Chapter 68 – Frances end

For a long time, we thought Mom had Dissociative Identity Disorder, and had several abused little kids living in her. The professionals all assured me it was “just dementia.” Our observations turn out to be accurate, and she has set aside her agenda about it (to invite Jesus in to heal the little one). For several years I’ve been mothering a very angry, rebellious ten-year-old and a twelve-year-old who wants to escape, and could get out of bed after hip surgery and walk to the door of her room before she fell. But later, with Big Frances in charge, couldn’t get out of bed unassisted, and couldn’t walk. I’ve seen those older ones many times, and intuitively knew to enter into their world and mother them from there. 

But there are several younger ones.

I’ve been giving comfort and love and ideas for escape to a five-year-old, a four-year-old (I think twins, a boy and a girl), and a two-year-old. Mom isn’t in there anymore, there is no artifice or roles or pretense. Just the babies, looking up at me shyly, chin tucked. When I ask how old she is and she says two…my heart is shattered.

Jenny and I did the math and realized for the first time that while she believed the abuse started at age 5, the story she had told me was that her Grandma came to help her Mom with the birth of her brother. When the two women went down to fix breakfast, her Dad went to the foot of the bed where her baby crib was and lifted her out, put her in bed with him, and started his perversion. Her brother Bill was born when she was two and after that there were only sisters, for years. I just hadn’t done the math, or remembered the age gap.

But there is some healing happening. A lot, actually. For me, for Jenny, and especially for the babies, who now get to be acknowledged and given the love and help they have wanted for so long. Jenny made mom a lifelike baby doll (who looks about 2) a couple of years ago, but Mom showed little interest in it. Now she clutches the front of its pinafore and won’t let anyone move it. With her other hand she clutches the picture of her mother, who she now refers to as “mother Mary” (her guide) and gazes at it for hours, as if she’s trying to understand or remember something important. She drags the doll over to show her the picture. She tried to kiss the picture but it was too flat in its frame, so she licked it.

A few days before she died, she tried to scribble an illegible version of the Betty and Bobby story, about twins who had a Magic Cloud parked in the pear tree, and any time they wanted to, they could climb on the cloud, say the magic words, and zoom off to Magicland, which could be any kind of land we asked for, when she told us the story, which we also told our children and grandchildren. I asked her to tell me the story and wrote in the words she said, over the scribbled words.

I think Magicland had been her happy place, from the age of four.

Monday morning: I asked how old she was and she said “four.” I asked if she wanted to live or die, and she said, “Don’t want to die.” (Why not? Frances is trying to die.) “Daddy did bad things to me, and I don’t know where he is.”

So I told her the Betty and Bobby story. I told her that Big Frances was the one who made the Daddy stop hurting the little ones, and asked her if she would let Big Frances gather up all the little ones who had been hurt, and take them with her on the magic cloud to Magicland, where they would always be safe with her. She was radiant, beaming—“Yes!” Later that day, while Jenny was reading her a “letter to Baby Frances from God” she took her last breath and died peacefully.

The end



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Chapter 67 – 17 days

Sunday, March 14, 2010

It’s been a very rough afternoon and evening…Mom is completely psycho. The drugs, the unfamiliar surroundings, triggered a complete dissolve when I went down to the cafeteria to get some food—after explaining over and over what I was going to do—ten minutes later the nurse called me—put Mom on the phone—“Are you just leaving me here all alone?” She thought I had gone home to Manzanita. Threatened suicide, frantic, kill me please, got out of bed oblivious to the pain, when earlier today she shrieked in pain when the physical therapist tried to get her to just dangle her legs over the edge of the bed, and refused to do it.

Looking in her eyes is scary—like looking at an alien—or a terrified child about ten years old, belligerent, angry, afraid she’s going to be abandoned and/or hurt, fighting, trying to get out of bed, not understanding anything. I finally started speaking to the ten-year-old, explaining what was true and real and what was not, and asked Big Frances to talk to the scared little kid, tell her to quit trying to be the boss, tell her to let Big Frances comfort her so she wouldn’t be so scared, and ask her to allow Big Frances keep her safe. She completely broke apart and sobbed for twenty minutes. After that her eyes were Frances’ eyes again. She was calm and rational and herself, and she held my face and cried, “Thank you, thank you. I don’t deserve you.” Which of course I disputed. She deserved me, and many more like me.

For a few hours, we had actual conversations, until that night when I said I was going to leave and get some sleep. Psycho time. Then I realized my presence was somehow inviting further meltdown, so I told her I was leaving, and did. I warned the nurses. They had given her Haldol two hours ago but she’s fighting it.

Monday, March 15

Today the physical therapist helped her walk to the door of her room. She complained all the way, but she did it. She slept a lot. Her “boyfriend” Beach came to see her, and Laurie and her daughter Jen.

Seeing Mom with ALL her defenses down was very revealing. Jenny’s been saying for several years that Mom has an alter personality inside that is sometimes in charge, the scared, pugnacious, demanding, mean little ten-year-old who is afraid she’ll be 1) hurt,
and 2) abandoned. In the hospital she gets both. Every time I leave, or even say I’m going to, even for a few minutes, I see that little girl come in and take over.

Again tonight when I told her I was leaving to get some food and some sleep, her eyes became those scary eyes again. Her voice got high and little, and she started to dissociate. I assured her she was safe and I’d be back the next day. Then I went out and talked to both nurses about what was going on. The head nurse assured me that “this is a hip fracture ward; we see dementia all the time. We’re used to dealing with it. You go and get some rest, we’ll take good care of her.”

In spite of my thinking, “This is beyond dementia, sweetheart…” I did leave. And then Jenny’s kids came and visited her after I left and brought her presents, so that got her through the night. So she’s been well loved today, lots of visitors. When she gets constant attention that little alter girl stays in hiding. But it explains a lot of the behavior I hear about at her care facility, that belligerent, mean person. I guess little alter girl would stay in hiding if I was there ALL the time.

Tuesday March 16, 7:43 a.m.

Mom called from the hospital this morning at 6 a.m. (the nurse dialed for her and gave her the phone) with the same frantic concern: “You left me all alone here and I can’t walk and I have to go home and I can’t walk and I don’t know where I am.” (I have a
doctor appt. this morning at 9, so Jenny is going to come to the hospital to be with Mom.) It took about half an hour to talk her back down to her right mind. It may last until Jenny gets there, but I wouldn’t put money on it.

Wednesday, March 17

Today they’ll put Mom in an ambulance and take her to the Nehalem Bay Care Center in Wheeler, four miles from my home, where I can pop over for awhile and then right back home in 5 minutes. It’s a Skilled Nursing/Rehab/Alzheimer’s facility.

Thursday, March 18

Mom arrived by ambulance at the Care Center yesterday at 4, and seemed happy to be there, until she saw her room—then she panicked. It’s a normal nursing home room, private but painted a yucky color and bare bones, old TV, small. Then she got that panicked look, and as soon as they put her in her bed she grabbed my arm. “Is this where I’m going to die?” she said. Jack and I stayed and talked for a couple of hours, calming her down and explaining over and over she wasn’t there to die, but to get well so she could go back to her home at Suzanne Elise Assisted Living. She seemed OK when we left to get something to eat, at a café in Wheeler.

START of 17 days:

The Asian Chicken Salad was the first food I’d had all day. The waiter set down Jack’s Reuben sandwich, and I planned to snag a bite or two of that, too. I picked up my fork, and my cell phone rang. I looked at the Caller ID. Nehalem Bay Care Center. Mom’s new temporary home. My shoulders slumped. Mom had come by ambulance a few hours earlier from the Portland hospital where surgeons pinned her broken hip four days earlier. We had raced from the hospital to the Care Center, leaving my sister Jenny to get her into the ambulance. Jenny had called to say the ambulance was on its way, and she was leaving for a week of R & R in Bend.
When Mom was wheeled into the tiny room with the sickroom-green walls, the narrow bed, the wheelchair, the old TV, her eyes went wide in panic. “Is this where I’m going to die?” she whispered.
It took several hours to get her settled down.
“This is Tom,” the voice on my cell phone said. “I’m the charge nurse at the Care Center. “Uh…you need to come back.”
“What happened?” I asked. I was already motioning for the waiter. To Go box, I mouthed at him, pointing to my salad.
“Your mother fell.”
“She…fell? But how…” She had been unable to get out of bed unassisted for physical therapy in the hospital. And she only had one hip left to break.
“She tried to self-transport. She got all the way to the door of her room before she fell.”
“I’ll be right there.”
She had been trying to escape. I knew that one, the twelve-year old escape artist. I’d seen her several times while Mom was in assisted living. And the pissed-off ten-year-old, who ruled the roost the whole time she was in the hospital. Her eyes had been manic, alien, scary, that terrified belligerent ten-year-old, railing at me, at the nurses, at her immobility. Until I leaned over her and said, softly, “Mom, there’s a scared little girl inside you who is trying to take over. Can you comfort her, tell her you’re in charge, you’ll keep her safe and it’s going to be okay?” She had completely dissolved then, sobbing uncontrollably for twenty minutes. When the tears finally stopped, her eyes were Frances’ again, bright blue and clear. “Thank you,” she said over and over, patting my cheeks. “Thank you. I don’t deserve you.”
Jenny had said for years that Mom had “fractured parts” inside her from early sexual abuse by her father. I talked to experts in geriatric psychology. “It’s just the dementia,” they said. “They’re all that way. They regress to a childlike state.”
“But…children of different ages, all in the same person?”
“No, it’s the dementia. It’s typical. They’re all that way.”
I parked outside the Care Center and hurried to her room in the west wing. Her bed had been lowered to the floor, and a mattress-sized six-inch mat was now next to it. Tom and Becky, the night aide were in the room, their faces anxious. Mom was tucked in, the upper half of her bed raised so she could sit up. Her white silky hair curved smoothly to her earlobes, and I was struck by how pretty she looked, even after a wretched hospital stay.
When I walked in, she reached both arms out for me.
“Judy! You finally came!”
I settled onto the bed next to her and held her hands. “Mom, I’ve only been gone half an hour. I needed to eat, and I thought you were ready to have some dinner, too.”
“I’m not going to eat! I’m just going to die. Don’t make me eat.” I’d heard this before, especially since my youngest sister Anne had died six weeks earlier. But Mom’s resolve always evaporated when her assisted living chef brought her a strawberry waffle with whipped cream and ice cream. She’d been living on strawberry waffles, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Plus dessert, if there was some.
I had already asked. The nursing home didn’t have strawberry waffles.
“Mom, you’re here to get well, to get strong, to learn to walk again. You can go home as soon as you can walk. And you have to eat to get strong.”
Her eyes flashed blue fire ice.
“I’m not going to eat! I told you! I want to die!”
I had been her caregiver for fourteen years, since she had her first stroke shortly after after my younger brother Tim died. Helping her stay alive and happy was my focus. I had succeeded in keeping her alive.
Jack walked in, breathing hard. He had finished his meal and hiked up the steep hill from the café to the Care Center, carrying my To Go box. Becky looked around for a chair, but Jack waved her away and sat on the portable commode.
Mom’s bony hand clutched my arm and yanked me closer. Her face was not the face of a child, not the face of dementia, not even the face of the frail old woman she was. This was Frances in her right mind.
Her eyes glittered. “You’re not hearing me!”
“Mom, I hear you.”
She hammered her fists into my chest, battering and pounding me with ferocious energy.
“Listen to me! Listen to me! You’re not listening to me!”
Shock, hurt, and horror pulsed through me in waves. My mother had never hit me, not even as a child. It was a few seconds before I could get my breath and retrieve shreds of my Caregiver Calm, the defensive shield I had learned to pull around me when she was being unreasonable.
I glanced up at the three witnesses to my humiliation. Becky’s eyes filled with tears and she mouthed at me, “I’m so sorry.” I wondered what she saw on my face.
I grabbed Mom’s wrists and gently pulled them down. Her bony arms and hands were rigid with determination.
“I’m listening, Mom.”
“You’re not listening!” How many times had she felt this way with me, how many times had my singular focus on keeping her alive and happy blurred my ability to really hear what she was saying?
“I am. I promise. I am listening. I’m listening now. Tell me what I’m not hearing.”
“I want to die. You have to help me! Just kill me!”
I was having a hard time choking down the tears. My usual way of handling grief over what dementia had done to my beautiful, smart little mother was to settle into frustration and efficiency.
“Do you want me to smother you with a pillow?” I said. I was being facetious, another defense.
Tom’s hand flew up. “Frances, you can’t ask that of someone who loves you, it’s just not fair to them.”
“I can’t do that, Mom, you know I can’t do that.”
“Just throw me away, then. Let me die!” She gestured at Tom and Becky. “Make them let me die!”
I wanted to argue, wanted to point out that this was a rehab facility where she was going to get strong enough to walk again and resume her life. Her pinned femur was already healing.
But I had promised to listen.
“Tell me, tell us.” I waved at Becky and Tom. Jack had retreated to a safe place near the door. I knew he wanted, needed a cigarette by now. But he stayed.
Mom started through a list of demands.
“No food. No water. No medicine.”
Tom glanced at me. “No pain meds?”
“No pain meds,” She said. “I can’t swallow pills. I can’t swallow anything, it makes me choke.”
Becky had a question. “Frances, are you having pain now?”
“No, I don’t have any pain.”
Good, then she hadn’t broken anything else when she fell. Except that she had many times exhibited an uncanny imperviousness to pain of any kind, physical or emotional. The only indicator was those strokes, right after Tim died. She hadn’t cried, but she started having strokes.
Now that we were all listening she let me hold her hands.
“What if you fall again and hurt yourself, or get an infection, or get dehydrated?” Becky asked. “Do you want treatment?” We had been through all of this for her DNR, and her POLST.
“No IVs,” she said. “No antibiotics, no 9-1-1, no ambulances, just let me die.” Her eyes swiveled back to me. “You have to help me!”
“I will help you, Mom, I always have. If that’s what you want, I’ll help you.”
I so badly wanted to argue, to point out that even at 92 she had had some quality of life, some good days. I wanted to remind her of the last time I took her to lunch, when she tried to tell me a joke she’d heard at the assisted living facility. She would manage to get two words out, then dissolve in giggles, say another word, and laugh until she couldn’t get her breath, and by now I was laughing, too, and the more she tried to speak the more breathless and delighted she was, and me too, and by the time we got to the restaurant we were both weak with laughing at a joke she never even got to tell.
But she wasn’t laughing now.
“I mean it Mom, I hear you, you want to die. You want to stop eating and drinking until you die.”
Tom winced, and Jack slipped out the door.
Becky had leaned forward, intent. “What if you’re gasping for breath? Do you want oxygen?”
“So you want to be kept comfortable?” I said.
“Yes, of course.” She leaned back against the pillow, and her fingers relaxed in mine.
“What if you have pain, do you want morphine—maybe a morphine patch?”
“Yes! Morphine.”
“You just want to go to sleep and not wake up?” I said.
“Yes, that’s what I want.”
“Then I’ll try to make sure you have what you want.”
“Promise? Swear?”
“I swear.”
I thought about Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act. If only she could have had time to sign the request, do the waiting period, sign again, sign again. But no physician would have given her the Seconal. She wasn’t terminal.
Her eyes went to Becky and Tom. “What about you? You heard me, you’re my witnesses. Do you promise to help me die?”
They looked at each other uneasily and nodded.
“Say it out loud. I want to hear you say it. Do you swear?”
Becky said it out loud. “I swear.” Tom didn’t.
“What about you?” She was relentless.
“I swear,” Tom said.
Ferocious and pissed off in the hospital, but after that dramatic entry scene, she smiled at everyone, sweetly, and constantly.

END of 17 days.

Back to Diary entry from 2010:

I wish she could have had the time to sign all the papers (Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act) in advance of this date. But no physician would have said that she was terminally ill. She was simply terminally old and defeated, which meant she didn’t qualify.

She made Tom and Becky, as witnesses, swear they would support her decision. Then made me swear, which I did. Finally we all got clear about that, and she was laughing and talking when we left. They had dropped her bed down to floor level and surrounded it with 6” thick mats, so she can’t hurt herself. She’s running a fever, and she hopes it’s an infection so she can refuse treatment and die soon. Otherwise, she is refusing to eat or drink. That may take awhile.

OR…she may regain her will to live. I asked her why she doesn’t want to live, and she has a long list of reasons the big one being that she doesn’t want to be a burden to her family—meaning me. She wants to be with Anne and Tim. She’s bored with life, without a job or a family to raise. She’s “too hard to get along with”, she says, so she doesn’t have friends at Suzanne Elise. We’ll see which wins out, the will to live or the wish to die.

I’m pretty well worn out. Starting to catch up on sleep, so it will get better. There’s an excellent social worker (a good friend of mine, Patti) and a psych nurse (another good friend of mine, Milar) at the care center; both were in to see her shortly after she first arrived and last night Patty talked me through it on the phone for half an hour after the dramatic scene I had just gotten through with Frances.

Took Mom to the dentist next door to the care center today. He said all six of her lower teeth are completely rotten, have to come out, and are probably making her sick. And no way she hasn’t been in pain from them for at least 6 months. But she has never complained that they hurt until this week, when she needed another reason not to eat. So he took impressions, and Saturday morning he’ll pull her teeth and install her new lower denture and her relined upper denture. He asked what her goal was and she said, “I just want to be able to eat again.” (?!?!?)

I met with Milar for an hour today, and she is awesome. She’s so practical, so loving, and so CLEAR! She agrees that possibly Mom has Dissociative Identity Disorder, as Jenny says.

Sunday 3/21

Mom is being a pill, climbing out of her bed or back in it by herself if I leave the room for a moment, even walking to the door of her room, but acting like she can’t move her legs when the physical therapist wants her to sit up or stand up. Demanding I never leave her side, being uncooperative, refusing to eat or drink or do physical therapy, using the “I want to die RIGHT NOW” meme to control me and everybody else. The $4000 lower plate we had rush-made Saturday…got lost “somewhere” at the nursing home last night. The charge nurse gives a big shrug and said, “It will have to wait until the laundry aide comes in tomorrow,” when I offered to go search through the sheets in the laundry room to look for it. When I explained that Mom couldn’t eat without it, and hadn’t eaten for days, she shrugged again, and said, “I know.” And went back to her paperwork. Thank God for the aides. One of them, Brandy, said “I’ll go look for it right now.” And she did. But couldn’t find Mom’s teeth. So now Mom doesn’t even have her upper plate in, says it hurts her—and it probably does, with her lower jaw having had six extractions yesterday.

I want to help her die however she wants to. But she complains about not being able to eat, then refuses to try. Asks for water then says it tastes terrible and spits it out. The doctor is willing to let/help her die, too, but her heart and lungs are strong, no fever, no pain, no problems, she’s healed from surgery. I’m at my wit’s end. She asks me to kill her, over and over.

I’m so tired my compassion has completely dissolved. I had to leave to keep from saying something snotty back to Mom. When I’m not by her side 24/7 (which I am, mostly) she says, “I was so lost without you! Where were you!?” It’s been a long difficult day, just another one of many.

My brother and his wife are coming tonight, and I told them to just go straight to the nursing home, do not come here first

Like I said, I’m compassion-challenged at the moment. Wes will have his hands full when he gets to the nursing home, and I’m not going over there to try to buffer.

Later Sunday night:

I’m a little pissed off at God right now, after witnessing so many tragedies at the Alzheimer’s/nursing home. I could write a book. Maybe I would call it “Why Dr. Kevorkian Had the Right Idea.” My heart just breaks for all of them, especially Mom, and then I get angry because I have to keep my heart in one piece. I feel so helpless when she asks me to “just shoot her” or “help me die, please, please,” as if I could do something magical and it would all be over. The worst thing she says is, “Just throw me away.”

Mom actually might be in a lot of pain, but she’s so inured to pain that she doesn’t feel it. Witness, six completely rotten teeth that had to have been causing her a lot of pain, not to mention poisoning her whole system…and she never said she had a toothache until she was in the hospital last week.

So Mom is seeing Milar on Tuesday, and we’re going to get serious about her imperviousness to pain and how she seems to be, however, in immense psychological pain if nothing else. Serious sedation would kill her, because the only way she can come out of this is to work with the occupational therapist to walk again. Today she fought her at every turn, said she was too tired, felt just awful, it was too hard, she couldn’t do it, “I just can’t” over and over—couldn’t sit up, couldn’t stand up, couldn’t wash her face. She finally did, under duress. Then after the O.T. left, she sent me to get her a cup of coffee and while I was gone clambered out of her wheelchair and fell across the bed. Then got stuck. When I asked her what she was trying to do, she said, “Well, I didn’t know where you went!” angrily. A non sequitir.

But maybe some anti-anxiety meds??

Wes just arrived after a brief visit with Mom. Have to debrief with him now.

Monday 3/22, 10 a.m.

I’m going to try that screaming thing! Wes and Mary came last night and went to see Mom, and of course she was in the “Queen of My Domain” role she always is for them, smiling and happy, no problems at all. We warned them. Jack always backs me up, because my sibs tend to wonder if I’m exaggerating a wee bit. Especially when I told them about her hitting me, pounding on me when she realized she was in a nursing home and afraid I wouldn’t help her die. Jack vouched for that, because he saw it. Wes and Mary went back over today, so I could get a morning off.

Sandy sent me this: “Something you can do is to meditate and have ‘your higher self’ talk to your mother’s ‘higher self’ and remind her not to be fearful, and that ‘all is well’. Tell her to stay calm and that she will leave this earth plane when she is ready!”

I do feel a lot better today, after a good night’s sleep and just finally having a whole morning to myself. Wes and Mary bought us breakfast and forbade me to come to the nursing home. I exhorted Wes to try to make her “get real” with him—she never does—ask her why Judy says Mom told her, over and over, that she wants to die! While they are there I hope she’ll get to see the speech therapist to evaluate why she says she can’t swallow, and perhaps try to retrain her. And from the dentist, who I hope will raise hell that they lost her new plate the same day it was put in.

Mary asked me several times: “What is the worst thing that can happen if you just don’t go over there?” Jack acknowledged that he didn’t think I could stay away, I’d feel too guilty.

I need therapy.

Monday 3/22 noon

Wes and Mary are headed home today. Mary says Wes should come back and “assume his share of the obligation” but I’m not requiring that. If he even could visit once a week and give me a morning off, that would help. Or Jenny. I’m trying to wean Mom from her total dependence on me to be there every second of this long painful process, but I then feel guilty about abandoning her when she’s terrified. On the other hand, she is no doubt still manipulating me, and might actually cooperate with the people trying to help her if she didn’t have me to play to.
“These thoughts do not mean anything” from ACIM helps. And a quote from Nisargadatta: “If you could only keep quiet, clear of memories and expectations, you would be able to discern the beautiful patterns of events. It´s your restlessness that causes chaos.” I’m also asking my Higher Self to go talk to her Higher Self to calm her down. She’s definitely of two opposing minds: one is desperate to die NOW and the other is frantically terrified of the prospect. So she quits eating and drinking, then sips a bit of water. The night nurse tells me she brings her strawberry ice cream in the middle of the night, and she devours it, which can keep her going indefinitely.
I haven’t been over to the nursing home today, and blessedly, Mom doesn’t have a phone there. I’ll go over after I get back from reading at Suzanne Elise—those people so look forward to me coming and reading to them, and I missed last week.

There are a hundred sad stories at the nursing home—I keep running into them when I offer a word of comfort or a pat on the arm. The constant ululation of advanced Alzheimer’s patients makes everyone feel crazy. Especially Mom.

Anyway, it’s a pretty day, Jack got to play golf, and I got some time off. Jack definitely has my back, and helps to get my sibs to understand that what I tell them isn’t an exaggeration. She isn’t the Frances Queen with me. She hits me.

Tuesday 3/23, 8 a.m.

Miraculously, things have turned around yesterday for Mom—Patti spent considerable time with her, the occupational therapist Renee spent good time with her, they both connected with her on a positive and spiritual level, and she now wants to live again.

Yesterday I stopped by only once, told her I was on my way to the Democratic Central Committee meeting, and she smiled and waved and said “Have a good time!” Renee told her she had to start working on her next book, the world was waiting, so she’s all fired up with a sense of purpose again. I hope it lasts.

My dear brother saw how things were and said he’s going to come up from Coos Bay for two days a week until she’s out of the nursing home, to give me a break.

Tuesday afternoon 3/23

I just talked to SEAL, and given her rate of recovery and no pain, they’ll take her back next Tuesday or Wednesday and continue PT there! She really wants to go back! Today they left her on the toilet, told her to pull the string when she was through so they could get her back in bed. Instead, she got up by herself and walked back to bed and got in it. She’s ready to leave.

I went to see Mom for 45 minutes today then said I had to leave, and she was fine with that. Wes is coming tomorrow, so I’ll stay away and work on my book. Then Jenny can come down after she gets back from Bend on Friday.

Things are getting better! Lots of good signs right now.

Wed. 3/24 evening

Wes called. He has a sore throat so he can’t come.

Mom showed me the book she was working on. It was an illegible paragraph, but I recognized a few words: Betty and Bobby. I asked her to tell me the story, and she did. I wrote in her words over her scrawl. But when I asked her if she was going to work on it some more, she shook her head miserably. No.

It’s unclear now whether Mom is just trying to yank my chain, or what. She has times when she laughs at a comedy on TV, and she always smiles sweetly at everyone who comes in. But with me…it’s all about making sure I remember that she wants to die. Jack posited that perhaps she knows now that it’s going to happen soon, and is therefore happy. Could be. That’s a new kind of heartache—some of the time, not all.

Patti put an “Urgent” on my request for the speech therapist to check out why she can’t swallow.

I am learning, the hard way (as it always has been with Mom’s lessons) to hang out in the unknown, walk the tightrope that isn’t fastened on the other end, be fully present with her when I can be. And get on with my life in the meantime, such as it is.

Friday 3/26 evening

I think Mom had a little stroke this morning while I was gone for an hour for a meeting. When I returned they had her sitting in a wheelchair near the desk, limp and unresponsive. She’s been bewildered and very very weak ever since. Was able to be propped up and open her eyes, but she’s been pretty uncomprehending.

Jenny came! She’s just been wonderful. She’ll stay for the duration. She said “no church funeral!” which stunned me. Now I have someone to help me make all the plans and arrangements and she knows a lot about arrangements, having done it for a woman she cared for, then her husband.

We agree that Mom probably will live, at most, 3-4 more days. She’s limp and bewildered, doing a lot of gazing into our eyes rather than talking; when she talks it’s brief and hard to hear. We’re making funeral plans, so we don’t have to make them later under duress. We may take her back to Suzanne Elise to die, which she wanted to do yesterday, but today she seems disinterested in such details.

Dr. R. came, and asked her, “Frances, how are you doing with that trying-to-die thing?”

“Not good,” she said.

“Why not?”

“They won’t let me die.”

Dr. R. assumed she meant Heaven was telling her it wasn’t her time yet.

But later I asked her who “they” were—the caregivers? Her family? Who?

She could only shrug. She didn’t know.

Then Jenny came in and asked if “they” were inside of her. She perked up and said, “Yes!”

“Do you hear them talking?”


Later I asked her how old she was (a tip from Jenny). She looked up at me with such a sweet, young, innocent face. Ducked her chin and glanced up, and said, “Four” in a high, childish voice.

My granddaughter Jenica left a beautiful handmade card for Mom, with a line from one of Mom’s poems (Jen’s favorite: “The Thread”) inscribed on one side: “A filament of silver, tethered to my heart.”

Sat. 3/27, 10 p.m.

Today I curled up next to Mom in her bed for awhile. She’s having a hard time. I told her I would miss her forever, and she patted my cheeks and tried to hug me, but was too weak. I asked her to somehow communicate with me after she passed over, and she seemed to like the idea. When I said, “How will I know it’s you?” she shrugged. She didn’t know. But her eyes told me, “You’ll know.”

We have talked often before about what psychics and after-death communicators reported: two ways people can communicate once they are pure energy in spirit is through manipulating electricity/energy, and by putting thoughts or images in your mind, ideas that often seem inspirational, a “light bulb going on,” when the thought is coming from the beloved one who is now in spirit.

She’s dehydrated and anorexic and not going gently.

I’m helping her to die in every way I know how, but those little ones inside are powering her resistance.

But she smiles at us constantly, no teeth. Breaks my heart, over and over.

3/28, midnight

“Frances, how old are you?” I asked.

Tiny, sweet, smooth, innocent face, that shy smile: “Two.”

My heart shattered. Two.

Jenny and I did the math. We realized for the first time that while she believed the abuse started at age five, the story she had told me was that her Grandma came to help her mother with the birth of her brother. When the two women went down to fix breakfast, her Dad went to the foot of the bed where her baby crib was and lifted her out, put her in bed with him, and started his perversions. Her brother Bill was born when she was two and after that there were only sisters, for years. I just hadn’t done the math, or remembered the age gap.

This monster sexually abused his innocent two-year-old baby. And now at the end of her life when she should be allowed to go peacefully, she’s having to deal with all these unleashed little parts of herself that don’t want to die.

As for me, it’s breaking my heart and at the same time healing it, because finally she will be at peace and all her scared little babies will finally be comforted. And now her puzzling and frustrating behavior for the past few years has been explained.

My poor little mother is now revealing the full extent of her abuse; she is alternately two, four and five years old. But there a healing happening. For me, for Jenny, and especially for the babies, who now get to be acknowledged and given the love and help they have wanted for so long. Jenny made her a lifelike baby doll (who looks about two) a couple of years ago, but Mom showed little interest in it. Now she clutches the baby doll’s pinafore even when she’s asleep and won’t let anyone move it. With her other hand she clutches the picture of her mother, who she now refers to as “mother Mary” (her longtime guide) and gazes at it for hours, as if she’s trying to understand or remember something important. She drags the doll over to show her the picture. She kisses the picture. She’s figuring something out. Can’t talk now. But whispers how old she is when I ask, and her little face is exactly that age; the expressions, the eyes, all of it.

“How old are you, Frances?”

“Four.” Sweet shy smile.

“Do you want to die?”


“Why not?”

“Because my Daddy did bad things to me, and I don’t know where he is.”

This, finally explained Frances’ contradictory feelings about death, especially now that she was actively trying to die. She was afraid he would be there, wherever she was going.

“How old is the baby?” (The doll)

“Two,” she said, patting the doll’s stomach.

“Are you taking care of the little baby who’s two?”

Big smile. “Yes”

A therapist friend had made a suggestion, which I carried out now.

“Sweetheart, Big Frances is the one who made the Daddy stop hurting the babies. Will you let Big Frances gather up all the little ones who have been hurt, and keep them safe always?”

Then I had an inspiration, which I now think was orchestrated by Frances’ Higher Self, the Self that scrawled the paragraph about Magicland. Her happy place. “And will you let her take all the little ones with her to the Magic Cloud and say the magic word, and then take all the little ones with her to Magicland where she will keep you safe forever?”

Frances’ face bloomed in a radiant smile. She glowed. “Yes!”

Jenny is here, and it’s a big relief and help. All of Anne’s kids came down tonight to see Mom, and Wes came, and Mike’s coming any minute now, with his two girls. When we got back from the nursing home with Anne’s kids, Jack had a huge spread on the counter—our neighbor who is a professional chef had brought over two roast chickens, a mouth-watering apple pie and a great bowl of the best scones I have ever eaten. I had made chili and white bean soup this morning, and we had various loaves of bread, so we all pigged out. Little 5-year-old Christy (Anne’s granddaughter) kept saying, “I really really like your food, Aunt Judy.”

Monday, 3/29, 8 a.m.

Mom isn’t in there anymore, there is no artifice, no roles or pretense. Just the babies, looking up shyly, chin tucked. Smiling.

Wes, Jenny, Mike and I went to Suzanne Elise to get her things out of her room. They have to be gone by Wednesday, and we didn’t want to be sitting with Frances tomorrow and worrying about having to get over there to clear out her room.

Jenny found a “letter from God to Baby Frances” that a friend had given her, and left immediately to go back to the nursing home and be with Mom. Her breathing was shallow when we left, and we wanted someone to be with her.

On our way back to Wheeler, Jenny called. She had found Mom sitting up and awake, and wanting a washcloth. She helped her use it, then sat down and read her the letter. As she read the last line, Frances took her last breath and died peacefully.

We, Jenny and I gathered in Mom’s room and wrapped her in the quilt her children and grandchildren made for her, surrounding her with love. It would go with her into cremation.

The night Mom died I turned off my cell phone for the first time in 15 years. We have a NOAA emergency radio by the bed—it hasn’t gone off in the year it’s been there, though we’ve had several tsunami warnings and some really bad hurricane-level storms, without a squeak from the NOAA radio. But that night, it went off at 2 a.m.—piercing siren alarm, and had me straight up immediately. Then the announcement was: “Rain expected, thunderstorms possible.” Period. Alarm, followed by trivial concern.

I was so freaked I made Jack get up and turn the radio off. He unplugged it and said the batteries were dead, so it was off. Two hours later it happened again. This time I went outside and gazed at the full moon and went for a walk in my nightgown. Then drew a hot bath and sat in it. It was then I realized something that I’d been too much in grief to recognize: because of the way Mom revealed all the little hurt babies and children inside her, and gave me the chance to talk with them and heal them so she could gather them up and leave…I had no leftover grievances. No regrets, no resentments, no bad memories. Just sorrow for the way she had suffered for so many years, and a new understanding of “who” I had had to soothe and comfort so many times, and why she often acted out the way she did. The way she got my attention was to turn on the radio. Twice, because I missed it the first time. She had to get me up and out before I could recognize what I was supposed to recognize. We are healed and whole, and our relationship is now nothing but love. The loud alert followed by a trivial message was her typical pattern, so she knew I would know it was her. She must have been laughing.

I have a sense of the joy and jubilation she felt as her eyes adjusted to her new place, seeing her beloveds gathered there waiting for her with celebration.

The next chapter will be the final chapter about Frances. Stay tuned.

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Chapter 66, Frances continued

When Frances was ninety-one. I experienced yet another recurrence of breast cancer (in both breasts) and was unable to travel to Portland or visit her for several months while my immune system was compromised by surgery, chemotherapy and staph infections. During that time her assisted living facility in Portland began to deteriorate and fell well below the standard of care they had previously provided. Without my regular oversight, Frances was neglected and ignored. It was clear that she was depressed and becoming increasingly isolated. My siblings called her regularly and read her stories, but they all lived in other cities, unable to visit. My youngest sister, Anne, also had breast cancer, and was in treatment. A mutual friend, Beach, who had studied the Course in one of Frances’ group twenty years earlier, learned about her loneliness. From then on he showed up every Thursday without fail, and took Frances out for maple bars and coffee. He was a virtual lifesaver. An angel.

As soon as I was able, I moved Frances to a facility near my home on the coast, where the level of care was all that one could hope for. At the same time, Anne began a downward slide in her own battle with breast cancer.

During Frances’ year in her new facility, the final year of her life, she called me five or six times a day. I visited her at least once a week, and for special occasions, or to take her to doctor appointments, or I brought her to my house for a visit or party. My friends didn’t understand my involvement with my mother. Their mothers had already died, or were only a distant presence in their lives. They thought I was obsessed, and needed to, as usual, “get a life.” Anne asked me, in a musing sort of way, “Judy, don’t you wish you could be as casual about taking care of Mom as we are?” The question jolted me. How did my siblings do that? They sometimes stepped up when I was unable to be involved, but that slacked off as soon as I was healthy again. Why was I “the one”—the chosen one, obviously, to be my mother’s caregiver? There was no answer. It seemed predestined, a contract I was unable to break, though I had tried to several times.

Frances had a set of cards with ACIM quotes, and one that she kept by her chair was this one: “Under His teaching, every relationship becomes a lesson in love.” I was learning a lesson in love. Love that endures when a person becomes difficult to love, and there are no answers that satisfy.

During that final year I completed the novel I had worked on for years, and recovered from cancer and treatment. I did have a life, I assured myself, though it revolved around Frances’ needs and demands and phone calls and emotional meltdowns. If I tried to design a class or a group that would allow me to use my training, skills and gifts, “something” stopped me. I couldn’t get interested, let alone committed. Apparently, the only way I could be of service was with Frances, and by volunteering at her facility—every Monday I read to a group of residents, from one of the books she had written, which pleased Frances immensely.

Her nightmares worsened. She began to call me at two or three a.m., in a state of angry panic—“They won’t let me eat breakfast!” or “They won’t help me get dressed!” and “They say I have to go back to bed!” The middle-of-the-night alarm of the telephone followed by the trivial, childish complaint became a pattern. If I tried to reason with her, her stubborn resistance escalated. If I spoke to her as if she were five years old and told her she could stay up if she wanted to, she calmed down. If I didn’t hear the phone, she called Jenny or sometimes, my brother Wes. If she couldn’t reach any of us she became unmanageable.

“I just want to die,” was her mantra for that last year. “Just let me die.” Sometimes I could soothe her out of it, but sometimes not. “I’m going to walk to the ocean and keep on walking.” Or, “I’m going to just stop eating.” She couldn’t get far on foot—she used a walker, which she pushed at a fast clip, but she tired easily, and her balance was shaky. She couldn’t just stop eating. The facility allowed her to order her favorite foods from a menu, so she ordered strawberry waffles with whipped cream and ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and often, dinner. She asked me to bring miniature cream puffs when I visited, which I did. A bag or box of candy disappeared in hours. She had dessert at lunch and dinner, even if she’d already had a strawberry waffle as her main course. When one of us took her out to breakfast or lunch, she insisted we go to the Pig ‘N’ Pancake, where they had the best strawberry waffles. She lived on sugar.

For a few months Jenny and I took over transporting Anne from Mt. Angel to Portland for weekly chemotherapy treatments, until it was clear that there were no more treatments available and Anne went home, on hospice, and we spent time helping her there. During this time Frances became increasingly difficult to manage—she was belligerent, angry, or silent and withdrawn. At first we thought she didn’t fully comprehend how seriously ill Anne was, because she turned away and changed the subject when we brought it up. But often in a conversation she would surprise us with the question, “How is Anne?” Her grief was palpable, and inconsolable.

Anne died on February 2, 2010. Jenny and I together told Frances, who dissolved in grief. Later we took her to the Pig ‘N’ Pancake, where a strawberry waffle gave her temporary comfort. But during the following six weeks, she called me nearly 100 times, often sobbing. She wanted to die, she wanted to die, please help her die. She wanted to be with Tim and Anne, she was tired of living, please help her die.

My entire focus for fourteen years had been to help my mother have a reasonably happy and comfortable life in spite of her increasing dementia and sadness. I couldn’t turn that on a dime. I couldn’t help her die.

On March 13, 2010, Frances fell and broke her hip. We followed the ambulance to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Portland, where she had surgery to pin the break, early the following morning.

The next seventeen days were a journey of revelation and healing, for me, for Jenny, and for Frances.

What follows is a condensation of my diary of those weeks.

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Chapter 65, Diary Entry from Dec. 2003

December 17, 2003

A typical day (but none are typical)

Mom e-mails and/or calls me 5 or 6 times a day, to tell me
a) she had to bundle up warm to walk to Rite-Aid (a block away) to buy a new pan with Teflon because she forgot her pan on the burner and it burned up.
b) She’ll sure be glad when she can drive her car (I’m still straightening out the insurance, the expired registration and plates, and the lost title; now have the replacement title and have to get her signature then go to DMV to register the “sale” from the Center to Mom. DMV is half an hour away.)
c) She asks, when is our appointment with John, she forgot. John is a mutual friend who used to work in NY publishing; she called him and said she wanted him to read her Story of a Life book and give her advice about publishing it. She told him Judy would bring her over to talk about it. We don’t have an appointment yet, because I haven’t had time to call him and make the appointment, let alone drive her to NW Portland to see him. Twice. Once before he reads it and once after.
d) The paper is stuck again in her printer. This is a daily problem. It turns out this time it isn’t the paper, it’s out of ink, so I have to replace the cartridge because when she tries to do it herself I have to spend literally hours and hours trying to get it to work again, including several long calls to HP help lines. Other times she says it’s broken again—almost daily—it turns out she forgot how to print from her computer and is pushing the Copy button, or she’s pushing the Scan button when she wants to copy. I got her the multi-function printer so she wouldn’t need to make so many trips to the copier store. When I easily print the document from the computer that she was trying to print, she gets angry and says she DID that, and it DIDN’T WORK! When e-mail comes back because it has a totally garbled up address she typed in instead of using her automatic address book, she insists that she used her address book, she DIDN’T type it in, but when I go to the Outbox and check, there are garbled up messages where she typed in the address. When I delete them, she doesn’t get the annoying message anymore, but she always says she DID check the Outbox and there was nothing there. She can no longer read or understand or follow even the simplest instructions (I’ve made a very simple manual for her) about how to use her e-mail or printer. But she’s desperate to keep using it, sees it as her only link to the outside world these days. So it takes daily help and fixing.
e) She sent me a Verizon e-mail that says she’s used more than 125 hours this month and will be charged for all the extra hours, and gives a web site to go to. She can’t understand web sites. I went to the web site and found she had gone up from an average of 50 hours a month to 260 hours this month so far. I had noticed her computer is often on-line even when she’s not using it. She said that when it asks her if she wants to disconnect she always says No. She’s forgotten that when she’s not using it she needs to disconnect. (This took an hour on-line and on the phone, had to change her password, etc.)
f) She needs some more ground coffee. The only kind she likes (me too) is from Schondecken coffee store in Sellwood, where she used to live and I used to live. When I buy mine, I usually get her some too. But lately she says she doesn’t need it when I go, so she runs out when I don’t need to go for myself. It’s twenty minutes away.
g) She doesn’t like to take the little pill that she has to cut in half, because it scratches her throat. I went to Kaiser and asked them to give her a pill with half the dosage so she doesn’t have to cut them in half. They said that would be a very expensive special order, because they don’t stock the lower dosage. I put in her new prescription anyway, then Jen and I went to talk to the social worker about her living arrangements. That took an hour and a half, and afterward I forgot to go back to the pharmacy and pick up her prescription.

The other night we took her to the Gospel Christmas concert—100 voices from 49 churches, and it was beautiful. Then took her out to eat. She didn’t seem to enjoy any of it. When we took her home I checked her pill box to refill it, and she said she was sure glad she didn’t have to take that Fosamax anymore. I told her she was supposed to keep taking it once a week. Big flap—she believes she was taking it only to heal the fracture in her spine, which she says is almost well now, so she said she’s NOT taking any more of that Fosamax, she HATES it. Turns out it makes her dizzy for half an hour. And she probably has trouble remembering to take it. For the first month I went over very early Saturday mornings to give her the pill and make sure she didn’t eat or drink beforehand, or for half an hour afterward. But then she seemed to be able to do it herself, by posting a reminder I wrote up, on her bathroom mirror. As long as I called her Friday nights to tell her to post it. When I tried to explain that her doctor prescribed it to strengthen her bones so she won’t have any more fractures, so she needs to keep taking it, she flared up and yelled at me that that wasn’t true, she was going to call her doctor and find out. At that point I lost it and threw up my hands (literally) and said I didn’t care if she took it or not, it’s her body and her life, and she can choose what to do with it. She can choose to have fragile bones or take the pill, I don’t care, it’s her choice and I refuse to be the Pill Policeman, I hate that job!

So I’m not refilling that prescription. I’ve been paying for her copays on pills, and that particular one is a $10 copay per pill, so $40 a month, and it’s fine with me if we stop it.

I spent couple of hours on the phone with the Area Agency on Aging to set her up for Medicaid payment for an aide. Now they are going to send someone out to do an in-home evaluation, which they must do before they can pay out state money, and I’m not looking forward to that visit. Of course I’ll have to be there, and of course she won’t tell them the truth about how mentally disabled she is. Or if they can see it, or ask the right questions, she’ll be angry and yell at the guy and refuse to answer. I hope they’re used to that.

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Chapter 64 – Frances and the Watkins man

Her voice on the phone that afternoon was high and thin, stumbling over the words she spilled out too fast.
“Judy, can you come over?” she said. “I can’t find my money, I’ve looked everywhere. I think someone took my money, I’m sure it was in my purse, and now it’s gone. I think somebody took it.”
“What money, Mom?” I said. “How much money are you talking about?”
Her voice trembling, breathless. “All my money, Judy, all I had left from my Social Security.”
“You keep it in your purse?” I said. I was impatient, incredulous, this made me tired.
“Can’t you just come over and help me?” Mom said.
In the car I tried to remember Mom’s sources of income. Dad’s Social Security, barely enough to support a person. Donations from her followers. Before Tim got sick I kept her banking straight and legal, but now there was no telling. There couldn’t have been much coming in since she stopped holding darshans.
Mom’s door was open. There were no lights on in her apartment and the drapes were closed. Mom, the light freak, was sitting in the dimness on her couch in her pink bathrobe, her hair uncombed. She lifted her head when I turned on the overhead light.
“I was meditating,” she said.
The Watkins Products invoice was on the hall table. Here’s where the money went:
One quart bottle of Watkins Bathroom Cleaner Plus $8.99
11 oz Original Double-Strength Vanilla, flavor that won’t bake out $19.99
Brain Plus. Has your memory played a disappearing act lately? Our unique formula can help to bring back your memory while protecting against age-related mental decline (60 caplets, 30-day supply) $18.99
Frances said: “Remember when the Watkins man used to come to the farm and I bought my spices and vanilla from him? This Watkins man is just as sweet as that Watkins man, they are all so nice. He visits me a lot.”
I sat back down on the couch Mom’s sad energy swirling all around me. I put my arm around her, pulled her closer to me. What was I going to do with my enlightened, sad, human, failed little mother?
Mom got up and went to her window. She pulled the wand to close the vertical slats, the wand stuck, the blinds wouldn’t close.
“Judy, would you…?” Mom said.
The wand didn’t work for me, either, until I straightened a few slats that had gotten turned sideways.
Mom’s blue prism eyes glowed at me, her smile as bright white as her foam hair.
“See, Judy, you can always make things work. You’re a miracle worker. Always have been.”

How Alzheimer’s works: the patient loses her faculties gradually, in reverse order from how they were developed: last one in, first one out. Memory fades, and then physical abilities. They begin to dress weird—petticoat on top of the dress, colors and patterns clashing wildly. And they won’t be talked out of it, just as a four-year-old stubbornly insists on wearing two pairs of shorts under her dress and four of Mom’s necklaces to pre-school. Then they need help dressing. Finally they forget how to dress themselves at all. Toilet training fades, from “accidents” back down to diapers. They gradually lose motor skills. The loss of language is close to the end, the vocabulary dwindling and dwindling until only a few simple words remain. “No” is a favorite word, usually one of the last words to go. They no longer give any sign of recognition with familiar people.

At about age six weeks a baby begins to smile—it’s the first sign of humanness and personality, and we are delighted. In Alzheimer’s, it’s the last sign of humanness and personality to go. Like the Cheshire Cat, when all other aspects of the personality have faded and disappeared, all that remains is the grin. And finally, that, too, is gone.

This is how we dissolve our personality/ego and remember our Essence, which we gradually lost in the first two years of life, developing personality and ego to replace it. We lose Essence one facet at a time, and that is how we regain it. We cultivate its characteristics—honesty, strength, compassion, etc.—and as we do, the personality trait that replaced that facet of Essence dissolves. As we regain facets of Essence, each one we regain helps to bring back the others.

We moved across town to be near Frances and the Center. At age eighty-six, it was clear that she was no longer able to live alone. She needed more care and help than I could give her. She moved into an assisted living facility near her home, and lived in relative peace and comfort there for five years. I had moved to the Oregon coast, a two-hour trip I made regularly to be with her and help her. She called me several times every day, often with dementia-related problems I couldn’t fix. I could only listen, commiserate and try to reason with her, but she often seemed like a frightened five-year-old child who could not be reasoned with or consoled. Or an angry, rebellious ten-year-old, or a determined twelve-year-old who was planning to escape. She had begun to have nightmares about her father. I decided to treat her as if I were her mother, and simply entered into her world, whatever age she seemed to be. It was successful. And often frustrating for me, because my cell phone number was on her speed dial, and even a five-year-old knew how to hit the “Judy” button. My friends told me I needed to “get a life.” I had a life, and a satisfying one, but it was interwoven and overlaid with her needs and demands.

My year-and-a-half younger sister Jenny and her psychotherapist husband had worked with women whom she called “fractured”—known in the psychological literature as multiple personality syndrome or, more recently, Dissociative Identity Disorder. It is defined as “a condition in which a person has more than one distinct identity or personality state. At least two of these personalities repeatedly assert themselves to control the affected person’s behavior. Each personality state has a distinct name, past, identity, and self-image.”

Jenny had, in fact suggested such a possibility to Frances. She was met with cold resistance and absolute denial that any such thing could be true. I spoke with professionals in geriatric psychology, and they all assured me that her behavior was “typical for dementia.”

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Chapter 63, Frances’ Story, part 1

Frances Reed was my mother for seventy years. She nourished, supported and encouraged me physically, mentally, and spiritually. Once she saved my life, by introducing me to a spiritual path that enabled me to reverse a disastrous prognosis. But the most stunning learning program, which we embarked upon together, began with her descent into stroke-related dementia, where she lost the ability to access the spiritual practices she had taught and exemplified for many years. I will call her Frances in this story, though in life I only called her “Mom,” until her last days.

Frances was a story teller and writer from my earliest memory. Her favorite story, and the favorite of her five children, and our children, and our children’s children, was the Betty and Bobby Story. Betty and Bobby were twins who were sometimes four years old, sometimes five years old, sometimes ten, depending on the audience. The twins had a Magic Cloud they parked in the cherry tree (or pear, or plum, or apple, depending on who is telling the story) in the back yard. The twins could run out to the tree, climb on the magic cloud, say the magic words—Zippety Zippety Zoom—and speed off to Magicland. Magicland could be anything we wanted it to be. Flowerland, Teeny-Tiny Land, Candyland (a favorite for three generations), Christmasland, PolkaDotLand. She could even manufacture a story for something like Cowpie Land, if that’s what we insisted on hearing.

After 35 years as a farm wife and mother, Frances left my father to pursue a life of discovery and freedom. She started college at age 54, graduated at age 58, and enjoyed a five-year career teaching and counseling. After retirement she discovered a spiritual path she had sought for many years—A Course in Miracles—and it dramatically changed her life.

And mine. In 1983, when I was 42, I received a diagnosis of metastasic breast cancer. The prognosis: “Five percent chance of surviving for three years.” Mom sent me a copy of a single paragraph from the Course, and like her, I recognized it as the spiritual path I needed for my own healing. The book was designed for self-directed spiritual and psychological healing, and I began an intensive study. Frances facilitated study groups in her home, and I joined one of her groups. Within a year, her work had outgrown her apartment. With her meager Social Security income, she rented an older home in Southeast Portland, moved herself into the upstairs bedroom, and turned the main floor into The Portland Miracles Center. My husband, Jack, filed the nonprofit application, and by 1985 her Center had 501(c)3 status.

People seeking spiritual inspiration, study groups, intellectual stimulus, comfort and/or companionship came and went all day every day. She kept the coffeepot on in the kitchen, and used the dining room to publish a monthly newsletter. Her single guiding principle was this: “the Holy Spirit will guide us, and provide enough money to remain open and pay the rent, or we will close.” When there wasn’t enough money coming in to pay the rent and expenses, she took in manuscripts to edit in her upstairs room. The Center remains open to this day (2010), still guided by Frances’ principle.

In 1985 I experienced my own miracle of physical healing. The breast cancer did recur a second time after chemotherapy ended, and I used what I had learned in the Course to heal the new tumor without treatment. In my gratitude, I vowed to help Frances run the Center, facilitate study groups, teach classes, and train teachers. I took over editing and publishing the newsletter.

In 1992, when Frances was seventy-five, she told me a secret she had held her whole life: her father had sexually abused and molested her from the age of five. She had tried to protect her four younger sisters from his predations, but when she refused him at age twelve, he began to molest her sisters. She was unable to be with them every minute of every day, though she tried. When she married at age eighteen, her youngest sister became his target.

This news explained why my sisters and I were never allowed to be around my grandfather, and why she saw to it that her parents’ visits were brief. It explained why her sisters married abusive and philandering men, and why there were alcohol and drug problems, and even suicide. But Frances had married my father, for one important reason—he was kind. And so he was. The cycle of abuse had been broken by her, and only her, so that our succeeding generations were protected.

The primary message of the Course is inner peace through forgiveness, and Frances was finally able to forgive her father. I was not. I saw how her own inner torment continued. She offered healing to so many, but hadn’t been able to find complete healing for herself. She had periods of depression through the years, and had an almost pathological fear of dying, in spite of the teachings of the Course. She said, alternately, that she would never die, she would simply transubstantiate like Elijah; or that she would live to be 120 years old. She refused to take medications of any kind, even aspirin, and claimed she could not swallow pills; they made her choke. In fact, she was never ill, didn’t catch colds, had never even had a headache. I began to wonder if perhaps she would live forever.

When Frances was seventy-eight her youngest son, my brother Tim, died of melanoma. Mom wore chiffon to Tim’s memorial service, a long red chiffon dress, Tim’s color. The gymnasium at the school looked like a political nominating convention, with red balloons, pictures and posters of Tim, and bleachers for the hundreds of students, teachers, parents, and friends. The family sat in the front row. Me and Jack and Mom. Mom smiled through the Trumpet Voluntary played by eight trombones, a lineup of brass across the front of the gym, Tim’s band buddies from all over the city, grownup men blowing their horns through tears and snot. Mom smiled during the eulogies. Smiled while people stood in line to squeeze her hand and offer tributes to her son.

That same year on his birthday she had her first of three strokes. She lost the ability to do linear processing, and could no longer teach or write or manage the Center. I took over the Center and became Frances’ primary caregiver. She was able to live in her own apartment, but needed help many times a day with the simple tasks of everyday living. She had stroke-related dementia, which grew progressively worse.

Cocoa and post-its:

Jack was still being watchful and careful with me. After Tijuana, milk had gone sour in the fridge, we ran out of butter and coffee, the bread went moldy, and the only meat on hand was a weeks-old package of deli ham. Laundry spilled over the baskets next to the washing machine. The same sheets had been on the bed for over a month.

Jack took over kitchen duties, shopped for groceries and cooked. He did the laundry, changed the bed. He no longer asked why I wasn’t checking in with Mom. Instead, he stopped by to check on her, and spared me any discussion of How Mom Is Doing when he returned.

Not that Mom had been that much in touch with reality while Tim was sick, but now she lived in a place in her mind in which everything had turned out the way she planned. Coping with the parallel universe sometimes put her in a semi-panicked state of confusion. The phone conversations were surreal.


“Judy, good morning, or is it afternoon, how are you dear?”

“I’m good, how are you?”

I could tell how she was coping by the way her voice was. If she was deeply into denial, her voice was dreamy and chirpy. Other times, the panic times, her voice spun tight and high and fast and her words stumbled over each other, stuttering.

On the phone that afternoon she started out chirpy and soon went into panic.

“I thought I’d just make a cup of cocoa…but…have you seen my cocoa? It’s…I can’t find my cocoa, I’ve looked everywhere.”

In Frances’s tiny kitchen, the cupboard over the sink was where she kept tea and cocoa and condiments.

“Have you looked over the sink? That’s where you usually keep it.”

“I’ve looked there, looked everywhere. I can’t find it,” she said. She coughed twice, her dry unnecessary cough. “Judy, Could you come over?”

It was April now and morning sun filled the room from above and all around. Daffodils were still in bloom just outside. The daffodils were King Alfreds, but not Dad’s King Alfreds. Dad’s King Alfreds were deep, rich glow-in-the-dark gold, with trumpets the size of coffee mugs. These days the daffodils they called King Alfreds were bright yellow, large as daffodils go, but not Dad’s King Alfreds.

“I’m sewing, Mom, can’t you just look again?”

“No, I’ve looked and looked, and I know I have some cocoa, but I can’t find it. Please, please, come over, just for a minute?” Her voice stopped on a high note of pleading and alarm, her voice the new Frances, new since Tim died.

If only Jack were not at work. Often he stopped by after work to see her, helped her find things, left me out of it. She lost things, misplaced things, couldn’t find the FM switch on her radio, forgot where she put her checkbook, her glasses, her car keys. Normal stuff, probably, especially if she was grieving. Hard to tell.

I looked at my watch. Early afternoon. I hadn’t been to her apartment for quite awhile. Maybe I should take her out for lunch and spend some time with her. Maybe we could talk about Tim, how we missed him. How we were all we each had left of family.

“I’ll be over,” I said. “Let me finish up here, give me half an hour.”

“Oh, good,” she said. Her voice dropped back to normal. “Thank you, honey.” She hung up.

Mom answered the door and was childishly glad to see me. She opened her arms wide and pulled me to her. Hugging was new in our family. Our family, now two people. I couldn’t remember when it had started. Mom hugged students at the Center, and now it was spilling over into the rest of her life.

I hugged her back. It was like hugging Yoda, a shrunken, wise elder. She wore black tights and an oversized pink sweater. She was barefoot. Her white hair was flat and limp like I’d never seen it before, not its usual fluffy wisps. Her ears stuck out through her hair. She seemed smaller and more fragile than ever. She seemed old.

Mom stepped back to let me into her apartment. The first thing I saw was the Post-It notes. There were Post-It notes stuck to every flat surface, the tables, the side of the refrigerator, her computer screen, her telephone, her kitchen counter, the windowsill.

Mom sat in her white wingback chair. Her pink sweater had a faint tea-colored stain down the front.

“Why are you here?” she said.

I sat down on the white sofa. Tried to remember to breathe. I settled back into the cushions and started to put my feet on the coffee table, then stopped. There was no place for feet. The table was littered with papers, Post-It notes, crumpled napkins, pencils and pens, Scotch tape, newspapers, books, magazines, used tissues, crossword puzzles, and yellow lined tablets covered with wavery writing that started out in the upper left corner, but edged away from the left margin at the beginning of each line, until the lines at the bottom of the page were only half as long as those at the top.

I leaned forward and casually gathered up the tissues and paper napkins and dropped them into the wastebasket next to Frances’s chair.

“I’m here to find your cocoa,” I said.

“Oh, right,” Mom said. She reached into the wastebasket, plucked out a tissue, and tucked it under her sweater cuff.

The Post-It notes were different colors and different sizes. Some were tiny, almost the size of postage stamps, others were larger squares, and some were the size and shape of post cards. A square blue Post-It note had detached itself from the side of the refrigerator and settled onto the handle of a paper grocery bag on the floor.

A paperback book lay on the coffee table, Freedom From the Known. Stuck to the orange front cover was a Post-It note with a phone number, nothing else. I held up the little yellow square.

“Mom, whose number is this?” I said.

Mom leaned forward, took the note and stared at it, mouthed the numbers silently. She got up from her chair and stuck the note back on the book, centered it on the front cover with care. She smoothed down the sticky edge with her thumb. She stood up straight and folded her arms across her chest, a tiny warrior with flashing blue eyes.

“I don’t know,” she said.

Most of the Post-It notes littering the coffee table were square. Post-It notes apparently came in more than the standard yellow and pastel blue, green and pink—some of these were lavender, orange, and neon colors—pink and turquoise and purple.

I scanned the loose Post-It notes on the coffee table.

Pastel blue:  Lori’s son. Isaac?

Neon purple: buy timer

Pastel pink. Where did all the flowers go

Turquoise. 655-8311

Neon blue. make appt

Canary yellow. Aloha

Fuchsia : 91.5

Bright blue: Joan Wed

Pastel green: half and half

Glow-in-the-dark orange: ch 10 Friday 9 Bill M

Lavender: Marion

Yellow: tomatoes

I stuck the tomatoes note next to the half-and half note.

Frances was still standing across the coffee table from me. She grabbed the tomatoes note and stuck it back on the copy of Yoga Magazine.

“Don’t move it!” she yelled. “I don’t come to your house and move things around!”

A lined yellow postcard-size Post-It was stuck to the front page of The Oregonian.

water flowers

Frances had no plants, no flowers, said she had a brown thumb and couldn’t keep plants alive.

I got up to walk around the apartment. Her small kitchen counter, normally empty and clean, was stained with brown rings and grease, littered with saucers, crumbs, glasses and cups, three strips of well-cooked bacon on a paper towel, scattered loose tea, a black banana, a half-empty jar of salsa with no lid, spilled sugar, a nearly-empty can of chocolate frosting with no lid, matchbooks, several sticky lavender crystal wine glasses, a piece of burned toast, a dried-up and shrunken orange, sticks of incense, Oreo halves with the cream filling licked off, and more Post-It notes.

Nausea filled my eyes with tears. I swallowed hard several times and went to the sliding glass doors that led onto a tiny balcony. Four green plastic pots filled with red petunias were lined up in an orderly row against the railing.

Orderly, like Mom used to be. This chaos in her apartment had happened somehow when I wasn’t watching. Something bad, something destructive, had happened to Mom when I wasn’t watching.

“Mom, where’d you get the petunias?”

Frances fell back into her white chair and clasped her hands in front of her chest. “Tim sent me those.”

“Tim sent you flowers? Mom, Tim’s been dead two months!”

“It had to be Tim. I opened the door one morning and there were four pots of red petunias on my doormat.”

“But Mom…”  Mom believed that no one died, they just went on to live in another dimension invisible to us, a parallel reality.

Maybe. But how could the dimensions overlap, how could petunias cross the border from one dimension to the other if the dimensions were parallel. Parallel meant…separate. No overlap.

“I know he sent them. I was lonely, and I asked for a sign that he was OK. The next morning, there they were.”

Believing Tim had dropped in and left an Easter surprise was at least as valid as believing he had just become nothing, blipping out like the last little light on the TV screen when it’s turned off. If only I could have experienced red petunias at my door, or even a single red carnation.

My eyes burned.

“Just in time for Easter,” I said. “Tim loved Easter.”

Mom got up and went to the sliding glass door to look at her red petunias. “Yes, he loved religious holidays, didn’t he? Maybe because of the music…”

She turned back to me.

“Did you find my cocoa?”

“No, Mom, I haven’t even looked yet.”

Mom followed me to the kitchen. I opened the cupboard over the sink. There were not one but two boxes of hot chocolate drink packets. I pointed. “Do you mean the hot chocolate packets?” I said.

Mom’s mouth was open and slack with shock. “Where did those come from?” she said.

“I just opened the cupboard and there they were”

Her face suddenly contorted, a face I couldn’t remember ever seeing before, but it scared me the way a child is scared of an angry parent.

“I looked there. Several times, I looked there.”

“Mom, listen, listen to me. You know how it is, sometimes we look right at something and just don’t see it. Then someone else comes along and they see it. It happens to everyone.”

Mom’s eyes were an arc of cold blue electricity. “That cocoa was not there before! You brought that cocoa in here.”

My mother was accusing me of planting cocoa mix in her cupboard.

Who was this woman?

I took a packet of Swiss Miss Cocoa Mix with Mini-Marshmallows out of the box and closed the cupboard.

“I’ll make you a cup of cocoa,” I said.

Mom turned and marched into the living room, her back straight. One foot seemed to lag behind the other. She sat in her white brocade wing chair and folded her hands in her lap.

“Fine,” she said.

The small table at the end of the counter where the white microwave had been now held a phone book with pink, blue, and neon orange Post-It notes clinging to the cover.

“What happened to your microwave?”

“I gave it to Angelfire,” she said. “She needed one, and I couldn’t remember how to use it anyway. All those buttons.”

I put the stainless steel kettle on to boil. The shiny surface was dulled with fingerprints, water spots, and grease.

“Angelfire? Who’s that?”

“A girl who comes to my classes.” Frances said. “I’ve counseled her a few times. Can’t remember what about. She needed a microwave.”

I tore open the packet of Swiss Miss and poured the powder into a gray mug. Her favorite mug. Nice women don’t make history  in red letters on the side.

“Angelfire… where’d she get that name?”

“What’s the matter with her name?” Frances said. “It’s as good a name as any. Good as yours.”

“Mom, you named me after your Grandma Judy. My name has a family history. Where in the world does a name like Angelfire come from? Did she make up her own name?”

I watched the teakettle, didn’t look at Mom. “Sounds like a made-up name to me, unless she was born to hippie parents in some Sixties commune. How old is she?”

“Your Great-Grandma Judy knew how to keep a civil tongue in her head.”

The teakettle whistled and spurted steam. I poured hot water into the cup. In the silverware drawer the forks, knives and spoons were jumbled together, no longer in their proper slots in the plastic tray. I found a spoon, wiped it off on the dish towel hanging over the oven door, and stirred the cocoa. Tiny dry marshmallows floated to the top of the cup.

There was a coaster on the table next to her chair. It was the classic yin-yang design in black and white, stained with tan rings. I set her Nice women cup on the coaster.

“Mom, are you doing classes?”

Her voice from her chair was frosty. “I did one, but it didn’t go well. So I’m taking a little break.”

Why didn’t you tell me about mom?

“Why didn’t you tell me about Mom?”

It was still light out, the sun slanting red and purple and gold into the kitchen through Jack’s stained glass piece that hung in the window over the sink, the window that looked out on the neighbor’s side yard. The kitchen smelled of the fried bacon that was cooling on a paper towel, and potatoes and onions simmering in clam broth. A sourdough baguette browned in the oven.

Jack poured himself a glass of Chablis. He held the bottle up to me and raised his eyebrows. I shook my head and he put the bottle back in the cupboard and pulled up the stool next to me at the butcher block. The butcher block he built with edgegrain maple for the kitchen island, oiled it with olive oil, sanded down the raised grain and oiled it again.

“Why didn’t I tell you about what?” he said.

My look at him was incredulous. “You have to ask?” I said. “All the times you’ve stopped by there in the last couple of months, and you didn’t notice what’s been happening to her?”

Jack leaned on his elbows and took a sip of red wine. “I noticed. But what good would it have done to pile that on you right now? You had enough to deal with—Tim, his funeral, grief. There was nothing you could have done anyway.”

“There is always something I can do. If I know the situation. I could clean up her apartment, take her food, help her take a shower…”

I made a circuit around the kitchen, opened the cupboard, pulled out the bottle of Chablis and poured myself a glass. “What happened to her, Jack? It seems like she just fell into some kind of chaos. She isn’t even washing her hair, or her clothes.”

Jack sipped his wine. “Yeah, that’s not like Frances.”

I added another pint of milk to yhe chowder, turned the heat down, and crumbled in the bacon.

I crumbled bacon into the chowder. “She imagines Tim brought her flowers. She seems to be losing her memory. And one foot drags.”

“Did you notice that her speech isn’t always clear?” Jack said. “And she has trouble following a conversation?”

I hadn’t noticed. The Post-It notes, and the cocoa, and the red petunias, were enough to narrow my focus.

“How long has that been true?” I asked.

“She’s been having trouble with her memory for a long time,” he said. “You probably didn’t notice, you were with Tim. I’ve been helping her pay her bills for months. She’s forgotten how to write a check.”

I took the bread out of the oven and dropped it onto the butcher block. “What is it?” I said. “Is she sick? What’s going on?”

Jack took a serrated knife from the knife holder on the wall next to the stove. He sliced into the baguette. “I think she may have had a small stroke,” he said.

A bowl in each hand. I set them on the stove. Added a lump of butter to the chowder. Ladled the chowder into the bowls.

“A small stroke,” I said. I set the bowls on the butcher block and dropped onto my stool.

Jack laid a napkin in a basket and scooped the bread slices into the basket. He brushed the crumbs off the butcher block into his hand and tossed them into the sink.

“Maybe several small strokes,” he said. He sat down next to me and played with his spoon. “They call them T.I.A.s.”

“What the hell is a T.I.A.?”

Jack took a slice of bread. “Transient Ischemic Attack. It’s a mini-stroke. I asked Doctor Ellen when I installed her cabinets.”

Where had I been? My mother had become demented and crippled, Jack taking care of her, and I was unaware. My attention was all with Tim. Mom couldn’t stay in the room with him, so I did. I stayed with Tim and burned with resentment. They could all go to hell.

Apparently Mom had.

The chowder breathed wisps of steam onto my glasses. I took them off and polished them on my T-shirt.

“Transient Ischemic Attacks,” I said.

“It’s from high blood pressure,” Jack said. “Something about the blood supply to the brain.” He spooned up chowder. “You sure do make great clam chowder.”

“Learned it from Mom,” I said. I ate a spoonful. “Geez, Jack, you’ve become Mom’s caretaker. You’re the one who keeps tabs on her. Can she still cook? Does  she still cook?”

He took another piece of bread and dunked it in his bowl. “Not much,” he said. “She lives on snack food she gets at the store, ice cream, cocoa, toast, poached eggs, olives, stuff like that.”

He stopped to finish off the chowder and wiped his mouth on the purple napkin.

“I take her healthy food from the deli,” he said. “Salads and chicken.”

His face was deep laugh lines around his mouth and eyes. I touched a line at the corner of his mouth and smoothed it flat.

“You are an angel,” I said. “How long have you been taking her food?”

He got up to refill his bowl at the stove. “Quite awhile,” he said. “Since Tim went in for that last surgery, the one where they took out his spleen or something, and you stayed there with him. I took her over to see him then took her home, and went to the fridge for some milk for my coffee. The only thing in her fridge was milk, cheese, and eggs. And some bowls covered with green mold and plastic wrap.”

My stomach turned over. “Did you throw out the green stuff?” I said.

“I tried,” Jack said. “She wouldn’t let me.”

He sat down with his bowl and picked up his spoon.

“So that’s when I started taking her food,” he said. “Not that it helped any. Every time I opened the fridge to put in a new takeout box, there would be all the stuff from the last time.”

I winced. “Why didn’t she eat it?”

“She said she forgot it was in there,” he said. “So sometimes I’d just heat it up for her right then and sit there while she ate it. Until she got rid of her microwave. After that it wasn’t so easy. She doesn’t have many pans, says she burned up her favorite pan, forgot it was on the stove. She threw it away.”

My appetite was gone. I pushed away the chowder. This felt like coming in halfway through the movie and not being able to pick up the thread of the plot. Mom was burning up pans on the stove? And Jack didn’t tell me? Because I was so involved with Tim and with my own grief that he figured I couldn’t handle it?

“Omyfreakinlordy,” I said. “You’ve been juggling all these balls for me and I had no idea…”

Jack carried our bowls to the sink, poured my chowder down the drain, and rinsed the bowls under the faucet.

“You’re starting to eat like your mother,” he said.

A spike of anger flared inside my belly. “Don’t say that!” I said. “I’m not like my mother. I’m never going to be like my mother.”

Jack leaned against the sink, crossed his ankles and crossed his arms over his chest. The corners of his mouth jerked the way they do when he’s trying not to smile, when he knows a smile would be exactly the wrong expression in that moment.

“Never going to be like your mother, eh?” he said. “Sometime when you’re in a better mood let me count the ways you already are like your mother.”

The spike of anger changed to sick fear. “I’m never going to be in that good a mood,” I said.

“It’s not all bad,” Jack said. “She’s not a bad-looking woman for her age. Well, except maybe lately…”

The sparkling bright hair turning dull and greasy with neglect, the dirty clothes, the dragging foot.

I’d never be able to use a Post-It note again.

Jack came around to my stool and put his arms around me from behind. “I’m glad you see where things are with her now, Judy,” he said. “I was getting kinda strung out trying to keep up with things over there.”

Leaning back into his solid chest. “What else is there?” I said. “What else did I miss?”

“Well, you know how she can keep up a good front when she has to,” Jack said. “Like when she knew you were coming today. But sometimes when I’ve stopped by after work she was still in her bathrobe, sitting on her couch with all the lights off while it was getting dark out.”

He felt the shudder go through my body and tightened his arms. “Judy,” he said, “be patient with her. She’s pedaling as fast as she can.”

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MEMOIR Chapter 62


Chapter 62

There was still a memorial service to plan. Relatives to feed at my house. Lots to get through before I could really let down. I walked in a shades-of-gray world, no color, no joy, no movement. Made clam chowder for a crowd, sat and listened, even talked, to relatives who had not seen Joe for, possibly, years. Answered the phone, answered questions, identified Joe’s body after the American Embassy finally intervened to get it shipped home. Arranged for cremation.

The service had to be held in the gymnasium to accommodate all the people who wanted to be there.

Mom wore a long red chiffon dress, Joe’s color. The gymnasium looked like a political nominating convention, with red balloons, picture and posters of Joe, and tiers of bleachers for the hundreds and hundreds of students, parents, teachers, and friends. Mom smiled through the Trumpet Voluntary played by eight trombones, a lineup of brass across the front of the gym, Joe’s band buddies from all over the city, grownup men blowing their horns through tears and snot.

Mom smiled through the eulogies. Smiled while people stood in line to squeeze her hand and offer tributes to her youngest son.

“He’s fulfilled his purpose,” she said over and over. “Like Jesus.”

What purpose is she thinking of? I wondered. How does anyone ever know for sure what purpose they are here to fulfill?

I stood next to her.

A line of people waited to talk to me.

I turned to the first in line, a Mexican father and his son.

The father stepped forward and handed me a lapel pin, the joined flags of Mexico and the U.S.

“I wanted you to have this,” he said. “My son was in Mr. Shultz’s choral music class when he was in middle high school.”

His eyes filled with tears, as did his son’s.

“Your brother told my son that someday he would sing in Carnegie Hall.” His tears spilled over, and he wiped his eyes with his sleeve.

“I wanted you to know that…last year…he sang in Carnegie Hall.”

We all three cried and embraced each other. My eyes wandered to the slowly emptying bleachers.

How many of these children and their parents and the other teachers felt Joe’s purpose had been fulfilled in part through themselves?


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MEMOIR Chapter 61

Chapter 61 is transitioning between the fictional purple prose chapters, and my memoirs, and we all know, memory is just another form of purple prose…



Chapter 61

The mortician comes, a dreary dark man in a blue suit with frayed cuffs, shiny black hair combed straight back. He speaks limited English. Anna leaves the room. The mortician and I go over the form, the directive, try to communicate. Causa de muerte. Yes. Cancer. What does it matter?

“I don’t read Spanish,” I say. “I can’t sign this unless I know what it says. Can you tell me what it says, in English? We want his body shipped home by air, to be cremated there.”

The mortician draws himself up straight, his eyes cold on mine. “This is Mexico, not the U.S.,” he says. “In Mexico, we speak Spanish.” But it was clear he understood what I was asking for. He just wasn’t into being helpful or reassuring.

My hands shake and my eyes burn. It’s not worth it. I sign the forms. I sign them all. It’s his country, not mine. Maybe they will send home his ashes. I’m too tired to care. The mortician plucks the paper from my hands without touching me and walks to the door, his back straight.

The undertaker comes and takes Joe away in a red crushed velvet body bag. The glass doors shut behind the cart, and it disappears into the parking lot. Van doors open then slam shut, and a motor starts up loud and drives away. Drives away with Joe in the red bag to God knows where, somewhere in Tijuana.

Cold. I throw the pillow on the floor and lie back on Joe’s bed. Pull up his sheet and let its salty damp cover and warm me. Listen. Did his spirit linger, can I hear it, sense it, touch it?


He’s gone.

Joe taken away, his body somewhere I don’t know. Jesus, my Elder Brother, gone, too. I am here alone, no brother of any kind in this room. The complete emptiness is all I can feel.

There is one more call after the necessary calls, after the undertaker takes Joe’s body away, after I climb into Joe’s bed. I get up and use  the phone on the wall in the reception area, from where I had called Nellie, Jack, and Mom.

Anna Blessing. A close friend who finally gave up on the dreary gray dampness of the Northwest and headed for San Diego. Permanently.

Anna’s voice is a rising chirp, “Hell-o-oh.”

“It’s me—Judy.”

“You’re in Tijuana! How’s it going?”

“Joe just died.”

“My God! But you just got there!”

“I got here at noon yesterday. He died at four this morning.”

“Oh, Judy, oh shit, that’s horrible. I’m coming right down.”

“No, don’t come. I’m just going back to the airport.”

“But are you OK?”

What does OK feel like? Whatever this is, it’s no feeling at all. It’s unbalanced, not there.

“I’m OK,” I say. “Maybe I’m just numb or something.”

“I can’t hold your hand?”

Anna doesn’t mean actually holding my hand, but I picture it anyway, imagine her concern, her comfort, her small hand warm and sturdy holding mine. I know I couldn’t bear it, I’d break apart, mustn’t break anymore, not right now, things to take care of, have to get Joe home. Have to get myself home.

Anna always dressed like a latter-day hippy—I could picture her in a bright flowing dress of some kind.

“It’s a long trip across the border,” I say. “An hour, anyway. By the time you got here I’d probably be ready to leave anyhow.”

Anna breathes over the phone line, a long breath in, then out.

“I’ve never driven across the border,” she says. “But I’m leaving as soon as I can. I’ll get you to the airport.”

Today I have crossed borders I’d never crossed before. Borders of consciousness, of life and death, of faith. And back again. The border between life and death feel less tangible now, more permeable and shifting. Maybe the border between faith and no-faith is the same. Constantly shifting. Maybe they aren’t even opposing states, but just gradations on a continuum, where faith is at one extreme and no-faith at the other, and we move up and down that spectrum.

While I waited, I was in a nothing-there vacuum, just lying on Joe’s bed.

Three quick taps on the door, and I get up.

It’s Anna. Anna in a bright blue gauze dress with a large open-knit scarf in shades of rose, her purple velvet amulet bag on a long black satin cord around her neck. She drops a big silver thermos on Joe’s bed next to the duffel and wraps her arms around me, rocks me. How strong her arms, how soft her body, as welcome and familiar as I imagine a mother’s would be. We are both crying.

She holds me at arms’ length and unleashes the liquid fire of her electric blue eyes. “I thought you could use some coffee.”

Anna stays with me, walks me out of the room and into the damp dense air outside, around the building a few times, hands me cups of strong, scalding, real coffee in the lid-cup of the thermos. She doesn’t ask about Joe’s last hours. Her blonde hair is pulled into two pony tails with red rubber bands, her fair skin lightly tanned and toughened, the skin around her eyes sunglass-shaded white. She’s her old chirpy self, the way she was in the sunny months in Oregon, how she says she always was in Hawaii, how she misses Hawaii, San Diego the next best place to be, sunshine and warm.

She shapes her attitude to mine, slightly insane. We stop behind the building while she pours another cup of coffee. When she leans forward to hand me the coffee I grab her amulet bag to keep it out of the cup. Anna walks me back to the room. We lean against the foot of Joe’s bed. I see myself in the mirror, arms and hands floating and flying in the air, mouth open round, laughing. I pull my hands down, take hold of the bed frame behind me.

“Let’s go to the airport,” I say.

In Anna’s yellow hatchback I see things in Tijuana that I didn’t see from the shuttle on the way in. Then it was impressions, and the road in front of me. Now I see the dirt, the shacks, the outdoor adobe fireplaces for cooking.

At the border, long lines of cars inching forward, vendors peddle blankets and cheap silver jewelry along the lines of cars. A man in a battered straw hat sells tortillas from an outdoor fireplace.

The border guard is friendlier than I had expected, thanks us for visiting Mexico.

I remember very little about the airport, but here’s what I do remember:

Anna parks at the airport, carries my briefcase and tote bag. I tag along, willing to let her lead the way. Baggage claim is the first stop. Don’t ask where that was. I remember so little. My bag had been lost on the trip down, so I describe my bag to the lost bag person, describe its contents, its I.D. tag, and wait while they find it. I lose my plane ticket. Anna finds it in my purse. Anna negotiates at the airline counter, shows them the letter she got the clinic director to write before we left: This woman’s brother died this morning, please let her on an earlier flight without penalty, Signed, The Director. The agent rewrites the ticket and hands it to me without comment, sympathy in her eyes.

I lose my new ticket. Anna finds it in my pocket. She buys me a taco. We eat, we laugh, I babble, she puts her arm around me and walks me in circles around the terminal. She buys me an ice cream cone. I am wearing Joe’s yellow and green U of O duck cap and his big blue fuzzy jacket. People look at me, nudge each other. It must be the cap.

The flight is called, Anna hears it. She steers me to the gate.

I’ve lost my ticket. Anna finds it in my book.

“I think I’ll walk you onto the plane,” Anna says.

“Just walking her on,” she says to the stewardess, who waves us aboard.

Anna finds my seat, puts my ticket stub in my purse, and grins at me.

“Do I have to fasten your seat belt for you?”

I laugh, tears starting. Her arms around me.

“Thank you, dear friend,” I say. People are waiting in the aisle behind us. Anna pushes me toward the window seat, fastens my seat belt,  and turns to fight her way back up the aisle.

My seat is on the left side of the plane.

At 30,000 feet, buckled in, wearing Joe’s soft blue jacket and his duck cap, the sounds of brass Telemann on Joe’s earphones, I look out my window.

It is the end of the day.

The sun is setting over the gray ocean and black-green landmass. A fire-red ball sits for twenty minutes poised on the line of the horizon, spreads layers of deep violet bleeding up into red-orange then chartreuse then gray-lavender sky, the fireball settling into the dark ocean inch by inch, half of it gone now, now two-thirds, now just a curved fingernail of fire, the chartreuse turning gold above it.

The slit of fire glows through the gray line of ocean edge, dissolving in its own heat, the red flickering glow spreading out, melting, flowing. The last slit of red is a dying ember in a campfire, bursts of red dancing along its length, then a quick green flash and the dark swallows it.

On the earphones, four triumphant trumpets burst into a fanfare. Joe’s sounds. Liquid trumpet sounds. Long, sustained tones flow and pierce, undulating, soothing, transfixing. When I played trumpet in high school, Joe had carried my trumpet case to the bus stop every day, and couldn’t wait to learn to play, himself.

I stopped being numb, leaned my head against the back of the seat and let the tears flow.

A lingering reflection from a fireball out of sight but still lighting the sky, drifting off into dark on the sides. Ocean deep midnight blue. No lights below the plane in the black land mass.

The last faint stain of sienna dissolves into the black.

On the earphones, the music ends.

The day is over.

The music is over.

Joe is gone.

Lights begin to flicker below the plane, maybe Salem, maybe the southern suburbs of Portland. More lights, the city, crowded freeways, tiny cars, their headlights long straight beams, everybody going home, going somewhere, flashing neon, the airport tower. Then landing lights,the runway, engines whine down louder and louder, wheels touch the ground, a bump.


Jack waits for me at the gate, his dear deep-lined face, his warm arms around me, takes my bag, pulls Joe’s black duffel off the carousel, the car waiting, in the car, the dark, headed home. Now the deep involuntary catching of breath, the leftover sounds of a child who finally stops crying. When I get home, Jack has a fire in the fireplace, waiting.

A year ago, driving Joe to treatments and doctors, I had grown fond of Joe’s music. The music backdropped our conversations and his morphine hallucinations. Joe liked to drive, didn’t like being a passenger. When it rained, he slid his seat back and stiffened his hands against the dashboard, his legs braced against the firewall. I drove his minivan too fast.

“One worries about hydroplaning,” Joe said. His voice was tense. I slowed down.

He once said, gazing at a cloudless sky, “There’s a sailboat right up there, a seven-master. Beautiful.” He watched it for miles.

“There’s a gray cat on your head.” Joe said. “It’s kneading its claws. How can you drive?”

Mom believed in parallel universes, places where we continued our lives in totally different ways at the same time as we worked things out in this reality. Maybe there was a seven-master in the sky, and a gray cat on my head, listening to the brass quartet on the radio.


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MEMOIR: Chapter 60 Surrender (Fiction)

Chapter 60


 Joe sits on his bunk, legs dangling over the edge, and grins from ear to ear.

What’s going on here? Could he have possibly gotten this much better overnight? Could he be healed?

I make coffee, quickly, frantically, pour him a cup. I place the mug in his hands, covering them with my own. His hands are icy cold.

He sits on his bunk, legs swinging, sips his coffee. I sit down in the chair, waiting. My hands are shaking, his are not.

Joe gazes at me with a calm clarity I can’t recall feeling in recent months.

“Do you get it now?”

“Get what?” I say.

His grin is impish, condescending. And he’s speaking normally.

“About Surrender. What can happen when everybody surrenders.”

“You mean that last healing…”

“You let go of your plans for me,” Joe finishes my thought.

“I did. And now you’re…here. It’s a miracle.”

“Yes, I’m healed. My mind is healed.  And more important, you now know the last step in what you need to do for healing. Are you ready to do another healing?”

“Absolutely,” But why, if he’s already healed?

Joe carefully places his coffee cup on the floor next to his feet. He lies down on the bunk, tossing off the top of his sleeping bag.

“No, Joey, you need to stay warm, your arms and legs are so cold,” I stand up, reach for the sleeping bag, but Joey swats my hands away, not letting me pull it over his nearly blue limbs. His eyes are closed. He seems suddenly so tired.

How can he be so cold and so hot at the same time? Something nags at me, something I can’t quite remember…. I need to figure this out, get some fresh air… I tell Joe, “I’m going outside for a few minutes, I’ll be right back.”

Still in my p.j.,s I pull on my snow boots and slip out the front door with my steaming coffee. I turn the corner of the cabin, and come to a full stop. There are more tracks in the snow, fresh ones, circling the cabin. Kindling bucket is full again. Guardian angels?

I stand in the snow, close my eyes, listen to the quiet. Puzzled. Why did Joe want to come here, to this isolated cabin, so far away from clinics, hospitals, doctors? What was he thinking?

It’s hope. When nothing is certain, hope is an option. When all else fails, go for the long shot from center court just before the buzzer.

Or maybe something else. At home, Nellie took him to the E.R. when his breathing changed. He’d been at the clinic or in the hospital nearly every day for the last six months, for treatments, transfusions, to balance body chemistry, to stop hours or days of hiccups, for yet another surgery, to have tumor-honeycombed bones pinned and set.

Once his heart stopped in the E.R., and they cracked a rib pounding on his chest. The Hickman catheter got infected and had to be removed, then reinserted in a new incision. Joe’s doctors were brave high-tech heroes, dedicated to keeping him alive at any cost, to him or to them. He asked for more, and they found more.

Joe’s hospital room was usually crowded with family, friends, people who love him, people who go out into the hall to cry and hold each other and then return to tell jokes and tease him about his hair.

Here, he has nobody. Just me.

No home, no devoted wife, children, no hot tub, no boatbuilding shop, no playhouse he built, no honeysuckle draping the back porch, no rose bushes along the path, no wildflower garden in the back, no rocking chair by the window, nothing familiar. Just here, this little primitive cabin in the middle of nowhere.

I take a deep breath and pull light through my hot spot, fill up the egg. I don’t seal it.

I’m ready to go back in.


Joe’s knees come up, his head turns toward me. “Addie?” His bone hand out to me. My feet quick to his bed.

 “I’m here,” I say.

 My lips on his forehead, the sweet salty damp, my teeth pushed together hard, arm curved around the top of his head, my back bent crooked, doesn’t matter.


It’s getting on toward late afternoon. Joe’s been sleeping. He wakes up. Gradually, his eyes focus on me.

“What do you need?” I ask him.


 “Do you want me to tell you that story about when you were born?”

His eyes blink Yes.

“It’s my earliest memory,” I say. “I was five years old, kneeling on the floor next to the rocking chair. Mom was holding you and you were wrapped in a soft blue receiving blanket. I could see the top of your head, light colored hair all over, your head round as an orange, the soft spot on the top of your head moving up and down when your heart beat, your hands like pink stars. Mom’s hand lay on your chest and flashed colors from her gorgeous opal ring. She was singing ‘Baby’s boat’s a silv’ry moon.’ You were so tiny and so beautiful, and I was thinking, ‘He’s finally come.’”

“I was thinking, ‘Now we can start’.”

I straighten up and look down at Joe’s face on the pillow.

Joe’s arms lift toward me, then flop back onto his chest.

He’s trying to give me a hug.

I help him, lift the hollow bird bones of his arms, and put them around my neck for a brief embrace. His hands stroke my hair and neck, pat my face the way a baby pats its mother’s face, pats where the tears run down around my mouth, his hands slip down my arms and he pats my hands. Our faces are so close, our eyes inside each other’s eyes. Our foreheads touch. We are joined.

Inside me a soft silent howl begins, twisting through my chest and stopping my throat.

He struggles to form clear words: “For—fi.”

I lay my hand on his throat, touch his jaw with my fingers.

1945. The year he was born.

My fingers on his throat know what this is.

“This feels like…” I say.


“…being born?” I say.


I lift my forehead off his and sit back.

I hold his hand, let him pound the air with my hand, his tight grip crushing my wedding ring into my finger, the way I crushed Giff’s fingers during last-stage labor, during transition, that bearing-down pure focus of delivery.

He needs to rest. Or maybe it’s just me that needs to rest. So what I do is sing the baby boat song.

I kneel next to his bunk, lay my hand on the crown of his head, and sing.

“Baby’s boat’s a silv’ry moon,

sailing in the sky

Sailing o’er the sea of sleep,

As the clouds float by.

…Sail, baby, sail

out across the sea.

Only don’t forget to sail

home again to me.”


His black eyes softened and filmed by suffering look past me, huge, fixed on the face of the Mother, safe in the arms of Love, hearing a familiar song…

“Baby’s boat’s a silv’ry moon, sailing in the sky…”

Once again I can only witness, kneeling in wonder, my newborn brother’s fontanel pulsing hot beneath my hand, my heart catching up to the quick steady beat.

A phrase from another song begins in my mind, floats in and out, familiar. “Watch with me angels, watch with me tonight.”

The phrase becomes a prayer, a mantra, a plea.

He sleeps again.

Joe wakes up, his hands moving, the motions brisk and rhythmic, directing music in quick time, making an emphatic point, his hand a three-fingered fist.

I hold his hands and talk to him, try to connect him with his world. I tell him Giff has finished another layer of epoxy on the boat they are building.

Joe struggles to focus his eyes on me, frowned with effort.

“He’s gotten that far?” he says, then loses the focus.

His eyes film over, the color gone to milky, the pupils beginning to roll up. Inside where I feel him I know he is becoming more and more himself, not less.

He is working again, his body tense and focused, his fingers curling and uncurling against my palm.

“Have to get weaker first,” he says.

“Do you see a light now?” I ask. He nods a small nod, but my questions narrow it down.

“Is it far away?”

Small head shake. No.

“Can you go toward it?”


The light is near, but he can’t go toward it.

“Are you in the light?”

Yes. He is bathed in that light that I can’t see, but can only feel. I feel soft sprinkles, shimmering snow flecks.


He rests, his eyes half-closed, pupils rolled up, mouth slack, breathing hard.

Kneeling, my hands hold his hand, my hands feeling what he feels.

 Slipping away from my body. Joe slipping away from his body, feeling “This is it!”

Then remembering. Remembering what it was to be Home. “How could I have ever forgotten?” In my body there is great spaciousness, ease of movement, fluidity. No solidity anywhere. Joe is moving faster, sliding into Home, I’m sliding too, my body still kneeling on the floor, my self moving beyond body, rushing, expanding, leaving, eager, breathless…

This is as far as I can go with him. I have to stay here, he has to go on.

I’m back, kneeling on the floor, holding Joe’s hand.

He’s waking up from the dream he’s been dreaming.

I want to wake up from this dream.

I touch Joe’s hand and feel his urgency, his hard labor. I remember end-stage labor, the transition, remember how I couldn’t quite get it right, until I thought about toothpaste.

I lean in close and say in his ear, “Joe, I think it’s like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube. Can you do that?”

His eyes open, the film dissolves for just a second and his eyes are dark, clear, focused, and he is looking at me.

Joe is awake.

His face contracts with effort, a little squeeze, two loud gasps.

It all stops.

The room is quiet. There is only the vibration of the air, the silent hum.

Joe’s mouth opens and contorts, his lips twisting and lifting away from his teeth, then goes slack.

His spirit passing by on its way out.

His heart has stopped pounding in his throat.

His body still, the tension gone from it, the tendons of his neck loose and soft.

There is no light or air left in this body.

He is edgeless. Joe is not in there.


At peace.



The palm of my right hand tight over my chest and left hand low on my stomach,  I hold onto my insides with both hands.

I crawl onto Joey’s bunk, stretch out on my stomach next to his cooling body, pull the sleeping bag and let its salty damp cover me and sink warm into my skin. I listen. Did his spirit linger, could I hear it, sense it, touch it?


He was gone.

Scent of peppermint soap and sweat and something else, the weary harsh smell of sickness and death. My arms wrap around his limp pillow, still damp with his salt, I pull it close and push my face into its damp and reek, press it against the ripped openness of my belly. A wail starts  up low and deep inside, animal sound, scrolls up to a high lament, head thrown back, throat stretched straight and corded and long, sounds moving up through my throat and out my open mouth until my breath is gone, then again sucked in fast and harsh, a howl hung there, a song in the cold air, thinning out, breath jerked in fast, again, cry reached through the ceiling out into the air, out into the navy blue sky, up to crescent moon, cradle, boat, the sound pulsing, the throb of a living heart, softened, slipped down and down into low crooning, a breath in, then started up again, lifted back into wild lament, loss, mother for child, love for love, high and long, howl for ripped-open red raw torn away and for some ancient loss, a sound as primeval, innocent, unself-conscious as the howl that started with spiraling down out of heaven, out of the heart of God.

I stop. It’s not just me howling. There are others, not just one or two, but three, or four, or six.

Wolves have picked up the lament. I can rest.

I listen to the cacophony of sorrow. It’s all around me tender and unabashed.

Breath finally all gone, my body limp, only sounds left come low from deep belly, softened to coo of the mourning dove, small sounds, coo until all emptied out nothing there now but the shattered empty dark. Dark inside me, inside the cabin, outside in the navy-blue sky. Still and silent and dark.

I stumble to the door, and the vomiting begins, green bile bright against the snow. My body wrenches itself into convulsion. Emptied of pain and agony and dying and death, hope desperation longing loneliness desertion betrayal abandonment. Churning again of its own volition, dry heaves, violent shakes and twitches, I vomit until all empties out nothing there now but dark.

Shapes, shadows, circle the cabin. I am not afraid.   

I am shivering, shaking that’s not from being cold or scared, but the kind that happened only once before, after giving birth—a kind of uncontrollable allover palsy that nothing can soothe.

I return to the cabin, and slide into the chair next to the bunk, my arms falling off the sides, and stare at Joe’s empty body while I wait for the shaking to stop. They say the spirit stays for awhile, and one shouldn’t leave too soon. But Joe’s spirit is gone from me, already far away. The white aura around his body fading. There is no one in the room but me, no sound in the room, just that silent hum.

A-flat, The sound of the universe. The sound of God.

Staring at Joe. His body empty, and mine too. He had lost everything but that, the flesh that remains. Now the devastation is complete. I have lost everything, lost my brother, lost my faith, lost my connection to Jesus and God, lost my “job”—healing Joe—failed at my job, in fact, and I’ve lost my feeling of being connected in the Universe. This feels like total devastation.

Into the emptiness comes a vision from ten years earlier, before the concept of devastation had such a personal quality. Joe and I were climbing a cinder cone in Northern California on a warm summer day, the trail in a slow upward spiral. We stopped to drink some water and looked down on the volcanic devastation. At our feet were clusters of small purple flowers nestled in the naked black cinders. Far down the rock slope lay a deep blue lake off to the right, ringed with the green of trees and vegetation.

 “So much for devastation,” I said. “They said after Mt. St. Helens blew up it would be decades before Spirit Lake was anything more than a toxic brew. But then bacteria appeared out of ‘nowhere’ and ate up the acid in the lake. Then when the acid was gone, something else ate up the bacteria and other life forms showed up. In a couple of years, the lake was healthy.”

 “Looks like Mother Nature does a pretty good job of healing herself.” Joe took a long drink from his water bottle and turned to look behind us.

 “What is that?” he said.


He pointed down the steep incline.

A bright blue cloud shimmered close to the surface of the cinder slope.

The cloud became tiny blue butterflies, thousands, millions maybe, moving as one, flickering upward. We stood for long speechless minutes watching the splendid dancers spangle the black cinders with sparkling fluttering blue.

Some mysterious grace, that sends a cloud of blue butterflies to flutter up the slope of a dead mountain, or bacteria to revive a dead lake.

I touch Joe. No more molten lava, just cold, still flesh. So cold.

I watch for awhile. Pull my sleeping bag off my bunk and wrap myself in it.

Watch with me, angels.



The cold wakes me first. Where am I?

Early light outside filters through rustic cabin windows.

Joe! Where is he? Then I remember. Joe is lying on his back on his sleeping bag, his face peaceful and still.


But Joe is dead. He died last night, sometime late.

I sit with it for a moment, then pull on a jacket and go outside.

Wood. Kindling. This was the day Mike would arrive, to take Joe out.

I pull back the woodpile tarp and find the kindling bucket nearly empty.

No matter. I need to pack things up inside, get ready to go. Get Joe ready to go. How?

I hear voices, and look up. Two men were coming out of the woods, one of them pulling a long sled, one carrying a bucket.


I shield my eyes from the bright rising sun. It couldn’t be, but it had to be. Giff.

The two men trek across the snow. Giff sets the bucket down and gathers me into his arms. “So he’s gone?” he whispers. I nod, letting my tears soak into his coat.


 “Last night. Late.”

Giff releases me and picks up his bucket, which is full of kindling. He empties it into the empty bucket in the wood pile.

Mike gives me a brief pat on the shoulder then pulls the sled close to the cabin, goes inside and closes the door.

“It was you,” I say.

“What was me?”

“You were the guardian angel who kept my kindling bucket filled.”

Giff  just smiled.

“You’ve been camped down below, haven’t you?”

“Can’t be a guardian angel from a distance.”

“So you checked on me?”

“Every day, every night. Checked for smoke coming out of the chimney.”

He broke his promise. I try to be mad, but can’t.

How can anyone ever resent having an extra guardian angel?

A black crow lands on the woodpile and fixes one glossy eye on mine. Remember? he seems to be saying.


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MEMOIR: Chapter 59 Healing (Fiction)

Chapter 59                                           


Day One

Joe needed me to half-carry him to the frigid latrine, and back. Gave him a small dose of Roxinol. He napped. I arranged the supplies in the cupboard, went outside to savor a steaming cup of coffee in the white stillness. Someone had stacked the firewood neatly in a metal crib, a foot away from the house, with a five-gallon bucket of kindling. All of it covered by a green tarp, secured by a bungee cord.

Dog-sized footprints circled the cabin. Must have been several, circling, turning, circling back. Wolves? Coyotes? Wild dogs?

Guardian angels?

In the cabin, Joe has thrown back the top of his sleeping bag. His hands are moving on his chest, one hand squeezes into a fist, then punches the air. His three-fingered hand taps out staccato trumpet melodies on the blanket, Flight of the Bumblebee.

I ask him if he wants me to read to him. His eyes widen—what a good idea!—yes!

What I have with me, in my pack, is Walden, the one thing that will stop Joe’s hands, the squeezing, the punching. Nothing will stop Joe’s hands but Walden.

I open it and read aloud. Thoreau is describing a day spent sitting in his doorway, just watching, just listening, as the sun rose, crossed the sky, and set, the light and shadows changing imperceptibly:

There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hand. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a reverie, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time.

 Joe’s hands folded on his chest, naked crucified Christ down from the cross, laid out on the suffering ground, his legs stretched out on top of his sleeping bag, eyes closed. 

“Don’t shtop,” Joe says.

Why is he talking this way? The “S” isn’t working. But he’s not taking much morphine. Maybe he’s losing control of his lips and teeth.

I mark my place with my finger and lay my hand where the invisible cord connects to my own chest. His chest is dry and hot. I want to cool it with my breath. I breathe coolness from my own chest into his, into the invisible cord, into the connection.

Then I read.

I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works. For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished.

 “Shtop,” Joe says.

I look up. “What’s wrong?”

“Don’t wanna hear…about time. Tell me…about the farm…when we were kids.”

That’s what I do. I tell him about the natural world of our childhood, the farm. A fat bumblebee buzzes on a purple thistle blossom, Joe and I catch it in a Mason jar, poke holes in the lid for air, and throw in some thistle blossoms for the bee to sit on. Birds sing in the morning and late afternoon, a leaf falls in the creek by our cricket church and makes widening circles, the cricket angel choir starts up their chorus, Glory to God in the Highest, we lie on our backs and chew Indian grass, watch the sunlight flicker through alder leaves and sprinkle rainbow colors in the creek.

Joe rests, listens, and is quiet. His hands lie on his chest, still.

After awhile, he  turns his head to me and opens his eyes.

“How ya doin’?”

I choke a little. “Joe, don’t worry about me, I’m fine. I just wonder how you are doing?”

He waves his hand around the room. “Thish place…it’s jusht…right for me now.”

He takes a deep, long breath. “I’m ready for some healing.”

I bring in more kindling and stoke the fire while I gather everything I know about healing, collecting it in my mind. I rehearse the steps, the feelings, the movements. Should I start running healing through his feet, or his head? The answer is clear in my mind. His feet.

I pull a chair up to the foot of Joe’s bunk and sit down. Rub his bare feet while he relaxes and sinks into an apparent nap.

Prayer, first, holding Joe’s feet, asking for that elusive Divine Intelligence, asking for trust that whatever happened would be right for Joe, for his best good. Pray that somehow, however it turned out, I could accept the outcome. Pray until the warm energy begins to vibrate in my hands.

I let light pour into me through my hot spot, fill up my egg-shaped aura. Paint the eggshell indigo blue on the outside; protective.

My thoughts became still. The flow of energy begins. Time goes on, or maybe stops. I step aside from my body and allow my spirit to float, watching from above the room while my hands on Joe’s feet continue to vibrate with all my passion, love, longing and energy; energy flowing heat into Joe’s body for timeless minutes, or hours.

I enter an altered state. We are children, we hold hands and float into the starless sky. Joe guides me effortlessly, shows me the silver cords that trail from our bodies back to the cabin. He gestures at the darkness, smiling. So that’s what he described before, where he went during his coma , I think. The darkness was warm, and full of unseen sights, sounds, and beings. I didn’t want to leave. We floated, turning playfully sometimes, our silver cords tangling.

But Joe tugs me back the way we came, silver cords following behind.

The guardian angels hadn’t come along. They must still be waiting at the cabin. I have to go back.

I collapse into my body in the chair at the end of Joe’s bunk. My arms cramp, and the flow stops and then there is nothing but the smell of body odor, wood smoke and evergreens. Joe hasn’t moved, hasn’t flickered even an eyelash. I remember to burn off the energy the way Magdalena taught me, so it won’t harm me, let it burn in my internal furnace and drift out the hot spot on top of my head as white smoke. I press my palms against the floor until the buzzing stops.

Joe’s eyes flicker open and gaze at me without understanding. “You…we…where did we go?”

“I dreamed—I guess it was a dream—that we were floating in that dark, warm place you’ve described. Then we came back.”

Joe says, “I brought you back. I could have stayed. But we’re not done yet.”


I’m hungry. Joe isn’t. I step outside for more kindling and more fire wood. A light, drifty kind of snow is falling. The flakes are weightless, floating sideways and up, as well as down.

I cook blue box mac and cheese and eat it all myself. Then, while Joe naps, I make a pot of rice pudding, cook the rice, add whole milk and cream, stir until the spoon stands up by itself in the pudding. Shake on some nutmeg. Dessert.

Joe wakes up enough to eat a few spoonfuls of pudding, and smiles with contentment. Quiet eyes.

I give him water. Help him zip up his sleeping bag. He is soon asleep, his soft snores keeping me company while I climb into my p.j.’s and up to the top bunk.


Day Two

I pick up the hatchet leaning against the wall by the door and set out to cut more kindling. I’m using it up fast. There are new tracks around the cabin in the fresh snow, and what might be human footprints.

Filling in with the snow falling now,

I tug back the tarp and see that the kindling bucket had been filled. Who…? A hiker, maybe? Cross-country skier? There is nothing to see but white, the frozen lake, snow-laden trees, no human habitation except Joe and me.

Could it be Giff? No, he had promised.

“Guardian angels, for sure,” I mutter to myself, and carry a load of wood and kindling into the cabin.

Joe slept half the morning, very still in his sleeping bag. Comatose, I thought. His eyelids fluttered from time to time, his lips moved slightly, dreaming.

I stoke the fire, drink coffee and eat rice pudding while I watch him sleep, wondering what the day will bring.

When he opens his eyes and focuses on me, his first words are, “I get it now.”

I fill a cup with water, sit on his bunk and help him drink it in tiny sips. Smooth his damp hair away from his forehead. “You get what?”

“’Bout healing…healing is only of the mind…whether or not the body follows.”

He wants rice pudding for breakfast. I warm a cupful for him.

“Does that mean…well, how do you mean that, Joe? Healing of the mind?”

He looks rested. “Means peace, inshide.”

“How does that happen? Some kind of Grace? A gift? Or do you have to work at it?”

I could use a little more peace of mind. Inside.

“It’sh your mishing piece…”

I feed him a spoonful of warm rice pudding. He swallows carefully and pushes the spoon away.



“Yesh. It’sh a mystery. Have to shurrender.”

“So you’ve given up?” The final stage of death and dying—Acceptance.

Joe knows what I don’t, yet. “Shurrender. Not asheptance, not giving up. Both…and peace, trust…” He pauses to breathe, waits to speak again.

A skittering of tiny feet tells me there are mice in the cabin. A slide of snow glides off the cabin roof onto the woodpile with a soft shushing sound.

“…living …dying…doeshn’t matter. Shurrender, Addie.” He smiles. “You should…try it.”

“What do I surrender to?”

“God’s Will…perfect happiness. That’sh what I get—I’m happy…even if I’m dying.”

Perfectly happy, while he’s dying? Maybe it’s the morphine talking. No, he hasn’t had morphine today.

“Once I got that…” he says, “…not afraid now. Not afraid of anything…not even dying.”

I offer him another spoonful of rice pudding. He tastes it, licks his dry lips, reaches his claw hand for the cup of water.

“I went away lasht night…” he says. “Space walk…but that cord…tethered to the mother ship.” He gestures to the cabin. “Here. With you.”

Joe pushes at the zipper on his sleeping bag, and I unzip it for him.

What next?

“Joe, I’ll try the surrender thing. It feels like giving up, to me, so it doesn’t make sense that we should be doing this turbo healing at the same time as we’ve given up on it actually healing you.”

His lips curl into a half smile. “You listening? Not giving up. Shurrender to…God. A miracle. Healing me…not your job.”

My hands tingle. “I’ll spend the whole day working on that. When do you want your next healing treatment?”

“Now.” He relaxed into his sleeping bag, rotated his head on the pillow, closed his eyes and folded his hands on his chest.”

I look at my watch. Nearly noon. We have the rest of the day. I wonder how much his one little body can take of the energy flow?

This time I position a chair at the head of his bunk. I remember how I had brought him out of a coma with my hands on his head. And yes, that time I had managed a degree of surrender. I remembered saying a prayer, asking for some kind of Divine Intelligence to take over, asked for help in trusting that, no matter how this came out, whatever happened would be right for Joe. Prayed without really believing, and kept praying until I finally believed. Believed that what was right for Joe would be—would have to be—acceptable to me, too. 

Somehow, I will have to reach that state again.

I pray for a long time, until I finally believe. I can surrender to whatever outcome we achieve. We are doing this together, and Joe has surrendered.

Clearing my aura and filling it with golden light takes a while longer. Clearing my mind another while longer.

Finally, I place my hands on Joe, cradling his head and ears. He sighs, deeply.

The warm/cool energy flows through my hands, so strongly they vibrate and buzz.

Joe has a convulsion.

Too much, too much, too much! I start to withdraw my hands, but an invisible Presence holds them in place. Joe settles down. He is unconscious, near comatose.

I try not to be terrified. Surrender, surrender, surrender. This is all part of the healing. My kyky healed Joe when he was 14, brought him back from near death. I move my hands to the top of his head as I had then, and see him relax more deeply. I do the step-aside and watch from the corner of the room.

In an altered state. Not floating in deep space, but my spirit watches as Joe lies in perfect serene peace, Addie’s hands cradling his head. Time passes. A lot of time. My hands vibrate automatically and Joe falls into a slow-breathing comatose sleep.

The energy stops. I shake out my numb hands, press them to the floor, start up the furnace in my heart and burn off extra energy, white smoke out the top of my head, like when the Vatican chooses a Pope.

I’m shaking while I stoke up the fire, shaking while I heat a can of chicken noodle soup, shaking while I eat the soup. Shaking while I walk outside and breathe the shining air. I walk to a fallen log, brush off the snow, and sit for an hour, listening to the rustling silence of tiny animals. My jeans are soaked. I go in and change to my p.j.’s. It’s early yet, not yet sundown, but close.

Mike will come in a couple of days to take Joe out. Dead or alive.

Too exhausted to stay with him, I collapse on the top bunk, drained.

Joe will wake up, need pain meds or kyky. Or he won’t wake up at all.

I listen to Joe’s slow, halting breathing. Feel my own breath slowing down. It’s time.

I sense Joe is going away. And that means I am, too. Without him, I won’t be a person anymore. I can feel my breath synchronize with his, feel my spirit leaving my body, spinning out on the silver cord, coming back, hearing the breaths, spinning out again, sinking, disappearing.

I’m detached from the outcome.

And finally, sinking into a warm, dark oblivion, I surrender to the mystery. I’m too weary to resist it.

I hope I’ll wake up wherever Joe has gone, even if it’s someplace other than Heaven.

Dropping into an exhausted sleep, a thought: “When a warrior dies for her purpose, she truly becomes a hero.”

Day Three

At the first light of dawn, something hits my hand hard, swinging it.

I sit up too fast, forget where I am, and fall out of bed from the top bunk.

Confused, I pick myself up, rubbing my elbow where it hit the floor.

Joe is sitting straight up in bed, awake and alert, eyes sparkling.

He gives me an impish grin.

“Got coffee?”

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