The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Improved Mood January 25, 2015

Yesterday saw an improvement in Elihu’s mood. Although Friday had ended rather badly – he’d been knocked to the ice on his head by a bruiser classmate plus he’d jammed his fingers and hit his knee too – after a good night’s sleep and some farm-raised eggs for breakfast he was back to his old self. After a mellow morning in we headed out for some sledding and window shopping at the local odds and ends store. Now, on Sunday morning, Elihu relaxes on the couch and plays Pokemon on the DS he got for Christmas. Homework will follow later today, but that’s ok, because now he’s rested and ready.

IMG_5904Friday night I actually went out to a party (!) while grandma and Elihu enjoyed some time together.

IMG_5924Sylvia gives us a passive-aggressive message that the girls need feeding.

IMG_5922Elihu works on his birthday card for dad.

IMG_5934The card featured his cartoon character “Stanley the Sparrow”.

IMG_5942Upon finding a “52” in the street, Stanley decides it needs correcting….

IMG_5945…and so improves the situation by making it into “25”.

IMG_5950Wait, 52? 25? Which is right?!

IMG_5965Starting out on our first sledding day of the season. (Better late than never.)

IMG_5966It’s one big hill.

IMG_5961There’s a little hump midway, which offers old-timers like me a shorter, gentler run. It also makes the run more fun for those who start all the way at the top.

IMG_5977The sun came out, and so did Elihu’s smile. A good run almost landed him in the street!

IMG_6094After warming up with a cup of tea at a local coffee shop in town, we headed out to Ocean State Job Lots and began to peruse aisles of mismatched, oddball stuff the likes of which one might find in a market in some third-world country. Always good entertainment. Indulge me, if you will, in a little retrospective of our finds:

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IMG_6055Elihu was most impressed that this kit was made “for her“. I like that the notion strikes him as absurd.

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IMG_6099It’s my friend’s sixtieth birthday today, so naturally I had to grab this harbinger-of-death bottle stopper for her.

IMG_6077And finally, this one, so perfect for my lil man who still hasn’t made it to 70 pounds. !

IMG_6113Nothing restores the mood so well as a Sunday morning at home.

 

Grounded January 23, 2015

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Because Elihu missed four days of school from having the flu lately, he’d been a bit behind in his homework. He was staying on track, and we’d talked to his teacher, so I wasn’t worried. But he was. Poor kid’s been having a hell of a time getting to sleep over the past few months, and now, what with this school thing, it’s worse. Part of the reason is that in addition to school, there are a few other things weighing on his mind.

A few days ago he pulled his two oldest helicopters off the shelf and began an online quest for replacement parts. He misses seeing the giant one fly – it was his first, and we both have nice memories with it. “It isn’t right that it costs more to replace the broken parts than to buy a whole new one. It’s just a waste. It’s not right” he had lamented to me earlier that night. He’d admitted to me that he felt a deep sentiment towards this one particular heli – the big orange one he’d had since he was himself tiny – like the kind of feelings someone usually reserves for favorite stuffed animals. And I’d agreed. This machine was our friend, and we owed it to him to get him back in the air.

But it didn’t seem likely, from what we were learning. In fact, if we wanted to fly this one again, it just made economic sense to get a new one and use it for parts. Elihu resigned himself to this, but I could tell it disappointed him deeply. This was just another mild defeat which added to his sinking mood. I knew there was another piece too – one which he’d been keeping to himself because it was just too heartbreaking to speak aloud, and that was the absence of an old school chum from his life. The boy whose mother felt I made “bad parenting choices” by way of removing feathers from a dead owl or using a cuss word within earshot of my kid… She removed her son from the Waldorf School last year (no, I was not the reason for the change, although I’m sure it relieved her to be rid of me), and Elihu’s had a huge hole in his heart ever since. I emailed her recently about getting the boys together – completely on her terms, on her turf, whatever could work – but heard nothing back. That’s the way she handled the situation last time, and apparently it was still her method. Last year it took me three emails plus an intervention by the class teacher to get her to admit the reason she wouldn’t agree to our sons playing together. (Ironically she’s a psychologist and her job is to help people through communication. !) Plus the blog. She finds that to be the most dangerous of my bad parenting choices. Even after I removed every last image or mention of her son – and apologized profusely – even then it wasn’t enough to pacify her (when I apologized in person she had literally said “no worries”). And so my kid suffers. Many tears have fallen over this lost friendship, and we’ve spent hours parsing over the ‘what ifs’ and ‘what might yets’. Elihu has learned to stuff it down, to forget it for now. But tonight, feeling the stress of being behind in his work, unable to fly his favorite toy and long out of touch with his old best friend, he succumbs.

He’s curled up into such a tight ball on his bed that I can’t lean in to kiss his forehead. Instead I kneel beside his bed and put my arms around him. “Mama, I’m really scared. I really am.” I hate to hear this from my brave, spirited and wise boy. But I can’t indulge in my own feelings of fear and uncertainty; I need to provide comfort. “What are you afraid of, sweetie?” I ask. “I’m just afraid,” he answers me. “Of everything.” I tell him that I am too, and that sometimes we just need to break things down and tackle them one at a time. He was behind, but still keeping to a schedule, so that was good. We’d found a website that sells his old helicopter, and that was good. And we’d sent an email to his friend, so we’d done all we could on that front. Until his friend was a teenager with his own ability to communicate with us, sadly that one would have to wait. But besides, wasn’t life sometimes magical for us? Didn’t the possibility exist that we might see him sometime when we were out and about in the world? After all, didn’t crazier, more serendipitous things happen to us from time to time? Elihu nodded his head a bit. I stroked his back and sat with him in silence for a moment. When he gradually straightened up, I could feel the bed was wet with tears where his head had been. I leaned in and kissed him. “It will be ok. It will.”

After our talk I’d left him to sleep, but even after two hours had passed he hadn’t been able to turn off his mind, to forget all that troubled him. Finally, he stormed into my room with Lenny, his favorite stuffed parrot, and harumphed as he dove into my bed. I didn’t say anything, I just turned off my computer and joined him. I understand so well the challenges of sleeping at night; my own thoughts race through the never-ending to-do lists and possible future scenarios, both hopeful – and frightening. Always just a couple steps ahead of a dire economic state, I live with a constant, low-level of stress which I’m afraid has somehow bled over into my son’s consciousness. I know our household is full of humor, music and nature. I know unquestionably that I have given Elihu the very best home life possible within my means. But I also know that he, like me, feels the edge on which we live. And he, like me, is physiologically prone to anxiety and panic. And he, like me, has no social life to distract or entertain him. He has but one friend with whom he meets outside of school, and those dates are too few, I know. He, like me, is for all intents and purposes, a loner. And that’s not a bad thing; for the most part we both enjoy living a quiet, isolated life in the country. Being a loner truly isn’t the same thing as being lonely, but tonight it really does feel just as bad as it sounds.

I realize that this will pass. Elihu’s an insightful kid, and so he knows this too. Things won’t always be thus. And no matter who or what it is that’s doing the flying – even his old favorite aviator, the tireless Wandering Albatross – not a one of them can keep on flying forever. Eventually everything must spend a little time on the ground.

 

Cusp January 19, 2015

Two thousand fourteen was a tough year for me. Can’t say it was necessarily a bad year, but it was the year in which my father was newly gone, the year in which his concert hall suffered a flood (at my negligence; in order to save money I hadn’t properly winterized it), and it was the year in which I left the safety net of my part-time job at the Waldorf school in order to set about creating a new business. I did manage to get heating and cooling units installed in the Studio, and this past fall I spared no expense and had the place properly shut down for winter. At a glance, maybe not much. But progress, nonetheless. You might say I began to plant the seeds of change. And soon, we’re going to see them begin to sprout…

The biggest holdup – one that’s been in the works for nearly two years if you can believe it – is the logging of our family’s property. It’ll give us some start up money to get some basic fixes done to the place, not to mention a completely new floor (which still makes me sick to think of as the old floor was gorgeous…. and paid for) and some tlc on the weather-worn exterior. And besides that, we’re going to need a place to park all those cars. In the past, my parents only used the Studio in the summers, and parking on the expansive lawn worked out fine. Me, I’m going to need year-round parking, in a level place where I can clear snow and not worry about damaging the grass. Our plan is to create a parking lot in the woods just to the east of the building – in the very place that mom and dad had also initially intended for it to go when they built the Studio in 1974. Back then when they realized the cost – and saw that they had plenty of space for cars on the lawn, they shelved the plan. But now, needing access to my mom’s woods out back for the logging job, it’s become a perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one proverbial stone: the loggers need a ‘platform’, or a wide space in which to park their huge equipment, and I need a parking lot. They’ll open up the space whether we use it or let it grow back again – so why not use it to our advantage? The loggers will also need to construct a proper load-bearing road into the property, complete with enormous metal culvert and lots of fill – another structure which will benefit us tremendously. And then, on top of all this ‘free’ infrastructure, we’ll get money from the lumber. It kinda seems too good to be true. Knowing what I do about life, and how the best-laid plans can quickly go awry, I’m going to be keeping a close eye on every step of the process. (In a few moments I’ll take a break from my computer and go to meet the crew for the very first time. So that makes today hugely significant in the re-birth of the studio.) As I noted to my son recently, I was eleven when I saw the Studio built, and he, at the very same age, is here to see the Studio re-built. Perfect.

As usual, other adventures continue, and recently Elihu and I went to a rehearsal of Haydn’s “The Creation” by the Burnt Hills Oratorio Society at Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center. We got great seats up front by the basses. ! I feel so lucky that this beautiful campus, along with all the cultural experiences it provides, is less than five miles from our house. Talk about the best of both worlds: peace, quiet and privacy with nature all around, and yet within minutes we can be hearing world-class music or dining at gourmet restaurants. Lucky are we!

Along with all the activity and changes going on in my life, I’ve added another to the list: hot flashes. A couple of years ago I got an IUD in order to deter the near-unending perimenopausal periods I was experiencing, and since they’d finished completely, I’d thought I was over the hump. Honestly, I didn’t think hot flashes would come til after the device was removed, if they came at all (my hope was to avoid them altogether). And now I suspect that after I have it removed one year hence, the hormonal change will descend on me with a vengeance. So this may only be the tip of the iceberg. My mother suffered badly from intense hot flash episodes for well over a decade. Even after hearing about them, I would still think to myself “It’s just a quick sensation of warmth. Really, how bad can they be?”…. Now I get it. Yeah, I’m guessing they’ll be mighty unpleasant. The first one hit at night, and initially it was not only uncomfortable, but it was frightening too, and in that respect reminded me of a miscarriage; some new variety of discomfort was growing inside me, and while it had familiar aspects to it, something very different was going on. A bit of nausea came along with it as well, and that was unexpected. But I suppose, like everything else in life, I’ll adapt and eventually get used to it.

These days I’m becoming more receptive to the idea that nothing lasts. I’m not resisting change the way I used to. Absolutely everything changes, and the sooner you surrender yourself to that notion, the easier your life will be. So here I am, standing on the edge of tomorrow, waiting for whatever comes next…

IMG_5749The other day Elihu and I marked off the perimeter of the Studio’s new parking lot with flags. This photo shows how things have looked for the past forty years on this stretch of Wilton Road, looking west. My parent’s property is on the left. Mom’s house, Andrew’s house and the Studio are all just behind these woods (that’s our neighbor’s driveway in the foreground).

IMG_5753And this is where the new driveway will be going very soon (that’s our neighbor’s house behind the big tree).IMG_5756Here’s the old salt box my folks put out in anticipation of the parking lot they never made. You can see the Studio’s white roof to the far left, beyond the woods.

IMG_5765This interesting-looking tree will go. Behind to the right (red) is the Studio, on the left is mom’s house.

IMG_5676Now we’re off to hear some music – and hopefully fly some RC helicopters too.

IMG_5673This hall both looks and sounds beautiful.

IMG_5620Best seats in the house!

IMG_5623Love the conductor’s red cowboy boots.

IMG_5616Just look how close we are to the bass section! (Note the C extensions on the necks which allow the bassists to play even lower.)

This singer performed at dad’s Baroque Festival years ago. Elihu’s music teacher from Waldorf is also playing clarinet in the orchestra.

IMG_5644Elihu has to say hello.

IMG_5645Kinda like meeting rock stars.

IMG_5658Proving true to his love of all things super-low, Elihu makes a beeline to the contrabassoon.

IMG_5653Hard to imagine I grew up with several of these in my house. Seeing or hearing a harpsichord always makes me nostalgic.

IMG_5690The house manager was sweet and opened up a classroom in the music building for us.

IMG_5704Lots of vertical room to enjoy!

IMG_5713After a slight mishap Elihu made some successful, on-site repairs. This pic may seem fairly ordinary, but actually, it’s not. Elihu is wearing his new tinted contacts here, and therefore able to see in the bright, natural light without sunglasses. A huge quality of life upgrade. He doesn’t wear them often, but when he does his world opens up.

IMG_5737Later on that night Elihu continued to be inspired by the afternoon’s concert.

IMG_5746And the inspiration carried over into the next morning.

IMG_5770After letting the girls (and boy) out for the day, I headed over to meet the forester and the logger who’ll be working in our woods over the next few weeks.

IMG_5775You can see the Greenfield hills in the distance. It’s a lovely view down my driveway, so long as I don’t look off to the right and see the vacant, new-construction house that looms over the field.

IMG_5777They’re here!

IMG_5806Assessing things from the road…

IMG_5790…and then from the interior of the woods where the parking lot will go.

IMG_5792These trees will all be gone soon – the ones marked with green tape will stay as feature trees.

IMG_5813Got the signed lumber contract in hand! It’s real now!!

IMG_5826Heading back home down my driveway. Feeling good, and excited for the days ahead.

 

Sick Days January 13, 2015

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 10:00 pm

Elihu got walloped with whatever it is that’s been going around these days. He’s spent the past two days in my bed, mostly sleeping. Last night we awoke at the same time, and by the dim closet light we began to talk. Earlier he’d asked if I could bring him ‘sick Teddy bear’ (mine from my own childhood), and now he wanted to know more about the bear, and how I’d felt as a girl when I was sick, and how I felt when I held my bear. “I talked to him when I was sick.” I told him. “And truly, I swear I believed he heard me, and that he understood. He was so real to me.” We looked at the simple stuffed toy and both agreed he looked very capable of loving a child back. I’ve recounted stories of my childhood to Elihu many times, so there aren’t any new stories of note, but I know how he feels when he prompts me for more. I remember asking my own parents what things were once like, long, long ago. I hadn’t cared if I heard the same stories over again, and nor did he. We were off into sleepy, middle-of-the-night chatter. Soon it began taking on a contemplative quality as he continued…

“Just think, grandma and grandpa were married longer than you’ve been alive”, he said quietly. “And I can’t believe that you and daddy were together more than twice as long as I’ve been alive”, he reflected, trying to get inside these enormous ideas. We lay there, quiet, just enjoying the warmth of the covers, the trio of favorite stuffed animals between us, and the nearness of each other. “Mama, I love you” he’d said, reaching his small hands out to me for contact. He sighed and looked into my face. Time passed and we laid there for a long time, saying nothing.

Earlier I’d told him about a time in my life when everything had been going right, yet I couldn’t shake a feeling deep down inside that something was missing. I remember one moment specifically: I was playing a show in which many of my favorite musicians were playing, I looked great, sounded great, felt great – I was going home to a man who loved me and I lived in a gorgeous home to boot… every last damn thing could not have been better… And yet all night long a voice kept repeating “Is this all there is?”. Now, many years later, here, in this present moment it became clear to me. None of that – as enjoyable as it was – compared to this. It was full, but it wasn’t complete. “This is all there is” I said as I looked into my son’s eyes. And then he repeated it softly, thoughtfully, in agreement. It was a moment of perfection as no other. Nothing nagged at me, nothing distracted me, and my heart was overflowing with love for my precious son. “Sometimes it’s good to be sick” Elihu said. “You get to just stop listening to the world and stay quiet and cozy. I don’t feel good, but I do, ya know?” I knew.

This is all there is.

Reality is fast approaching and another bustling school morning will be here much sooner than we think. The alarm clock will signal the end of our little oasis in time; it will shatter the spell and bring us robustly back into the world. But we’re ok with that, because we had our moment. We’re rested, restored and ready. What a blessing those sick days can be.

 

Cute and Cuter January 11, 2015

Today we’d planned to clean up after Christmas. Down with the tree, to the cellar with all those bins, out with the broom, vacuum and dust cloths. Homework and lesson plans were on the list too. I was looking forward to cleaning house for a fresh start and Elihu and I were both looking forward to getting caught up in general. After talking a bit about the things coming up in the week ahead, we enjoyed watching the birds on our feeder after breakfast, and if it weren’t for Elihu’s slightly prophetic suggestion at around 1:04 of this video, it wouldn’t have warranted posting. But it was too coincidental to pass up. I’d so hoped things would quiet down around here after the holidays, but apparently not. On with the adventure…

Ok, so check out what Elihu says at around 1:04. “Squirrels are cute, but newly hatched chicks are cuter.” I bet you know where this is going….

A few minutes later I went out to feed the birds, and I heard a frantic cheeping sound. ?!?!?  (The first half of this vid has no clear audio, but some may still enjoy getting a look at our setup.) Checkout the behavior and relationship of mom and baby. Amazing.

Ok. So maybe letting our broody gal set on her clutch to just “see what happens” might not have been such a good call. We’ve never had a chick hatch naturally, without an incubator, so we kinda didn’t think it would happen. But it did (and there are fifteen more viable eggs still under a hen!). In the dead of winter we’re now faced with keeping chicks warm and fed. Lucky for them they’re so darned cute!

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A sad Post Script: Our new little member of the flock died today. It appears she froze. Although still underneath her well-meaning mother when Elihu found her there, mom was pressed up against the cold cinder block of the brooder pen’s outside perimeter. When Elihu found the chick she was cool to the touch. (I keep wondering why the mother settled there – when there were warmer spots just a couple feet away. ?) How sad we’ve been all evening. Perhaps if I’d just left them alone in the main coop they’d have been fine. I don’t know, but in any case, fretting too much over it isn’t productive. At this writing the two broody hens are sharing a nesting box under a heat lamp in the brooder pen, so things seem ok for now. I don’t want to rock the boat and introduce any new elements. They seem to be comfortable, and they have food, water and safety from other members of the flock. We’ll just have to wait and see how things turn out.

 

Epiphany January 6, 2015

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Growing Older,Pics — wingmother @ 10:40 pm

Today is the final day of Christmas. It’s also my parents’ birthday. It’s the second of their birthdays without dad here, which is still hard for me to take in, but more jarring than that is that my mother is eighty today. When I told Elihu he said “That’s crazy. She seems more like sixty!” I’ll be sure to let her know. Best gift she’ll get from us today! Yup, this is a hard one to wrap my brain around.

Yesterday I went to have my hair cut, and I looked around at the gals in the shop with new eyes. I remember when I’d moved here six years ago, somehow they’d seemed like ‘older’ women – not my generation, but not my mother’s either, they were somewhere in between… from my perspective they were definitely in a place I was not. And as I’ve done all my life with ‘older’ folks – I kinda dismissed them as irrelevant and unrelated to me and my experience in the world. And I suppose they were. Until now.

Sitting in the chair I had a moment of insight. I’ve been grappling over the past several years with my identify – what my role is now, the things I should prioritize, how I might envision myself in the larger scheme of things as time moves on. Regular readers may even be a little tired of the subject. We all get old, shouldn’t I be over it already? Yes, and no. I get it, but not until that moment, yesterday, while sitting in that chair, looking at the women around me, did I begin to really feel ok about it. These women looked vital, stylish and relevant. They were enjoying each other’s company, enjoying their work and the company of their patrons. So what if they – we – were older? What was wrong with this? It didn’t seem so bad. Ok, so maybe none of us have the hair or skin we did a few years ago, but really, so what? I was up and over wall of fifty and had several decades still before me if things went according to plan (!). I’d spent the last couple of years agonizing over unexpected changes in my body (no, moisturizing alone is not enough to prevent crepe-y thigh skin) and as I sat there, I realized that there was absolutely no use fighting it. It was a choice I could make: get crabbier and more pissed off as the years passed, or give it up and enjoy the life that remained. And in that one moment of realization, I felt better and more hopeful than I had in a long time. As Wendy scrunched my hair into its new shape, I didn’t dwell on the older woman I saw in the mirror as I had so many times before. Instead I just admired the fabulous new haircut.

My new look invigorated me for sure, but when I enthusiastically declared aloud “We are all going to GO FORTH into 2015!” and was met with a rousing cry of agreement from all the women in the room, a renewed feeling of hope began to grow inside me… I’ve been plagued by so much doubt lately – and even dread – at my future, but now, somehow, with this new insight, things felt just a little different… I suppose it’s not so bad to be older. It’s even kinda freeing in a way. I’m not saying it doesn’t bum me out when I notice that faint creases have become permanent lines, or noticing that my neck is starting to look like somebody else’s, I’m just saying that at some point, you just gotta give it up. You can’t be what you aren’t. And the main thing, I suppose, is that you’re still here.

Fifty-one or eighty, I didn’t quite imagine either one of us would be here one day. But we are, and that itself is something of an epiphany.

IMG_5301Elihu presents grandma with her birthday card.

IMG_5306Eighty’s gotta be a hard one to understand…

IMG_5305But approaching it with a sense of humor helps!

 

Next January 1, 2015

IMG_2875Dad didn’t quite make it to 2014, and enigmatically, his few and final words to his grandson were: “When beautiful January comes….”  Last January we experienced unusually heavy snows and low temperatures, and dad’s Studio flooded and froze; both the floors and walls were ruined. It was a stunning and heartbreaking loss, but after a thoughtful reassessment of the situation, what followed was the beginning of an important, year-long process of re-birth… Was my father being prophetic or poetic?…. Who knows? Either way, January will always make me think of my father’s mysterious, near-final words which, intentional or not, heralded the way for the next chapter in our lives…

After having passed the first anniversary of my father’s death, I find myself thinking more about it than I have in months. It’s strange terrain now. There’s an inclination to feel that somehow he’s slipping further away, that somehow it’s slowly becoming more and more like he never existed at all… I know this isn’t really true, and if nothing else, I and my son are proof that he was here. And Elihu’s our insurance that his line will continue forth into the world… (Not that the planet actually needs more humans!) But why even think like this? Very few people on this earth will ultimately be remembered for the long haul. Most of us, except for the very slim part of the earth’s population that comes to know some true degree of fame, will indeed become forgotten after a while. After all, life moves on, and the void left behind naturally fills in with new creations, new endeavors… There are only so many stories one can pass down to the next generation, there is only so much time in which to tell them. Beyond a certain point, it just doesn’t make logistic sense that we’ll all be remembered by our descendants.

It gives my fragile ego a small amount of relief to think that now I’ve left behind a digital footprint, and that in some way I, my family and my life, will now never die… Perhaps in a century’s time my long-dormant blog will fall to the bottom of the searches, and it may ultimately come to languish in a virtual state of suspension, but still, it’ll be there, somewhere. To know that gives me the variety of comfort I imagine folks derive from erecting several tons of marble to mark their final resting place. When I lived in Chicago I was a fan of the city’s beautiful cemeteries, and it boggled my mind to ponder the immense amount of industry that went into their memorials. I would stand in the middle of a peaceful forest with headstones and statuary as far as the eye could see in every direction, the only sound being a soft hush of white noise from beyond the cemetery walls… In that peaceful, natural oasis it was hard to imagine the toil it must have taken to erect these monuments – let alone dig the holes in the middle of a frozen winter! I think of horse teams pulling great loads of stone, of the pulleys and levers, the carts, the wheels, the manpower… I imagine how loud and chaotic it must have been at one time. I imagine all the horrible job site injuries that must have happened; the crushed fingers, the sprained muscles and worse… All of this motivated by the need for men and women to memorialize themselves unto eternity. Really, doesn’t it all seem so silly, so vain? So futile?

Ok, so if burying one’s body in a cemetery and spending a chunk of your estate on a piece of granite to mark the site is a ridiculous notion – especially because without an accompanying bio and headshot, future passersby will have absolutely no idea what you were fabulous for and why we should even remember you – then what should one do with one’s own body? A good question. A question I’ve wondered at for years, but until my own father died, I never truly followed it through to a conclusion. There are no easy answers. Even for me, a gal who has not a fraction of a doubt that our souls continue on to another realm of existence after this flesh-and-bone school of life. I mean, I may not care what happens to me after I’m gone (I don’t worry about my body’s disposition in any way affecting my soul’s successful transit outta here), but thinking about it now is what’s hard. Either way, it’s just plain icky. Biological life is wet and smelly, and there’s no tidy way around it. Everyone knows this, of course, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty application of the concept, screw it. It does not help.

Having already muscled through the notion of my dear father’s body being scorched to ashes by a turbo-powered blow torch (and having visited the place and seen it with my own eyes as part of my process of closure; here’s a link to the post “Tiny Trip”, scroll down to the very end), I suppose one could say I’ve made some progress. Yes and no. And I like to think I’m pretty laid back about things. Again, yes and no. I’ve butchered chickens. I’ve tried to participate responsibly in death, bringing it swiftly, honoring the sacrifice of life. I’ve tried to be as matter-of-fact as possible about things. But it’s just so strange, this territory of a non-living body that once was a real, living person. It’s hard to reconcile those images. So in order to help myself do just that, I searched out – and found – a book on this exact subject. It’s called “Stiff” by Mary Roach, and I highly recommend reading it if you too would desperately like to demystify death and the culture of cadavers. The author is delightfully witty, and without her good humor it might be all to easy to simply shut the book before the end of the first chapter. (Even so I had to put it down every so often and take a break from it before resuming.) Still and all, I don’t know. I just don’t.

But Elihu does. Since he was quite small he’s known what he wants done with his body after he’s through using it. When we first began talking about death, burial and such, he would get very emotional about it – insisting that he wanted his own dead body to be taken into the forest and left for nature to take over. I explained that it would likely lead to a whole mess of legal trouble – that the people who laid him there to rest might even possibly end up in jail. This made him angry. It was surprising to see such a young child express such indignation. He found it fundamentally wrong that he and his family be forbidden from doing the most natural and correct thing possible. Whenever we found ourselves discussing it, he’d get very upset. Likely he now understands more clearly how small eighty acres is in actuality, and that barring a life on the Alaskan frontier, a burial in the family’s woods won’t be an option. But no matter, this kid is not worried. This, after all, is the same kid who scolds “it’s just a dead bird” when I wince upon pulling a frozen hen out of the chest freezer, wondering which gal it might have been… This is the kid who told his grandfather not to be afraid to die, because it was “just like turning the page in a book”. This is the kid whose last words to his grandpa were “See you shortly”. So thankfully I’m in good hands. I think I’ll leave it up to him. I just don’t want to know is all.

Do you know what thanatology is? Until a couple of hours ago I had never heard the word before. And that kinda surprises me, having conducted more than my fair share of searches on death and dying. (Here’s a link to a gal whose life’s work is all about death. If you have the time, the panel discussion is interesting, although it’s more theological than thanatological.) Thanatology is simply the scientific study of death. It deals with the forensic aspects of death – like those hard-to-think-about physical changes that occur in the post-mortem period. Plus thanatology also includes study of the social implications of death. Really? Such a thing exists? As well it should! There is only one thing we can absolutely count on in life, and that is our death. But even so, we so seldom talk about it directly and specifically… and that drives me nuts.

In re-reading the posts I wrote last year at this time, I’m fascinated to remember the tiny details of dad’s final days. I begin to see patterns – of course I’d read about them before my experience with dad, and I’m somewhat aware of the landmarks that one meets as one gets closer to death – but today I was able to see the whole process with so much more clarity. The events that I might have ever-so-slightly doubted the validity of last year – even while experiencing them for myself – I now know these to be real and universally recognized sign posts on the final path. It’s exciting to know that it’s not as mysterious as we might feel it to be… Last year, when I’d asked a nurse what exactly we were to be on the lookout for in dad’s final days, she gave me a short list. But then she added “I don’t think he’s there yet. He still has some transitioning to do.” What in hell did that mean? Just why such goddam cryptic language? At least I knew to be on the lookout for blue skin. But still, she left me guessing, and I didn’t appreciate it. So now between the local hospice volunteer training and this thanatology stuff, I might be closer to making peace with things one day. We’ll see.

Then after the bodily issues, there’s the tricky business of what comes next. I have known and loved some hard-and-fast atheists and agnostics in my life, and I’m absolutely fine with the idea that nothing at all comes next. The tidy nature of it does have its appeal. (Given the true definitions of those terms, I might be either one myself; I neither know unquestionably what I believe, nor do I believe there is one single creator, but rather a collective energy of awareness and love that permeates all. Another post, another time.) And for those who believe that we need to keep our bodies whole and pretty for the rapture – that’s cool too. (Only what about the plastic fillers, chemicals and wires used to keep folks pretty while they wait? Yeeks. Wouldn’t want to come back like that.) Ultimately, no one truly knows. But in my thinking I’m certain about the general gist of things. I used to worry about losing the respect of my dear friends for whom belief in an afterlife means you really aren’t as intelligent as you might once have seemed. Mech. And as for heaven or hell? As I see it, none of that exists. There is no good, no bad. Just a re-integration of our essence back into a loving non-space in which an assessment of our progress is made; a timeless, placeless ether in which to assimilate, learn and regroup in an atmosphere of acceptance and perfection.

Me, I think that our essence – the unquantifiable God spark that makes us us - transits out of this physical dimension and moves into that non-space ‘afterworld’ upon death. Like the signal from a station which your radio is not programmed to receive; it still exists, but you can no longer hear it. This all might even yet seem like so much fluffy conjecture if I hadn’t beheld my father beginning to ‘transition’ out of this world… There are some who might chalk it all up to a simple physiological process of the body breaking down, but I don’t. I watched as he was greeted by deceased family members, and listened through tear-filled eyes when he told me how much he missed his parents. Unknown to him, he followed form perfectly. He pointed to crowds of people in the corner of the room, “waiting on the curve” and asked me who they were (how honored I was that he could share his visions with me) and he said he was “in pleasure” as he watched them. I know now that he was in the middle of his process. By that time he was not altogether ‘living’ anymore. Like a radio station on I80 in the middle of hilly Pennsylvania, the signal was beginning to fade.

So I’m good with it. And not. I feel that dad is doing just fine where he is. It’s just me, mom and Andrew that have the rough road. Once, last year when I was missing dad as acutely as ever, I wondered out loud if dad was with me, if he knew about the Studio, if he approved of what I might do with the place…. Elihu was tired of my laments, and curtly told me that grandpa had “work to do” and it wasn’t fair to bother him with things that were now my business. “He can’t always be here with you, mommy. He’s got a lot of things to do.” I may have a wise kid, but still something inside tells me that outside of this time-space realm, the rules are different. If there is no such thing as locale, if ‘reality’ is as plastic and ethereal as our dreams, then I like to think dad is smiling, telling me it’s all fine, and that he’s right here with me when I need him to be.

But forward movement is required on this plane, so I can’t let my progress falter. Dad is where he is, and for the time being, I’m still right here. Nothing to do but keep going. Everything has happened as it should, and I’m striving to understand it the very best I can, so that I can move on with confidence toward whatever it is that will happen next on this great adventure.

 

 
Eli Glasman

Blog of author Eli Glasman

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