The Cypress Tree

On an island called Chios lived the Greek God Apollo, his beloved Cyparissus, and a stag, adored by all of the inhabitants. Especially by Cyparissus. Cyparissus would care for the stag, adorn his horns with garlands, and they’d ride and gallop across the island in merriment.

One hot day, Cyparissus was hunting in the woods. From afar, Cyparissus saw an animal. Cyparissus took aim with bow and arrow and fired a fatal shot. When Cyparissus approached, the animal was recognized as the beloved stag.

In agonizing mourning, Cyparissus prayed to Apollo that he be permitted to be grief-stricken for eternity. Reluctantly, Apollo agreed, and turned his friend into the cyprus tree, to preside over the mourning of others.

I approach the cyprus in the distance. I can see it, wide branches over the swelling tides. It stands alone, and survey the landscape. I am alone in this endless field, approaching the cliffside. The others may not join me immediately. Because, they won’t let themselves see it in the distance.

What does it all mean?

My grandmother had a stroke on Christmas. She has not been well enough to care for herself for quite awhile. The details have become clearer as the cypress tree was coming into focus. She has not been well for much longer than many of us realized. It was a very closely guarded secret.

It was not for the protection of others, but the denial of one. Her caretaker. When the day comes, and she is gone, her caretaker will have no one left. In a way, she was protecting herself from psychic harm.

My grandmother went back into the hospital on Saturday, the 18th. The doctors determined she has pneumonia and congestive heart failure. On Sunday, the 19th, she had a seizure. Currently, she is in the Neuro Intensive Care Unit. She’s conscious and stable. But, her doctor, who has been treating her for years, had deemed the situation to be grim.

They say she’s turned around today. But, I am not hopeful. Her brain is still hemorrhaging, slowly, but continuously. She has developed aphasia now, although she is aware of her surroundings. But, she is mostly immobile. Congestive heart failure doesn’t just go away. Her body is ailing and her brain is failing. She is shutting down, bit by bit.

And, I walk slowing, a lone soul in my procession toward the cypress tree. Each step feels like the terrain grows larger. I am alone in my acceptance that her days are sadly numbered. I am terribly alone in my grievance, crossing those days off of my calendar. And I am seemingly completely alone in the anxiety of the wait.

I know why. No one is ever ready to lose their mother.

But, I ask, what quality of life does she have? Immobilized, unable to care for her basic needs, and losing more of her brain function with each episode. How happy can she be in that state? Is it fair that many cling to her life so much that they fail to see any of this?

I see it. I mourn her life in such a state. I am troubled by her slow disintegration. And, I clutch Tallulah (my Blackberry), in grave anxiety, awaiting that call. I have gone as far as allowing my phone to remain on ring while I am at work. As far as I am concerned, I am on death watch.

I worry. My grandmother is the last bit of glue that binds this family together. Her children refrain from bickering, for her sake. Her grandchildren are only vaguely aware of each other. And most of the rest are scattering to the four corners.

I worry. About my family – about my mother. She is the glue that binds her family and the very mechanism that keeps it functioning. The woman is much more fragile than can be perceived by her stoic exterior alone. If she falls apart, her family will fall. They depend on her.

And I know. It will fall on me. I will have to find the strength to care for five people, when I am hardly capable for caring for myself.

Can I?

23 thoughts on “The Cypress Tree

  1. I hope you do not allow it to fall all on you, even if you feel you should bear responsibility or the need to carry that weight. It shouldn’t. From what I can tell you’re someone who’s already had to gather lot’s of strength before though.

    My grandmother had a stroke when I was eight. She also had congestive heart failure and eventually died of pneumonia in a state of severe dementia when I was nine. But the grandmother I knew was gone long before then. And for some time, I resented my dad–a very caring one to say the least–but I used to resent him for neglecting us during that time, yet who was/am I to undermine the dedication, love and hopes he had for his mother?

    I just thought I’d share because I know what you must be going through. I experienced it; I know the weight. By the way, this is beautifully written.

    • Thank you. I do appreciate compliments, but I am awkward at taking them. *smile*

      I remember when my grandfather died when I was eleven. He was my father figure. He was very much loved. And it devastated the whole lot of us.

      I remember an adult explaining to me that my grandfather had been battling cancer for ten years. The doctors originally had only given him a couple. In that time, he had a triple bypass. But, he was a brave and strong man. He outlived anyone’s expectations and was the rock of our family. He stood as my father, because my father was not really around. My father was battling mental health issues.

      And I remember them telling me he had lived a good, long, prosperous life. It was just his time. That explanation made sense.

      But, everything and everyone fell apart after that. I was too young. By the time I was 13, I was already symptomatic of bipolar disorder. I’m sure it didn’t help the situation. At the same time, there was no one to help me. In years to come, after I was diagnosed and started making a correlation to events, I did resent my family for letting me fall by the wayside in my worst time of need. Their answer to my outrageous behavior was severe punishments.

      I don’t want anything to fall apart the way it did then. My brother has ASD; he can’t handle that. My father has his own health and psychiatric concerns that need looking after. And I know my mother. The night my grandmother was admitted was the night she was on the phone with me for hours, slurring her words more and more, to the point where I could hardly understand her anymore.

      It should not fall on me, I know. But, if everything falls apart, I don’t know of anyone else qualified to take that helm.

    • Thanks. I’m holding up, better than most others. From the day of her stroke, maybe even the day of her diagnosis of Lewy Body Syndrome, I have accepted this as an inevitability and faced it head on. Others have not, and it’s frustrating being the only one in seemingly premature mourning. But, I can’t understand why I am the only one.

      I talked to my MIL last night who is a geriatric nurse. She has called the recent improvement “the calm before the storm”. I had already figured that out. No one will give me a hard and fast prognosis but MIL. She told me it may be days, weeks, or months. But likely nowhere past that. I didn’t think so, and I was glad someone could confirm it for me.

      I refuse to live in delusions others thrust upon me in their optimism. I have enough delusions on my own. For once, I’d like to be able to see things as they are.

      Again, I’m frustrated. What do others seem to think is going to happen? My cousins on the other side of the states have put up things on Facebook like, “Prayers for my grandma”. What are we praying for? A miraculous recovery? It’s unfeasible.

      I pray that she is comfortable, peaceful, and not in any pain. She doesn’t deserve suffering. Because, this can only end one way.

      • I know, it was a bit off to compliment your writing on a post like this. But this post has inspired me to write about my experience with my grandmother. She was a second mother to me when my mother couldn’t be, and the only grandparent I ever knew really. So yeah, just too many parallels here….

        Again, I’m sorry you and your family are going through this, but I’m glad you’re holding up. What else ca you do, right? Like you said, you “cannot afford to dwell” or “afford to put too much focus on thing” out of your control. Control. That word just struck out at me, reminds in part of what people actually fail to hold when they so desperately try to hold on to a dying elderly relative. They’ve lived their lives. Then i think of the serenity prayer. I’m not a religious person, but that one is a good one.

        My dad has never been a depressive type of man (I always say I got the mental unsteadiness from my mother), but funny because he was beyond delusional, and, if anyone was rock hard and steady at that time, it was her. Again, what else could she do? I think when we’re pushed so, our survival instincts kick in. So yes, think of you first. I guess what I meant by not letting it fall on you (and I’m sure you know this already) is to not take many demands or claims of anyone. I’m someone who has a difficult time saying no and I find that I fail to care for myself first, for my own needs. I only find myself angry afterward. I’m learning to be better at that. And I’ve been accused of being cold or callous, maybe you know what I mean but you and I know that’s not true, not entirely true at least.

        And I think your prayers are very sound, sounder that any prayers can be. They are loving. I never did get what to pray for when people asked to “pray for my grandma” except that they have peace, that they not be scared, etc. And I hope that your mother finds strength in her and that these following days, weeks or however long are as peaceful as can be.

        • It has nothing to do with the compliment itself. I’m just bad at receiving them. *Shrug* LOL.

          Many people have the experience with their grandmother’s as being a second mother. My grandmother wasn’t so much to me. She was actually my grandmother. She never babysat me, but I was always welcome at her house. She adores my son, and was delighted to watch him grow. And she used to tell me stories about other family members. She always loved to tell stories.

          I am not a religious person as much as I am a spiritual person. The serenity prayer is fitting for living our lives. I think of it often. Others are continuing to try to hold to my grandmother. I am ready to let her go, as much as that pains me. You’re right, she has lived her life. Eighty-five years, service to the church and the community, seven children, (six surviving), 7 grandchildren, five great-grandchildren. All of us graduated high school. I graduated college. Three of us married. And the only wedding she was able to attend (because she couldn’t travel) was mine. I was extremely fortunate.

          Amazingly, I get the ability to deal with emergency situations with such a clear head from my father. My father is a war veteran, and emergency situations are his thing. Everyone else crumbles or doesn’t know what to do, but he does. I’m glad for that. My mother is paralysed with fear. And here we go to the rescue. But, when it comes to day to day things, he and I are much the same. It’s difficult to live with a mental health condition in life. But, when there are special circumstances, I guess it comes in handy!

          I also have a difficult time saying no. My family doesn’t make demands. They are most famous for “the guilt trip” tactic. Most of the time, it infuriates me. But, sometimes, I have to cave to it. It’s just the moral thing to do. I have to remind myself that when the day comes, and all of the fallout happens, I cannot go above and beyond. I still have to go to work. I cannot be expected to stay home when my sick days are extremely limited. I know my boss would understand, but I refuse to let everything fall away. In death, everyone’s lives surrounding that person still remain. Some people fail to see that.

          I do hope that I can get there before she passes on. I’ve gotten a prognosis that is unclear. Days, weeks, a few months. Nothing really beyond that. I hope for her sake it doesn’t drag on too long. How many more strokes and seizures will she have to go through?

  2. Luna, I am so sorry your family is in this place right now. I worry especially in the last few months with my mom having a couple surgeries that have wore her down so much. about what I would do if one of them died. I used to help take care of my grandma back years ago, bathe her, clean up her house ect and Once there was a fright, and I am sure she was dying. I was with her all alone. I called 911 and they asked me her address and I had no idea. I wasn’t familiar with the street names and I just couldn’t handle it. But rescue came and she survived that time, but she passed away soon after.I couldn’t even go to her funeral. With our illness, it makes it hard to know how we will handle these kind of things. I think though that when we have to take charge in a situation such as this, our mind kicks in, at least enough to be able to do what we have to do. Again I am sorry your grandma is at that place, and I hope she goes peacefully. I will pray your mom has the strength to hold together as much as can be expected. Hugs

    • My mental health differences have given me one thing that they have failed to give others. In some cases, I am able to see things that others refuse to see. I have delusions, as spoke about in the previous post. And, I’ve had to train myself to see beyond those delusions, illusions, false hope, etc. I need to see the reality. I have. But, I am on my own on this one. Everyone still clings to their hopes. Like I said to PAZ, hopes of what exactly? We pray for what?

      Again, I pray for my grandmother to be comfortable there in the hospital. I pray that she is not scared or in any pain. And most of all, I pray she gets a chance to say goodbye to everyone she loves. I know this is unlikely, since one of her children lives in the southwest and the other is “too busy” to come out to see her. Because, I get the feeling that is what she is waiting for.

      I pray that she goes peacefully, without trauma or coma. And I pray that she finally gets to join my grandfather – something she has been waiting for throughout the last fifteen years.

      • You know that thought comes to me when I get all tore up about not being able to make it if someone dies. What would I really do? I would go numb. I have learned to do that to deal with things I can’t handle and that is how I will handle those things too I think. I prayed that she would go peacefully too. Like you’ve said, at some point you just want them to be done with there suffering. There life has no quality anymore. If you need to talk out any feelings just email me, especially when the time comes. hugs

        • I may have to take you up on that.

          I think what people around me don’t understand is that I understand. They have spouted on to me for years about how the elderly get sick. There’s nothing wrong with that. It is what is supposed to happen once our bodies have degraded so much in our lives. There is nothing tragic about the death of an elder, for they had a long and otherwise healthy, life, rich with love and family.

          And that’s how I’ve always seen it. The only time I am torn is when a youth dies. There is no worse pain for a mother than having to bury her own child.

          But, even after others have said this to me, I don’t feel as if they truly believe it. And I feel bad thinking that my grandmother may be hanging to her last threads for the sake of others. She should be allowed to go.

          And I’m regarded like I am heartless for seeing these things. Her prolonged death march, the suffering, her, in complete control of her consciousness, but now mostly locked in her head. I know that feeling. It is lonely and terrifying.

          I love her. I do. And I love her enough to want her to let go of this life, before she has to go through any more suffering.

        • I am kind of like that as well. I’m not numb. I do tear up. I feel. But, it’s very damp for now. I cannot afford to dwell. I cannot afford to put too much focus on things I cannot control. And when the day comes, I will be prepared. I think that’s all I ever really wanted was to be prepared.

          Maybe I will be, maybe I won’t. I don’t really know, but I have to say, at the very least, it won’t come as a suprise. I have refused to put msyelf in a position where I would be blindsided.

  3. I’m so sorry to hear about your Grandmother. You and your family are in my thoughts. I hope that you can all somehow come together, pull through this and not come undone over it.

    Take care of you. And remember to try to put yourself first because you need to be well enough to be there for anyone else that you want to be there for.


    • I think I’m on pretty solid ground. As I mentioned, I accepted this an inevitability awhile ago. Others spouted, in their darker moments of despair, that this is the inevitability. I can’t stand the shaking of false hope that others have. Does it make me love her any less? No, I think it makes me love her more. She is rather elderly, and she has not been in a good place for awhile. The Lewy Body Syndrome was causing her to have horrific hallucinations and delusions. Apparently, I am the only one who can comprehend her kind of mental suffering. She has been mostly confined to a bed since her stroke. She wasn’t very mobile before that, though. But, now, there is no choice about it.

      These delusions that others have about her state and where this is going have great potential to become infectious. I am suceptible to fall prey to such things, but I refuse. I have seen this for what it is for a long time.

      I have had to put myself first recently, as I have sunk into a depressive state. Not deep depression, but depressio enough. I have always been the best in a crisis situation (thank you, Dad), because everything in my mind shuts off, except what is happening in that moment.

      My brother has ASD. I don’t want him to suffer the ill effects of two parents who are incapable of adequate care. Not like I did. I know he understands what is happening, but he is very shaken by change. I cannot put him in the position of being neglected.

      But, I wouldn’t even know where to start. I have had too much difficulty with my family throughout the years. We don’t have the kind of relationship where I can insist my way in, and act under family obligation. I will be denied every single time.

      What to do?

  4. My thoughts are with you and your family Luna, I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother.
    I’m not sure that there is much that I can say in way of support I’m afraid… too tied up in the events of my own loss, but I can offer advice maybe….just be there for her.

    Say your goodbyes now, while you can,tell her how much you love her, and how much you are going to miss her. Tell her what she means to you, and what her loss will mean to you and your family.
    It probably won’t do your grandmother much good healthwise, but when then end comes, you will know that she died, knowing exactly how much you loved her, and when those dark times come, you will be able to take comfort from that memory.

    I had the chance to do that when my dad died, ( it was still pretty bad, and took me years to get over ), but my mum died before I could get there, and to the day I die, I will regret that, because I had so much I wanted to say to her.

    I dont think your heartless for being a realist, and I join you in your prayers for her, for exactly the same reasons that you have stated.
    A great piece of writing Luna, keep strong, and try not to let it all rest on your shoulders, tough times ahead I’m afraid 😦
    Love n hugs xxx

    • You never need to know if your words are good enough. The words just being there, keeping me company, are more than I could even hope for.

      I want to get over there to see her. My mother plans to go tomorrow, but I will be at work. I don’t want to do it alone. And honestly, I don’t want to do it with other family present. They don’t share the same sentiments as me. I know this is the reason she doesn’t speak as freely as she wants to.

      The last time I went, it was just my husband and I. She couldn’t even speak. She could hardly mumble. But, we exchanged these knowing looks. She knows. I don’t exactly know how she feels about passing on. But, I suspect her spirit is waiting for something. I don’t know.

      I think since my grandmother found out about my mental health disorder, she has been more comfortable. She has always been someone who put a lot of stock into the public opinion, very anxious someone would think poorly of her. Who am I to judge, right?

      I never did. I know what it’s like to be a person with a brain malfunction, hiding from the face of stigma. And I know what it’s like to have the unpopular opinion.

      And more than anything, I want her to know that I know. That I’m with her.

      Day by day.

      • Try to get there Luna, even if it is just to say goodbye.
        Your grandmother will know, and knowing that she knew will be a comfort later when the dark times come,and grief threatens to overwhelm you.

        I can understand why your relatives don’t want her to go, it’s only natural, and because they love her too, but sometimes, like now with your gran, life isn’t life any more, just an existence… it’s hard for some to accept that an existence is no life, and even harder to appreciate how that life must be for her, stuck in an immobile body, not being able to do any of the things that she wants to and used to like doing.

        My gran died after a stroke ( well a big one, followed by a series of smaller ones), but before her congnitive powers were taken completely, she told me that really she had had enough, and that she thought her time was coming. She also said that she wasn’t afraid of ” death ” and the afterlife, just the actual act of passing on itself, and that if anything were to happen to her in hospital, not to resuscitate her….which is exactly what happened.
        It was a hard thing to say and do, but it was what she wanted.
        It took a lot of heart searching to realize that the reason we were hoping that she might pull through and aghast at not resuscitating her wasn’t actually for her, but for us.

        It’s good that your aunt is coming to help, hopefully she and the rest your family will help take some of the strain off your shoulders.
        Good luck Luna, thinking of you
        Love n hugs xxx

        • I’m so grateful that I can talk to you, because you’ve been in my position. I talked to my mother this morning. Apparently, the doctors believe that she has really turned a corner. She may be moved out of ICU in the next couple of days and into the rehabilitation wing.

          What? I’m sorry to be skeptical, but are these people serious? And then they commented that her hemorrhage has slowed down significantly since she was released. WTF?! They released her from the hospital without any mobility and a bleeding brain?! And now, after she’s suffered a massive stroke and a seizure, they’re talking rehabilitation?

          I don’t buy it. It wasn’t a coincidence they hurried her out of the hospital on the very day that her insurance ran out. Here we go again. How many times are we going to have to go through this?

          Now, I’m not saying we should give up, let her waste, wither, and die. But, exactly why is everyone so optimistic about rehabilitating an 85 year-old woman with 40 years of diabetes under her belt, who hardly had any mobility prior to the stroke?

          I know how this ends. You said it yourself. Massive stroke, seizures, little strokes, and eventually organ failure from the brain shutting down.

          It’s upsetting and frustrating. I can’t take my son to the ICU, so I’m going to have to wait until the weekend to visit. At least I can be mostly sure that I’ll get there before anything else happens.

  5. I would like to say something meaningful and helpful, but I have no words. All I can say is that I am truly sorry to hear this.

  6. I’m at loss for words but I pray that your family, especially your mother, be given more strength to face the uncertainties of tomorrow. And may I just add that I love how you delivered this post.

  7. I read this post on my phone last night but could only respond this morning when I got to my computer. I was really struck by how much the weight of others can drag us down. I have battled for a long time being the piggy in the middle and also the rock in my family. It always seems so unfair when we have our own hurt and pain to process, but are somehow also required to keep those around us upright at the same time we feel as if we’re falling down.

    All I know is that some people are good at that, while still surviving and others aren’t [and that not being capable of doing so is nothing to be ashamed about]

    Whether you’re capable of holding it together for others or not, keeping your own head above water is the most important thing…. given if you weren’t there at all, then the situation would be even more dire. I guess it’s important to know what you are able to do and to then draw lines in the sand to stop yourself from being overloaded by the burdens of others.

    • You know, I like the lines in the sand representation. I use it frequently, only because my lines are never really definitive enough to be concrete. They shift here and there depending on the situation.

      I’m not in a mentally good place right now. Not so much because of my grandmother, but just because of being in a depressive state. And, well, being struck with the woman curse wasn’t exactly opportune, LOL. (I only get those once every four months or so). My inability to keep up is creeping up on me, and I’m distractable. So, I keep telling my head to put the things away that aren’t dire today, and focus on what is. Like spending two hours yesterday working on my lesson plans and music curriculum for next year. As far as the reports are coming back in, she’s stable. So, until that changes, or I am able to find time within visiting hours to see her, I have to put it aside. I do have my own life to tend to at the moment.

      You’re right. I can only do what I can do. It wouldn’t be very fair to my own family if I had to take care of other branches of my family. The good news is that one of my other aunt’s flew in, and she’s here now too. She is an extremely maternal type, so I think we can handle this as a group now. It’s not just a handful of us anymore.

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