The Mom & Me Journals dot Net
The definitive, eccentric journal of an unlikely caregiver, continued.

Apologia for these journals:
    They are not about taking care of a relative with moderate to severe Alzheimer's/senile dementia.
    For an explanation of what these journals are about, click the link above.
    For internet sources that are about caring for relatives with moderate to severe
        Alzheimer's/senile dementia, click through the Honorable Alzheimer's Blogs in my
        links section to the right.

7 minute Audio Introduction to The Mom & Me Journals [a bit dated, at the moment]

Saturday, January 03, 2009
Mistaken Coincidences
    Turns out, I was mistaken in one of the subsets of coincidences in this post, but the resolution actually strengthens the coincidences. The ship-over-the-horizon story was told to MPS by MFS, not by MPS's pastor. The story was related during that week of family reunion over Mom's death and MPS had never heard the story; both those points were correct. MFS read the story to MPS from "a card or something" that she had saved and kept handy because she particularly liked the image of death created by this story. Although I'm not positive, I believe that MFS has had this story for awhile. Thus, in John Edward parlance, the name of the ship being the same as our mother's first and last names would be considered a "big, big billboard" type of message, specifically designed for MFS. I love this idea. I enjoy thinking that none of these coincidences was coincidental.
    Despite the initial errors as I recounted the coincidences I also continue to find it interesting that when I searched for the story in order to give it a source and, as well, a telling that didn't depend on my sad inability to relate short-short to-the-point stories (including jokes), the first and best example of it fit my admittedly mistaken understanding about how MPS came to hear the story.
    Just had to correct that.
Death = Silence
    Yet another circumstance I'm having trouble assimilating is the silence in our home. For years, many, regardless of what other sounds reverberated through out home, the one sound that constantly accompanied me was the sound of my mother's breathing. Although having the monitor through the last months of her life amplified that sound, I was acutely and always aware of it from the time my mother's breathing became audible. Often my brain pushed it to the background, like white noise; until the rhythm or quality changed, then my focus was pulled back to it. Many familiar sounds continue to ricochet throughout our house: the humming of fans, various other machines, a very high pitched whine from a cheap "green" bulb, the cats kibitzing, neighborhood sounds filtering through the walls. The one sound that was ubiquitous among all sounds was my mother's breathing. I am most aware of its absence when I walk in the front door after having been gone for even moments; the moments, for instance, when I take the garbage cans to the curb. While my mother lived, every time I entered the house I autonomically tuned into the sound of her breathing. It is a continual, low level shock to be greeted by that silence.
    The silence isn't unsettling, but it's still hard for me to incorporate. So hard that it occurred to me, yesterday, that one of the reasons I am, once again (the last period being when my mother was in the hospital, the intermediary care home and the rehab center for one and a half months), hooked on all manner of Law & Order shows is that listening to them masks the silence of her death. Could be, too, that the black-and-white structure of the shows (which is sometimes less, rather than more, apparent in this crime drama franchise) is comforting for me since I've been plunged into a nebulous life, of which I'm still trying to make sense, since my mother died. As well, I wasn't often able to convince her to watch these shows, so they remain a me-only interest. I think the importance of this is indicated by the fact that I am tending not, at the moment, to watch shows or movies that were favorites of my mother's; which, unfortunately, excludes some of my favorite holiday movies, this year, and, as well, "favorite comfort food" viewings of Sex and the City.
    Two days ago I remembered that when I was a child and first presented with the question, "If you had to chose to give up your sight or your hearing, which one would you keep?", I chose my hearing. To this day I would not change my choice. As a child I was so involved with sound, notably but not exclusively as music and rhythm, I figured I could more easily live without sight than sound. I remembered this choice because, adrift in the Inevitable Silence of my mother's death, it occurred to me that, of all the attributes of Death (universal), the most conspicuous is Silence. Even Transformation and Inertia don't surpass Silence in its suggestiveness of Death; primarily, I think, because both Transformation and Inertia can be seen as attributes of the living, as well as the dead. One way or another, though, often at levels to which we are not privy or which are easy for us to ignore, sound always accompanies life. Always. We've even discovered that it accompanies the lives of what we consider inanimate objects. At some level there is the sound of some sort of process that keeps the unit individualized. When the unit dies, that sound is silenced. Other sounds connected to the elements of the unit may continue as the unit disintegrates and incorporates into other units but the the eccentric sound of the life of the dead unit ceases. Silence could be said to be an appropriate, complete definition of Death.
    It is hard, confronting the absence of my mother's unique sound.
    Lately I've been looking for books about contemplating death and grieving. I have my eye on one in particular that I've ordered through our local library and sounds like it will be right up my alley: Nothing to Be Frightened of by Julian Barnes. It's a relatively new book, though. Our local library has it cataloged as being available for check-out on January 9th. I've put it on hold for myself. It looks as though I'm the first to place a hold on it, so I should be able to read it, soon. I will, of course, report on the book here, once I've read it. In the interim, I spent some hours at the library yesterday going through its entire collection of books under headings such as "Grief", "Bereavement" and "Condolence", hoping to find something interesting to read. Oddly, turns out I'm familiar with most of the books and/or what they have to say. I'm not looking for advice on how to grieve; I trust my process and am confidently letting it determine its own parameters. One of the aspects of my process, though, is contemplation of and meditation on death. That's what I'm looking for in reading material. I considered rereading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (not the same as The Tibetan Book of the Dead), of which I have a copy, as it is about living while contemplating death, but I'm not looking for something that is written from a particular spiritual perspective, either; I'm looking for Mongrel Death, the death with which we are all familiar. As I was scanning through all the books on a couple of library shelves, as well as write-ups on those listed in the catalog as residing in the system of interlinked local libraries but not on the shelves of the particular library I visited yesterday, I ran across a singular book written for pros in the death game. I didn't write down the title or the author (sorry about that, it was in the Dewey Decimal 155 section, if that helps you), although I'm not sure it would qualify as a book I'd recommend to people who were experiencing the grief associated with the death of someone in their lives. The book was written to advise those in the business of working with people who were left in the wake of what I'd call extraordinary deaths. The case histories covered were, for instance:    The common aspect of discussion among all these cases (and the others) was the need to break through the silence that descends upon a community when the members find themselves having to confront the survivors of such deaths. In each case, the survivors became circumstantial pariahs because no one knew exactly how to approach them, support them and were afraid of making making the situation worse by their approaches. In two of the cases, the case of the accidental shooting death of the 10 year old boy and the suicide of the "bad" sister, members of the community found themselves prodded to take sides regarding the causes of the deaths, which increased the isolation and silence surrounding the survivor.
    It's funny because the one thing I haven't experienced is community silence regarding the death of my mother. I am no longer (thankfully) predisposed to abruptly announcing my mother's death at inopportune times but not a day goes by but what someone within my community (which includes family, friends and acquaintances, both business and personal) isn't in touch with me, talking about my mother and her life, checking on how I'm doing, comparing notes with me on how they've survived similar deaths, etc. Even when the primary reason for contact has nothing to do with my mother's death, it is mentioned, not necessarily by me, and briefly discussed from some angle. I have to say, in this I am lucky: My mother died a "common" death, one that many before me have survived, one that many after me will survive. It was an "expected" death; while the timing was a little surprising, the surprise was that it fell only slightly, but not much, short of what my mother and everyone who knew her were expecting; it occurred at the end of a properly and surprisingly long life that was celebrated within the family and among friends and acquaintances before as well as after her death; it was, relatively (not withstanding my mother's discomfort for a few days prior to her death), as deaths go, an "easy", "quick" death; it was not accompanied by miscellaneous fears that it happened out of sync with how it "should" have happened; it was easy to interpret it as having happened felicitously out of my mother's life. This is probably why my mother's death is so easily discussed within my community.
    No matter my difficulty in dealing the the Ultimate Silence in this home that continues to remind me of my mother's death (I'm assuming that, finally, it will fall into place, as has the image of my dead mother, among all the aspects of my mother's life and will be contemplated in sync with and in proper proportion to these), I cannot imagine the factors of tragedy and suffocation experienced not only through Death Silence but the silence of one's community in regard to an extraordinary death. I expect, now, when I consciously think of my mother's death, I will be reminded of those locked in what seems like the impermeable, double silence of unexpected, tragic deaths. I'm hoping that, as I continue through life, I am able to sensitize myself to those who live within this double silence and, somehow, in some way, penetrate the layers in which they are encased with a little life-affirming sound, encourage some life-continuing sound from them, even if that sound is, initially, the cacophony of unexpressed, disorienting grief.
    The only way, I think, to live with Inevitable Silence is to always be alert to listen, to hear, and, to "sound". No matter what kind, "Make...a noise..." and revel in it.
    As those of you who are regular readers of these journals know, I'm firmly agnostic about "things unseen"...I acknowledge lack of explanation, simultaneously delight in coincidences that seem more than coincidental, all the while being careful to continue to salute the "coincidental" as much as the "seem more than". You also know that my mother had two periods, before her death in which she expressed a great deal of interest in John Edward Cross Country, so I'd tape the shows for her (they were always broadcast in the wee hours of the morning). John Edward promotes himself as a psychic and medium. His claim to veracity is a simple and humorously entertaining pre-script that he voices at the end of the introduction to his shows: "How do I know? Because I do." His television shows are primarily tapings of his reading for audiences in which he purports to receive messages from the dead related (by blood or life circumstance) to people who are attending his readings. When I started recording and playing these shows for my mother I did some research about mediums, especially critiques of mediumship, and became fairly familiar with techniques that "so called" mediums use to convince their clients that they are, indeed, communicating with relatives and friends. Despite the evidence that it isn't that hard to trick people into thinking they are hearing from their dead, I enjoyed watching the shows with my mother, especially since John Edward was careful to repeat, in a variety of contexts, that members of his audience didn't need him, that it was more important for them to "communicate, appreciate, validate" while the people to whom they are connected are still here.
    One of my sisters reminded me, last night, that another piece of advice Mr. Edwards dispenses is that one doesn't need a medium to receive messages from the spirits of the dead since, if so inclined, those spirits often attempt contact through techniques that are easy to understand if one is paying attention. I mentioned to her that this probably leaves me out of the loop because I've been adamant, since my mother's death, not to pay attention, simply because I don't want to be misinterpreting simple coincidences as communications from what may or may not be the spirit of my dead mother.
    That being said, this sister told me, last night, of a series of coincidences that, if nothing else, is curious, if not singular, in its correspondences, which are connected to a coincidence surrounding my father's death and continue through today. The father of my sister's children is in the Merchant Marine; thus, he is assigned to a variety of ships throughout the year. He's been in dry dock for some months (not sure how many). He called her yesterday to report that the next ship he'll be sailing was christened by the full and exact first and last names of my mother. This alone, seems, well, noteworthy. There are a couple other correspondences that raise it to the level of more than interesting:    This could be enough to spook "believers", but, there's more. A few days after my mother died, one of my sisters talked with the pastor of her Unitarian church. The pastor told her an oft repeated (during times of death) story which my sister hadn't heard, a version of which is linked, here and quoted below, exactly as it is written in the immediately previously linked blog:
    When our loved one dies, it’s as if they are on a ship, leaving port and disappearing over the horizon. And those of us left on the dock watch sadly and say, “There she goes.” And when the ship goes over the horizon we mourn because our loved one seems to be gone completely, because we can’t see her any more.
    But, when the ship disappears over the horizon to us, it is just appearing to those at another port. And there are loved ones and fellow believers standing on the dock there who have already made the same journey. They are watching expectantly, and when the ship comes over the horizon and approaches, they cheer and say joyously, “Here she comes!”
    My sister told me this story after she'd talked to her pastor. It was good to be reminded of it because one of the subjects about which all of us who were here through the week after my mother's death talked was that, now, my mother no longer had to be satisfied with mere visits from her Dead Zone, she was there, reunited with her faithful family and friends who had continued to keep her company, as they could and as she was able to intuit, courtesy of what I call her Dementia-Lite, throughout the last several years of her life.
    This is not, though, the end of the coincidences. When I decided, this morning, to write this post I searched for examples of this story to which to refer. My search terms were: death horizon "here she comes"; as these were the terms that I thought would be most successful. Of the 14,700 incidents pulled from the web, the very first reported the story (quoted above) as having been told to the blogger by a pastor. In addition, the most prominent commenter on the post shares her first name with the sister to whom the story had been told by her pastor.
    The mystery of death is overwhelming, whether it swallows someone we know, someone we don't, or is about to swallow us. There is always room for comfort when contemplating a death that sets up tremors in the foundation of one's life. I think it is human nature to find comfort in correspondences, as well as explanations and analogies that, at the very least, confirm for us that the mystery of death, while it remains a mystery for all of us despite our beliefs, the reports of those who have been brought back to life after having been pronounced clinically dead and meditative experiences, remains a mystery as long as we are alive; a mystery that causes all of us to mourn and wonder in the wake of deaths that affect us. I formed an analogy some time ago that helps me live relatively comfortably with the fact that we simply can't know, on a global scale, the personal nature of death. It occurred to me, some years ago, that talking about death is very much like talking about gestation before birth. We all know we spent time in the womb but few of us (taking a bow, here, to advocates of Primal Scream Therapy) remember anything about that time. It seems obvious why we don't remember it: There is nothing about that pre-birth existence that can help us learn how to live once we are born. As well, when we are gestating, we have no way of knowing that there is life beyond the womb or wondering about what that life might be like. In the womb we most likely live in ignorance of any possible post-birth state. This ignorance suits us, keeps us focused on what we are doing at the time. Once out of the womb we, typically, live in personal ignorance of our pre-birth state. We develop enough intelligence, while we are alive (assuming we live long enough to understand the concepts of gestation, birth and death) to speculate about our pre-birth and post-death states. As post-birth humans many of us are also convinced that we communicate with, even influence, in rudimentary ways, the fetuses we carry in our wombs. As a species, though, we are not at all close to coming to agreement about the nature of our pre-birth and post-death states. Maybe, then, passing through death is rather like passing through birth into life. If existence continues, it certainly continues in a state with which few of us can claim to be familiar and those who claim familiarity can't also claim universal believability; which, frankly, figures, considering that the mainstay of life, here, in this system, is our connection to our bodies and physical separation from the bodies of others. Death requires that we leave those bodies. They transform, immediately upon death, from the state of "subject" to that of "object". Thus, considering our framework for this life, the one accurate statement we can make about death is that it is radically different than the life with which we are familiar. We can also speculate that, if anything of each of our existences continues after death, knowledge of our pre-death existence probably isn't particularly helpful (apologies to those who stake their souls in theories of reincarnation and/or a continuation of perceptions of a pre-death spiritual life).
    Still, it is, hmmm..., well, helpful for me to consider the above correspondences involving ships and names and pastors and circumstances when I think about my mother's death. For all my careful stepping around absolute belief in the story above and this story as being some sort of indication that my mother remains connected, of her volition, not mine, to the lives of her family and friends, contemplating these stories allows me to feel safely and squarely alive in wonderment, which is, without doubt, one of the primary aspects of what it is to be human and alive while surrounded by the implacable and still mysterious fact of death.

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