Spiritualism

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Mama is Preparing to Leave this World

Published September 12, 2012 by megdedwards

Every time I return from Toronto I know that these trips will be over soon.

After my Dad and his wife died I never went back to Victoria. The home, the chairs sitting in the sun, the desk with the photos, the box of tea, the couch where I crashed, was gone.

Those very things exist somewhere but they are gone to me.  What made them mine is gone.

I have lived in Cabbagetown at my mom’s apartment so many times this year it feels like my second home.

I fall into the dusty feather couch at night in pure exhaustion and I sleep deeply with the city noises on the periphery; fighting raccoons rummaging in the garbage cans outside my window, men yelling at their partners, the incredibly dull, loud talking neighbors who enjoy their balcony so much.

Every visit things change perceptibly. Mom can no longer walk up the stairs by herself. She no longer makes tea or feeds her cat. The sweet caregivers have become her arms and legs. Our conversations are getting shorter and shorter. She is out of breath, exhausted; often we sit in silence with me holding her hand. Then she might rouse herself to say something random to me, such as, “Did you get through a press agent to attend this event?”

When I am feeling claustrophobic I head out to Parliament Street. It is a city amalgam of rich and poor. I can nod at homeless who rave just like my sister, I can smile at gay guys with their adored dogs, and I can hit my favorite spots. There is a small warmly lit greasy spoon run by a collection of older Asian men and women where classical music plays constantly and everyone is treated with respect and courtesy. Their good reliable food and cheap prices draw in some of the poorest of the neighborhood and each customer is treated like a good person.

There are cool second hand stores, a run-down library and further north on Parliament is a small area full of Indian stores that breathe their exotic spices and foods into my receiving sensory system. In the early morning the streets have that dusty busy feeling of an Indian city, so many people moving together in a hustle of humanity. Ground coffee, spices, the dust from construction, and the scents of perfume as people head to the buses to get to work are an orchestral sensory experience.

It has already occurred to me that this place will not be mine when my Mom dies. There will be no reason to go there and no reason to be there. So the place is seeping into my body.  As the real world diminishes for my Mom, it is increasing for me. I am a receptor of smells, sounds and sights that she no longer needs, her mind a rich enough tapestry.

My Mom is in her head, dreaming and thinking. Sometime she is worried about the motherly duties, and the thought of Christmas puts a frown on her face. How will she have the energy to organize it all!  We can’t insist that she no longer has to do anything, she does not pay attention. Years of looking after our desires are a habit that she cannot let go.

Conversations with my mom have become surreal and poetic, mind blowing. For example, “This book shelf is what it looks like, but not what it seems”. I repeat that back to her to see if that is what she said. She nods, “Yes, because there is another book shelf like this in another identical house in Toronto, and if I move a book here it will move there, and (pause) that would be magic”.  A look of disapproval and disbelief at the word, magic.

She looks towards a window, where for me nothing stands out at all. She smiles, “Do you see that man out there with wings; do you see the small children?”  She acknowledges that we cannot see what she is seeing, but her apparitions are so strong and detailed she cannot quite question their reality.

She says, “I can see Kate smiling and laughing and laughing” and she knows that it is something conjured by her mind and follows with, “Well, that is a nice image for me”.

And the odd images: “Look at the rats all jumping ship, with their feet scurrying as rat’s feet do when they run”.

Other times though she will say something that shows that she was paying attention when that last person was visiting. She will have noticed their health and habits and have a critical remark about one of their foibles.

And every day in my last visit she talked about dying. “Now please don’t get upset but we need you and Rhys and the others, to talk about my death “.  When I tell her that Liz will be visiting in a week she says, “I don’t know if I will make it, but I don’t know if that matters.”

I look at my Mom, lie beside her. Her body is smaller, her skin hangs from her bones, but her stomach stays round and firm, holding all her pain and seeming to symbolize the pain and love of life. The stomach, the womb, all desire:  the center of creation and destruction. Her desires from that center both created her marriage and destroyed it.  Everything is appetite.

And now her desires abate and her appetite for life is less. I gently press the frown on her forehead, but it is permanent. Her eyes are unseeing, half lidded, and skeptical. If I tell her that I don’t see what she sees, she says, “But how do I prove that, I just have to believe that.  You don’t see those boys, that large woman on the corner of the couch?”

I lie on the bed beside her; the bedroom is stuffy and smells permanently of urine. I rest my head on her pillows and hold her hand.  Her eyes are closed and she sleeps deeply for a moment, her breath becoming urgent and painful, deep and racking.

Then she opens a green eye and says to me, “Well, it was odd getting into bed with my husband and his girlfriend”.  I don’t say anything, what is there to say? Then she says after a long pause, “And where are they putting them, in the attic? And are they stacking them up”?

But amidst this random dream talk she is trying to prepare in her organized way, “How much time is left, what am I supposed to do?” and more poetically, “I feel as if I have just finished a book”.

I respond sympathetically, knowing that that feeling when something ends before you want it to,  I say, “And you don’t have another good book to read” and she says, “ Oh no, I have lots”.

On the day of her birthday, in which I am about to throw a small tea party, she rises from the couch under her own strength, which is unusual, and says, standing as tall as she can, “I am not sure if I am up to this, I am much weaker than I used to be” and I realize that she thinks we are going on a plane. Pretty much every day she thinks she is going someplace, and I guess she is.

Seeing her standing on her own, I see her through her own eyes. She is young again and ready for any adventure. I remember watching her prepare herself when I was a teenager. Putting on her makeup, picking jewelry, brushing her hair.

Her bags packed, neatly organized, a skirt that both matches her jacket and her pants so that she can pack lightly but have many options, her ticket and passport neatly in an outside pocket of her purse, which does not have old gum wrappers in it or crumbs like mine.

She has brushed her long soft blond hair and put on red lipstick. I am sitting in her bedroom watching her prepare.

Mom and the Old Bitch Above

Published June 23, 2012 by megdedwards

There was a time in my youth when I wished my Mom was dead.

As soon as I wished it I realized that it was a terrible solution. I knew that my Mom drove me crazy in various ways but it was certainly not fair to request her death in order to set me free from my reactions to her.

I knew that she enjoyed living and I did not begrudge her that.  I did not actually wish harm to her.  She did not need to die, I knew that. I just needed to separate myself from her.

Mom was always there for me but sometimes her love or maternal attention felt destructive. I would inevitably regret reaching out for help. Whether it was emotional or financial, her help was like the well intentioned rock walls that people put up to save their sea shores, the effect of her attention sometimes caused more erosion than protection.

There was something about my relationship with my mom that was claustrophobic and dangerous.  She had a way of watching and commenting on my life that was suffocating. And while she could be maternal and caring, even almost doting at times, she could also be cool and dismissive.

If there was a battle of the wills then she had to win, and she would use whatever tools necessary, mockery, sarcasm or even physical power in order to rule supreme.  She was competitive and fiery.

If I was in pain she assumed I was exaggerating and would imply that I was weak. If I was in love she would question my judgment. If I wanted anything at all she would suggest I was greedy.

Maybe I made our relationship more painful by wishing she was something that she was not. She could only be who she was. When I read about Martin Amis talking about his relationship with his father, Kingsley Amis, I saw that what I had with my mother was not unlike this relationship.  It was more competitive than maternal; it had a manly air about it. She nurtured and then she fought. She prepared us to fight.

I kept wishing for a soft mom with soft arms who was a refuge against the world, but I did not have that. And in fact my Mom did not have that either, with her steely blue eyed librarian mother with the feminist leanings.  As I age, my sense of certainty that I have managed to avoid the same pitfalls and personality faults of my mother fades into a more sympathetic notion that maybe my Mom did not fail.

Maybe mothering is not about constant nurturing and altruistic sacrifice at all times. Part of what we do in weaning our children is push then away from our breasts, even when they cry. If they don’t learn to survive without us then we will have failed.

We may sometimes push our children away in order to set them free. That might be true. But we also make stupid mistakes and have moods. No one’s fault, no one deserves it, it just happened. Not only do I not know what I have done already that has hurt my children, I don’t know what I will do in the future. I will try very hard to be a good mom, but at times I will fail, quite by accident.

As the grains of sand drop one by one into the hourglass, the witch watches us and laughs. This image, from the family favorite, The Wizard of Oz, is definitive of my mother’s effect on us. My Mom was not the bad witch, she was kind hearted and fairly powerless, but she conjured witches.

Mom created a feckless and humorous God-like character, the Old Bitch Above; this mythical creature had a looming presence over our lives. OBA, as she was known in our home, would punish those who became too confident. OBA may give you a bad hair day just when you thought you were pretty, or make you trip when you were proud of your shoes. She had that kind of power. She brought you down off your high horse. Like a Greek God, or even the emotional Hebrew God, OBA had moods and emotions and you never knew what she would throw at you next.

Looking back, I see that my Mom was the physical form of OBA. She was unpredictable; you had to watch your step. Sometimes she was nurturing and sometimes she was harsh.  And she never said sorry. I learned to keep my dreams or opinions to myself because if I turned to her for comfort it would come back at me like a boomerang at another time, with a sudden attacking reference to that private conversation.

Even now, while we embrace in love and forgiveness as her energy drains out of her body, she can still throw a knife.  While I was telling her about a business idea that I had (once again forgetting what this admission would lead to) I said, “If it is any success at all…” and she said without thinking, “Well, that’s not likely”.

I laughed in my head, back on the same ground, aware now that the constant negativity that had accompanied me all my life was just under the surface.  She was aware that she had done it again, but, true to fashion, would not take it back. We let it go. But sometimes I see my life, and those of my siblings, as plants struggling for light, twisting and contorting to find the nourishment that we need to thrive.

As I accompany my Mom around the track, on her last lap, our faults are forgotten and our desire is to show love and acceptance. She says wonderful things about my writing; we talk about philosophy, writing and ideas. In fact, even in our hardest times we have always been able to talk about ideas. That has always been our connection.

Sometimes her  past rises up to torture her, she feels ashamed and irritated with herself, acknowledging that her strong pride and stubborn nature may have been unnecessary or harmful  to herself  or others during her life.

But I have no argument or anger anymore. Life is like one of those mysterious Irish folktales that show life as a meaningless struggle punctuated by madness and magic. My Mom likes to quote from some tale that she studied, lost now, “A man longs and longs and nothing comes of it”. She likes this line; it satisfies her on some deep level.

Magical thinking, magical writing

Published April 6, 2012 by megdedwards

My Mom and I were talking about memory and writing; recollection. She said it is too bad she cannot write down all the things that she is thinking and remembering, recollecting and sorting.

And  and I said, does it matter, after all? Do we need to record the details of our lives, does it matter?

Mom has been an artist and an archivist when it comes to her personal life, with illustrated journals and photo albums documenting every stage of her life. And we love that about her, and treasure the products of her creativity.

But I was talking about the bigger picture and she joined me there. If everything we drew or wrote burnt up in a fire, would we have lived less, felt less, had less of a place on earth? It cannot be that our lives are less important when not examined, documented,  given symbolic value.

It is a convergence of chance and timing that we know about certain people of the past, and not others.  We don’t know what writers we will read 100 years from now, nor what films we will remember, and it does not matter. But every day we continue to document our thoughts and our actions in attempt to clarify them to ourselves, to see ourselves, and to place ourselves in reflected light.

Our own dreams do that every night, building symbolism and metaphors into our thoughts and actions, taking anecdotal experiences and merging them with poetic writing. Why are we driven to create poetry and art where pure life stands before us?  Consciously, unconsciously, we cannot help building symbolism and trying to find patterns in the maze of life that is unmapped, uncontrollable and unpredictable.

Mom says that she has recently picked up the pleasurable habit of traveling in her mind. She settles down comfortably, or as comfortably as she can, her aging body crying out against time, and allows her mind to travel to a place in her memory. If she focuses on that pace in time she can go deep into it and see details of the scene as if she was living in it right at the moment.

It is like daydreaming, a fantastic pursuit, but backwards.  When people sit and stare and their minds are elsewhere, they should be left alone to dream. I remember a writer; I think it was Alice Walker, thanking her mother at the front of one of her books for mopping around her when she sat on the kitchen floor in a dream world.

As my Mom sits and thinks and prepares for death, something she dreads and fears, she has certain memories and stories that keep appearing. Some of them I have heard before, like when a crow came and pecked a t her brass buttons on her coat when she was a little child left outside on the back porch, and no one believed her that it happened.

But other stories are emerging that I have never heard before.  She told me that she used to scribble long pages of nonsensical ‘fake’ writing, as my first child did very diligently as well, and she told me that if she took that paper to her Mom she would read the story to her, making it up as she went.

I was taken with this story for a few reasons. I too had a very creative child who did fake writing, and in some ways I feel like I may be a bit like my Mom’s mother, who I never met. I have tried to picture her through my Mom’s stories but her stories are naturally colored by her complicated emotional feelings of being a daughter.

I have always had the impression of Mom’s Mother being a bit cold, an intellectual who later in life was given to stress headaches. A librarian and a reader, a feminist and a quiet activist, but I could not picture her being frivolous in any way. When I picture her reading aloud from her little daughter’s scribbles, putting words where there were none and creating a story out of her mind on the spot, it gives me a different view.  She was a full blooded creative mother scrambling from task to task like me.  She wrote poetry in her mind, words flowed and created stories even if she did not write them down.

My Mom has called that memory, ‘magical writing’. It has a title and a place in her mind, as if it is the first chapter in her autobiography. The next memory that keeps emerging could be entitled ‘magical thinking’; I have given it that name as I am writing this for Mom as if I am her official biographer.

As she tells it she was being put to bed in an odd room, possibly the attic, where the bed had a frill with a colorful red and green tulip pattern.  I think she was being put to sleep in the young live-in maid’s room but I may be making that up. It was clear, at least, that she was in a different bed and could not sleep.

The young girl taught her how to relax and go to sleep by imagining something fun like designing clothes. That day  Mom discovered that in her imagination she could design clothes any way she liked, and not be limited by what she could afford or sew.  It was a break through moment in which she came to recognize the power of her mind.

The young babysitter had only suggested that she design paper doll in her mind in order to calm her and distract her.  Being born and brought up in the depression, Mom knew how to cut out paper dolls and create clothes for them, and she wanted to get up and do it, but the babysitter told her to lie still and just imagine the clothes and build them in her head.  From then on little Natalie knew how to use her mind to create, distract and placate.

Now suffering from every sort of indignity of old age Mom goes into her mind to relax. She can conjure up beautiful detailed memories replete with the scents and sights. Much of her mind travel is pleasant but not all of it. Her vivid imagination has only given legs to the hallucinations and delusions that accompany her Parkinson’s medicine.

She creates such detailed people in her mind that she finds that she must try to engage them in conversation if she wants to discover if they are real. She has discovered that her hallucinations never respond and avoid looking her in the eye. I compared it to the dreams I have that I am writing, but that I cannot read my writing as I dream it. She said it was like that.

She sees people in such detail that she can describe very detail of their outfits, and then her active mind makes up a  story for why they are there. She has a film crew in her house who are forever moving things, boxing things and making her world seem to be in a state of flux. When she mentions this crew of workers I ask, ‘did you create these people”? And she sighs, “Well, that could be, but they do seem very real”.

The brain is our best mystery; we cannot really analyze the workings of our brains while we are using that very brain for our analysis. It is somewhat like trying to look into the eyes of our own hallucinations.

Thinking is our best action. We can do very little harm by thinking, contemplating and recollecting. Our brains can connect with the larger energy, flowing along a river of cyclical and symbolic imagery, creating something beautiful for no reason at all.

This is the first line of a poem that my Mom is writing,

“Along the sides of the river Illyses, scents of roses, scent of lilies…”

My Mom

Published December 10, 2011 by megdedwards

I should be calling her on the phone right now. And I am reluctant. It is not because she is a self-pitying or complaining, or crabby or incoherent.

When I do call we have fun calls about writing, thinking, dreaming,  regrets, and relationships.

The hard part is saying good bye because I can tell that she could stay on the line forever, just chatting and falling to sleep and waking to chat some more.

Just like when you have to leave a crying child, you promise, I’ll be right back.

I spent a week end with her last month. We ate, lay around, went for walk, ate, and watched TV.  It was very peaceful and I did not try to ‘do’ anything specific.

We did not talk about death or illness and by the time I left she was talking about changing her routine to include more exercise and socializing.  She might not have the energy to do that but I was glad that she was talking in the positive manner that I think of as hers.

She always has plans and things to do. But as she creeps towards the grave, in constant pain, her back curved with scoliosis, her mind wandering, hallucinations crowding her world, she might be beginning to accept death.

I want her to be with me, so talking on the phone is not a good replacement. I want to tend her as she tended me.  I want to offer her the peace and care that she offered me.

When I was in her home, it was a bit like caring for a child. I became my calm nurturing self who is on watch for what the child or baby needs.  She woke really early the first morning, and I just lay down on her bed to see if she would want to get up and eat, or go back to bed. She crept back into bed, with the slow deliberate moves of a very old cat, put her hand over mine, and fell asleep again.

Eventually we did get up and I made a big breakfast, which she loved.  And just like a sweet contented baby, she feels like sleeping as soon as she finishes eating.  Eventually we watched a movie, Woody Allen’s Bullets over Broadway, the best thing that came on her movie channel the entire weekend, so I settled down with her to watch it.

Unfortunately, she can’t really see or hear that well so when she woke from that nap she slowly became bored and irritated, fussing, moving herself back and forth  from the discomfort of her constant pain.  I thought to myself, there is about five minutes more to this movie and I want to see it to the end. So I paid no attention to the huffs and puffs beside me and then when the movie ended I said, “So how about a walk to that new art gallery on Parliament”?  She was very much up to it.

My handling of that reminded me of parenting toddlers. Patience and strategy, offering the adventure or treat just at the right moment. We had a long walk; she used her cane with great determination and I dragged the unused walker behind us.  She did at times sit on the seat of the walker for a break, and that worked well. We talked and chatted the whole way. Again, memories of trailing strollers awkwardly down the road when the baby prefers to walk or be held, came back to me.

When we got to the art gallery the sweet young man who has put his idealism into his own gallery, helped us in and offered us cookies. This was good as we did need the sweet kick to recover from our adventure.  With my Mom comfortably seated we talked of this and that and by the way I told him about my Mom’s career as a journalist and the different places she had worked.

It was a fun afternoon out and I appreciated the attention that the young man gave my Mom, just as I always loved it when a stranger would smile at my child and say, “Aren’t you wonderful”.

On the way home, trailing the constantly unfolding walker behind me I was amazed to come across people on the street that were impatient for my Mom and me to creep by at our glacial pace.

Just as I have experienced the cold big city vibe in Toronto when out with children and babies, I saw it with my Mom. People sighed and looked irritated that we had slowed down their day and I remembered a woman sucking her teeth and impatiently waiting for me to carry my kid and stroller up a flight of stairs out of the subway.

We had a lovely visit. I will treasure it forever.  It took a lot of my own Mom organizing to get that trip sorted, including explaining to a very attached seven year old that I had to see my Mom. She cried and  cried, wanting to come with me.

I did not cry for a second on that trip, and when I left Mom in the hands of a lovely care worker who would keep her company until her boyfriend came over, I was not worried about her.

She is serene, thoughtful, and philosophical.   Her curious mind is contemplating her situation, and not only does she still have a sense of humor, she still has that tough ‘prairie girl born in war time’ attitude.

She is still my Mom, and I can tell she is sorting out her emotions and organizing her thoughts in that very Mom way, checking to see if I am happy, worrying over the health and moods of her fourth baby.

We really do have a laugh together, and I really do admire her, even when she drives me crazy. And besides, she is my one and only Mom.

When I had a moment alone after the trip, and I pictured her tending me as a baby, washing me, comforting me, saving me special books for when I was sick,  the images set me off for a big wailing cry alone in my car.

I am at once a child and a mother. I want to care for her as she cared for me, and I know that this is what my sister and I feel deeply in our hearts. We want to mother our mother.

But I am her child, and it is my Mom who is leaving, and she still is my Mom, and I won’t have any Mom when she is gone. And it is lonely thinking of having no Mom.

Snow, Snow, Snow!

Published November 18, 2011 by megdedwards

If the room is filled with a cool white light and the air smells crisp like apples and fresh laundry, then you can tell that it has snowed before you even open your eyes.

I remember the joy of smelling snow as a child, and jumping out of bed to see if it was true.

Yes, Snow! I still feel the joy, but I don’t jump out of bed. I say to my nearest tousled headed child, ‘Look out the window, it has snowed’, and they believe I have magical powers.

I make magic happen. I think that is what mothers do, and some of it is quite a bit of work. I have occasionally cursed myself for creating magical characters like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny for the children.

The magic gets harder to pull off as they grow older and eventually you may have to admit it was all a happy myth.

I have friends who don’t indulge in these particular myths, but I find it funny that they are perfectly comfortable with the biggest lie of all, that there is a God and he is looking after us.

But we don’t talk about that, because despite our religious differences, we are very fond of each other and share similar styles of living.

I have quite a lot of friends who believe in God. But they are not Church going types; they believe deeply and privately and in a sort of passionate way that I respect.

I don’t believe Jesus is my Saviour, but I do believe that he may have existed at one point and influenced a lot of people.

I believe that Life is eternal and unknowable, and I believe that our life on earth is a mystery. I feel the joy of people gathering and singing: choirs or Rasta songs, it is communal joy.  We have to share to survive.

I don’t know what I believe, only that the spiritual world is unknowable.

And so I understand the concept of Faith. I can see that at a certain point we have to turn off our churning brains and feel the passion of Life.

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