Some Days with Elizabeth
Preface: I am struggling a bit this week, the week leading to the first year anniversary of my daughter Elizabeth’s death. Partly for the obvious reasons – the intensity of this loss resounding in my body and mind and spirit to a degree that at times I can’t remember the simplest things, like where an acupuncture office is that I’ve been to a dozen times; I’m thinking of her constantly, with memories of her at all stages of her life popping up, sometimes making me laugh, often in tears…Today I smiled as I put on sunglasses and thought of Elizabeth’s love of sunglasses and how she always accessorized with them in the most artful way, and then I passed the hospital where she had brain surgery, and remembered the neurosurgeon sitting with me in the waiting area, telling me that the surgery was not successful, he could only remove part of the tumor, and that her brain was swelling to such a degree that he had to stop operating. At first I felt sad, and then I heard myself saying out loud “you were released!” and was able to smile and feel joy for/with her…
The less obvious reason I’ve been struggling: I’ve been posting these past year’s emails from Elizabeth’s and my journey and have had this strong sense that they each needed to be shared before the anniversary date of each update. But I’ve fallen behind, and the last few were posted “late” and I have several more to share before we get to the anniversary itself, in less than a week, on September 23.
It feels like the timing has been in large part due to Elizabeth’s guidance – that in the beginning she was urging me on, also aware of the dates and the timing being important, but as her spirit is moving to other levels, the earthly concepts of time are less important, so I haven’t received guidance to post as urgently in the past two months, and I’ve slowed down. Also, as I share these writings I (re)experience the journey, and it feels like there will be another sense of finality in sharing these emails leading to her transition…So this is all to warn you that this may be an intense week for you as well, if you read these in real-time. I’ll be sharing a month’s worth of transformation in a very condensed time, and you can choose to read them as they come, or you may prefer to take your time and stretch it out a bit. It feels important however, for me to share all the emails by this first anniversary. I will continue to share Elizabeth’s writing, as well as my own.
Though certainly sad on some level, ultimately my hope is that this story is as uplifting and transformative for you as it is for me. May these offerings bring you some comfort and inspiration on your journey!
This image is how I’m seeing her in my mind’s eye right now…
September 4, 2012
today I woke up, as I often do, to the sound of wooden bracelets lightly clinking together. Elizabeth’s bed in the living room is visible from our room, and I have a direct line of sight to her, so I can see her begin to move her right arm and hand, as though she is dancing slowly by herself, and making quiet music with her bracelets. She’s been wearing at least 6 bracelets for weeks, given to her by different people – 2 she was gifted from Tashe, my sister, one was a gift from Ann Marie, our friend and E’s doctor, and the 3 wooden ones are mine, gifted to me from my partner Zelie. Elizabeth has also been given rings from several women who’ve visited – as she plays with and holds their hands, they’ve been inspired/instructed to leave a ring with her. She enjoys playing with them and looking at them all.
I’ve been reading out loud to Elizabeth (one of my favorite things when my daughters were young, and still), and the first book that came to me was The Little Prince. I hadn’t remembered the story, but it was an amazingly perfect book to read at this time, for me very sweet and very reassuring, about love and the process of leaving one’s body. I highly recommend it for all. I’ve also been reading her Winnie the Pooh, which is lovely. We’ve been listening for weeks to the Graceful Passages CD, which she always says yes to when I ask, and also still loving the Coleman Barks readings of Rumi poetry. We have lots of beautiful relaxation types of music, which Elizabeth enjoys too. She likes being read to, and music, but then also wants time for quiet, when she’ll say no to offerings of words or music.
We’ve been enjoying this time of more quiet, more spaciousness, and Elizabeth seems to want to have time alone each day. (It is just me and Zelie here, with Elizabeth’s father Greg coming on the weekends from San Francisco.) It is a bit hard to know her preferences, as she might answer 2 different ways to the same question, depending on how it’s asked, so mostly I’m following my intuition and staying in the flow, reading her as best as I can, and trying to take care of myself too. It’s hard to tell also how much she understands, she has confusion and has little short-term memory, though long-term seems much better. Her expression is almost always neutral, and she only answers yes or no when asked, and if pressed might give a word or two explanation. She is still not stating anything on her own, or asking any questions, which is SO different from her previous expressive self, since she could first speak! She continues to smile so sweetly when we smile at her, and only occasionally expresses pain, her neck sometimes hurts when we turn her, but as soon as she’s positioned well, she’s not in pain.
This morning I was talking to Elizabeth about how hard it’s been for me to believe that she’s dying (throughout this process with cancer, and still, though I’m finally starting to believe it), and she said the same is true for her. (I was talking about a poem of hers I read, that startled me as it seemed to be speaking of dying, but then I realized it was written as she was preparing to leave Tucson for Seattle 2 years ago – it’s “Bird’s Nest”, here.) I asked if she felt ready, and she said no. I asked if she felt she needed to do or say anything to prepare, and she said no. So I said perhaps she’s not ready yet because today’s not the day, and that she would be ready when it is the day, and she responded with holding up crossed fingers, which was both funny and so dear and moving. It does feel that she is getting closer to the end, though it’s still really hard to see how or when that will happen. I’m doing my best to be present and live each day as though it could be her last, and my own as well.
Physically, she is having 3-4 episodes of tremors/increased heart rate each day (due to the tumor in her brain), and sometimes they bother her, sometimes not, mainly related to the severity. This morning was the most intense one – they’re similar to the full body shivering one might have when really cold, and include her torso and her right arm. The medication helps quickly most often, though it makes her sleepy or “numb” she says, so she prefers not to have it when possible. Her head continues to swell, and the tumor in her neck feels like it’s growing, especially as it causes some pain with movement. I think it moves the vertebrae out of place, and some healer-friends have been able to help it shift back several times, giving her relief for many days or weeks.
She has been eating well still, and drinking some. The other day, she was holding a rose, and suddenly I realized she’d taken a bite! Must have smelled really good…though she said it didn’t taste good.
Elizabeth still says she is not afraid, her mind is quiet, and she’s peaceful. I’m really grateful for that, and for each day. Sometimes I go into stories of past or future, and get overwhelmed with grief, but then I can simply move into gratitude for her presence right now, feel the warmth of her skin, look into her eyes, place my hand on her heart and feel that love, and all is well.
love and blessings,
September 11, 2012
There has been a noticeable shift this past week, as Elizabeth has stopped eating and drinking for the most part. She occasionally (every 2-4 days) has said yes to something – Greg brought her favorite dessert of carrot cake this weekend, and she had a few bites, and our friend Tita brought some wonderful beans and rice (another favorite) which she ate as well, but overall she’s stopped eating and drinking. We are not pushing her to eat or drink, simply continuing to offer, as we’ve been told that often the wisdom of the body is to stop, and that it’s a painless and easy way to leave.
For quite a while she’s needed some encouragement to eat – she might say no to being hungry, but then would say yes to a specific food…But something really shifted last Wednesday – she started only drinking enough to swallow her pills and then saying no when I asked if she wants more. And started saying no to everything i offered her to eat. Right after I wrote this, she said yes to food, and ate a peach…so it continues to change, but that was the only thing she’s eaten since a dinner on Saturday. There is this fine line between offering and encouraging or urging. I want her to live as long as possible, but don’t to prolong her life if it means suffering. It feels like the best I can do is listen to her, and when she’s not clear, then follow my intuition, knowing her as well as I do for these 22 years. I hear from others some concern about her not eating and drinking, and it certainly has felt strange as a mother, not to urge her to eat, but I continue to trust her and listen.
This has brought the reality of her leaving that much closer, and I am aware of how precious it is that I can massage her arms and feet, clean her skin, hear her voice (more rarely now), kiss her cheek… I am deeply grateful for the blessing of each day with Elizabeth still here in her body, and at the same time wanting to let her go, which is the most challenging contrast of intentions and emotions I’ve ever experienced. The grief is ever-present, and mostly just below the surface, as I stay with her in this journey, present as I possibly can be.
I’ve just finished reading “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho to Elizabeth, which I loved, and she seemed to enjoy, usually saying yes when I would ask if she wanted me to continue. It doesn’t seem she is following the story, but seems to like the sound of my voice. I’ve now started reading pieces from Anne Lamott’s “Tender Mercies”, and though I’d read it years ago, am amazed at how perfect each book has been for the process Elizabeth is in, and perhaps more so for me! She is not wanting music lately, prefers me to be with her, even if we’re not talking, though she still wants some time alone.
I keep delaying sending this, as things change each day, but I know many of you are wanting to know what life is like here, so this feels somehow like a lot is missing, but it’s still enough.