Our Lady of Weight Loss

Our Lady of Weight Loss

The Elder Care Blues: WAKING UP ‘DOWN’

There is a borderland state called hypnagogia. It is a place of transition; a space that is rapt with images, symbols and words that captivate the mind as they move you from wakefulness to sleep (referred to as hypnagogic) and, on the other side of the sleep cycle, give rise to wakefulness(known as hypnopompic).

Hypnagogia whispers to you as it gradually, bit by bit, lets go of or barely brushes up against your conscious mind.  It is a process much like sunset and sunrise, which darken and brighten respectively, not in a flash, but slowly and mysteriously over the span of minutes.


I am particularly interested in my hypnopompic waking thoughts, and I have trained my mind to become increasingly aware of them.

These hypnopompic thoughts that drift, hang, and effortlessly glide by, contrast radically from those of ordinary wakefulness.  The sense of self has ‘loosened,’ allowing for an openness, a sensitivity, and a gracefulness to ‘be.’

In this place of ‘being,’ there is only one voice.  The observer, the part that is aware of the thoughts is simply aware.  There is no counter-thought, no judgment of the thought, no critical thinking.  The ‘loosened’ voice is free to give rise to flexible thoughts; thoughts that bend and curve and yield to a heightened state of suggestibility.

My hypnopompic thoughts are sometimes bright and enthusiastic, bursting with energy and sweet talk; coaxing me to rise and shine, to greet the day with joy and happiness.


Sometimes dark, shadowy thoughts arise, threatening to cast gloom on the day as they drape themselves heavy on my chest; a blanket of sadness across my body.

I find that I am equally curious and welcoming to both sides of the ‘hypnopompic divide.’  Truly.

When happy thoughts arise, I do my best to amplify and enhance the joyful energy.  I pack the zip, zing and dynamism into my jet pack, ala George and Jane Jetson.  I borrow a phrase from my father’s beloved nautical dictionary, as well as his voice.  Dad roars, “Full steam ahead.”  I obey, powering my way upward into the day.

The ‘negative’ feelings, the upset, the sadness, dare I say – the deeply depressive thoughts – are explored in a more gingerly fashion.  They have a depth to them, a richness, a bittersweet quality.  I respect and honor these thoughts.  They are my humanness.  They are my guides and my teachers, and ultimately, I am to rise above them.  Once inwardly explored and expressed, my Lucy Lawless – my Xena the Warrior Princess emerges, and again, the upward spiral is in motion, and again, I power my way into the day.


This morning, the dark side solidly rolled into view.  Thoughts of my mother and her current state of mind, which fluctuates wildly from phone call to phone call, from visit to visit, surfaced.   Sometimes we are optimistic; sometimes we are terrified.  Sometimes grateful to be alive; sometimes we want to die.

Our yesterday’s conversation rivaled Mozart’s Requiem, one of the best and saddest pieces of music ever written.  Mom peppered our talk, which primarily focused on the difficulty of her transition with the following phrases:

“People live too long.” 

“It would be better for everyone if I left now.”

“Maybe the cough will turn into pneumonia.”

“Perhaps I’ll toss myself off the balcony.” 


One might say that she is lucky; and that I am lucky by extension.  A walker is better than a wheelchair; the assisted living setting, with all its challenges, is far better than a nursing home.  Amen to that sister, I am right there with you.

Nevertheless, a person is entitled to feel their feelings, and without question, getting not just old but ancient is an extraordinarily difficult journey.

Mom is 95.5 years old, and her passage – like everyone else’s – is a journey of losses.  Sometimes one loss is on the heels of another.  Sometimes the losses are mercifully spaced out, allowing us time to catch our collective breath, readying ourselves for the next ‘happening.’

Mom has experienced a great many losses.  The death of her son (5 years ago), the death of her husband (10 years ago), her home of 31 years gone in one swift fall (the recent move to assisted living); the full use of her body also gone in one swift ‘fall’ – literally (now needing a walker for the shortest of trips – even from the bed to the bathroom).  And her mind, which was the sharpest of them all – sharper than yours or mine – is showing its wear; a bit tattered around the edges.


And so, in my hypnopompic state, where my thoughts and feelings have a bow to them, where I am in a heightened state of suggestibility, I simply note that the blanket of sadness is indeed heavy on my heart, in fact, on much of my body; from my eyes, to my throat, to my chest … on downward.  

I am increasingly aware of the words, phrases and thoughts that are floating through my mind. “…W…e…” passes through. (As above, “we are sad.”)  In that moment, I create a space between my mother and myself; a space filled with compassion and loving-kindness, but nevertheless a space.  I am – and – She is.  

No, I do not need to feel her feelings for her, even if this was the unspoken childhood role that was assigned to me.  The roots may run deep, but I am no longer a child, and I make a choice – I let go.   As I wonder, “to whom do these thoughts belong?”


Many of the thoughts that float before me belong to my mother. I tentatively hand them back to her, further creating a space for me to explore my thoughts and my feelings.

Miraculously, as I further relax my body and my mind, the thoughts and the feelings that accompany them begin to dissipate. The blanket of sadness lifts. And I am once again coaxing myself out of bed with sweet-talk of the day to come.

The weather gods predict an unseasonably warm and sunny day.  The corner fruit vendor has a fresh shipment of grapes and cherries arriving early this morning.  And later in the day, after we visit my mother, Peter and I will venture downtown to see The Descendants, a tear-jerker promises the New York Times.


Spread the word … NOT the icing!

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Martha Gesmundo

    thank you so very much for your thoughtful self inquiry. I know personally what a intense temptation it is to ignore our “darker” moments and as you said they can be our teachers as they are arising from a very real place of our being. Your willingness to give yourself some needed space between yours and your mothers’ thoughts reflects a compassionate and skillful practice. Thanks for your helpful transparency. And double thanks for the puppy quotes. You’re barkin’ up the right tree, she said doggedly.

    • Janice Taylor, Editor

      Hi Martha … so witty … ‘she said doggedly’ :) I have learned to accept the darker moments. They are unavoidable, anyway – so, I figure that I may as well learn from them! Thank you for your kind words and your understanding. xo Janice

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Barbara Salant

    Dear Janice,
    Many, many thanks for your words about the dark side of waking thoughts. I can’t tell you how relevant this is to me. Because of various stresses, I have been waking every morning with exactly the mind set you described. It is good to read that I am not alone and also to get the motivation that tells me I can work on this…I don’t have to be doomed to a bleak way of starting my day.
    With much gratitude,

  • Cheri Garcia

    Hi Janice, thank you for sharing your thoughts on your mother. Our experiences are so similar. My Mom is 95.5, moved into assisted living a little over a year ago; lost her husband in 1999; lost her only son two years later. There’s only Mom and me left in our immediate family. I have learned from Mom that growing old is difficult, but not impossible. God’s blessings for you and your Mom.

    • Janice Taylor, Editor

      Hi Cheri. Imagine that … we are twins; separated at birth. Well, my heart goes out to you and your mom. No mother should know the pain of losing a child; and what a blow to both your mom and mine – at the age of 90 plus. Life is difficult. Great to know you are there … as we all are … supporting each other! Bless you! Janice

  • Betty Springer

    Dear Janice – I hope you enjoyed The Descendants. It’s not all sweetness and light, but George Clooney running in flip flops – priceless.

    Your wisdom about not taking ownership of your mother’s sadness is . . . wise. I’ve always absorbed the feelings of those around me and tried mightily to make my parents’ lives – especially in their declining years perfect. Many times I had to remind myself that it was not my job to do so, that only God can do that enormous job. Whew!

    Blessings to you and your Mom, from someone who has been there and come out on the other side relatively intact.

    • Janice Taylor, Editor

      Thank you, Betty! So very true. I can only do my absolute best to support my mother and then it’s up to her and God, as you say. And holy guacamole, it is an enormous job! As for the Descendants – I loved it. George Clooney was fabulous as were both his daughters. I am a fan of Shailene Woodley. She stars in The Secret Life of the American Teen, and I seriously don’t know why this Boomer (me) loves teen shows, but I do. Vicarious thrill maybe!!! xo Take care. Janice

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Patti Iverson

    Thanks dear one! Very very needed…A day for cherries indeed! One might say a Cherry kinda day!

    • Janice Taylor, Editor

      Cherries!!! I just love them when they are juicy and sweet. And I love the scene in The Three Witches of Eastwich, when they spit ’em out … did you see it? Truly horrifying! :) xoxo Love you Patti.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Susan

    Janice, this is magnificent. It is a small masterpiece, so true, so real and it so expresses things that are hard to express and even hard to pay attention to. This is the place where we rest before deciding to lift ourselves up or plummet into something bad. Beautiful. Thank you. I am posting it now….and I want to talk to you about something on that subject, so call back. :) Big open arms full of love for you. XOXO Cuz’n

    • Janice Taylor, Editor

      Hi Susan, Talk to you later, love. xoxo

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Tena

    Hi Janice. This post really fit me today. My mom is 77 and lives with me. Daily I see how age chips away at us and somedays it makes me sad. But somedays it makes me live more fully!

    I hope your visit goes well and you find the sweetest cherries!

    • Janice Taylor, Editor

      Thank you, Tena, for your sweet cherry wishes and for sharing your story with me. It’s really something, ain’t it? I, too, am finding that I am making the most of the time in between visits – living it ‘up’ – and exercising more – doing my best to create a body that will last the full journey. xo Janice

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Nancy

    I am so grateful for your post. My dad is 85 and my mom died 8 yrs ago. It is so sad to watch his physical decline and hear his comments – “Why am I still here?”

    I love my dad and have tried very hard to make him happy. I know it is impossible but I find it so difficult to let go and turn it over to God. Your comments about not taking ownership of your mom’s feelings struck home. I need to learn to do the same. What an amazing thought…I can still be happy in the middle of my dad’s sadness.

    Blessings to you and your family!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Barbara Salant

    Hi Janice,
    I didn’t see your response to my comment on Waking Up Down on your blog. Can you send it to me?

    Many thanks,

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