For My Mom

Thoughts the life and loss of my mother, Margaret Duggan, who passed away on August 2, 2005, due to complications of Alzheimers.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The meaning of music

The day my mother passed away, I got a call shortly after lunch that I should come to the treatment facility as quickly as possible. I got in my car and headed out as fast as I could. I turned on the radio and immediately switched to a classical music station. At the time, I didn't want to hear anyone else's words. I didn't want to deal with anyone else's emotions, good or bad. I just wanted to hear something beautiful.

Since that day, a little over a week ago, I've been listening to classical music most of the time when I'm driving. I've switched over to pop and adult alternative stations briefly, but I usually end up switching back to classical before too long.

I've been curious about this. It's a completely new compulsion that ties directly to the death of my mother. I've wondered what could be the sudden attraction of classical music.

Today, I think I figured it out. I realized that, to me, classical compositions have endured for hundreds of years and, therefore, represent the possibility for a human being to create something lasting. The idea that a person's creativity and perserverance can result in something that continues long after they are gone is important to me at this stage in my life. This is even more true now, in light of my mother's passing.

I created a piece of music for my mom's funeral service. I wanted to do something musical, but I knew I could not perform live. My dad mentioned someone else from the church who had recorded a song for her father's funeral. So, I set out to record something. It ended up to be very simple, although I recorded part of it with an instrument that I barely play (the recorder). Mostly, it was just my guitar, my voice, and some subtle harmony. I cried through the whole thing. I felt like it was my final symbolic gift of everything I was, everything that I had become with her help. I know that her influence won't end in my life, but it felt like this was one of those moments around which everything changes. It was a powerful feeling, filled with beauty and sadness.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Finding Neverland

Today, August 6, 2005, is the day my mother was laid to rest. She passed away from an apparent heart attack four days ago, August 2, 2005, after nearly six years of gradually-failing health due to Alzheimers.

After today's morning funeral service and subsequent family gathering, I came home and slept for four hours, exhausted after four days filled with all the things one is required to do to fullfill society's requirements for saying goodbye to a loved one.

After I woke up, I felt the need to escape with a movie for awhile (my wife was busy dealing with business issues she'd been ignoring for most of a week). I looked through my current Netflix selections for something that would take me away from the events of the last week. One of the movies waiting for me was The Notebook, which is about a man with a wife who has Alzheimers. I wasn't ready for that, so I looked at the next selection, Finding Neverland. I figured a good Johnny Depp movie about the creator of Peter Pan would take me away for awhile.

If I had been more familiar with the story, I might not have watched it, but I'm glad I did. Although, it is, in fact, about J. M. Barrie and the process he went through to create Peter Pan, it centers around his relationship with a young widow, Sylvia, and her four boys, and how he helped them deal with her sickness and untimely death. So, it didn't turn out to be the escape that I had planned, but it was what I needed to see and hear.

In the end, Barrie tells Sylvia's youngest son, Peter (whom the character Peter Pan was named after), that his mother has gone to Neverland and that he can visit her there whenever he wants by just believing he can. I don't know if I can find my way to Neverland whenever I want, but I do know that my mother is no longer under the hold of this horrible disease that's been had her in it's thrall for these many years. She's free to live on in all of our memories as the vibrant and vivid person she was for most of her life.

When the movie was over, I felt the need to write down my feelings. I don't know if any of this will be useful to anyone but me, but I decided to publish my experiences during this trying time. My mother's loss is a tragedy that I am still coming to grips with, but so many magical things have happened in connection with it that I feel the need to tell this story.

My mother is in a better place. I really believe that. But I've also witnessed that her loss has brought my family closer together. During the last few days, in re-telling the stories of her life, my mother has become more real to me than she's been in a long time. Where before most of my thoughts of my mother were about her condition, now they can finally be about the person she is and was. Whereas before she was a person who was dying, now she is a person who lived and lived very vividly.

So, I'm writing these things down to hold on to them and cherish them a little longer. It's a paradox, I suppose, that the act of holding on is also part of the process of letting go. But I'm not going to worry about that right now.

I included a couple of links regarding Alzheimers in the links section. More entries will follow soon.