My Mom's memorial service was on November 7, 2015. Organizing that, seeing it through, was (in my mind) my last duty to my mother. It was a beautiful service. Many of you were there. Thank you. Since then, I have been adjusting to a new normal: life without her. She was the center of my world. I am very much at sea. Here are a few buoys I've held onto this past month.
1. LISTENING: Fred Eaglesmith "Truckers Speed"
Just heard this song for the first time, though I've been a "Fred head" for awhile now. Like many of Fred's tunes, the lyrics to this one absolutely blew me away. Fred's songs are perfectly crafted, devastating little gems. The shortest of stories designed to twang the sh*t out of your heartstrings. Do me a favor: ignore the video of Fred and his band and focus on the lyrics. You'll just about die. And if you didn't know Fred before, well now you do. You're welcome.
2. DONATING: the organization CAREGIFTED -- "the giver is gifted"
I just found out about CAREGIFTED from a friend who has seen how much my life has changed since becoming the primary caregiver for my Mom (she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer almost four years ago and died on October 13, 2015).
Caregiving is many things besides an act of love and generosity. For me, it is a mirror, a mountain, a crucible, a rehearsal for my own death. On a daily and (often) hourly basis, caregiving calls me to action, to examine and cross-examine my ideas about the nature and value of time, as well as my notions of attention, ambition, sacrifice, family, self, patience, strength, and suffering. There is not one part of me that hasn't been burned by the fire of this all-consuming work.
What is CAREGIFTED? It's a non-profit organization that gives long-term family caregivers a break from the daily work of caring. Caregivers are "granted weeks away in inspiring locations: scenic vacation spots where they can refresh their perspectives and record their views in words and images, returning home better rested and represented."
As if CAREGIFTED's mission wasn't amazing enough, it also works to increase the public recognition of the caregiver's gifts to society, as well as of their historically unprecedented numbers. Amen. "Full-time caregivers have sacrificed their own leisure, resources and ambitions to serve those unable to serve themselves. Such acts of love go largely unnoticed because these caregivers are generally confined to their homes, mired in unpaid labors."
Who thought up this wonderful idea? A poet, of course. In 2009, the poet Heather McHugh won an MacArthur Foundation Grant and was awarded a $500,000 prize -- an amount she decided was too much money for one person. Her godson and his wife had just given birth to a baby with severe disabilities. McHugh couldn't stop thinking about how stressful it was going to be for them to care for a daughter who would never be independent. McHugh founded CAREGIFTED because it was "obvious" to her that they were going to need a break.
It is fitting that a poet, someone attuned to the lived-experience of life (and of time and love), should think up something as wonderful as CAREGIFTED. The poet's gift is to see what we cannot or do not see and mark it, name it, urge us to pay attention to it. I've made a donation to CAREGIFTED. What are you doing for the caregivers in your life?
3. WATCHING: Joseph Campbell and "The Power of Myth" with Bill Moyers
When my Mom got sick, I decided that she and I would watch and re-watch these six interviews with the great mythologist and thinker Joseph Campbell. I've seen them all at least a dozen times. When my Mom was too tired from chemo to think, I'd get her comfy on the couch and we'd play an episode. Campbell's ideas helped illuminate our struggles. He helped her make sense of her hero's journey. He gave us a way to talk about the gifts of the present moment, a way to find peace and joy in the here and now. A month before she died, Mom and I started watching again from the beginning. We were riveted. We were relieved.