10 Feb 2013
When I wrote about patience in my last post more than a year ago, I didn’t recognize how prescient my plea really was. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say in those months. Rather, events have swamped the little boat that is my daily life. At first I waited for the storms to end. Then, once they did, I simply floated in the calm seas.
Soon after that last post, I contacted Hospice of Spokane regarding my mother, who was in end-stage vascular dementia in a local nursing home. Hospice oversaw her care until her death in December 2011; her funeral was four days after Christmas. The day before her funeral, my 12-year-old cat, Henry, died after a long illness. I spent January navigating bureaucracies of insurance, banking, pensions, and Social Security. And when I wasn’t doing things that needed to be done, I stayed blissfully still.
Like a lot of mother-daughter relationships, ours was far from Hallmark-card perfection. But witnessing my mother’s slow, long, steady decline was like watching a tragedy unfold in slow motion without being able to stop it. Twelve years ago, my father, too, died after a descent through dementia, so this journey with my mother felt like a recurring nightmare. For most of 14 years prior to this last one I’ve been caring for a demented parent in one way or another, so in the months after my mother’s death I felt a curious kind of freedom and a sense of relief.
Clearly, the events of those years have shaped me in ways that are still unfolding. And, as a writer, I know that I will have words to share about that shaping. But those words will emerge out of a different kind of energy than what I’ve been able to summon in the past year.
I’ve also had little motivation to dive into public conversation during this contentious year of politics. I have always shied away from arguments; I was never part of a debate team, nor have I studied the techniques of argumentation. Anybody with a little bit of skill in these areas could run rings around me.
I also know that arguments seldom persuade, particularly in the political sphere. Much of what passes for public discourse now is nothing more than name calling and bullying, and I want nothing to do with it.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have opinions on everything from how to treat people to which foods I choose to buy (and I’d suggest that those two spheres are closely related). Rather than debate and argue and spout facts until even I get bored with what I’m saying, I prefer to simply offer thoughts about my choices—my reasons for why I choose to act one way and not another. You may disagree with my choices; you may contest the principles on which those choices are based. You may conclude that my choices would not work for you. And that’s fine. In an imperfect world, we all eventually have to make compromises to principles that we hold dear. Compromising does not make one a hypocrite; hypocrisy comes from refusing to acknowledge when one is compromising.
Here’s the thing: I believe that my behavior and my choices cultivate either good energy or bad energy. And there’s enough bad energy out there in the world that I don’t need to contribute more. So, as much as possible, I aim to cultivate good energy with my choices. And with my words. I don’t always succeed. But I try.
Which brings me back, briefly, to my mother. As her dementia advanced, she grew increasingly agitated, anxious, and angry, and she reacted to the energy of those around her. The best way to keep her relatively calm was to remain calm myself. If I brought bad energy into her space—say, anger or frustration from work, or my own resentment and grief at the situation that we were stuck in—she would ratchet up her anxiety and agitation in response. But if I could present a soothing, reassuring face and voice to her, then she was less likely to erupt.
Of course, the psychotropic meds helped, too—I sang the praises of a certain pharmaceutical product for many months. (For her, mind you, not for me. Not that I didn’t consider snagging a few pretty little anti-anxiety tablets now and then.) But the energy that I brought to our encounters set the tone for how those encounters would go. Controlling my outward energy required an extraordinary level of inner energy. Given how long I had to do that, I recognize why I have been so tired.
A full year has now passed since the end of my mother’s journey. I don’t think grieving or healing happen according to any particular schedule, and yet I recognize the significance of anniversaries. I now have a year of “firsts” under my belt: birthdays, holidays, visits. Tentatively, then, I step back into the world of online expression. I will have more to say about being responsible for the energy that I bring into a room, an encounter, and even the world. But for right now, I will simply say hello to 2013 with the sentiments expressed by poet W.S. Merwin in his poem, “To the New Year”:
so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible
All that is to be in the rest of 2013 is untouched and still possible. Let me linger in that whisper of anticipation.