(For part 1, click here )
Part 2: Mother Kali
Enchantment was in the form of a Sanskrit chant, Akal Mahakal – words that mean undying and the Great Death.
Starting in the fall of 2013, I began reading everything I could find about Ramakrishna, a fascinating Hindu guru who had devoted his life and worship to Mother Kali.
Hinduism has a pantheon of fabulous Goddesses, each manifesting a particularly wonderful characteristic that is her ‘power.’ Mother Kali is another matter. From Wikipedia, “The name of Kali means ‘black one’ and ‘force of time,’ she is therefore called the Goddess of Time, Change, Power, Creation, Preservation, and Destruction.”
Encountering Mother Kali has given name and form to the time, change, power, creation, preservation and especially destruction of the past couple years. First, Kali Ma came after my imagined future, and when she was finished with that she turned to my entire past. The present isn’t just the only reality: it’s the only reality I’m allowed to keep.
In January 2014, an act of kindness and generosity to a beloved person resulted in some very painful outcomes. Google “gaslighting” and you’ll find out how awful it can be – for me, so painful that I saw a grief counselor. She called it soul-rape. Thankfully, her words provided insight for me, and her acknowledgement of the profound pain was the healing I desperately needed.
During that year, all assurance of my imagined future in several loving relationships died.
Meanwhile, my aging mother was swiftly sliding downhill. Living alone in a senior apartment, she was nearly blind, severely deaf, tethered to oxygen 24/7 and prone to lung infections. She wasn’t eating fresh food unless I brought it over. She began to exhibit unfounded fears, and when she began to see angels and have heavenly dreams, we felt her death approaching. Mom told me that if Dad (who died in ’65) came to her dreamtime, she would leave with him.
Realizing and agreeing she could no longer live alone, we re-purposed our guest room and brought her into our home. All indications were that she was ready for hospice care. She had long been ready to leave this life. At first a little disoriented and saddened by the loss of her ‘freedom,’ her appetite returned and she slowly began to re-awaken.
Having Mom in our home/workplace was a balancing act on a knife blade. Near deafness and LOUD TV do not combine well with a musician’s sensitive hearing and no desire for the noise of commercials or news talk. Ahyh devised a compromise where she could watch her TV without limitation: a lightweight wireless headphone system. Plenty of volume for her and no raucous television for us – it seemed perfect.
Ramakrishna worshipped Mother Kali in the girls and women who came before him. He saw the Mother in all life. I decided to see the Goddess in my mother.
Mom gained weight and strength. Her fears left her. Then, she began to create panic-worthy events two or three times a day, like the terrible crisis of missing a cell phone call from Walgreen’s. By September, having her in our home was destroying my work. We were in the process of launching a revised, updated and user-friendly website and I was rarely able to contribute.
Frustrated, my three brothers and I had a conference call. We agreed they would try and keep her mind more occupied by calling her much more often. One thing Mom could still do was talk on her cell phone, made for the hearing impaired. I suggested they each set an alarm on their cell phones to call her at least weekly, they did…and things got MUCH worse. I could hear Mom’s cell ring from across the house, and I could clearly hear every word spoken, two rooms away in my office. With the door closed.
Mom was telling my brothers (and anyone who called) a tale of torture: we made her stay in her room all day and only allowed her to come out for dinner; we forced her to wear headphones because we were too selfish to let her have her TV the way she liked it; she wasn’t allowed to have guests; I refused to take her to see her friends or her sister; Ahyh resented her; she was sure I stayed busy because I didn’t care; I was jeopardizing her health because I refused to get along with her oxygen provider (a condescending jerk) – and the big one: she was sure I was stealing all her money.
She smashed my heart to smithereens. When I told her, she confronted me for listening. “I hear you without listening, Mom.” “Oh,” she said, “But I was just making conversation!” She started to cry. “Shitting on your daughter is not ‘making conversation,’ Mom.”
Reeling, I left the room. If Mom is telling people untruths about me, what lies has she told me about others? Have I responded to or acted on ‘just making conversation’ lies my own mother has told? Scenarios from life back to my earliest memories swirled through my brain.
Now, because I could no longer trust memories so tied up with Mom’s, my past was rendered confusingly meaningless.
Thanksgiving Day 2015, Mom had three oxygen crises. First, her concentrator ‘wasn’t working.’ Her oxygen level was pretty low, so I checked everything. Finding nothing, I changed her lines anyway and turned the concentrator off to let it re-set. Meantime, I hooked up her tank system, made sure it was functioning and suggested she rest and let her oxygen build back up. She was relieved. I went to take a shower.
Minutes later she was pounding on the bathroom door. “My tank isn’t working,” she whispered, frantic. I threw on my robe and ran dripping to her room. It was perfectly fine – but it only operates when in use. She had removed her cannula and because she wasn’t using it to breathe, the indicator light wasn’t on.
The concentrator had re-set, so I suggested we try it again. She agreed that if it was working now, she could rest better using it instead of the tanks. I hooked her up and waited. Within a minute, her oxygen level was normal. She was ready to watch one of her TV shows so I left to finish my shower and maybe dry my hair.
Twenty minutes later she was frantic again. “There’s water in my oxygen line!” Thinking ‘yeah, so?’ I saw a couple of droplets, but the concentrator water-saturates the oxygen for the comfort of the patient. I reminded her there was always a fine mist of water in the lines, and because her lines were new, the water wasn’t dispersing the same way just yet. “How is your oxygen level?” I asked. “Fine,” she replied.
Ten minutes passed. Out of the blue she said, “I don’t know why you panic about these little problems, Libby. It’s just oxygen.”
Words flew out of my mouth. “Mom, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t be your full-time caregiver. The oxygen is just too much for me to deal with, and I have no life at all. We have to figure something else out.” Words flew out of her mouth, too – “Well! If I’m too much of a bother, I’ll just move back to Saddlebrook!” [senior apartments]
I wanted to let her go.
Almost every night, I was listening to a chant, Mirabai Ceibi’s “Akal Mahakal.” I listened on auto-repeat, breathing along to the incredibly soothing repetitions. My soul was soothed by the undulation of the music…and the ideas behind the ancient words.
After more conference calls, research and a visit from my brother John, by December 7th Mom was relocated to Southern Manor, a lovely assisted living facility about 12 miles from me. She had friends there already, but of course, she hated it. And me. But John was cool, so he inherited all further responsibility for her money. Thank God.
On Christmas Day 2015, all the relatives were gathered to visit her. Mom decided to bad-mouth me in front of everyone. The center of attention, she said she was glad to be out of my control and relieved that I wouldn’t be able to steal her money. I asked, “Mom, can you hear me? Because I don’t think you can see me, sitting here beside you.” She responded by pulling her hearing aids out of her ears and handing them to me. “Clean them, then.” I cleaned her hearing aids, handed them back, and left.
Still, I went to visit three times a week. She kept telling her tales, and all her friends gave me terribly dirty looks. I helped arrange her room, did errands for her, took her to the doctor, etc. When I had the chance, I brought her grandkids to see her.
Our last real visit was February 12, 2016. It was the night of Southern Manor’s Valentines Day celebration. Mom was weak from lung infection or possibly pneumonia. Nobody was sure. It was the first time she had gotten dressed all week, and her first bit of appetite. We had a lovely dinner and I walked her back to her room. I asked her if she was still mad at me. Sleepy, she told me she was never mad at me. She was angry because the angels left her. She was angry because Dad never came.
After she was in bed, by pre-arrangement and Mom’s approval, I met with the staff of Southern Manor and signed the hospice documents.
Late in the night on February 22nd, Mom pulled off her oxygen cannula and went back to sleep. During rounds, the night nurse found her curled up in bed, feet and hands entirely blue. The nurse said Mom awakened, wide-eyed, and told her in a strong, happy voice “God is calling me!” When I arrived a little while later, Mom was deep in morphine sleep. She roused and told me she loved me, then said her sister Betty (who died previously) came to get her, even though she wanted Dad to come. “That sounds like what Betty would do,” I said, and she smiled, “Yes, it does.” That was the last time we spoke.
Early Thursday morning February 24th, the family stood around her bed and watched her shallow, extremely labored breathing. She was drowning and it was awful. Then, there was a shift in the atmosphere. Mom lifted her left hand (she was right-handed), closed her mouth, half-smiled and we all knew: she’s gone.
In my soul, I know Dad took her by the hand, and they danced into the Light.
Did Mom have a Great Death? What does death have to do with undying? Is she really Kali? What does this mean?
Coming soon! Part 3 of Undying and the Great Death,Or How Not to Title a Blog