So who are we any way?

What the person is and what the person appears to be are in contradiction and so the mind is split. Deceit is the divided mind. A man speaks well and thinks evil or does well and wills evil, so so is full of hidden poison. Deceit is malice from the will, cloaked by outward friendliness.

Maurice Nicholl, The Mark

My Gurdjieff mentor Donald Petacchi used to warn me that the most difficult deception to see was one’s own self-deception. It took me years to be able to see my own. I could see the division in myself, between my love and my hatred, but I could not find the bridge toward wholeness. It seemed that either my love or my hatred would surface depending on what others were expecting from me. Nor could I easily speak my emotions. A lifetime of conditioning of what others would say, do, or how they would retaliate stayed my tongue. The result was that I could be nice toward a person’s face and malignant in venting to a willing listener. In hindsight, I realize this was fair to no one, and it cost me valuable friendships. Despite myself, I had the values of wanting to be forthright, honest with myself and others. I wanted to be authentic and have a true yes or a true no. But to have that, I understood I had to be one with myself.

When my husband was beginning his slow slide into dementia, I did not realize what was happening. And he’s the kind of guy who plays it with pride, and did all he could to deflect my attention from lapses in his memory. I did not realize what was happening, because I did not want to see what was happening; I am endlessly capable of fooling myself when I want to. I began to resent Alan for being unreasonable, for not thinking things through with his customary clarity, for a new level of unpredictability. This went on for two or three years. Finally I confronted him and asked him to go see our doctor to have his memory checked. That was a battle I would not back down from, despite the fact that I usually gave up arguments to the master arguer. We went, the doctor ran some standard memory tests, nothing was conclusive, but I could see Alan really straining. At this point he was also losing his way to places he had been to before, but he still remembered how to get home. I comforted myself that he still knew how to get home.

February 2022 rolled around. I was eager to see spring. 2021 had been a challenging year, and I placed hope in the warming weather for a return to normalcy. But I noticed Alan getting sicker. He has always had breathing problems. Smoking had led to a diagnosis of emphysema in his late 30’s he had told me once. Sheer stubbornness and temper at the doctor who had offered him a death sentence sent him to the gym to work out and force his lungs to take in all the oxygen they could hold. Shortness of breath became a customary condition that Alan adapted to and often forgot about. At the age of 80, his recipe for a long life seemed assured, and he was still smoking two packs a day. But now he was turning gray and falling asleep frequently. I suggested he call the doctor, but as time went by, he failed to take care of that.

Alan had been getting more and more reliant on me, and I resented it. A lover of good food, he had been a gourmet cook, yet more and more often he was leaving meals for me to prepare, although I was away working all day. I adapted by using the crock pot and leaving him notes of the times to turn it on. I had been taking him to and from doctor appointments, and I resented that too. It was lost time from work and lost wages, which interfered with paying bills. I had been through money problems before and wanted to avoid that situation again.

Despite myself I could not seem to rise above my negative emotions. However, I did make a sincere effort to outwardly behave with kindness, and I did not will evil toward Alan. I simply did not want to be a caretaker. I am a creative person, and it had been a long time since I had any meaningful time to fully enter into a creative stretch of imagination. Afterall, here was this person at home who felt free to demand anything he needed from me at any time, without respect to what I might be up to. I complained often to a friend that Alan was intrusive. I often felt smothered.

So there I was one wintery February weekend watching Alan turning grayer day by day. I was not wanting to be a caretaker, but knowing that if I was going to honor who I wanted to be, I was going to have to step up to the plate. He wasn’t getting himself help, and I could not live with myself if I just watched him die. Poor Alan. Having the dementia meant that he was out of his comfort zone at the idea of leaving home, but with the help of the local fire department we convinced him that admittance to the hospital would be the best answer to get him the help he needed.

His time there was not easy. He had to be watched so that he did not pull his IVs out of his arm. He called me at 3:00AM one day demanding I come get him because he was being held against his will. I was, however, enjoying the absolute quiet at home. It took about three or four weeks, during which Alan had pus surgically drained from the lung affected with pneumonia. The doctors did a great job, and Alan seemed almost normal when I visited, but then he had round the clock care, 24/7. I told his team of doctors that I could not take care of him and work. Although one doctor promised me he would not send Alan home if the incontinence continued, it seemed to ease up, and so Alan was sent home. I had a week that I could take off work, so I did. The outside nursing care that was promised seemed so little. I was to take care of Alan the first week and then they would send an Eddy Visiting Nurse to retrain him how to take care of himself in a scant three visits. I wondered how that would work around the dementia which seemed to have worsened during his time away from home.

I don’t want to say a lot about that week that Alan was home. He was incontinent, and to get him to eat and take the numerous pills they wanted him to have, took everything that I had. He was uncooperative about letting me change his wet clothing or bedclothes, wanting to sleep most of the time. I spent my spare time, such as it was, doing laundry and remaking the bed. My inner agitation was affecting my body. I could literally feel different self aspects vying for control over an uncontrollable situation. I refused to act on my hatred and resentment, even when those powerful emotions were most active. I endured a lot of self-struggle.

A moment came when I told Alan “I can’t take care of you!” and he said, “I am not going anywhere!” I did pray for Alan’s welfare, but my most sincere prayer was “Deliver me to freedom!” When the Visiting Nurse was able to move her visit up from Wednesday to Monday I was ready to bow down and kiss her feet, because I knew I was not able to take care of Alan. He had open sores from the incontinence he refused to let me clean up. I am not a trained nurse. I know they have methods for these situations, but I did not know them. God bless Francine whatever her last name was, because I was at my wit’s end and I knew it. She was instrumental in getting him out the door and pointing me toward the stages I needed to get him into long-term care in a nursing home.

But while Alan was here, during his more lucid moments, I was able to say everything that I had wanted to say, honoring that which was good between us. I think that the Holy Spirit blessed me with these insights. Stubborn and uncooperative as he can be, there is much that is good in Alan, and I did not want to let my gratitude go unspoken. So I thanked him for being my spiritual companion, for our life together, for being someone who triggered me so that I could grow and see my patterns, for his insights at various times and places into who I am, for being one of those rare people who see me as I am, and not as they imagine me to be. I asked him to forgive me for anyways I had offended out of ignorance, and he said, “There is nothing to forgive.”

There are moments in life of true inner transmutation, and this was mine. All the resentment fell away. All the wet bed clothes, and all the dependency and demands on my freedom – none of those issues held any more importance to me. In a beautiful moment of pure compassion that transformed all of my previous angry resentment, I saw Alan and myself as beings of light, and I knew we had walked this road before (four life times) and may again, as husband and wife. We are two who challenge each other to grow; our mutual obstinance has created the conflicts that engage our souls into evolving. Because of Alan I have found wholeness where before I was divided. I hope I have given him what he needed from me.

I will not lie, I am glad to be living alone, and yet something very poignant in me misses what I most wanted with Alan – an unconditional love to be part of our lives together. We have that when I visit him. I know he is safe and cared for where he is, yet I know part of him thinks about home the home we built together. I have time for creativity now, yet I also manage to see Alan at least every other day. We are gentle and tender with one another. As aspects of Alan’s personality fall away, his former grumpiness is replaced by a well of sweetness. I notice that something in me has permanently changed as well. As a professional driver, I have a lot more patience than I ever had before, and a willingness to let things be what they are. Instead of living my life having to prove myself, there is now an attitude that things are perfect just as they are. As if in confronting situation I could not control, I learned to be able to say, “I am willing.”

For those of us who work on perfecting self in the sense of Being – and it is a very long work, the work of a lifetime – moments come amid life’s grandest difficulties that enable us to transcend and see beyond the mere physical to the grandeur and beauty of the Spirit that indwells each one of us. I wish for those who seek it, such moments of Beauty.


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