Sunday, July 8, 2012

DETOURS AND RIDDLES


My mother is slowly shutting down. The people at the nursing home said this is normal and natural. Days, weeks: we don't know. I'm back in L.A. and I probably won't return. And it's been hard to think or write of anything else.

Last Friday, my little sister Meredith, my brother Ross, my nephew Allen and I took Mom to the Fuller Rose Gardens in Rye, where we've all been going since we were kids. It was all just as I remembered it: the beds of roses, the statue of the naked lady, the wishing well, the Japanese garden with its little wooden bridge. Mom hasn't eaten, to speak of, for two weeks and though she wanted to go, the trip constituted a heroic effort on her part.

She doesn't know my name, nor much that I'm her daughter, but when I said, "Mom, I'm going to leave now," she seemed to understand. "It's been a wonderful visit," she quavered. "It's been a wonderful 60 years," I told her.

That night I took one last walk around Portsmouth, the old streets around the harbor, the old clapboard houses with their stone slab steps, their windowboxes, their lintels. I ended up where I always seem to end up: on the rise near Livermore Street, a cul-de-sac across the estuary from the old Portsmouth Hospital where I was born.


"It was a hot and sultry night," my father always said, and I'm thinking 1952 was probably pre-A/C, so my very first whiff of the world was probably the high sweet smell of the marshes, and my very first experience of air the hot heavy feel of a coastal New Hampshire mid-summer night, which I have always loved and, if anything, love even more now.

On the way back to my hotel,  I walked up Summer Street and was surprised--it was almost dark--to see the doors of Immaculate Conception wide open. First Friday, maybe. I walked in and the sanctuary was completely empty. Wax, furniture polish, incense, shadows, a few candles flickering to the side behind blue glass.

A quarter mile away a rock band was blaring, folks were eating, shouting, drinking beer. Here, it was very quiet. "Stay and keep watch with me," Christ said to his disciples in the Garden at Gethsemane, and of course they couldn't. No-one wanted to sit with him then and no-one much wants to sit with him now. An hour must be a long time when you're dying. It's a long time when you're alive.

"This is my Body, which will be given up for you." Kneeling in the dark, I thought about how, every time someone dies, Christ gives up his body anew, through and with that person.

photo: flickr
On the plane back to L.A. I read this:

I ought to have a parallel life, a sea of time in which I would be able to remake those earlier journeys in the course of my present journey, to Silos to León, to Oveido. As it is, I must distill that reservoir of time from my own memory, but even if the appropriate images are evoked they can never be enough—it is all about proximity, tangibility, running your fingers over a stone, and about the impossible, because what you really want by now is not another life but a longer life, one in which you go round and round in the same circles of leave-taking and revisiting until such time as you feel so sated and tired that you lie down in a nook of one of those chapels, and slip into a dream of stone.

--Cees Nooteboom, Roads to Santiago: Detours and Riddles in the Lands and History of Spain


A thousand thanks for your thoughts, reflections, love, support, comments, and prayers.

21 comments:

  1. So much love is with you all right now.

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  2. A few weeks ago, the mother of a friend of mine died. She was 89 and had the same symptoms. I know your birthday is coming up and it will be a difficult day-but, all birthdays can be difficult, when the person we love(d) the most is no longer with us. Many prayers to you and your family. Take care of yourself.

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  3. God bless you and your sweet mother. I am praying for you, Heather. You are the best.

    Love,
    Rozann

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  4. Such a balm, your writing is.

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  5. I love your words about Gethsemane. The first sorrowful mystery requires, I think, less effort of imagination than the rest, since most of us live in that dark, lonely garden. And have slept through the agonies of friends, family, strangers . . .

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  6. Dear Heather, I don't have words for it, but wanted you to know I'm listening, and praying as best I can. You, your Mum and your family have a home in many hearts.

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  7. I'm going through the same thing with my mother right now. I admire the level of "heart" you have for your mom. This point in relationship with Mom is the first time I've heard her say, "I love you" so often. It is an adjustment and, I think, what a long time coming. Why were we never more related before? I had to prime the pump and ask for a kiss and say those healing words myself, but once primed she's begun to let flow some moisture from that stoic well. As I pass through this "valley of the shadow of death," I will remember the love and affection you've always expressed for your parents, and I will try to pour out my own soul in consolation to both my loved one and Jesus.

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  8. Beautiful reminder of Jesus dying anew with each of our deaths. I'll say a prayer for your mother and you.

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  9. Such a sad time for you, Heather. I went through this too, and I'm sure you are sensing the serene spirit level that attends this bittersweet going.

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful mother with us and for your always inspiring words.

    "All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
    ― Julian of Norwich

    maire

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  10. She is so Beautiful-Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints,

    Eternities
    Eternity's eternal song,
    Is drawing me away, it's calling me away
    It's calling me away

    All flesh is grass, fading away.
    Only You last, only You remain
    All flesh is grass, fading away.
    Only You last, only You remain same,
    You never change.

    Holy, holy, holy,
    You are fairer than then sons of men
    Surely man is like the flower of the field,
    And life is but a vapor, at best but a vapor.
    Surely man is like a flower of the field,
    And the fragrance but a vapor, at best but a vapor.

    But you O God,
    Are better than a thousand blooms.
    Hallelujah, Amen!
    Misty Edwards
    Joseph

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  11. She is so Beautiful-Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints,

    Eternities
    Eternity's eternal song,
    Is drawing me away, it's calling me away
    It's calling me away

    All flesh is grass, fading away.
    Only You last, only You remain
    All flesh is grass, fading away.
    Only You last, only You remain same,
    You never change.

    Holy, holy, holy,
    You are fairer than then sons of men
    Surely man is like the flower of the field,
    And life is but a vapor, at best but a vapor.
    Surely man is like a flower of the field,
    And the fragrance but a vapor, at best but a vapor.

    But you O God,
    Are better than a thousand blooms.
    Hallelujah, Amen!
    Misty Edwards
    Joseph

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  12. Hearts break in leave-taking like this -- and yet, such peace, deeper down, under your words.

    We keep vigil with you, Heather.

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  13. Heather,

    The other day I read your post from Fathers day and was taken back to this past October when my own father passed away at the age of 87 in my sister's home after being in home hospice. It brought back so many memories as we watched him slip away. I didn't cry much when my dad died. We had a rough relationship but I know he loved me and I loved him. As I read your post, the tears I had not shed, finally came out.

    Your writing is very powerful and I thank you for helping me to start my own grieving process in regards to my father's passing.

    I am so very sorry for what you are going through with your mother. I know how much you love your parents. My thoughts and prayers are with you during this time.

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  14. Joseph, When I went into ICU to see my grandmother when she was unconscious and dying, her thing hair was a scraped back, her eyes were sunken and she had no teeth, and the first thought I had was, "You are so beautiful."

    Heather,
    My mother will be 87 next month. She has been in exceptionally good health, but caught a cold last week and suddenly seems to be very weak and sick. When I saw the pictures of your mother that you posted last week--the picture in three parts--they really startled me. My mother has the same beautiful blue eyes, the same sweater, the same shoes, the same shrunken look.

    You are in my prayers.

    AMDG,
    Janet

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  15. Dear Heather,

    "Detours and Riddles" says it all. We shall know neither the day nor the hour....

    Prayers for you and your family during this time of uncertainty. It is a strain unlike any other. My dear mother -in-law was in hospice care for ten months. Three different times she was declared to be "actively dying" and yet when she did go, it was just after my husband had visited her- she was awake and alert and no indication that the end was so near. She died an hour lately, literally just slipped away.

    Thank you for sharing about this sacred time with us. As for your Mom, my prayer is just that she will die peacefully.

    And, despite the sadness around this time, wishing you a very happy birthday!

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  16. You have 21 Texas girls in College Station praying for you, your mom and your family. Many blessings upon you all.

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  17. Ditto Mark's brief comment. So true.
    Prayers. Blessings.

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  18. Ditto Mark's brief comment. So true.
    Prayers. Blessings.

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  19. Heather:

    This is so lovely. Thank you.

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  20. Oh boy, thank you, folks. I am really kind of depleted, I'm finding. Feel like a fighter who keeps trying to get up from his corner but, one more time, has to sink back down...your prayers and kindness and co-vigiling, I am QUITE sure, are keeping me afloat. I hold you all in my prayers and heart as well...

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  21. When my 91 year old mother-in-law Marjorie was on hospice care after a bad stroke last year, I "coincidentally" came across the fact that the Mother of God can be petitioned to ease our transition through death. Don't know why I hadn't realized that before, but I added prayers to Mary. Marjorie's last weeks were peaceful and there were moments of grace and beauty. I pray your mother and your family will be blessed with grace and strength.

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