We eight siblings are about to gather again, this time to honor our Mom the way we honored our Dad not quite one year ago.
Catholics used to call it “Extreme Unction.” We call it a Blessing Ceremony.
Little did we know when we gathered to celebrate and honor Dad in June 2012, that he would remain in his body for another two months. Little do we know now, as well, how many more days, weeks, months or years our dear 94-year-old mother will be among the living, but we will gather now because she is to move from Seattle, where most of her children live, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to settle in with our sister Paula for the remainder of her days and nights.
I was the only one who fought this move. I fought it because I thought that though it might meet Paula’s need to be with her mother again (she had always felt separated (through marriage) from her parents and had always grieved the loss), and though Paula is the perfect person to be her caregiver (she lived with Mom and Dad for four months last spring), I could not imagine that Mom would want to move — to the south! such a different culture! — from Seattle, where all her memories of Dad reside, where she enjoys near-daily visits from at least one of her children, and where one of her grandchildren cares for her six hours on weekdays.
I could not imagine such a radical break from her current life in Providence Mount Saint Vincent, a state-of-the-art facility that is full of love and caring.
But what she said was this. And she said it with such force that it blew the cobwebs of dementia away like a gale force wind.
“I hate it here.”
“My life is crazy.”
“I want to live in a home with a family who loves me.”
And she didn’t say it once, but over and over, her focus and resolve strengthening with each conversation that she held with Mary, and Kristin, and Kathy, and John, and I don’t know who else. It’s as if her soul now shines through, clear and unwavering as the sun.
It’s as if she is possessed. “I want to go south! I want to live with Paula and David!”
She must make this move. And we must help her do it.
Mom flies out on May 19th, first class to Baton Rouge, accompanied by her two youngest children, John and Kristin. Paula and her husband David are prepared to welcome her with open arms.
She will sleep in the bedroom next to theirs, and enjoy mint juleps on the porch with Paula. She will settle down, relax in the southern warmth, away from the hustle and bustle of a care facility that inevitably features endless new faces, all with something for her to do: take a bath, cut her hair, her toenails, brush her teeth, get dressed and undressed, take her medication, take her to breakfast, lunch, dinner, take her out for a walk — so many strangers, one after another after another. No where, and no time to relax.
Ever since she fell during the night naked, and was not found for two hours, we have arranged for full-time care. That was three months ago. She’s right. It is a crazy life.
Whatever Momma wants, Momma gets. And in this case, we are gifted with a miraculous convergence between what Momma wants and needs and what Paula is not only willing, but eager, and immensely able, to give.
It may be that this blessing ceremony will turn into the finale for most of us, in terms of seeing and being with our 94-year-old Mom. Our plan is to hold two events. The first, on May 17th, for the siblings alone, in Mom’s beautiful little studio at the Mount with the million dollar view of the Seattle waterfront and Cascades beyond. The second, on May 18th, at sister Marnie’s large home, with a cast of who knows how many grandchildren and greatgrandchildren in attendance. On May 19th, as she flies away, those of us who remain will dismantle her studio.
My brother Mark once composed a song for our Mom, and any chance we get, we sing it to her. It’s called “Lady Renee.” I imagine we will sing her song again during those Blessing Ceremonies, for we do want to bless her, and we do know that she is indeed, and always has been, our beloved, feisty, mysterious Lady Renee.
April 16, 2013
There is a tribe in Africa where the birth date of a child is counted not from when they were born, nor from when they are conceived but from the day that the child was a thought in its mother’s mind. And when a woman decides that she will have a child, she goes off and sits under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child that wants to come. And after she’s heard the song of this child, she comes back to the man who will be the child’s father, and teaches it to him. And then, when they make love to physically conceive the child, some of that time they sing the song of the child, as a way to invite it.And then, when the mother is pregnant, the mother teaches that child’s song to the midwives and the old women of the village, so that when the child is born, the old women and the people around her sing the child’s song to welcome it. And then, as the child grows up, the other villagers are taught the child’s song. If the child falls, or hurts its knee, someone picks it up and sings its song to it. Or perhaps the child does something wonderful, or goes through the rites of puberty, then as a way of honoring this person, the people of the village sing his or her song.In the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them.The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.And it goes this way through their life. In marriage, the songs are sung, together. And finally, when this child is lying in bed, ready to die, all the villagers know his or her song, and they sing—for the last time—the song to that person.You may not have grown up in an African tribe that sings your song to you at crucial life transitions, but life is always reminding you when you are in tune with yourself and when you are not. When you feel good, what you are doing matches your song, and when you feel awful, it doesn’t. In the end, we shall all recognize our song and sing it well. You may feel a little warbly at the moment, but so have all the great singers. Just keep singing and you’ll find your way home.