Updated: Apr 20, 2020
On my mind this morning... How to reach and teach connection when devices can't 'hit the spot'? A friend posted this morning about the feeling of being 'robbed of last touch by covid.' Many of us are contending with this kind of anguish, and neither facetime or skype or a zoom n' google group-hug are going to remedy the feeling that we want something more. More to give, more to receive, more than words can communicate through a screen on a device that can only get us as close to the precipice as a sequence of zeros and ones.
The secret of touch is the next step in the sequence. Zero. One. One AND one. Connected. My arms around you, your arms around me, one and one. When death is imminent and we cannot touch, sometimes only being able to see is even more cruel. Perhaps in part because we cannot unsee. So, again the question: How to reach and teach connection when devices can't 'hit the spot'?
I have a memory of being in calm water with my parents, I must have been a toddler, they were holding me and we were bobbing in gentle ocean waves. I can remember their bodies close to me, holding me safe, their singsong voices, the taste of salt. In my memory palace this leads to a moment with my husband and our daughters, bobbing together in gentle waves, laughter and seaweed, our bodies safe, close for warmth and connection. These moments abide in me so powerfully, and lately (in a house where we all stay 6 feet apart) I find myself pulling these memories around myself as I curl into bed at night, seeking to sleep away the ever-present covid worry.
Some times I feel afraid. Some times when the baseline fear rises fast I can reach inside myself for these memories of being connected. I do not need a device with a screen to show me the sequence of bits and bytes. My central nervous system doesn't need an upgrade to access the code that 'hits the spot'. In the 'spot' in my middle, I have the memory of being held, of holding, of connecting. Time cannot separate me from remembering the goodness that my body has stored away for me to call up or rest in.
If we find ourself experiencing the anguish of trying to convey a life time of love through an online connection with a dying person whether or not they are still conscious, there are ways to navigate the liminal stream and transcend the limits of Zero. One. and to reach for One and One with authentic connection. While this kind of extreme separation from our significant others at death is unthinkable to plan for, I find that what helps me manage anticipatory grieving is to name my fears and think through ways to mitigate foreseen trauma.
One of my fears is that I will waste precious time with words and details and life-shit that doesn't much matter. To address this I thought through what the important things might be for me. Here is the pragmatic advice I am giving myself in advance, in case I have to say goodbye to someone dying of covid over the eff-ing phone:
Choose words wisely.
It's ok not to be ok.
Don't try to fix everything.
Remember (together if they are conscious) holding one another.
Wrap arms around self and squeeze.
While remembering a hug together, sing a favorite song.
About singing: a familiar song will anchor the sense memory of being held. A song offers a way to convey all the emotions without having to find all the words. When we cannot touch, or be in the room, a song offers our dying person a memory to ease their transition. And even while our heart is breaking, a memory of singing together and being held in their love can plant a seed of healing.
If I find myself experiencing the anguish of trying to convey a life time of love through a puny phone and online connection with a dying person who is *not* conscious: I'll sing to them ~ a lullaby, a love song, their favorite rock ballad. Let my song be a river of love. Feel it resonate in my body, let the sound open my memories of holding this person, let my body feel held in their love even as the song comes to an end.
There's all sorts of science to find and read that supports the idea that singing is good for us (at a safe distance), you can google that to learn more. If I am communicating through a device into a death room, I want to send more than words. I want to send my heart on waves of sound. I want to send the blessing of enough into the liminal boundary land to ease my loved one's transition and to honor my grieving. We have so much letting go to do. There will be so much homegoing. And if I find myself with no words, and no song, and no breath, I'll send these thoughts into the silence: I will remember holding you close, my heart forgives and receives forgiveness, thank you, I love you.
I am willing to believe that good memories and singing will help us reduce trauma and navigate unimaginable sorrow. I am willing to be undone, and I am willing to bend again to the work of being mortal.
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