[caption id="attachment_76" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="With thanks to the anonymous photographer..."][/caption] Right now, here, today I am storing and spending love. As is becoming more and more frequent as I age, I feel bearish, as if I were relying on a tree friend to keep the stars humming, and the world turning on it axis. The tree breathes out and I breathe in; I exhale and she inhales. A symbiotic union.
I have never been here before. My husband is suffering from a depression so deep and dark he could give the famed William Styron a run for his money. Visits to the psychiatrist, the therapist, new meds, strategies to get him to be out of bed for even a few hours a day (he will ALWAYS get up to do something for me, but will not do anything for himself) – smiling into eyes so far away that I cannot reach him.
His depression has come and gone over the years, and I am no stranger to this deceptive illness, which looks so quiet but is actually quite violent. The passivity and outward collapse of depression deceive people; depressed people look so vacant, so frail and tired because they are battling a war so big it takes everything they have just to breathe in and out, to open their eyes. I know. I’ve been there.
But now another member of my family is failing, too. My 91-year-old mother is entering a state of dementia. Getting her to her family physician to even get a neurological referral took three months. And with that appointment, she stopped pretending, stopped presenting well. Her cover was blown.
And now shifting her from independent living to assisted living, to begin the transition of passing critical tasks over to others has made her furious, and who can blame her? To fear you are losing it and that you are going crazy would piss anyone off. For me, it has meant endless talks with physicians, social workers, nurses, caregivers, and administrators, Medicare, etc. But we always seem to end the day with “I love you.” The doctor said, “Do not worry if your mother starts to hate you.” Being spared that is all the grace I could wish for.
My husband’s collapse and mother’s decline officially started on the same day. I had just returned from a phenomenal Way of the Shaman training session with Alicia Gates, and, as had been the case for a month, my health was getting stronger and sturdier. Effects of prednisone taken 8 months ago were just beginning to wane, and I had asked the spirits to please start sending more clients, which they promptly started doing (always a good sign that I am in the flow). I am getting ready to teach my first FSS Way of the Shaman on Bainbridge Island this January, and am gearing up for my last training with Susan Mokelke and Michael Harner the end of October. A very rich time for me.
The day before I came home from San Diego, I could see the future, and had planned the personal journey work as well as all the transcribing, and other work entailed in preparing to teach the Way of the Shaman. Having been a teacher for a while, I have my own method for integrating curriculum, and it is both very time consuming and worth every hour I spend. I relish the challenge, and was anticipating a quiet late fall and early winter to accomplish my work.
But now the days are being spent in very different ways. One day when I had to be at one doctor appointment with my mother and another with my husband, I thought I simply MUST clone myself. I am very grateful that the spirits are NOT showing me a way to do that, although they probably could.
To see my family fall apart like leaves dropping from an oak in autumn winds has propelled me into a “chop wood/carry water” state that made last week a victory where so much got accomplished that I was astonished. This week I am resting some, gathering the energy to begin to go the next round. I am resting more, and integrating as well as trying to ride my emotions lightly, even though they hit hard now and then.
What I think has helped me (I am wobbly, but not stalled, which is big for me) is surrendering to love. I love these two people. As people that know me well know, I will go to the mattresses for any beloved. You do NOT want to screw with someone I love.
But this time, at the age of 60, finally, after a lifetime of work on this issue, I am beginning to NOT worry nearly as much as I used to. I am accepting that I do not control any of this. As I have said for years, “I used to think I was Queen of the Universe, but returned the crown when I realized I was under-qualified for the job.” A fine quip, always good for a laugh, but now I really feel cellularly different, as if my bones have been rebuilt. I know I cannot figure out how to stop these people I love from feeling any pain. I can only love them as they enter into dark terrain.
I look at my husband, painting a birdhouse for an art auction here on Bainbridge Island, and it is taking all of his concentration to stay with it. Check out www.donhazeltine.com to see my husband's illuminated work in all is complexity and depth of beauty. I look into his face, so old right now, and can just feel love. I know he will recover, but I can’t fix what is going on with him; if I could have I would have long ago. God knows, I have tried hard enough. So I make the phone calls, do the work, and just try to create some sense of peace for him so he can recover.
With my mother, I know I will never again see the woman I have loved for 60 years. She has changed irrevocably. The present recedes and the past, full of terrible regrets, plague her. Ironically, happier memories are being taken from her, and with it our shared past. The work of protecting and being advocate for her is more than a full-time job, but all I can think of when I look at her is that I love her.
I was fortunate to see Grandmother Nadia, a rightfully famous Siberian shaman, last week; Don had an appointment too (which did nothing for him that we could see). But I was strengthened by the work. She said, “Sadness all around you everywhere. You must thrust it away! It is not yours….”
She noted I had some powerful spiritual help. And she called in her own spirits to help provide even more support. No less helpful are the several organizations who counsel me on how to practically cope with the endless work and details my husband's and mother's illnesses entail.
I am leaning on agencies and all kinds of support to get through this. I accept all of this with immense gratitude, and it all feels like love coming to me. All my best friends live a long way from me, and they are all dancing as fast as they can with their own substantial challenges so shoulders to cry on are few and far between. But, as Grandmother Nadia said, “Cry every few days, but no more than that! It is good for you. Just cry for a while and then stop.” Sort of like an emotional drive through.
The financial challenges are stacking up like cord after cord of wood, all cured, and all ready to set what frail financial stability we have afire. It will not take much to set the whole damn thing ablaze.
But here’s the part that is sweet. I have been called to drum at night while the fire crackles and the house is completely dark. I drum alone and sing. I sing my love for the spirits, I sing my thanks and ask for help. When the time is right, I journey and ask for help on thrusting the sadness, that which is not mine, away from me. These journeys feel different from any others I have ever done. I have trained my mind, over the years, to remember much complex information when journeying, but these journeys are not journeys to remember evidently. I sink into them. They are cures.
They, along with days like this, when I turn all bear and hibernate for a lot of the day, seem to be fostering a kind of emotional vulnerability and innocence that tastes honey sweet. It is not naiveté, but a kind of magic. I feel washed clean, and unfettered for a time. It lasts as long as it lasts, and then vanishes, but is then reborn a day or two later.
This is what love does. The love that gets built in 25-year-old marriage. The love between a daughter and mother. The love of the shaman for me. The love I hold for the spirits, and the love they give me. The love of friends whom I may not talk with often, but I know are holding me fiercely in their hearts. The love of strangers I have never met offering support and help. It’s all – this entire experience – made of love.
It seems many people are being called to do the PhD of their shamanic work now. Many people are struggling in so many ways. My story may be a lot like yours in some ways and different in others. But things seem to be ramping up. And for the first time, allowing myself to crumble some while retaining a core shamanic sensibility and strength seems to be a gentling process that is bringing me to new and unexpected places. Once again, I am experiencing the phenomenal compassion of my helping spirits, always unique, and always given in the right way at the right time.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot here that is mighty scary and painful, but I know, firsthand, the peril in playing the “what if…” game. That’s a way of abstracting the present, and sifting out the unknown and the unexpected, which is ALWAYS a part of the future. What will happen as a result of all this is beyond me. But no matter what, I see love all around me. And right now, that is worth everything.