Posted - 06/28/2010 09:26pm
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June, 2010

Sonoma, California



July 09 will mark nine months to the day that Vera Ushakova died at 4:45 p.m.  It was on a Friday, the day before my birthday and I remember saying to my mother 'I am so happy to be here to celebrate this anniversary with you.'  I could not have imagined being anywhere else on the eve of my birthday except in her room, in the nursing home that had become her world, where everything had been arranged just so and within her reach.   



There stood her tumbler of water, a short glass neatly placed nearby and a second short glass, this one filled with apple juice, so that if she could, she would only need to reach out and lift either glass on her own.  So that if she could, but she couldn't.



She had created an order in this spare space that had become her world and insisted -- when she still could -- that the box of tissues be placed here; her reading glasses there and the telephone positioned between the tissue box and the tumbler of water.  A place for everything and everything in its place....



On that Friday I was in and out of her room all day, talking to her, embracing her, beseeching her to take that little bit of Morphine so that the nurses could change the bandages on her wounds.  It would have been far too painful for her not to have taken the medicine.  I recall talking to her in the same voice she used when she needed my cooperation, when I was a little girl. 



I explained why it was she needed to take the medicine, knowing all the while she didn't want to.  I knew she was slipping away.  I knew that it probably no longer mattered as time was running out, because I could see that she was already en route from this world to the next.  I couldn't keep her from this departure....



She was still alive, though and there I was, with her, on the eve of my birthday.  I was so happy to be with her.  She finally opened her mouth just a little, just enough to be given a few drops of Morphine to lessen the pain.   And in my mind, I helped ease the pain in a small way, at the moment of need.  It was her final act of compliance.  She did it for me and I knew it.  Just as I had done it for her when I was a little girl and she needed to give me medicine I had not wanted to take....



I left her for just a little while to be with the nurses and when I was called back, Vera Ushakova had slipped away.  The thin veil that separates this world from that, wafted some, to let my mother pass through.  How can I explain to anyone that it is the most transparent of veils that separates this world from that?  The moment I understood this I knew that I would see her again.  I just knew it.  It had to be.  I believed it so.  I still believe it.



Oh, the stories I could tell of all the months and years leading up to that moment when the veil lifted to let my mother pass through.  The rich stories of a daughter's love for her mother.  When it came to my mother the boundaries between us were permeable.  There had never been a separation between my mother and me.  And none exists today.



In the end, when she was no longer in her logical mind, when I understood that she no longer knew me, when she said things that were so hurtful as she passed through the dark night of the soul journeying towards the light, I remained by her side.  I was where I always had been, by her side.



One time she had to tell me to leave, insisted that I leave, demanded my departure, simply wouldn't allow me to stay.  The nurses said she could not die with me in the room.  The nurses said that we must all be allowed our time to prepare for the leaving of this world on to the next:  the dignity of death, the grace of God calling us home by name, the Mystery that envelops us all, at the end of this world's voyage.  Even ships on round the world cruises must return to their docks, eventually. 



We all live in the Mystery.  We are all guided by the Mystery.  We need simply to accept the Mystery, because it is the vessel that brought us in and will one day take us out.



I learned about unconditional love from my mother.  In the weeks and days leading up to her death, I was the one she would share the darkness with...and when I asked the nurses why me, they said it was because she knew I could "take it."  How could I tell my mother that I really couldn't "take it?" 



I would leave her room and when I returned, time and time again, I knew of the probability that I would once again step into the darkness with her.  And I knew that even if the last time was to be the darkest time, I would still return.  She was my mother and I loved her no matter the state of her mind, no matter the condition of her body, no matter the depth of her darkness, before reaching the light. 



Unconditional love is a love that has permeable boundaries.  It is a love that forgives time and time again.  It is a love that when it goes away, there is nothing to replace it with except the experience of a greater amount of unconditional love.  It is the hardest love there is to give because we live our lives mostly fastened to a conditional state of mind:



"I will love you if you love me." 

"I will only love you if you love me as much as I love you."

"I will love you if you can take care of me."

"I will love you if you promise never to love anyone more than you love me."



The day of my birthday, the 10th of October, was spent at Nepenthe in Big Sur.  It is a place of beauty; a place of delicious comfort food and a soothing drink or two; a place where ocean meets sky; a cultural icon where the Bohemian style of artists, writers, actors, painters and dreamers infuses its atmosphere; a place my family has always loved because no celebration was complete without a bountiful table placed near the Pacific Ocean....



My mother loved Nepenthe, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean.  It is this body of water she had requested to be buried by.  It is this restaurant that reminded her of why she so loved this body of water.  From a perch on high, she could stare out onto the blues, aquas and greys of the Pacific Ocean, and sort through memories of a heartbreaking past.



In Greek, the word Nepenthe has two meanings:


 A drug mentioned in the Odyssey as a remedy for grief...
 something that induces forgetfulness of sorrow or eases pain.
Who knew that this was the meaning of the word Nepenthe, a restaurant I'd been coming to since I was 17 years young?  I am convinced there are no accidents in life....We are not travelling on an accidental journey in this life.  It was Nepenthe I was drawn to when riding on the back of a motorcyle in my teenage years after the departure of my father and Nepenthe I returned to before burying my mother.
It is Nepenthe I came to on my birthday in 2009.  It is the day the torch passed from my beloved elder, to me.  I didn't know what to do with it, then.  I wasn't thinking, then.  I just sat there staring at the family I loved, watching their grief as they watched mine. 
One often hears the word "orphan" from people who have lost their parents.  I used to hear this word quite often from friends who had lost their parents, before my mother died.  The world really does shift in a very dramatic way after losing one's parents.   It is a poignant enough place when one parent leaves, of course; yet unbearable, really, with the departure of the second one.
My astrologer said "you were born to epic parents."  Indeed.  Oh, the stories I could tell of the epic life we lived together...and now the second parent is gone.  I'll save my stories for another time.  I'll allow them to unfold by and by.  For now, I need to give thought to who it is I am in the face of this wordless loss. 
Surrounded by family, I do, nonetheless, feel "orphaned."  I understand this term now when applied to how one feels, after the death of one's parents.  I never felt it before, yet recognized it immediately upon losing my mother.  Immediately.  I knew I was alone and maybe it is this aloneness encountered so deeply on the existential level, that made me feel "orphaned."  I get it.  Hard to explain to anyone with parents who are still alive in this world.  It is inexplicable.
I have been picking up the pieces of a shattered love since 09 October, 2009.  I have been a sculpter whose clay is me.  I read this about sculpting with clay:
"Working with our hands in clay is a primeval force not to be ignored. Clay sculpting is almost as old as mankind. It has evolved right alongside us. We like staring into fires. We love to work with clay."
I love this description of working with our hands in clay.  I've got the whole world in my hands.  I know it now.  It is up to me to sculpt my new form.  I know I'll be turning to my muse, Vera Ushakova, to inspire the new creation that is yet to be molded and then fired up to become the most inspired me, yet. 



Vera Ushakova






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Add a Comment
Comment posted by Donna Colfer on 07/12/2010

Dear Anya,

I so enjoyed reading your deepest thoughts and feelings around your precious time with your mother. Her picture is just beautiful. She looked so peaceful. I loved the definition of Nepenthe, how meaningful for you. Your writings have always brought me to a deeper part of myself. Thank you for that. Sade also does that for me and has been a favorite of mine for 24 yrs. You are such a gift to me.  Love, Donna

Comment posted by Astrid Anderson on 08/15/2010

the feelings of losing a spouse are very similar to losing a parent: I am orphaned, I am vulnerable, I have lost my sounding board, nobody is covering my back. In my mind I go back to our house in Half Moon Bay remembering the incredible sunsets which always ensured me that there is more to this life than meets the eye. There is no beginning and no end - simply this sense of order.

Comment posted by Barbara Walkowski on 08/18/2010

Good morning, Anya. I am blinking away tears after reading your entry about your mother's last days. Beautiful writing, just beautiful. Saturday will be a very special day, I can feel it...xoxo Basia


(note:  reference to "Stepping Into the Shoes of the Elder" Retreat Writing Workshop on 08/21/10)
Comment posted by Jean Arnold Sessions on 08/18/2010

Hello Anya, I am here and reading your very moving and beautiful writing. I am very much looking forward to Saturday. Jean

(note:  reference to "Stepping Into the Shoes of the Elder" Retreat Writing Workshop on 08/21/10)

Comment posted by Enrica Poore on 08/18/2010

How beautiful your words, and how universal are your feelings. Thank you! Enrica P

Comment posted by Michael Crain on 08/19/2010

Hello Anya (and Saturday's participants),

In checking in I am reminded of the feeling of comfort and fraternity you (Anya) create and I have experienced in your past workshops.  I am looking forward to seeing some familiar friends from those experiences, and meeting a few new ones I hardly (yet) know at all.  As an experienced participant, my words to "friends to be" are ones of welcome and encouragement.  I look forward to expanding the circle, being with each of you and sharing some warmth and light for a spell.

Until Saturday, Michael

(note:  reference to "Stepping Into the Shoes of the Elder" Retreat Writing Workshop on 08/21/10)

Comment posted by Debbie Darrin on 08/20/2010

Dear Anya,

Your words here bring quietness to my soul and then to my awareness that every moment is a gift we are given and that we can revel in the beauty of the life dance and accept the challenges as well, by participating in the details of awareness, living and sharing, or not.  I embrace your parallel of sculpture and clay, creation.  I feel the love of you and your mother’s creation of being, in your sharing here; I feel the dynamic of your shared sculpture and now the dynamic of your continuing the sculpture on your own, yet without her it would not be the same. Her soul carries on through you in consciousness, because you choose it to be so. In sorrow there is healing and opening.

Thank you. I look forward to our retreat.

(note:  reference to "Stepping Into the Shoes of the Elder" Retreat Writing Workshop on 08/21/10)

Comment posted by Linda Viviani on 08/20/2010

The rush of enthusiasm is building as I know I will once again be in the midst of great minds, beautiful souls and loving, kind friends.  I so look forward to writing again and this workshop includes old friends together for the first time.  I always feel at peace with the embrace we all receive during the day, and I am joyful, and also tearful to write again. 

Linda Viviani

(note:  reference to "Stepping Into the Shoes of the Elder" Retreat Writing Workshop on 08/21/10)

Comment posted by Rori on 08/20/2010

Hello Anya, I am here. Thank you for sharing your beautiful love story.

Comment posted by Carol Krauthamer on 08/20/2010

Lovely Anya, Thank you. I know by the full emotion that you piece brought up, so full that I dare not express it just yet, that this day of reflection will be cathartic. I'm both scared of it, and embracing the exploration.  Until tomorrow!

(note:  reference to "Stepping Into the Shoes of the Elder" Retreat Writing Workshop on 08/21/10)