It's interesting the way memory works isn't it? I forget so many daily details in the "present", (drives my kids crazy with all the repeating) but the past, the past is so clear sometimes. I woke up this morning and somehow knew it was Oct 19. I checked my calendar to be sure. It's my Nana's birthday. If she were still living she would be 112 today!!! But she's been gone from physical form a very long time now. She died when I was 11. And that too I remember with what feels to me like complete clarity. The hush of the morning that became filled with her crying out for my grandfather (he'd died when my Mom was only 5). I can still hear between her labored breaths..."Bill, I'm coming, oy, oy, oy, Bill, I'm coming." I remember Aunt Bebe and Amy (my big sister, 16 at the time) managing to dress her and somehow get her down the half spiral staircase toward the garage; our neighbor waiting in the drive with her car. I guess they were afraid the ambulance would take too long. I recall the way they got her into the car all slumped over against, Beb. I watched from a distance, like a shadow of a child...staying out of the way as best I could, wanting to be a part of "it"...this leave taking...this shift...from life as I had known it. This shift from life to...
It was so very early in the morning. I felt frightened. Our parents were away for the weekend. Pam, my little sister was asleep still and I guess Owen was up at college. This is how I remember it. It seems clear, feels clear...like a dream you just can't shake, but I'm sure I must be mixing up some details. Amy would remember more. I was 11, I was scared. My Nana who I loved so dearly, who had lived with us since I was 5...My Nana who would tell me stories when I sat on her bed from long ago...stories from her life and her mothers and her grandmothers that seemed like fairy tales...My Nana who told me I was a wonderful artist and to keep drawing and making things with my hands...My Nana who I watched daven shacharit every morining in her bedroom...My Nana who taught me to recite the shema...My Nana, who as a little girl I believed was a pure, good person, the best person, the most loving (even though she sometimes scolded)...My Nana with her wonderful sense of humor and amazing skills in the kitchen...was dying...and I understood that. I remember watching some dumb early morning show with a man dressed up in a Native American headress. I remember Bebe coming in, tears rolling down her face..."She's gone. Nana's with God now Mameleh"...I remember hiding in a closet...the one where my mother stored her fancy wool coats. I cried, I howled, I was so angry with God. This was my first up-close encounter with death. How could God take my beautiful, sweet Nana? And there was the selfish child part that railed "How could you take MY NANA before my Bat Mitzvah??? As if after would have really been all that much better. I learned about death. I saw it again with other relatives I loved dearly, but none as dear as Nana until Bebe's passing when I was in college, and a newlywed. Clearer memories. The night before her passing I held the oxygen mask over her face...she pushed hard to get it off, she fought me. I fought back. I wasn't ready to let go. I sang to her. I soothed her into sleep. The next morning we received the call and went to the nursing home. I went in. I kissed her lovely cheek. Cold, smooth and soft as a babies (she always had the softest skin of anyone I have ever known). Such a relief that she felt the same, looked the same...just cold skin to my touch. Peaceful now. I was not afraid. I had learned that death was death. An end, and a beginning. Beginning of what I cannot know, not really...but in all these years later Nana and Bebe visit me quite often in dreams. They soothe me. Make me feel safe. I know they are not really..."gone". Honestly. I have conversations with God a lot. And since Nana's death, I've gotten angry a few times, but not very often. Somehow, God the ineffable, my grown-up way of conceiving of God, which is to say a Divine power I cannot understand really, but can perceive often...God who is sometimes my imaginary friend, because it's easier to have a conversation that way...and I have made peace.
In response to my dear friend Jan Lundy's, truly beautiful post Surrendering to the Winds of Change, I wrote a comment this evening...and I felt it said a lot about me and my way of looking at life. So I copied and pasted my comment and am sharing it with some slight tweaks with all of you here on my site.
My dad is an oncologist. This was a book he had in his office waiting room for his patients and their families. As I recall, it is about life, death, letting go, transformation...and even as a child I always felt it was about falling to...not from something, you know??? If we look at falling in this way, it's a lot less scary. in fact it's kind of exciting and joyful.
I think this way of looking, being in the world sustains me...because with MS...falling isn't just a possibility...it happens fairly regularly...we fall down a lot!!! but philosophically, spiritually...if I set my soul's understanding in alignment with an idea of "falling to", as opposed to "falling from" the changes that I face daily (gosh we all face daily, not just chronically ill folks like me!) are not frightening...they are indeed part of the flow of how life is...it just is..and falling to some new way of being in my body, is sad some days...and ok, scary too, some days....but mostly just really ok. I'm growing, I'm learning, I'm loving more and more of life and humanity and spirit with each change...that's a pretty gorgeous pile of leaves to fall to.