It took me a few days to write this. I wanted to publish it before the New Year.
It’s Christmas Eve 2017 and I find myself now to be at a point where I can sit down, write this out and to share it.
On October 28th, my mother Rose Marie (Rosemary) died after suffering a massive brain hemorrhage ten days prior. When her injury occurred, it was the request of the second oldest sibling, whom my mother lived with, to the third oldest sibling (I’m the youngest) that “the boys (myself and my two nephews) not be told until after Mom dies.” Bully on the third oldest for bucking the request, she called her son, who then called me right as I was with my other nephew Robert at Keys View, the highest point in Joshua Tree National Park, one of the rare spots where cellphone service is accessible in JTNP. It was still a 2.5 hour drive out of JTNP before I had service and was told the details in yet another phone call that was the beginning of a series awkward conversations with people I have not spoken with in years.
I have been estranged from my three older siblings for many years now, each one dropping off or shunning me, however you want to look at it. I understand, it always takes two to tango.
Let me put it this way…my parents divorced when I was 18 months old. I never knew my father; Mom was the only parent I knew. My siblings at 7, 6, & 4 years older than I, all had the awareness of the father in the house and their lives. I recall as alittle guy (4, 5, 6 y. o.) they would form a ‘us vs. Mom’ mentality. Some heist or mischief would occur, we would get snagged in mother dragnet and when the questioning would begin, if she asked me a question, I would honestly answer it, tell her the truth as to what was going on. I can see how my siblings probably didn’t groove on me always speaking the truth. Oh yes, as I aged, there were times where I did not tell a whole truth, but I never lied to her. I carried it into adulthood, I always spoke the truth with her. Which brings up another thing…l always spoke with Mom, never to her.
Let’s get cosmic.
My astrology shows I was born to be my mother’s strength. In the mid 1980’s at the request of some friends I met while I was hitch-hiking through Idaho, I met with an astrologer in Salt Lake City. She refused any form of payment for the drawing up and reading of my chart. She made a recording as she read my chart so I would have so I would have a tape of the session to listen to later. It seemed excitingly odd, peculiar and reassuring that a complete stranger would have almost a complete insight into my life based on the exact time and coordinates of my birth and how that fit into the universal map at that time. Mom always said that my health issues at the time of my birth distracted her from the chaos of the divorce and gave her a focal point.
When my hitch-hiking brought me back to Mom’s house a few months after meeting with the astrologer, I asked Mom to listen to the tapes of the session with me. She was hesitant at first, but gave in, more to pacify, than with an interest, smiled and said “What sort of mumbo jumbo am I about to listen to?” I pressed play, and the astrologer began with “Joseph, you were born to be your mother’s strength and the reason for that is…” and I watched as Mom’s face changed as she was drawn in to the words that were being spoken on the tape. The astrologer spoke of what my chart indicated; what it meant, not good, nor bad, just what; she spoke of family situations no one outside of family knew; she spoke of what this indicated in a certain aspect of universal flow and then she revealed the nature of my life’s mission. My mother and I were in a cascade of emotions, undoubtedly feeling the same, and were a blubbering mass of tears, and we decided we heard enough. I have listened to these two tapes a couple of times since, always very emotional, always hearing something new.
My mother taught me many things that make me the man I am today, most are my character attributes, some, my defects; but these provide me self-examination, the opportunity to change and grow. She taught me how to shake a hand, she taught me about values and ethics, about principle, integrity, respect, she nurtured the confidence in me to speak truth. By example, she and her father laid the ground work for not just my political ideology, but my life’s philosophy. She taught me to look at the other side of things and not to accept the first line I was fed. She had a quick wit and a sharp tongue. Her laughter! and that smiling face! Ohhh, but that stern, angry face. My actions at various stages of my childhood, my teen years and a couple in early adulthood had that face looking back at me often.
She once bitterly confessed to me as a teen: “You have the mannerisms of your father and the rhetoric of mine!” Oh boy. I knew I was kinda screwed. I didn’t know what I was doing…but I tried to mellow it out.
Our relationship did wane at times, usually when I was engaged in some sort fuckery or tom-foolery, yet she always forgave. With her forgiveness, I was more steadfast to change my behavior to not have to make this sort of amend again.
We spent hours in conversation and debate about philosophy, theology, politics, current events, life. During my youth, she would take my siblings on I to theatre, to art museums, museums and cultural events usually on little to no money. As the youngest, Mom and I did these things together as the older siblings let home. Even into adulthood, she and I would attend events when I visited, particularly when she moved to Virginia. On one of our last trips into the District, I convinced her to just sit in a wheelchair so I could push her through the National Gallery of Art.
She would always quote lines from Shakespeare or famous speeches in history when driving home her lesson, often delivered with a sharp, biting tongue.
I always called so I talk with her, sometimes multiple times a week. Even during some of my darkest days of addiction, I would call and unload a burden that was probably too much for her to bear, but she weathered through it. In early recovery, barely out of the trenches two or three months, we’re talking and she said me “You know, I was reading up on crystal meth addiction…” and I looked at her with a stunned, amazement as remorse welled up tears of emotion as I realized here she is at 68 years old educating herself on what my current struggle was.
It was in this exact moment that I vowed to self that I would amend my ways with her. Over the course of the next few years, as I gained more insight as I recovered from active addiction, I would recall to her certain ways in how I had harmed her with my words, deeds or actions and apologize whole heartedly; I began to recall moments of childhood where she had sacrificed so my siblings and I would have a better life, and I thanked her for that; I would recall moments when I observed her, in awe of her compassion, her love and her generous spirit and I would share how I observed what she did, how it effected the people she was interacting with, and how it made me feel. We were in engaged in one of these sessions, and I felt the energy waning, in the sense that I had made peace with her. We cried, we hugged and when we parted from our embrace, she looked my in the eyes and “You’ve made up for them all. The other three have never said these things to me, Joseph”
The biggest divide between my mother and I was sexual orientation: nature vs. nurture. Her strong religious convictions would not allow her to fully accept who I am. She took the same stance as the head of her religion: We accept you, but you can’t get married, you must abstain from your sexual practices, and pray for forgiveness of this sin. You see however, because of what she taught me, I respected her for it.
I can’t remember the exact year, but I know it was before her memory issues really started 8-9 years ago. One of the greatest conversations I had with my mom was about death. Hers. From one youngest child to another. She talked about how her siblings acted when her parents died and what a nightmare it was dealing with all the BS that older siblings pull. I mentioned her father’s wake where my aunt flung herself on top of Grandpa’s body in the casket, wailing, creating a TOTAL scene and I remember thinking “wow!” She agreed. She spoke of other applicable family matters, her the youngest of four as well.. She gave me her blessing to not have to attend her funeral if a sibling, the one who did, pulled shit. I chuckled and sternly jokingly said “Mom!” and she repeated it again with a little more clarity.
Over the last few years, phone conversations with Mom became quick, short; almost rehearsed, scripted. When it got to a certain point, about 3- 5 minutes in, it would be the “I love you” and then goodbye. I knew the memory issues were there.
In early October, my nephew Robert, whom I have not spent much time with in his life, came for a visit as he traveled to the West Coast from the town I lived in as a teenager. We were planning a trip up into the high desert to spend time in the wilderness of the southern Mojave Desert, then into Joshua Tree National Park. Oct. 16th, the day before we left, I told nephew: “Let’s call Gramma. Say hello. Tell her what’s going on, what we’re doing…you know, just in case anything happens.” I called her, got her on the line said a quick hello then said ‘Hey! There is someone here that wants to talk with you.’ I handed the phone to the nephew who put the phone to his ear and said “Hello Gramma” and I watched as his face changed into that of a joyful smiling little boy as he spoke with Gramma Rose.
After a time the phone came back to me and I engaged in one of the most lucid conversations I have had with Mom in years. She was alert, engaging, questioning. She asked questions without interrogation, but with imagination, which caused me to pause, think and reconsider safety, logistics, survival…and she had never traveled into a desert wilderness with me. We shared conversation with each other for almost ten minutes.
“It’s good that Robert is with you right now. I’m happy about that.” she said, startling me some, but as I thought about the last few weeks getting to know my nephew, I responded: “I’m happy about that too, Mom.”
We said our “I love you” she bid me safe travels and fun. Not realizing it then, but for the last time I began telling her how much I loved her, what she meant to me, all that she taught me and how grateful I was for her. This popped off a bubble of emotion and we both were quickly, crying and she chuckled a little and said: “oh, kid, you just don’t stop”
As the ten days unfolded before my mother’s death, it was requested that no one call or travel to second eldest’s home that she shared with my mom for the last 17 years and now, where my mom lay dying in hospice.. All messages were to be funneled though the third eldest sibling, in both directions. We could request times to have a phone held to mom’s ear, but were told they would be confirmed or denied at the second oldest’s siblings discretion and must align with her schedule. I had never experienced such coldness and rigidity.
I began to unravel. I could barely handle dealing with being in conversations with these folks, let alone the conversations we were having. I lost patience and found myself standing on ABSOLUTE principle; with this SHARP CUTTING tongue…I was acting like my mother as I addressed the ridiculousness of the two siblings
I had this vein of anger in me, that I could plug any issue into and stand on anger. I had a total sense of false pride about it. I knew it was consuming me, that some issues really trigger it and I knew I had to address it. I told myself I didn’t know how to let it go, when in actuality, I didn’t want to let it go.
The day that I sent the message that I would not be attending the funeral, I was out on a bike ride and I heard Mom’s voice speak to me for the first time since her death. I was so overcome with emotion that I had to stop riding because I could not see through my tears. The conversation was light hearted, joyful and she let me know she was with me as she commented on the beauty of the mountains and where I was riding. I know for certain she had never been to the Coachella Valley and in all honesty, I thought it was just my brain playing tricks on me to ease the anxiety.
When I got home from my bike ride, I received a message from the third oldest sibling stating that all the information I was previously given about my mother’s burial had now changed, and that they would not be burying her in the cemetery of her ancestry, but in a cemetery 38 miles to the north, in a town the family has had no connection to, ever.
That night I experienced the most anxious feelings of my entire life, and I mean that. I mean my ENTIRE life: all the physical and sexual assaults, the addiction, the arrests, the jail time, losing the business, the homelessness, the hopelessness, the uncertain of recovery, the anxiety and panic I was experiencing at this time was greater than the sum of ALL of it. I felt like I couldn’t go on, I couldn’t sit, stand, lay down, I couldn’t find comfort in anything, it was the worst. Six and a half hours of it. Thinking I was having some emotional response to announcing I wouldn’t attend her funeral, I said out loud “Oh god. What have I done?” and I heard her voice again and she said: “Ohh, Joey. It’s not you” and I realized I was still tapped into her emotion and what I was feeling wasn’t part of me. A moment of clarity came to me, so I centered, focused and trying to sound as calm as I could be, I said out loud: “Mom. I love you very much. You have done a wonderful job as a parent, but there is no point in hanging around here anymore. Go to light. Just go to the light, Mom. You are in the hands of God. Do not fear. Just go. Leave. Please Mom. Your time on Earth is done, Go to the next plane. Go.”
I was wrecked by a greater emotion that I just asked my mom to leave this realm; I collapsed onto my bed and sobbed. I was exhausted, drained, the energy that had me “crackling” for the last 6.5 hours seemed gone. I rolled over to look at the clock. It was 4:30 am, I rolled back on the pillow and the next thing I knew I was waking up and it was 7:30am.
My friend Josh G. arrived from MN later that day, he swooped in and did what Mom used to do for families in mourning: brought a meal in, fed the mourning, cleaned the kitchen, just took care of everything, radiated them with love.
I am a very visual person and I look to the sky for solace in every sunrise, sunset and the moments in between. The ten days as Mom lay dying in hospice and the day of her death, it was desert skies as usual, clear, blue, no moisture, no clouds.
The next day Josh and I took a road-trip to the Salton Sea, we traveled along the eastern shore to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, west of Estelle, with stops in Mecca, Bombay Beach, Niland and at Salvation Mountain, Slab City, and East Jesus.
It was late in the day as we arrived at the wildlife refuge and we started a hike to an outcrop of land at the northwest corner of the refuge. There were some clouds moving in and the sun was just starting to wane in the western sky. The clouds were beginning to change shape and color and I began to capture the early stages of the sunset. Over the course of 54 minutes, I shot 105 photographs of the various stages of the setting sun as we walked back to the car. The next morning, I began to look through what I shot the previous day and I looked through the thumbnails of the sunset images. Some of the fiery ones at the end looked impressive, but one stood out from them all. It wasn’t too fiery, it had a nice feel to it. So I opened it up to get a better look at it:
I honesty could not believe what I saw. I went outside to Josh and Robert and asked one of them to go inside and describe what they saw in the photograph on my screen. Josh went in, looked at my computer screen for a few seconds and said loudly “D’aaawww! But it’s happy! ” I wasn’t looking to assign it an emotion, I just wanted to know that another person could see what I was seeing there in the upper left third of the image: eight puffs of cloud that resemble a stick figure with two feet and hands out stretched.
The next day Josh, Robert and I went up to Joshua Tree National Park. Josh and Robert went off to scale some rocks and I wandered about taking some photographs. I was hiking between the range Robert and Josh were scaling to the north and smaller rock wall to the south. I walked further along to the last outcropping of the rock wall, which opened up to a boulder field, then across a valley filled with monoliths of rock, Joshua Trees, then to mountains in the background. I removed all electronics from my person, watch, phone, cameras, lenses and gear, car keys, I put it all in the camera bag, laid that on the ground and continued walking for a few yards… I don’t know there was just something about this spot. I looked around and there was a rock, about three feet tall, 40 in x 24 in or so, slightly taller to the back, out in front of two larger rocks to the back. I sat on the rock and with it’s angle was able to sit in perfect lotus naturally, so I began meditation.
With everything that occurred in the 15 days prior, it was amazing how quickly I was able to quiet and still my mind, center my being, allow myself to just: Feel one. Feel connected. Feel part of the absolute silence and vast openness. Feel comfort. Feel peace.
Then I heard my mother’s voice begin to speak as she delivered her final lesson to me. With each point she made, with every pause she took to allow me to grasp and comprehend what she was saying, a light wind would blow, caress my face, then lightly whistle in my ears. I sat in silence for a while longer, then I came out of my mediation opened my eyes and I knew immediate I was changed man. I wasn’t even sure what or how, but I knew and felt that something had shifted inside of me.
The view of my meditation spot in JTNP:
Josh and Robert had finished their climbing excursion and had come over to where I was just gathering up my camera bag, We hiked back to the car and continued our JTNP tour and headed back into the Coachella Valley.
On the day of the funeral, my nephew and I took the tram ride up to Mt. San Jacinto State Park to spend time looking up, looking out and feeling the glorious magnitude that is a mountain top. Robert went off following his bliss climbing and I followed mine with my camera. Hours later we met back at Mountain Station and took the tram down to the valley floor.
I haven’t heard Mom’s voice since the day up in JTNP, but I feel her presence, her spirit and it comes from a place of total bliss, complete joy and happiness, absolute love…truly: Peace, Love and Light. I somewhat chuckle, through tears as I write this, because I realize I am saying these three words more in the last 58 days than ever before in my life. During a meditation, she came to me, unspoken in such a blaze of bright white light, the colors of the spectrum erupting around her! It was so intense that I had to turn away and as I did I came right up out of the meditation, goose bumped, chilled, then warm, numb. I sat there, thinking: what did I just see?
The most significant internal shift and change within me is the vein of anger I once had, is gone. It’s as if it has been removed, just taken away from me, gone. I have noticed however, certain things can fed it, and cause it grow. I cannot afford to have any toxicity in my life, so I am careful to not engage in situations that may cause me to lose site of this.