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not stepping in the same river twice

by Judy
December 8, 2014

Early on I wrote an essay shortly after my mom’s stroke called “The agony and ecstasy.” This was a particularly difficult time when she was in a maelstrom of emotions and turmoil, hardly slept at night and would burst out in tears without reason. Within that storm, there were still moments of contact, sweetness and love; however overall it was intense. Thankfully it calmed down.

Now two plus years later, I find myself in a different place with my mom. It’s definitely not intense in the way it was – good to remember that - but still there are difficult times, excruciating moments and then unexpected joy, shared humor and love. As I have learned, everything is changing all the time. Nothing repeats itself. Look at the weather. Always in flux. We think that the seasons are cyclical but even that is not entirely true. Every so called winter is the same and very different from the previous winter and so it goes. The Buddha spoke about impermanence as a fact of life and yet how much do we deeply recognize this truth? How often do we think that some state or condition should or will last and are shocked or surprised when it doesn’t?

Living with my mom, I see so much change day by day and definitely month by month. I look back at essays I wrote even three months ago, but definitely six months ago, and so much has changed. I am changing too, but that is sometimes harder to see.

Two plus years later with my mom basically bed-bound and more uncomfortable - time does not wear well at her age and condition - sometimes it’s just plain hard. There are times when she seems upset almost the whole day. Nothing satisfies - the food is too salty, sour or sweet - and the only relief is when she sleeps. Now this does not happen all the time but when it does, it seems like it will never end and I feel powerless to help. At those times I can forget that this too shall pass. And even during these times, there are still these lovely moments and more than moments that come unexpectedly.

Yesterday was one of those days. Yesterday the Ipod arrived that I had ordered for my mom after seeing a wonderful documentary called “Alive inside: A story of Music and Memory” which is about the use of music with people who have Alzheimer’s. Each person is given an Ipod with their favorite music. It is remarkable to see how the person’s whole being wakes up. From being extremely zoned out, they start to sing, speak and remember.

After seeing that film, I decided to get an Ipod for my mom and download her favorite music. She doesn’t have Alzheimer’s and does listen to music but I thought with an Ipod the listening would be more potent and direct, especially since she doesn’t hear well. It was pure delight to see her response. She started to sing with the music (which she never does) and was so happy. She kept asking us if we heard the music too – not being used to wearing a headphone. For the rest of the afternoon and evening she was very awake. I offered to read a book to her which she has not been interested in for a long time and she said yes. I ended up reading, off and on, the whole afternoon and evening based on her on-going request that I continue.

This was a big surprise. I attribute it in part to listening to the music but not totally. Who knows why yesterday my mom was so alert and awake? It was pure delight. The next day, it was different again. She did listen to music, but not quite as rigorously and she did listen to me read but not as much and slept a lot more. I realized that ordinarily there would have been some expectation that it would continue, but this time I knew better letting in the fact of change which holds true in all situations, be they considered good, bad or anything in–between.

Was it not the famous Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who said "No man ever steps in the same river twice?” There is so much wisdom in this statement that is so commonly heard and understood but how much does it guide our responses and expectations of life? Two plus years later, this is the “lesson” that is hitting me most. And this change is in all directions…outer and inner. As my mom changes day by day, moment by moment, so I am changing in response. It’s the way of all things - change, impermanence - which ideally can catalyze growth, maturity and transformation.

 

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