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end of the road

There is no one solid story here.  No coherent thoughts that flow one into the other.  Just scraps of images that lie like bits of material waiting to be stitched together into one large quilt-like story.  There is no quilt here.  Not today anyway.  Just the scraps.

  • Standing with my hand on my Grandmother’s bare back, supporting her as she works her way through the ordeal of going to the bathroom.  My young-ish, strong brown hand on her fragile, bird-like back.  Skin pale and thin as onion skin.  Soft as velvet.   Warm.  Spine emerging through the flesh.  No longer any fat to cushion the bones.  I could see the struggle of her quick, shallow breath through the backside of her body.  Heard her panting with fear and effort.  I wanted to place my lips on that warm skin, to feel its softness on my own face.  This woman who has been a second mother to me.  Now I help her to have a pee.
  • Resting with my Grandmother in the alcove halfway down the corridor of her residence.  We’ve gone for a walk but her weakened heart and her tiny legs won’t take her any farther.  This woman, once a tank who flew up the street on strong legs so quickly that I, as a child, could not keep up.  Now she sinks into an armchair as we wait for her strangled heart to slow, for her breath to catch up.  I feel my own breath moving with ease through my lungs.  In….Out…In…Out… This has become my mantra, the one I use to keep the nightmare of this current reality at bay.  I hear her say, voice choking midway through her thought, “I don’t want to die, Tabby.  I just want to be with you girls for the rest of my natural life.”  Something about that last bit struck me as funny and got me chuckling.  That’s the way it is anyways, isn’t it, Nan?  For the rest of our natural lives.  I don’t want you to die either but even I know you don’t want to live this way.  Where do you go from here?
  • Telling my mother of the dream I had about my Grandfather who passed away many years ago.  Mum telling me of my Grandmother’s recurring dreams with him in them, but she never sees his face.  And I know the day she sees his face is the day he takes her hand and helps her cross over to where he is.  Not yet, Gramps. Please.  Not yet.
  • Walking into the hospital room.  My Grandmother all hunched over into herself, asleep, but looking dead.  I can feel the panic rising in my mother as she quickly moves to the side of the bed to see if she can rouse her mother.  My Nan lifts her face and I see it – Death is on her flesh.  The face that looks at me is not hers, not the face I’ve known for 43 years. The eyes are sunken.  Cheeks hollow.  Skin a sickly grey.  There is no mistaking the kiss of Death when it arrives and there it was, for a minute or two, and then it was gone.  We are granted the precious gift of my Grandmother for another day.  Thank you.
  • Sitting in Emergency beside the tiny frame of a woman who is the matriarch of my family.  I find I cannot look at her.  I cannot interact with her.  I cannot touch her.  Cannot speak with her.  I am disgusted with myself, humiliated by the tremendous feelings of anger that are raging up from the core of my being.  How could you do this to us?  So….fucking….selfish.  I am not impressed with myself.  I am thoroughly ashamed.  I vow to do better.  So far so good.

There is a changing of the guard in my family.  That woman I have railed against my whole life is stepping down from her position of power.  The responsibilities are clearly too much for her to bear.  And so the woman who sat terrified night after night when I was sick, the woman who fed me and cleaned my backside when I pooped myself, the woman who helped me get dressed, the woman who put me to bed at night, is now the woman who needs the same from me.

And my heart breaks.

I hear the words of my friend who struggles to care for her Alzheimer’s-suffering mother:  This is the new normal.  And so it is.

I hear the words of another dear friend of mine who has buried so many of her own already:  I don’t know why people are so afraid of death.  It can be so beautiful.  Indeed. For sure there have been exchanges during this time of disoriented new vulnerability that have never happened before, and they are as beautiful as I imagine the face of god to be.  This beauty seems only to come at this point, during these times, as one soul prepares to shed its skin, leaving the rest of us behind.

Scraps, all of it, waiting to be woven into a beautifully whole tapestry.  For now, only scraps, and this:

Peace, my heart, let the time for
the parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death but completeness.

- “The Gardener LXI:  Peace, my Heart” by Rabindranath Tagore

Until that parting, I vow to step into the fold with you, Nan, as you have done with me so many times, so that you will not walk alone along this path.  Please, forgive me the mistakes I shall make.

Let there be ease.

May there be grace.

May there be peace.

Peace.

May it be so.

What Drives You?

car_drive0000

When you start figuring out how full of shit you are, it’s like opening a tunnel to all the lies you’ve ever told yourself. – Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

It started over a plastic bowl.

bowl

My Mum and I had just finished eating our respective bowls of popcorn.  Once done, Mum graciously took mine into the kitchen along with her own.  I heard water running.  I heard things being placed on the drain board.  Hunh, I thought, that was nice.  I won’t have to deal with my bowl.  What a treat.

Indeed.

On my way through the kitchen, at a later point in the evening, I noticed my mother’s bowl on the drain board…and mine still in the sink.

It’s fascinating to notice what happens in the mind, at lightning speed, at any given point in time.  In that moment, part of my mind actually pulled up a chair, sat down and waited for the ensuing show.  Because it was coming.  It’s like when you have horribly abusive neighbours.  Your ears catch wind of the argument that’s begun at the other end of their apartment.  It’s a tone, not a nice tone, but it’s still quiet.  Over time, you know the tone will turn to a roar and before you know it, they’re overhead and sounding like wild animals tearing into each other.  Yeah, it was like that in my head.  Over a plastic bowl.  (The absurdity of it has not escaped me.)

It went something like this:

Nice.  All those times I’ve washed Mum’s bowl, or her work containers, or anything else for that matter, and she can’t even THINK of washing my bowl.  I do it because I know how happy it makes her to not have to deal with these things, and I like to make my mother happy.

This is getting good.

This is getting good.

Do I?  Do I really?

You see, there are certain times in my life when I honestly do things for another simply because I know it will make her happy.  For example, I make sure K’s coffee is always ready to go at the push of a button. I know it makes her morning a little easier which makes the start to her day a bit happier. When I do this, I don’t expect a return.  I don’t expect K to fix my coffee although, bless her heart, she does.  There is no expectation.  The motivation is pure.  (Okay, except for the part where I actually feel happy when K is happy.  So how selfless is this?  Never mind.  Now it’s a conundrum.  ;) )

But when it came to the plastic bowl incident, my Full-of-Shit Radar was screaming at an ear-deafening pitch.  Something was not sitting right with me.  There was a queasiness in my belly and a certain heat to my thoughts.  Full-of-Shit Radar was bringing to my attention that my motivation was not pure.  I was not doing nice things to make my mother happy.  I was doing nice things so that I could get something in return.  (Don’t ask me what.  I haven’t gotten that far.)

The truth is, this has nothing to do with my mother and has everything to do with how full of shit I really am.  (I hear the voices of those close to me arguing with me on my use of the phrase “full of shit”, but hey, let’s call it what it is.)  It’s a brutal process to get honest with yourself but, if you dare to step upon a path of honesty, you will have your arse kicked and the scabs torn from your eyes.  What I constantly discover is how corrupt and selfish my underlying motivations are.  How what I do is most often fed by a desire to have the hunger of some hidden woundedness tended to. How I have to learn to feed and fill my own gaping hole because dragging fulfillment from another human being is pure violation, something I have no right to do.  And how, if I’m doing something “nice” in order to gain something in return, I’d best not be doing it in the first place.

All of the responsibility is mine. The plastic bowl.  The coffee cup.  The broken heart.  My own destiny.  I can only look within myself to “fix what is broke” and to do what needs doing in order to create peace in my heart.  And some days, my friends, that responsibility can feel like a heavy burden.  So isn’t it much easier to pass it off on someone else and to make her responsible for my needs?  Except it doesn’t work and the suffering continues.

So what drives you?

May we all have the opportunity to find out what drives us.  May we all have the courage to admit when we’re full of shit.  And may we all keep washing other people’s plastic bowls.  ;)

Namaste,

Tabitha

From Me to You

May this video make you happy.

An excerpt from the amazingly wise tongue-in-cheek, kick-in-the-pants article “30 Ways to Make Yourself Miserable (Along with Everyone Around You)” by Lion Goodman:

This is a compilation of the top 30 ways to make yourself miserable (along with everyone around you). It’s a well-known fact that “Misery loves company.” Why hoard your suffering when it is so easy to share with others? Many people have made their families miserable. Some have succeeded in making their neighborhood miserable. There are historical records documenting experts who brought misery to entire civilizations. We can use these glorious accomplishments to compare ourselves to, which will allow us to feel incapable, miniscule, or completely unworthy (This is Technique 11, detailed below)…

I will have to admit that number 27 in the list is my personal pet peeve and Achilles’ heel all at the same time.  If you’d like a good laugh (and kick right smack in the pants), I suggest you take some time to meander your way through this list:  30 Ways to Make Yourself Miserable (Along with Everyone Around You).  It will simultaneously make you chuckle and wake you right up.

Cheers,

Tabitha

regal queen Aggs

This is Aggs. Aggie in full. Agnes in her later years.

I was 18 years old when I separated myself from the Catholic church, the church of my upbringing and my family.  In all honesty, I never resonated with Catholicism as it was presented to me.  I never understood the concept of God, the Supreme Being, as an angry, vengeful, spiteful entity.  Atoning for sins, being born essentially evil, condemning people for coupling and living in love differently from the mainstream, never made any sense to me.  This felt like fear-mongering and I, for one, could find no solace in the teachings.

The day I made the decision to leave and never go back was an unusually sweltering day.  The Catholic school I attended had monthly masses at the local church, so off we went, scratchy woollen uniforms sticking to us, to sit in a super-heated, poorly ventilated building and have “holy” shoved down our throats.  As the mass went on (and on), and the building became hotter and hotter, several students became woozy and started to pass out from being overheated.  Our minds were foggy and our egos were as fresh and shy as our teenage years, so our responses to the priest’s call-out were timid.  This was not up to the priest’s standards so he went on a tirade telling us we would not leave until we responded appropriately.  Over and over and over again he called-out and we responded, louder and louder until we were practically shouting in the name of God, and not in a good way.  That was it for me.  I had no intentions of ever again being bullied by some out-of-his-mind “representative of God”.  There was no peace there for me, so I shot the building the bird as I left and never went back until a few years ago when it was a Christmas present to my mother.  I still don’t feel comfortable there.

I walked out of that building and away from established religion, and walked back towards what had always made sense to me–finding the face of God in nature and in animals.  I could find peace there and peace was what I needed.

Fast forward almost 10 years and you will find me deep in the pit of the belly of the beast–the dark night of the soul.  My grandfather was dying and was moving to and from ICU and the cardiac ward at an astonishing pace.  My 3 1/2 year relationship disintegrated before my eyes and out of the blue, leaving me shocked and breathless.  My cat was diagnosed with cancer.  I was beginning to seriously question my sexuality.  I was unemployed and had no idea what path to take.  A number of friendships hit the rocks and drowned.  And my parents weren’t quite split yet but they were certainly heading there.  To say I was a train wreck would be a gross understatement.  I was unanchored, unhinged and drifting through fields of pain and confusion.  In the midst of all of this, I decided I needed some time and space on my own.  I needed to breathe.  I needed to see if I could drag my bloody stump of a Self back to some sense of peace, so I rented a family friend’s cottage for a week.  I packed my car with every spiritually-based book, every art supply, every tarot card, and every journal I owned and off I went to find my mind and to heal my heart.

What happened instead was that I got sick.  Unbelievably sick.  Out in the middle of nowhere, sitting on a Muskoka chair, staring off into the Bay of Quinte, I felt a scratch in my throat.  The scratch progressed quickly to a throat full of razor blades and a deliriously high fever.  I was beyond miserable; I was wretched.

While I was on my own, the cottage was closely surrounded by other homes.  One of these homes belonged to Russell, an interesting man who always seemed to be picking up and adopting stray animals.  The day of the fever, sitting like a lump on the deck, I happened to glance over at Russell’s and saw a tiny orange kitten sitting on his deck.  Russell and his wife had gone out so I decided to steal a moment and to say hello to this creature; I needed some animal time.  Reaching Russell’s deck, what I saw before me was a perfect mirror for my own Self and it made my stomach drop.  This tiny handful of a creature was a wretched soul as well.

She actually looks better here.

She actually looks better here.

There was green goo coming from her nose and her eyes, she was emaciated, and her ears were full of mites.  She was sneezing. She was coughing.  She was very obviously dying. And my heart hit the dirt when I laid eyes on her.  Her saving grace, I thought, was that Russell had found her.  Knowing how much he loved his animals, I knew he would take good care of her.  I knew he would save her.  I spent a bit of time with this beast and then, feeling like crap again, I turned back towards my cottage and walked away.

Following me, tail high and at a good clip, was this wretched little soul.  I didn’t want her getting comfortable at my location since it wasn’t my place so I marched her straight back to Russell’s.  Again she followed me.  And again.  Three times I attempted to return her to her home and three times she followed me back to the cottage.  By the third time I had had enough.  I gave up, sat down on my chair and stared off into space again, only this time I had a dying orange cat on my lap.  We made quite the pair.

The weather turns quickly on the Bay of Quinte and it wasn’t long before the wind picked up and the afternoon sky began to grow dark with storm clouds.  Russell had yet to return home and this left me in quite the quandary.  Not knowing whether the owners of the cottage allowed animals inside I was reluctant to take this creature in with me, but I certainly couldn’t leave her out in a raging storm.  When the heavens opened up and still there was no sign of her people, Sick Orange Cat came inside.  I laid out for her a bowl of water but no food; again, I didn’t want her to get too comfortable.  I knew she would be going home.

At the height of the storm, when the windows of the cottage were shaking from the force of thunder, I heard Russell’s car crunch up his driveway.  With a sigh of relief, I packed Sickness in close to my chest and made a run for it across the grass.  Soaked, sick and holding this equally soaked and sick bundle, I knocked on Russell’s door and met them with, “Here’s your cat.”  Except, it turns out, she wasn’t theirs.  She was from a barn up the road, a barn I had seen before, packed with pathetic, uncared for, disease-ridden cats.  The sight of them had always broken my heart.  This little stray had shown up on Russell’s porch and out of the goodness of their hearts, they had fed her and had intended on sending her back up the road.  Which is what they did.  Taking her from me, they drove her to the barn, and to certain death.

I can’t say I understand what happened next.  Free from the waif cat, I was in the shower hoping to steam the sickness out of me when I was suddenly rocked by violent waves of the most hideous sounding, gut-wrenching sobs. They took me over and brought me to my knees.  Naked, vulnerable and kneeling on the bottom of the bathtub, with snot running from my nose and hot water streaming over my skin, I begged God, the entity I had not named in nearly a decade, to bring her back to me.  “Please, God,” I cried, “bring her back and I promise you I will do everything I can, I will use every last red cent I have (and I didn’t have many) to either give her a good life or a good death.  Please.  Please bring her back to me.”

No more than a half hour after the shower collapse, I was sitting in my chair, alone and terrified as the storm outside intensified.  It was black as pitch with the wind heaving and beating up against the cottage walls.  In the midst of all this mayhem, I thought I heard a different sound outside the patio door.  I thought I had heard the tiny meow of a cat.  I also thought the fever had made me nuts.  How does one hear a tiny kitten meow when Nature is waging war outside?  I have no idea, but I heard it again and proceeded to walk towards the door.  There she was, Sick Orange Cat, staring at me through the glass, soaked to the bone having run down a country road in the dead of night, during a psychotic thunderstorm, and back to me.

I kept the promise I made to God that day.  For the next 16 years I did everything I could to give this little creature the best possible life, and in the end, I almost used every last red cent I had to give her a good death.  No words can ever explain the connection I had to that cat.  She was more than a cat, more than a companion, more than an animal–she was my pathway back to God and she showed me, without a doubt, that “someone” is always listening and loves me enough to respond.

When I met God, She was wearing a red fur coat, and my life has never been the same.

lounging Aggs 1999

I miss you, Aggs.  Be at peace.

All my love,

Tabitha

For the Love of Poetry

poetry

 

For me there is no greater honour than being recognized by one’s own writing teacher.  I have had the great honour and privilege of having two of my poems posted on my writing teacher’s website.  If you’re ever looking for fun and inspiring writing classes in various cities across Ontario, I recommend a class with Brian Henry.  If you enjoy poetry at all, you can find my two, “Life Cycles” and “In the End”, posted here on Quick Brown Fox (November 2, 2013).

May you also be recognized and brought forward into this world.

Blessings,

Tabitha

teachable moments

 

It was Tuesday night, one of my teaching nights, and my students were all snuggled up, comfortable, lying on their mats as we moved through the opening meditation.  I heard myself say it, “Every moment is a teachable moment,” as I was relating my cat’s parasitic infestation to the parasitic thoughts, behaviours and patterns in our lives that rob us in the same way of our vitality and life force.

Every moment is a teachable moment.

I have had a wildly exhausting and emotional few months; hence my grand absence (Did you miss me?  heh heh).  It was a matter of nose and head down and go; that is, it was a matter of surviving the chaos of experience after experience after experience.  It’s virtually impossible to write during these stages.  Writing, for me anyway, requires an amount of distance from the subject so I can find the words to explain.  When you’re in the soup pot, you’re swirling about and simply do not possess the faculties to explore interesting descriptions of the potatoes’ texture.  Ya know what I mean?

I’m still not ready to get into the nitty gritty of it but today I found some words that needed to come out, so here I am.

These past few months have truly felt like a country and western song but I never found myself asking, “Why me?”  Why ask?  All of the stuff has been the stuff of life.  The achy, messy, complicated stuff of life.  It just so happens that it rained down in a shitstorm in a relatively short amount of time; that is what made the process almost unmanageable.  What I found myself asking instead was, “What can I learn from this?  What can I take away?”  Here is some of what I found:

- The sensation in my body as my stomach dropped to the floor.  My cat had been diagnosed with fatal kidney disease.  My mouth went dry, my breath became shallow, and I began to sweat profusely.

How many others were standing in a similar spot, having just received a diagnosis for themselves or for a loved one?  How did it feel in their bodies? How terrified were they at the idea of losing a loved one?

So I prayed for them.

-  Watching as my cat’s legs buckled beneath her and she began to shudder from intense physical pain.  Her eyes told me she had one foot here and one foot over on the other side.  I simply lay beside her, watched her breathe, and breathed with her.

How many people were right beside a loved one, desperately watching every breath, observing the suffering, wishing there was something they could do to ease the pain, wrestling with the horrible feeling of helplessness in the face of mortality?

I prayed for them.

-  Standing in the vet’s office with this bag of fur in my arms, eyes pathetically hopeful that if we could just put her on some medication she’d be okay, only to have the vet look at me and shake his head.  Standing there having to make the decision to end this suffering, to end this life that I had nurtured for 16 years.  And then making the decision to say goodbye.

How many people in how many hospital rooms, recognizing “the look” in the doctor’s eyes having to make the decision to pull their loved one off life support?

I prayed for them.

-  Wishing for one more day, one more moment.  One more opportunity to capture a scent, to hear a voice, to feel the warmth of another body.

How many people?

I pray for them.

Pema Chodron teaches a beautiful Buddhist compassion practice that goes like this:  Whatever you’re feeling, whatever you’re experiencing, say to yourself, “Other people feel (experience) this.”  It is a profound yet simple teaching that opens your heart and reminds you that you are never alone.  This is what came to me throughout all that I trudged through this past summer–someone else somewhere was going through something, just like me.  Amazingly, instead of spending much time licking my wounds, I felt compelled to reach towards the suffering of others, to offer up something that might ease their pain, even for a moment.  What can you do about the suffering of countless, faceless millions?

You can pray for them.

May you be reminded, whenever you have those glorious moments of grace where you feel peace within your heart, that someone somewhere is sending blessings your way.  And may you send those blessings on.

Peace to you,

Tabitha

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