Sitting Between Heaven and Earth

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It started as a chair for my mother who is no longer on earth. I thought she would have liked this view on a hill overlooking the ocean. I wished she were still here to talk to. I have new questions for her, ones I wasn’t pondering before. I have new understandings I didn’t have before. I always wanted us to be peers, to be able to speak woman to woman. Now it can only happen between worlds.

May this seat hold me between heaven and earth as I face new challenges. May the earth and sky be my allies. May I have conversations with my mother as I look out to the infinite sea.

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A romantic Christmas story

Not only is it Christmas, but also my parents 54th wedding anniversary. Every year red roses from my father filled the house with sweetness. 

My mom said she rode the NYC subway in her white short dress on a cold Christmas morning to wed my father in a church. A couple of friends were present as witnesses. She had only known him for 3 weeks.

They left for Iowa the next day. It the only place my father could get a job in television and he wasn’t leaving without her. 

What brave romantic souls! 

We remember you mom. 

Doris and Mary doll

I brought my mom (Doris) a present on my last visit to Reno. My friend and artist Judy Johnson-Williams made these wonderful family dolls for me in response to a family tree assemblage piece I did. I decided to bring one of the dolls to my mother who has Alzheimer’s and is in a full care facility. She speaks of her mother now and then, so I chose that doll to bring her. My grandmother, Mary, lived with my parents for many years, but the photo of her used on the doll was from a long time ago, when my mother was probably around 10. I wonder at what age my mother thinks of her?

Shirley’s mom

I had put out a call for “mother stories” around Mother’s Day and Shirley McClure responded with a story below. Thanks Shirley!

I remember being with my mom before I went to kindergarten and her teaching me how to write my name and a few other things that were about numbers. She spent time with me also showing me how to trace line drawings of horses and shapes. She was an artist and had a “Great Artist” correspondence course, which I later used to help me solidify my sketching skills. I had forgotten she spent that time with me and how much my ability to draw came from her from the start.

She did sketches that were assignments for the Great Artist course, and lots of drawings of us, her daughters when we were babies and young children, that we came across years ago, and that my sisters have. She had aspirations to be an artist and my dad supported her until she got a job which took her away from being involved with the family and then, because we were in the Air Force and had to move every three years, she gave it up. But she would doodle and draw while on the phone, and I picked up that habit too, and it led to me being able to do some self expression during the long years of school when I was bored and numb from sitting in classrooms. While I was care giving her, she began doing a lot of drawing. I have yet to find her drawings, but when they turn up I will find a way to do a show of them for her, the artist that never got to do a show.

Invitation to write a story about your mother

Since Mother’s Day is coming up, maybe you are thinking about your mom like I am.

I’d like to invite you to write a story, an experience about your mother. It could be a story you heard or an interaction you had with her. Anything really that you would like to share. You could add it to the comments and then it will be shared with who ever reads this blog and anyone you want to send the link to.

I’ll start off with a story about my mom…

momI really have my mom to thank for me being an artist and an art teacher. When I was around 3 or 4 years old, she was trying to find some kind of activity that I would like to do. First she tried swimming. I think she really wanted me to learn how to swim because she wasn’t so hot at it, even though she grew up in Hawaii. Well, I did not do too well at that. (Though I did learn eventually, but that is another story). Then she took me to ballet lessons. I was not too graceful, kinda an ugly duckling type, so that did not last too long. Well, what next? How about art? She took me to a wonderful art teacher named Donna. Donna was very kind and patient. I mostly remember drawing cats and dogs. After that I was constantly drawing. The refrigerator was covered with my art. All my aunts got letters stuffed with my drawings. As I grew older, my mom the teacher, would have me work on her bulletin boards in her class room. I learned to work large. The subject matter was anything from season themed to lessons on geography or science, what ever she was focusing on with her students. I’m glad she kept at it at an early age, to find the right fit for my interest and talent.

Memories and Reality

Recently I have been living in some old memories, before Alzheimer’s disease descended upon my mother and my family. I remember how she used to smile and chat while we discussed my job, my home, or my nieces. Sometimes we sat in our patio in shorts and zori and then we would stroll out to look at her orchids blooming in the shade of the mulberry tree. Other times we discussed what the menu was going to be for a family dinner and then chopped vegetables together in the family kitchen.

That was about six years ago though it seems much longer than that. Now she is living in a full service care facility in Reno, far from the family home in Lodi and my home in Half Moon Bay.

On my visit back in December she would not even open her eyes anymore or even really speak. My partner was shocked to see how much she had deteriorated since his last visit with her. I had been watching her progress over the years. She went downhill much faster after she broke her hip. Others had warned us that may be the case.

I so miss being able to connect with her. She has retreated into her own world. I think it is like a fog, but maybe that is not what it is like at all – I do not know. I so wish I were more evolved, so I could enter into her dimension, be able to communicate beyond the words and the physical. I try to just love her and hope she can feel that. I have sort of resigned to her condition. I feel myself hardening to feeling anything about it. This is just the reality.

Now I am back in Reno for a visit. My dad picked me up at the airport and we go directly to feed mom lunch. Today it is fish and green beans, hmmm pretty nice! Dad decides to ask if we can use the private dining room instead of being in the general one with about 30 other residents.

Today my mother’s eyes are open! She speaks. I am thrilled, even though it is in one word responses or short sentences that do not make sense to me. At least there is an attempt to communicate, to connect. She looks into my eyes and I am almost afraid to look back. Her gaze is so intense that it startles me.

I am so ecstatic to make a connection with her and yet this brings tears to my eyes and my feelings are overwhelming. I thought I was over this and now my heart is raw and painful again.

We go back for dinner with mom – a meal of corned beef and cabbage. Joe, another patient says it is left over from last night and is not excited. Again, mom is present and has a good appetite. Dad likes to mix in the little individual tubs of butter into her food and adds salt and pepper from the little paper packets. We cut up the food and take turns with spoonful of solid food and sips of milk. All seems well. Dad is happy she is eating.

I call out to her loudly, “Doris!” and she answers, “Yes!” If I call her “mom” she does not respond. She is no longer mom, but her own true self, just Doris. Earlier she names me “okasan”, mother in Japanese. It is all mixed up now. Oh well it doesn’t really matter, does it?

This morning we go back at 7:30am for breakfast. Mom is not so great today. She is very groggy. She is like she used to be – removed, eyes closed, not speaking. We barely get her to eat her French toast or cream of wheat. We leave and come back at lunch, pasta and zucchini and pudding. Again mom is too tired and we must really work to feed her. We ask if they have changed her medication and they say no. Did she sleep well? They say nothing unusual. Perhaps hospice came and gave her a bath – that could tire her out, says one of the nurses. I wonder if we should just let her sleep. It is very stressful today…I think I just want too sleep too.