I’m on vacation! Taking a holiday from the ordinary world in which I live. The one that feels no more ordinary than Wonderland or Oz, while being nothing close to exotic. I am feeling far flung from that life right now, though: in a beautiful home on Whidbey Island keeping company with a sweet corgi named Gracie, who is missing her moms; watching the snowy mountains break through the clouds and the fog roll back in around them, as the cargo ships and eagles travel up and down Puget Sound. In some ways, it’s the ordinary solitude I was accustomed to before I moved in with my mother. Ordinary and exotic become all mixed up.
Barges, I would like to go with you, I would like to sail the ocean blue.
Barges, there’s a treasure in your hold, do you fight with pirates brave and bold?
I have gone around and around on the topic of this first post of the new year; circling among several things to explore: my Word for 2015, my New Year’s tarot spread (which I haven’t done yet), a sort-of-promised follow-up from last week’s post about intentions, and an unexpected sadness. And then I changed my word, and, voilà, they became one. Well, except for the as-yet undone tarot spread; but I am confident that will fall into place. I think that is what tarot is: showing us what we already know.
Unexpected sadness: Last Saturday, I received word that a friend from a lifetime-before-everything-changed, had a massive heart attack. He is just two months older than I and is fighting for his life. How quickly a life taken for granted can change. Except he was no longer taking anything for granted, he was recently diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment. But no one expected this.
In that other lifetime—when my children and his, and those of three other couples were young—we all met together frequently to share our lives and our experience of family. We were family. That was before four of the five couples divorced, while we were still taking what we thought would be, for granted. The truth is, we can’t ever know what will be. This week, some of the members of each of the other four families, with the children on the periphery (it was a group important in their young lives, too), have rallied around our friend from our homes across the country. It feels good to know that bond is still with us as we circle the virtual wagons, and to acknowledge what those friendships meant and continue to mean in our far-flung lives.
People come into our lives for a while, but their impact remains with us always.
Promised (sort of) follow-up: Last week, I mentioned the humorous, but oh-so-true, “dementia translation” cards I found in my stocking on Christmas. “What I said: You should have used a deeper pan. What I meant to say: You made a pie? How wonderful. Thank you!” My mother, who was never much into compliments, at least for her children, can seldom ever come around to one now. It’s a reminder that as we age, many of us become more of who we have always been. As brain function diminishes, the elderly become more dependent on less conscious kinds of memory. If we are accustomed to treating every moment for our children as a “you can do better, teachable opportunity,” we will forget how to say “thank you” for what did happen and to let go of what isn’t quite up to our standards—whether the child is 16 or 62. And we pass the tendency to use critical words on to others if we aren’t careful. I have become afraid that I will become less like me and more like her as I continue to be exposed to her attitude.
As I approach the end of my third year living with my mother, I find myself thinking if I put on the simple armor of truth, I can deflect her defensive and critical responses. But the opposite is happening: I am absorbing her disappointment, her irritation, becoming defensive myself, and sending the maddening words back her way instead.
It might help, as the cards suggest, to translate her words in my head into what I would have liked her to say: Thank you for dinner rather than these vegetables taste old. But what if I let her know out loud that I know what she meant to say (even if she didn’t mean to really), rather than button it up and swallow hard? I know what you meant to say was ‘thank you for dinner,’ and you are very welcome. What if I refuse to engage in—or react to—conversation based on her diminished taste buds and an unfaithful memory as to what something tasted like last time? What if I just stop trying to reason, bypass what she says, and move on to what I needed to hear? When I locate for her something that was lost, rather than react to complaints that it wasn’t where she left it ten years ago that feels like yesterday to her and therefore someone moved it recently, what if I tell her it’s okay that she didn’t remember, that I’m glad I found it for her? Can I do it without being sarcastic or snappish or impatient, which I am prone to? It’s a thin line. Can I do it with no expectation of change in her, but just change within me? Think Alice. Think Dorothy.
Think of these years as a journey to an alternate universe,
one from which I will someday return to the “ordinary” world. What do I want to have learned?
So there are two of the four points on my circle I have been thinking about this first week of the new year. Stay tuned for my tarot spread and my word for 2015. They are still swirling.