The Cat and the Pole

“In the middle of chaos lies opportunity.”

Bruce Lee

This last month has been a transformational month for my family. It seems like the the five of us are on unsteady winding road made uncertain with too many boulders in our path. It’s hard to believe that it is now twenty years ago; but twenty years ago my mother-in-law moved in with us. Together the three of us, my mother-in-law(Elaine), my husband(Drew) and I, embarked on the difficult task of finding a house that would house myself, Drew, our two sons(Brendan and Matt) and Elaine. My mother-in-law sold her house and joined us in a house that was too small for all five of us. Our intention was to buy a new house; one with a suite so Elaine could live comfortably and independently from the hustle and bustle of a family with two small rambunctious boys who always seemed to have their hands and their hearts into everything. It took us a year, but we found a house that we liked and the house was favoured by Elaine as well. The downside was that there was no suite, just an unfinished basement that had a lot of potential, but a lot of work to make it a suite. It took us another year to build the suite and while we built the suite, Elaine settled in amongst our bustling family in the main quarters of the house.

Finally, with the suite finished, Elaine moved into her own space and our family navigated the protocols and rules of having a family member living in the basement. The boys couldn’t go down to Elaine’s space whenever they wanted, they needed Elaine’s permission to do so and the same with for Drew and I; we respected Elaine’s privacy. Life settled and we found our groove and it has been a very good twenty years with the boys establishing a good relationship with their grandmother and that bond also leaned into family camping vacations. Elaine camped with us every year and we have quite a few bomb fires and marshmallow roasts stories tucked away in our hearts. She also attended preschool functions, school field trips, school plays and many sporting events as the boys played hockey and lacrosse. Once while picking up my youngest, Matthew, from pre-school, the pre-school teacher said to me, “we hear you keep Nonna in the basement.” Nonna meaning grandmother as Elaine is Italian. The pre-school teacher and I laughed and I said, “we most certainly do!” That phrase “we keep Nonna in the basement” has been a huge joke between all of us over the years. Elaine laughs every time we bring it up. To say we have been blessed with keeping Nonna in the basement is an understatement. The boys have a good relationship with their grandmother and they have experienced many life moments with their grandmother that money can’t buy.

The last several years, I have been feeling a heaviness come over Elaine and that heaviness is a natural occurrence when one can not catch their breath. Years ago Elaine smoked and this mistake has come back to haunt her in the form of COPD. During this Covid mess, we became very protective of Elaine for fear of her getting Covid. We knew this would be especially deadly for her given her health complications associated with COPD. One lacks of oxygen flowing through their body with COPD and there are certain side-effects that are making life rather difficult for Elaine right now, or in her words; extremely frustrating.

My intuition has been telling me that the road that the five of us embarked on twenty years ago was about to show a curve and that curve suddenly appeared during the last week of August. That week Elaine fell in her suite and broke her femur. Here is the kicker; we were home! We were all home, Drew, Brendan and Matt, we were all here. No one heard her crying out, no one knew that she was lying in pain in her suite. We couldn’t hear her, we were all busy taking care of various tasks that come with owning a house. I was out cutting back some bushes in the backyard, Brendan was painting our fence and Drew and Matt were inside taking care of various tasks as well. My mother-in-law lied there for 30 minutes and when we finally called 911, it took another 30 minutes for help to arrive. We were told because of Covid, the ambulance service was absolutely swamped.

All we could do was hold her hand and wait and do the best job we could to calm her. As I was holding her hand, the heaviness that I had been feeling was confirmed in the very moment of her fall. I knew she was struggling and to be quite frank, I was struggling as well. All the heaviness that I had been feeling was her fear and frustration. The empath in me took on all of her emotions and here I was sitting on the floor in her suite, holding her hand, calming her and telling her that everything would be ok, knowing full well that we had come across a very hard curve in the road.

We were both facing our fears; the very fear that had been flowing so heavy throughout the house in the previous months. I feared she would fall and we wouldn’t find her in time and she would pass away in her suite alone and confused. She was facing the fear that things were not right, and had not been right for a while, and now she was facing the curve in the road she so desperately feared. Fear can be a good thing, it can warn you of trouble, it can alert you to life threatening events. At the same time fear can cripple you, it can stop you from moving forward to a better life or a simpler life as fear warns you of all the things that can go wrong or the horrible things associated with change in it’s entirety. Sitting on the floor with Elaine, I realized that the winds of change were blowing through the house and looking into her eyes I could sense the pain she was in but even more prominent was her fear of the energetic shift that was now happening because of her fall; a shift comparable to a stone bouncing across the water and not knowing when the motion will stop or where that stone will sink.

The story of the guru and the cat brings to mind how we fear change and how we can hold on to things, rituals or lifestyles that don’t work for us anymore because we simply fear change and we would rather hold on to the tiniest shreds that represent our old lives than let go and move forward.

“Every evening when the guru sat down to worship, the ashram cat considered himself a welcome participant.  But the cat was there to make friends, and his commotion distracted the worshipers (each of them hoping to reach a heightened meditative state and a feeling of oneness with God).  Resourcefully, the guru ordered that the cat be tethered to a pole–outside the front door–during evening worship. After the guru died, the disciples continued to tie the cat to the pole. This ritual became a habit–the customary routine for everyone at the ashram.

First, tie the cat to the pole, and then proceed into the temple to meditate on God. After several years, the habit hardened into a religious ritual, becoming an integral part of their devotional practice. In time, no one could meditate until the cat was tied to the pole. Then one day the cat dies. Everyone in the ashram is unnerved, because it has become a considerable religious crisis. How is it possible to meditate now, without a cat to tie to a pole?!”

My mother-in-law has been holding on to her independence like her very breath depends on it. She’s been driving when she shouldn’t be as her eyesight is failing and she has been reluctant to go to the doctor even when it was apparent she was having trouble with her leg on the side of her body where she eventually broke her femur. To admit to these changes, and express those fears, is terrifying for Elaine and the fear has in many ways crippled her to a lonely existence in her suite. After surgery and a few weeks in a rehab center, my mother-in-law is now in a care home for respite care.

I met Elaine at the home when they moved her from the rehab center and I could tell she was terrified of the change. I have gathered that one of her biggest fears was being in a care home. Like the guru and his cat, she was used to certain rituals and routines and without those rituals and routines, she is very vulnerable and afraid for what is to come. It’s hard to face our fears and even harder to show vulnerability. We live in a society that dictates we should not show fear or allow ourselves to be vulnerable. The reality is when we show vulnerability we establish relationships and bonds for a lifetime. Vulnerability shows the world your truth and you become transparent and it’s in this truth and transparency that we show our whole selves. Only then is the veil lifted and an energetic shift takes place opening the door for change and change is not about fear, it’s about moving forward. “Change is good,” my mother use to say.

Elaine doesn’t realize this, but by being in a place she feared, a care home, she is getting stronger. The colour of her skin is much brighter and not near as grey looking as her colouring was looking in the last several months. Elaine has been taking advantage of exercise classes, physiotherapy and she is enjoying the food they serve and joining others in the dining room for dinner. Her stubbornness is doing her well in her recovery and she is getting stronger every day. We hold on to lifestyles, rituals and things as if they are our lifeline. Ironically, we don’t need a lifestyle or a ritual to live freely, we just need ourselves.

The other day I was walking across the parking lot into the care home where Elaine is staying and I ran into a resident in the parking lot getting his exercise by taking a walk supported with his walker. It was cold and he was bundled up in warm clothes and he appeared to be in his very late eighties. As I went by him I asked him how he was doing and he stopped and said “I’m good, it’s a beautiful day, I’m walking and today I’m still alive.” No cat tied to the pole, no ritual necessary, just a good brisk walk in the beautiful sunshine and being aware of the depth of God’s gifts that rest right in front of us and knowing that in blind faith only good things can come as we keep moving forward.

Johanne Fraser

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Just taking one step at a time and writing about the simple pleasures that make me smile.

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