Tuesday, March 24, 2009
I want to thank all of you for being here today to honor Ruth. I’m going to start by reading the last lines of Mary Oliver’s poem When Death Comes. My friend Ruthann sent me this poem at the time of my Mom’s death, and I had not read it before. The poem ends:
When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
I particularly like the final line: I don't want to end up simply having visited this world. I think that Ruth did not just visit this world. She loved striding into this world: meeting people and exploring cities. I remember being with Mom one day at the Frick Museum in NY. We were in the long picture gallery standing between the two huge Turners and she said, “Isn’t this great!” It was not a question. She meant appreciating the museum, being in NY, knowing each other, traveling together, being alive. She loved having lunch on Madison Avenue and going to the opera in Paris. Travel and people invigorated her.
She lived here with a fullness that I’d like to talk about now. Two basic gifts that Ruth gave to all of us were her love and her attention. The combination felt great. I can remember talking with her dozens of times, and while I was paying attention to our conversation, I was also observing, “Wow, she really knows how to listen.” Or, “She is sending me so much love as we’re talking.” From another perspective, I received a letter of condolence and appreciation from my friend since college, Ellen, who enjoyed a decades-long friendship with my Mom.
“I am so saddened to hear of your mother's passing. To experience the loss of one's mother, especially when she has been so loving and supportive, is difficult. Such a deep, deep loss--only our mother is interested in every single detail about us and our lives--what a great gift it was to you to be able to assume her unconditional love. Your mom was so kind, so bright, cultured, and interested in so many things. Her aura was so clear, allowing, and receptive. She enjoyed other people and accepted them in a gentle non-judgmental way. When I met her at age 19, I knew immediately she was not like any other adult woman I had known. I felt instantly comfortable with her--she was so receiving in a relaxed, un-pressured way. The home she created emanated calm and beauty to me, untutored as I was to things like red Persian rugs, Mozart on the stereo, Chinese furniture, large sunny windows looking out onto a garden. She created in that house an interior of great soul and that environment felt so nourishing and lovely.”
She goes on to say, “Your mother was a true Hestia woman, and the first I had ever met. Hestia women are shaped by the archetype of the goddess of the hearth. They are the heart of the home, creating a safe and warm refuge from the vicissitudes of the outer world. They are the ones who put flowers on the table and around the house, light a fire on a winter's evening, put on just the right music at the right moment, cook wonderful and interesting food, and love attending to their homes, not for status or to impress anyone, but to create beauty and a harmonious background for the comfort of the ones they love.”
“Your mom was the first adult woman of my mother's generation to invite me to do something with her when she took me to hear the Portland Symphony conducted by Stravinsky. She thought it the most natural thing in the world to invite a young woman up as a house guest and attend the symphony together, but to me it was extraordinary that she would choose me over someone her own age. In doing this, she seemed to be saying: ‘You are an interesting person to me, and I enjoy your company.’"
Thank you Ellen, for those well-remembered thoughts. I hope that everyone here today felt that from Ruth, “You are an interesting person to me, and I enjoy your company.”
Like all of us on planet earth, Ruth had work to do in her life. Having known her for over 60 years, I want to talk about three of the tasks that she took on to further her growth as an individual.
First, she learned to stand up for herself. I will always cherish a big step she took back in the early 1970’s. I was visiting at the house and asked her what was new. “Well,” she answered, “I did something last weekend that I’ve never done before.” When I asked what that was, she said, “I had friends over for dinner and we started talking about the war in Vietnam. One of the people at the table insisted that we had to stay there and win. And finally, he became so obnoxious that I asked him to leave. I mean leave the table and leave dinner and leave this house. I’ve never done that before.” When I praised her for standing up for what she believed, she replied, “It wasn’t that I disagreed with him. I could put up with that. It was that he wouldn’t tolerate any other point of view. It was his intolerance that I couldn’t stand. I didn’t want that in my home.” For a woman as gracious and kind as Ruth, it was a big stretch to also be able to stand up for her deepest values. She had to step through a lot of fear. Fear of not being nice. Fear of being punished for her beliefs. She learned to do this, and it was a big piece of work for her.
Also, Ruth’s life included some serious meditation on the meaning of her name. As a little girl she took to heart the story of Ruth traveling with Naomi to find food and a home. “Whither thou goest, I will go.” This promise to follow was acted out in Ruth’s life not with her mother-in-law, but with her husband George. The biggest test came after the end of WW II when George decided to move from California to Oregon. Ruth was initially appalled. She didn’t know anyone in Portland. All of her friends and her support system for raising a child were in the Bay Area where she’d grown up. Nevertheless, she moved with her husband. “Whither thou goest, I will go.” It was not easy. Her first house in Portland was cold, damp and home to an uncommon number of spiders. I can only imagine that she had moments when she wondered if her loyalty had betrayed her. However, she stayed and started to make friends. She traveled to the coast and discovered the beauty of the rocks and water. She explored the Columbia River Gorge and found Multnomah Falls. Along with friends, she learned to enjoy her new home by gardening. As she cultivated plants, she became more grounded, more attached. What she learned from this was that she could have a fine and rewarding life in more than one place. As years passed, she became more admiring of Oregon, and especially Portland. She flourished with each visit to the Art Museum, each play and symphony and opera.
Finally, I want to honor the defining grief of Ruth’s life, the death of her first born daughter, Patricia Ann. A few weeks after my birth Patty was diagnosed with childhood leukemia and she died shortly after that. It was a painful and miserable experience to watch her three year old daughter die. The doctor’s visits were grueling and disappointing and they resulted in a young life ended. Ruth grieved for a long time. She learned to accept the loss, but the mystery remained with her. She always felt the concurrence of Patty’s existence in another dimension. Occasionally, she spoke about it. One October 15th at dinner Mom announced, “Patty would have been 47 today. I wonder what she’d be like at 47?” Or another time, “I had a dream about Patty last night. She was just fine. She was older, but it was her.” On the occasion of this memorial service, I want to thank Patty for compelling my mother to face death and to learn to peer through death into life after. Patty was the guide who led my mother into her spiritual growth. My own sense is that Patty was right there during Ruth’s final hours and helped reassure her during the time when she left her body. After some initial re-orientation, my Mother got to ask the question that she’d been wondering for over sixty years, “Why did you leave so early?” And she was able to do this with the person most able to answer. Then, a missing piece of Ruth’s life was resolved and completed. And she understood even more.
Thank you, all of you, for being here today. Thank you for being part of Ruth’s life and for being open to receive the love that she so generously gave.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
The hardest part of not knowing for me happens when I go into fear. I fear that the tumor is growing and that I’ll have to resume chemo which has been so hard on my body. Ouch, I don’t want to do that again. But I’m also committed to taking care of myself and don’t want to rule out chemo as possible ally. Back and forth until my thinking process is the most immediate problem. That became the turning point this week for me. I finally stopped and re-centered myself. I did this by meditating and getting grounded. Once that happened, I was better. I remembered that I have options. I remembered that there are many types of chemo. I remembered that I make choices one at a time. I remembered that I can ask friends for advice and council.
The other big event this week involved drafting the speech that I’ll give at my Mom’s memorial service next weekend in Portland. I used part of a poem that my friend Ruthann sent to me and text that my friend Ellen had written recalling her memories of my Mom. The sentiments were so clear and lovely, that I thought, “Why try to improve on this?” Also, I talked about ways that my Mom had grown in her life and how much I admired that growth. Although she was a warm, loving woman who made friends easily, my Mom also had hurdles to overcome and fears to navigate over the years. I wanted to honor the work she did that caused her to grow as an individual. Turned out that this was a deeply rewarding exercise, and I’ll post the text on the blog in the next few days, since many of you will not be at the service.
This has not been an easy time, but out of it came the simple reminder of how to stay centered.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
March 17, 2009: Although I had a lot to do every day at OHI, I also had time to rest and reflect on my health. Twice a day, I spent time in my room with a poultice of wheat grass pulp placed over the tumor. During this time, I would go to my healing center where I had previously received many helpers—animal, vegetable and immaterial—to aid my healing. In Southern California, I used my healing center in a different manner. During a guided meditation shortly after I arrived at OHI, I connected with a Chinese healer named Wing Lee. Wing’s specialty was doing hands on work with the tumor. Every morning before exercise and in the afternoon before yoga, I would take a handful of wheatgrass pulp and place it over my tumor. Then, I would go into a trance and invoke Wing Lee. Together we would talking with the tumor or imagining it shrinking. After about a week, I noticed that the tumor could no longer be felt on top of my pubic bone. Clearly, there was movement and change happening.
Two weeks into this process, I altered the work with Wing Lee to include actually going inside my tumor and sitting there. What did the tumor feel like from the inside? Did it have anything to say to me? What did I want to say to the tumor? Initially, sitting inside the tumor felt like being in a small room with dark purplish red walls. It was very quiet. There was a small amount of light, just enough to see my hands in front of my face. It felt like the tumor was resting after the assaults from three rounds of chemo. Finally, I spoke to it, saying, “We’re not going to be together for too much longer, so I’d like to summarize what I’ve learned from you.” No response from the tumor although I could tell that it had heard me.
What happened next and continued over the following few days was that I started to review the lessons I’d learned from the tumor. There have been many, and they include:
1) Learning to stay in my body. An aftermath of being molested was that I felt unsafe in my body. Scary things had happened that I couldn’t control, and I became dissociated from myself. I lived this way most of my life. After decades of not having me present, this tumor is a way that my body protests my absence. So, how do I stay in my body? First, I have had to learn how to recognize when I am dissociating. Then, I can start to bring myself back. Here's what I've developed in the past weeks: I imagine that my attention and my presence are attached to the bottom of my torso with a large button. When this attachment happens, I am located in my physical self. There’s a sensation throughout my head, neck, chest, abdomen and pelvis that I am present. Present means that I am more aware of my feelings and my immediate sensations. Sounds simple, but it has taken me a lot of work to achieve this, and I have the rest of my lifetime to stay in practice.
2) Accepting that I have harbored a lot of anger for a long time. Again, being molested enraged me. I didn’t like it. I didn’t want it to be happening. I didn’t know how to make it stop. Since I lived as a child with the person who molested me and the issue was never discussed, healed or resolved, I sat with my initial feelings for literally decades. The tumor helps me to focus on what happened and that I need to continue to take care of myself and my feelings.
I’m sure there are other reasons and lessons that will continue to reveal themselves as I do more work to get rid of the cancer.
To catch you up on what’s happening medically, my friend Eileen and I met with my primary caregiver, Dr. Capaldini last Thursday and we discussed my current state of health and my upcoming visit with Dr. Jahan. Basically, I feel a lot better after returning from Optimum Health. My fatigue is less, although I still have to deal with it on a daily basis. Next Monday, March 23rd, I go to UCSF for another round of PT and MRI scans. Then, on April 1st, Eileen Lemus and I will meet with Dr. Jahan to review the results of the scans. From everything I can tell, there has been tumor shrinkage over the pubic bone. Also, the tumor has definitely changed shape in the middle of my pelvis. I hope that the rest and relaxation has given my body the boost it needs to heal itself. Typically, I don’t hear about the results of the scans until I’m in the doctor’s office, so I won’t know anything until April 1st.
Prior to that, I plan to be in Portland, Oregon on the last weekend in March for my Mom’s memorial service. We are planning to celebrate her life at St. Barnabas Church, where she was a member of the congregation for over fifty years. There will be an Episcopal service and my sister, and I will both speak about knowing Mom through the course of our lives. I have to say, I am looking forward to speaking and honoring my Mom. She was a really fine, loving woman and there will be a lot that I want to say to thank her.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Other basic routines were meals—three them, all vegan and all raw food—and classes. Meals were communal and could be eaten outdoors on most days since the weather in San Diego in late February was usually warm and balmy. Meals were a chance to visit with other people at the Institute, to get to know who they were and why they had come to OHI. The socializing aspect of the place really worked for me. I met people that I liked very much and plan to stay in touch with. The classes delivered well-organized information about nutrition, diet and digestion as well as breathing techniques and helpful guidelines to bring all of this new material home for regular consumption. The teaching staff at OHI are gifted at presenting their materials, and clearly, they believe in the virtues of wheatgrass juice and a green diet.
Also, there were programs for massage, colonics and chiropractic healing. I didn’t use the chiropractic services but I did have my first colonic treatments and found them effective for getting rid of toxins. The massage program was run by a woman named Evangeline, and I really connected with her. If I were to give her a title, it would be: Touch Intuitive. After a half hour of invigorating massage, Evangeline would then move into an hour of highly perceptive questioning about life issues. In my case, we started talking about my cancer then moved into my early childhood molestation and how the two issues were related. It was very helpful to have Evangeline’s insights during the last two weeks of my stay which covered the time of my Mom’s stroke through the time of her death. Her advice was consistently supportive and pertinent.
On weekends, I enjoyed leaving the compound and exploring around San Diego. The first weekend, I went to the Del Coronado and spent a couple of hours walking along the spectacular beach in front of the old hotel. The next two weekends, I spent at the San Diego Zoo. Normally, I avoid zoos. The confinement and captivity depresses and annoys me, so I just stay away. But in San Diego, the zoo has been embedded in a huge botanical park with enormous, healthy plants. It was like being in an arboretum with exotic animals. I had never seen pandas until my visit there a couple of weeks ago. The sheer variety of interesting critters: raptors, tigers, all manner of feral pigs, gazelles, elephants, flamingos and more was startling and invigorating.
Externally, I felt well served by OHI and the general San Diego area. It’s certainly a different eco zone than the Bay Area as witnessed by the lavish number of palm trees and varieties of eucalyptus that I’d never seen before. Internally, the trip was very timely. I needed to lie in the sun and rest and meet new people and have silent time away from home. More than I had realized previously, the chemo really axed me over the past three months. It had been brutal, but with my almost pathological ability to normalize the abnormal, I had simply weathered through the monthly hospital stays and the aftermath of nausea and fatigue. In the sun in Southern California, I had a chance to appreciate how much the chemo took from me and how much I needed to rebalance.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
I did talk to my folks a couple of times from Southern California. The last time was on Sunday night Feb. 22nd and I mostly talked with my Dad. As usual, I told both of them that I loved them as we rang off. Then, later that evening or early the next morning, my Mom had a catastrophic stroke. My sister called and gave me the news. What to do? Fly up to Portland as quickly as possible? My sister explained that the doctors’ assessment was that my Mom had effectively died as we knew her. This was not a stroke that could include recovery or rehabilitation. She would probably live for another week or so at which point her internal organs would have shut down and she would die painlessly without ever regaining consciousness.
I went into serious shock, and wandered out into the garden at the Institute where I could just look at plants in the sunlight. After an hour or so of being numb, I started to look for one of my new friends to tell them the news. That was how I got through the next few hours. I talked to people individually--five or six of them--and related my news as well as whatever feelings happened to be available at the moment. Slowly, the initial thaw started.
On that first day, my sister and Dad and I decided that rather than return home, I should stay put and continue my own healing. After almost thirty years of doing end of life care for others, I had always assumed that I would be there for my Mom and Dad during their final moments. But that did not happen. And it worked out well. My sister took charge and did an outstanding job of setting up the best situation imaginable for my Mom. She arranged for my Mom to be moved back to her apartment where she could spend her final hours at home, where my Dad would be close by at all times and where there would be a hospice nurse taking care of her plus attendants around the clock. And so it was.
A day after she arrived home, I called my Mom on the phone. The attendant held the receiver up to her ear, and we had a talk. I told her how much I had enjoyed having her for a Mom, how much she had supported my interests and my self over the years and how much I appreciated that. I also told her many of the things that I admired about her: her vivaciousness, her generosity, her interest in others and her good heart. I told her that I knew she would be dying soon and that I sensed that family and close friends who pre-deceased her were right there to help. I told her that she would be in my heart forever and said goodbye.
Without ever regaining consciousness, my Mom died at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 1st. My Dad and sister were with her as was an attendant and two of her favorite neighbors. Her passing was easy and simple. She was a wonderful woman to many, many people, and I know that I am going to miss her deeply. I am very grateful that she did not suffer. But I am still incredulous that I won’t see her again in my lifetime. She has always been there—a person of great significance and support. During my adulthood, she was one of my best friends. During my childhood, she was the parent who most understood me and enjoyed me.
Have a safe journey forward, Mom. You were a very fine parent and you taught me how to love others for who they are. I am blessed to have known you.