In February, I was getting ready to update you on everything – the progress and lessons of the GoFundMe launch, the preparation of the Longest Walk, the goals for the year etc. etc. and then things changed overnight. Everything happened so fast, I wrote the following in reflection over it all…
Shortly before the Longest Walk my Nana’s health changed. Suddenly she couldn’t hold a conversation. Her doctors attributed this change to the onset of dementia. With only a short time remaining before the walk across he country, I headed home to Colorado, alongside my mom, to spend the few days with our Nana. It was true, she could hardly speak… she understood, the words were in there, formed up and everything but when it came to getting them out, that’s when the disconnect happened and that’s when her eyes said everything. She couldn’t speak and yet she came with us to Walmart, picked out fabric and then sewed it into two ceremony skirts for the trip – in ½ of a day, by eye. They are beautiful. She said her little Dachshund, Cricket, had been sad for months – so we took Cricket to the vet (nothing to speak of). We headed home after spending the time; mom had decided to move home as soon as possible to be there to help her deal with the struggles of dementia.
I had planned to head to the kick-off of the Longest Walk in Blaine WA in caravan with the rest of the Southern California crew but this last minute detour to Colorado meant that as soon as I landed in California again, I needed to hit the road north solo. Cartop, check. Emergency supplies, check. Bags, check.
First stop, Arcata, to spend the evening with an Amerifriend (Ameri-this Ameri-that in reference to anything coming from the years in service as an Americorps NCCC volunteer) celebrating Galentine’s. Second stop, Eugene, to spend the evening with a legendary activist and student of Corbin Harney, Justine Cooper. Third stop, Seattle, last stop before Blaine, and the home of another Amerifriend.. Each stop/friend gifted me the blessings of life… food, water, shelter and great company and love. Plus, day 1 of my trip north, I happened to be driving on Fat Tuesday and got to listen to New Orleans jazz for at least 2 hours before losing signal. Day 2, I sat at a roadblock along the coast to see a bald eagle fly over my sunroof. I got to share many miles with the witty commentators of NPR who, I’m happy to say, come through more clearly across the landscape of the country than any of the less-than-exceptional corporate stations, their hits of today and, of course, their incessant accompanying advertisements. Day 3, my last stop before Blaine, the beginning of a new journey, and only a few days from leaving my nana, ceremony skirts packed, my family received the news of my nana’s misdiagnosis. She had been taken to the hospital where they discovered the walnut-sized mass on her brain, metastasized from cancer in her lungs, also out to her adrenals and liver – stage 4 cancer. She was going to die, she wanted to be at home. All that time Nani thought something was wrong with little Cricket, but Cricket is the one who knew what was wrong for months.
Mom told me this by phone getting ready to get on a flight back to Colorado overnight. Knowing of the beginning of the Walk, and my preparation for it over the last couple of months, she wanted me to sleep on the news rather than deciding immediately. However, I did know immediately and, just as surely, the next day… It’s going to be a long time before I get to see that Nani again. I don’t want regrets. Mom needs me.
The next morning I told Bobby, the Chief of the Longest Walk, that I needed to go home. I had promised him the Snow Beast as a support vehicle and certainly did not want to hinder that in any way. I was blessed to be able to drive to SeaTac for my flight just as one of the Longest Walkers was picking more up at the airport!
The Snow Beast would continue the Walk as I headed home to Colorado for an unknown amount of time, whatever length Nani’s end journey would be.
So that’s how life goes. We sure aren’t in control.
I saw my Nana die and watched as my mom and her sister and brothers did for her what many cannot… fulfill her wishes. I did whatever they needed. I watched how the family members each dealt with it.
I was present in her ending and therefore couldn’t focus on the tasks of my own new beginning… in the mission, the walk and re empowering the people in the best ways I know. Life is weird. Timing is weird. We got only twenty-three days with Nani after learning that anything was even wrong. Those days were like nothing I’ve ever seen. To see two daughters comforting their mother into death is a most sacred moment. In this reverse, the preciousness of it seems to me even more profound than a mother with her baby. The process is hard, often confusing; it is as physically demanding as emotionally. Regular needs like sleep and food become frivolous seeming, they get pushed away and become something like chores and also the only outlet for every weird emotion.
Nani went on a Sunday morning as the sun came up; she was surrounded by love and I knew that she was proud and fulfilled that her children came together and did everything, down to the last sweep and cleaning of her apartment, exactly as she would have. Her family came together so fully that it’s as if she was just absolutely at peace to sit in it, revel in it, and appreciate it before moving along.
I underestimated the process as it must continue for those daughters left behind; there was, is still, an ocean to get through with crashing waves of emotions. It’s their mourning time, which I can already feel the difficulty of when my own requirement to row through it will one day come. For this reason, I have remained in the moment… to continue to be here for mom in any way that I can be; certainly close rather than a country’s distance away. It is my most important purpose to be exactly where I am most needed; in this way I can always be most impactful. Things that seem small are miraculous and I wish more than anything to be the miracle, rather than to be the one always asking for them.
That’s where I am, very different than what I had planned, but content and feeling happy and blessed all the same.
Before all of this, I wanted to begin writing on the less conventional choices I’ve made and continue to experiment with – free from conveniences but also their consequences, living naturally… I wanted to share these changes with you and prove that they are much more than idealist fantasy; that these things are not new but renewed. Then my Nana, herself, chose a most natural death; a most unencumbered, un-institutionalized end journey. Upon getting her news, she chose against surgery, chemo, radiation instead opting to go home with orders of DNR (do not resuscitate) and certainly no machines, medical personnel, or unnecessary medication. She merely wanted to go home. She wanted to leave her body to science, freeing her family from expensive burdens of a modern funeral service and burial, asking only that when her ashes are returned that her kids take her up to the continental divide and throw her the four directions, so she can travel.
No need for me to update you about living and dying free in many more words; actions, like how my Nani showed us how to leave, mean so much more.