Category Archives: Love

Beauty and Loss All Commingled

Today I spent two hours with my ailing mother instead of the usual four to six.  And as I indulged in the sacredness of time alone, I discovered myself sinking deeper into my “feeling body.”  Once again, I discovered that being too busy is anathema to the soulful existential questions and emotions I need to let bubble to the surface once in a while.

Mom’s health is declining.  It hasn’t been that stellar for quite a few years, but now her body is starting to fail in ways that are no longer remediable.   I found myself wondering how conscious she is of her decline and when is the right time to discuss it all.

My mother has suffered from mood swings and a fair amount of depression these last several years.  Even when she was living in her own home, surrounded by her loving (albeit increasingly demented) husband, excellent and compassionate caregivers, and a regular rotation of visiting children and grandchildren, she frequently found reasons (not always easily discerned by us) to dissolve into tears.  Being in a nursing home the last year and a half has not resolved her feelings of depression.

Fortunately, when I inquired recently of the RN on duty about the possibility of an anti-depressant, it was subsequently approved by the facility physician.  I am not someone who ordinarily believes in indiscriminate pharmaceutical solutions, but her crying jags were disconcerting and I simply wanted her to feel better.  (And Mom was, in no way, open to therapy.)

So the question of the hour is:  do I open the can of worms that end-of-life discussions precipitate?  Or shall I let her “feel good” for a little bit longer?

Unlike Dad, who embraced the idea of heaven and, though he loved life, looked forward to “going home,” Mom has only ever talked about death when she was unhappy with her life.  I find myself hesitating to talk about something that will likely send her back into a downward spiral.

On the other hand, as someone who worked for two different hospices, I know how vitally important it is to have the opportunity to talk about these matters and to work through all the myriad emotions which certainly arise.

And so, I pray for guidance to know when the time is right.

Meanwhile, after leaving the nursing home earlier today and finishing a couple errands, I arrived home and dressed for a walk in the cool October air.   As I ambled down the road, I was struck over and over again by sights so achingly beautiful, I found myself invoking God’s name in whispered awe.

The trees are aflame with color this year—golden yellows, vibrant oranges, corals, and scarlets.  Breathtaking and heart-opening beauty is everywhere.  Even the skeletal remains of Queen Anne’s lace and the dark petal-less heads of black-eyed Susans are beautiful.

In addition to the splendors of autumn, there are lingering roses, hibiscus blooms, and purple clovers—splashes of summer in the midst of dying grasses and fallen leaves.  Life and death are all mixed together in this seasonal transition.

As I walked I found myself feeling the grief of Dad’s absence in my life.  Like me, he loved nature.  We would have had some fine walks together this year had he still been alive.  But I know we are both immersed in beauty and love—he where he is and I where I am.  And Mom, too, though she is not as skilled at recognizing it or appreciating it.  Then again, her childhood was not as special as that of Dad or me and my siblings.  When she was little she was abandoned by those who brought her into the world, and so abandonment is often her default emotional setting (even now, over seventy-five years later.)

Beauty and Pain.  Life and Death.  Love and Loss.  It’s all here.  We are surrounded by it all.

As my wise friend Kristy recently said, “Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.”*

May I carry it all with grace.


The Power of Touch

In 1990, I became certified as a massage therapist.  There were many things I learned along the way as I built up my private practice.  One of them was that many people are starved for touch.

I used to think men wanted to be massaged differently than women.  I assumed that because they had bigger muscles, they would want their massage firmer, deeper. and so I would “work harder” to get the kinks out of those muscles.  But then eventually, being me, I followed that up with lighter effleurage.  “Effleurage” is a French word meaning to skim or touch lightly.  It is usually a lighter, longer, gliding, more caressing stroke.  This was my forte.  I am a naturally loving person and, to me, long gliding strokes feel better and convey a sense of being cared about.  Well, what I learned is that whenever I switched my energy from “must work out the kinks” to “let me help you feel loved and cared for,” people melted – men as well as women.  I learned that both genders are starved for loving touch.

I knew most women would appreciate Swedish massage – heavy on the effleurage – because, in my experience, most women carry a heavy load of responsibility and almost constantly feel overstressed and under-appreciated.  Many women are taking care of almost all the needs of their children, plus most of the responsibilities of the household, plus running errands for their husbands, and many simultaneously work outside the home as well.  It was clear to me that most women desperately need to feel loved.  I happily let love show through the strokes of my hands.  I was honored, for one hour, to be the one to help them feel utterly relaxed, safe, free from responsibility, and cared for.

I somehow made the mistake of assuming men would not have this same deep need.  But then a couple experiences showed me differently.  I distinctly remember a couple of male friends who, near the end of the massage, raised their head and turned to look at me with such a poignant combination of love, longing, and utter gratitude.  It was as if I was somehow filling the role of The Great Mother.  I was the one who loved them when no one else was loving them.  I was the one they could trust.  They could shed their fears as they shed their clothes and trust that as my hands glided across their bodies, they would feel more loved than they’d felt in a very long time.

I began to guess that single men might occasionally have the good fortune to have sex, but that didn’t necessarily mean they ever felt loved.  I began to realize that even men in relationship, even men with long term marriages or partnerships, may not necessarily feel much unconditional love.  No doubt many of those relationships were burdened with great expectations and possibly a fair amount of nagging – i.e., You must bring home most of the money, you must mow the lawn, you must fix thus and so, etc.  Or perhaps the wife or partner was too tired at the end of the day to give anything else to anyone else.  Or perhaps she wasn’t a naturally affectionate person.

Whatever the reason, it soon became crystal clear to me that many men were starved for touch.  In addition to the evidence displayed  among my massage clients, I have had a significant number of boyfriends and partners who at the end of the day would regularly plead for me to rub their backs.  The most capable and macho of men would suddenly come across as a little boy, begging his mother for a little backrub.

On the massage table, I’ve had both women and men half-jokingly say to me, “Will you marry me?”  This told me that they wanted to feel this way all the time.  It was like there was an unhealed wound inside, a part of their soul that had been neglected, a deep need that needed to be filled.  “Will you love me?”   That’s what I was hearing.

And so I began to allow my love to come through my hands.  I began to think of my massage as a sacrament, as a prayer.  It was like I was part masseuse, part priestess, part mother, part minister, part lover, all rolled into one.  I administered love.

And that’s something every one of us needs.

Remembering Dad

In eleven days, it will be the six-month anniversary of Dad’s death.

I don’t necessarily miss him, because except for the last four months of his life, and for sixteen months in 2009 and 2010, I hadn’t been in his physical presence on a daily basis anyway.   And many of the memories from the last four months of his life were fairly painful.  But mostly I don’t necessarily miss him because I don’t necessarily feel that he’s completely gone.

Now saying that last sentence may make you think that I’m a bit gone.  So let me explain.  I don’t feel like he’s a ghost who’s hanging around.  But he kind of feels like a human version of God – someone I can talk to at any time and I know that he’ll hear.  I know he’s around, just not in physical form.

Several times a day, or sometimes now maybe every other day, I’ll think of Dad and I’ll simply say, “Hi Dad.  I love you.”  Sometimes I’ll say “I love you” one or two more times.  That’s it.  I don’t feel the need to say much more.  My love for him is as strong as ever, and I’m sure the reverse is true as well.  I just somehow need him to know that I haven’t forgotten him and that I love him.

Some grieving people seem to feel the need to go to the cemetery where their loved one’s physical body lies in order to feel close to them.  That isn’t true for me at all.   I know he’s wherever my heart is.  Or the heart of my mother, or my sisters and brothers, or his grandchildren.    Whenever we think of him, he lives.  It’s like that sentence on the altar of my childhood church “Do ye this in remembrance of me.”  All I have to do is think of him, remember him, love him, and he feels somehow present.

Losing a parent is, I’m sure, vastly different from losing a spouse or a young child.  With a spouse, you’ve had years and years of intimate physical contact.  The missing of that physical presence must be almost unbearable.  And with a child, oh especially for mothers who have carried that body within their womb and then nursed it and raised it for years and years…. I cannot imagine that pain, I truly cannot.  But with a parent, as sad as it may be, there is often a natural progression.  If one doesn’t fight that natural progression of life, illness, decline, death, there can be an element of peace about the process.

I know I sure am grateful that Dad’s spirit doesn’t have to be confined to a body which was confined to a bed or geri chair.   And I’m glad he’s no longer saddled with a mind which had become increasingly confused and incapable.   There is great freedom for Dad now.  He is no longer in the physical presence of those he loves, but he can be by our side at a moment’s notice.  And for that I am very grateful.

Two days ago I thought of Dad when I was climbing a large hill – The Stations of the Cross shrine in San Luis, CO.  I was looking at the powerful sculptures depicting the last days of Jesus’ journey on Earth.  It was moving to me because I think I was alive then.  I think I knew Jesus in that lifetime.  And the thought came to me, Was Dad there, too?  Did I know Dad then, too?  And a wind picked up and blew around me.  It was the only wind I had felt all day.

So there you have it.  The presence of those we love can be felt in multitudinous ways.

So Dad, this is for you.   Thank you, as always, for being such an amazing father to me and to all my siblings.  Thank you for being a good husband to Mom.  Thank you for being a good man.  You surely made this world a better and happier place.

I love you.

(And now the tears flow.  And it’s all good.)