My elders

[caption id="attachment_235" align="alignleft" width="300"] Source unknown, but so appreciated[/caption] In our society, aging is scary. And for good reason. People get old and their value as money makers,as doers disappears. As our culture values money more than life, those whose true value rests in the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of a lifetime of experience are not seen for who they really are -- treasured elders to be respected and revered.

Right now, there are two aged beloveds in my life. My Mom turned 92 this week, and our dog Ariel is 14.5 years. They are similar in so many ways.

They both are having memory problems and anxiousness. Mom gets anxious about anything at any given moment, and calm love and talking is what serves her most. Ariel is taking medication for dog dementia, and love and food help her to cope.

As the body and mind begin to decay and break down, tremendous fear rises. Mom suffers from moderate dementia, but the one thing she can remember is that she's forgetting everything. Understandably, she gets scared and furious. This health problem is especially maddening for her because she is phenomenally healthy in all other ways.

For Ariel, there's a dogie dementia that settles in that has made her snappish at times as well as prone to barking for no apparent good reason. I wonder who she is seeing as her veil thins or is she barking in frustration? She is going deaf, and I wonder if she barks to just to feel the vibration of sound.

As these are two beings whom I love unconditionally, seeing them in a decline that I know will not reverse is cause for grieving and contemplation. The Mom I have loved is mostly gone now, and I cherish the now, the who-is-she-today moments. We have the same conversations over and over, and talk constantly. As long as their is no anxiety (a near impossible state when you have memory gaps), and forget the simple things that make life easy and thoughtless for us youngsters (as she calls me at the age of 60), she has a kind of consistent and brave outlook. The kind of serene toughness born from living in the Great Depression (that is, the last one), and from being an only child.

The dog I have loved is gone, too. What does Ariel feel? We have just upped some pain medications for her because of things like licking her front legs over and over, a sign of pain in dogs. With a new puppy, there are gifts and curses in her life now. She is moving around our yard MUCH more (so wonderful for her mood and her arthritis), and she looks happier doing this even if she does pant a little hard while climbing the sloped backyard. Plus she is being lavished with so much extra love to ward off jealousy. After 10 days since Lily's arrival, she actually wags her tail more all day long, and battles between young whippersnapper and matron have dramatically slowed.

In working with her and trying to understand what we can do to minimize the strain of the new puppy, I discovered "resource guarding," something dogs go through when new dogs are introduced to a household.

It's easy to think, if you are a dog person, she is getting "alpha" and trying to exhibit dominance, but actually is has more to do with wanting your own stuff to be safe and, well, all yours.

My husband Don is Ariel's favorite resource. She is experiencing something new and uncomfortable. While she has thought she had unlimited resources, in reality Don is a limited resource just like I am.

Mom is resource guarding, too. Her home, her way of doing things, the ability to live as an independent woman are now limited resources for her too. I now do the bills, work with the doctors and nurses -- just about everything apart from her daily routines, which, for now, still serve her.

It is so easy to love Lily, the puppy. She is youth personified. Fuzzy, hysterically funny, so emotionally open that when she comes to you, be-bopping and springing through the air, her only desire to wiggle into your arms,  you feel bathed in bliss. In this, I understand the culture's obsession with youth. It is sweet and new and utterly innocent. And entirely present.

I look at my face hairs, my breasts which now swing like old tire swings rather than naturally and fluidly cantilevered orbs, the blue veins that snake across the back of my hands, prominent and defined, and wonder at how this could be. How can I be on my descent so soon? It could be very easy to dislike my body with my grandmother's moles growing up and down my back like leopard spots.

When I do shamanic work for clients, I ask the spirits to take their pain away as easily as the autumn leaves fall from the trees. That parting is effortless because there is no grasping. The tree doesn't try to hang onto the leaf, and the leaf does not cling. The forms change and in that change we see how beautiful letting go can be.

In this way, age itself is a resource, a new training ground for surrender, a new way to be held. No matter what, I think some part of all living things never goes gentle into that good night. Life leaving is an up and down process if you are lucky enough to reach 92 or 14.5 years. But as the grip of life lessens, there is sweetness that youth does not offer. A certain generosity and tenderness that comes not from being brand new, but from time and life etching you into yet another form, another version of your becoming.

And as life recedes and the veil becomes thinner, those of us who are there to witness have the unique opportunity to learn from our elders yet again: life ends in a kind of dance where the only partner you have is the mystery, and the music you hear is the opus of your life.

It is not bad, but is is brutally hard at times.  When someone I love has died, I have realized there are two knowings -- that my imperfect, temporal self misses the smell of them, their shape and size, their unique expression of soul that I basked in like sun. Then there is my shamanic self, which knows that death and life are the Fred and Ginger of eternity, and that life continuing in other realities is perfect and blissful.

It is a chance to rest in nature and know that all is unfolding exactly as it should be. And to remember that just as I cherish my Mom and my old dog, I am being cherished by the spirits as I enter into my next new phase of life. And that is for certain, a knowledge I have accumulated from 15 years of working with the compassionate helping spirits.

All this means I work to be present, be in my body, and constantly say I love you with every action and breath. It is the only thing I really have to give, the unlimited resource of spiritual grace and the love that comes from a source so deep that is is ageless.