Friday, May 17, 2013

Dementia, Grief, Mindfulness, and Not-Self

Contacts with my mother have been sparse lately. It's been hard catching her on the phone during the rare times when she is awake. And the nine hour time difference does not help either. Yesterday, I was able to hear her breathe once as I whispered words of love to her. The aide confirmed that she had seen a response in her face.

Friends, coworkers have been asking about my mom. Each time, I have felt a twinge of annoyance. Grief shows itself in sometimes subtle ways . . .The truth is I have been a bit too adamant to claim closure with my mom. "I have said goodbye. I am at peace."  This last chapter is taking longer than I thought, and I feel as if lost in a twilight zone, with hardly anything to hang on to. No physical contact, no voice, just one breath in several weeks, that's all that's left. 

I have been haunted by the image of her lying in bed, pulling away from my touch, and holding on tight to her sheet instead. Breath coming and going, light as a feather. And no hindrance in the body, anymore. This struck me as remarkable, coming from my mother, who had been such a chronic worrier. She had let go finally, and I had to let go also. Carrying this last image of my mom has been most helpful now that I am thousands of miles away from her. It has also enabled me to understand more deeply the reason for practice. Mindfulness, particularly when focused on the breath, is the surest method for experiencing the relief from ordinary mind-made suffering.

From my mother, I have learned most during those last ten years when dementia stripped her brain bit by bit, of its ability to fabricate thoughts about past, future, and self. Being with her  forced upon me the direct experience of not-self, and for that I am incredibly grateful. 

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