Not yet an orphan

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What a day I have had. It is too busy at the moment by half. Once again I resist the basics, like hanging out washing that has sat in the washing machine overnight. I rationalise it is because of the rain. I have also failed to ring my mother. Every time I try she does not answer. I worried at first until I spoke to my older sister who tells me that in the evenings my mother takes out her hearing aide and turns up the television. She cannot hear a thing. So I must keep trying and maybe during the daytime. My mother does not watch television in the daytime. She is far too disciplined for that.

And busy she tells me, what with activities in the home, trips to doctors, her bible reading group and reading generally, she has no time for television by day but she likes to read in the evenings, once she turns off her TV.

My mother, I think to myself, is the sort of woman who will die in her sleep. Not yet I imagine, but one day soon enough. She will die in her sleep because it is the least painful way to go.

Imagine it. Imagine that last night alive. You follow your usual routine. For my mother the news on television, a few programs till around ten o’clock when her eyes start to feel heavy and then a visit to the toilet and the long struggle into her nightclothes. Finally she will put her dentures into a glass beside her bed and pull out her favourite book. She has been reading Ann Tyler of late.

My mother has always been a gluttonous reader. She will read for sometime, a fresh burst of energy with all the effort getting into bed has taken and in time her eyelids will droop again and she will make the supreme effort of switching off the light before falling into sleep.

She will mutter a prayer under her breath before she slips into unconsciousness, before her unconsciousness slips into oblivion and sleep becomes death.
Then my mother will have made her exit from this world in the same way she made her entrance, oblivious to the hardship and suffering around her, which is not to say she has not suffered. My mother knows intense pain but her way of dealing with her pain is one of looking on the bright side.

And now it occurs to me. This might account for my resistance to those who seek always to create lovely images in life, my hostility to those who resent my efforts to present different and less attractive facets of life, those who might prefer to die in their sleep oblivious to the pain of moving on, from those who rejoice in the struggle. Those who claw at the last vestiges of their lives, those who insist, I’m not ready to go yet. I want to stay.

My mother imagines these days she will live until she is 96 years old. It used to be that she imagined she would die at 86, the age of her father when he died, but she moved past that age. Now she has a little over five years to go on her reckoning.

What this means for me? For me at the age of 57 I am still not orphaned. None of us, my siblings are orphaned. My oldest brother in his mid sixties still has an intact mother. It drags back development. We must wait until we are next in line and by the time we get there assuming my mother’s death precedes that of her children, we will be so close to the possibility of our own deaths age wise, we already are that way, that we will have little time to ponder on the subtleties.

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72 Comments on Not yet an orphan

  1. Nancy Devine
    June 5, 2010 at 12:15 am (7 years ago)

    as always, your posts get me thinking, wondering, asking myself questions…

    Reply
  2. Kittie Howard
    June 5, 2010 at 12:54 am (7 years ago)

    You've got great genes!! And it's fabulous your mother can do so much at her age. But, when it comes to mortality, I hear ya. I didn't think about it too much as long as my parents were alived. After they passed (two years apart), they passing and my creeping years brought mortality closer to home. Not that I think about it much. But one has to face reality. All circles close. And thank you for a really great post about a very real topic.

    Reply
  3. ScoMan
    June 5, 2010 at 12:57 am (7 years ago)

    It's frightening how much I have in common with a woman in her 80's.

    I never answer my phone at night either, because I'm watching TV.

    Not so much with the TV during the day though, too many other things to be done.

    Reply
  4. LimesNow
    June 5, 2010 at 1:14 am (7 years ago)

    You know that I am like-minded about examining, exposing and talking about the dark things. Some things in our tapestry don't have a bright side or a silver lining. They're just bad or painful or whatever negative thing they are. A lovely image cannot be created out of some things. But I wouldn't want to stuff these things or not look at them or talk about them. I don't want to view the world with only one eye open as my defense against it. I will not be a hider or a secret-keeper.

    My parents were little more than children when I was born. I am now 57 and they're in their very active, healthy 70s. We have become more like peers than people of different generations. This has cemented my lifelong feeling that I've never really been parented.

    Reply
  5. Ocean Girl
    June 5, 2010 at 1:55 am (7 years ago)

    I am constantly aware. I am not sure if it is healthy or not.

    Reply
  6. Elizabeth
    June 5, 2010 at 6:03 am (7 years ago)

    Wow. This is very, very intense. I love your clarity and lack of sentimentalism — it's fitting prose for the subject matter and I wonder how much of that is crafted and how much is just sub-conscious.

    Reply
  7. Alberto Oliver
    June 5, 2010 at 6:31 am (7 years ago)

    Elisabeth,,i think i have (and live) with an even most terrible fear than that of the death itself,a fear that most of the living creatures share, and that is the fear to be the first immortal.
    Sometimes i think if it is not that surviving instinct, like a sort of chain, the door that keep the prison closed, and the end,, yes, like the song says,, the best friend, the only friend, the one that will never dash us….
    A little depressed i am tonight.

    Reply
  8. Frances
    June 5, 2010 at 8:17 am (7 years ago)

    I'm not sure what you mean when you say: "It drags back development."
    Do you mean that you can only fully develop after your mother dies? Why do you think that?

    Obviously, your mother may live for 5 years. Or more. Or less.
    In either case, Elisabeth, it leaves you with more or less one third of your whole life in front of you to make the most of.
    Thirty years ago you were 27. You may well have thought then that being 57 you would be over the hill, with everything sorted: past learning.

    In 30 years time you will be 87, and perhaps still far from death.
    I'm confident that you will still have time to ponder the subtleties. You will still be the person that you are now.
    The next 30 years should be the richest. Act3, which pulls all the strands together.

    Reply
  9. Ann
    June 5, 2010 at 8:29 am (7 years ago)

    Congrats for inheriting long life genes. If it was natural, both my parents would have lived to their 80s. But my poor mum, and her poor kids, mum's was cut short somewhere in Ipwich.

    Enjoy your mum, and enjoy your non orphan status.

    Hope you get plenty of rain.

    Reply
  10. Marja
    June 5, 2010 at 9:31 am (7 years ago)

    lol your mum sounds like mine A bit deaf and also far to disciplined to watch tv at daytime
    She must be strong mine is only 77
    We never had such a great relationship as the last years but now I live at the other side of the world. It will miss her when she is gone but I believe that we have a soul bond with people we love and we'll see them again somehow

    Reply
  11. Kathryn Magendie
    June 5, 2010 at 10:04 am (7 years ago)

    THis is breathtakingly beautiful, Elisabeth . . .

    Reply
  12. newjenny
    June 5, 2010 at 11:16 am (7 years ago)

    I appreciate your thoughtfulness and sensitivity.

    I also wonder how to respond to what is perhaps a kind of stoicism that doesn't articulate itself as such. Personally I am very keen to contemplate the enormity of life (and death). For me this isn't the same as 'rejoicing in the struggle'.

    Reply
  13. Gabriela Abalo
    June 5, 2010 at 12:59 pm (7 years ago)

    Beautiful, very honest and thoughtful.

    loveNlight
    Gabi

    Reply
  14. jabblog
    June 5, 2010 at 1:13 pm (7 years ago)

    When my mother died, aged 97, someone said to me, 'You don't really feel grown-up until your parents have died.' In a strange way, that is true and yet it is only now, when my mother-in-law is gradually disappearing – she has Alzheimer's disease, doctors believe – that I am truly aware of my mortality. To die peacefully at home in one's sleep is not given to many – the fear is not so much of death but of the manner of one's passing. Sombre thoughts, indeed, but for me, at any rate, they have to be brought into the light and studied in order to be put into their correct perspective.

    Reply
  15. PurestGreen
    June 5, 2010 at 1:40 pm (7 years ago)

    An insightful post, which does not look away from something difficult. My parents have now hit 60, and both sets of my grandparents are also still living. I sometimes wonder what kind of child/grandchild I am being by choosing to live so far away. But since my first love died so many years ago, I don't feel the same way about death, or life. Clinging on to a routine or staying withing certain safe boundaries, is not the same as love.

    Lots of thoughts going around my mind now. Thank you for this.

    Reply
  16. Kirk Jusko
    June 5, 2010 at 8:01 pm (7 years ago)

    My father died at 45, three years younger than I am now. My mother died at 73. Obviously, I prefer my mother's genes. I really prefer the genes of my great-uncle on my mother's side. He was in his 90s when he finally went. But he had Alzheimers in his final decade. Toward the end, I don't think he even realized he had lived a long life. I also have a great-aunt on my father's side who's about to turn 90. Though I haven't talked to her in a long time, I'm told she's not senile, so maybe I should just shoot for her genes. But how exactly do you jump over your father's or mother's genes to get to those great-relatives?

    As both my parents are now gone, I'd like to say I'm finally grown up, but the same old insecurities, some all-too-grounded in reality, others imprinted on my psyche during childhood, keep getting in the way of that maturation. I try to use my intellect to jump-start my growth, but I fear I'm going to have the same old unresolved issues until the day I die. I'll feel grown-up when, with my final glimpse, I catch the line on the monitor by the hospital bed suddenly go flat.

    Well, that was a cheerful comment, wasn't it?

    Reply
  17. Claire Beynon
    June 5, 2010 at 8:22 pm (7 years ago)

    In keeping with your brave, fine way, you have raised many thought-provoking ideas here, Elisabeth. (And more come, the longer one ponders…)

    I agree with you… Full engagement in life behoves us to spend time burrowing around in the black soil and shadowlands, the gritty, bloody, messy substance of it all. We are similarly called to turn mystery and beauty around in our hands, to shine light on the parallel (sometimes no less discomforting?) substance that makes the terrible bearable, the impossible possible, the cruel forgive-able?

    I wonder whether we serve our lives (and all those in it) best when we do what we can to inhabit all these territories with curiosity, compassion and passion (to name a few!)… Rather like standing 'in the circle' of it all, rather than on some or other point along a linear continuum? I like to think of every moment in our lives as being made up of all the 'other stuff', since it's the 'stuff' that enables us to distinguish light from dark, as well as to wrestle and delight in the subtleties that are the texture of it all.

    Warm greetings to you from NZ
    Claire

    wv.blestr

    Reply
  18. Vatche
    June 5, 2010 at 9:32 pm (7 years ago)

    Your family is blessed with long life, don't let it slip from your hands like sand.

    Live life to the fullest, do the things you enjoy, and write only the most important things that happen…that is my opinion, at least.

    This was a beautiful post that created thoughts and ideas about my own life; I'm still very young but death knocks on my door in subtle ways every day.

    Cool post, write on!

    Reply
  19. Enchanted Oak
    June 5, 2010 at 11:50 pm (7 years ago)

    I'm on the brink of being orphaned, and actually, because I lost my mother's mind to Alzheimer's about four years ago, I've been pretty much an orphan now. It's not great, having no parent left who has loved me all my life and to whom my life is endlessly fascinating.
    There must be as many kinds of relationships between aging mothers and their daughters as there people in that position.

    Reply
  20. Kath Lockett
    June 6, 2010 at 1:27 am (7 years ago)

    I must be one of the few people who rarely thinks about such things, but you've got me started now. I'm sure it's because I had such a happy childhood that the thought of seeing myself as an orphan one day hurts; literally hurts.

    So to reveal my immaturity and lack of depth even further, I'll add this saying I read years ago:
    'When I die, I want to go like my grandfather did; sleeping peacefully, and not like the four screaming passengers in his car.'

    Reply
  21. Elisabeth
    June 6, 2010 at 1:33 am (7 years ago)

    Thank you all for such generous and responsive comments.

    Thanks, Nancy. I'm glad my writing leaves you thinking. I'm sure you start with thinking and then new ideas might emerge. You are a thoughtful person.

    Thanks, Kittie. My mother has terrific genes, my father's genes maybe not so good.

    He died at 65. as did his father, his father's father and his father's father before him.

    You can imagine how worried my oldest brother was when he hit 65, but he's managed to get past that age and so a tradition has been broken.

    I'm glad our genes are not set in stone. I'm glad that genetic inputs are only half of the story.

    Our genes often need to be triggered in some way to come into play. Other factors as environment and learned experience come into play.

    So there's hope for us all. We need not be clones of our parents. Our children need not be clones of us. We can all be ourselves. But, you're right. We can't avoid our mortality.

    Thanks Kittie

    Reply
  22. Elisabeth
    June 6, 2010 at 1:42 am (7 years ago)

    Well Scoman, so you have much in common with my mother vis a vis your nightly activity. But I'll bet your daily pursuits are very different.

    Thanks for enlightening us. Perhaps reading about my mother here, might inspire you to prepare for your life to come.

    Thanks, Les, your peripheral vision, your open mind are all clearly at work in your bog. Anyone who reads it will know that you travel through all spheres – the good, the bad and the ugly.

    The best writing includes all three as far as I'm concerned and is communicated with an eye to the aesthetic.

    How lovely to have parental peers, though it's sad too when you consider your lack of early parenting.

    No wonder you're so hard on yourself. Non-parented folk often are. They have to make up for their absent parents from earliest times and they become even more strict and limit setting than ordinary real parents would ever be. They can be very hard on themselves.

    That said, parentlessness can also give rise to extraordinary resourcefulness and creativity.

    Thanks, Les. I love your visits. I love to visit you.

    Reply
  23. Elisabeth
    June 6, 2010 at 1:49 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Ocean Girl. I have told myself I must limit my responses to comments because they tend to run on too long, but I enjoy chatting. I can tell that you are an aware soul.

    And don't worry, it doesn't matter, whether it's healthy or not. Self awareness opens new worlds.

    Or did you mean that you are constantly preoccupied with death? That could be something else again. No matter as long as it doesn't intrude too much on the quality of your life.

    Thanks, Elizabeth. I think the same of your writing, non sentimental and seemingly so well crafted and yet also with a sense that you write in a a stream of consciousness.

    Mine tends to be the latter, though I also edit, cut and paste to tidy up the superfluous bits.

    Reply
  24. Elisabeth
    June 6, 2010 at 1:58 am (7 years ago)

    I'm sorry to hear that you're feeling a little sad, Alberto. In other words you don't want to live forever but fear you might.

    I agree that to live forever would be terrible indeed. We measure our lives in seasons from beginning to end. We plan with this in mind.

    A Dutchman, Douwe Draaisma has written a book called, 'Why Life Speeds up as we get older.' In it he describes the passage of time as akin to a flowing river.

    At the beginning of life, we run faster than the river's flow. During mid life we tend to run at the same pace. Later in life we slow down, until we stop altogether, while the pace of the flowing river runs on at the same pace as before.

    In other words our sense of time and timelessness is largely illusory, a construction that helps us to make sense of our lives.

    Thanks, Alberto.

    Reply
  25. Elisabeth
    June 6, 2010 at 2:11 am (7 years ago)

    I was once at a writers festival, Frances, in which one of my favourite writers, Drusilla Modjeska spoke about her biography of her mother, called Poppy.

    This biography was one of the first that acknowledge the fictional component necessary in biography and autobiography.

    Modjeska talked about how she had interviewed her mother for the book as her mother was ill and eventually died of cancer.

    Modjeska asked her mother about the facts and timing of events in her life. What was happening when… Poppy refused to answer her daughter's questions directly suggesting she find the answers in herself, which in the end Modjeska was forced to do and ended up with her magnificent story of her mother's life.

    At this talk Modjeska referred to this experience with her mother and the sense that her mother was telling her to look to herself for her own life, which then became more possible after her mother had died.

    I'm not suggesting this as an absolute. I don't think that people automatically come into their own on the death of parents in adulthood (of course it's different when parents die in one's childhood) but I do think that a major shift happens in most people's perceptions of themselves after the death of both parents and that this shift can be helpful.

    Your thoughts about my perceptions over time are fascinating, Frances and very accurate.

    Our perceptions change constantly. That for me is one of the joys of autobiographical writing, in that you can map these changes within yourself over time.

    Thanks Frances, for your long and reflective comment.

    Reply
  26. Elisabeth
    June 6, 2010 at 2:19 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, for your good wishes, Ann. we are getting more rain at the moment than we have for years. It's wonderful, just when we thought the drought might last forever, it seems to have abated a little, at least it has here in Melbourne.

    Thanks, Marja. You and your mother now live on opposite sides of the world. This must affect your relationship, maybe even improve it.

    My mother is physically frail but mentally alert. She has always been an optimist. I'm sure this has helped her throughout her at time's troubled life. I'd like to have some of her strength in this regard but as with all of us there are her other qualities some of which I share and to which I'd almost rather not have to admit.

    It's the good and the bad if it, the helpful and unhelpful, however you see it. Life's like that, I suppose. It tends to be asymmetrical.

    Reply
  27. Elisabeth
    June 6, 2010 at 2:27 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks for your glowing comment, Kathryn. I almost blush at the words.
    It's usually easier to deal with negative criticism, but of course I love to have praise and recognition especially coming from a writer like you.

    And thanks to you, too, Jenny. I know what you mean by stoicism, I think.

    I tend towards the stoical at times, which can be problematic. To me the stoical can border on the masochistic and that is positively problematic.

    This is one of those undesirable aspects I learned from and share with my mother.

    I suspect many women of my generation have learned this from our mothers. There are generations of women gone by and some still alive today in certain cultures who seem almost to take take pleasure in their oppression and in making the most of a bad lot, through manipulation, masochistic overtures etc.

    I'm not proud of it, but sometimes I can't even see it, though my daughters point it out to me from time to time.

    Thanks again, Jenny and especially for setting me thinking once more, and in a fresh direction.

    Reply
  28. Elisabeth
    June 6, 2010 at 2:36 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Gabriela. As I said earlier to Kathryn it's hard to respond to positive applause, other than to say thank you and take a little bow. still I am grateful for your warm responsiveness and that my writing seems to have resonated for you.

    I agree with you, Janice, about the fear we have not so much of death itself but of the way in which it might happen.

    I find I think about this myself every year more and more. I make myself think about it, too, because I do not want to go unprepared to my death if I can help it, that is if I am fortunate enough in my life to be able to anticipate my death in actuality.

    Many of us die unexpectedly and only the survivors are left to experience the shock of it.

    So many blogs are dedicated to dealing with illness and death that I find blogging particularly helpful in this regard.

    We share the stage with our fellow bloggers, some of whom leave the blogosphere not by choice but through ill health and in some cases because they die.

    I find this very sobering. Thanks, Janice.

    Reply
  29. Elisabeth
    June 6, 2010 at 2:48 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, Purest green. Death of a loved one has away of refocusing everything. To me such a death is traumatic at a level and I use the word guardedly. Trauma disrupts our psychic skin and the premature, untimely death of a loved one does just that.

    I agree with you that 'clinging on to a routine or staying withing certain safe boundaries, is not the same as love.'

    We maybe can explore this further, as I'd like to hear more from you on this. Thanks.

    And Kirk, to lose your father when he was only 45 years old by today's standards is to lose a father too soon.

    As I said earlier our genetic in put relies on certain triggers to set it off. There's no certain reason why you would die early like your father, and anyhow you've already by passed him.

    There's an Australian woman, a psychiatrist/child psychotherapist, by the name of Averil Earnshaw who has written a book about what she calls 'family time' about the way certain events in our parents' life times, particularly in that of the same sex parent, that are somehow not resolved in their time, can give rise to a psychic shift in our life times 'at that same age'. The birth of a sibling tends to be one such trigger as is the death of a sibling and certainly the death of a parent.

    Family time is worth contemplating, again not as an absolute, not as a predictor but as a way of helping us to better understand ourselves and our inheritance not just genetic but also psychological and emotional. Thanks, Kirk.

    Reply
  30. Elisabeth
    June 6, 2010 at 3:06 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Clare, for your beautifully expressed comment. I enjoy the way you describe the business of 'burrowing around in the black soil and shadowlands, the gritty, bloody, messy substance of it all'; while at the same time we are 'called to turn mystery and beauty around in our hands, to shine light on the parallel (sometimes no less discomforting?) substance that makes the terrible bearable, the impossible possible, the cruel forgive-able?'

    Your words here are so lovely I feel compelled to repeat them, and in repeating them I acknowledge your point about doing this with compassion and empathy, 'in the circle' of it all', rather than as you again put it so beautifully, 'on some or other point along a linear continuum'.

    My paranoia sends up sparks: Do you think I am doing the latter, standing too far outside and looking on from too great a distance?

    I hope not, but I have been accused before of lacking empathy for my readers and of not being sufficiently sensitive to my subject matter.

    I do not intend to stand too far outside. I feel as if I am a fly on the wall of my own experience, and that I look in on myself and my own thought processes as I write not only from some distant point at someone like my mother, but also at myself.

    I feel a closeness to my mother that goes beyond the 'reality' of my actual mother. I suppose it might be a closeness to my internal mother, which is based on my experience of my real mother, and for which I am grateful.

    I owe so much to my mother, however critical I might sometimes seem. I hope this comes across. Perhaps in this short posting, not.

    I hate feeling that I need to apologize for what I have written. I must stop now. It serves no puropose.

    It reminds me the author's 'intentional fallacy'. It does not matter what I intended my readers will read according to their own lights.

    Thanks for your warm greetings from New Zealand, Clare. I hope my little 'rant' here makes sense.

    Reply
  31. Elisabeth
    June 6, 2010 at 3:22 am (7 years ago)

    Thank you, Vachte, for your wonderful words of encouragement. I shall try to adhere to them.
    I agree with you, death knocks on all our doors everyday in some way or other.

    As the doctor who delivered one of my daughters said to my husn=band and me many years ago, the most dangerous day of your life is the day you are born and after that the danger tapers off initially but then continues throughout our lives.

    To me it is the one absolute of human experience, namely that we will one day die. Thanks again, Vachte.

    I know from your blog, Enchanted Oak, that you are soon to be orphaned. I'm sorry.

    I can be cavalier writing about my mother the way I do while she is relatively well and with her full faculties.

    I suspect had I lost my mother through Alzheimer's, as you have lost yours, or if I were on the brink of losing her altogether as you are now about to lose your mother, I would feel differently.

    Relationships between mothers and daughters are, as you say, many and varied. They also differ over time.

    When my mother dies, assuming I out live her, I will write differently from the way I have written here.

    I might write more like you write in your beautiful blog – a tribute to your mother and her passing.

    Thanks for making the effort to comment here especially at such a time. I value it.

    Reply
  32. Elisabeth
    June 6, 2010 at 3:44 am (7 years ago)

    A little levity goes a long way, Kath. I love your quote:

    'When I die, I want to go like my grandfather did; sleeping peacefully, and not like the four screaming passengers in his car.'

    My daughters would say that I'd be the grandmother driving the car, not that I fall asleep at the wheel, but I don't always drive as attentively as they'd like. And I'm often times too slow, or too fast, or too whatever I could be too much at.

    And to think I was the one who besides the paid/trained driving instructor took them out for hours of driving practice.

    But that's the way it goes: those we teach can soon become our biggest critics and over reach us in additional knowledge. And isn't this the way it ought to be.

    I'm sure Sappho teaches you a thing or two.

    Thanks, Kath. I envy you your happy childhood. I usually doubt that such a thing exists for anyone anywhere, but with you I'll make the exception.

    Reply
  33. Rachel Fenton
    June 6, 2010 at 5:49 am (7 years ago)

    My mother is immortal and even if she weren't alive I'd still see her everyday, in the mirror, in my daughter and in the lines on my knuckles. "Death be not proud" – you never really get us.

    Reply
  34. Jim Murdoch
    June 6, 2010 at 11:46 am (7 years ago)

    I have to agree with Jabblog’s comment. I never felt grownup until both of my parent’s had died. They died in their mid-seventies. I’d have to sit and work out the exact ages. I can’t remember. I can’t actually remember the dates they died. When I hit fifty it hit me that I was two-thirds done. I never thought at forty that I’d passed the halfway mark but fifty affected me. There is no guarantee that I will even survive that long but you have to aim for something. Longevity runs in Carrie’s family – both her parents are in their eighties and still chugging along – and yet she has lost two brothers already.

    I would quite happily die in my sleep. I don’t like ceremony and fuss. I wouldn’t like having to lie there trying to remember those final last words I’d prepared and then snuff it just after I’d asked to use the bedpan or something like that.

    Reply
  35. steven
    June 6, 2010 at 2:34 pm (7 years ago)

    elisabeth – i'm intrigued by the feelings of resentment connected to other people immersing themselves in goodness rather than the ugliness. intrigued because i do that. there's ugliness in my life but i let it flow rather than get caught in a dance with it. why? hmmmm. not sure i know other than fear of suffering. i'm also not sure that it makes the world – micro or macro – a better place. i'm not sure. steven

    Reply
  36. PhilipH
    June 6, 2010 at 8:23 pm (7 years ago)

    Death stalks us all. It's never too far away and can call on us in the blink of an eye. Think about the people killed in Cumbria this week by a rampaging taxi-driver who slaughtered a dozen at random.

    My youngest brother died in 1990 aged just 45. My brother Geoff died on 30 April this year, just 18 months my junior. I am the eldest of 5 boys; my mother died aged 56, my father aged 72. I've outlived them all thus far at age 75. I've achieved my three score years and ten so I'm not really bothered about death. Like Woody Allen: "I'm not scared of death, I just don't wanna be there when it happens…" So to die peacefully whilst asleep has to be the universal wish of all I guess.

    Reply
  37. Titus
    June 6, 2010 at 9:41 pm (7 years ago)

    Thank you Elisabeth, that was a fascinating read, and I enjoyed your insight. Like many, I do not yet feel entirely grown-up because my mother, at 83, is still here, but the loss of my father far too young has affected me, and all the family, far more deeply than most of choose to reflect upon.
    I can remember Mum at 65 asking me to put a pillow over her head at 70, but now she's holding out hope for the London Olympics. I pray she will die in her sleep, but your post has highlighted something I suspect I already knew – she won't be going quietly. She has fought all her life – and I doubt she'll roll over easily for death.
    And as for me? I've died once (car accident, see many, many posts ago) and it wasn't painful or scary. For me, that is.

    Reply
  38. Gretta
    June 6, 2010 at 10:52 pm (7 years ago)

    Your poor mother – now you're blaming her for holding back your development because she won't die!

    Yes, I feel different since Mum died last year, but my development has been ongoing with her alive and dead.

    I learnt something about death from her. She fought it until an experienced nurse told her it was OK for her to go. I'd never believed that stuff about the need to give the person explicit permission to die, but that seemed to be what Mum needed to persuade her to close her eyes.

    From watching many of my older relations grow old I've learnt that I'd rather die of a heart attack in my seventies like Dad than linger on into a decrepit advanced age.

    I've also learnt to "be here now" – my daily credo.

    Reply
  39. Elisabeth
    June 7, 2010 at 11:01 am (7 years ago)

    I see my mother every day in my own face, Rachel. But she is not immortal any more than I.

    When I was young I looked like my father but as I get older the resemblance I bear both to my mother and my three sisters is scary. It's the same with my brothers – as they age they look more like our father.

    I sometimes wonder how my children will look wen they are older. For now they resemble their father more than their mother, but in time this can change.

    Thanks Rachel.

    Reply
  40. Elisabeth
    June 7, 2010 at 11:06 am (7 years ago)

    Speculating about our death is a fascinating exercise, isn't it Jim? My husband and I have discussions about the form of our disposal, burial or cremation. We both opt for burial.

    I'd prefer worms to flames – perhaps my Catholic inheritance. But that's for the after death, and out of my control, the rest is harder to imagine assuming I'm conscious and sufficiently alert to notice.

    Thanks, Jim.

    Reply
  41. Elisabeth
    June 7, 2010 at 11:15 am (7 years ago)

    Steven, I have not a single problem with people immersing themselves in beauty, as you do. I enjoy it immensely. I'd have hoped my comments on your beautiful blog would reflect this.

    I'm all for beauty, but I do not enjoy it when someone suggests to me that I should be careful about what I write for fear it might upset people.

    I'm sorry if that's not clear from what I write in this post. Perhaps it's because I allude to events behind the scenes and they can be cryptic.

    I write things as I see and experience them, not always pretty, not all that ugly either, most of the time, I hope.

    I don't write to upset people but I certainly hope to get an affective response, namely that people might feel something when they read my writing.

    I suspect that's what we all aim for as bloggers – an affective response, a meaningful response, some spark of resonance, even if it's sometimes uncomfortable. Otherwise, why ever blog?

    Thanks, Steven.

    Reply
  42. Elisabeth
    June 7, 2010 at 11:25 am (7 years ago)

    You're right, Philip, death stalks us. And what a sobering thought.

    I love Woody Allen's quote, but I'm not sure that's my sentiment. I don't think I want to suffer pain or fear in dying, but all being well, I'd like to notice what's happening, at least that's my position now, while I'm healthy.

    Who knows? I'm just as likely to change my mind when the reality arrives at my doorstep.

    Thanks, Philip.

    And thanks, Titus.

    Like your mother, people change their minds about these things. When I was young I have a clear recollection of thinking that I'd like to die at sixty to avoid all the messy stuff.

    Sixty would be plenty old enough for me I thought as a ten year old. I haven't thought that way since I hit about thirty. I certainly don't think that now.

    Sixty is far too young to die, whereas, once it would have been a commonplace age for death.

    Reply
  43. Elisabeth
    June 7, 2010 at 11:36 am (7 years ago)

    Gretta, if I didn't know you and in my mind could hear you saying those very words – 'your poor mother – now you're blaming her for holding back your development because she won't die' – I'd worry that I've offended yet another person online.

    There are times when it's hard to know whether people are serious or joking in the blogosphere. I take it you're largely joking, a touch of tongue in cheek, however serious you might also be.

    I like your daily credo about living for the moment but as you know I'm also one to explore the past, particularly as to my mind it insists on repeating itself from time to time and living on in the present.

    What's that saying: we ignore our history at our peril.

    Of course, the other danger is one of becoming like Miss Haversham and getting stuck in time.

    I prefer to straddle the three time dimensions as best I can, the past through memory, the present through daily living with an occasional dip into the future through such idle speculation as in retrospect I tried to present through this post.

    Thanks, Gretta.

    Reply
  44. Elisabeth
    June 7, 2010 at 11:37 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks for this link, Alesa. I've checked out Vagabonde's blog – a lovely blog, as you suggest – and am now following her.

    Reply
  45. Alesa Warcan
    June 7, 2010 at 11:39 am (7 years ago)

    You're welcome! That's blogger love going round. : j

    Reply
  46. Annotated Margins
    June 7, 2010 at 4:09 pm (7 years ago)

    The only hope I hold out for myself is that I am aware enough to fully witness and experience those final moments of me. If I'm sleeping, it will probably be the best dream I've never remembered.

    Reply
  47. Eryl Shields
    June 7, 2010 at 9:30 pm (7 years ago)

    Seems to me you are already pondering on the subtleties, Elizabeth. And you've got me pondering too. My mother died four years ago and it's true I have had a developmental surge since then, maybe her death helped that, I'm not sure. Now I'm an orphan (my father died in 1975) I have to look to myself for the answer to certain questions, that's for sure.

    I once tried to write a story about a woman who cleaned relentlessly, to the point where she searched out dirt and then began to see it where it wasn't and complained bitterly about it. I think it was, in part, inspired by those people who 'seek always to create lovely images' and resent those who try to present the 'less attractive facets of life.' The story was a miserable failure but I'm now tempted to drag it out and try again, it strikes me as a subject worth exploring once more thanks to this post. Thanks Elizabeth.

    Reply
  48. Marylinn Kelly
    June 7, 2010 at 11:57 pm (7 years ago)

    So many thoughtful comments become a bit daunting, particularly as aftermath to your postings. What I found as my truth was that, in considering all the dark, hurtful, terrifying things I'd experienced or thought, I wasn't wise enough to know which I could delete – given that impossible chance – for who would I be without them? A shadow unacknowledged, in my experience, is just an opportunity to get bitten on the behind. I am beginning to feel that it is possible to know and acknowledge our unlovely, unlight selves without giving them the keys to the ignition. But it comes down to this: your blog, your life. You are the only one who knows what stories you need to tell. Sometimes there aren't rules. Thank you for leaving a comment for me…we have dialogues awaiting us.

    Reply
  49. Kass
    June 8, 2010 at 9:35 am (7 years ago)

    Death has moved into my very house – is shuffling from room to room. When I'm exhausted in the midst of caring for my 96-year-old mother, I welcome Him.

    Reply
  50. Elisabeth
    June 8, 2010 at 10:13 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks again, Alesa. A bit of genuine blogger love is worth a lot.

    I hope for you too, Mike, that you're awake to enjoy those final moments, if you can. Alternatively the best dream you ever ad sounds like a pretty good alternative.
    Thanks, Mike.

    So the notion of a developmental urge after the death of a mother in adulthood resonates for you, too, Eryl.

    Not that any of us necessarily want our mothers to go. I certainly don't, and yet there are times when I wonder what it will be like, assuming my mother precedes me.

    Your story sounds well worth a resurrection. I'd like to read it once it's done. Others might, too. Thanks, Eryl.

    Reply
  51. Elisabeth
    June 8, 2010 at 10:29 am (7 years ago)

    It's great to meet you here, Marilynn and to anticipate more dialogues ahead.

    I agree with your thoughts here about the difficult decisions we must make time and again as bloggers on how much and what to include or exclude in our blogs.

    As you say there are no rules, at least not rules spelled out, though there are a few conventions that can stranglehold us, if we are not careful. Not that conventions need to be that way.

    The 'truth' of the matter is that if people prefer not, they need not read on. They can look away.

    I heard today on the radio a South Australian museum curator by the name of Adam Cook, who come out with the statement: 'All great art should be either a comfort or a provocation'.

    He was talking about the Alison Lapper sculpture by Marc Quinn, which came out on display in 2005 in Trafalgar Square, London. You may have heard of it.

    It is the scupture of an armless, pregnant woman, seated on short unformed legs, her head held erect, proud in her beauty and fecundity. See: http://xahlee.org/Periodic_dosage_dir/lacru/gl_sculpture.html

    This sculpture captured both comfort and provocation according to Cook, and having looked it up on Google and thought about it some more, I can only agree.

    Why talk about it here now to you, Marilynn?

    Perhaps because it comes to mind, and to me it represents motherhood against adversity; it represents the beauty and the beastliness of life.

    I look forward to further dialogue with you. Thanks, Marilynn.

    Reply
  52. Elisabeth
    June 8, 2010 at 10:36 am (7 years ago)

    Death has been stalking around outside my house, too, Kass, though tragically at the beginning of life rather than in old age.

    My great nephew who ten days ago was born early at 25 weeks, lasted only five days in the world before he succumbed to an infection and died.

    His parents, his grandparents, his uncle and aunt are devastated. He is the first grandchild in this branch of my family.

    Our extended family fees the impact – ripples in the stream of life and death.

    I'm sorry to hear that you have been under strain Kass. Despite the peace you describe in your latest post, it must have been and I imagine continues to be a difficult time.

    At times like this we need all the love we can muster.

    Reply
  53. Studio Sylvia
    June 8, 2010 at 1:19 pm (7 years ago)

    Lucky are those who have parents aged in their 70's and 80's, even older. Treasure their time here.

    Reply
  54. Eryl Shields
    June 8, 2010 at 8:55 pm (7 years ago)

    Very sorry to hear about the death of your great nephew, Elizabeth, my sympathies to his parents (and grandparents). I can't imagine what it feels like to lose a child.

    Reply
  55. Claire Beynon
    June 8, 2010 at 9:15 pm (7 years ago)

    Dear Elisabeth
    Thank you for your full reply to my comments. I am in the midst of a whirlwind at the moment, but wanted to come back to let you know that my intention is to respond to the specific questions you asked just as soon as the dust has settled (which may still be some way away… ). For now, please be assured that I don't think you are 'standing too far outside and looking on from too great a distance.' You have a way of being able to occupying more than one place a time which is admirable and not easy.
    Warmly
    Claire.

    Reply
  56. Mim
    June 8, 2010 at 10:46 pm (7 years ago)

    Won't it be fascinating if your mother dies in the way you foresee?

    Death does what it wants, unless we try to take charge; "assist" is the term. A friend recently died in hospice care, which was really "assisted suicide," against the law in Massachusetts, but that's what it was. He had made the choice.

    I was in my sixties when my mother died at 92 or was it 93? I've loved her and wanted to be done with her, back and forth for such a long time, and now I've come to enjoy tasting the sweet-bitter paradox.
    Thanks, Elizabeth!

    Reply
  57. Gretta
    June 8, 2010 at 11:21 pm (7 years ago)

    i know you've had this discussion already, but i really think if you worry about offending people online, you'll never write anything

    someone is ALWAYS going to be offended! some people desperately NEED to be offended – it's the only way they know they're alive!

    yr doing v well with yr blog – keep on.

    Reply
  58. Robert the Skeptic
    June 9, 2010 at 5:02 am (7 years ago)

    My mother-in-law died two years ago. Fortunately she was at home in her own bed, hospice was providing comfort and care. Her family was there when she died, grandchildren and great grandchildren. She didn't want to die, and we didn't want her to go; but for something that is inevitable, it was as merciful and sweet as it could possibly be.

    My wife still misses her Mom; and she is witnessing the declining in her father accelerate seemingly as a result.

    I just hope that I can meet my final days/hours with the same dignity that others before me have shown. It's the most I can hope for.

    Reply
  59. Zuzana
    June 9, 2010 at 6:53 pm (7 years ago)

    Incredibly poetic post.
    You hint beautifully at a painful subject with such an ease.
    I have started only recently to contemplate the fact that my parents might not be around for ever. The thoughts leave me always with a sting of sadness…

    Thank you or your recent visit and a very kind comment,
    xoxo

    Reply
  60. Kass
    June 10, 2010 at 4:06 am (7 years ago)

    Yes, Elisabeth, when the body can take no more, a peaceful resignation settles in. I'm sorry to hear of your great nephew.

    Reply
  61. Elisabeth
    June 10, 2010 at 8:54 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks Sylvia. We are lucky to have elderly parents in many ways, but at the same time, there can be difficulties.

    Thanks again for your good wishes, Eryl.

    I'm glad you recognise my efforts to deal with what I call' mixed feelings', Claire. It is hard to reconcile such feelings towards our loved ones especially in matters like death. I'll continue to struggle to write about this no doubt. Thanks Claire.

    Reply
  62. Elisabeth
    June 10, 2010 at 8:59 am (7 years ago)

    The bitter-sweet paradox is essentially what I'm on about Mim and thanks for pointing it out. In many ways I'd love my mother go go this way. I'd certainly rather she not suffer unnecessarily. You're right too this is the essence of calls for legalizing euthanasia.

    Thanks, Mim.

    You're right, Gretta – someone is going to be offended by something we write online, so it's best to go ahead without too much angst and heart wrenching, if we want to continue to blog, that is. Thanks, Gretta

    Reply
  63. Elisabeth
    June 10, 2010 at 10:16 am (7 years ago)

    It's good to meet you here, Robert. A healthy does of skepticism can go a long way, given your blog title and I can see from your comment ere that you temper it with compassion. Many thanks, Robert.

    Thanks for your generous response, Zuzana. It's not easy contemplating the death of a parent – all those mixed feelings. Not so when I was little. I have the clearest memory of thinking that were my mother to die then I should have died, too. Thanks again, Zuzana.

    And thanks again, Kass, for your condolences and for reminding me of the peaceful resignation that takes over once a person's mind/body decides it can endure no more.

    Reply
  64. Hilary
    June 10, 2010 at 1:53 pm (7 years ago)

    Both of my parents are gone.. sadly my sons never knew their grandfather and were very young when my mother passed away. I hope you're image of how your own mother might pass is accurate. One of my aunts is a very active 98. I wish that for her as well when it's her time to go.

    Thanks for your visit to my blog today. Always nice to see a new face.

    Reply
  65. Ann
    June 11, 2010 at 4:30 am (7 years ago)

    I hope it will be i the natural process that the older person dies before the younger,

    In New Zealand, we have a bunch of Golden Oldies who have formed a coffin club, The meet regulary, men and women make their own coffins, and go to other people's funeral to check out other funeral rites.

    The creek in my photo is polluted. I have updated my post and posted a photo of the warning sign.

    In fact, January, when I was in Queensland, some water fowls were dying without any reason.

    Reply
  66. Frances
    June 11, 2010 at 9:30 am (7 years ago)

    Elisabeth: I did not like (or agree with) the suggestion that your mother's continuing life dragged back your development.

    Do you think that your daughters see your own existence as dragging back their development? Not yet? At what age would that be an appropriate way for them to think of you?

    What about your spouse? In almost any marital scenario, you will have to develop far more resources to compensate for his absence, than you would have to compensate for the loss of one very old woman who once was important to you.

    Caring for someone when it has become a duty, is a developmental stage.
    Yes, I have read Modjeska – many years ago – and I was aware of some who adored her. I must re-read it, and give it a second chance: I didn't care for it at all: I thought that she mis-read her life.

    Reply
  67. Elisabeth
    June 11, 2010 at 11:42 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks for your comment, Hilary. I did not appreciate the value of grandparents when I was a child. I never knew my own. They all lived far away in Holland.

    I met my mother's father once when I was young and he seemed a scary old man more like a priest than a relative.

    Now as a grandmother of one, I appreciate the value of grandparents more.

    My own mother has 22 grandchildren. She was close to the first ten or so, but after a while her enthusiasm petered out. My children arrived in the second batch.

    My mother sends them birthday cards and tries to keep up but it's too hard especially now when she's nearly 91 and the great grandchildren have started to arrive.

    You know the nursery rhyme?: there was an old woman who lived in a shoe she ad so many children she knew what to do…

    This applies directly to my mother. You can understand it . How ever does any mother cope with a string of children, grand children and great grand children?

    Reply
  68. Elisabeth
    June 11, 2010 at 11:46 am (7 years ago)

    A 'coffin club' Ann. That sounds fascinating. what a terrific recognition of death that the men should make their coffins. My older sister has made a family pall to throw over our coffins when we die.

    It represents our entire immediate and extended family. I have mixed feelings towards it. We children imagine that my mother will be first to lie underneath it, but we also know that anyone of us could be first instead. Thanks, Ann.

    Reply
  69. Elisabeth
    June 11, 2010 at 11:54 am (7 years ago)

    I think Gretta meant her comment that my mother's continuing life drags back our development as a joke.

    I can say this because Gretta is also a friend in real life. We were in a writing group together for many years. But like you I was taken aback when I first read her words.

    I agree with you too about the greater significance of one's spouse.

    How interesting that you did not enjoy Poppy? That you thought Modjeska had misread her mother's life. Does anything stand out for you in this regard?

    Maybe if you get a chance and the desire to re-read it we can talk more about the book. For me Poppy is one of those life changing books.

    Thanks again, Frances.

    Reply
  70. A Cuban In London
    June 11, 2010 at 2:06 pm (7 years ago)

    What a marvellous morsel from your life. I would love to die in my sleep, without feeling any pain.

    Greetings from London.

    Reply
  71. Elisabeth
    June 13, 2010 at 8:35 am (7 years ago)

    I suspect many of us would prefer to die in our sleep given half a chance, Cuban, and that wish might change each day.

    At the moment for me I think I'd prefer to be awake, but I could well change my mind further down the track, that is assuming I get that far.

    Thanks, Cuban.

    Reply

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