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Living close to death

living close to death

by Judy
September 1, 2014

We human beings live not just in the moment. Our consciousness can roam to all different time periods – back into the past, recent and far, and into the future or imagined future. Inevitably as I live so close to my aged mother, my mind will wander into the time when she is no longer. I don’t do it very often or with a lot of detail, but it comes up and sometimes in a strange way. Like I might be traveling in a taxi from the airport to my mom's home and think of what it will be like to be doing this when she is not here anymore - the same activity that I’ve done for so many years, but imagine how it will feel when there is no Mom waiting for me with open heart.

 I live, as many caregivers do, close to death. Reflecting on mortality in general, I realize most of the time we don’t live on a daily basis with such an acute awareness of this inevitability. In a way it would be difficult to live with the reality that at any moment we could die in addition to our friends and family. And most of the time it doesn’t happen that unexpectedly, but living now with my 98 year old mom, who is fading, I am very aware of the brevity of her life. Knowing this does bring an added preciousness to our connection, to our life together.

What it means is I don’t take for granted the simple contact we have with each other, especially since much of the time my mom is semi-asleep or not that interactive, so when she is awake and we talk together or kid with each other, I value that sweetness of engagement.

Mom is not afraid of dying and feels more and more her departure is imminent. Everything is spoken about in a very matter of fact way. She wants to take care of business. Sometimes it’s expressed by her concern that I will be fine after she is gone or she wants to make sure that everything is in place. For example she will talk to me about her paintings and give me suggestions of where they could go. Recently she asked me to give away one of her paintings to Mica, a woman who has worked for her for many years. Mica had tears of gratitude when she received it. It was a particular one she admired.

And sometimes it can be quite funny. Like the other day when she asked me in the morning if I knew how to get to the cemetery where she will be buried and I assured her a few times that I did. Then later in the day – my mom moves in and out of normal reality at times – she asked me if I knew how to get to the funeral. I asked her, “What funeral?” And she said her funeral. I told her she was not dead. She was surprised. She thought it was her funeral that day. “Mom,” I said, “You are ALIVE!” After a few back and forths where I convinced her we were not going to her funeral, we both started to laugh a lot. I felt like we were in some kind of zany Groucho Marx movie.

In a way, just as my mom is preparing herself for her departure, I am also doing the same. And in that way, my imaginings of “what it will be like” is also part of that preparation. In that example I gave of taking a taxi to my mom’s home, I am struck by how the same simple event can be experienced in such a different way based on whether my mom is alive or not. It creates a curiosity in me about how we human beings function, how consciousness changes, how our feelings change. Taking the taxi to my mom’s home, I imagined what I would experience when she is gone. I experienced the emptiness, sadness, the ache in the heart. And even as I write now, I can access that whole gestalt of experience.

It’s like that experience is always there in consciousness, waiting to resurface at the right moment. And especially when older, we potentially have all these feelings in us; they already exist in the undersea of our being. I don’t consciously do these imaginings, but they arise and I observe myself at those moments. It gives me a perspective on what we human beings experience as we go through our life of love, attachment and loss. In a way that I can’t yet fully explain I think it  gives me a kind of handle on how to maneuver through these waters; how not to suppress anything – feel everything - and at the same time keep a big view that allows the life waters to ever change and flow.

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