The witching hour. 6pm. The high risk period when Mum would need a drink. When she couldn’t get alcohol, she would work her way through a block of cheese. Something, anything, to alleviate the high anxiety. These days she can’t get wine, so she obsesses about her cats. One in particular. Piddle.
Poor Piddle, an extremely elegant little Occicat, who went through a phase of piddling as a kitten and the name stuck. However Piddle is now wonderfully self-sufficient. She usually disappears for a day or so on the full moon, spends time roaming across the nearby golf course. She always comes back. But these days, every day, at 6pm, Mum goes outside and calls and calls and calls. Then she comes back inside and tells her caregiver that she is worried because ‘Piddle is hungry, lost and alone‘.
But Piddle is not the one who is hungry, lost and alone.
There’s no ‘medical proof’ of this of course, but my theory (and while I don’t have a psychology degree or a medical one, I have a lifetime of experience) is that as Mum becomes more childlike, she is becoming more open with her feelings. And while she can’t, has never been able to, will not ever say ‘I am hungry, lost, alone’, I know that this has how she feels. And this has how she has felt for a very long time.
The hunger, of course, is not a hunger for food, but a hunger for a very different type of nourishment. A sense of fulfillment. While she is not physically lost, she lost her way many years ago. And while she has constant company, my lovely mother feels that she is alone.
The anxiety, an almost constant presence of worry, preceded the alcohol dependence and the dementia. I have no doubt it started before I arrived on the scene. According to New Zealand’s Mental Health Foundation, New Zealand has a high prevalence of anxiety, mood and substance abuse disorders, exceeded only by the US for anxiety by the US, Ukraine and France for mood and only by the Ukraine and US for substance abuse disorders.
Recently, I read a fascinating article by a Rick Hanson PhD, a neuropsychologist on Self-Directed Neuroplasticity: A 21st-Century View of Meditation. Addressing the field of contemplative neuroscience, Dr Hanson concludes by taking the reader through a simple 5 step meditation. Becoming attuned to the breath, conscious relaxation, a feeling of safety, wellbeing and connection. What fascinates me, is that for each stage, he provides an explanation of what happens to the brain. The element of safety, struck a particular chord.
“The third suggestion focuses on feeling safe. This is a very important one, although it’s often hard for people because we have what I call “paper-tiger paranoia.” Essentially, we evolved to overestimate threats and to underestimate opportunities and resources for dealing with threats. Although that may have been a great way to pass on gene copies in Africa two million years ago, it’s a lousy way to experience quality of life in the twenty-first century. Most of us can feel safer than we normally do. I prompt people to feel as safe as they reasonably can because there is no perfect safety in life. None of us is safe from old age, disease, or death, for example, but most of us can afford to feel less guarded, less braced, and more confident in our capacities to meet life.
It sounds so very simple, but at the end of the day – and at the beginning, middle and every moment in between – isn’t that what we all want?… Nourishment, mind, body and soul. A sense of purpose. To be attuned to our self, to feel relaxed, safe, well, connected.
I cannot undo a lifetime of feeling hungry, lost and alone for my mother. It took me a long time to realise that’s not my responsibility.
But she is my mother and I love her and I it makes my heart ache to think that she feels hungry, lost, alone. So next time I visit, I think I might just put a little note beside her bed which says ‘Your life has purpose. You are loved. You are safe. You are home‘…If I could, I’d sprinkle a little fairy dust and put one beside your bed too.