Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mother, Kites and Title IX

Last Monday a friend wrote about the connection between breathing and a friend's terminal illness. Since breath was central to my involvement in my mother's final 29 hours, I started to collect clips from various notes and letters during mother's last week. That is taking much more time than expected; I did discover that this story does not appear to be in electronic form anywhere.

Five years ago mother became very sick while visiting friends in San Diego. Lisanne and I decided that I should drive down and move her up to UCSF where we could monitor her care carefully. It also seemed like the last chance she and I would have to spend on the coast together & that seemed better than spending time together in a hospital.
She was too sick to do much; a day's activity was pretty much limited to getting from the car to a restaurant for lunch. We had to lean her seat way back because she was too weak to sit upright for long. Still, she got to see some views; we got to chat & reminisce about beaches in Hawaii, the Caribbean, Mexico, and the west coast from BC through Baja.
I knew there was a kite surfing contest at Wadell Creek & with only a minor adjustment to schedule, we were able to pass by during the contest. I expected to stop for a 5, perhaps 10, minutes and move on. Everything about the trip suggested that she was not going to last long -- I was not confident we would get to UCSF. Her voice was flat and dull. There was never any true engagement.
The coast south of Wadell Creek is hilly, but the kites were visable from about 1 mile away. They are amazing. Colorful and moving in a manner that is both liquid and surprising.
All of a sudden mother sat up:
"What is that?"
"Those are the kites I've been telling you about, mother."
"What are they?"
"Lets stop for a minute."

Parking was not easy, but by being a tad rude, I got the car right in the middle of the bluff overlooking the beach, which was full of dazzling kites, not to mention a dazzling assortment of human males and females.

Mother got out and insisted on standing so she could see well for more than 30 minutes. She was struck, as I knew she would be, by the women. Strong. Bold. Fit. Exactly what she had been in her '20s. But then, it was not appreciated. Even when I had been a teenager, she was aware that she had arrived on the planet a bit early.

It turned out to be a great day. She collapsed. Slept well. And, eventually, was able to fly back to the east coast where she lived. Her health remained poor & after a few weeks she was sent back to an ICU. Her partner either was not frank about her condition or did not understand it. So for a few days she was at deaths door & I did not realize it.

She did give me a report later. When she was sent to the hospital she knew they expected her to die, but she did not intend to. For three nights in a row, she would find herself dropping into a dream that was too deep to really be a dream.

[Here it is useful to know that we both had had close calls with death from hypothermia while suffering from serious exhaustion and had discussed the need to force oneself to remain conscious & not give into the cold/sleep many times over the years.]

She explained:
"Blaine, each time I felt myself going too deep, I would see those kites again and remember the people, the beach, the kites against the sky. And then I could wake myself up again, because I knew I needed to see the beach and the kites again. Without them, I'd be dead."
There is much more to this story. How it happened that I did not understand how serious her condition was. Why kites were not enough the last time around. But its still pretty cool. So many of her hopes as a young woman -- world peace, a just society, democracy -- were not realized. But the satisfaction she received by seeing those beautiful kites and a generation of women, a Title IX generation, was profound.