OUR MOTHER REMAINS--AND STILL WITH US
Mom recovers. Rest, penicillin, sutures. From agitation and anxiety resulting from a urinary tract infection, from a fall. From a long night in ER when the previous 72 hours triggered the river-run spilling into delirium that took away her ability to reach us, as well as our ability to communicate with her. Walking with my mother is part of my life work. What my mother gives me in this walk is the blessed life.
Many years ago--more than 30--my friend David Lovins began talking with me about Arnie Mindell and the Dreambody--coma states, and the inner work the elderly do in their last days. Ideas reaching me as immediate, true, and practical. Ideas, too, that coincided with a series of family deaths where I had roles that brought Mindell's presence to the beds of the dying. I felt that my acquaintance with these ideas made a difference in my interactions with those making the crossing, as well as with family members, sometimes much closer in relationship to the dying than was I.
A decade or so later, 20 years ago, at my request, my friend and I renewed our discussion of Arnie Mindell's work, and this time I began reading his books and listening to tapes. We were hiking in the North Cascades and my own inner work--working with the self alone, also reached into the fabric of Mindell's work. In these years I also began seeing a Jungian therapist on a weekly basis. Our early work together led us into the dreamworld, and this soon became my primary focus of attention.
I carried one seminal idea of Mindell's Dreambody through this time: that elderly and dying people in comas states often do some of the most important inner work of their lives during their final days. These ideas took on a new urgency, and became one of my primary operating principles in daily living. It seemed a redeeming truth that arrives as immediately working and in play: observable and hopeful.
Dream studies became an education for me. My therapist opened up symbols in my own area of literature. I read words and events in new ways. My therapist, whom I called the waterman, gently chided me, too, saying that I was more interested in what dreams gave to the creative process and writing poems, than I was in my own personal growth. His point remains another sign post always on my map, if neither embraced or rejected outright.
Five years ago I walked through another door leading me closer to my mother that coincided with Mom moving to our community in Yakima. I became part of a team of people working with week-long workshops creating an Eldervillage in the retreat center of Holden Village in the Cascade Mountains. Mom moved into assisted living quarters, and later, into assisted living for those with Sundowner's Syndrome requiring locks on the doors. And finally, I spent four days with Arnie and Amy Mindell on the Oregon Coast, as a participant in dreaming, Dreambody, and deep democracy training. I slept in a tent on the ocean, calling it the dream canoe.
I bring this background to the daily work with my Mom. Arnie Mindell's work is as important to my relationship with Mom as is the love she receives from our family members, and the caregivers in assisted living who bathe her, dress her, and put her to bed at night. Arnie Mindell considers this work as making contact with the divine.
I am my mother's biographer, with her permission. I have been writing her story all of my life.
Arnie Mindell helps all of us on this journey to see the divine nature of the walk. During the past four years, Mindell's ideas, along with others trained in process work have been primary guides for me, as our family walks with Mom. We're talking here about deep listening, being present to those in coma states, and differing coma states at different times. Family members, not hospice workers.
Mom's life, her personality, her humor--and anger too-- remains available to me, partly because of Mindell. Mom's journey continues, her life's meaning--including her mission and ministry as one who walks and suffers with dementia, remains. She carries the disease and diagnosis. The Dreambody looks for her in other places. And finds her. Her toughness, and what she struggles to communicate is observable, and changes those present to her. Mother does the hard, frustrating work. Being close to her walk is one of the life-altering experiences of my life, adding to, and changing, her full story. Mom is the teacher. Mom as guide and muse. It is her ministry. She shows others. It remains my job to witness, and correct, the diagnosis where I can, where necessary.
Mom remains. We're walking through new doors.
6 March--14 March 2011
LINES FOR HARALD & ETHEL SIGMAR, REMEMBERING ETHEL
In Memory of Ethel Sigmar
One day your oldest friend's wife dies.
They had been married longer than you've been alive.
You say her name and you hear her laugh.
When your friend laughs, you hear her laugh again.
It is like that with oldest friends.
They carry the threads of your life
that saved you. The very way she served
your coffee clarifies your vision
of all that distills itself in her.
She, too, was a subversive, as all teachers
are subversive. She used to scare
street kids with her presence.
She taught them penmanship,
and made them copy down sentences
from the board that would later
change their lives. She never
asked about their lives,
only about the way they made the letters
and held the pencil. That's what I carry,
that, and the way she laughed at all of us.
13 March 2011
'WHAT IS A MOUNTAIN?' MY POET FRIEND ASKS AGAIN
...no question to question, until we reach the stage where we question without questioning and without questioning we keep questioning. We keep questioning until we finally find an answer, until delusion comes to an end, until we can swallow the world, all its rivers and mountains, everything, but the world can't swallow us...--Bill Porter, Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits
It is with almost a shock that one recognizes
What supposedly one had known always:
That it is, in fact, a mountain; not merely
This restrictive sense of nothing level, of never
Being able to go anywhere
But up or down, until it seems probable
Sometimes that the slope, to be so elusive
And yet so inescapable, must be nothing
but ourselves; that we have grown with one
Foot shorter than the other...
--W. S. Merwin, The Mountain
And the poem begins, just like that,
my wife coming through the door, saying,
I'm home. The poem is the mountain
we give our lives to. I step into my skis.
Marriage is a mountain, and so is the music in my car.
Hogback is the mountain that takes my grandson
to superheroes. Talk to him about transformation.
He'll show you. The pharmacy has my prescription.
My granddaughter brings down the mountain with her prayers.
M.S. is the mountain of resistance as it falls.
It is presumptuous to say I made the mountain,
sleeping in its bed. Call sleep sleep if you can.
It is the divorce we believe in and fight for.
The mountain is where I wait for news.
Making movies, the camera must be in your hand.
You don't know what will happen on the mountain.
So it goes entering the Temple of Light.
What holds you to your skis is a sharp edge.
Eyes have nothing to do with it. Snow changes like laughter.
Snow doesn't train, neither does your mother.
12 March 2011