Reading My Catastrophe
The mind ends in a sort of swamp. We are swamp creatures, paddling around in the mud and mangroves of our neural landscape. I also imagine there is a horizon with a fringe of reeds and little lights, maybe fireflies. That is the boundary, where mind turns into nature. You can wait there for a gust of spirit. That is where I dream, the cat curled next to me, the one who used to curl next to you.
I knew you would come with a word for me. A tender flutter, a wing, syllables. The medium opened her palm and there I saw it.
“When things feel unbearable…”
That’s not it exactly. It’s was the sudden rise up of incomprehension. Have you ever had those moments where you know you don’t have the resources or capacity to deal with what is coming next, or even understand it? I don’t know about you, and that is partly because my state of unknowing has become so large. I know this about myself: I’m not porous enough, big enough, small enough, to fit through the hole of the next hour. It’s the rollercrasher.
The weird thing about the steep decline and death is that it doesn’t feel real. It feels like a life blasted open until it reaches the nooks and crannies of superstition, coincidence, pitiful moments, sorrows, vast stores of tenderness.
July 1, 2017
She is in a hospital bed in the dining room. I am in the next room, looking at her in a baby monitor… The light reflects in her slit of an eye, it gleams. She nods an answer to one question and then no response.
It’s a ghostly little image. Grainy, black and white. Shot in the dark. My companion, my dying lover.
The future is a mental cramp. Tonight, I had the intense frustration of yearning for her companionship, her thoughts, her humor, her taste. I thought, it is stopping now, our lived relationship. She is still here but she is slipping away.
When will the future stop being a hostile force?
Her sister Candy told me this story, about Angie’s last text. It was garbled and misspelled but it was something about “it would happen tomorrow.” Candy called her and they talked on the phone. Angie explained that she was dead. She was already dead. This was soon after her mother Peggy died. Candy just asked questions. How were Megan and Reese dealing with this? Oh, I’m helping them, she said. You know I was a counselor. Have you seen mom, Candy asked. No but I’m working on it, she replied.
We have these bodies. We drag them around, they exist beside and through us. But what do they mean, really? When Angie told me that she thought she was dead, she said that there, in that afterlife place, there was no gender. What was that like, I asked. It was a relief, she said.
July 2, 2017
Today Angie was very quiet and not eating. I went on a walk in the evening and brought back a blackberry (juicy and sweet) and a rose I picked from hedge in front of the house with the French garden and fountain, across from McKinley Park. When I came home I rubbed the blackberry across Angie’s teeth and that seemed to wake her. Then she ate half a banana and drank milk. I put the rose on her pillow.
Reese fell asleep next to her. He said, I love you mom. I was on the other side, cuddled up. She ran her hand up and down my arm.
She murmured something about animal spirits and I said, Yes, I have always have loved your animal spirits. You have such animal spirits. She said, She is roused by her animal spirits. She has strong animal spirits. She talked about herself as “she,” as if she is beginning to separate from herself.
July 6, 2017
Night one, without my love in the world.
First, she was warm, then as the hours passed she became cool. I was frightened when I kissed her cheek. It looked so familiar but felt, and was, other. Her deep chill, the blood pooling in her back, her stiffening fingers: She had gone! Flown! Where???
Just now I woke up with anguish and walked around the house, dazed with sleep. I looked in on the dining room with the empty hospital bed. I felt her absence keenly and mysteriously. I went to the window because I thought I heard birds and there was glimmer of light on the horizon. I realized it was dawn. And there were birds. Their songs floated in a lovely mass, cool cooing and burbles and sharp calls. A soft breeze seemed to lean against me. I recognized all this as the place where Angie had gone; that thought flowed over me like a gentle wind.
Charlotte Joko Beck says, Joy is exactly what is happening, minus our opinion of it.
Tonight I remembered with something like pleasure, the final bathing of her. Her beautiful white-haired pussy, the lips, which hang down, which she wondered at. She thought that they either hung down or… what? I don’t remember. She thought there were two types. I bathed her, perhaps with Reese, or Pince, and it felt fine somehow. I felt a joy in her body, now relaxed in death, but it was still warm, and so it felt like my lover. I dressed her in a dark cobalt blue shirt I had just bought her and some dark gray-black pants. I put her beret on and the witches’ cord decorating her neck. The bones in her face seemed more prominent and her bones were lovely.
July 10, 2017
People say a relationship is work. Ours was like a thrown pot that had been smoothed by both our hands. It was a pleasure to continually open to her, to turn to each other, to untie the knots, to return with confidence to the peace and comfort of our connection.
I have a t-shirt hanging in my closet, I snatched it away from the washing, I wanted to keep it with her smell. Yes, her smell. She always loved my smell and I didn’t know what she was talking about. I didn’t think I loved her smell. But I course I did, I do. I would put my head on her shoulder by her neck and smell her. A dusty sweetish smell, very mild, delicate in that it could be distant and yet it was not, it was intimate. It was the closest thing to me in the world.
Angie declined for months. She couldn’t see, lost her balance, lost her muscles (wasted), then she lost memories, short- and long-term, skills (tooth brushing, using the fork), then the ability to think and speak, then to swallow… God, endless. So of course, she had to die.
I kept arguing with death. I kept saying, this far and no farther. But it kept coming, relentless. I felt her love as this great massive thing, no matter what else faded away, it seemed even stronger and more beautiful. It was only at the very end that I didn’t see those love lights in her eyes. And I think there were still there, submerged. In the final moments she kept gasping for breath until I was there, until Reese entered the room.
July 11, 2017
Today, a witnessed cremation at Pacific Interment in Emeryville. At 11 a.m. we went into the chapel and there she was. Does a person own their corpse? “Angie’s corpse.” She looked peaceful but unlike herself. Her once plump face looked drained. It appeared narrower and more sculpted. Her body wasn’t personal. It seemed much like a casing, or a shed skin. We stayed there fifteen minutes and then moved into the crematorium room.
The man pointed to the button on the oven and I pushed it. A grinding sound of wheels as the box moved towards the opening, a source of heat and noise.
Dawa chanted her prayers with her friend. She held a book with Sanskrit and translation, syllabic sounds and English. I stood behind her and Reese and I held hands. I felt very stable. The ceremony was to support the spirit in travelling through bardo to their next destination. During the whole thing I felt her near me, a spirit coiling in my lap, around my torso. Affectionate and playful. Dawa also felt she didn’t want to leave.
Afterwards I commented to Larry that there was a conflict between wanting to stay and a soul that travels to rebirth. And he said something surprising and interesting. He said that if there are spirits and souls, that we can’t know what they are like, they won’t be modeled on us. So Angela’s spirits may be multiple, and may follow different paths.
Bob told Reese, “That was a take-no-prisoners funeral.”
July 13, 2017
I have developed a skill through all this, an ability to go into a trance with a question and come back with some sort of answer. The answers often have a satisfying if mysterious quality.
This one came to me in the throes of Angie’s decline. I can’t remember exactly which awful thing had me terrified. But I did one of these trances because of my fear and the message I got was bracing: Angie is okay, you are okay, and this is normal. This helped me relax, for some reason.
Today I did another trance, because I felt stricken with the prospect of the loss of Angie’s love. It hurt like hell and it seemed it would hurt like that for my whole life. The trance wisdom was simply that her love is still here. It hasn’t disappeared. That shook me out of my mood and also made me look at this situation a little differently. I have been with her so long, and so deeply, that her love has entered the structure of my being. I am a host! Reese also, I think. We are her material expression.
My mind is prone to mistakes. I believe in the forms I experience (see). But they are misleading. The Buddhists believe nothing disappears, and if you look deeply, you see its transformation.
August 2, 2017
Today, Reese’s twenty-fourth birthday. I gave him a Viking amulet from 900 AD, a duck’s foot. It’s strange but perfect. He picked it out. Now he is out doing karaoke.
But I woke up feeling twisted and this morning I had a meltdown. Some disappointment related to this birthday. Reese had to tell me to stop.
He called Bob and fixed it and we had our nice party. All through it I felt the raw sewage of grief, under my surface.
August 3, 2017
I have been thinking about what I wrote yesterday…
He called Bob and fixed it and we had our nice party. All through it I felt the raw sewage of grief, under my surface.
Grief as sewage. Why did that feel so right. As in, accurate. Today, when the grief stirred, it felt like a sickness, even a sickness of the bowels. Tightness across the face, unrest in the gut, breathlessness. Today, before I left work, I had to shit. And it made me feel sick, repulsed, like something out of control and wrong was about to happen, I was about to throw something out of me. I had a moment of worry as if I was about to shit my pants. At the moment of worry, I realized this worry is not uncommon for me. It’s a reason I prefer to shit before I go to work. Defecation has an edge of nausea, desperation, and violence.
I thought about that in relation to my grief. It’s shocking to think that the purpose of grief is to turn our love to shit. And that’s not it, but it’s a part of it. Eating and shitting turns food into muscle, bone, blood, heart, love, sleep, life. Shitting is the excrement. It’s not the point of eating, just the consequence. Grief, this deep grief, the sickness that comes over me, it makes me cry and cry. And after a bout of tears, I feel clear and not happy, but calm. I wonder if this shitty grief will turn our great love and our decades together into a kind of nourishment. It will be transformed into memory. It will be entering my life forever, but through memory.
One thing this does is persuade me that I should try to allow the grief to roll through me, roll with its thunder and cramping, its slippery dive into helplessness and agony, just to let that happen, let it take me. I am shitting something, I am not losing anything I need.
My Father in Dementia
(My father was hard of hearing so that I wrote what I wanted to communicate in large letters on white paper menus from the cafeteria. When he responded I wrote that down also. These are (mostly) his words from one of our conversations, as noted on a pile of menus I brought back from a visit after he had been moved to a memory care unit.)
I’m afraid I live in a world of spectacle.
I can’t escape the conclusion that the world is not on our side.
I can’t escape the conclusion that skepticism is the prudent position, though I’d like to think otherwise.
It’s so thrilling to have something that breaks through fear and leaves room for hope and something more than hope.
I don’t know what to say.
What is it that we feed upon that creates hope? I don’t know.
Hope is always there… but how much is it beyond justice, the sense of hope. I don’t know. At a moment like this I don’t see anything beyond hope.
“At a moment like this hope is all we have,” (say I).
At a fleeting moment like this you just don’t know how to find grounds for hope. It is not visible on the horizon.
Listen sweetheart this was just a wonderful surprise. Wonderful. To have your voice appearing out of the ether.
I’d like to pick up the phone sometime and just find that you are there. But the truth is that is not something I can detect.
The truth is sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and find myself feeling that there are grounds for hope I can’t even articulate.
Maybe that is the least we can do: hope that we are right. The fact that you made this call says to me that I can call and surprise you sometime.
I love you sweetheart, just as much as ever.