Pondering Abstractions

The certainty of yesterday
has slipped our grasp
light deflecting truth
tossing us into the abstract

I ponder process
and outcomes,
will my mind to carry me
gliding between thermals
dissolving into vapours

Some realities too hard to bear –
dislodged, we tread the indeterminate.

(I submit these images and poem to the challenges of Lens-Artists and Ragtag Community. While we try to stay focused on the upcoming holiday celebrations, our hearts are heavy with recent loss and the news of cancer striking close to home. I am reminded that Christmas can amplify tragedy. Be extra kind to one another.)

Every Step a Miracle

Angel of Death. The name had started to stick. As a volunteer, working with the dying, my job was to help patients relax, ease some of their stress.

“She needs you more than me,” on old Irish doctor said as we both arrived at a patient’s home simultaneously. “I can give her medication for the pain, but dying takes strength and a surrender I can’t prescribe.”

I learned about dying from my sister’s bedside.

“Have you ever witnessed death?” her attending nurse asked, and when I shook my head, she cautioned: “You might want to leave now.”

I didn’t leave. I’d promised my sister that she wouldn’t die alone. I stayed till the end.

I would do the same for many more. It was why I studied Therapeutic Touch, Reiki, and other forms of relaxation. Bringing comfort to the ailing gave me a purpose.

My grandmother had been a midwife. She practiced in a rural area, at a time when phones were not available.

“How did you know when to go?” I asked her once. “Births are unpredictable.”

“There is a subtle knowing that comes with the position,” she said considering her answer. “Sometimes I would have a dream alerting me to the time, other times it was just an impulse.”

Attending to deaths was much the same. Unpredictable, and yet with subtle cues. Grandma ushered life in, I helped the crossing over.

The circle of life.

(Note: it’s been years now since I have been able to assist the dying. The experiences I had were a gift and an honour. I was prompted to write about this experience by Reena’s Exploration challenge, and also by my weekly focus which is subtle. Life is precious and each stage a miracle. I am grateful to be reminded of this today.)

Image from personal collection. You can find this image and other works at any of my shops: KnutsonKreations (Society6), KnutsonKr8tions (Redbubble), or KnutsonKreations (Zazzle)

Bedside Conversations

“Mom, I want you to know that I don’t harbour any ill will toward our past. If I seek to know what happened, it is only to understand myself so that I might heal.”

Mom nods, considers my words. “There is so much I could have done differently.”

“No. You did what you could with what you had. They were difficult times.”

It is funny how, faced with imminent death, perspectives shift. Throughout my life, I have had a love/hate relationship with my mother: cowed by her criticisms, angry at her life choices, disappointed that she didn’t protect us. It all seems so petty now.

“The greatest regret I have concerning you,” she says, reaching a frail hand toward me; “is that I never comforted you after the rape. What kind of a mother was I to turn my back on you?”

Her words catch me off guard. I tear up. “You didn’t know.”

“No, but I’ve come across it in your writing.”

I thought I had filtered that part out, usually careful about what I let her read.

We talk about it. Clear the air. She cries with me and shares her own story of rape at fourteen. I’m the first person she’s ever told, she adds.

How life can chew us up and tear us apart. Good thing love’s bonds are so strong.

I ask her about earlier days – parts of my childhood that are foggy. We laugh at some of it, and shake our heads at other bits.

Then exhausted, we both withdraw into ourselves, and in the silence, nod off.

When it’s time to go, she tells me that I have always been her strength, her rock.

“It’s good to have you home.”

I wish I could do so much more.


Visitation

It snowed early that year, and those who gathered at the church hall were dressed to keep out the cold, mumbling about the weather, and helping themselves to warm beverages.  Seems deaths come in threes, and this was the third of our family members we’d buried in as many months.

“Where’s Uncle Charles?” I asked my mother, taking inventory of those present.

“He’s up north hunting.  Couldn’t make it back.”

He’ll be sorry to miss this, I think to myself.  It was his oldest brother being buried after all.  I worked my way around the room, greeting relatives and swapping stories, until a sudden gust from the doorway made me turn.

Stepping in out of the cold was Uncle Charles, who smiled and winked at me across the room, as he shook the snow off his coat and stamped his boots.  He looked unusually dapper, with a smart fedora and long wool coat.  Hardly hunting gear.

I wrapped up my conversation and pushed through the crowd to greet a favourite uncle, now nowhere in sight.

“Nice to see Charles made it,” I mentioned to my mother later.  “Although, I don’t know where he went.”

“Charles didn’t come.  I told you, he’s snowed in up north.”

“But he did.  I saw him.”

“What was he wearing?”

I explained.  “I’d know him anywhere Mom,” I plead my case, ” by the glint in his eye and that unmistakable moustache.”

“My brother Charles hasn’t sported a moustache in years.  You’re describing my Dad.  A couple of others said they saw him too. Of course he’d be here for his first born’s funeral.”

My mother’s father.  A man I’d never met.  A man who died the year before I was born.

(Submitted for my weekly challenge:  veil.   Also linking up with Laura’s Manic Monday 3 Way Prompt. )

VJWCbanner

 

 

 

When We Meet In Heaven, Daughter (A Response)

I’ll be waiting for you in Heaven, daughter,
although the roles we played in life
have no bearing here – only souls
congregating in spiritual reflection.

Still the ties that bound us will be vivid,
your mind, no doubt reeling in transition,
the turmoil of earthly incarnation
still buzzing in emotional swirls.

I’ve had the benefit of time, to consider
the limitations that defined us –
the depth of our individual despair,
how our dramas intertwined, disconnected

I know that I have caused you pain,
that I must bear the certainty of your rage
and I am ready… hopeful…have faith
that the essence of your being will embrace

forgiveness, invite transformation –
even in life you sought enlightenment,
did not shut the door on me, though
you could have…had every reason…

My fellow soul traveller, my heart’s kin –
the door is open, and I am ready to receive
all that you have to share, all that you are –
that we may rise together, into salvation.

(V.J.’s Weekly Challenge is point of view.  On my other blog, today, I posted a poem to my father, entitled “When We Meet In Heaven, Dad.” I decided to write a response to that poem from my father’s point of view.)

Fatal Fury

Really wasn’t your fault
this fury that overcame –
Words evoked onslaught,
a raging river of pain.

Didn’t mean to push you,
miscalculated my aim,
swimming in swamp waters
not a recommended game.

You floundered, gurgled,
cursed me by name –
our love story, now viral
brought an alligator fame.

( A silly ditty for Deb Whittam’s 50 word Thursday.  Photo supplied by Deb.)

The Spirit of Wild Horses

tranquilityWe’ve come back to Coon’s Bluff in hopes of seeing the wild horses.  The day is crystal blue, without a cloud in the sky.  My heart is heavy.

I woke up in the middle of the night, with the lines of a poem running through my head.  Without turning on the light, I reached for my phone and wrote them down:

Let us line our memories, side by side, build a raft to hold her; let our tears flow as one, form a river to carry her…

I hadn’t heard from my friend in days and I knew this wasn’t a good sign.  I messaged her daughter with no response.  Dini has been fighting an aggressive form of cancer for a little over a year now.  It’s our habit to communicate everyday, if only through our ongoing games of Words with Friends, but she hasn’t been playing for a while and her last message was short, strange:

I’m ok.  Going to sleep.  M6

There is little I can do, so far from home.

mntnhorsesCoon’s Bluff is a strip of land with the mountain on one side and a drop overlooking the Salt River on the other.  Spotting the horses up on the mountain top, I head that way, while Ric is drawn to the water.

The horses are magnificent, and it feels like such a privilege to be here with them.  I capture a few images and then push my walker farther along to a point where the mountain becomes sheer rock face.  The colours here are spectacular:  the reds of the mountain, the green of the mesquite with their dark, almost black trunks, the greys and caramel of the rocks leading down to the deep blue-green of the water.  I would love to follow the path around the mountain, but note that it narrows and drops off at one point, so I choose a more sure-footed route, along the bluff, towards Ric.

happybirderFrom every direction I can hear birdsong, and I pause and ready my camera, but the motivation is lacking.  Today, I am more interested in communing with nature than photographing it.

There have been silences between Dini and I before, typically when one of us is too ill to cope with screens, but it seldom lasts for more than a couple of days.  Through another friend, I heard that she is in hospice and I wonder if this means the end, but Dini has rallied before; she is a fighter.

I move close enough to Ric that we can communicate, and hesitate.  The path before me dips considerably and I’m not sure how to proceed.  Besides, I sense that he wants to be alone too.  Before I can do anything, he signals for me to be quiet and turn around.

The mare and her foal stand right behind me.  A gentleness eminates from their presence, and they linger a moment before heading down the steep hill to the water.

boots“There are more,” Ric warns.

Not wanting to interfere with their passage, I push my rig behind the nearest bush and sit down.  A parade of horses files by and then an old grey appears, drops down on the ground and rolls, and rises again, shaking off the excess dust before heading to the water.  The stallion is next, neighing and stomping.  He is clearly agitated.  I take the cue and carefully move over by Ric on the other side of the dip.  The horse picks up pace and follows the others.

“Wow,” a woman exclaims stepping out from behind a tree, her hand over her heart.  “Wasn’t that something?”

“They are amazing to see, for sure.”

The sound of hoof beats alerts us to a straggler and a beautiful chestnut horse trots past.     We watch as the pack, having crossed the river, disappear into the woods on the other side.

eagleflight“There are two eagles nesting at the top of that peak,” Ric indicates the direction I’d just come from.  “The man who told me said they’d been scared off by some people with a dog, but they should come back.”

We look to the sky, and there they are, their white heads gleaming in the sunlight.  They sail above us, then over the land, then the water, making several tours before disappearing again.

redflycatcher“I need to sit,” Ric announces wondering if we should move on, but I’m not ready to leave.

“It’s so beautiful,” I respond, and he understands my need and finds a seat on a nearby picnic table.

I sit among the trees and watch as two Gila woodpeckers flutter about noisily.   A squirrel darts by, and I notice some ground birds foraging within camera range, but still don’t bother.  A flash of bright red, however, draws me out from my cover.  A Vermillion flycatcher.

blackphoebeI notice quite a bit of activity on a tree that hangs out over the drop, and I decide to set myself up there, in the shade.  Large rocks line the side of the bluff, and two little birds chase each other over the water and back, and a small brown head bobs in under the rock crevices.  A Rock squirrel watches from his hiding place between the rocks, and I can’t help but line up the shots, capturing the Black phoebes and the Rock wren, and eventually the red head.

I just want to stay in this moment forever.

sweethorses “My wife was bedridden for over two years,”  I hear Ric telling someone, and think how far I have come – not just in miles – but also in healing.   My disease, while debilitating at times, doesn’t carry the same threat as cancer.  I have been the lucky one.

The horses are back at the water’s edge, and watching them I feel a deep sense of calm and peace.

Life is mystery.  It is beauty and sorrow and unapologetic.  It just is.

(Afternote:  My dear friend died in the early morning hours, although I would not hear of it until the following day.  I will always associate the day she died with wild horses.)

 

 

 

 

Dancing In Heaven

“I’m in trouble!”  My sister’s voice was weak but charged with panic.  “Help me!”

“What have you done?”

She’d locked us all out of her apartment that weekend; said she was tired of being sick, tired of people hovering over her.  She wanted to be independent.

Reluctantly, we gave her space.  I’d held my breath the whole time, anticipating this call.

“I stopped taking the meds,”  she began, and before I could express my disbelief, she continued:  “I just wanted to go dancing one more time.  I thought it was the morphine that was making me so sick.  I thought if I stopped…..oh, V.J., I can’t bear the pain.”

“Call 9-1-1,”  I told her.  “I’ll meet you at the hospital.”

She didn’t want to go to the hospital.  People die in the hospital, she’d said.  I reminded her that they would also be able to get her pain under control.

She did die in the hospital, two days later.  Her white blood count was off the charts, and she’d spiked a high temperature before slipping into a coma.  I was by her side.

“Did you get some of my birthday cake?  They’re serving it in the hall.”

Those were the last words she spoke to me.  It was the night before Valentine’s; we’d celebrated her forty-third birthday in November.

I stayed and watched as death crept in, enveloped her and carried her off.  Her eyes flew open in that last moment and met mine, her mouth made a large ‘O’, as if she wanted to exclaim, but no words came out, just one final exhalation of air.

We’d known her death was imminent; she’d been at war with cancer for fourteen years, and the last year had been a continual decline.

She was feisty, my sister.  Loved a good argument, never content with the way things were, always wanting more.  And she loved to dance.

“There wasn’t a table that Jo didn’t dance on,”  a cousin said of her at the funeral.  “She was a live wire.”

I’d had a love/hate relationship with my sister; we didn’t see eye to eye on many things.  She was the consummate center of attention, thriving on drama.  I was the pragmatic younger sister, trying to keep a level head.  I found her ideas off the wall and, well often infuriating.

“It’s as easy to love a rich man as it is a poor one,”  she advised me once.

Infuriated, I retaliated:  “That has nothing to do with love!”

Thing is, she never had luck with relationships.  She’d thrust herself with passion into any man’s arms, and with equal violence, leave him.  Trust was not her strong suit, nor was patience.

“She’s like an eight-year-old in a woman’s body,” one beau once described her to me.  I believed him.

Despite our differences, it was me she turned to when the diagnosis came.

“Promise you’ll be there with me till the end,” she pleaded.

Of course, I said yes.

In the end, it was mostly Mom and I who cared for her.  Stubborn as she was, she wouldn’t let the home care nurse bathe her, or change her bedding, and Mom had a bad back, so I landed the honour.  Joanne had withered away to nothing, her velvet brown eyes now hidden between drooping lids, her lips constantly cracked, her long limbs sharp.  Although she was fifteen years my senior, I felt as if I was caring for a fragile child.

We fought in those last months, and we laughed, and we cried.  Some days, so exhausted from my responsibilities outside of her care, I would just lie on the bed beside her and hold her hand, both of us dozing off.

When she died, I quite honestly felt relief.  At the time of her diagnosis, the doctor said she had only months to live.  She had survived for thirteen more years.  Some good, some bad, but she’d kept on going.

“We don’t know what’s keeping her alive,”  one of the oncologists told me.  “Whatever she’s doing, it obviously works.”

“I can’t explain how I feel,” my mother said while we were arranging the funeral.  “She consumed so much of our lives for so long, and now she is gone.  It feels like there is a huge whole, and no closure.”

The night before the funeral, I had a dream.  Joanne was on a stage, dancing with a chorus line before a large audience.  She looked radiantly happy.

During the reception following the burial, four others shared that they’d had the same dream.

Joanne had found her paradise, dancing in Heaven.

(Today’s post is in response to The Daily Post prompt: dancing.  Image: www.shutterstock.com)

Love As a Four-Letter Word

My aunt gave up her daughter for a chance at love.

Can’t remember which marriage it was – there were seven in all – but he didn’t want children, so she just asked around if someone would take M, then sixteen.

A few relatives tried, but my cousin, the depths of whose rejection is unfathomable, strayed to the dark side.  When she ran away, no one chased her.  She was dead by eighteen.

I was twelve when I got the news, and lacked the inner tools to process the information.  M was always so vibrant, and fun – I couldn’t imagine anyone not wanting her.  How does a mother throw away her child?

The marriage hadn’t lasted.  At the time of her death, M had been living with a man.  A few days after the funeral we dropped by my aunt’s house to see if she was okay.  We found her in bed with M’s man.

This aunt was shunned by most of the family, understandably, except that no one stopped to question the source of the pain that drove her to such depraved actions.  stay-safe-seek-real-love-feature-image

When she was young – likely no older than her own daughter at the time she threw her out – her grandfather dragged her out behind the barn and raped her.  No one stopped him, although one uncle got the shotgun and threatened.   They killed my mother’s sister that day; Mom says she was never the same afterwards.

Great grandfather committed many sins, for which he was never held accountable.  An innocent young woman bore the brunt of his sins and was punished for it.  She re-perpetrated the sin, raping her own daughter of a chance at life.

In our family, the game of male/female relationships had a very sick and sinister side.  We knew who we didn’t want to emulate and how ugly love could be.

Trouble is, no one knew the alternative.

(Image:  www.lifehack.org)