The Ebb and Flow of Life
A Message from
Wayne C. Allen
As you'll discover from my article below, my mom's health took a turn for the worse this past week, and I decided to write about end of life transitions and the ebb and flow of life.
I wrote the article yesterday (Saturday). My mom died early this morning.
I really want to share with you what I wrote, and again am so blessed to have all of you and this forum to speak with.
I appreciate the comments and questions you bring my way, and the faith you have in our relationship.
Be well, and know that Dar and I are coping with this sad and interesting time.
I've been reflecting on transitions, life changes, the ebb and flow that is our nature as human beings. As is my habit, I was thinking about Into the Centre on my drive up to my other office, and had this flash of writing, believe it or not, on manure spreaders. When you live in the country, you get to experience the "reality" of farming, each and every day.
My point was going to be that many people get annoyed with the sights and smells - but such is the "way" of farming. I was then going to cleverly connect this to business meetings and business politics, and note that politics, in business and in life, is "the way that it is." It may smell at times, but the "crops" won't survive without the dynamic tension of two or more opinions bumping into each other.
'Twas going to be a good one. I even got half of it written in Port Elgin and stored safely on a floppy. To get slightly ahead of the story, when I went to open the file, it was "screwed up." (That's technical, computer language for "pooched.") But that was OK, as life had certainly shifted.
Thus, as Paul Harvey says, "Here's the rest of the story."
Wednesday night I got an e-mail from loyal reader, who was experiencing some real distress - her parents were recently admitted to a nursing home, and things were getting tense. Mom and Dad weren't tracking and were doing a lot of blaming. As my mom has been in a nursing home for three years now, I felt I had some viable comments to make. Here are edited excerpts of what I wrote:
Just turned off my monitor for the night, and Netscape "dinged" - never could resist looking, and got your e-mail.
I do have some empathy for your story. My mom has been in a nursing home for 3 years now, having had a series of strokes. She's 84, dad's 88 - there's some of this in "The Watcher." Dad is nearly blind but makes his way from his apartment to the nursing home every day, and sits there and looks after mom from 10 to 7. She has gotten quite angry in her old age, an aspect of her strokes.
I talk to dad almost every day and Dar and I go in to see mom weekly, and my commitment is to do what I can while not judging myself or them in the process.
I don't expect them to be other than as they are. (Mom is who she is right now, and can't be anyone other than her 84-year-old self. Part of her process is to find her own way of dying. I do not equate who she is right now with who she was in the past. To do so would cause me to judge who she is right now, as opposed to simply choose to "be with her" as she is. The mother I knew in the past has "died," and in her place is the mother I have now. To think otherwise, to compare and contrast - to, in short, judge, would mean that I would, in my judgement, be totally out of contact with my mom. - note: I rewrote this part to be more clear.)
Dar and I often debrief going home from the nursing home in the car - mostly around how we can support dad emotionally - he doesn't ask for much - while being gentle with mom. We have taken to leaving the room with dad when she starts in on him, and coming back in a few minutes later. Dad commented that she seems to be eating like a 2 year old. This is actually so. She sometimes falls asleep in her dinner. This is as it should be, as she both regresses and moves closer to dying.
I have no sadness or regrets (about the process I am seeing - WCA), as I know who mom and dad were when they were younger and healthy. I go to a place of simple acceptance of their condition, gratitude for the past, and my responsibility ends with seeing that they are well cared for in the nursing home.
So, what I'm saying is that this is NOT about you and what you are or aren't doing. Your parents are failing and moving towards death, and we need to recognize that this is a natural process. Nothing you do can stop the flow of life and reverse their condition. So, we simply move to acceptance and gracefulness. For example, my mother saying dad or I don't love her does not make that true. I know my feelings for her, and express them. I don't expect her to agree. As her illness progresses, she'll likely lose more and more contact. I can make contact, however, and recognize that her judgments are clouded by her infirmity, which is terminal.
Hope this helps and doesn't sound like a sermon. I just finished being the closing keynote speaker at an Alzheimer's conference this past Saturday, and I'm on a roll. Said to them what I'm saying to you. Look to yourself - through therapy, getting a massage, finding friends for that missing hug. Have a breath, and simply move from depressing yourself to acceptance that, as Stewart Wilde says, "The way it is is the way it is." From there comes a sense of peace and the ability to be with them without judgment.
Well, as the cosmos unfolds, the next morning I got a call from the nursing home, and I learned that my mom had another stroke and a heart attack in the night. She is now in the palliative care section of the Home. It remains to be seen whether her strong German-Irish character will cause her to rally, or whether she will die. And dad, the same night, had a blood vessel break in his good eye, so he's now almost blind, wanting to go to a nursing home, and needing us to go clean out the apartment. We're gathering our intimate friends and making a day (actually, several, you should see the apartment . . . ) of it.
As I was leaving the Nursing Home Thursday, I bumped into a woman I've chatted with before, whose dad is on the Alzheimer's ward. We got to chatting and she wondered aloud if I'd like to write a booklet for families whose loved ones are checking in to the Nursing Home - both from my perspective of "having been through it" and as a psychotherapist. I realized I'd love to take this on, (and I'd love feedback from you all, as to whether you'd find such a booklet helpful.) In the midst of experiencing this walk for myself, there is a way, as usual, to take my experience and be of service to others. It's a shifting from a selfish, entitled place, to vocation and compassion.
I was sitting with mom and dad yesterday, and dad said that his mom and dad and both sisters had all died, and he hadn't cried (I really don't ever remember seeing my dad cry, despite the fact he wears all his other emotions on his sleeve, and is a kind and compassionate man.) He said, "I feel like crying now." I said that this would be quite OK with me, and that I would be honoured to hold him. I did hold him for a bit, but no tears, yet.
I hadn't cried either, and didn't then, doing my ex-minister, psychotherapist routine, and seeingtyo it that "The things that need to get done, get done." (Heck, I'm sitting here writing Into the Centre, because, hey, it goes out tomorrow night!) Later, Dar offered to drive back to the Nursing Home and drive dad home. He demurred, citing his gratitude and all. He made it clear that he could look after himself. I smiled ruefully and looked at Dar and said, "See! I come by it honestly."
This morning, Dar rolled over and held my heart chakra, then pressed in on a release point. This place is where all of us "hold" grief. Within a few seconds, I let a good chunk of my tears and grief out—sufficient for the day. Of course, I know I need to let my grief out, and I will. And I will also do what needs to be done, in my own, oddly elegant fashion.
Life is about being in the moment, not judging, feeling our feelings, expressing our feelings deeply and appropriately. Life is about knowing that, as the line goes, "In the midst of life we are in the midst of death." Life is about owning what we do and who we are - the dramas, the politics (remember the manure spreader) and recognizing, at the same time, that true life is found in the compassionate connection. In my knowing of this, I am empowered to be with myself, feel all of my feelings - and right now, I'm not just feeling grief, but joy, and compassion and connection.
At the end of the day, no one dies saying, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office." In the end, the moments of contact with those we love is the essence of life. Not "to make it all better," not to "fix" others or even to "guide" or "help" others. The essence is in the standing forth, in the truth of ourselves, and the "standing with" those who request our presence. It's being open both to the drama and the flow of life, without attachment to the outcome. The essence is captured in openness, vulnerability and presence (thanks, Ben & Jock, for the words and the learnings!)
I stand, in this moment, curious, melancholy, blessed, grieving, open, and present. I do not know where this drama is heading. There is, in the mean time, work to be done and people to touch. There is me, reaching out to those I trust. In this, in this circle of life, is the essence of being truly human.
I know as readers of Into the Centre - and more importantly for me, as fellow walkers on this Way, that you are, in a sense, on this walk with Dar and me and my parents. This likely is also an issue that many of you are facing or will face, and my faith is that this week's article will be of both comfort and assistance. Peace and blessings to you all!