Death / Mindfulness

Archetypes, Mindfulness, and the Aging Process

I embrace the paparazzi archetype, which might have been added since Carl Jung talked about archetypes. But it’s an archetype that I embrace freely, like the Rebel, and the Spiritual Seeker, and the Fool. This Paparazzi archetype has led me to insert myself awkardly into family situations, as I hold out my cell phone and say, “cheese ya’ll.” If you were my Facebook friend you’d see that there’s a good 3,000 photos that I’ve added online, and while my dad recently said “people who take a lot of selfies have been shown to be psychopaths,” I say that I am actually the digital family historian, and you’ll thank me when I’m later (or I’ll murder you and wrap you in plastic and that will stop your bitching.)

In the six months before she died, my grandma protested about my incessant flashbulbing in her face. And my response was, ‘listen, at your funeral you’re going to thank me. Well, maybe YOU won’t thank me, but someone will. Because at hubby’s grandpa’s funeral the photos from the last few years were ones that I took, so pbttttttt,” and I’d stick out my tongue. And she’d laugh, and play along, like the good sport she always was.

And now, in looking through those photos (that I have to narrow to 12, ack!), I was shocked at what I saw.

When did she get so old?

When did her hair go from salt & pepper to mostly salt with a few strands of pepper woven in?

When did she begin to look so tired around the eyes?

Oh my God, I took photos of her but I didn’t really see her until now. And it leaves tears in my eyes.

No, I’m not one of those people who felt like I failed to live in the moment. Because in between photo snapping there was plenty of living in the moment. There was playing Carcassone after Christmas, just the two of us, which she insisted she would be terrible at (and wasn’t), and the all the laughs we’ve shared over the years, from our time in Vegas to goading her into wearing a bathing suit in my parent’s pool. She embraced life. She was my grandma.

But did I really see her.

Or did I see her as I wanted to see her? Did others see her as they wanted to see her? The mirror of love she held up to others and almost disappeared. Because there’s no question that in the past few years of pictures she has aged quite a bit. At Thanksgiving she forgot she had ever made raspberry jello when my sister asked for the recipe. She wasn’t all here, both in mind and in body, but we all wished she was, and so we didn’t notice. Or we noticed and brushed off, because, after all, this was grams, the matriarch, the goddess of the family, and she deserved to be treated and loved like the eternally vibrant 55 year old grandma I remembered.

In so many ways I am the mother my grandma wasn’t. Where she was selfless, I am selfish. Where she poured out, I retain, hoard even, valuing freedom and creativity and independence. Where she was soft and full of encouragement, I am brash and outspoken and prickly at times. And yet, the last thing she said to me was, “you’re a really good mom.” Highest praise from one so dearly loved.

Maybe if I have one tiny regret is the not noticing those micro changes in life in general. How I have only paused briefly to notice the space between my son speaking gibberish and saying full sentences that usually include the word Octonauts. How I saw another forehead wrinkle, but not the space between smooth and slightly creased. How life goes by in sweeping motions and we lament that it happens “too fast,” but really it’s happening slowly. The one more gray hair. The little less springy step. The one more day. One more day. One more day.

She aged overnight in my eyes. And yet, as she laid there in that hospital bed, with the machine pumping air into her lungs, she also looked the youngest I’ve ever seen. I could see the Circle of Life lying there. Her face was smooth and relaxed. Her bald head wrapped in the little gauz bandaged cap so reminiscent of my son’s in the first few days of his life. She was both ancient and newborn all in the space of those minutes. I held her hand and noticed. The rhythmic breathing. The tiny swallow. The warmth of her swollen-from-saline fingers. The strong pulse indicating life. Her sweet pink pedicure. The curve of her shoulder beneath the seafoam hospital gown.

She was my meditation.

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