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.