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Monday, February 04, 2008

Ghosts

I’ve been dreaming about my mother lately, or sometimes about being in her old apartment. In the most dramatic dream I was sitting on her old couch (the one which my grandfather died on) when my mother walked into her living room. I jumped up to greet her, but she evaporated under the white robe she was wearing, sort of like the witch in The Wizard of Oz. In the dream I thought, “At least I still have her couch,” though in waking life I do not. As longtime readers will remember, my mother died just over two years ago. Her couch was one of her many possessions that I gave away because I didn’t have room to keep it, and it wasn’t valuable to anyone but her.

When my mother was dying, I wrote about her regularly on this blog, but since her passing, I haven’t mentioned her much. Life moved on, and the children and my work regained my attention. I was efficient in settling her estate and I thought in settling my grief. I figured I’d had a year to grieve while I was watching her slowly waste away from lung disease. I figured that made it easier when the end finally came. Her prayers were finally answered. She was at peace.

So I’m not sure what it means that I’ve been dreaming about my mother. In many of the dreams I’m just in her apartment. (In one of them I was checking to see if there was enough toilet paper.) All I know is that they are a reminder that she is still part of my life, though usually out of sight, like in the apartment dreams. The dreams also bring a taste of grief, a reminder that I can’t dispose of my feelings as efficiently as I disposed of her furniture. I have to be open to whatever these dreams and feelings are trying to teach me, though I’m still not quite sure what that is.

Yesterday I learned that a good friend’s mother may be dying. It was a reminder of how universal this experience is, the loss of parents. It made me think of all my friends who have lost parents or loved ones in the past few years and how infrequently those losses come up after the initial mourning period where people say things like, “How are you doing?” without needing to explain why they are asking. It makes me want to check in with these friends long after the loss to see how it has changed them, to see if they are haunted, as I sometimes feel, by a loved one’s spirit.

There’s no neat conclusion here, but I guess that is part of the message. I like clear endings, concluding sentences that sum everything up (which is why I labor with such frustration of concluding sentences). But there is no neat end to one’s relationship to a parent. The past is woven into the present and future, albeit in sometimes invisible threads.

6 Comments:

Blogger one raised eyebrow said...

Hi Eileen. I wanted to comment on this entry because it made me think of my own mother. It has been 11 years since my mother died of lung cancer. Sometimes it feels like she died yesterday, and sometimes it feels like the full 11 years. Certain events will shake loose some memory and the pain of losing her will briefly return.
It's been many years since I last reached for the phone to tell my mother about something that happened during the day, only to realize I couldn't call her anymore. Over the past 11 years I have not had even one dream of my mother. I often wish would. I would certainly welcome the visit, however brief. I'd probably ask her for her elusive stuffing recipe that I can't quite get right.
Thanks for writing this!
Abbe

3:22 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks for sharing that, Abbe. Fortunately for me, I did get Mom's famous Irish Whiskey Cake recipe, although there are other things I can't quite make as she did.

3:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Eileen:
I am the new reader from a few weeks ago ... one who is interested in the Quaker faith as a lapsed Protestant (Congregational). Your blog about your mother touched me deeply. My 11-year-old son Adam died three years ago on February 7th, and I dream of him sometimes. Since we are both from the Philadelphia area, you probably read about it. His sudden death from an not-quite-understood illness (they said it was the flu but I don't believe it - he was perfectly healthy prior to taking ill) has made me question the purpose of life, my sense of the futility of organized ritualistic religion (my husband is Jewish so I was tortured by the Shivas in the days following his death), and why I am still here and what I am supposed to be doing. My friendships with Quakers over the years (my college roommate, a work colleague, makes me long for the serenity they seem to have, their non-judgemental behavior toward others, their respect for ALL people and their kindness. But I just can't seem to walk into a place of worship. Can you recommend any books I can read to find that source of spirit on my own? I am very much looking forward to yours coming out.
AmyBeth

4:42 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Dear AmyBeth,
Thanks for sharing your experience. I've been sitting with your question about a book recommendation, wondering what I could suggest that might be helpful to you. On my web site I have a list of books on inner listening with links to their descriptions. See www.eileenflanagan.com/links/
The one that might be best for a person not hooked in to a faith community but interested in Quakers might be Listening Spirituality by Patricia Loring. That's really about practices you can pursue on your own.

The other thing that is coming is a hunch that you might need other people more than you need books right now. Although I have never experienced a loss as devastating as yours, I have heard many people talk of finding themselves again after loss when they started trying to help others. I don't know you and certainly can't give advice, but I'm wondering if meeting with others who have recently lost children to be a support to them--or if that's too painful, something simple like volunteering in a soup kitchen--might help you reconnect to the Spirit within you. I don't know. It's really a question, which Quakers often ask themselves to prompt deeper meditation on a question.

Of course, if one day you feel ready to come to a meeting, I'm sure you will be most welcome. There are many stories of people who looked at the Quaker meeting signs for years before they felt the inner nudge to come in.

8:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Eileen:
Thank you for your recommendation. Your advice on dealing with loss is exactly the path that I have followed these three years ... My husband and I formed a support group for newly bereaved parents, I spend time volunteering (in my case with youth in foster care and in building a baseball field for kids with disabilities). But what has been missing is the spirituality that infuses your blog. I want that in my life and in my heart. I will get the book you recommended, and continue to think about attending meeting. Not ready for that quite yet. Maybe soon, after I understand the religious perspective a little more fully, and after that inner nudge is strong enough to make me cross the barrier.
AmyBeth

9:10 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Best wishes for your journey, AmyBeth.

Eileen

4:29 PM  

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