It’s customary to deliver a eulogy when someone dies. Though the word generally means “praise”, in the most literal sense it translates from the Greek as “good word”. Sharing my understanding of my mother’s life and the part she played in her little corner of the world stage is itself a “good word”, so I will offer this blog and the next as a kind of eulogy.
Everyone asks about how my mother died—not how she lived. Her death was easy. Death is easy. It is life that is so difficult. We have choices with each. Her life was long. Her death was swift. Her life was full of pleasure, but it was far from pleasant. It was full of fight and defiance to the end. She was active, and no one saw her leaving anytime soon, but she surprised everyone. Although she persisted in being combative and full of energy, her death was inevitable and quiet. Only in the last moment of life did her body relax.
My mother’s nickname among the caregiving staff at her assisted living facility was Anastasia. The nickname was their gently mocking acknowledgement of her colossal sense of entitlement. She loved being called Anastasia, because she saw herself as royalty.
Smiling and lively with people she hardly knew—or with men—she would tell people she loved life. She would say she wanted to have fun, to be active, and to go places. But she was always complaining of being bored, having nothing to do. I called her every day for the last decade of her life and always heard that same lament. Rarely was there any contentment.
Nevertheless, my mother thought of herself to the end as young and beautiful. She was the most beautiful woman in the room. She was the most fun. The most attractive. The most independent. The most free. And the most thin. And yet she required so much care. Because of her own idea of herself as a completely independent person, she had no appreciation for her dedicated caregivers. She was consistent and never strayed from the course. To the very end she complained. Complained of quiet. Complained when she felt she was forced to do something she did not want to, like allowing herself to be cleaned.
She identified as a victim so she could be entitled. She had to make others into tyrants so she could be deserving. She believed no one ever did anything for her, so she never acknowledged others’ care. She never felt any need to say thank you.
But “Anastasia” was also a term of endearment. Just as my mother’s caregivers named her after a princess, in their own minds they transmuted her vices into virtues. They saw her as alive and the residents who were compliant as dead. With my mother, at least they were never bored.
They described her as expressive, unique, colorful, eccentric, strong-willed, willing to say what was on her mind, free. People thought her anger meant she was her own person. But as I listened and they grew more comfortable, I heard my mother described as crass, aggressive, mean, cruel, combative, having no filter. Her weapons were depression, lashing out, insults, and disdain.
The shrunken self mistakes getting what it wants for the good life. When everyone agrees and indulges that desire, we have made a tyrant. Others both envy that individual and enable it. My mother’s mantra was “I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it. Why do I have to do what others want me to do?”
Through those eyes, she judged everyone. In July for her birthday, as we did every year, we spent time with my mother. One afternoon we sat outside her assisted living facility and she spoke about her life. She couldn’t recall having any friends. She told mostly scornful stories of her parents and of the men she had known. Men were of two kinds: strong or weak. Women were of two kinds: warm or cold. She had always conveyed that she considered me cold. She believed that she knew how the world really is. She thought of herself as wise.
So my mother was not going to learn from the world. She defiantly maintained her worldview and refused to grow. She knew the world was about pleasure. She lived out the Seven Deadly Sins—sloth, envy, pride, gluttony, avarice, wrath, and lust—and thought they were worldly ideals, the good life.
|Slothful||Productive / hardworking|
|Completely free||Burdened / exhausted|
|Prideful / vain||Humble|
|Great self-worth / great identity||Anonymous / self-loathing|
|Envious||Satisfied / at ease|
|Motivated / ambitious||Inert / no passion /boring|
|Wrathful||At peace / accepting|
|Just / right||Doormat / compliant|
|Gluttonous||Ascetic / disciplined|
|Full of Life / lively / enjoying||Starving / self-mortifying|
|Passionate||Cold / frigid|
Life in the body is life in the world. We cannot escape the world. From the standpoint of the Yoga Sūtras the world is here for our experience and liberation. We are always having experiences; it is how we understand them and what we do with them that will decide whether we will just continue to experience or whether we are moving towards liberation. We all experience; what we call our experiences is so important.
If we are not clearsighted but instead color our experiences with wrong understanding, then we will keep going further down the road away from liberation—the road my mother chose and modeled. Let her serve as a cautionary example for all of us.
Share this Post