Stardust, Black Holes, & Fog
Our mother always loved the open road. In the 1950s with three, then four, small children and not much money, she would pack us in the car and head west from Indiana or Minnesota to various family homes scattered throughout California, Oregon, Washington, and Montana. Two-lane blacktop in the era before Interstate highways and no air conditioning. Our father would stay and work, taking the bus to Montana to meet us at his parents’ homestead and drive home.
Now, her gypsy adventuring is confined to Chemainus Health Care Centre, and the only road ahead of her is the last stretch before dying. In the midst of her short-term memory loss and physical frailties, we who know her spirit are trying to help her make this stretch meaningful. Based on the rows of books on progressive theology, social justice, and conscious aging that I sorted out of her apartment, she was planning on navigating this passage with full mental faculties and an ability to educate those around her.
Instead, we deal with stardust, black holes, and fog. When embedded in long-held routines, she functions with surprising clarity as her church friend emailed: “Connie participated fully in the service. …There was no doubt she felt happy and I was surprised how many people she knew by name.”
She knows these names and routines because they are encoded far enough back that she has a memory link for them. Memories have to make it through the fog, not get trapped in the black-hole, and then maybe turn into stardust—a point of remembering. Meanwhile, it’s a hard adjustment to live in the fog of new surroundings, routines, and people.
Later that afternoon, she managed to dial my sister’s phone and Becky emailed: “Mom called an hour ago confused about a lot of things… We talked again about the process that brought her to Chemainus. That it was her goal to be back among friends. That where her bed is not the important point. What is important is that her home is her community.
“Obviously she was very tired. She may be able to do well in the mornings but she gets more confused as she fatigues. She told me, “And I’m cold here.” As a nurse walked by she yoo-hooed out to her. When the nurse asked what she needed Mom asked me, “What did I need to tell her?” So I said, “tell her you’re cold.”
In a jumbled reality capacities are jumbled as well : she can delight her friends with glimpses of the dynamic woman they have known for 25 years and she requires constant repetition to frame what has happened to her. Her sequencing behavior is nearly gone: being chilled she can’t remember that the lap robe beside her could be wrapped at her shoulders. She has fallen 3 times just moving around her 8×10 room, forgetting to use her walker.
Yet, even under these conditions, she seeks to find a daily purpose: Why get up in the morning? Why breathe? How do I make it down this last stretch of road?
Every day I send her this message telepathically—it works as well as any other delivery method—“Mom, you can work around your foggy brain and find your reason for being. Bring bits of kindness to those around you—hold a hand, listen, help—and receive all these things in turn. Make music. Notice beauty. When you forget, just do it all again. You are safe now to wander in mystery from one moment to the next.”
The last day she was in her apartment, she woke from dozing in her chair and recited a poem she’d made up in her sleep:
“You see me sitting alone in my chair,
You think that I’m here, but I’m really out there—
Communing with angels, I’ll be with them soon,
Just after I learn how to jump over the moon.”
Learning to jump the moon—that’s a purpose. And however she makes that leap, she will be a teacher and way shower for her family and friends.
The photos here show our journey: 1946 to 2016…
and the video shows the journey moment of her soul.