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REST

A couple of years before my mémère died from cancer, she had a serious health scare that required heart surgery to remove blockages in her arteries.

Until that point, she had otherwise been the picture of health for all of her eighty-six years, so it was a very frightening time for myself and my entire family, being forced to see her so helpless and so close to death.

As the date for her surgery drew closer, we drew closer together as a family. We had a family meeting, something we hadn’t done in a good long while, where we came up with a plan to be there to support her at the hospital around the clock until she was well enough to be released, so she would never, even for a moment, be alone.

The surgery was a complete success, and as best as I can recall, it only took a couple of days for her to recover. I had signed up for the first overnight shift figuring I could sleep the following day since both of my children would be in school. (This was pre-homeschooling.)

I remember sitting by my grandmother’s bedside watching her sleep while listening keenly to every beep, never sleeping, just remaining on high alert throughout the night for anything unusual.

As stressful as you can imagine a situation like that to be, and it was, I remember feeling oddly but deeply at rest.

Instead of worrying about how my husband would have to get the kids ready for school the next morning, or what they would have for breakfast. Or if there was food in the fridge or if I would need to go shopping. Or if I would be too exhausted to do the laundry that was piling up, or pay the bills – if we even had enough money that week to pay the bills. Or the dozens of other things I worried about back then on a daily basis. I had one job and one job only. To be there for my grandmother in the event she came to so that she would immediately know she was not alone.

My only other job was to remember to breathe.

Watching her sleep was foreign to me. It was not something I had ever done before.

I remember trying hard to sync my breathing with her own. I remember staring at her face, weathered by life as it was, and holding her hands, hands that held mine when I was a child. Hands that were the epitome of grace and love for me then, and again in that hospital room as I kept her company.

And I remember trying hard to recall every memory we ever made together. Like the time when, for my thirteenth birthday, she invited just me over to her house for dinner (a right of passage when turning thirteen in our family) granting my special birthday request by making me steamed lobster and hand cut french fries for dinner.

Or recalling all of our many sleepovers (she was within walking distance of our house) where she would make big bowls of buttery popcorn for my sisters and I that we inhaled while sitting on the floor of her living room watching Lawrence Welk sing Tiny Bubbles. Often she would set our hair in small plastic rollers before going to bed so we’d wake up looking like Shirley Temple in the morning, even if the effect was only temporary.

“Rest is the essence of giving and receiving; an act of remembering, imaginatively and intellectually but also psychologically and physically.” – David Whyte Consolations

As I watched her laying there looking so helpless, I could feel the love we shared almost as if it was another physical presence in the room.

When my sister came into the room the next morning to relieve me, the first thing she asked was whether or not I had gotten any sleep. I told her no, I didn’t think so, but that strangely despite the seriousness of the situation, I felt more rested than I had in a good long while. Then I kissed them both goodbye and left as quietly as I came.

She had arrived at the hospital earlier than I had expected, so everyone was still asleep when I returned home.

After greeting our two black labs, I made a beeline for the couch and collapsed. I’m sure I was asleep within minutes because I was awakened only a short time later by my then eight-year-old daughter who had worked her way between myself and the back of the couch before curling up in a fetal position inside my arms.

“To rest is not self indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and to perhaps, most importantly, arrive at a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given.” – David Whyte Consolations

I was comforted by the warmth of her small body next to mine and would have loved nothing more than for us to stay that way the whole day, weary as I was. But there was school to think about, so after allowing for a few minutes of rest that felt like floating on a cloud of my gratitude for her, I whispered that it was time to start getting ready for school. No sooner had the words left my mouth could I felt her body begin to tremble and sense her starting to cry.

I knew she was extremely worried about her great grandmother’s surgery. We all were. But I don’t think I had taken into account how she, too, was probably up half the night worrying about us both.

As I gently rubbed her back to console her and assure her that Mémère was going to be just fine, she asked if she could stay home from school to be with me, and without a moment’s hesitation, I said yes.

I’m sure we fell back to sleep curled up like two cats napping together in the sun on the couch very quickly. At least that’s how I remembered it.

But as I reached this point in writing this post, I realized I wasn’t so sure.

It was the first time since beginning this blog that my memory was failing me. What did we do for the rest of that day after that? Did we sleep a while then get up and make cookies? Or did we stay on the couch and watch movies all day? Or maybe we went for a walk together in the woods? Any of them sounded like something we would have done.

I couldn’t say for sure, so I had to ask my now twenty-five-year-old daughter to see if maybe she remembered.

“I remember that day. I was wearing overalls and green socks,” she said.

I thought, OK, wow. Clearly, she does remember then. Then in the next breath, she adds that she remembers Mémère looking extremely frail when we went to see her.

“When we what?” I asked.

She went on to tell me how, at her insistence, I had driven us both back to the hospital – about a forty minute drive, so she could see for herself that her great-grandmother was indeed okay. She remembered the urgency in her needing to lay eyes on her as if to confirm what I had already told her.

When we then talked about the rest of that day, about what we did when we returned home, neither of us could say for sure.

It still strikes me as odd that I would choose to write about what was such an exhausting day, both physically and mentally, when telling a story about the word rest.

I love my hammock. The screened in porch that houses my hammock is my favorite room in my house. Why am I not writing about long lazy summer days spent idling away the hours resting in it?

Maybe because even though I was facing a serious crisis with my grandmother, I was so focused on her and only her that when everything else slipped away, it felt like rest. Organic, pure, soul-soothing rest. I trusted her doctors, and I trusted that she would be okay, so all I had to do was be in the room with her. That’s it. Well, that and send copious amounts of love her way.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that I most often feel more rested when out walking in the woods then I would be if I was lounging away the day in my hammock where I would no doubt feel guilty for not being more productive.

“We are rested when we are a living exchange between what lies inside and what lies outside, when we are an intriguing conversation between the potential that lies in our imagination and the possibilities for making that internal image real in the world; we are rested when we let things alone and let ourselves alone, to do what we do best, breathe as the body intended us to breathe, to walk as we were meant to walk, to live with the rhythm of a house and a home, giving and taking through cooking and cleaning.” – David Whyte Consolations

In this crazy world of constant distractions, how often do any of us ever find an ideal time to rest? Even when I’m laid up sick on the couch all day and all night, I’m almost always distracted by the television. I may be resting my physical body, but my mind will be fixated on how terrible I feel and, if I’m watching the news which I usually am, how dire the future of this planet appears to be.

But when I’m walking alone in the woods with only the company of my dogs, everything else slips away. My body might be feeling the physical demands put on it, but my mind is free to wander. I am conscious of each breath as it fuels me. I am present in ways that are impossible to stay present within the confines of our ever more demanding world. Even if I only have fifteens minutes to walk to the end of my road and back, in those fifteen minutes, it is possible for me to feel more rested then had I never laced up my sneakers.

In the process of telling this story, I am figuring some things out.

Just the other day while walking through a darkened section of woods so thick with hemlocks that it allowed very little light in, I heard a snort.

It was a loud, quick burst of air being expelled by something quite large.

My mind immediately went to a time earlier this summer when I startled a doe in my backyard. She was with her fawn and with a series of loud, angry-sounding snorts she let me know I’d better keep my distance.

This was like that, and when I heard it again (this time both of my dogs heard it too), every tiny hair covering my body stood at attention, sensing the something I could not see.

By the time I returned home I had walked just shy of five miles, up some steep hills and across a few streams. Considering the heat and high humidity of the day I should have been exhausted for my efforts, but I felt more rested than I had in very long time.

 

NEXT WEEK: ROBUSTNESS

About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

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