Delicate Object

sunrise, sunset, photographySometimes I wonder if souls can shatter, despite their superb strength.

As I drive the seven hours to my mom’s facility where she is suffering from end-stage dementia, my heart beats fast and fills up with pale blue, silky pink emotions. At 6:30 a.m. I’ve been driving for over an hour. The sun begins its rosy ascent over the paved hard highway, and I’m lulled by the soft snores of my daughter in the passenger seat and my two young grandsons in the back seat, covered from chin to toe in soft flannel blankets.

They’ve insisted on coming with me on this quick weekend 7-hour one-way, 7-hour-return trip to comfort our elderly mom/grandmother/great-grandmother. My daughter has always been extremely close to my mom, and she has told herself that Nanny is not really there anymore – that Nanny’s soul has gone to God, but her body is still hanging on.

“The soul can never be corrupted with the corruption of the body, but it is like the wind which causes the sound of the organ, and which ceases to produce a good effect when a pipe is spoilt..”
― Leonardo Da Vinci, Thoughts on Art and Life

Is that true? Is the soul strong enough to escape the body before the body is willing to give up? I talked to a hospice nurse a little while ago asking just this question, and she stared straight into my eyes and said definitively: we don’t know.

“I’m not a body with a soul, I’m a soul that has a visible part called the body.”
― Paulo Coelho, Eleven Minutes

So much we don’t know. But as I drive alone, with three other passengers in dreamland, I mouth the words to the songs playing on my daughter’s phone. She has “streamed” a Beatles station for me. She doesn’t particularly like the Beatles, but she knows how much I do. I realize it’s her way to comfort me while she sleeps beside me in this enclosed moving space.

“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, oh I believe in yesterday,” Paul McCartney sings.

But I wonder, is that true? Did my troubles seem far away yesterday and close at hand today? I don’t think so. I think our souls are built to withstand troubles, yesterday and today. Troubles are part of life: love, loss, birth, sickness, joy, pain, death.

“All you need is love!” the foursome declare in bright delight now.

Exactly. Tears flow down my cheeks as I drive. The early morning sun’s glare can be my excuse. My soul may be delicate, but it’s not fragile. My soul – all of our souls – are built to withstand the joy of love, and the pain of losing someone we love.

At least, I certainly hope so.

dementia, generations

“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.”
― Jalaluddin Mevlana Rumi

172 thoughts on “Delicate Object

  1. I believe in situations like this our loved ones are having conversations with people who have gone on before into the afterlife. Don’t be afraid for her, she will be greeted by people who love her. This happening is something only she and her creator can control. Grace and peace to you and yours.

  2. I agree with Sally, it is a beautifully written post at a delicate topic. I don’t think, that we say goodbye, when a beloved soul leave this life, they just enter to another place for a while. Souls are connected more than we usually think, they would be.

  3. Joy in the midst of sorrow – the picture of you and your lovely daughter and grandsons with mom shows the joy. The knowledge that mom is gone but still here in body is the source of the sorrow. I love the honesty of the hospice nurse. Sending you a hug, Pam. Beautifully essay written from the ❤️.

    • So true, Molly. We save our tears for before and after the visit. When we’re with our loved one, we try to only show joy and love. That’s what I want her to remember, to feel deep inside. Many thanks for your comment.

  4. This is so beautiful written Pam. I am sitting in the train to Berlin, the weather is gloomy and I think of all the souls in this part of the world. Where are they, I don’t know. Some good , some bad and a lot are in between. My dad passed quietly and peacefully, only my heart was broken. Your mom knows that she is surrounded by those that love her. Hugs to you and your beautiful family.

    • I read your comment soon after you wrote it, Gerlinde, and it filled me up. Thinking of you, on a train in Berlin, reading my post about love and loss and hope, and you thinking of your loved ones, and where are all the souls? I used to think heaven couldn’t possibly hold them all. Now, I think they surround us with energy and lift us up, if only we listen.

  5. So very poignant and beautifully written. Very painful and not easy to witness dramatic changes in our parents and you have written about it in such a sinple yet eloquent way that captures so much emotion. Love the photo too.

    • Peta – thank you for your comment, understanding, and hug felt here on the other side of your world.

      By the way, I wrote on your blog a couple of day ago, but all my comments (on all blogs) went into Spam. Sigh. Spam is purgatory for bloggers…;-0

  6. You have me crying again, Pam, with this beautiful, reflective post.
    I don’t know what I believe, but time does seem to be fluid and people exist in our memories, and so their souls continue to exist through us somehow. Perhaps we meet them again and perhaps not. There is so much we do not know and cannot see.
    And perhaps minds and souls do go somewhere when they seem to vanish in dementia.

    How wonderful that your daughter and grandchildren willingly share this journey with you. Sending you virtual hugs, Pam. ❤

  7. A perfectly written post evoking much emotion. Your mom will feel all the love around her even if she can no longer acknowledge it. The picture of all the generations is also perfect. Sending hugs to all of you.
    I love the Rumi quote, it is so meaningful.

  8. That you would choose to share this moment so intimately not only with your family but with your readers is an enormous gift.

    You included many famous quotes, set off from your own words as if to show their relative importance or enduring nature. But the writers of those words were real people merely living, feeling joy and loss, and choosing to share their thoughts and experiences with others — people just like you, doing precisely what you’ve done here. And so your words, thoughts and experiences are every bit as powerful (and, as I’m sure was the case for those writers past, cathartic).

    I believe in body and spirit. I see them as two circles in a Venn diagram, overlapped and held together by the temporary link we call the “soul” in English — a conduit that allows the spirit to experience the physical through eyes and ears and fingers, and the body to experience the spiritual world of love and hope, intuition and forgiveness. And so the thoughts of Da Vinci and Coelho ring true to me.

    By way of another analogy, I think of a hand (the spirit) inside a glove (the body). When the fit is snug, the glove appears to be the hand, and the hand the glove, both acting in precise unity. As the hand pulls from the glove, it’s still inside, yes; but they begin to look and move less and less in tandem. The fingers of the glove droop and become less and less useful. The fingers of flesh wiggle, but the palm of the glove bulges instead of what we expect. Even a solitary fingertip still inside can move the glove — just not the ways we’re used to seeing. In the end, when the hand is fully withdrawn, both the glove and the hand continue to exist. The hand is “free” and once again fully functional, while the glove lies dormant, unable to warm or move any longer of its own accord. The glove without the hand inside is useless; the hand without the glove is not.

    This is the way I envision it all, anyway.

    In the very real now, I’m wishing you all joy, comfort and strength even as those tears fall and you say your goodbyes once more by degrees. Hug one another lots. Hold hands. Sing and hum favorite songs. Read stories. Tell stories. Live fully and love fully to the last.

    • Erik – I have read your comment several times, because it is as layered as the Ven diagram you describe. Thank you for sharing with me your idea/ideals of the soul and body. They match my own. I love the hand and glove analogy – have never heard of that one. Also, you gave me an ‘aha’ moment when you reminded me that wise ones like Da Vinci and Rumi were humans just like us, pondering the significance of the soul, and of themselves.
      Your last words are comforting and feel just right. Saying goodbye ‘by degrees’ is so difficult, but the love is full on.

      • I made up the hand/glove analogy while I wrote that comment. Guess I’ll keep it. 😉

        In reality, I myself have gotten more from your writing than from many a great of yore. Yes, we’re all just people, getting through the best we know how and sharing anything that seems to work with one another.

  9. Music has a way to find the right words at the right time, doesn’t It? That is a great road trip for you and your family. I admire your devotion to your mom. When my grandmother was near the end of her journey, my daughter and I talked about what it meant to go when she no longer knew who we were. Because she is my child, it would never occur to her NOT to go just because our Mimi was “no longer there”. Her question was why do other people give up and stop going when they are no longer recognized because they might know who YOU are, but you know THEM! I agreed 100% and we went every opportunity we had.
    I think it’s possible for the soul to leave before the body does. My grandmother always said she wasn’t going to die, she was just going to go away one day and I think that is exactly what she did! 😉
    Merriest of Christmases Pamela! 🎄 I pray all your dreams come true! 🎆💖

  10. I’ve walked down a similar path but I lived close to my dad. His eyes still sparkled but his voice faded away. I cherish the time we spent as he slowly slipped away. Your writing was beautiful today.

  11. So much love in this post. I feel circles: circles of love from your family around you, flowing around your Mum and souls who circle. Souls who have gone before, those on this earthly plane and those visiting another place for a while. All circling and love is the link. Hugs and much love flowing to your lovely family Pam. Xx

  12. It can be so sad when a loved one begins to fade before our eyes, but I have faith that the family and friends who have gone on before them are waiting to greet them. And I believe we, too, will be with them again someday. The love shown in the picture of your family is beautiful and can be felt by everyone who sees it, not just the people in the photo. I have no doubt your mom feels the love you bring to her. Blessings to you and your family, and thank you for such a beautiful and thoughtful post.

    • Thanks for your words here, Amy. Yes, my mom definitely reacts to having family around her. I have some adorable pictures of her watching her great-grandson spin a fidget spinner. The two of them were so pleased with each other. Love shines through, for sure. xo

  13. Very beautiful and touching. Your family is kind. I love that your daughter wanted to accompany you with her children. That is true love. I love the picture you posted too. That will be treasured for a long time after she is gone.

    • Thanks, Kate. Yes, my daughter is extremely generous of her time with me. She knows how difficult these visits are. Visiting her Nanny brings her sadness but also joy as we talk about my mom’s/her grandmother’s grit and perseverance.

  14. My instinct is to reach through the screen and hug you. There are no adequate words to bring reasonable comfort. All I can say that as a former nurse who practiced for 35 years, my experience tells me that those who seem to no longer to be there connect with those they love when present. They may not recognize, interact or speak but call it their soul, or their heart or some basic instinct they feel the presence. My hug is for your bravery and ongoing love for your Mom. Such a selfless gift you give her with your visit. Xo

  15. You know I have been down this road of the long goodbye. You will definitely not regret the time, energy, and gas invested in visiting a loved one. Your daughter shows such empathy. Tell her I said that. Music seemed to touch my aunt when words failed.

    Poignant post . . . a host of readers can relate to this. Your quotes are spot on. The luminous skies, inspiring.

  16. This is a soul-stirring post Pamela. So much we don’t know except that we love, we feel, and we do what we can. Thanks for sharing your vulnerable and heart-felt thoughts. May your mother be safe and loved.

  17. Magical, poignant, tender.. they are not enough to do justice to the emotional strength of your piece. I agree. I believe in yesterday too…. sometimes I wish it was a place rather than a time.

    • Thanks so much for your comment here, Paul. I’m enveloped in your statement of wishing Yesterday was a place rather than a time. Fascinating. Yes, I’d want to visit Yesterday for a short time, but then return to Today, for sure.

    • Thank you for your sweet words, Christy. I can’t express how lucky I’ve been to have the vibrant, energetic, enthusiastic, fun-loving woman who called herself my mom for so many years. Now, when she speaks, she calls ME her mother. Interesting, yes? xo

  18. This is a beautiful, thought provoking and sensitive piece of writing, Pam. I believe that last quote says everything that’s important. It’s now become one of my favorites. God Bless.

    • This has become one of my favorite quotes now also, George. ❤ “Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.”
      ― Rumi

  19. As we get older we see these mental changes in so many of our friends and relatives. We continue to love them just the same, but it’s a burden on us – one that we gladly bear for their sake, though it’s not easy. My thoughts are with you.

  20. Pam, you have given us such a beautiful post, filled with love for your mother, your children and theirs for their grandmother.
    During your long drive I can feel the care and warmth between you all.

    You are interspersing with the most fantastic quotes and my favourites are those by Leonoardo da Vinci and Paolo Coelho. I am saving those for easy access.
    Your warm heart and positive personality is a gift to all who know you.
    Bless you all, the photo with your mother and you four is beautiful.

    • Thank you so much for coming here and reading my very personal story, which seems to be understood and experienced by so many others. As you say in your blog post, we need to ask the questions even if it drives us crazy. 😳

  21. So beautiful and moving, Pam. I’m sitting here sniffling, touched by your pain and spirit, all the poignancy of what it means to share this one brief life with those we love. I don’t know the answer to your question, but I do believe that we are so much more than we seem, that the world is far more beautiful, mysterious, and whole than our perceptions allow. It’s a gift to be so present to the sunrise, to the music, to family slumbering in the quiet dawn, to your feelings in all their shades, and finally, to be able to translate that experience into words that stir the hearts of those who read. ❤ My thoughts are with you and your dear mom.

  22. I know how difficult it can be to watch as someone who was vibrant fades into another dimension of reality. I’m glad that you were able to visit your mother and that you’ve been able to process your thoughts and feelings into this post. Take care of yourself as you deal with her struggle and your acceptance of it.

    • I think that is the most difficult part, Ally – to see someone whose energy was almost electric, fade slowly in front of your eyes. Thank you for joining me here in my questions and pondering.

  23. My heart is with you, Pam. ‘Is the soul strong enough to escape the body before the body is willing to give up?” My answer is Yes. I’ve seen it many times. My grandmother’s skin appeared almost translucent a year before she crossed over. She was living with a foot in two worlds. I saw the elders I worked with for many years take on the same appearance. Somehow the spirit knows when the body is failing, and it chooses to begin its departure. During this phase, the body seems to experience less pain, both physical and emotional. I don’t know if this will be consoling for you, but I’m sharing it because it was consoling for me. Hugs, my friend ❤

    • Tina, your words here on my Delicate Object post are extremely comforting and supportive and…knowing. Yes, that is what I think I’m seeing with my mom. I can only hope that she’s reuniting slowly and peacefully with her loved ones: her mom and dad, my dad, her sister (who just passed last month!). Living with a foot in both worlds.

  24. This was a beautiful share from your heart Pam. I’m sorry about your mom, but on a lighter note, I have to say that I just can’t believe the soul ever dies, and nobody can take that connection away we share with a loved one – it’s just they are going to a different place ❤ 🙂

  25. Thank you for bringing us along on your meditation of love and loss, of strength and shattered weakness. I agree with you that our souls, though delicate,are not fragile. They are, as you said, “built to withstand the joy of love, and the pain of losing someone we love.”

    Last night my sister and I saw the new Disney Pixar movie, Coco. It, too, is a meditation on family and death and on the bonds we have with family members after we’re separated by death. It was a beautiful, three-handkerchief movie.

    • I have placed Coco on my ‘must see’ movie list. My daughter and her husband and children saw it last week, and had the same reactions as you. I think the movie might shatter me right now. I have an embarrassing tendency to cry – loudly – at movies. My mom and I used to go together often, and cry and laugh together. When we’d get to the parking lot, she’d yell at me, “Why’d you make me see that?” while blowing her nose. And then we’d laugh. xo

  26. Peace to you and your family. These times are never easy … and the so much time in the car to ponder. I imagine much of this post was mentally written in the car while driving.

  27. Many years ago, when my grandmother’s mind faded, I wondered the same thing about a person’s soul. In my grandmother’s case, I decided that she was too different to be the same person. Her soul must have left a little early. So I mourned her before she was fully gone.

    • What a wonderful way of viewing the slow ‘passing’ of one soul to another place. Yes, when the personality leaves (and my mom’s was as colorful and vibrant as I’m guessing your grandmother’s was), we realize they’ve already left us, in spirit anyway. Thanks much, Mike.

  28. So many people have shared their thoughts and beliefs. How beautiful. I know the blank look you speak of. I observed my mother-in-law in the end stages of Alzheimer’s. Although it is hard to watch for family members because of their attachment to their loved one. But I believe my mother-in-law’s soul was out of her body preparing for her transition and living on the other side. The soul will leave when it is ready. And I look at death as a birthing of the spirit into the eternity or what ever you choose to call it. For me I had my time with her, which made her passing much easier for me. Blessings to all of you.

    • Patricia – you won’t ever know how much your words have comforted me. You expressed what I’m feeling, but in some ways am unable to put into words. My good friend just ‘lost’ her husband to early-onset Alzheimer’s. His body lived on for a few years, but his mind, his BEING, was long gone. I have always viewed death as a new birth. The difficult part is how long that ‘birthing’ process can take.

  29. I’m so sorry about your mother! But your post was a beautiful testament to the enduring power of love. And I’m glad that you and your family are able to visit your mother in this difficult time. As for the soul/body question, I have to admit I don’t know either. But I tend to believe that the soul lives on even when the body can no longer keep up.

  30. Pam, I’m reading this with tears in my eyes. Four generations united by love…the feeling of loss must be nearly unbearable whilst visiting your mother as she is lost to you already. Your deep thoughts of body and soul not surprisingly fill your mind, your heart overflowing with love for your mother. At the same time, I’m touched by the love of your daughter for her grandmother and you. All four of your undertaking a huge journey over a weekend. hugs to you, my friend during this most difficult of times. xx

    • Loving thanks to you, Annika, for joining me on this journey to understanding, to loving while feeling a tremendous loss. My mom/daughter/and I have a deep connection, and may it always be felt, even when our spirits aren’t on this level of existence. xoxo

  31. When my mother was in the end stages of Alzheimer’s, I was certain she still knew we were her family and she still held love in her heart for us. Even though she couldn’t say our names, she knew she belonged to us. ❤

    • Thank you, Jennifer, for those assurances. Sometimes my mom is unable to wake up enough for me to know if she knows we’re ‘there.’ But other times, a smile beams out, and I feel as you express here. They know.

  32. Such beautifully expressed thoughts Pam and I’m so sorry that this is happening to your mother, but there is such love in this piece. I remember my mother in a hospice bed begging to be ‘allowed to go’ – at that point I don’t know who or what she was talking to. It was heart-breaking but then peace took over and eventually she drifted away. I suspect that if the soul doesn’t escape the body at that point, it resides in some kind of dreaming until the time is right.

    • I like the ‘dreaming’ state idea, Andrea. Because my mom sleeps a lot, I have felt that also; that she is preparing herself for another place, and perhaps already visiting it in her dreams. Thanks for reading my post and joining me in my quest for peace …. and understanding.

  33. That’s wonderful that you all went out there to surround your mom with such love. That kind of love can always be felt and I’m sure you’ll always feel her love. xo

  34. So glad you made the trip, and that you had some extra support with you. I can feel the love for your mom in this post. It’s not easy, watching the decline of a loved one.

    I think everyone handles their connection (or loss of) to the world in a different way, and that’s why no one truly knows the answers to the questions you pose so eloquently.

    My mom had an increase in “encounters” with her parents and her brother in the last few months of her life. She often said to me that her brother had “visited” her earlier that day, or that she felt her mom walk by. Every day, she would ask where her father was (he had passed in 1996). It was both reassuring and sad. Perhaps she had dementia and that would account for the frequent lapses in time and space. Or maybe there is a bridge, and it is filled with loved ones.

    Your mom is so lucky to have you and your family to help ease her through. That is a true blessing. Hugs.

    • I like your idea of the ‘bridge,’ and I’ve heard so many others who have seen loved ones use that bridge to help them on their way. My mother-in-law talked to her sister and mother a few days before she passed. It was comforting for her, and for us. Thanks so much for your comments, Kate.

  35. I admire your strength and your ability to write about the long drive and your mom. It has to be very difficult when a loved is in a protracted state of a life that is ending. I am now in that position with my sister and it pretty much makes me ill each time I visit which is often because she is in a care home in my city. I always leave feeling vey sad and sort of ill in the pit of my stomach. I don’t think she is in the end stage yet- at least I hope not.

    The photo is such a good one and actually your mom, in my opinion, looks good to be in the end stage of dementia. Perhaps she perked up for the camera. It must be difficult for you during the drive back home.

  36. Just twelve months since we lost my Mum physically, Pam. Three years since we lost her in spirit. Dementia is so cruel. Heartbreakingly soI remember our weekly five-hour journeys of tears. My thoughts are with you. ❤

  37. Ohhh my dear, can souls shatter? I do not think so. But we human beings perhaps can splinter and flake and frazzle and despair and doubt and fall apart and die. But not your soul or your mom’s soul or the Universe which wraps you both in love, holding you very very tight.

  38. Can souls shatter? Well, my mind wanders to a Pinterest post of broken earthen ware. “Brokenness turned to beauty”… The art of Kintsugi. The Japenese art form of rebuilding broken pottery with gold, silver, or platinum in order to create a repair that is strong….and beautiful. I’d like to think that when our souls break (broken hearted) we have a choice to go on or close up. When we choose to go on, as for me, I’ll picture my soul repaired Kintsugi-style. I always have loved bling! Be blessed!

  39. So now I’m in tears. I have been where you are, only it was my Dad…I have also watched my Mom die from lung cancer and I have now lost two brother’s, both younger than me, die. My soul is tired from all the sadness…and I wait for more news from my last brother. I don’t have a good feeling about it. But my soul and heart go on for all that love that is still here for me with my husband, kids and the little ones…
    This was a sad but also uplifting post Pamela…and I love that you included a photo of your Mom…because no matter where her mind is…her smile tells me that at that moment, right there, she was happy. That is how it is with dementia…they teach us how to live in the moment…
    Oh, and that last quote, I’m coping it. Just in case I get sad news again…It’s a keeper and I’m so happy you shared it…
    Wishing you happy days and small moments of joy as you travel through this most precious season…xo

    • I usually try to keep my posts light and cheerful, Cheryl. There is too much dark out there – I like to beam a light, just as you do on your blog. But this sense of loss and yet deep love flew out of me in words. Thank you for joining me in it, feeling it, knowing it, and yet still having hope and love. Yes, that last quote is a wonderful reminder that all is love and ever more shall be. ❤

  40. A beautiful post, Pam, it brought tears to my eyes. I love how your daughter chose a Beatles station to comfort you on your drive – I love the Beatles too, and I wholeheartedly agree: All you need is love! Sending you big hugs and love! ❤

  41. I read this with tears Pamela. I can so relate as both my in laws went through all of these stages. and no longer recognised family. So my heart is with you all.

    I would like to think your daughter is correct.. That already part of your Moms soul has already flown, and is preparing a place where once again all those stored memories that can no longer be accessed by the mortal brain are waiting to be reunited with the essence of who your Mom really is.

    And thank you for sharing that beautiful photo of your family..
    Love and Blessings..
    Sue ❤

  42. Goodness; they’ve said it all. Completely in agreement with pretty much all of the comment here. I have a 19 year old daughter and a 70 year old mother… it may not be long before I experience something on a level of similarity.
    Except the obvious love and warmth between you guys is a testament to the glue you have evidently been in your family. Respect for you and your writing x

  43. Your daughter and grandsons are such special, loving people! This is a tribute to your mothering (and your grandmotherly love, too.)
    I think my Mom has a lot of the past lingering within herself. So, I ask her questions in Spanish (she taught the subject for 30 years. . .) and my youngest daughter brought a business letter she was struggling with and gave her a red pen to cross out and mark up a copy of it. Music like Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby help bring a smile to my 89 year old Mom and her foot tapping. . . I’m not losing her yet, but I do feel her slipping slowly away; each time I drive off weeping. xo 💞

      • Thank you for sympathizing and joining me in weeping. 💙 What you said about our presence is so true, Pam! Every elderly person feels a sense of returned love. Our visits are felt deep within themselves, sometimes generating recognition and sometimes simply gratitude.
        My arrival brings a beaming smile. She sometimes announces, “This is my daughter!” (It is more the morning visits which offer clarity.)
        Often at night, my Mom will ask, “Where’s Bob?” I tell her, “Dad is within all our hearts and memories.”
        She will look at me and then nod her head.
        I weep from somewhere deep inside myself. It may be just a sense of mourning Mom, as the one I had for so long. I’m somewhat dismayed at my taking her for granted, when she was always there for me.
        I don’t weep for my Mom’s present self, since she seems content. She is full of funny comments which indicate she is happy. . . “I’m going to that meeting over there” she’ll tell me. As I follow her she says, “I won’t be coloring with them, if that is all that is going on!” 😊
        (She uses a walker, unless we take her out for an extended time. We use a wheelchair then.)
        Then she’ll sit down and ask an aide “Is any coffee being served at this meeting?” Please know I care about your sweet, smiling Mom who was in this group photo. 💕

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