Here Be Monsters 2.0

“Here Be Monsters.”

This was a phrase used by map makers long ago to depict uncharted waters where ships were known to have entered but mysteriously disappeared. They never returned to their home port so were listed as “Lost at Sea”.

Yesterday, the photo of the spectacular show called, “Walking with Dinosaurs” was attached to this phrase. The world of those ancient monsters that so beguile and beckon children and adults alike to re-imagine the world and the universe.  They are our ancestors, we are told. We are amazed. We are terrified. We are proud. We clap when we see them recreated as if they might hear our applause and take a courtesy bow. Kids in the darkened, cavernous sports arena waved sparkling pin wheels to celebrate the monsters in their midst.

Today, talk of monsters again. But, there will be no clapping. No re-imagining. No comet kills this monster with a spectacular Big Bang and spectral light show. Death comes slowly, inch by inch, day after day, week after week, month by month, and year after year and with a clenched jaw. All one can do is bear witness and hope your own life and death takes another route.

This photo is of the same woman I have shown before in better days, The Compact, and in our final days as mother and daughter, Stayin’ Alive.

If Stayin’ Alive represented our final days together, this image reflects the 14 years that proceeded it.

The monster?

They called it many names. Depression. Dementia. No Doctor or consulting medical professional ever really called it by one thing. They treated the behaviors only: depression, hopelessness, abusiveness, combativeness, hallucinations, as best they could. But, it lived within and it resisted these treatments, even mocked them.

Amidst the tangled neurons of our brains, there be monsters that chew up reason and common sense and spit it out in contempt. What it also demolishes in its rampage are any traces of love they may have once had for this world or the people in it.

This was not Alzheimer’s. Nor was this a gradual fade into passivity, frailty and fog that breaks hearts in other ways.

It was a failure of whatever it is that makes us human and animals, the hard-wiring of love. The experts were not so expert when it came to this.

These synapses fail at the time this bond is needed the most. The terror is not in the sounds of illness, but in the silence. The silence that is filled with rage– ruminating, fuming, posturing, readying itself rage for another battle without victory.

This monster, in the end, consumes all human bonds. When death comes, it is not proud. It is not healing. Nor, is it even a relief or peaceful. It refuses drops of water, touches of the hand. It is alone, despite a bed surrounded. It clenches a jaw tight, grinding on as if steeling itself for the journey ahead.

Here be Monsters, indeed.

How fanciful that phrase is and how romantic the sound of lost at sea.

One thing is sure: They be poets who created these phrases–not the passengers on the doomed ships.

If this monster is in your midst in 2008, take a deep breath.   Pick up your camera or whatever your creative “pinwheel” is and tell the truth-paint it, photograph it, write it, sculpt it, perform it.

Wave it all around, side to side, like a benediction in the darkened world that envelops you and them.

From a distance, it may look to others like you are waving not drowning–but, up close?

This creative act is your life jacket.

©Pat Coakley 2008


9 comments on “Here Be Monsters 2.0”

  1. Ah, Pat- it’s the waving or drowning again isn’t it?
    Your photo moves me and your words make me want to read more and stop reading too.
    The rules – we make them as we go along since nothing prepares us for the darkness of days that ultimately we will all have.

    Stayin’ alive. So much better than being the subject of our own obituary.
    Any way we can.

  2. Someone once said, “old age isn’t for wimps”.

    I was in the doctors a year ago and I told him that I had a recurring pain in the palm of my hand near my thumb. He checked it out and then said casually, it’s probably arthritis.


    “That’s something that old people get!”

    “I’m not old!”

    Yep, we all get old and it now seems strange to me that as a child I wanted so much to be older…… quickly.
    I just couldn’t wait.

    Now time is passing so fast, I wish it would slow down.

    All this contemplation of our mortality and impending frailty helps me appreciate what’s left of my life even more. While I’m still relatively healthy, each day comes as a blessing and is cherished.

  3. How beautiful pat. Interesting and inspirational way to look at it.

  4. I am watching this happen with my aunt. It’s been a long slide down for her, and so hard for my mom, my sister and me. What a powerful photo, Pat. Monsters, indeed.


  5. This is a particularly poignant post to read, as I can identify with your situation. I agree that it’s a curse and a blessing. The curse part comes in where the losing of faculties and, perhaps, dignity, is a prolonged process. It’s so difficult to cope. There’s always that question, what NEXT?
    Then there’s the blessing part: where we are lucky enough to have that extra time with someone before they pass away. Sudden deaths don’t give us that opportunity.
    I like the way that your mother’s face is shielded and softened in part by those hard handles. She looks so frail against the sturdy hospital equipment.

  6. Waving and Drowning, indeed, BL. Once again. Nail on head. One of the blessings of survival is having witnesses, isn’t it?

    Razz: I can’t believe you have arthritis, either! Has this doctor not read your motorcycle adventures? Your more recent brush with death with your wife in the car? I suspect the medical establishment will have to analyze your body for survival tips for those of us who are really old.

    Hey, amber girl! Thanks for visiting. It didn’t feel inspirational when I was living through it one bit! I guess if we can just wait it out, we find something to wrestle out of the jaws of defeat.

    Girlgriot…oooh, I am sorry to hear this about your aunt. Really sorry. This whole bearing witness journey would be fascinating if it were not so painful, too.

    Thanks, Epicurienne. I have seen this extra time actually help heal other relationships. Unfortunately, this was not the case here but I do know from personal experience that it is often a gift and an eye opener for sons and daughters. I loved what you said about the photo. I do feel that the physical frailty of old age was prominent in her rage pool. Although, it was always there to some extent.

  7. I have not read the other comments, I fear to. Isn’t it strange how these monsters hide out, that sometimes only a select few get to experience their reign of terror. I to have experienced something similar to what is in between the lines, it is far scarier than a tangible monster, at least them you can slay and be done with.

    Great post, I am lurking, not always commenting – I am trying not to push a monster off a cliff… we’ll see how that goes…

    Thanks for this post it was truly wonderful as always!

  8. Oh Pat, after your comments on mental disease two weeks ago, I suspected you had witnessed it first hand. That photograph is incredibly raw. I do not think I would have had the courage to take it and I sure would not have wanted to revisit it, then again my father died 7 years ago and I still cannot bring myself to look at photographs of him.

  9. Nathaliewithanh, the only way to get through it is to revisit it creatively. Have you thought of doing something with your Father’s photos other than looking (or not) at them? Think about it. This is your sweet spot after all. Telling a story. Tell why you can’t look even though seven years have passed.

    Sanity, write your book proposal, girl. Monsters be gone when you write, “The End”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: