18 Jun Holding On, Letting Go
Last week as we sat by a fountain, my mother said, “Look at that bird.” I saw it right away. A trick of the light, this shadow bird could only be seen from one angle, and only at a very specific time each day. My mom has always seen shapes in clouds, trees, and sea shells. Her creative mind makes meaning from the world by creating spirit animals. This search for connection has only increased as her general cognitive abilities have decreased. It’s as if her creative self is emerging more fully.
If someone hands you a steaming pile of feces, you can think of it as an attack or a gift. If you think of it as an attack, you go on the defensive which floods your body with stress hormones. If you think of it as a gift, you shift towards gratitude and, rather than being flooded with stress hormones, your body relaxes. Of course it’s not automatic to think of something we naturally frame as negative as a positive. However, when you can shift your perspective, there is a lot of benefit.
My mother fell and cracked her skull so badly that only now, a month later, it’s ceasing to bleed. That fall also caused her brain to slosh towards the front of her skull, creating a very large area of bleeding- or in other words a pretty massive stroke. This is a steaming pile of feces. I would not wish this suffering on anyone. However, this moment of need has brought together our family and friends, and it’s has created profound opportunities for healing. My sister has spent 3-5 hours with her everyday and I can witness how much closer that has brought them. I try to be there a couple of hours a day, but have not been able to be there every day. Over the last 8 months, she has had a series of health crises, and while this has been a struggle, it has also bonded us. In some ways, I worry that it has brought us too close, as I understand that she calls out for me at night. Of course this makes me sad, but I also recognize that it’s because she feels loved and cared for. She has to have someone there 24 hours a day due to her confusion (and we can’t risk her getting out of bed and falling), so I know that she is being physically taken care of. I’m working on accepting that I can’t be there all the time, and letting go of any anxiety around my need to be helpful. Again, it’s not easy, but even having the opportunity to challenge the things that keep me stuck is useful as it is difficult.
Over the past decade, I’ve done a lot of work to shift my perspective from one of frustration and anger to a place of acceptance and appreciation. This has been a healing experience for me. At the same time, it’s taken a lot of effort for me to be present with how it affects me in less positive ways. My stress goes to my foot. I work on changing this pattern, but it’s one that runs deep. However, I can also use the tightness as a message to slow down and pay attention. Even though I put tremendous focus on acceptance and letting go, other feelings arise and get repressed before I’m conscious of it. I’m not so great about being with sadness, and there’s a lot of sadness involved, so I have to carve out space to be with that feeling. I’m not always successful at it, but again, when I view this time as a gift rather than a burden I can recognize that I’m learning from it.
My mother’s physical health is starting to improve a bit, but her cognitive abilities continue to decline. It’s not clear if this is just the unfolding of dementia, a result of the stroke, or from the anti-seizure medication she’s on. The fact is, she is very confused and that makes her very anxious. When she’s in the room, the anxiety blooms so I do all I can to get her in a wheelchair and outside. I’ve found that the gentle stimulation of nature distracts her enough from her anxiety feedback loop to calm her down, but not so much that she gets overstimulated. I’m pretty good at giving advice but not so great at taking it. I keep trying to learn from that awareness, and continually work on slowing down and making time to be there for her.
My mom’s greatest fear has always been dementia, so to see it unfold is not easy. Yesterday she had a hard time in the morning, but when I got her outside around 5 she perked up a lot. We went for a long walk in the wheelchair and then went to sit by a waterfall. The sound and motion seemed to calm her a great deal. She always loved looking for sharks teeth at the beach. Now she has a sharp eye for rocks. She’s not fully aware of what’s going on, but she takes a lot of pleasure in collecting the rocks and seeing faces in them. She sees shapes everywhere. Now that she’s less focused on the details of life, she has more room for creative rumination. I see that as a gift.