Tony Hillerman, Psychics, and Dementia
Tony Hillerman wrote wonderful mystery novels set in and around the Navajo reservations. I remember discovering them around the same time I discovered Native American flute music, and listening to it while reading Hillerman put me right there inside the book. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been interested in spirituality and spirits and ghosts and all things unseen and unknowable. I was particularly interested in Hillerman’s account of the Navajo attitude regarding death, ghosts or spirits, and the afterlife. What I remember most is that when someone dies, family or friends knock a hole in the back of that person’s home in order to let the bad spirit(s) out. They believe that at death all that is good in that person travels forward to the desired afterlife, shedding all the bad parts and leaving them behind. If one encounters a loved one’s ghost, it can only bring harm, because it is made up of all the unpleasant or even nasty parts of that person’s personality that were left behind.
I occasionally visit local psychics, card readers, intuitives – whatever they might call themselves – for readings. (Not the ones at dedicated storefronts with big neon hands on display – those are generally the ones that try to convince you of a curse and sell you an egg to put under your pillow to draw away the evil or somesuch – but that’s another blog post entirely.) I take my notebook and write everything down. The few times that I remember actual predictions having been made or hinted at, nothing has come to pass, but they’ve still been entertaining. Most often, the readings are more empathic, emotional insight kinda stuff, a sort of oral, mental Rörschach that I use to gauge my mental/emotional/spiritual inner status.
In December, I visited Madelyn, a reader/medium at Celestial Circle in Palm Harbor, and while we touched on several things, the one most related to this post was about Mom. She talked about Mom spending a lot of time in the spirit world, drawing strength for a new journey. Now, Mom sleeps a lot. She goes to bed at 8:30 or 9:00 every night. If she’s going to the Senior Center, she sets her alarm to get up at 6:00 am, but if not, she is likely to sleep in until, oh, 8:30 or 9:00 – a solid twelve hours’ sleep. Plus she naps on and off throughout the day when she’s at home. That’s a lot of sleeping.
Talking with Madelyn got me thinking about the stories I’ve read from other caregivers who talk about how their loved one’s personality changes, generally for the worst, the farther the slide into dementia. Kind, loving people become hateful and mean to those who are closest to them, the caregivers trying to make them comfortable and happy. And that got me thinking about Tony Hillerman’s stories and how the Diné view death and spirits. And that got me wondering if people with dementia are maybe already spending a lot of their time “on the other side” in a very long transition process, since their synaptic connections are deteriorating more quickly than the rest of their bodies. And maybe when they’re visiting, all that’s left behind to interact on the physical plane are the yucky parts that will eventually be left completely behind.
With Mom, even if she may be visiting the other side while she’s sleeping, when she’s awake, she’s still all here, because she is still the sweetest, most loving person I’ve ever known. But I think it’s a very interesting idea. Maybe I’ll ask her to tell me about some of her dreams sometime.