone with her kids now, and, at some deep level, despite the continuous adjustments to the sad fact of being so old and her partner of 70 years gone, enjoying it.
My sisters and I are discovering that whether zoned out or polite, sometimes what comes out of her mouth is sudden, shocking, — because utterly unexpected, strongly voiced, and usually, “hurtful” to the one who is there with her. This was one of those times.
So I was reading that Mexico City journal to her, her entries and his, most of them descriptive of various cathedrals, statues, Masses attended, etc., with me gently pointing out how Dad had sometimes corrected her, or left blanks where he meant to fill in some fact or other later . . . He was always meticulous. Her entries were more interesting to me. She paid special attention to people, and was dumbfounded to realize that Mexicans would crowd a road to walk hundreds of miles to attend some special feast day.
We read the entire journal, and found it a rich experience. She had forgotten everything in it. The next morning, I took a walk with sister Kris, and she told me she reads this journal to her too. Her dementia allows her to experience all her memories over and over again, as if for the first time. Indeed, there are times when she still needs to know that Dad actually died, and how it happened, how she planted a kiss on his lips during his very last breath (true!). And each time, the sudden grief is fresh and strong, and yet not quite as disorienting as the time before.
I mention this entire session with Mom because it’s the backdrop to what happened next, the next day, when I had an afternoon shift with her, and this time brought the journal from my trip to Thailand with me, thinking to read a bit to her, that she might enjoy that, too.
Let me say here, before I begin the final act of this little drama, that I was now beginning to feel my exhaustion from jet lag, and the disorientation of time zones had left me unable to sleep the night before. so I was raggedy, my nervous system on edge. I hoped I could be a good companion for Mom during this shift, but I was concerned because of my internal state.
My trip journal is long and complex, and mostly had to do with the details of meditation, the difficulty I found with different parts of it, and how I worked through each problem. Not exactly parallel to the Mexico city travel journal, and I should have realized this. Not only was it not her memories we were accessing, but the technical nature of my ruminations wouldn’t interest anybody else but me.
In my state of nervous exhaustion, I read from this journal, not paying attention to her (she was in her polite, attentive, good sport mode), and going faster and faster, more and more intense. Subliminally, I realized that I had gone out of control, and had lost contact with her, and yet seemed powerless to stop. This, despite that I’ve long known that my fiery Sagittarian nature has always been “too intense” for my mother, and this was one of the few times that, on some level, I realized it while it was happening.
So. Here we go . . .
Suddenly, ripping through her body and out of her mouth, these words. “STOP. THAT’S ENOUGH. I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU’RE SAYING. IT’S NOT INTERESTING TO ME. IT’S NOT ME. JUST STOP.”
In shock, at the ferocity of what felt like her sudden attack, I closed the journal and said that I was tired, wanted to lie down and rest.
She was in her barcalounger. I pushed the button to roll the seat back so she could rest and lay down on her bed, still reeling.
And that’s when it happened. For the first time in my life, as I lay there going over what had just occurred, right away I moved into what I can only call a multidimensional perspective/experience of that potent little drama. In one dimension I was myself, feeling the emotional shock of her rejection, that shock reverberating back to childhood, and perhaps even to our genetic stream, mothers and daughters unable to connect, hurting each other without realizing it.
In another dimension I was my mother, feeling what she was feeling as she sat there, undergoing this barrage of gibberish from her oldest daughter, the one that she especially did not and never had, understood. Ann was always “too much.” As Mom, I was sitting there feeling my torporous, sluggish body and mind, how they barely obey my will, how they have enclosed my will to the point where it feels caged. And, suddenly desperate to get out, I felt myself suddenly thrust through the torporous condition with all the force I can muster, got to stop that barrage, that torrent of words that I don’t understand and that hurts my ears.
In this multidimensional state, lying there on her bed, my own and my mother’s experiences of this drama felt equally real and difficult.
And yet, both of these awarenesses were enclosed within a larger, impersonal dimension or awareness, where “I” (?) was feeling/observing the entire drama between Ann and Renee Kreilkamp, how it had been enacted forever, how this was simply the latest of countless encounters where their natures were, simply, so different as to be incommensurable. And in that other dimension, there was no judgment, no desire, simply a neutral acknowledgement of what is.
It’s not that I haven’t experienced these three dimensions all at once before, but never right away, immediately after the experience in question. And never all three of them, equally real and of value, all at once. It took me years to move from my point of view to the other’s point of view, and years to learn to inhabit a space in which both my own and the other’s point-of-view are included in a larger utterly impersonal dimension.
And what really impressed me, was how I was given this kind of gift of instant absorption of both multiple subjective and larger objective dimensions not just immediately, but while in a state of extreme jet lag, my nervous system raw and electric. Even so, some kind of larger multidimensional being appeared to be now fully operational, and able to handle whatever came down the pike.
Mom’s Sun is in Libra. All her life she was a natural diplomat, easily harmonizing people by creating space in which they could all expand. I sense that the high quotient of individuality exhibited by our eight siblings stems from this natal, unconscious ability of hers to create space for expression. And yet that’s not all she was. As usual, the Sun does not tell the whole story. For Mom also had her Mars in Scorpio.
A number of my sisters still experience Mom’s cutting remarks as deeply wounding, and have a great deal of difficulty each time hearing them. This (Mars in Scorpio) part of her used to be more masked and subtle; her dementia has stripped off the mask; her sometimes “mean” remarks are blatant, out there, for all to see and feel and learn from.
Mom is, given her nature, and her condition (dementia, 94-years-old, in a loving institutional home with 24-hour care), doing the very best she can. As are we all.
During this especially difficult period (April 9-20th) on Earth, hopefully this kind of healing tale can ramify into the ever more inclusive dimensions where billions of souls hold individual points of view, most of them suffering, and all of them acknowledged and valued on this beautiful blue globe spinning serenely through eternity.
P.S. My brother John told me yesterday that when he asked Mom about experiences with Ann this time, she said, “Wonderful! She is a changed person.” And Kristin told me that Mom said to her: “Whatever Ann went through over there, you would benefit from.”
And this woman “has dementia”? Go figure.