Two Weeks Past Imbolc

When meditating yesterday, during this coldish winter break, I received some late winter advice. “It is not time to gather a bunch of flowers yet, but still time to gather a bundle of firewood”. I have stretched this message into urban life, no fireplace here but I continue to ride out some winter. Winter has almost skipped us in Brooklyn this year, barely any snow and frequent warm temperatures, but I still feel dry and sniffly. I have needed the introspection and lived in some shadowy respite just the same.

My mother passed this winter, four days after Susanna’s birthday. I have made it through this so far without finding many words. It is not a matter of avoiding things but of access.  I have been grieving through dreams because there is dream language where words fail me.

Last night there was a recurring theme. I was traveling alone with my son and tending to his fever (he did not have one in waking life, just the dream). Susanna had never died but was resting safely somewhere, well cared for. This is the part that repeats lately in my dream life. I do not write about my son much, he needs his own private life, but I will say only that I am disappointed by what life is giving him often. This is not a secret. My beautiful Susanna, she does not need me in the same way. I wish this were not true, but it is.

By day I walk in nature even when it is cold, this saves me as it has for nearly six years now. The crocuses and daffodils are emerging. I worry briefly about snow coming to freeze them, but I believe they are resilient. After I leave the park or pass the allotted bits of soil near the sidewalks, I also catch some fledgling Easter displays in storefronts. Some sparkly yellow marshmallow Peeps or a white bunny eared head on a pole, to stick into a front yard. I still panic at the sight of this. I need to think myself through the scenarios. Easter will come, the day after Easter, too. April 22nd will come. The Tuesday after Easter and April 22nd will not be the same day as they were in 2014, complicating and elongating things. All these days will come and go but that does not mean I will have to live through losing her again. In my mind, I will live through it as I often do. But chances are the people I love will remain alive throughout the holiday. For now.

I am appreciative of the healing that has happened. I am appreciative that I lived through Susanna’s abrupt and shocking death. Lately, though, I see a paradox. I survive, but one day when I cross over, at whatever age I am, I will still be aching for my daughter. No matter what the situation is, there will be a part of me waiting for the pain to stop. There is a part of me that died with her. There is a part of me that dies a little more each day.

My mother, who lived to be nearly 92, lost one of her own children. He would have been my older brother, Michael, who passed before he was born. My mother carried him to full term and knew by the day of his induction that he was not alive anymore. I knew about this from as long ago as I remember. To me, Michael was a relative on the other side, like an ancestor. To my mother, he was her child. At some point I saw a TV movie about stillbirth, in which Minnie Driver’s character and her husband awaited the birth of their son who had died. The doctor asked them if they wanted a deck of cards to pass the time. This made me think of what I had heard my father say about what happened. “I don’t know how she went through with that. It was awful. I give her a lot of credit.”

I can not say when I had the last conversation with my Mom before her dementia set in. But she was here with me, to see Susanna’s life and play with her, to watch Susanna put on performances for her in the living room. To write letters to her and send them in the mail. To give my son Matchbox cars she had collected over the years. To spend the day with us, all day, on the last day of Susanna’s life. It was later than that, the day that I spoke to her on the phone and she confessed to me that she did not remember my son’s name. “Say hello to the little guy, and the big guy. I don’t remember their name; I know it is the same.” The names and the words were less important than the well wishes. When I close my eyes to find her now, like I do when I want to see Susanna, it is the creaky but calm voice of her as Grandma that I hear. It is love. Mostly she says, “There is nothing to worry about, it is all going to be alright.”

I have a different scope since Susanna died, however you want to interpret that. I do not believe in death and time the same way; I think love supersedes them. I think love lasts. It is like finding oceans when inland, green grass when the ground has browned and frozen. Love is not what makes you any different than someone else, it is what makes you the same.

 

Dreams, and my Mom

feet original

 

My Mom passed a few days ago. There is much to be said about her, I loved her very much. But I am going to write about a dream I had. My Mom’s passing is the end of one story but the beginning of some others.

Last week, my Mom lie resting in an exceptionally loving hospice center in another state, where her care included live harp music. My sisters sent me videos, I listened to her breathe and saw her face, different than it used to be, but still deeply familiar. I listened for text notifications as I taught my art classes. At home, my son helped me make an altar including the quilt she had made for Susanna, still resting on her bed, and candles, in hopes she could see the light on her way.

The last morning, before her death, I woke from a painful dream. It went like this: I was trying to type in a request for a substitute teacher on the “Subcentral” website, which had to be sent 90 minutes before school started at eight. I missed the deadline and was frustrated in my hectic morning household. This could have been a real- life situation. However, in this dream world there were four people present and Susanna had never died. That was certainly not the painful part.

In the dream, I went to get my French Bulldog, Zorro, who had been sleeping in his bed. He was alive, but he was obviously ill and covered with a disturbing orange bodily fluid of unknown origin. I scooped him up and ran with him to a set of spiral stairs, knowing I needed to descend the stairs and try to save him. I wanted my mother to help me, and screamed for her, but I knew that she was dead. This fact struck me painfully, I woke up with it. I did make the Subcentral deadline, but was left with this dream of Zorro, with the orange liquid, and myself screaming for my mother who was never to be there again.

This dream, I knew, was really about Susanna. Forgive me the graphic nature of this, but in waking life, Susanna was covered with orange liquid when we found that her heart had stopped, after the rupture of the aneurysm. I never have known the medical reason for this. There was more liquid as her father and our neighbor resuscitated her with CPR, and I fumbled to call the ambulance and run screaming for help into the street. After I helplessly watched my daughter die in the hospital the next day, I wanted to return home and scrub that liquid from my floor, to be rid of it. I did that. I also looked at her dirty clothes in the hamper and wondered aloud what I was to do with them. I washed them, folded them, and put them away in her drawers. What else could I do?

 

I have been grateful for the opportunity to raise a puppy the last few months. Zorro has thrived. The dream illuminated in me some of my deepest fears. Inside, I have felt inadequate and undeserving. What type of mother cannot save her little girl from death? How could the universe trust me to care for even a dog? How could the universe trust me to mother my son?

I called out, in my dream state, for my mother. No mother can save anyone from imminent death. Mothers do save their children, from illness or accidents, often. But when a person needs to leave, love of any kind does not stop this. I could not save Susanna.  I could not save my mother as she spent the last years of her long life descending into dementia. That was not fair. These are the things we experience; these are the things that humans bear.

Six times now, I have crossed through Susanna’s birthday without her. I miss her terribly every day and have accepted a certain level of terminal sadness. What a gift though, to learn so much about healing. Dream language comes from the deep places, the ones that connect to the divine. The earth, the past, the dreams of everyone the earth has welcomed home before us.

Yesterday, it was hard to hold a close view of a casket draped in flowers again, from the front row of a church and a cemetery. But once again there was the presence of family and friends from long ago. Some of us commented on how we should get together more often, not just for a funeral. We stood in small circles, and in the spaces between us, I am sure stood all the loved ones passed on. Their shoulders secretly touched ours and they silently nursed us through the day. There were ancestors there, perhaps even angels. This may be my personal interpretation and different than someone else’s, but the point is that we are not alone. We are not born alone, we do not die alone, and this is far from all there is.

Last night I had another dream. I was baking a chocolate cake. I had been given instructions by an employer who wanted to try a new recipe, one that was supposed to be simple but delicious. There were special notes handwritten in a script that resembled my mother’s. Again, I struggled with a deadline, but I woke to the dark sweetness of life. My daughter and my mother are somewhere else today, but I am still here. I will talk to them, certain they will hear me.