The feeling tone in our Blessing Ceremony for our 94-year-old Mom held a very different energy than the one for Dad nearly a year ago, two months before he died. Then, we all flew in, assuming that we would not see him ever again, because he was to die shortly. However, just before we got there, he was put on oxygen, which revived him so much that he remained in his body until the end of August.
I mention this because perhaps that is why the feeling felt so very different. The blessing for Dad had been serious and heart-opening, intensely felt. He was a man “who could go deep,” as sister Katherine put it. Mom, on the other hand, whenever anyone wants to get even a little bit serious, says, “Oh that’s bullshit!” or some such. She never was a person who wanted to air anything real in public, and now, with her “dementia,” the lack of inhibition is even more hilarious. And I do mean hilarious. The feeling in the room last Friday, May 17th, at Mary and John’s home, was both effervescent and light-hearted, yet with a tone of poignant sorrow, a knowing that it is very likely many of us will never see her again, given her very clear and insistent decision to move from Mount Saint Vincent in West Seattle to Baton Rouge on May 19th to live with sister Paula, missing from the photo above, since she elected to remain in preparation for Mom’s arrival.
We were all surprised at the feeling of enormous spaciousness that seemed to pervade the room. And we commented on that feeling as something that Mom created even when we were growing up, a genuine “allowing,” I called it on Friday which encouraged all of her eight children to be themselves, no matter how different. And we did grow up different! It’s almost as if Dad’s strict, serious German rule-bound personality had to be balanced by the spaciousness that she brought to the household. He held the structure, and she created the container, or womb. Not that she was motherly or maternal. Not really affectionate in any kind of physical, sensual way. She wasn’t the kind to crush you to her chest. Not a smother mother. But we all knew she was there. Her being pervaded the atmosphere. And when any of us came home from school, the first thing we’d do when coming in the front door was yell, “Mom?” And if she didn’t answer, it felt devastating. The house, empty.
It’s almost as if her presence was our aliveness. And she did it in a very subtle way, with a light touch; her incredible organizational prowess, her ability to bring even the shyest of our friends out, to make them feel welcome, her lively need to laugh. If Dad was the heavy, then she was truly the light. Done so masterfully that none of us noticed. We are only now beginning to notice the immensity of her talent to take whatever happened and move it right along.
I remember one Christmas morning. Those assigned the table-setting chore for that morning had just finished. It was my job to bring the food. Once that was done, the others would be called in from the living room where they were cleaning up all the wrappings from the Christmas presents.
On the way from the kitchen counter, with a huge platter of scrambled eggs, somehow I tripped and fell. The eggs slid messily off the platter. Oh no, what now! Mom quickly spooned up most of the eggs onto the platter, said it’s okay she had just washed the floor the day before; lightheartedly, as usual, she wiped the floor and returned to her final job, cutting the grapefruit. She probably laughed. I don’t remember.
I didn’t tell that story on Friday, though I could have. Instead I chose others. Most of our stories, memories from our growing up years with Mom, made us all laugh. As I said, it felt effervescent, as if we were all drinking champagne. Mom was completely on point, perfectly poised and appropriate in all her conversation during a full 90 minutes of continuous blessing. Watching her that evening, one would never know she suffers from dementia.
On Saturday evening we gathered again for dinner, this time at Marnie’s with probably 30 others, Seattle- and Washington state-based grandchildren and their spouses, and great grandchildren. The scene at the door when everybody knew she was about to leave to go back to the Mount, was heartwrenching. This time it was the grandchildren who lined up to praise her in person, and hug her, and to a few of them she remarked, “Why are you doing this? I’m only going to be gone two days!”
In the car, on the way back to the Mount, she asked me why they had all been so serious and crying about her when she was only going to be gone two days? I had to tell her, again, that she had made a decision to move to Baton Rouge, to be with Paula, which means that most of her grandchildren will probably never see her again. “Oh,” she said, slumping in the seat. The dementia was back. She was disoriented and confused. It reminded me of when Dad died, how I had to tell her over and over again that he was gone, which meant that she had to undergo fresh, shocking grief, over and over and over again.
I had said that I wanted to be the sibling who spent the last night at the Mount with her in her room, sleeping on a cot. We returned and she sat down in her lazy-boy chair and I pulled out a photo album for us to go through (five of them sat on the table; this is something each of us do, pull out an album to go through with her. She never fails to be interested in family memories sparked by photos.)
After about 30 minutes she said she was tired. So we got her ready for bed and she lay down in her sweet little studio room with the million-dollar view of the Seattle harbor, Seattle, and the Cascades beyond for the last time and fell quickly asleep.
At about 5:30 am we woke up, got up, got dressed, and went to the first of two breakfasts. We would go again when Kristin and her husband Matt arrived. And, as is usual for the two of us when we’re alone and not tired, we talked about death, and dying, and I tell her stories about people who die naturally, easily. And we talked about how, when I went to Thailand in February for two months, she seemed to be failing, and I fully expected her to be gone when I arrived back. But then, when I got back, she was stronger! And how now it’s not at all clear that she is ready to die. And that her time with Paula in Baton Rouge will be a new adventure in her long life of loving adventure (she had wanted to fly in a glider for her 70th birthday; asked me if I’d do it with her, and that afternoon we were up in the swirl with an eagle).
On our way back from that breakfast, just before Mark and his wife Carrie burst through the door from the stairwell, she pointed to her room at the end of the long hall we were traversing for the final time, and said, “Well, I guess I’m going back to my room and will sit there until I die.”
Oops! Here we go again. So once again I told her that she was going, that day, in fact, in one hour, to the airport to fly with Kris and John to Baton Rouge where they will be met by Paula. That her bag was packed.
On our way out the door of the Mount for the final time, Carrie burst into song, John Denver’s “I’m leavin’ on a jet plane” and we all joined her, joyously in chorus, singing with once again, that effervescence that she instilled in us as kids.
Of course we all wondered how the trip went, on pins and needles the entire day we who remained went about dismantling and packing up her room. Late that night, this hasty, detailed, dramatic message from John, titled “Lady Renee has arrived.”
Our flight was delayed due to “maintenance issues”…..we board a half hour late….push back and after the engine starts the pilot comes on and says “We seem to be experiencing a sensor issues and will be returning to the gate”….we sat for a another half hour and took off an hour and 20 minutes behind ached…
we had an hour and 10 min between flights in Dallas…so was going through all of the options …overnight…take a red eye into Baton rouge etc….Kris and Mom rolled with it all well.
thankfully due to tailwinds we arrived 5 minutes before our flight departed fro Baton ROuge….I was in 1A (mom in 1B)….I dashed to the gategate…kris stayed with mom…and thankfully we caught the gate agent as they were only 2 gates away at DFW…(which as you know is immense…)
Paula and dave met us with lots of baubles from the french quarter…and we drove to Baton ROuge (55 miles from the airport in New Orleans…
siitting down now and enjoying jumbo which paula made…fantastic.
Mom is doing fine…tired but fine….
Kris and Mom made two pit stops in the plane….course mom had to go 5 mintutes prior to landing ….so hile everyone is buckled in for landing…including thes stewardesses….Mom looks at me and says I gotta go…I said pinch it….she looked and Kris and Kris of course took her….and they got in and out of the bathroom in a minute and 59 seconds…
all is well….thanks for the wonderful past couple of days with everyone…
All my bags are packed
I’m ready to go
I’m standin here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye
But the dawn is breakin
It’s early morn
The taxis waitin
He’s blowin his horn
Already I’m so lonesome
I could die
So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
Cause I’m leavin on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go