This essay was written in 2004, one year before my mother’s passing.
July 4th marks the anniversary of my calling, from a dumbfounded dipsh*t to an awakened dipsh*t. I was sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the fireworks display (to an Otis Redding beat is fine) tonight, and became aware that I had the best seat in the town. They set off the colorful displays from a small sandy island mid-harbor, and the light danced off the ocean’s surface for a mirrored effect. It was lovely, but I couldn’t help noticing that I was alone. Normally this particular dock would be teaming with families, but I sat at the end of it, having the whole dock and shoreline to myself.
This is something that I have grown accustomed to – being given space to contemplate. The town had thousands of people for the day’s festivities, but it was as if there were a boundary to my space that was roped off etherically. When given these gifts, I tend to take full advantage of them. I began to cry without reserve for the traumatic experience of 2 nights earlier. I returned to this Maine island to caretake my mother, who is 82 years old, and aging rapidly.
Two nights ago she called out to me in anguish, and within moments I was dressed and standing witness to a scene that shook me to the core. My mother was covered in feces, as was the bed and the bathroom. She was terribly weak and crying in fatigue and shame. Apparently she had eaten something spoiled or ingested food poisoning, and had become violently ill. She vomited as I was assessing the situation – something I know my mother had not done in 15 years or more. We simply are not throw up kind of people.
I am known to be good in emergencies, which is one reason why my mother had requested my return to the island to take care of her. My mind raced over the scene, and I went into causal mode. She continued to soil herself and vomit because she was too weak to return to the bathroom. I went into my causal state, because it expands my presence to anyone in my vicinity, and once touched by it my mother stopped crying and her breathing evened out.
It is a very humbling experience to have to undress your elderly mother for the first time in your life. I simply began doing without attachment to emotions. It was assess, do, assess, do. I removed her bedding and soiled clothes, and she responded to my instructions as a helpless child would who knew they were in capable hands. For an hour I cleaned, dressed, and laid my mother back down on the clean bedding, covered her, and told her she was safe, and should sleep now. Within moments she began to lightly snore as she fell into a state of womblike comfort.
Another hour on hands and knees scrubbing had the bathroom cleaned and rugs removed for later cleaning. I spent the next hour bagging and disposing of all cleaning materials and soaked the bedding and clothes. All of this took place in this causal state where the brain is not asked for instructions, but every thing that had to be done was done in the most efficient order. I was grateful for the disconnect, especially considering the odor – which I never noticed, likely because I was not sensing solely for direction or definition. Everything existed within that bubble of presence.
My tears two nights later were not as a direct effect of the situation, but of the sudden shock in role reversal. The parent became the child, and the child the parent. Observing my mother over the past two days I notice the change in her. She acts differently around me. Our conversations have become more real, and less filling in the spaces between her television shows. It is as if part of that eternal present moment washed over her, and she is hungry to relate within it.
I did not expect the serious caretaking to occur so quickly. I was basically doing the shopping, tending the yard and snow in winter, and doing most of the cleaning. She still did light cleaning and fixed some of her own meals as a means of some daily activity. I handled the situation better than I thought I was going to be able to, when envisioning what caretaking was going to mean. I can see many nights of fearful body failures ahead of us, but there is something beautiful about being able to calm the storm of aging. She feels like she is more peaceful, witnessing our first emergency, and seeing that she will be in good hands.
As for me, I witnessed another of the blessings of awakening. The ability to control external environments so that things unfold more smoothly, with less fearful reactions. It is not the first time I have consciously slipped into causal gear to affect my surroundings in an emergency. It usually takes me several hours to come back to a good balance between being presence, and being that dipsh*t that I love so much. I am not in a situation where I can be causal perpetually – too many mundane responsibilities. But it is nice to know it is there for whatever surprises in caretaking that I will likely encounter.
~ DC Vision