Standing in Stardust

Until last Monday, my mother was living in Nanaimo, BC in a nice apartment in an independent senior housing community. She had moved there in May 2013 from her townhouse in Ladysmith and from her church in Chemainus… both small towns about 35 kilometers south on Vancouver Island. Though her impetus was to “take in more city culture,” the past three years have been a spiral into diminishing capacities: increasing short-term memory loss, decreasing mobility, breast cancer. As we, particularly my sister Becky, worked across the US/Canadian border to bring care around her, she was wobbling in a widening gap of services.

In early October 2015, she had “a frontal lobe incident.” Her health aides put her in hospital: her friends called for help. In the past four months I have spent 30 days in Nanaimo with my sister, my brother, or brother-in-law. In mid-December she started falling: cracked her forehead on the corner wall, to hospital for sutures; delusional and disoriented, to hospital for observation; hand puffed up, to hospital for diagnosis of cellulitis; burn on her shoulder blade, to hospital for culturing.

Early January, a Health Services committee cleared her for referral to government subsidized complex care. No one was making any prediction as to when this would happen, or where she will be sent. She was in the queue along with hundreds of other vulnerable seniors. As my sister, brother-in-law and I headed north, again, and I suggest to Becky, “prepare to stay on.”

And then a miracle occurs: a place opens up in complex care. The place is in Chemainus Health Care Centre, her first choice. All her friends live within a few minutes radius her church community is 6 blocks away.

And everything starts to flow! We are standing in stardust. Her friends prepare to welcome her home. We bring mom to see the place, trying to explain this move to a woman with almost no “now.” She does remember volunteering here and playing piano for the residents. Her former neighbor is the activities director. Everyone starts telling us how stable the staff is, how happy the place is, how good the care. We are gulping sighs of relief.

All weekend our mother asks, “Is something big about to happen to me?”

We say, “Yes. You are moving back to Chemainus. You are moving into nursing care, mom. You’ll have what you need to keep safe, and it will be a big adjustment.”

“What will happen to everything?” she gestures to her apartment.

“A few things will come with you to make your new home. The rest we will take care of.”

Sunday we take her for a long drive in the countryside up the coast. She’s too cold to get out of the car, but we enjoy vistas, get cake and coffee, and drive home to her apartment for a last dinner in the dining room. Mom and her daughters sleep in the apartment together one last time.

Monday—she goes “into care.” First night, she’s in a temporary holding room and looks at us like a baby bird peeking out of a nest. Walking away is heartbreaking. My sister and I hold hands and cry and drive north to take apart her household.

The next day she is moved into her own room, 8×10 feet, with a picture window—ocean view. We bring her clothes, artwork and photos, television, CD player and one small box of classical CDs. She has a room that is the right size for her brain and body, and a view that is the right size for her soul.

Over the years, she has read 20 books on conscious aging and dying. There is no reason to sugarcoat what is happening. We repeat and repeat until something gets through the fog that surrounds her and lodges in her mind on the other side of short-term memory dementia.

“Is this my forever room?”

“Yes, Mom.”

“I don’t have to move again?”

“No mom.”

“This is where I will live until I die?”

“Yes.”

“This is where I belong?” She stares out the window a bit.

“Yes. Your children will come visit and all your friends are nearby.”

“You can find me?”

“We know exactly where you are.”

“Who pays for this?”

“It comes from your pension. You don’t have to worry about money anymore.”

As I post this blog, it’s been a week. She is guided down the hall to play piano. She is taken to church among friends. She has a chair with view to heaven on earth. She is re-embedded in community.

She is tired and grieving and settling in—so are we all. I come home knowing she is still on her soul journey—that the mind and the brain work with each other, and sometimes have to work around each other. She asks, “What is my job now?”

I tell her, “Your work is to let love all the way in and to offer love all the way out.”

And so it is for us all.

 

A room the size of her brain, a view the sizze of her soul.

A room the size of her brain, a view the size of her soul.

 

30 replies
  1. Sara Harris
    Sara Harris says:

    Her questions are so simple, so clear and so not easy that they startle me. How lucky she has loved ones who answer…
    Thanks and blessings on you all,
    Sara

    Reply
  2. Meredith Jordan
    Meredith Jordan says:

    Oh…this so reminds me of the many transitions I helped Bob to make in the last years of his life.You are so fortunate that you and your sibs are aligned in doing what’s best for your Mom; she is so fortunate that she has such a loving team to carry that out. And yet none of this is easy, as all of us who shepherd our parents into the next world know. I send a heart-full of love to help you carry her gently into the twilight of her life.

    Meredith

    Reply
  3. Chris Mann
    Chris Mann says:

    Standing in Stardust – as you can imagine, given our parallel journeys caring for our beloved elders, this story touched me so deeply. I’m so relieved your mom is settling in to her forever room, a place with a view. The example of you and your family loving your mom, through all those stages of change and loss – is inspiring. Delighted your mom can be back in Chemainus, a place she belongs. Bless you, your sis and your mom for letting love all the way in and all the way out. Perfect.

    Reply
  4. Gretchen Staebler
    Gretchen Staebler says:

    Ah, Christina. Even the best we can hope for isn’t what we want for our mothers, is it? If they can’t be who they were, we want them to be vitally who they are. Watching the decline is second only to being in decline. And maybe, for some, harder. In my mom’s case, she is fully and completely aware of the decline.

    “She has a room that is the right size for her brain and body, and a view that is the right size for her soul.” A perfect assessment, perfect line. I’m glad for that for your mom. And “Your work is to let love all the way in and to offer love all the way out.” Love to you and your sister. (I didn’t know you had a sister with the same name as my sister’s. Um, did I?)

    Thank you for this beautiful post. <3 <3 <3

    Reply
  5. Jeanne Guy
    Jeanne Guy says:

    Taking it all in, feeling every word, love and all. “A room the size of her brain, a view the site of her soul.” All the room one needs. What a gift you are. That’s what’s embedded in her soul.

    We love you.

    Reply
  6. Ann Darling
    Ann Darling says:

    In the midst of turmoil and change, you two sisters are to be commended for your compassionate assistance to your mother. It sounds to me that “Being Mortal” might have been on your reading lists sometime recently. I’m sure you will all sleep a little more soundly at night.

    Reply
  7. Pamela Sampel
    Pamela Sampel says:

    Wow, what a stunning, powerful story and what a picture! Three strong, beautiful woman. Thanks for sharing this journey with us…a journey we will all take in some way or another.

    Reply
  8. Alison Bremner
    Alison Bremner says:

    Christina, I loved your story of your Mum, and especially that she has landed softly in her new space. It makes me think again of my friend who, in Dec 2015, after 6 months of visiting her Mum in hospital here in Aberdeen, moved her Mum out to Asheville to be in a care home 3 blocks away from her. Sadly they weren’t given much time together there, and she passed 6 weeks later through complications created by medical tests. Who knows what journey is ahead. I was very moved by walking alongside them on their one, and glad to hear things are settled for you and your family now. Thank you for sharing. Alison x

    Reply
  9. Julia Doggart
    Julia Doggart says:

    What a beautiful post… this comes as a beacon to so many of us who are gentling our mothers through the last stages.

    I absolutely loved this line:
    “She has a room that is the right size for her brain and body, and a view that is the right size for her soul.”

    A line to live by…as is the final declaration which is more than a life’s work!!
    So glad she is safely nested for this final leg of the journey.

    Reply
  10. Glenn Hovemann
    Glenn Hovemann says:

    Thank you, Christina, for sharing this precious, challenging time with Mom. I’ve had somewhat similar experiences with each of my parents. These relationships are sacred yet sometimes fraught with guilt, whether it be over unfinished business or the ever-present question for the caregiver of how to balance caregiving with everything else arising in life. It’s quite admirable that your Mom read so much on conscious aging and dying. We all may do our best to prepare, yet when facing its reality we are called to a level of being, a level of the heart, beyond what our minds can prepare us for. It calls for a radical acceptance of what is. We need not “like” what is arising to accept it. One need not be passive to accept. When Mom is in the queue for complex care, one can accept that situation even while diligently doing whatever can be done to get her into a better situation. One can even accept our own guilt, which allows us to acknowledge it honestly, yet not linger there. One can be tired, and grieve, and still accept. Acceptance, in my experience, opens the way to love. And then, as you so wisely say, the work for each of us is to let love all the way in and all the way out.

    Reply
  11. Marianne Gerber
    Marianne Gerber says:

    Dear Christina
    is it not “our unique School of Life” to care for our parents? Four years I have been caring for my mother, who turned 100 years of age 14 days ago. – Thanks to storytelling and practising real dialogue, say listening without blame or judgement and pay attention to what has heart and meaning, I’m learning soo much and I’m soo thankful for it. I wish you and your sister time and leisure to stay with your mum as often as possible.
    Thank you for the developing Circling-Knowhow and your teaching.

    Reply
  12. Wally
    Wally says:

    She showed me that newfangled thing called FM Stereo. She was proud of her hips that helped her carry her little ones around the kitchen with her. She loved the music of the cello. And she is forever in my heart, along with her family.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Wally, how amazing that you remember this. Connie would love to know that you remember her. Thank you. Blessings and hoping all is well in your life. Are your folks still alive? I have some pretty amazing memories of your mom welcoming the yankee girl to Mississippi.

      Reply
      • Wally
        Wally says:

        Christina, my parents have passed on. The last words I said to each of them, and their last words to me, were “I love you.” I would love it if you friended me at Wallace Cason. I care. I should have added that Connie absolutely loved classical music, especially with piano.

        Reply
  13. Patricia Houston
    Patricia Houston says:

    This is wonderful and grace-filled news! Living nearby and familiar with the “system” I know how incredibly fortunate this news is. Some call it “luck” others call it “stardust” but we all know it is far more and we are grateful. Be at peace, all of you. And enjoy that beautiful view!

    Reply
  14. Heather Plett
    Heather Plett says:

    Dear sweet Christina, my heart is with you as you take this new journey. You are such a blessing in the way that you hold space for your mom’s transition and teach us all how to hold space for those we love.

    Reply
  15. Julie Glover
    Julie Glover says:

    How good life has been to allow this “soft landing”. Thank you for sharing this, Christina. Brings me back to all the tender times I shared with my mother while she was going through this process. Heartbreaking, yes — and also so very, very dear.

    Reply
  16. Rose Gagne
    Rose Gagne says:

    Lovely, truth wrapped in grace. What beauty. Thank you Christina for the words.
    My own mother ‘flew with the wind’ after a very near similar process just one year ago in Duluth Mn, overlooking Lake Superior. Perfect room size with a community of beloved friends from over a lifetime around her. We children close as was needed, as needed, her angel hawks.
    No small thing to create this and hold it with your sister.
    All Ways in Love,
    Rose Gagne’

    Reply
  17. Katherine Murphy
    Katherine Murphy says:

    Christina,

    So much in my heart. Blessings for you all. I’ve been remembering you ask each night in my living kindness meditation. Thank you for sharing this journey. <3

    Reply
  18. Sharon Faulds
    Sharon Faulds says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. What a gift your mother gives you as she has landed softly as Julie Glover wrote. My mother has been gone for 28 years from a hard death with cancer. Thank you for reminding me of the piece of me that left with her and the pieces that stay with me. I look forward to more of this story with your mother. Much Love from deep in my heart, Sharon

    Reply
  19. Mary Ann Woodruff
    Mary Ann Woodruff says:

    Christina,
    What a story. I love every word, every nuance, every gentle reminder that life ends, even if it’s in an 8x 10′ room. You are wise and articulate with/about your mom’s journey. Thank you for sharing with the rest of us. I send you love,
    Mary Ann

    Reply
  20. Jude Rathburn
    Jude Rathburn says:

    Dear Christina –

    Oh what a journey you have been on these past months. And blessed by this miracle that brought your mom back to Chemainus, where friends and family know exactly where to find her. What a perfect answer to her question about her next work – “let love all the way in and to offer love all the way out.” I hope you and your sibs are able to let our love in, too, as you make this tender journey together. With love and gratitude for you and the family/friends/community that helped shape who you are. Blessings dear one.

    Jude

    Reply
  21. Anne Ziff
    Anne Ziff says:

    Reading this about your Mom, I think of Stanley Kunitz, The Layers

    “When I look behind,
    as I am compelled to look
    before I can gather strength
    to proceed on my journey,
    I see the milestones dwindling
    toward the horizon….”
    She is “not done with her changes”, and you and your siblings are witnesses as well as guides. Blessings to each of you.

    Reply
  22. Katharine
    Katharine says:

    Thank you for this beautiful post, Christina. So good to read that grace came to give your mother her “forever room,” that you and your siblings can rest easy knowing she is making her way home, safely surrounded by those who know and love her, with a view to “heaven on earth.” I exhale deep peace to you all. With love…

    Reply

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