Untying my tongue

by Elizabeth Cunningham

I have spent the last ten days tongue-tied, if such a term can be applied to writing, responding only when necessary to email or messages directed to me on twitter. I still have not written in my journal. I have not worked on my novel. This blog today is my first step towards returning to writing practice. I can’t write or speak without saying first:

My mother-in-law has just moved from her home of sixty-four years into an eldercare home where she can receive nursing care that we are unable to provide.

My husband has just received a diagnosis of prostate cancer.

Also, preceding the first event and during the delivery of the diagnosis, we both had flu. We don’t know what kind, but it was severe.

There was a kind of grace in having the flu. We had to stay home; we had to sit with each other and take care of each other and grieve with each other. Although I wasn’t able to visit my mother-in-law in person while I was sick, I spent much of the time during the week leading up to Halloween traveling between the worlds. My mother-in-law has alzheimers and zero short-term memory. She often seems to be a meditative state between waking and sleeping. During my own fever-doze, I felt I could communicate with her directly, soul to soul, and help prepare her for the change that was coming. I also spoke to the spirits of the land she has loved and tended for so long and to the spirits of the land across the river where she was going.

I also spent a lot of time crying my heart out. Fever is good for that, too.

The place my mother-in-law has moved is part of a movement in eldercare called the Eden Alternative, based on the idea that elders should be part of the flow of life. Islandview is home to an extended family of caregivers, including mother and daughter RNs, six elders, four cats, four dogs, and a cockatoo. Employees can bring their babies and toddlers to work, and grandchildren are in and out. That sounded great in theory. I am happy to say after hanging out there the last couple of days, it seems to be working out in practice. Here is a description of my mother-in-law’s first afternoon from an email I wrote to my sister.

“The place really is sunny and homey. I sat with Olga for quite awhile in the living room while Douglas did paperwork. The other residents were friendly but not demanding of attention.
At one point the most gorgeous calico cat decided to make it her mission to sit on Olga’s lap, which wasn’t entirely easy since Olga wasn’t helping. The cat tried one approach, then another, searching for a way to sit on her that would be comfortable for them both. Finally she settled in across Olga’s stomach and chest. She lifted her nose to Olga’s cheek a couple of times, then kneaded with her paws careful to keep her claws extended and not in the fabric (unlike my cat). At last she rested and purred loudly for about ten minutes. Although Olga reputedly does not like cats to sit on her, I think she was comforted and perhaps flattered. And probably warmed, too. The woman who runs the place says this cat was the guardian of the 103 year old woman who died recently. I hope she has decided to adopt Olga.”

After all the deep grieving I did last week, I am now feeling huge relief that my mother-in-law is safe and cared for. She seemed quite peaceful today. And she is very much her regal, yet-goodnatured self, ready for a new adventure, willing to be pleased. So many of us identified her with the place she created. It is good to be reminded that she is who she is no matter where she is. There is a core nature that seems to transcend even memory.

Now my husband and I must turn our attention to information gathering, decision making, treatment, and recovery. We are at the bare beginning of this journey. We have gathered, so far, that his prospect for recovery from cancer is good but that sex as we have known it and cherished it for thirty-one years may change irrevocably and unpredictably. He is seventy; I am fifty-six. Our age difference, which has hardly been noticeable to us, may begin to make a difference. Nothing is certain. We know that. Everything and anything can change at any moment as if can for any and everyone. And does. Every moment.

There. I just needed to say that. My mother-in-law has left home for her last home. My husband has prostate cancer. We are all held in the mystery no matter what. Tomorrow, mystery willing, I will begin to write again.

For pictures of my mother-in-law’s land where she ran a school for many years and where we now run a center: http://www.highvalley.org/ My website is still: http://www.passionofmarymagdalen.com/

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faerian November 3, 2009 - 9:45 pm

i have tears in my eyes and in my heart for the pain these transitions are bringing you … because my heart has so many words that it struggles to say and so they come out as tears…

i honour Olga's transition, and acknowledge the pain you feel – the photo of her made me gasp – with an acknowledgement – she looks so the archetypal mother and wisewoman…

i also honour your husband's shock and courage – i trust the mystery to hold you

and to bring you back to your words….

Anonymous November 4, 2009 - 5:33 am

Beloved Elizabeth,
I feel your words and your hurt deeply. Change moves us like the wind doesn't it? Sometimes to places we would never want to imagine ourselves in. But then, here we are.

I believe that Olga will be happy wherever she is. It will be okay.

I wonder if you have ever heard of Kris Carr? She had a documentary on TLC last year of her journey with stage 4 cancer. She has created an amazing community of support, help and love for those with cancer or any other health issue out there. I have been a part of this community for 2 years or so and find it to be an amazing place. More than the info on cancer and the like, it's a gathering place. Maybe when you two are ready, it could be of help to you. http://crazysexylife.com/ or http://www.crazysexycancer.com/

I love you so dearly Elizabeth. You have helped mold me and shape me into this new woman that I'm in love with! I'm sorry to hear your sad words, but glad that you are able to write them.

Much love you good friend…

~Barbara~ November 4, 2009 - 3:05 pm

It'll be OK. Thanks for sharing. HighValley is lovely. Bright Blessings from Oregon.

Anonymous November 5, 2009 - 8:44 pm

You are surrounded by support and understanding, and all will be well, hard as it may be to believe sometimes. There are creature comforts and moments of loveliness to savor, and life continues on in its strange, beautiful, terrible way. What a difficult adventure! Sending love–

Unknown November 9, 2009 - 11:28 am

veracity of irrevocable change can be as exhausting as it is transforming. my prayers of peace and love are with you, one and all.


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