Sunday, August 23, 2009

Summer's end

What an odd summer it's been. Because of the husband's broken foot we didn't do anything especially summery or vacationy, so it feels like nothing happened. But as I think about it, a lot was going on beneath the boring every-day surface of our lives.

In theory the biggest thing that happened was the teens "coming out." But really it was just a confirmation of what I've long suspected. I've got pretty hi-def gaydar, but even if I had been totally clueless, my lesbian friends (who, ever since the girls were in kindergarden, were saying 'You know, you might have some dykes on your hands there...') would have clued me in. So it's been less of an "event" and more a simple and welcome clarification.

The husband made full professor and an advance copy of his second book (more on that in another post) is in our hands, but that's what I've always known he could and would do. In a way, the biggest deal about it for me is that he lived to accomplish these things.

Which brings me to what, for me, the summer was really about - mortality. My mother is starting to fade - her memory is dimming and this woman who spent her life traveling the globe gets flustered now in new environments. My teens are growing into young women - they're falling in love, having girlfriends, and starting to think about college. They're almost fully cooked and ready to come out of the oven and make their own mistakes without me to cosset and guide them. And my husband, of course, still has his freaky incurable blood disease. So I see these fixed stars of my life - my mother, my husband, my children - as suddenly shifting, orbiting away from me. It makes me metaphysically dizzy. I went to talk to a therapist about it all and his advice was "You have to trick yourself into believing in the illusion of immortality again." Which I understand. You can't live each moment of your life in paralyzing fear that it will end. But Buddhism looks at the same set of circumstances and advises us to realize that impermanence is the true state of all things and that we should try to embrace it and find peace in the acceptance of that truth.

Honestly, I'm not doing very well at either approach. And since I am, as my husband tells me, "completely incapable of compartmentalizing," I've been grappling like Hell with all this. Which is why I've been less than normally communicative these past months. (Which is also a long-way about of apologizing for not commenting on your blogs as much lately!)

So what do you think? Does one try to dive back into the lulling youthful illusion of immortality, or does one look steely eyed at the passing away of all things and follow the stony path of non-attachment? Any advice or experience would be appreciated!


Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

To me it looks like you do a damn fine job with things. Life is overwhelming at times, which is why we just have to take one day at a time. Congrats to your husband on his book and congrats to your teens for having such an understanding mother. ;0)


you know what? I'm so lucky to have you for my friend.

Kathleen said...

Oh, Elizabeth, my heart does go out to you. I can compartmentalize with the best of them, but at some point, the stuff just gets to heavy and the compartments collapse.

I have found great comfort in the more zen-like approach, myself. I blogged about this in June:

My mother traveled the world, too, and ultimately she needed to live in assisted living. Fortunately, many of the caregivers were immigrants and refugees and she loved them and they loved her. But she was constantly confused, and I finally decided that the best I could do was to just help with the emotions was feeling rather than try to help her cognitively. No matter what, it's just heart-breaking.

The best thing I learned through the exhaustion of being a caregiver to 3 generations was that I really really really had to take care of myself. Even when I felt terribly guilty about it.

But the letting go of control, the realization of how very little was truly in my power to change helped immensely. What i love about the Buddhist approach is that it embraces both sorrow and joy, offers a tool (mindful meditation), and provides the most rational argument for stopping the worry and the ruminating. Thich Nhat Hahn's book The Miracle of Mindfulness was a lifesaver for me.

I do hope you find peace, Elizabeth. But mostly, hope you give yourself room to breathe.

a thousand shades of twilight said...

I think that's another entry to add to your (modestly-titled) "A few of my better blogs" list!

I wish I knew what the answer was. I really do. I suspect the answer to your question is an unsatisfactory "both". I admire Buddhism. I really do. But for me, it's always been a matter of "easier said than done".

Paralysis is never a good thing. I joke about it, but do get seriously paralysed by all manner of fears, some more ridiculous than others. Often a fear of loss. I sometimes wonder why I spend so much time mentally preparing for the unavoidable. Why? So I can say "See, I told you so" to the Universe? All my preparation can't avoid the unavoidable.

Any sane person knows that nothing lasts forever and that the rug can be pulled at any time. I have long thought it healthy to think about death every day. I know deep down that I don't "deserve" happiness, just as other people don't "deserve" their terrible sadnesses and deprivation. While I understand the sentiment, I bristle when people (often annoying actors) say that they are "blessed". I always wonder "Why? Why you? That makes no sense!"

I guess I try to remember to pinch myself with glee at every day that passes without loss. To try to live in the moment. To embrace the unpredictable mess. To stop expecting life to be fair. But, like Buddhism, all that is easier said than done.

Anyway, enough about me.

As Kathleen said above, I hope you find peace, dear! And if you find the answer, please share it.XXX

Edvin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Edvin said...

Elisabeth plese read this about mortality, and if you like it, then read the whole (not too long) webpage.

Peace and love, Ed

sageweb said...

wow, I love buddhism and I really believe what they say, embrace the truth. That said, when I am feeling down, I rarely ever embrace the is far to hard. Much easy to find an imaginary happy place. Might not be the right thing to do though..

jason said...

I don't know. I'd like to be able to be steely eyed...and sometimes I am, but mostly I try not to think about it too much.
At my best, I'm able to summon up my conviction that there really is no "death." But my best's not too often.
Maybe that's sort of what the therapist means by tricking oneself, who knows?
Oh, and I do a lot of praying. A lot.

Elizabeth said...

Dr. Monkey - Thanks for the pep talk. I'm (mostly) keeping my head above water, and sometimes that's the best we can hope for isn't it? As for the teens, I'm not a very other-worldly person, but I do think somehow we were fated to be together. I'll write a post about it sometime soon!

Granny - Uh oh! You're making my all teary eyed! Wish I could give you a big old hug.

Kathleen - Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Losing my mother, whether quickly or slowly, is going to be just shatteringly difficult for me. I think it's one of those things there's no way around, and whatever path her leaving takes, walking straight through it with my eyes open is probably the best way to get through it.

I love Thich Nhat Hahn and will order that title from the library. (Did you know that my twin teens are adopted from Vietnam?)

1000 shades - I wish you knew what the answer was too! It would make everything so much easier, and we call all worship at the church of you and you'd make boat loads of money telling us how to live our lives. But then, I'm not very good at listening to people tell me how to live my life, so it wouldn't work anyway. So I guess I'll have to muddle along with the sympathy and humor of friends like you, which is, to me, the greatest earthly blessing there can be.

Edvin - Thanks for the comment and the link. I will definitely look at it!

Sage - I don't think there's really any right or wrong about how to handle these things. The imaginary happy place I've found in books has gotten me through a boatload of hard times.

Jason - Me too, but I'm not really a very steely kind of person. I'm some kind of substance that's soft and squishy and prone to tears. Cookie dough, maybe.... I do pray, mainly for the strength to keep doing what I need to do for my people.

more cowbell said...

Oh damn. It is hard. I have to say I've become an expert on compartmentalizing. Probably not altogether healthy, but as a single mom with her share of shit in life, it was either "suck it up and drive on, soldier", or lose my fucking mind and hide under blankie.

I do think I've learned to compartmentalize too well, and wouldn't really recommend it. It worries me a bit, actually. Insulating yourself too much is not a good thing.

So ... no advice worth a damn. Sorry sweets.

Pop Tart said...

First of all, you are still loads better than I at commenting.

I should have some advice -- wrapped in wit too -- for you; but I don't. The thing is you already do what I think you should do and that is communicate not only what's going on but how you are feeling about it.

I'm a big believer in communication. Just saying things out loud, even when alone is grand. Naming things categorizes them, takes away the fear of bad things, & gives power to the strengths you need.

Sharing these things with others, even the invisible "us" here, I hope also provides you with comfort. You are not alone, you are cared for, and even loved -- just for what you show/share here.

All these things will see you through.

Don't forget, there's always laughter too. (And pizza!)