Written by Iris Disse. *Published in Yoga Aktuell – Germany
It all started in August when my mother slipped and fell at night out of my father’s arms, who accompanied her to the bathroom. She was taken to the hospital. She was 88 years old and at that time she was sometimes more sometimes less demented. My father, 92 years old and healthy, lived at home with her and a Polish nurse. With the illness of mother, the concept of dignity came up in conversations. Father never told mother: “You are sick, I have already answered you I don’t know how many times,” when she asked the same question over and over again. “That is against her dignity,” he said when I asked him how he could stand it. “I love her after all.” And now – suddenly mother was unreachable. No one was allowed to see her. “Covid laws,” it was said succinctly, one was only allowed to visit every three days. Father desperate, mother on the phone in tears. On the second day it was said: “Your mother could go home, she only has bruises, no internal injuries. But unfortunately they put a woman in her room who tested positive for Covid. She has to stay here for two weeks, in the isolation ward – no, nobody is allowed to visit her”.
We knew that she would not survive. Father was angry, then desperate. I spoke to the doctor. He said something about collateral damage from fighting the virus. There was nothing we could do. Many old people would die alone in the hospitals now, relatives could not accompany them. I was shocked and took up the fight. On the third day I found out she could spend her quarantine at home.
I rebooked my flight to Ecuador and informed my team.
We pick up my mother. As she is driven out of the room in a wheelchair, a cry: “Helga!” “Elmar!” Father hurries the long walk to her, with the speed that his 92-year-old body allows: “Kiss me”… and they kiss each other with a mask, which father then tears off… and now they really kiss each other, hold on tight, the people around have tears in their eyes.
Back at home, mother stops eating. Father pushes, tries to force her. “Papa, don’t do this,” I say. He drives at me: “We can’t let her starve to death.” “Mama is preparing to die”. Father leaves the kitchen.
Every morning I drive to the dam, walk, listen to the hoarse cries of the wild geese, look at the water. Large areas of dead spruce forests are reflected there. In the internet I find the report of a forester: The drought weakens the spruces so much that the bark beetle destroys them. I read that now, unfortunately, the surplus of spruce wood is putting pressure on the price. I read that the death of the spruces will change the landscape of the Sauerland, but the death of the beeches will not, since only 17% of the forest stand consists of beech. I read: The water table has been sinking continuously for two years, the roots do not reach the water. Nowhere is there any reference to the monstrosity of what is happening: Our forests are dying!
Corona means crown. Man feels like the crown of creation: because he can think ahead, shape the future. Because he knows something about human dignity, about freedom. Because he is a cultural being who can create theater, paintings, dance and music.
It is noticeable in these times that especially meetings to sing or to go to the theater are forbidden, but I can sit in close proximity to others in the plane or on the train. But as the crown, we feel that we are above all because we are compassionate beings, we have a mind – do we still have that? The word “mind” hardly ever appears and disappears from our language, just like the word “feeling good”. The mind seems to have become a luxury item, just like time to celebrate and mourn, to play with the children. The german wellbeing gives way, and without peace and cosy togetherness, with the play, the dance, the singing, the “I have no time” and “I must function” mental illness is the measure everywhere. To have stress seems normal to us – who is still going through his days in good spirits?
The reality seems surreal to me. We as human beings are now legally forced to let our old people die alone? What kind of people create these laws? I learn that even in the hospice no relatives are allowed to accompany the dying. You could infect them with Covid, mind you – people who are dying. Where am I? How can it be that everything that makes a person human is forbidden?
What is the dignity of man? An inner knowledge of what is right, beyond rational analysis. Neurobiologist Gerald Hüther calls it an “inner compass”, a compass we need in order not to lose our center as a human being in a world shaken by crises and determined by economic criteria: “To discover our dignity, i.e. the deeply human in us, is the central task in the 21st century”. How can it be that we have forgotten this?
We are community beings. We need closeness, touch, trust in each other. Time for each other. This is where our roots lie, which nourish us. And now? We isolate ourselves from others, lock up our children at home and force them to spend days in front of the computer, i.e. to “function”, knowing full well that children learn primarily through experience. What are they really learning now? We tie masks to our faces, create isolation and fear of the other, try to fight a disease of the body like this – and forget that life is more than just survival. Life, that means celebrating, laughing, playing, working, creating, loving. To be born and yes, to die: From accidents, from diseases, from old age, from broken hearts, from stress, from isolation, from fear, from environmental toxins, from … . “Who knows if I’ll even be alive next year to celebrate”, says father on his 92nd birthday and smiles at the absurdity of the situation as he sits with mother all alone at the set coffee table in front of the four birthday cakes. Friends had quietly handed them in, without staying for coffee. “They didn’t want to pose a risk,” he says with a shrug.
Being alive is a risk. Security? A dangerous illusion.
I run. Birches stretch their bare branches plaintively into the sky.
I see my mother lying in her bed, now in the home, her naked, skinny old lady arms stretching into the air: “I am so alone, can no one hear me?” “I am with you,” I say. But perhaps the trees speak through her? Perhaps what she says is not confused at all? Perhaps our planet, our mother earth, speaks through them?
A veil is torn, I feel the monstrous, the madness of the events pulsating within me, I feel connections beyond words, I am horrified, feel anger paired with helplessness. Yes, we are digging the water out of ourselves, our children and children’s children, just like the trees. I see father sitting on his bed in the nursing home. Beaten, sad, but full of dignity. He keeps his promise, does not leave mother, although he is still fit enough to live at home: “We are together for 65 years, we promised each other”. I, too, fell into the Covid fear trap: “If mother falls again in such a way that she has to go to the hospital, she will die there alone,” we thought. So I decided to go to a home, where she will be cared for by professionals. The doctor advises this, and friends and relatives agree. That is simply reasonable.
On the third day the parents are back home. I lose the flight back to Ecuador, a second rebooking is not possible. The yoga teacher training takes place without me, the team takes over. Godmother death is a chaos factor and cannot be timed.
Yes, mother began the long journey over the rainbow, into the other world. It goes agonizingly slowly. She is in pain: “Everything hurts me. I don’t want anymore,” she repeats again and again. “I want to go home”. She doesn’t want to swallow any more tablets, not even for pain. I do not know what to do. I feel helpless, alone, overwhelmed. Then the doctor of the palliative care network comes with morphine. And the same day a nurse comes – my cousin from Kassel, whom I hadn’t met for years. He is the living answer to my prayer for support. A miracle. He has taken unpaid leave. He will stay and I am no longer alone. A wonderful man, gentle and determined, he gives me the space and confidence to dive into the process.
Now suddenly things are going fast. If mother got up one day and was able to walk, the next day it is no longer possible. She stops drinking. Every day she disappears a little more. Father can hardly let go. I sit by mother’s bed when he needs a break. Then I sing for her – “Spirit Songs”, that is, I am simply a channel for sounds, melodies and also words. Again and again it is about letting go, about the light. That makes mother very calm, she relaxes. Being able to do something for her fills me with wild tenderness.
A few years ago I was allowed to accompany my girlfriend to the home birth of her child, which lasted three days. The feeling is similar: something happens there that is sacred and that I cannot influence. Accompanying her, I can surrender to the process and suddenly experience a lot of “being alive” myself. I now understand why in indigenous cultures death is understood as birth into another world. And it comforts me.
I find mother’s old body beautiful when she lies naked in front of me, I wash her. It has an aesthetic all of its own, fragile, translucent. When I dry her belly, I notice the stretch marks. Suddenly I realize: I have grown in this belly. I am a part of her. She loved me before I was born. Her hands caressed me, comforted me. She nursed me. Her love for me was unconditional. She stood by me, was always loyal to me – although I was wild. She protected me, even against the teachers, when I was not as adapted as a girl should be.
I tell her stories about her life, what she meant to me and other people, while she dawns on herself.
Mom, I am so proud to be your daughter. I have learned so much from you: not to let yourself be beaten down; to listen to yourself instead of others; how to overcome crisis; your way of forgiving quickly and looking for solutions in conflicts; to have an open heart for other people; to understand children; not to give up and trust in life. To experience as a daughter how you became more and more self-confident as a woman, how you still studied even though we were already in school, that was great. And of course I learned your discipline of happiness: “MH, the main thing is happiness”.
You were a wonderful teacher. Do you remember? The other day, while walking on the beach, you got into conversation with a little boy sitting in his sand car. “There are bad people who just walk over my car and wreck it. And there are good people. Just like you. You talk to me and you don’t break anything. You are a good person,” he reiterated when you said goodbye. He waved at you for a long time.
Death, my friend
Now I am with her while her soul leaves the body. On the morning when she takes her last breath, the church bells ring. And father and mother hold hands, as they had wished. And I understand in my heart what mystics of all religions tell us: “We are not a material body with a soul inside – we are a soul that gains experience in the material world in a body”. I perceive how mother’s soul soars up into freedom, into the light. For a moment, time stops. A circle has closed. And I understand that the Santisima Muerte, the “Most Holy Lady Death”, as the Mexicans say, can be a blessing. The dignity of dying. Thank you Mama, for this gift.
My cousin and I washed the corpse, oiled it with fragrant herbs and dressed it anew. It was like a church service. Then came the three days when mother was laid out in a bed in father’s library. I took her from the mortician, from the “They don’t do that anymore”. We cried by her coffin, laughed, prayed, told stories about her. We drank schnapps or coffee, ate cookies. Friends came, relatives traveled from other cities, stayed a few days. My sweetheart flew in from Ecuador to support me. I was with her at night when everyone was asleep. Death watch. All that did good. My father, the lover, is inconsolable – and at the same time safe in a nest of shared grief and care. I learned a lot from him about the crazy dignity of love. It is a powerful time.
I go around the dam, early in the morning. The geese call with a hoarse cry. They have been the messengers of the Otherworld since Celtic times. The wind whispers in the trees that bend towards the water, over which a dragonfly glides with a blue umbrella; the green of the leaves plays with the sun’s rays, and the little stream sings a cheerful song. Suddenly your soul is there, and I dance with it, the wind, the trees, the stream. Cry and laugh. Mama, I love you. Thank you.