Music, Art, Pain, Growth, and Hilarity
by Paul Adams
Over the past few months I've been involved with my mothers passing from this life. This sounds clinical ñ and I don't mean it that way ñ but in some respects during the entire event, I was outside of myself watching and growing in the process while she ended her beautiful life.
I believe this world is geared to masking what we will all face - our end. Bleaching crystals offer us the whitest whites, while cosmetics and medications assure us of immortality. Our vehicles transport us from place to place within climate controlled assurances that we will not have to feel the heat, cold, or the wind on our face. But to feel that wind, whether bitter or pleasing is human. This was a lesson on how to live. These experiences teach us how to let go of the past, and love more deeply in the present. This is the celebration of transitioning home to a place free from pain, and encompassed in a beauty that many mystics assure us offers wonder beyond description. It has been said that THIS physical life will someday feel as if it has been a dream ñ real life awaits us.
Everyone in our immediate family stepped up and pulled shifts caring for mother. She was a trooper. It isn't easy for a parent to allow a child to care for the physical needs she can no longer accomplish. I was very shy to use my music with her at first. She had concerns it may trigger emotions she didn't wish to deal with at this time. However, I slowly started playing guitar and flute, and it was incredible to see how it affected her in dealing with the entire dynamic of this process (Fear, pain, anxiety, restfulness, acceptance)
With the flute I searched for a rich and hollow timbre that would soothe. I found it was very helpful in addressing anxiety (which can exacerbate pain). AND of coarse, as an aid to sleep. One evening I lulled her to sleep with my Low ìCî Cedar Flute. The tone color is very fat, hollow, and resonant. Sonically, it feels like velvet. I stayed in the traditional minor pentatonic scale. There can be a sadness to this scale, but I hoped I was playing melodic improvisations that focused more on a sense of peace rather than melancholy. Unfortunately, I too fell asleep, dropping the flute on the tile floor of the hospital startling the both of us awake. I resumed playing and within 2 minutes mother was in dreamland.
The guitar was also a great tool to use for the same purpose. For gentleness, I searched for what I term the ìsweet notesî by playing near the fret board. The timbre is fatter with less high frequency attack while plucking the strings. However, there were times when a fast tune with a Spanish Flair was also appreciated.
Mother was up and down, and eventually had to be placed in "in patient" Hospice care. The staff were attentive and sensitive, and even allowed us to bring in her kitty Jade to lie and sleep with her on the hospital bed. Animals are beautiful, loving, and honest.
Mom slowly faded as her body was no longer able to contain her spirit. There were moments of ebb and flow, surprising functionality and perception, as well as diminished capacity. In life she practiced Tai Chi daily. Sometimes while unconscious she would make hand and leg motions as if she were still going through her routine. Her hearing was amazing. Once when we thought she was deep within the embrace of sleep, the family was softly debating when grand daughter Jennifer's birthday was. One said Monday, the other Sunday. Mother blurts out, ìno it's Tuesday.î Then back to sleep.
As the physical body continued to weaken, a gentleness of spirit with less inhibition emerged. No light conversation was needed to fill the air and combat awkward moments of silence. "I love you's" abounded. Straight to the heart of the matter. That is why we were all there. Love was the connecting link. Bittersweet, sad, and beautiful. This is the beautiful pain poets and song writers have written about for centuries. We know at times she felt bad that we were in this very difficult moment of life. BUT, it was our honor to perform necessary functions of the spirit and body's ending of this physical life. By thus doing, we were celebrating. Each tear, moment of anger, and confusion, was our honor to have to process. We were perched upon the peak of the mountain. We were a participant in reality. This entire process was her return home, and perhaps the most important lesson in our life. We were continuing to be schooled by our mother.
Mom had been still and non communicative for about three days. We felt the time was near. I then got a call from my brother. I asked what he was up to and he says, ìhaving dinner with mom and just talking.î WHAT!? I asked him if I could speak to her, and over the phone she says ìI love you!î I immediately jumped in the car and drove 100 miles to the hospital for a wonderful reunion. Her only concern was that she wanted to poop. I immediately started playing a blues progression on the guitar and she improvises, ìPaul's mom's gotta poop, Yeah Paul's mom's gotta poop Ö..î . Howlin Wolf would have been envious. During this musical event, I looked at my brother, and his eyes spoke volumes. Love, amazement, and hilarity. Our lives are often punctuated and remembered by peak moments - this was a peak moment. God has a sense of humor.
There are many mysteries here. The human spirit is a deep vast pool of chance, destiny, and opportunity rolled into one. We kept vigil for days. On a Sunday I drove my daughter Christina to the hospital and we played Flute duets for her. She was very still, non responsive, but at peace. Her Blood Pressure was good, as was her heart rate. That evening I was throwing laundry in the dryer and mother immediately came to mind. Within a nanosecond, the phone rang. My sister Julie told me mother had passed.
Everyone grieves in their own way. For much of my life I was an atheist. But there were three things standing in my way of being able to logically support my philosophy: Beauty, love, and order. Life just being a flip of the coin eventually faded from my view. We are here but for a moment, and time never sleeps. But neither does our ability to grow through each moment. Each pleasure, each difficulty, each experience, molds us like clay. Each pearl of wisdom my mother offered, blessed me. Every error she committed blessed me. The complete cycle of experience she offered, from the positive to the negative was as brilliant as the paint she used on her canvas. She was a gifted artist ñ on canvas and in life. My brother John was her first work. My sister Julie her second, and I was her third. And we will carry on.