The Body Fails Us

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First your mind, then your body. Bit by bit, painfully gradually, faculty by faculty lost forever. I watched as everything faded until you were a mere shell of your body, limited to laying in bed, being spoon-fed, washed and changed by a husband who adored you until the very end.

I remember not long ago, you sang, “Da-da-doo-da-da,” with a smile on your face, playing a creepy crawly finger game with my three year old son, your grandson. He laughed, delighted in it, loving it. Loving you. We all do.

That’s why, three weeks ago, we decided to let you go. It was your request, before the disease hit, back when you worked at the old folks home, feeding people who no longer wanted to be fed. “If I ever get to a point where I can’t feed myself, don’t feed me,” you told us emphatically. We did feed you, for a long time, until we faced the fact that you weren’t going to get any better.

You had already lost most muscle tone, were constantly curled up in a fetal position. Retraction, the hospice visitors called it. Battling ongoing seeping wounds—bedsores, fever sores, not-getting-better sores.

For three painful weeks, we took turns sitting vigil with you, holding hands, rubbing your head, reading, talking to you. I told you how much I love you, how you gave me the greatest gift of all—life. I hope you heard. I hope you understood.

They started chopping the towering eucalyptus trees in the green space surrounding your back yard, making way for development. You sank deeper and deeper towards death.

“She’s going down with the trees,” my sister said.

Your husband leaked tears day in and out, falling into pieces and grabbing on for an anchor as he washed your hair, your body. Some days he felt too guilty to eat, wanted to join you in your fast.

As you faded into dreamland, a skeleton emerged, a husk that once housed your luminous warmth. The displaced birds crowded your back yard fence. A hawk visited one day, cawing and cawing for home.

Your cousin went on a shamanic journey and found you. “Get me out of here,” you demanded of her.

Yesterday you went.

Today we bathed you, anointed you in oils, and covered you with rose petals. We stood in a circle around the vacuum of your body and wept.

“Mommy, mommy,” I want to curl into a ball, and scream. Devastation of the severance of that primal bond. The first connection to this world—gone.

You are in a better place now. That is a cliché for a reason, because  it’s true. Your suffering is over. No more debilitated mind, no more failing body. Your spirit was displaced, flying in circles while your body anguished. Now you are home, in a place that can never be chopped down.

There is no tree. There is no nest. There is no body. There is no you.

Yet you are all around us.

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Innocence meets reality

“The only things worth living for are innocence and magic.”   ~David Gray

This weekend, we went apple picking. As we left the house, I pointed out the leaves falling from our Catalpa tree, and Gavin said, “The leaves are falling because it’s Fall!” And I told him we were going apple picking because it’s Fall, too.We drove up the coast, and then 4 miles inland into the beautiful, rolling farmland hills.

The weather was perfect, and Gavin filled up his canvas Sesame Street bag excitedly. It was his first time picking apples, and he was overjoyed that he could reach them, from the dwarf trees. D, Gavin, and I tested the apples as we picked, passing them around our circle of three. They were delicious, perfectly crisp, and sweet with just the right amount of tartness.

The afternoon was pure bliss. In moments like these, I can see through my son’s three year-old eyes the wonderment of something so simple. The unfiltered joy of biting into a freshly picked apple on a beautiful Autumn afternoon. Because he is so innocent, he still sees the magic in everything. He reminds me of it, too.                                                  Image

Sunday night, we were driving home, and the full moon had just risen, and it hovered low in the sky, big and shining brightly. Gavin was sleep deprived, ready for bed, and started whining about being in the car seat. We distracted him by pointing to the moon, and telling him to watch and see if it followed us home.

We turned a corner, and Gavin spied the moon up there, still in his sight. “It is following us!” he yelled in excitement. The rest of the way home, he avidly looked in all directions every time we turned, and he kept a running broadcast. “It’s not there! It’s not following us. There the’s moon! It is following us!”

There is something so precious about this age, this beginning to understand, but everything is so new, and there are no mental files, no past references to sift through to make sense of something new.

He has such a zest for life, and eagerness to learn, to understand, to experience. And complete trust, or a lack of fear.

I miss this in my life. I can remember feeling like this in my late teens, maybe into my early twenties. I wasn’t as naive as a three year-old, of course, but, I had this sense that there was pain and there was suffering “out there,” while my family and I were in some kind of a bubble. We were blessed. Tragedy could not touch us. I still felt immortal, almost. I knew that death would affect me at some point, but that point was far, far way, so far that it wasn’t real.

It’s real, now. It became real to me when my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the young age of 62. She will turn 68 next month, and I am slowly watching her lose all of her faculties, one by one. I see my mother shrinking away. She is a tiny, minuscule speck of the lively woman she once was.

I miss that feeling that nothing can touch me. I miss the innocence I had around pregnancy and childbirth, just a year ago, when I started trying for Baby #2, with a deep trust in my body’s ability to grow a baby successfully, before I experienced the miscarriages and all of the complications that continue to accompany them.

What I don’t miss is the illusion of immortality. I am beginning to really grasp my mortality, and it makes me more alive. It makes me more like my son: appreciating every moment, eager to learn and experience, in awe, seeing the magic in “simple” things. It is scary to face death, more terrifying than anything, but so incredibly deeply grounding. It is so bitter, but then the flavor kind of grows on you, because it is medicine.

And, really, we have no choice, so we might as well embrace it.

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