Life and Depth, Death and Dying, and Coming Back To Life pt 1
Ok, here goes. A week of mourning the death of my mother completes today, and now it’s back to business, though not as usual. I need to re-enter the land of the living, but slowly, gently, carefully. I want to bring with me all I’ve learned and experienced. So I shall begin my return with a different sort of memory to share.
Maybe it was 23 years ago or so. A then friend of mine, Joe Kogel, wrote a one man play, ‘Life and Depth,’ about his battle with cancer, and performed it for a few of us in someone’s living room. Joe went on to perform his play on stage in Seattle and other places. I remember the ending best. It was about moments, great moments, and about welcoming moments that might be great. Joe postulated that great moments gather somewhere in space/time and discuss where they’ve been, who welcomed them in and who turned them away. He said he was now prepared to treat every moment like a great moment, just in case it was, and so he would get positive referrals when the moments meet. I loved that ending. I’ve tried to live that way for years.
That was then, this is now. And that memory makes me think that perhaps this awful moment in my life, in which my mother has passed on and I’ve lived to experience it, might actually be a great one. Indeed, the experience of being here with my entire family – aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, both of my siblings and all of our children; of getting support from so many friends both old and new and students and clients as well; of long conversations with my father as he finds himself facing a new chapter of his life after 65 years of daily partnership – well, in a word, it has been amazing.
It has stirred me deeply. Now that my mother has gone, I find myself giving a lot of thought to this subject of death and dying and what happens to us, the living, as a result. Generationally, I know that it is our time to let go of our parents hands. Many of my friends have gone through this. Many are preparing to go through this. I know I am not alone in this.
To get my head and hands back in the blogosphere, I thought I’d post some of those thoughts here this week, to share with you what I’ve been doing, going through and thinking about, and hear your thoughts in response. Today I’ll talk about what I’m feeling. Next post, my thoughts about what happens when people die, and how we can live knowing that this kind of loss is inevitable for us all. I would love to hear from you, THIS WEEK, better TODAY!, since none of us knows if next week or even tomorrow will ever come.
She’s Not There
What am I feeling? It’s hard to explain. For the past week, just really sad. Not only. There’s been lots of laughter. After I finished my eulogy and returned to my seat at the funeral service, my brother whispered, “I was tempted to follow you with “Great speech, Ricky, but Mom liked me better.” We told my Dad about this afterwards and he said he wished my brother had actually done it. And my brother said, “I was afraid it would tick Mom off and she’d come back to haunt me.” And more laughter. You know, I always wondered what people do, talk about, on the limousine ride to the grave site. Well now I know. My family members were going through a range of emotions, but there was plenty of laughter. I was amazed that we could find it in ourselves, but we surely did. Laughter, love, togetherness as a family, in the missing man formation. One of ours wasn’t coming back.
So sad, along with the laughter, all the same. I reach for my Mom on the inside, and she’s not here. I can’t find her where she used to be in my psyche. I can actually tell she’s gone, not because I put a shovel full of dirt on her coffin in the ground, and not because I stood in line and received solemn blessings from those who knew her. I can tell she’s gone because she is. I’m surprised by how obvious it is now, and how not obvious the thought of this was until now.
And relief. I feel relief, because Mom was suffering at the end. Too much pain, too many symptoms, too many drugs and doctors. Her health had become one complication after another, and it was hard for everyone to see her suffer, hard for her to keep fighting. Now that fight is over, she is free of the pain, my father is no longer having to walk up and down the stairs and halls at the nursing home or watch his beloved suffer, so he is free of some pain now too. I feel relief.
Not Like Something Wasn’t Said
It’s not like I have business with her that never got completed. I spent the last few months saying goodbye to her in my mind. I’ve imagined her being in front of me and had numerous conversations with her about everything. I’ve talked about the disappointments and victories of her life and mine, about missed opportunities and regrets, about my hopes and dreams. I’ve reminisced with her about some of the special moments we shared.
I thanked her for feeding my comic book addiction when I was a kid – whenever I was sick, she’d bring me soup and comic books (not the superhero kind, of course, but Classics Illustrated!) – for encouraging me to be a writer, for her pleasure when she first witnessed me doing my speaker thing, for her appreciation and support of my musical talents and artistic interests, for her early acknowledgement of the value of what I was learning about natural medicine, for her teaching me to be friends with strangers and to treat myself and others with respect.
I told her the truth about my youthful rebellions and what drove them, shared my misunderstanding of her intentions, and my understanding of her misunderstanding of mine. I thanked her for being so difficult at times, which forced me to want to learn everything I could about communication and conflict resolution.
And I’ve listened. I’ve heard her voice telling me what she always wanted me to know, heard the disappointment in her voice at her inability to be clear with me every step of the way, of the hopes and dreams she had for me that were never fulfilled, of the challenges she faced when she moved to my father’s town and into his parents’ world. She even told me a little more about her childhood and why it was important for her to go her own way. We’ve talked about everything.
Not Like We Didn’t Have Enough Time
And it’s not like we didn’t have time together in the final years of her life. She visited us. We visited her. Every speech on the east coast, in the south, or the mid-west, I added a trip home. And this past year, with Mom in and out of ICU and nursing homes, I spent more time in my home town than in the last several years combined.
And Mom lived 87 years, almost 88. There were moments along the way, these past few weeks, where everyone thought she was a goner. And then she made a comeback. Like the time the doctors were trying to wake her after the total hip replacement, and she wouldn’t wake up. They tried all kinds of things, finally the doctor leaned over her and yelled in her ear, “LOIS!” And her eyes snapped open, she fixed them on the doctor and yelled back at him, “WHAT?”
Not Like We Didn’t Know About The Love
It’s not like she didn’t know I love her. She knew it. I told her every time I talked with her and she could feel it in my words, see it in my eyes. And I knew she loved me. She told me. She showed me. Ever since that day, so many years ago, when I realized the depth of her love for me and said it, “You really love me, don’t you Mom!?” and she replied, “Why, of course I do! Are you okay honey?” we’ve had a loving and connected relationship.
I’d say, “I love you Mom,” and she’d say, “I love you more,” and we both basked in the truth and healing of our connection. And in my mind, I had revisited all the painful struggles with her, and seen that truth there too, and I know she’d done the same. We replaced old misunderstandings with that truth, one by one, until they had all dissolved. And feeling her love for me empowered me. I had my Mom in my corner and everything was possible. Her belief in me was complete. Her trust in me, the same.
It Feels Like She’s Missing
But now, that’s all gone. It is. Oh sure, I have my memories. While I can conjure her in my memory, in my thoughts and feelings, the fact remains that she is gone. She’s not missing in that I know where we put her body and how we put it there. I filled the shovel with muddy dirt and dropped it on her coffin down in the ground and heard it thud without a complaint from Mom (She would have hated that mud on the wood and would have said something were she still here) so I know exactly where she is. Yet she is still missing for me and from me.
She’s missing because she is no longer of this earth. Like a place that always was there suddenly is not. Like you expect to find something, and it can’t be found. And it’s not just my that feels this. Today, a dentist called to confirm an appointment. “She’s gone,” I said. The girl on the other end of the phone collapsed into tears. She choked out the words, “She was such a good person.” The phone calls keep coming as people reach for her and come up empty. “She was wonderful.” “She was beautiful.” “She was one of a kind.” I know who she was. She was once a child with her whole life in front of her. In the course of her life, she was a faithful partner to my father for 65 years, worked to put him through college, raised three children, touched thousands of lives, and now I can’t feel her touch.
I’m being in the moment with my feelings, and it is quite a ride. Next post, my thoughts, I think. I’m the sort that learns his thoughts by writing them out, and this blog is my place for doing that. Two days from now, we’ll find out as that moment comes if my thoughts are ready to come together in words on digital paper.
If you’ve lost a parent, I’d love to hear how that loss has impacted you. If you’re concerned with the knowledge that you too will face this some day, I’d love to hear what all this says to you, what questions it raises for you. I’ll be back in the blogging saddle by next week, writing again about persuasion, conflict resolution and positive change. Until then and always
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.