The Changing Mind

When my mother died in 1984, Dad saw the light. He’d been asleep in the chair next to Mom’s hospital bed when she passed on. My sister Jo Ann was sitting with her as she left this place for the next. When Jo Ann woke Dad it took just a moment. In that moment he saw that bright light that some speak of. I’ve always believed that he watched Mom walk on. It was earlier that day that he’d gone to the chapel and changed his prayer. Before that he’d always prayed that Mom’s cancer be healed. That day he accepted that her time was done and prayed that she be at peace.

I’ve often wondered about the connections between the physical and the spiritual worlds. How are we called? How does the connection speak?

Now, my Dad is 91 and his mind is changing. The way he speaks of the world is different. Dad has always seen himself as less intelligent because he didn’t finish school. In today’s educational system, I wonder if he’d been taught to read differently and had a different outcome. Dad grew up, in his early years, speaking Luxembourgish at home and didn’t speak English as his primary language until he was at school. It had to be tough to step in to a learning system and try to learn in a whole new language as a little boy who just wanted to be out on the farm running around and helping his dad. Then his dad left. Grandpa died in August of 1935. It had to be traumatic for Dad. I remember the story. They were out in the field. Grandpa was back on the hay wagon and Dad was driving the horses. Grandpa called out to him “Slow those horses down! You’re killing me back here!” Later that day Grandpa had what seems to have been an unrelated appendices attack. He was taken to the hospital and never returned. Grandpa was Dad’s hero. I wonder how that experience continued to impact who Dad became.

I know that some years later Dad was working on a farm. He skipped work one day. On that day the farmer’s child was playing where they shouldn’t have been and was hit by a truck and killed. Dad spoke about that event with sorrow and guilt. He told us how had he gone to work he would have been in that truck. He always believed that he would have seen the child and they wouldn’t have been struck and killed. There’s nothing to prove that one way or another. It’s just something he carries with him.

I’m thinking about this all as Dad’s mind changes because of some of the things he’s saying. He mentioned several times that he needs to go back to work, that he’s been gone too long. He gets worried about not getting to his job or sometimes he talks about getting back to school.

I find myself wondering if he’s unconsciously planning for his own journey. Is this how he’s preparing to go back to be with those he used to know? It’s a land of confusion. He doesn’t know this world fully anymore, nor does he belong to the next yet.

He’s not the same as he once was, but having this long process of goodbye tells me how gifted we are. Right now his dementia is a largely a gentle confusion. He gets lost and sometimes frightened, but not angry much yet and he generally knows family and friends or if he doesn’t he at least knows that they’re good people and probably someone he did know.

I don’t get to see him much, living a state away. But, he still recognizes me on the phone and other family see him almost every day. Sometimes I am near tears after talking with him when he’s confused or having a hard time with his phone and struggling to hear me. But, I feel so grateful, so proud to be his daughter. He is, to me, the symbol of strength and so wise.

As his mind changes, it seems more words of Luxembourgish may be slipping in again too. He always said he couldn’t speak it, but he could. He’d slip into it with friends. Now, sometimes a word slips in here or there to describe another’s behaviors. I don’t know the language at all, but can get the idea when he speaks of someone who talks too much or something like that.

The mind is interesting place. It is both sad and a great and joyous gift watching Dad’s mind taking him back to his younger days. I’m not sure that this story has gone anywhere, but it needed to be written to help me think things through. Thank you for reading.

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Honoring the Dead– A Dream

I thought I’d start with dreaming the night before last because of my brainspotting appointment, but apparently I was even more worn than I thought. The dreams didn’t begin until last night. I am strong believer in looking at dreams to learn. For myself, I find that in dreaming is where I put things together that I don’t let myself think in my waking hours. I can learn a lot if I listen to my sleeping self.

I was awoken by a dream last night where a student of mine had committed suicide. In waking life, I don’t know the person, but in the dream world I knew them well. I spoke at their ceremony to a crowd of many, a lot of young people there. I told them, “I am honored to be here, but I don’t want to be a giver of eulogies. I don’t want to see any of you here in this same place as our friend. I want you to remember that the best way to honor those who have passed is to live.”

I was thinking on this dream this morning and pondering how we treat death. I grew up Catholic. The first funeral I remember was of my Uncle Clarence. I must have been six or seven when he died maybe. He was a WWII veteran and his casket was draped with a flag. I remember a solemness and honoring. I knew he was an important man from how he was being honored. I don’t remember any more from there.

A few years later was when I really started seeing dying– my mom, my grandma, my Aunt Florence, my cousin Mary Sue, a classmate Steve, and other older relatives. I also sang in the church choir for our small rural congregation so I sang at funerals. I once counted it out, I’d been to 13 funerals in just a few short years. It’s funny now that I remember it was 13 funerals, but I don’t remember for certain how many years.

In my tradition people are expected a time of mourning, but honestly I don’t know how long it is. I know that shortly after the passing of the person there’s a funeral, a wake, and a burial. All this happens really quickly, just a day or two. All sorts of people shake your hand, maybe share a hug, and say “my sympathies”, a phrase they’d never use in any other part of life. Then everyone moves on and the dead person is gone forever. They’ve moved on to a perfect world called heaven, but how can it be perfect if the love you knew together isn’t there and they can’t reach you and you can’t reach them?

My adult spirituality has been influenced by many forces; Quakers, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Anishanaabe and other Native peoples, a variety of Christian faiths, and of course Atheists.

I learned quite a few years ago that the traditional folks among the Anishanaabe light a fire for four days and nights upon the passing of someone. This a time to honor their lives and the light helps guide their way into the spirit world. I learned more recently that the journey isn’t over at the end of those four days. For a full year people don’t speak of the person. This isn’t a hiding away. This is in respect. As the person travels to the spirit world, when they hear their name they’re called back. We honor them and let them move forward to let their spirits head home. At least that’s the way I understand it. I am a white girl just saying what I think I understand. I welcome those who know to tell me better or to tell me it’s time for me to hush.

I appreciate this. The beings who pass on aren’t whisked away to some pseudo perfect place and they’ve not lost contact with us. Even after that year, maybe even more so after that year, they are still there just on the other side of the river. That year, it isn’t a silencing. It’s a time to gather ourselves. I grew up in a world in which you grieved for some unknown period of time and then you were supposed to accept that the person was gone and move on. There was no more reason to grieve. You could remember on special occasions, but then let it go. Life isn’t that way. Those who’ve impacted us, impact us forever. Even when their bodies are gone their spirits remain and that’s o.k. that’s good. Carry those beings in a good way and honor them by being alive.

Those are my thoughts for the day.

Adventures in Brainspotting

The reason I started this blog, and a reason I often ignore in my writing is that I’ve been a community activist and organizer in one way or another since the 1990’s and it’s worn me down. I don’t know if it’s just been the work and the struggles along the way on my adult path or things from childhood that I just didn’t know how to deal with. I suspect stuff from overall happy childhood that overwhelmed and confused me actually had a lot to do with it. But, my life hasn’t always been the sustainable one that I believe in. It’s still not, but I think I am healing one way or another and I want to be a voice to remind others they can be well too.

I started seeing a counselor again a few months ago. Winters can be hard. I love the briskness and going out in the snow, but the cold makes us all cold even our spirits at some time or another.

I went yesterday for my brainspotting appointment. It’s an amazing form of therapy. I don’t know how much is real and how much is simply conjured by the mind, but it doesn’t really matter as long as it feels real I suppose. It’s a simple technique. The therapist just moves a pointer to a spot that conjures up feeling for the patient watching it. Then with the pointer at that spot and some comforting sounds playing the patient just watches.

I started yesterday with a slideshow of pictures from my childhood. Some were memories, some were actually more memories of pictures that I’ve seen a thousand times in family photo albums. Then, came the memories of funerals and people I’ve known who’ve passed on; my grandma, my mom, friends. I could feel just a light pressure in my chest.

Then I felt the pressure on my arms, like someone gently holding me, and the tension moved to a spot at the top of my head. Now, some of you who’ve read my blog before know that I have epilepsy. I was diagnosed about five or six years ago. My conscious mind was scared then, worried that this power might cause a seizure. But, a voice within me told me I was o.k., that I could go forward. In my mind I began to walk, hiking the miles of roads and trails, feeling the powers of the bear, the buffalo, and even for a moment the wolf around me, seeing the rivers run.

There’s more to that, but that’s enough for now. I came back into myself tired from the journey. My counselor told me that it was unlike others she’s seen. She could tell there was a lot going on in my mind and had a hard time knowing when to step in. She could also feel the temperature in the room change with what I saw.

Like I said, I don’t know what’s technically real or not, but it doesn’t really matter I suppose. Reality is subjective. What matters is the healing, feeling stronger, healthier, knowing where that strength comes from and remembering to honor the source. Those are my thoughts for the morning. Wishing you all a blessed day.

The Buddy Update for Buddy’s Buddies

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been together six month already. His predecessor took her final walk just three weeks before on National Dog Day, August 26th. How strange is that? One of the best creatures I’ve ever had the good fortune to know and she steps out of the world on the day meant to celebrate her.

Buddy’s a good little guy. I feel like I’m still just getting to know him. I suppose that makes some sense, after all his personality is growing and changing along with his body.

I thought I was getting a big dog when I found him at the shelter in Detroit Lakes. That was my intent. And, clearly I didn’t pay close enough attention to his small feet. But, I had no choice. He stole my heart the moment he climbed into my lap. I couldn’t not take him home with me. So, I am with a dog who at about 8 months of age weighs 32 lbs. I’m guessing he’ll top out at 40 lbs at the most.

His predecessor had a gift of understanding people and getting even those who genuinely feared dogs to trust her and, almost always, to fall in love.

Buddy, now he’s the class clown. Just yesterday he proved his hunting prowess by beating his pals in catching an already dead rabbit at the park. It was hilarious watching him on his little stout legs run down the path at top speed with this still fairly fresh headless bunny in his mouth and his pal Frannie, a Weimaraner who is tall enough that he can run under her, in hot pursuit. He has since caught that same rabbit at least three more times. He’s also quite good with a kangaroo style leap after field mice, loves to leap from the tallest snow drifts and dig himself in over his head in search of his prey until he gets distracted by a bird, another dog, or maybe a piece of sausage. Buddy is not one to focus on one activity for long.

He is a smart guy though. We didn’t make it through Good Citizenship training yet. We tried, but with snow drifts it’s tough to do loose leash walking and with all the snow days class was a bit inconsistent. We’ll try again in a few months. He is getting pretty good with sit, stay, lay down, roll, shake, and spin though. Down and back off need continuing work, but he’s really gotten a lot better. And, he’s not chewing on his human near as much as he used to.

I wonder what he’ll grow up to be like. I’d like to someday train him to be a therapy dog. I’m guessing he’ll be good with elders. I don’t quite know why I feel that, but I do. We’ll see. Until then, he’s being a good pal and reminding me often of what’s important. He takes me out for walks. Gets me to go play at the park. Reminds me when it’s time to shut down the computer and wrestle or cuddle. It’s good to have beings like this in our lives to take care of us, remind us to live and not get too caught up in the unimportant things of life. I still miss his predecessor, but her spirit led me to another good friend.

A Look At History

I spent my day yesterday at Saint Cloud State University with several hundred middle and high school students and a hearty crew of adults.

I was one of those hearty adults, a History Day judge. It’s a good way to spend a day.

Minnesota is a part of a larger organization, called National History Day, that’s been around since 1974. More than 600,000 kids each year take part in this event competing locally, regionally, and for some, at state and national events. They’ve worked for weeks or even months to prepare for the contests creating websites and displays, writing papers, and developing presentations and skits. Each year the kids get a theme. This year was about tragedy and triumph. They take the theme and individually or as groups use it to explore a topic in history of their choice.

It’s neat to see how it makes history come alive for these kids when they get to choose what they want to study and they get to lead the research and figure out for themselves how they’re going to learn. It’s a little disarming to find how events in my own lifetime are now finding their way to History Day. Walking through the exhibit hall was actually a chance to see quite a few events I could remember– the Iran Hostage Crisis, the Jacob Wetterling story, and the OJ Simpson case, along with many that were really interesting and outside the realm of most classrooms. These kids are exploring things like the Radium Girls, the Stonewall Riot, escapes from Alcatraz. Their eyes are opening.

I got to judge junior group websites this year. These are middle school aged teams of two or three kids who are designing Weebly sites on a specific topic. It was pretty cool. The “penicillin girls,” as my fellow coach and I called them, brought us bacteria and mold they’d collected to complement their website work. The “hockey boys” had gotten an interview with on of the US players from the 1980 Olympic Hockey team. This is a really cool way to touch history.

How great it is when we let our kids lead the way and simply act as the supportive guides that we are meant to be. We are born with a natural inclination to explore, discover, and learn. It’s why we reach out for toys, crawl, and eventually run. It’s our nature to learn. We do it with many of the same tools we did when we were babies. We reach. We test. We try different methods. That’s what these kids were doing by nature with the help of teachers, parents, and others who just gently nudged when needed.

I love it when kids get to do things like that whether it’s History Day, playing outside and learning about science by licking slugs (yes, at least some types of slugs will make your tongue go numb. Try it.) or getting on stage with the play they’ve been working on or the new piece of music they’re playing because they want to make music or act.

Do what you can to support a kid learning through experience. You won’t regret it. In fact, you may learn quite a bit through the experience too. I know that I do!

The New Year Update– Spring Edition

In some ways January 1st seems so long ago. But, here in west central Minnesota I can just look out the window and it seems like only yesterday. We’re still knee deep in snow with the promise of a really exciting blizzard in the upcoming day or so. Right now, it’s in the upper 30’s so the snow is melting and rain is coming down. The streets are running with rivers and many Morris residents are busy moving everything in their basements to higher ground and making sure their sump pumps work. I, meanwhile, am being thankful at being a renter without a basement.

So, where things from that list of lofty goals I made back in January. Well, here’s the update.

  1. Writing at least 50 blog posts– I think I better get to work on this one, but I’m not horribly far off. This is number 6 with just 41 more weeks in the year.
  2. Reading/ listening to 50 books — I’m a little behind on this one too, actually about the same amount as I am with writing my blog. I am six books in right now and working on number seven. I must highly recommend “Becoming” by Michelle Obama. What an incredibly inspiring person. I’d also say read “Driving Miss Norma: One Family’s Journey Saying Yes to Living.” It’s a beautiful tale of life in its final moments. “The Education of Will” was quite good too.
  3. Getting back on track with my healthy eating habits– I’m doing ok here now. I did have a really rough time for a few weeks when the majority of my diet was pizza and burgers. I don’t know how much I got depressed because of what I was eating or how much I was eating so poorly because I was depressed. But, I am doing a lot better now and feeling better too.
  4. Running a 10k or 1/2 marathon (I haven’t decided yet, but I know more than 5k and probably not a full)– I’m not starting running until I don’t have to plow through snow drifts to do it.
  5. learn to play guitar– I found someone who teaches guitar, that’s a start. Right?
  6. finish at least 3 or 4 knitting projects– I’ve got 1 done. I actually switched to crochet, but I’m going to count it.
  7. Get Buddy started with his therapy dog training– We started with dog training. Then it got snowed out so many times that I decided to start again in the next class series. He is learning tricks pretty well. Now, if I could just get him to learn not to chew on his human.
  8. Cutting my screen time significantly, especially facebook time– Not perfect, but doing well here. It helps to have my book reading goal. I can’t read and do Facebook at the same time. Spring will help too. I have a commitment to not looking at social media when I am out walking and I love to get out when the weather is nice.

So, that’s where it’s at. While I’m not quite where I aimed to be at this time, I’m feeling pretty good about what I’ve been able to do and am glad that I set goals this year. What about you? Who else set New Year’s goals and where are you at?

Every week I have my students write down two goals for themselves. One is a project goal to remind themselves about what they want to accomplish on the effort that they are working on with their community partner for the semester. The other, and this is maybe the more radical one for college students, is a self care goal. Most of my students are pretty generic in their self care goals. They want to sleep, to eat vegetables, or to study. But, that’s o.k. It’s makes no difference to me if they have some simple goals or even if those goals stay the same all semester. I just want them to write that self care goal every week for 15 weeks. I want them to leave the program thinking that it’s important to take care of themselves as well as to have a direction in the work they choose.

That’s why I put together my New Year’s goals this year and why I am coming back to them now in March to check in and see how I am doing, because I am important enough to take care of. We all are. I hope that you’re finding a good way to care for yourself today.

Home

I grew up within just a few miles of where my mother, her parents, her grandparents, and I think even her great-grandparents had lived. I lived surrounded by siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. It was to the point that there was an older man who sat just a few pews ahead of us in church that we called Uncle John. I thought it was just a nickname. I think I was a teenager when I discovered that he really was my great-uncle and I had a whole other crew of cousins that I thought were just neighbors and friends.

My teachers had taught my older brothers and sisters as well as many of my cousins. The lunch lady was my aunt’s mom. I didn’t often know all the connections, but there were always people who knew me, who knew “who I belonged to.”

I left that place nearly 30 years ago. I’ve visited many times since then. It’s a good place to go back to. I’ve been thinking about it lately, realizing how I haven’t had a home since then. I’ve lived in at 10 different towns and more than 20 different houses and met a lot of great people, learned good things, had wonderful experiences, and yet not found a home.

How do we get home? I suppose I could go back to Dacada where I grew up, but would I be home or is that place gone? So much has changed since 1990. I’m not who I was, none of us are. Yet, I need to find a place that is home. Is it right where I am right now? What makes any place where we happen to be become home or not be home?

What would it be to be happy or content, connected to the place where I am? What would it feel like to feel that I am a part of the community and truly belong?

Do other people face this too? Has it become an unrealistic expectation to feel a sense of home? Did I have a special gift that I didn’t realize in the situation in which I grew up?

It seems that today’s blog is simply a series of questions, but it is important for me to write and put my thoughts out into the world. I welcome the insights of others.

peace,

amy