Caring for a parent, Death & Dying, new year

2017—Stepping into Wholeness

The word I have chosen for myself in this new year is “Wholeness.” Or, I should say, the word chose me on the Solstice as my class did a yoga mandala to the four directions.

What does it mean to be whole? What has kept me from fulfillment of self?  What do I want to fill the space in my life my mother held? Just asking the questions feels like a step toward wholeness, but I’m working on specifics.

My life in 2017 is already much different than it has been the past four years as my role as caregiver has eased. I’m making plans for a future farther into a potential distance than I have dared peer. Plans that can begin today, rather than someday. Plans for wholeness, of which caring for my mother is now just a piece.

People were incredibly supportive as decisions were being made to move Mama to assisted living. Some added a warning, though: “You will still be caring for your mother, even after she moves out of the house,” wanting, perhaps, to protect me from believing it would be easy. I have great respect for those who have been caring for a parent from a distance, either across town or across the country, some for many years: traveling or phoning or stopping by after work, hiring and monitoring paid caregivers or dealing with facilities, supporting siblings who are more actively caregiving; sometimes caring for two parents or for their own children as well. No matter our level of involvement, or uninvolvement, we are always wondering what’s happening and dealing with our own feelings about our parent’s aging and about our role.

Over lunch with a friend last week, we shared the happenings in our lives since we last met. She too is caring for aging parents, though from across the country. As we talked, I realized our issues in that caring are more similar now. In caring for my mother at home, virtually every moment of my life was about her life, a reprise of my years as stay-home parent of young children when moments for my interests were spent with one ear listening for nap to be over. Distance caring, however, is separate from the caregiver’s life—a piece of the pie, but not the whole pie.

When I began blogging nearly seven years ago, I wrote about restoring the garden at my new 60-year-old house, and the lessons that garden taught me about life. I moved west in 2012, leaving that garden and eventually that blog behind. (You can find My View from the Garden here, if you are interested.) I began a new blog about living with my nonagenarian mother.

In all my memoir reading before and since the first post on this site at the beginning of 2013, I have found very few tales by writers who cared for a parent in their parent’s home. I knew it was a different sort of life than the more common distance caregiving or even than moving a parent into one’s own home, so I set out to write my own tale to teach myself what I needed to learn, hoping that as I did so other caregivers would see themselves and that I would find company in the commonalities of all family caregivers.

Although my caregiving has not ended—I’m still the daughter on duty, more equally shared now with my sister—it’s become the more common variety: from afar, lives separate. A friend’s comment after reading last week’s post illuminated that the journey has taught me (most of all about myself, and not all of it pretty), strengthened me, and in many ways defined me. But now, she offers, my mother has stepped into a place I cannot go. Oh yes, I will visit, but I can’t be in her head with her and I can’t control her days. I don’t need to control her days, because my days are no longer contingent on hers. And I have similarly stepped into new territory myself, one she can’t control—and, shockingly, she has stopped trying to. The two became one, four and a half years ago, and now we are two again. It feels a little like a divorce, a little like giving up, a little like breaking a vow I never really made.

As my mother moves ever nearer to the center of the labyrinth, the end of the weaving in and back, and as I am seeing my own bright light at the exit of that labyrinth, our paths come side-by-side less often. My mother is no longer at the center of my life. We move on, and when we do—if we are to accommodate and encourage the new—we must let go of what is in the rearview mirror. This, for me, is a year of beginnings, of exploring what is next, of moving into wholeness.

I don’t know yet what that means for this blog. I expect it will shift focus as well. I hope you will keep reading. I hope you will continue to find connection to your own life, whether or not you are a caregiver.

The friend with whom I recently had lunch shared words of wisdom from the mentor we have in common. In regards to crossroads, a place our mentor is at as well, she said,

“You are in direct contact with your own guidance, and from that you make your choices. Early in life, the elders intercede, providing wisdom and interpreting guidance. Those elders have passed on or are dying. Now we are the elders, there is no longer any intercession. This is the initiation at this life stage. To step into elderhood is to take direction directly from Spirit, and to ask ourselves, ‘Am I going to listen?'”

I have been in a long fallow period. Perhaps I wasn’t taking instruction from my mother (in fact, I was mostly ignoring it), but I was allowing her needs to direct me. And now, as she comes ever more near to the completion of her life, it’s time for me to find mine. Here’s to wholeness.

As often is the case, Mary Oliver provides affirmation of life’s experience:

The Journey
by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.


8 thoughts on “2017—Stepping into Wholeness”

  1. Welcome to this new year of wholeness, dear Gretchen. As I have followed this blog over the past year or more, I have seen it as a tool for you to catch glimpses of your wholeness, while at the same time making giving care to your mother, the primary focus of your life. You seemed to have an ear waiting to hear your wholeness waking from a nap, instead of your mama or your children. And you have not lost sight of the strong, wise woman, creative being, insightful writer and storyteller, continuing to tend to your own garden – plants, the land, your grandchildren and their parents. May this new year be filled with moments of wholeness unfolding and the wisdom to see and believe in your many gifts. Be well, dear Gretchen. With love, Jude

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jude. I’m glad you are out there. I like that: listening for me to wake up from a nap! I do hope I can meet you when next you are in the PNW. I will happily come to Whidbey. Blessings to you in this new year. 💜G


  2. Beautiful, thoughtful, reflective in a way you haven’t had the luxury of being with your mother in the house. I”m sticking with you and this blog because I feel it (and you) taking a radical turn into something wondrous.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Susan. And thank you for being out there in the Universe. I’ve taken some baby steps toward the first of my goals for the year, and that feels good. That would be the AirBnB where you will stay when you come to visit, explore, and WRITE!


  3. I feel a certain excitement as you offer out the ongoing states you find yourself in. But this newness, creativity, and design are enormous gift for you to open! My thoughts, hugs, and warmest wishes as you open them!

    Liked by 1 person

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