Archive for the 'death' Category

Lunar time tables

February 15, 2016

This happened to me before, but it still took me by enough surprise that I found myself trying to plumb it more thoroughly this time around.

I could not figure out why today I was feeling, shall we say, down.  I went off for a walk, and fairly early on in it, it came to me that I should check, when I returned home, an online yahrzeit calculator.  So when I got home, I found one and plugged into it the date of birth and death for the premature infant I delivered over thirty years ago, and sure enough, the yahrzeit is tomorrow (as well as in a month from now, because it’s a leap year and so the month of Adar occurs twice), according to the Jewish calendar.  On the solar calendar we use in secular American life, the anniversary is not until near the end of this month.

As I said, this has happened to me before, I could even probably figure out which year.

When it happened last time, I remember having some thoughts about why I was in sync with the Jewish calendar on this schedule of commemoration — I remember thinking, for instance, that it might have to do with picking up on other people’s practices.  I think with this year’s repetition of the experience of grief arising on the yahrzeit according to a lunar year, I am thinking more about whether my internal rhythm for marking a year might be on its own more in tune with a lunar calendar than with a solar one.

In any event, being able to name a point of reference for my mood has helped.  I found a candle and lit it, although, as I recall, the rules of Judaism don’t include mourning in this way for someone who lived less than 28 days.

My mourning on this occasion is fairly vague at this point in my life, but it’s certainly there, deep in my heart.  Like the original grief, it has a certain independence of existence, it exists and calls my attention to itself regardless of whether I am consciously thinking about it or wish to deal with it.  Something wants to rise up within me, such as I sometimes experience when I meditate.  It comes out, I let it express itself through me while I pull myself to the side, and then the moment passes.  I won’t say it’s cathartic, but something is released and a more peaceful state returns.  If one religious practice doesn’t want to support that need, I am not above finding others that do, just as I will go along with using the particular calendar that seems to suit my rhythm of mourning, even if it’s not the calendar I use every day.


Personal Representative

March 6, 2015

I have to say that I liked the term “Executor” better.  It’s shorter, too.  (I shied away from Executrix, when I was administering my father’s Estate, because it sounded too precise in a language that doesn’t usually distinguish gender, although I did have a friend who wanted to call female professors “Professoressa.”)

Anyway, in Massachusetts, we are called Personal Representatives, that’s what’s on my Letters Testamentary I just received in connection with my mother’s Estate, and the lawyer who sent me the Letters advised me in no uncertain terms to use that term when I asked her about it.

I guess Personal Representative seems to me like such a broad and nebulous category, even if it actually isn’t.  It reminds me of personal care assistants, it reminds me of other sorts of representatives.  But I have to say it makes a little sense to me in the context of this being my mother’s Estate.

Shortly after my mother died, I was making a call notifying my father’s employer’s benefits department of my mother’s death, and I easily gave them her Social Security Number off the top of my head when they asked for it, I had had to use it so often on her behalf for so long.  Then the customer service representative asked me mine.  I actually had to stop and think.  My mental compartment for reeling off an SSN was now filled by my mother’s, not my own.  (I can do Willy’s, too, but I do that with a kind of mnemonic device.)  I had to remember the different cadence I use with my own, and that helped me back into being able to toss it off.  But it was a little weird to remember my mother’s SSN better than my own.

I really had come to represent her.

Need (not) to know

January 29, 2015

We got a lot of snow from the storm a couple of days ago.

The day of the storm, around midday, I shoveled the front steps and path, and when I got to the sidewalk, the snow was, I think, higher than my waist.  I shoveled a small path to the street and then went back in, to regroup.

Jordan went out next, and when I looked out a little while later to see how he was doing, I saw other people clearing our snow too.  Some I did not even recognize.  One had a snow blower and did much of the driveway.  Then the plow came and refilled our apertures.  Jordan and I worked on that and widened the opening at the mouth of the driveway, which is more necessary than people might realize, due to the misalignment of the garage with the driveway.

I got a call during this stint, during the late afternoon, from a nurse at the nursing center where my mother was, and she made me think she thought I needed to come.  I didn’t really think I could come.  On Monday, prior to the storm, I had spoken to my mother, during my visit, about the coming storm,  and I tried to say what I wanted to say to her and to let her know that whatever she needed to do was okay with me.  She was already in an unresponsive state.  The hospice social worker had discussed with me how I shouldn’t feel I needed to be present at my mother’s passing.  And, of course, there was the travel ban til midnight.

I set out in my car the next morning (Wednesday morning), took a different route to the nursing center, favoring major roads, like Mass. Ave., even though the route was longer.  I fishtailed significantly once, in Belmont, on Pleasant Street.

But I got there, to the nursing center, there was even a parking space I could pull into, and I did.  And I went in to see my mother and she had indeed declined further.  And I sat with her, read her a poem, sang to her a couple of songs she used to sing to me when I was sick as a child.  The aide who brought her the breakfast she could not eat brought me a cup of tea.  I read the newspapers I had brought and I prayed and meditated — or, the way I tend to think of it, I plugged in more actively.  The nursing center nurse came in with some liquid meds for my mom.

I mentioned to the nurse that I wished the hospice folks were available, to help me put into context what I was seeing with my mom.  When I had called them the night before, all they could say was that she was stable — no change, from their point of view.

The nursing center nurse came back to check my mother’s oxygen level.  She was already getting oxygen support.  My mother’s fingers were too cold for the machine to get a reading.

So I am thinking “Where is hospice?  Why am I doing this alone?” and then I turn that into, “I, apparently, am hospice.”  So I check in with my guidance to find out how I can help and I do, including letting my mother know that my spirit will stay with hers until there is a hand-off to what comes next, that I will be, as the line in TV dramas has it (she and I used to remark over this line), “with her every step of the way.”  I can remain anchored in the material world and connect to my spirit, and my spirit can be with hers, even after hers is leaving her body.  And something happens, not instantaneously, but it happens, and at some point my mother has grown noticeably quiet and I get the nursing center nurse and she looks for a heart beat and there is none and my mother has passed.

It was peaceful.

Had I known this was in the offing, I would have had a very difficult time getting through the storm and driving over to the nursing center the next day.  But I think I have an understanding with the forces greater than myself not to let me know when my knowing would impede.  Self-consciousness, anxiety, like anger and other things, can be a drag on sliding through those seams life seems to present us with sometimes.  If I follow my guidance, instead of figuring it out myself, including looking ahead, I do much better in such situations.

The other major theme I communicated to my mother as she was, as they say, “actively dying,” was my trust in the universe that we would get adequate help for my mother to have a safe transition.  She would be okay, I would be okay, it would be okay, it was okay.  I truly and deeply felt that, and I feel that about much of this journey I accompanied my mother on — there was help.

That being said, I did feel a huge responsibility myself, about doing my part in a way that helped.  The primary part of that responsibility — making sure my mother received the care she needed — has ended.  Now there are just secondary matters, like paperwork.

How important is it?

January 27, 2015

I find that sorting criterion looms large to me whenever someone close to me is dying.  Stuff that usually seems so urgent seems less so, other people’s or system’s demands on me seem just that — the demands of other people or systems.  Even failings and flaws and glitches in the systems and people involved don’t excite in me the same reaction as they usually do, although I do try to pursue what needs to be pursued.

I have wondered whether as these people close to me “transition,” I pick up a little of the perspective they may be experiencing.

When the death has receded somewhat and there has been a new accumulation of demands and failings, flaws, and glitches, I think I revert back to my usual attitude, but I do retain the memory of how it felt when those things truly felt much less important.  Maybe there is a net improvement in my perspective, just from that.


August 24, 2014

While I was visiting my mother, I had to decide what day to leave.  I had come down a day later than planned, an idea that originated with my mother, due mostly to the weather, and I needed to decide whether to go back home on my originally planned day of departure or to extend the trip one day.

We had accomplished much of what we had planned — banking business; open house; sorting, shredding or keeping files that had been in the basement, sorting, folding, donating or keeping the contents of the linen closet …

I couldn’t tell whether we were done for this trip.  So I took a walk late one afternoon.  And what percolated up for me was to call my son to see how he was faring at home and to pack my car, to the extent possible at that point, with what I thought I needed to bring back with me, to see if it would fit (I drive a Ford Focus sedan).

And once I did those two things, it became clear to me to stay the extra day.  And when I did that, I found myself doing some work that hadn’t before occurred to me, including getting things off closet shelves, sorting them for donation, trash, or keeping — because I wasn’t sure who else would be able to get them down, given the limitations of the help my mother engages.  This project had not been apparent to me, but by clearing away the clutter in my mind about my decision (about when to leave), I was able to make that decision, and, subsequently, to see the next right thing I was being called to do.  Again, as in my previous post, this occurred in a mundane context, but I am here to say that my process works, at least for me.

I will add as a note here that my mother received three wonderful letters from the university that collected and received her donation of CDs, records, and books.  My mother read them to me over the phone last night.  Not only were we amazed by the number of CDs (over 4,000) and records and books (over 600 and 800, respectively), but we found it heartwarming that the writers were so appreciative of the collections.  I was also especially happy to hear that the writers mentioned that the CDs would be quite helpful in the teaching and preparation of music students.  That’s the sort of thing I had been hoping for — that the collections would go where they were appreciated for what they were and would be used in a way that allows them to reach their potential to help others.

A collection

July 28, 2014

I am thrilled that between the two of us, my mother and I seem to have found a good home for my dad’s extensive classical music CD collection.  He developed the collection in part as a result of his reviewing CDs for the American Record Guide.

I felt pretty strongly that the collection has greater value as a whole, that its value as a whole is greater than the sum of its (many) parts.  One example of the significance of its size is how it contains multiple performances of the same work (my dad would make reference to comparisons in his reviews) and so lends itself to in-depth study of a work.  I advocated pretty strongly that we should find someone to take it who would appreciate this aspect of it.

I did some poking about online while I was on the telephone with my mother, and I gave her some phone numbers of music departments or related departments at local universities.

The collection is going to a university library, as I understand it, and being handled by a person who really appreciates the collection (and even used to follow my father’s work).  As I said, I am thrilled.

I was going to write more about the factual details of what’s going on, but what really moved me was finding such a good match.  I wound up my father’s estate recently, and I certainly tried to do right by him on those matters, but this is a different sort of thing  —  it feels like settling something of the heart.  I think it makes me feel as though there are things we can still do for loved ones after they have died.

Marzipan in memory

January 13, 2014

I seem to have decided to eat some chocolate-covered marzipan in memory of my dad’s death and in honor of his birthday, both anniversaries of which occur later this month in quick succession.

I tend to feel the urge to memorialize a few weeks earlier than the anniversary occurs on the calendar we use in the secular U.S. of A., I’m not altogether sure why, but my internal clock seems to be set somewhat differently — I’ve noticed this for decades with other yahrzeits.

So there will be marzipan, I’m on the fence about a lighting a candle or playing Wagner or Mahler.  It feels to me a lot like picking out a present for somebody — trying to figure out what suits.

Of course, once the marzipan comes (I think that will be tomorrow), the question will become when to eat it.  Shades of the famous marshmallow experiment.

My dad was always early with things.  In fact, once we arrived so early at my cousins’ house for a visit that his sister made him drive around the neighborhood for a bit first, before we could come in.  (She was the only one who could get away with teasing him like that, I think.)  When they were kids, she used to give him her candy in exchange for his doing her homework.  All of which suggests to me that if I eat some marzipan early, I can make an argument that it is somehow appropriate for me to do so.

Finding balance

November 27, 2013

I am aware that there are plenty of people who are more spiritually adept than I, clearer than I in trying to explain how someone with one foot in the spiritual realm sees the material world, more perceptive than I in the seeing itself, more effective at working with damaged people who have an aversion to faith and belief.  But with all due respect to Jackson Browne, I do sometimes think I see a reason I am alive (that’s in reference to “For a Dancer,” towards the end, the part about how there may be a reason we’re alive but we’ll never know — I love the song, though, it is so evocative, I can ride its waves to see so many things).

I see myself as figuring out how, in a sense, to walk and chew gum at the same time, to rub my stomach and pat my head simultaneously, while at the same time, adding in the third piece of having a conversation.  The first two activities are maintaining a spiritual connection while living in the material world, the “conversation” part is talking about it without losing my coordination and failing at the primary activities.

And then there’s the piece about keeping my balance.  That can be a balance between taking care of others and taking care of myself, between focusing on their needs and paying enough attention to my own.  It can also be about finding a helpful balance between having a message worth expressing to others and spending energy on making that expression effective.

There is a balance that needs to be struck, I think.  The irony is not lost on me that some of the people with the best bully pulpits have fundamentally flawed messages, from my point of view.  It’s as if the universe requires through its impersonal laws that we find a balance between attending to the messenger and attending to the message.

People have tried, consciously or not, all different ways and ratios for combining these elements.  For me, this life has been about letting go of the version of collaboration.  I really thought the most effective way of combining medium and message would be for one person to develop the delivery apparatus and for the other to develop the content.  But it doesn’t seem to work out, the delivery person tends to try to do both, in my multiple experiences of trying to collaborate.  Even when the delivery person pays some attention to the message-gatherer, they tend to distort the message that has been gathered through an inability to really see it.

I spent some time thinking this constituted some sort of failure to get something important and necessary to work, but now I don’t see it that way.  I figure instead that that way of trying to arrange things doesn’t work for a good reason.  (Trying to resolve the issue by having the message person spend more time on developing a delivery system just doesn’t work, it changes the person so much that they lose their ability to really see the message.)  The reason I see is that people need to come to discern the message themselves, not hear it from someone else.  If we can facilitate this process, maybe that’s something we should do, but that facilitation is more effective when it is indirect, I think.  I’ll invoke Jackson Browne again:  sometimes words are not enough (see “Late for Sky”).

I’m aware that this interpretation includes an assumption that the correct explanation is not that I am doing something wrong, which, interestingly, is often my first go-to explanation.  But this understanding about why collaboration isn’t the answer comes from that deeper place within, and it’s tied to the understanding that however interconnected we are, “in the end there is one dance [we] do alone,” even if that dance isn’t, in my opinion, the dance of death but rather the dance of enlightenment.


November 22, 2013

I was trying to reconstruct my five year old’s train of thought that led to my thinking that a premature baby was carried around by his parents in a basket.  I mentioned this conclusion of mine in my previous post.

I think I probably heard the word “incubator” in the radio reports about the newborn Patrick Kennedy, and asked what an incubator was.  I suspect I heard something about a special kind of bed for a baby.  The neighbor’s new baby I had first seen sleeping in a bassinet, and that had had a woven, basket-like feel to it.  So I probably concluded that an incubator was something like a bassinet.

I suspect that my parents explained to me that an ill baby has to stay in the incubator all the time, and, well, I knew a baby needed to be with its parents, so I guess that led me to conclude that Patrick Kennedy was being carried around in a basket everywhere by his parents.

May they rest in peace, all of them.  A lot of sadness, but they did so well despite all the sadness, it seems.

Where I was

November 22, 2013

I was standing on my front lawn.  I had half-day kindergarten, so it was after I had gotten home.  I was five.

The Dugan man was delivering bread and such to each of our abutting neighbors.  When he got to Mrs. Rosenfeld’s house, she came to the door and I heard the man tell her that President Kennedy had been shot.  I went inside and told my mother.  She didn’t believe me.  She put on the radio and called Mrs. Nelle.  Eventually everyone knew.

Part of why I had President Kennedy on my radar screen as a five year old was because I had heard about the birth and then death of his infant son Patrick a few months before.  Those reports on the radio news had caught my attention.  I remember not understanding what they were saying about the equipment that was being used to care for him, and asking my parents to explain the words.  For some reason, I ended up thinking they were carrying the baby around with them, everywhere they went, in a basket.

Anyway, babies I knew about.  The Nelles had had one when I was three and I hoped we would have one, too.  The Kennedys’ experience of having a new baby was so different from the Nelles’ experience.  That gave me something to try to make sense of.

I knew that famous people died because I had heard about Pope John XXIII’s death earlier in 1963.  Something I was watching on television was interrupted by an announcement of his death.  I’ll never forget the gravity of the voice making the announcement.  I knew from the sound alone that something important had happened.

So that was my context for processing President Kennedy’s death, that was the angle from which as a child it seemed important to me, as I tried to relate to and understand news as I heard it.