How did I survive the sudden death of my father, the year-long dying of my mother?
I stuck close to friends, in New York and on the West Coast, and everywhere in between. I joined a support group for the grieving. I had little to say but how sad I was, and I said it repeatedly.
My concentration vanished, and driving became difficult. The car occasionally veered off the road, and I realized I was in some kind of altered state. I howled while driving, and I howled in the forest. I drove the back roads, the way my mother did before the physician said Take Away the Keys.
I started to meditate again. At first, meditation meant I read texts that were supposed to be inspirational. That was good, that was fine, but it reached only what some call the left brain. The left brain, or the logical rational part of my brain was impaired.
I wrote attributes I wished for on slips of paper, and stuck them all over the house: I wanted to be loving, patient, tolerant, and kind.
The people in the support group taught me I could not be loving, patient, tolerant, and kind unless I was first loving, patient, tolerant and kind with myself. When the facilitator, Michael, suggested I list what I liked about myself, I cried.
Miraculously, a Native American poet offered a meditation workshop in our rural community. “Your final breath will be an exhalation,” the poet said. Somehow this was soothing. I could breathe with my dying mother, just as she breathed me into this life.
As she died, my mother lost interest in food. I, too, lost interest in food. Part of my self-healing was walking. In childhood and adolescence, I would often climb out my window and walk much of the night.
When my mother miscarried her last pregnancy, the ninth, the fetus already had a name. Garth. Mother called me into her room.
“Don’t tell Daddy,” Mother said. “He’ll get mad.” My father disliked messes.
That was when I began to be terrified she would die.
My sleep was punctuated by nightmares about being stabbed, sawed, or blown up by drones. Sometimes I lurched out of deep sleep as if filled with air and rising to the top of water.
“You’re having a spiritual crisis,” Michael said. I did not want to be told what I was having. But I did not argue with Michael. Michael was tossing the only life preserver out in the middle of the gray, the sinking waters.
Some say when people are ill, or dying, they become more of what they are. As she shriveled toward death, my mother became concentrated sweetness. I murmured the ways I loved her. She lifted the little quilt hospice gave each client, and she wrapped it around my shoulders.