Sunday, June 01, 2008

Approaching the End

of a long process, not sure where to go from there
or where it will lead to
certain that change is the only certainty
certain that uncertainty is a principle to live by

I'm approaching the end of a long process, begun almost two years ago, but rooted longer ago than that. Rooted in the year I gave up my home in the Midwest and went Out West to start over. Those roots led to a semi-nomadic, rootless existence lasted years. I was poor but often free to travel. I drove all over the mountain states, and the Southwest, and up and down the Pacific Coast. I gathered material for a new life, a new business, a new career, a new lifestyle—all without knowing it. It was practice for where I am now.

always the end of the end of the road ahead
pushing just a little further to see where road leads
over the next rise, and the next, and the next

My sister and I have been working hard this past month, to finish the process of closing down and selling our parents' house, moving me into my own new stand-alone condo, and beginning new lives. In the past year, both of our parents have died, we've had to sort through and decide what to do with 27 years of Accumulated Stuff in our parents' house. I've had to sort through my own Stuff, too, and get rid of as much of it as I could before moving. I managed to reduce to sell off something over 2000 books from my personal library before the movers came, but my library still contains several thousand books. I will probably continue to pare away and reduce the mass of my personal belongings.

into the midst of decisions
come decisions you don't want to make
sometimes leading to days when you can't decide
or even think clearly, a sort of vapor-lock of the mind

Some friends have been alarmed by my actions, in getting rid of some of my chattels. A poet told me not to sell off any of my poetry books, because he had done so earlier in life and infinitely regretted it now. The truth is, his concern was about his own regrets, not about mine. Fair enough: we all judge based on our experiences. The secret of objectivity is perspective and awareness of the motivations that drive oneself and one's friends.

I have sold off as many books as I can that do not fall into the following categories:

1. irreplaceable editions of books you'll never find on sale again
2. special and beautiful editions of books that are treasured as works of beauty (works of art) in themselves
3. the professional reference library, multiple subject matters: photography; graphic design and typography; writing and poetry; music; computer-based art-tool references; etc.
4. books that I re-read again and again; that I have re-read many times, and will do so again

Which means that books that I can find again, or that I have kept till now but will never consult or re-read again, all have to go. A lot of fiction has gone, a lot of history, some poetry that I know I won't re-read, some other literature. Gone is a lot of spiritual and psychological literature that I've either integrated to the point where I don't need to re-read it anymore, or now know that it no longer holds any relevance for me. Everything's pared down to the minimum for now, but I expect that over the next couple of years, I'll find more to pare away.

now the end appears
but in my end is my beginning
and it's a new life for living
rather than living with the dying

I moved back to Wisconsin from Out West to move in with my Dad and take care of him for the last year of his life, after colon cancer surgery. I was with him through several rounds of radiation treatments, chemotherapy, and his last final illness. Towards the end we had several good months together, during which he was feeling good, and enjoying life to the fullest. One of the lessons he taught me from all this is to live life to the fullest, every day, every moment. Laughter and tears, joy and sadness, deep emotions and shallow ones, all are valid, and all let you know you're alive. It's all good, and one ought to enjoy one's tearful days as well as one's joyful days. We traveled some in those last months, visiting family and friends in Michigan, where we're from, and where some ancestors are buried; we visited gravesites and cemeteries, but also homes we once knew. Dad's last illness was sudden and came on quickly after two or three good months. He died at home, in the care of Hospice. We put his bed in the living room where he could look at the gardens and river and woods out back.

approaching the end of life
but also the end of process
who knows when it will end
sometimes it seems interminable, endless, like it will never end
and all you can do is endure
other times you look around and see how much you've gotten done today
or yesterday and can plan tomorrow if not next week
not trying to plan any further ahead than that
some days you take it one day at a time
or one drawer at a time

Mom suddenly got ill about six months after Dad died. We had had to put her in a residential Alzheimer's care facility, some few months before Dad's cancer diagnosis, because he could no longer take care of her at home. It broke his heart at first but later even he came to see that it was the right decision. Mom suddenly developed diabetes and it could not be controlled, because she couldn't understand, and you cannot force a strong-willed person with Alzheimer's to do anything. She died in Hospice care exactly two weeks short of seven months after Dad had died. I could feel him calling her, to come join him. Mom was one of those people who were never sick a day in their lives, never spend much time with doctors or in hospital, and never need to; sometimes such people, when they get a sudden last illness, go very quickly. Mom did that.

who's had time to think about any of this
it's been months of dealing with daily Stuff
and enduring the process
I've dropped emails and phonecalls and important contacts
some people I've never gotten back to have no idea why
and never will
because it doesn't matter
anyone who cares knows what we've been having to deal with
it's incredible compression and tunnel-vision
the burnout and exhaustion at the end of every day
no vacations, no time off, no exceptions, till it's all done
and hoping all along that it doesn't do you in, as well

Now we're approaching the end of the whole process of closing down the house and moving. It feels like it's been forever since I've even been able to deal with anything but what I must deal with. Starting up my own new household means dealing with things like bills and other mundane necessities that I've never fully taken on before. I'm not sure I'm up to the job. I'll probably never be sure. In this, as in everything else, you struggle to just do the best you can. You feel like you're running uphill, already defeated—but that can be an illusion, an emotional state, not objective. People tell us we're doing really well, coping with it all, that we're functional where other people would have fallen apart already. I don't feel like any of that is true, not at all, but I'm willing to believe that other people think it is. Maybe when it's all done, and we're all done with the major process, maybe then I can start to believe it. The truth is, I was ready to stop a long time ago; I've gone past any limit of exhaustion and coping ability that I ever thought I had. It's a learning process, this kind of self-awareness, after years of self-doubt.

approaching the end of that, as well

who knows what's next
some mornings I'm eager to find out

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Ending is an odd thing. You can think something has ended but then realise there were aspects of whatever it was still in the process of ending, maybe like a retake. No, we didn't end that right, let's go back a bit and try again. And the thing that ends only ends as much as we can define it. Your dad died. My dad died. In our heads the dying takes longer. We hang onto memories which have ceased to be truly accurate years ago. What my dad was extended way beyond the physical body. And not all of 'him' passed away when his body did.

Things are different. I've disposed of so much stuff throughout my life. Some I regret, the irreplaceable stuff – music I wrote as a kid – but on the whole I've never been what you'd call a materialist which is why, when it came to emptying my parents house, there was nothing to deal with; my mum had gradually taken care of it herself; pretty much all she had in her wardrobe was the dress she wanted to be buried in.

I especially liked your lines:

some days you take it one day at a time
or one drawer at a time

I get that.

3:17 PM  
Blogger Will said...

You're providing more inspiring examples in how to live (rather than how to just be alive). What next, indeed.

The last piano podcast was sublime, by the way.

4:48 PM  
Anonymous suzanne said...

your situation with your parents
mirrors almost completely
the one I had with mine, except it was mother who had the cancer
and died first and my father who had TIA's which rendered him mentally as lost
as Alzheimer's does
that was

He died within 6 months of her death
that was in 1993-94
so long ago now!

I wish you the very greatest f adventures ahead
love, peace
and excitement

10:18 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Suzanne, thanks for your comments. It's nice to know someone in a parallel position has gone on and is thriving artistically. It gives me perspective on what will happen, when this whole period is behind me.

Will, as always nice to see you! Thanks for the thoughts, and I'm glad you liked that latest piano piece. It's turning into an actual piece. Now that we're almost completely moved out of the house, I can get back to recording on Mom's piano, in the now-empty house, as I have several more pieces I want to get down before the piano gets moved.

Jim, thanks for the comments. You're lucky there wasn't a whole lot of material stuff to have to deal with; it's good your Mom took care of most of it already.

I still feel the presence of my Mom and Dad sometimes. I can tell when Dad is laughing at me, for something absurd happening that he would have really enjoyed. They're never really gone, certainly not as long as I remember them. Our relationship has changed significantly, though.

5:23 PM  

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