Wednesday, August 26, 2009
The Year of Living Dangerously
It’s hard for me to believe. It has been one year since my mom died, and somehow, I didn’t end up in the fetal position, locked in a closet, rocking back and forth. This has been a year of changes for me like no other in my life. I had a not so eloquent acquaintance from high school ask me how it feels to be an orphan. (And who said cheerleaders were airheads?) It made me think, though. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you still want to talk to your mom when you are happy, or sad, or just because it’s Tuesday and you stubbed your toe.
Events have unfolded during the last twelve months of my life that I would never have believed could happen, both good and bad. This includes, of course, the fact that I now routinely reach in, pull out my heart, and drop it on the table for strangers and friends alike to see via the world wide web. What I have come to understand is that maybe, for the first forty years, I was an observer, cruising on autopilot. With a jolt from some cosmic alarm clock, I finally woke up, and I have taken over the wheel. Yes, I’m steering, as scary as that may be. Right now, I’m more like the foreign taxi driver, swerving to miss bike couriers and pedestrians while occasionally getting lost and running red lights. It’s going to take a little longer for this old dog to master the new tricks. I’m still very much a work in progress. Stay tuned.
When my mom entered hospice, they were quick to load us down with literature on the dying process. I found it incredibly fascinating that there were so many ways to explain something that has been going on for years now. Don’t we all know how this works? If you have seen the movie “Beetlejuice”, you’ll remember that all of the dearly departed are given a manual, “The Handbook for the Recently Deceased”, to guide them through their next stage of being. Hospice did the same for us, only this was a manual for the living. It explained in detail the stages of dying, beginning at six months from death to the final moments of life. It told us what to expect at each stage with my mom, from her talking to dead relatives at three weeks out, to the raspy “death rattle” in her throat when the end was moments away. It was eerily accurate, and the disciplined organizer in me was thankful to have an outline to follow. Short of a PowerPoint presentation, they couldn’t have done any better.
On the back of one of the booklets was a passage that never left my mind. I have thought of it many times in the last year, and it sums up my feelings better than I can now.
Gone from My Sight - Henry Van Dyke
“I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side
spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and
starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty
and strength. I stand and watch her until at length
she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where
the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says: ‘There, she is gone!’
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in
mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and
she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her
Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the
moment when someone at my side says: ‘There, she is gone!’
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout: ‘Here she comes!’
And that is dying.”
I certainly hope so…