My grandmother is dying. This is the woman who raised me from the age of five years old. For years, I criticized her. I blamed her for a lot of things that I felt were wrong with my life.
It’s strange. In the face of her dying, all of that has dropped away. All I feel now is wonder that she sacrificed her golden years to mother me when my own mother was lost to a haze of a schizophrenia diagnosis and unspeakable suffering. All I feel now is her love for me, and my love for her.
My grandmother is dying.
It feels weird to write this sentence. I know it sounds morbid, but we are all dying, every day, aren’t we? We just choose not to focus on that. It makes sense. To focus on that fact, day in and day out, would likely make us all crazy. Instead, we focus on the mundane details of life and getting through each day. Me, I spend a lot of time Trying to Be a Better Person. (I just bought yet another parenting book tonight.) I also spend a lot of time Beating Myself up for not Being a Better Person. I think if I read enough books, I will figure it out and somehow magically become Good Enough.
Now, I have a situation in front of me. My grandmother is dying, and she lives all the way across the country. She is alone; my uncle and aunt live about two hours away, but for their own reasons, they can’t be physically present. So it’s pretty clear to me; it’s my job to show up and be there. It’s not about some sense of moral obligation: I can’t imagine not being there.
I talked to a dear teacher tonight, who herself has been through this journey of letting go of a parent - twice. She reminded me that the timing of all this could not be better. We both expressed our pleasure at this arrangement of circumstances.
I know that assessment may seem kind of baffling…but what she means is that I have the freedom to be present. My ex is willing and able to take care of S when needed. He is only in pre-K and not high school, so I can take him with me to San Diego if needed, too. I can stay in her house for free. My job will allow me to be flexible and work from anywhere. All options are open to me.
I said to my teacher tonight, “I’ve been prepared for this.” I’ve experienced so much death, so much loss, that this is not unfamiliar territory to me.
My grandma has largely lost the ability to speak. Yet I know she is still in there, aware of what is going on. She had some lucid moments when I spoke to her today.
“I’m coming out there, grandma!” I yelled into the phone.
“whenareyoucoming?” she slurred back.
This, I took, as permission to come.
She also managed to say “I love you” a few times.
My parents both died suddenly, without warning. I know we could all go out that way. But I feel that here, a gift is being given to me. The gift of some time to say goodbye, to be able to respond with compassion to this suffering.
“This is the death that will heal the other deaths,” my teacher said.
I cried at the simple truth of that sentence, the simple truth of being called to be present to my grandmother’s dying.
Strange how everything recedes in the face of this thing called death. All the Big Issues that have been squirming around on the surface of my consciousness. I can’t even be jealous of my ex and his wife and baby. I try to summon up that part of myself, the part that was so bothered by his leaving me to start another family, and I can’t find it. I can’t even stress about being single, and fall prey to that same old story: No One Will Ever Love Me Again. None of that chatter really seems to matter right now.
Today, I dropped my son off with my ex and I found myself driving in the direction of the Tibetan Temple in Poolesville. It could not have been a more beautiful day - sunny and clear and dry, with a breeze shaking loose the leaves on the trees. As I drove, I listened to a chant I had listened to while I was pregnant, a chant to the Great Mother, and I cried and sang through the tears, and it was exquisite.
The temple grounds were overrun with stinkbugs, which are rampant in our area. I have always been very afraid of insects, and the stinkbugs made me so uncomfortable. I forced myself to sit there in meditation, but could not close my eyes, nor could I focus on my breath which rattled shallowly in my chest. I kept vigilant, instead choosing to listen to sound, like the sounds of the birds, the crickets, and the leaves falling to the ground. I felt the visceral fear of one of those bugs landing in my hair, the dread at the sound of the low whirring of their heavy bodies flying through the air. I prayed for my grandmother. I sat in meditation in front of the stupa for about half an hour. Then I ate my lunch in the sunshine, swatting the occasional stinkbug off my purse or pants leg. By then, I had reached the limit of my ability to tolerate the bugs, and it was time to go.
As I was getting ready to head back to my car, I looked up to see a flock of hawks circling above. (This is not the first time I have seen a hawk recently. Just yesterday, S and I noticed one while driving out in the country.)
Today, one by one, the flock broke up and each hawk glided away in its own direction. I wonder what prey they were stalking with their magnificent eyesight. I immediately knew the hawks were an omen. In my prayers, I had asked for a sign showing me what to do next. The hawks were my answer. I know of hawks to be visionaries and messengers. I understood that they were telling me to see what is in front of me and to do what needs to be done, with humility and without hyperbole, while keeping an eye on the big picture - a bird’s eye view, if you will.
As I approached my car, I saw that it was literally covered in stinkbugs. I made a mad dash for the driver’s side door, trying frantically to get in before the stinkbugs did. I was largely successful - only one made it into the car, and I gently shooed it out the window. I was amazed as to how persistent those stinkbugs were. I was exceeding speeds of 50 miles an hour for quite some time, and still they clung to the car. They did not let go, even when I had driven all the way back to DC - some 45 minutes’ journey. Eventually, they dropped off into the air. They have lessons of their own, about the time to hold on and the time to let go. Though I am afraid of them, they also have something to teach.
Tonight as I prepare for sleep, I feel full. There is sadness and there is fear, but there is also a sense of embarking on a new path. “When this is all over, you will feel as if you are returning in a suit of clothing that is too big for you. It will feel strange at first, but you will grow into it,” explained my teacher.
All I know today is that I am ready to do the next right thing. I am ready for whatever life (or death) brings.
Welcome to this blog - my chronicle of the illuminating, character-building path of single parenthood. I'm making this up as I go along. My life is my practice, and my five year-old son is my greatest teacher.