Monday, 10 September 2012
Listening, Loving and Telepathy
In April of 1975, I had a summer job at a tiny jewellery shop in Montreal. One Friday, I reluctantly left our house to open the shop - my Dad was dying in the hospital and that day, I found it hard to gather the energy to speak to strangers about rings and necklaces. Dad had been disabled by several strokes for a couple of years, but now he lay in a coma - felled by a recent and final catastrophic brain aneurism.
Anyway, that day, just after lunch, I was suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of dread and anxiety. I had to close the shop and go to my father. I was a young girl who was responsible, obedient and utterly unused to the sort of decision-making that would lead me to close someone else's business on a whim. I was hurriedly closing the cash register when a young man entered the shop, the sunlight streaming in the door behind him. "I'm sorry, I have to close the shop now", I said, "The shop is closed." He began to make enquiries and when I quickly explained, he offered gently, "My father recently passed away at the same the hospital. I will drive you there now, I'm happy to help."
I sat with my Dad that afternoon, watching my Dad's chest rising and falling in time with the black accordion inside the respirator machine by his bedside. From time to time, the breathing would pause and a light labelled 'sigh' would blink. I sighed too. I talked to my Dad that day, telling him about the young man who drove me to the hospital that day and about my hopes and dreams as well as the minutiae of my everyday life.
Later that day at home, the phone rang. It was my mother calling from the hospital. She was crying, asking "Why didn't you tell me?" "Why didn't I tell you what?" I asked her. "Dad has twenty minutes to live and you were just here, why didn't you tell me?" But I hadn't known that my father would die that day.
I have often thought of these events in the many years that have passed since they occurred. Was the young man who drove me to the hospital some kind of an angel? Did my sense of foreboding that impelled me to close the shop mean that I felt a kind of extra-sensory connection to my Dad that day? Did Dad 'tell' me to come so that I could say goodbye?
Sometimes people we love talk to us in silent ways, if we are lucky, and if we are listening. When my son Nicholas was little, he frequently woke crying. Sometimes he would need repositioning or other attention as often as every twenty minutes. I remember that sometimes, I would wake on my own, in a quiet house. I would tense because I knew that Nick would sense my wakefulness and call out to me. How I longed to be left alone in the quiet to go back to sleep! But I felt that some string with paper cups for listening connected our rooms and he would KNOW that I was awake. He always knew.
Now that Nicholas is living away from home for the first time, I find myself worrying that I might not know if he needs help. Is the listening line somehow broken? Maybe it is, a little. The last few times that he had a crisis, I confess that I didn't sense anything wrong. The urgent calls took me be surprise.
The state of acute listening that caregivers employ can be called telepathy. It can be called listening by the total self or deep connectedness to another. Whatever you want to name it, that cord of unspoken communication is the very core of intimacy. Not very many people ever experience it - but caregivers often do.