From the Sublime to the Ridiculous and Back Again
Sometimes it’s good to look back on how far I’ve come while eating a Plant-Based diet. Sometimes it takes a while before I can look back and find words to describe the progress I’ve made, the things that have happened. Three years ago this month, my son Mike offered to take me and Romeo on a road trip in a short window of time he had before starting an internship in Seattle. At that point I was two and half years into eating this way. I had not taken a road trip of this length since we moved to Idaho in 1992. We rented a car and traveled to see my Dad, his Grandpa, who had age-related dementia, and was in hospice. Two days before we were to leave, I was letting Romeo run in the ball field near our house (as you may recall from my post The Beauty of Being Different, Silken Windhounds can run like greyhounds or whippets, which means FAST) and he accidentally clipped my heel running past me. I went up in the air and landed right on my tailbone. It did not tickle, let me tell you that much. And the poor dog felt terrible. So we made the thousand mile trip with me sitting on a donut pillow. The trip, though difficult in that aspect, was also an amazing once-in-a-lifetime event. Before this way of eating, I never could have done it. I planned food and cooked it (including Susan’s Curried Eggplant, Lentil and Quinoa Burgers and packed an ice chest full of good stuff. Our first stop was Portland, and Kelly (now Mike’s beautiful “Mrs.”), had “legal” food waiting for us there—gluten free no oil homemade veggie pizza for a late night supper:
and for breakfast no oil hash browns, gluten free pancakes, fresh fruit. It was such a healing treat to have someone else cook for me. And beautiful to see my Dad:
One of the best memories I have is sitting with him at lunchtime and sharing out of my container of sliced apple, cucumber, pear, and carrot. They had been tossed with a little lemon juice and pepper for the trip. His eyes got bright when he tasted the apple slices and he said, “these are good.” He ate the rest of them and we munched away together, the sun hitting the dining table in the memory care unit.
Here are two journal entries from shortly after that trip, about a week apart, spanning the spectrum between what I call the Sublime and the Ridiculous which my little victories of healing from eating this way so often entail. No thing is too big, and no thing is too small, or ridiculous.
September 20, 2010
After the trip:
The muscles around the tailbone are still recovering. I can feel them slowly getting better. They are so sore, yet they improve each day. This is the way many many things have gotten better since I have been eating plant-based. And these muscles will be no different. The ability to improve is the miracle.
I am also thinking about the uses of pain for the living. Are they different than those for the dying? It certainly does bring one back to the present. And the grief makes me tired. It’s silent, though, so far. I have not said this to anyone:
After the sacredness and profundity of being in the memory care unit, everything people have to say seems so disconnected from what is most important. Or rather, most things people have to say, even their support of my having seen my Dad, is about seeing him before he goes (yes) and the sadness that he is not the same anymore (not so much yes). I see what a huge work it is to let go of one’s life—you live it and then you let go of it. Like a huge sand painting, you take the broom to it, little by little. Or maybe we are always both putting the finishing touches on and wiping it away at the same time.
I feel sort of irritated or traumatized by having to talk to people in a “normal” way—yet I feel the trauma abating, too, but it is close to the surface— it’s the trauma that comes with the grief. And how quiet my Dad is about all this. And how, in some ways, alike we are. It’s as if I see a version of my own future–not that it will be exact. This has always occurred to me and spurred me on in this way of eating. Now I wonder what it will be like to age, and then die, eating this way–how much smoother, or different it might, or might not be. We will see.
Everything that I was doing before I left and all the details of my life feel as if they have been swept clean away, and are only gradually coming back into focus. Which is okay, too. But it’s different, too, to have lost that momentum by taking a quantum leap into the trip. Maybe it’s not lost, just regrouping. Yet I am not the same, but at a loss as to how different I might be.
Just sad, too, at how people push such things away (dying process, diet instead of drugs, etc.) and how strange this whole plane is—how clingy and fearful. Not that I’m exempt. Far from it.
Also, how my Dad seems to know. And doesn’t expect me to come back all of a sudden. How we said good-bye, him looking me in the eye and kissing me on the mouth. Like my Mom did. Passing the breath on, it felt like.
September 26, 2010
Soap “catch “:
These things may sound trivial to the uninitiated, but they really really make me happy and give me hope. Today I was looking at the little plastic fish soap catch gunked up with soap and wanting to put a new bar of Kate’s lemongrass calendula soap on it. . .how to clean it thoroughly has been a mystery to me. . and apparently to my friend who helps me clean also, who has avoided it, or said it’s hard to clean. . . .suddenly I saw that I could use the nail brush just opposite and scrub off the soap under the water! It worked! (Of course it worked, the uninitiated and bored will say. . ) But if you have experienced the Big Beautiful Blank when trying to find the starting point for solving the most elementary of logistical daily problems or tasks, then you know this IS an epiphany, and a little victory, too. No more bewilderment at the gunky soap catch—no more sense of failure for not being able to clean it or figure out how to clean it thoroughly. . no more procrastinating opening the new bar of soap when I’d really rather use that than the liquid soap. . .voila! And it was so pointed, too, that I KNOW I’ll remember it. And that it came today, too, is another reminder that the next “sand painting” is now taking shape. . .
A note on The Big Beautiful Blank:
it’s my name for the cognitive slowdown that makes the entry point to solve a problem invisible. The Big Beautiful Blank can also show up on my mental screen if someone asks me a completely unexpected question. Naming it thusly helps me keep my sense of humor when that happens, and also helps call up an answer, even if the answer is to accept The Big Beautiful Blank for the time being. Consistently, over time, on this way of eating, The Big Beautiful Blank gets filled in more and more readily.
Sometimes I have to make very difficult choices about what I have the energy to do, and what I don’t have the energy to do. Perhaps one of the most difficult ones I’ve made is knowing that at the time I did not have the energy to go see my Dad before he died, and then travel back for the funeral. I knew I could do one or the other, but not both. In the end, I chose to go see him before he died. Sit and hold his hand for an afternoon. Tell him I loved him in person. See him smile.
My Dad died about six months after I visited. My son made the decision to go to the funeral for the two of us. I wrote and recorded a tribute to my Dad that was played at the funeral. When it was time for the service to begin, two of my friends here who had met my Dad gathered with me in my dining room, and we listened over the speaker phone, joining in on some of the prayers and hymns. We even heard my tribute being played. I was able to talk to people there on Mike’s iphone. I was able to be present to honor my Dad without having to undergo the stress of traveling to be there. It was a beautiful experience.
In the weeks after I made this decision, and Mike and I had gone to visit my Dad, I would talk long distance through my Dad’s hospice program with a lovely bereavement counselor. We’ll call her Grace. At the time, it wasn’t easy for me to talk to my sister about the feelings I had about my Dad dying, and this woman turned out to be a blessing from heaven. We just clicked and really liked each other. Her very gentle and loving manner was soothing and empowering to me. One session I was telling her another of my stories about my Dad and my son, and she said to me, “Maria, you should write these down for people to read.” I was stunned at the thought that they were interesting enough for that, and sort of dismissed it. But I guess not entirely. Because I was able to share some of them in my tribute and now I’m sharing some with my readers here.
I never knew my bereavement counselor’s e-mail. She didn’t have one at the hospice center. When we were matched up by the center, neither or us had known that the “bereavement” part of the counseling was only supposed to come after the person in hospice died. Luckily for us, Grace’s supervisor decided it would be worse to end our sessions since they had started and were going so well than to follow that rule. We giggled about it a little, since it seemed silly that grief only begins after a loved one has literally died. Especially if it’s a loved one with dementia. I remember saying to her at one point in a rather agitated way, “Grace, I can’t deal with all this!” And she just said very gently, “But Maria, you are dealing with it.” And she was right. I just needed someone to point it out to me as an accomplishment. I’ll always be grateful to her for that. Maybe one of these days I’ll call the number of the hospice center again and ask if there’s a way to e-mail her about this blog, so she can see that I found a way to tell my stories. I know she’d be pleased. Come to think of it, my Dad probably would be too.