Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Beauty in Loss

May 9, 2018

Nine years ago today, my mother was dying. It was sad, and painful, and beautiful.

Let me explain.

The day before Thanksgiving in 2008, my mom was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. She was given six months to live. One week later, I pulled my kids—then seven and five—out of school and the three of us drove from Minnesota to California so we could spend some time with my mom. We stayed nearly a month.

I’d like to say that this time was pleasant, full of fond memories and loving connections, but that would be a lie. My kids enjoyed getting to see their grandmother, but I was already grieving. My mom’s diagnosis meant that all the hopes I had of ever having anything like a normal relationship with her, one in which she wasn’t constantly tearing me down, were also dying. This was confirmed a couple months later when chemo failed and my mom chose to go on hospice.

In April 2009, I got the call that it was time, and a day later, I was on a flight back to California. I was very clear that I was doing this for me. My mom had said to me that she didn’t really care if I was there or not when she died. I’m not sure if that was true, but I was sure that to be in integrity with myself and my own belief that family means something, I had to be there.

For two weeks, my brother, myself, two personal aides, and the occasional hospice nurse cared for her, talked to her, sang to her, and tried to keep her as comfortable as possible. One time, she told me that we should let bygones be bygones and leave the past behind. My hopes of making peace with her perked up. Then she said she could never forgive me for how much I’d hurt her. Those last weeks were an emotional minefield and every night, I’d collapse in my hotel bed in tears, echoes of countless nights as a kid when I cried myself to sleep.

I have a gift, though, that saved my sanity during this time. I’ve been able to see and talk with my spirit guides since I was about three. They offered me comfort and love, and over the years, they also gave me a broader perspective of life and death, of what family truly means, of how unconditional love feels, of Home. And so, after a long day of caring for my mom, trying not to take her hurtful words personally, I’d share what I was going through with my guides. My fears, my pain, my grief, my anger. One of my guides told me I was here for a reason, and it wasn’t for my integrity.

“What, then?” I’d asked.

“Pay attention. You’ll know.”

Despite not eating or drinking for nearly two weeks, my mom held on. She’d wake (or regain consciousness) and demand to know why she was still here. Why she hadn’t died yet. She said she was ready to go.

One week into May, I half-joked that maybe she was holding out for another Mother’s Day. My mom said she thought that idea was stupid. I paid attention, watching the comings and goings of the hospice people and a handful of relatives. I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.

Until one day I did. I was sitting in the chair I’d appropriated next to my mom’s bed, sitting near her head, when I started to hear what sounded like a radio being tuned. Voices, sometimes overlapping, slightly echoing, clearly having a conversation. Sometimes it was louder, sometimes I could barely hear it. I thought maybe a radio or computer had been turned on, and I did an inspection of the house to make sure. Nothing turned on. Nothing coming out of any speakers. The sole TV was off. The voices continued, and as I caught snatches of the conversation, I made out that they were planning something. Who was going to be where. There was talk of a meeting, and who would have the honor of meeting “her.”

As the day wore on, I became more and more aware of movement in the room where my mom’s hospital bed was. I could make out figures, though not much more. Some were standing, others sitting, seemingly half in this world and half not. Gradually, the room filled with these beings. Some acknowledged that I saw them and nodded in greeting. All were giving off a palpable feeling of love and acceptance.

I knew that whoever all these beings (people?) were, they were here for my mom, and I realized that they saw her differently than I did. I’d like to think that they saw her soul, saw its inherent beauty and love. I saw more movement near my mom’s head and then could clearly see sparks of light dancing just above her forehead. I was entranced with this sight, feeling pure joy. I wondered if that was her.

Later, the low hum of voices from the various beings in the room was getting louder. I suddenly felt hands on my shoulders from someone standing behind me. The presence was familiar and reassuring, and then the hand on my right shoulder squeezed briefly. When I turned around, hoping to see (or verify) who it was, the space was empty. And no bodied person could fit behind my chair.

My mom unexpectedly cried out my deceased dad’s name, half- conscious. She woke, looking around. “Where is he?”

“Did you see him?” I asked.

“No.” My mom seemed agitated at this. “He’s waiting for me. I need to get to the harbor. I don’t want to miss the boat.”

I asked her more about this harbor, about the boat she was going to take, about how she knew where to go. She seemed to know exactly where to go until she tried to describe it, and then it wasn’t so clear. Mostly she was anxious that she wouldn’t make it in time. I asked her if this boat was waiting just for her or if it was picking up other people too. She thought about it and concluded that it was just for her. I suggested that they wouldn’t leave without her, and she relaxed, agreeing.

Nine years ago tomorrow, my mother died. It was Mother’s Day. It was sad, and painful, and beautiful.

Mom's hospice bed and the flower left by the mortuary.
May 11, 2009.