I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Sunday 2015

Easter eggs from the Internet
So many previous Easter Sundays have emerged into my thoughts as I sit here in the dark this morning, fifteen years into the new century. Well, not so new any more. It's already a teenager and we all know that a fifteen-year-old wouldn't appreciate being called "new." 

So long ago, when I was a young girl, I loved the new dress my mother would have made or purchased for me and my sisters, although we rarely if ever went to church. We just dressed up and went on organized Easter egg hunts and visited nearby relatives or friends. I never heard anything about why it all happened on a Sunday in spring; it never even occurred to me to ask.

I wonder what my mother thought about Easter, as she was a lapsed Catholic married to an agnostic. I think as a military wife and mother, she never felt that her thoughts mattered to anybody but herself, and maybe a few female friends. I knew there were times when my mother wasn't very happy when we were growing up, but she was a hard worker and created a beautiful home and yard wherever we were stationed. We lived in Fairfield, California during most of the 1950s, and I remember our huge back yard, with fragrant geraniums along one side of house, where Norma Jean and I would play with our dolls in the green and red forest. Mama bought and planted a weeping willow tree in that back yard, and I can still remember watching her from inside as she hoisted the young (but not small) tree upright with ropes until she was satisfied. I think we were kept inside for safety, but who knows? It was so long ago. I hope that tree is now huge and strong and making shade for everyone who gets to enjoy it. I just had a pang of missing Mama in my life, and she's been gone since 1993.

Easter. I'm resurrecting my mother's memory as I write, thinking about who she was to me. When she was alive, we sometimes had difficulty with each other, but all that is now long gone and all that remains to me is the love I have for her, which lives on long after her departure from the planet. I see her in my sister's face, and in my own now and then, but in my memory she was much younger than we are now and very pretty. When we were little girls, she liked to sew and would make us matching outfits. Norma Jean and I are a little more than two years apart, and my sister PJ was born when I was seven, so the two of us were often dressed alike, with little PJ in a different outfit. Now that I'm thinking back, I wonder if my mother actually enjoyed sewing, or whether it was just what she was expected to do. I never thought to ask.

Yesterday was the first day of the Death Doula class I'm taking. Remember awhile back when I went to the memorial service for my friend Beth who died? I learned about death doulas then, and decided to find out more about them and now find myself halfway through a two-day-long training class. Today, another sunny beautiful day, I'll spend part of it learning how to prepare a body for a three-day-long vigil, and about other duties of a death doula. The word "doula" is Greek for a woman who assists other women and is usually used in the sense of assisting with childbirth. Now the word is also being used for those who assist the dying person through our final transition out of life. 

Who dies? All the little deaths I face every day, all the emerging changes that I remark upon in my body, in the world around me, it makes me wonder about this thing called Death. We all know it, and we all know that it comes to everything that is alive. But my mother is not in those ashes that lie in the ground, and here I am now an old woman who remembers her own mother as a young, vibrant beautiful woman with long flowing hair. Nothing seems to hold still long enough to name it and say that is what she is or what she was. But today, this Easter Sunday, my mother has been resurrected in my memory and is as alive as she ever was. When she visits me in my dreams, she is always beautiful and loving. In my waking thoughts of her, there are plenty of other aspects of her personality that come to mind. But, in a sense, I have resurrected my own ideal mother and who is to say what is real and what is not? I know she is alive to me today. 

It's unfortunate that it isn't until we are ourselves old that we begin to appreciate what it was like for our own parents, our ancestors who traveled this same journey through life that we are on. It's a one-way trip, and now that I am old enough to have gained some knowledge of my life's purpose, I realize that every single day of it is precious and to be savored. I learned yesterday that there are many ways to assist our fellow sojourners through the doorway, and that if done with awareness and heart, it does not need to be a difficult journey. I am reminded of something Cicero said: that when a young person dies, it's like an unripe fruit being pulled from a tree. It takes effort. But when an old person dies, it's like a ripe fruit that falls naturally off the tree with no struggle at all.

I'm glad I will learn these new techniques to help others, so that when it comes my time to fall off the tree, it will be on my own terms, with others who will support me in my final journey. We are beginning to rediscover that which has been lost in the nursing homes and hospitals: that death is a natural part of our living and not something to be feared. This was well known through millennia before modern medicine came to the rescue, taking us from the natural to, for example, the unnatural attempt to resuscitate a 90-year-old.

I've got a full day ahead of me, and it looks like I'll be gazing out the window at the budding trees and flowers while I remain inside. You might think it's not where I would choose to be on a beautiful day like this, but you would be wrong. I'm actually looking forward to spending my day with these other people who are learning along with me.  It looks like spring has finally arrived, and here I am on Easter Sunday, sitting here with my mother enjoying a spot of tea together.

I hope you have a wonderful Easter Sunday, wherever you are, and whatever you choose to do with the day. If you are fortunate enough to have family with you, remember to ask those questions you might have about their lives while you can. I think I'll ask Mama those questions I forgot to ask when I was little.


Linda Reeder said...

By the time I finished reading your post today, I was deeply touched, and now I am trying to examine why.

I admire you for wanting to assist others in their final passage. This is not a calling of mine.

I would resent spending this day inside, in a class.

I guess what has touched me is that I am now the "Mama". I have done those things your mother did - the sewing and the planting and the making of a beautiful home. I don't know if my children will remember me as fondly as you are remembering yours.

I am not there yet with my own mother. We had a very sweet relationship by the time she died at almost 90, but many of those years before I did not feel loved. It was because I misunderstood her ways of showing love, and also because she was overwhelmed with seven children and not much money to provide for them. She had to work too hard. Yet in the end she was unhappy that she couldn't do more, work more, help more.

Easter will always evoke memories of my mother and the huge Easter dinner she cooked for our extended family. She loved doing that for us.

Death is the wrong topic for me for Easter. I no longer celebrate in the Christian way, although my mother would not be happy to know this. For me Easter is the pagan celebration of new life and renewal and the beauty of spring.

I would be happy to be remembered for bringing beauty into the world around me.

Anonymous said...

My mother and I did not always get along. But when I visited her in the nursing home on the last day of her life, I held her hand and spoke gently to her. When we parted, we parted on good terms. I forgave her and she forgave me.

#1Nana said...

As always you gave me food for thought and I found myself resisting remembering my mother. We had a complex relationship and it is only now I am beginning to understand that she struggled with mental illness.

It's an interesting choice to learn about death and I admire you for exploring this. Although, I hope we have many more years of friendship. I look forward to hearing more about your experience when we get together in October.

Happy Easter !

Elephant's Child said...

I am so very grateful to have been given the privilege to sit with you and hear these musings.
I think that death doulas are a wonderful re-invention, and may see whether we also have them.
My relationship with my mother was difficult for a number of years and when she died we were both angry. That anger is still there, but has been overlaid with love and regret.
Thank you dear friend.

Red said...

I like the metaphor you use to compare memories to resurrection. Why is it that we don't ask the important questions when Our parents are still here? Our memories are selective. We remember only part of what was there. You've touched on that in this post. I think we have to keep on working on the memories. I find when I talk to my brothers it brings back many memories.

Gigi said...

Your Sunday posts always leave me with so much to ponder upon. But, as always, I am amazed by your kindness and strength. I don't know that I could be a Death Doula, but you? You I can imagine doing it with grace and dignity.

Happy Easter, DJan. xx

Rian said...

It's true, DJan. All the questions we never thought to ask... come to us too late. I wonder why that is? Guess we got too busy with our own lives that we leave no time for this. But a priest told me once (after my sister died and I couldn't get over the sadness)to talk to her now. It wasn't too late. And I did. And it did help.
I think the Death Doula is a wonderful idea. Is the philosophy different from Hospice Care... maybe more personal?

Sally Wessely said...

There is, as always, so much in this post. Mothers are a difficult subject. We all have one. I think mother and daughter relationships are always fraught with difficulty and with a battle between love and admiration and a desire to be as separate from our mothers as we can be.

Maybe that is why doulas are so important. We need a doula in birth and death because our mothers can not really be there for us in those situations, nor can we be there for them. It is good there is someone else to come along side of us whom is not so emotionally connected.

cile said...

I love this post, DJan! You write as well as you speak. A gift. I so appreciate having you in this Death Doula class. Your stories and and participation were so vital to the integrity of the entire experience. I look forward to reading more of your writing.

Unknown said...

You and I are very similar, both in our seventies and both accepting of the dying process. I also was a hospice volunteer for five years after working as a nurse in the ICU and witnessing, like you described, many 90 year olds being resuscitated. In any event I comment your endeavor to become a death doula and look forward to hearing more about it.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I have been present at births and deaths. For some the death journey is long and drawn out...I can see where a Death Doula would be helpful... here we have Hospice but that is more for pain control although they do have a grief support system. So many people have no one to hold their hand and tell then it is okay to die.

I applaud you for going to the class on Easter Sunday.

It is great to have good memories of our loved ones. They are all softened in time...and I hope that is true someday for those who remember me:)

Rita said...

I've been thinking about the end of life recently because my 94 year old father is in the hospital. One day he will be gone...as well as my mother. We are not very close. I wonder how I will feel.

I admire what you are doing so much. I wish the majority of the medical community would not look at death as an enemy they have to do battle with no matter the cost (on many levels), the age, or the desire of the dying. We are all going to die, be it fast or slow. It is a natural fact. But some people are really scared of it and having someone around who can make them feel safe...nothing better than that. :)

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, When I first started blogging I never expected to find a blog to follow where I would read Cicero’s thoughts about life and how we can apply those thoughts to our own. It’s quite interesting and amazing to me. For over 15 years I lived in a place which was home for a few hundred souls, many of them older than me, and over the years, several of them passed away. It was a learning experience for me and important, I think, because living in a single-family dwelling, mostly likely one would not experience the impact of community like I did. It was certainly nothing to compare with the class you are taking, but still, it taught me how difficult it can be to go through this last part of life. I really admire you for taking on the Death Doula project and thank you for sharing your experience here on Eye on the Edge. John

Linda Myers said...

I was with my mother when she took her last breath and it was one of the highest honors of my life. I commend you for your Death Doula training. I'll look forward to hearing more about it.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

You are, DJan, an astounding writer. This piece is utterly beautiful and poignant.

troutbirder said...

What a wonderful post DJan. It got me thinking about lots of things including my emerging role as caretaker and much more...

Unknown said...

Most interesting post and the pictures are amazing to me. Our spring weather has had difficulty in getting here but the trees are budding out in spite of chilly mornings. The frost finally gave up on coating the roofs white and a bit of hail reminds us that it sounds different when it hits the glass skylights.

Glenda Beall said...

Your thoughts turned to your mother and mine to my father this Easter, but I think about my mother almost every day. Unlike many of your readers,I had a great relationship with my mother even after I became her caregiver. Your post covers so many things I also think about at Easter - lost loved ones and my own mortality. Easter and spring are synonymous - a renewal of spirit and life. You wrote about it in a compelling way, DJan, that certainly provoked deep thoughts in all of us.

amanda said...

Your memories of your Mama are beautiful, DJan. Your thoughtfulness inspires me and I
deeply appreciate and admire your thoughts on Easter, on dying, and living.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Interesting that you chose this day to be with your mother in a spiritual way. My mother believed she would find my Dad after death and spent years hoping for that. I was at her side when she passed after a short but painful struggle with cance. I was also with my Dad the night he left us vey fast when I was only 16. Oddly though this Easter my brother who left by way of an accident appeared this Easter. Since I rarely dream of my lost loved ones this was estonishing to me but in a pleasing way.
Fear of death is constantly being pushed at us via the media and in recent years more than ever. Death is natural. We ought to be better informed and you are doing just that. You are wise. I love how you think and act accordingly.