Forgetting to Breathe
The dreams have begun. Mainly anxiety nightmares. Like the one where the memorial service is happening for my mother and I am not ready. Confused at the presence of many people I don’t know and frantic that I haven’t written the eulogy I want to write. (I wish I had shared my blog with her.) Like the one where my new plants that seem so beautiful and alive are actually infested with microscopic bugs. (Ugliness lurks, even when the outward appearance seems to thrive.) Like the one where I am navigating an avalanche, struggling upstream on an iceberg. If I fail, I die. (No interpretation required.)
And then there was the one Friday night where I am sitting on a bench between my old father of my now and my vibrant mother of my youth. She is wearing one of her fantastic colorful handknit dresses and has black hair without a speck of gray. She is speaking to me, but no sound is coming from her voice. I urgently tug at my father, “Dad! Look! Mom’s alive! She’s speaking!” I am the bridge between the past and the now, between the physical and the spiritual, between my mother and my father.
It doesn’t help that it’s the holidays. The busiest time of year. Not the most joyful time of year. Bah humbug. I had promised to enjoy the holidays. That was before my mother died. Sigh. The finality of death seems, well, final. How can I possibly enjoy the holidays now?
How can I not? There is so much to live for! So I talk to myself. Fight with myself. Pretty much every waking minute is a negotiation with myself that goes something like this:
Oh my god, I have so much to do! It’s never going to get all done.
Remember, Sally, every year it gets done.
But this year is different. I’m too tired and sad.
Breathe and do what you can.
Ack! My father is coming for Christmas. Now, I’ve got to deal with my father. Is this some joke that God is playing on me?
Well, as Elizabeth Gilbert has said, our most challenging family members are the most powerful spiritual teachers of our life.
What am I going to get him for Christmas? What am I going to get everyone for Christmas? What do I want for Christmas?
Nothing! I hate Christmas!
My kids love Christmas. Pull it together. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Smile. Breathe. Go to yoga.
I don’t want to go to yoga. I’m too tired to breathe. I’m too busy to breathe.
Why do we resist doing what feels good for our souls?
Oh my god, I have so much to do! I want to go back to bed.
Breathe. Be kind to yourself. Do what you can.
Remember, Sally, you can choose to not be anxious and depressed. It’s not your go-to place any more. Choose life. Choose joy.
The finality of death can seem final, but life goes on. Clearly, not the same life as before. The new normal is one where my mother is no longer “declining,” but gone. The new normal is one where my father is alone and cognitively not sharp. I am his only child and feel love and sadness for what he is experiencing and anxiety about what the future holds and, frankly, some dismay and anger and selfishness. (Those evil bugs infesting my beautiful growth.) What if I don’t want to take care of him? The new normal is one where my children are growing up and leaving home. What is next for me, for my family, for this next phase of my life? The new normal is one where my mother lives in me and my dreams. Death is not final. Death changes life.
When I am sleepless from a nightmare, in the grip of anxiety, I tell myself not to shut down and close myself off. I can tackle the avalanche coming my way.
Remember to breathe.