I am in Ohio right now, midwifing my beloved mother through the rebirth we call death. I already lost my precious father almost 12 years ago, two weeks after my daughter Siena was born. His was a beautiful, sacred death. The moment he breathed his last breath, my mother, who was married to him for 40 years, threw her body on top of him and cried, “David, I love the way you died.” Now, I am preparing to let go of the woman I never thought I could live without.
Although this is a very intimate and personal process, unless we go first, we will all have to say goodbye to those who gave us life. So I wanted to share some of this journey with you—in case it helps you grieve the loss of your own parent or prepares you for what you will face one day. Death need not be something to fear or resist. If we choose not to fight the inevitable, if we surrender fully to the glorious love bath of this transition, it can feel our fully embodied grief while simultaneously expanding beyond it, if we can let this journey heal us and mature us, we will be infinitely blessed by the very thing we thought we could never bear to endure.
May my journey through loss serve you—with love and an expanded heart.
Mom is sleeping in her bed beside me as I watch her breath in, breath out. Tears are one thought away. They move through me like waves, then pass, leaving me with new waves of gratitude, then grief, then gratitude, then love, then fear, then sadness, then exquisite tenderness. Losing a beloved parent is beautiful. And brutal. It’s brutiful—these waves of memory and ecstatic grief and gratitude and gut-wrenching loss and sadness and relief and unspeakable joy—all swirled up in one rainbow of emotion.
Maybe it’s different if you’re saying goodbye to an abusive or neglectful parent—or maybe not. But what I know from saying goodbye to both of my beloved parents is that it’s so painful to let go you can hardly breathe, and yet, let go we must, impermanent as this world is. Yet it is a beautiful experience to be breathless with heart-opening grief. It only hurts so much because you loved so much.
Mom mostly sleeps now and when she wakes up, she says funny things. She’s been sleeping all day while my daughter and I sit by her side and run our fingers through her thinning hair. She just woke up after sleeping all day—obsessing about details. I told her she doesn’t need to micromanage the world anymore. We’ve got it. She can just let go. I suggested she pray instead of thinking, just focusing on the feeling of love in her heart. “There is only love, “ I said.
“Fluff?” she said. “There is only fluff?” I busted out laughing. “Yeah, Mom. There is only fluff.”
There will be an enormous love vacuum when my mother passes soon. If you close your eyes, maybe you will feel it pulling you in and filling you up.
I don’t know how I will live without this woman’s body near mine in this dimension, but I know I will. She will live on, not just in me, but in the hundreds of lives she has touched with her bursting open heart.
I will miss you beyond words, Mommy.
My beloved mother is between worlds now. I am lying in bed next to her while she talks to me—eyes closed—about what she is experiencing. She told me she just went to John of God but nobody knows about it yet. Then she said, ““I have a synapse to God. You have a synapse to me. We can take more people with us.” When she heard me bawling in response, she asked me if I needed an allergy pill. I laughed. “No Mama. I’m not allergic. I’m just crying.” She snored her reply.
I am alone here in the bed my parents slept in together before my father passed. My mother and the rest of my family are asleep. The sun rises over the lake my mother lives on and the sky is pink-orange behind the scant red-orange fall leaves that haven’t yet fallen off the trees. The limbs of the sugar maple right outside Mom’s bedroom window are mostly bare. Winter is coming, just as my mother is in this wintertime of her own life.
Every moment right now feels precious, every last breath that escapes my mother’s lips is one breath we still have her. I am cherishing these moments to hold her in my arms, thinking of what Jeff Foster says—”Right now, we stand on sacred and holy ground, for that which will be lost has not yet been lost, and realizing this is the key to unspeakable joy.” Why do we not always rest in the unspeakable joy of what we have not yet lost? Why do we waste one ounce of energy on worry and planning and trying to keep that which we have not yet lost? Why aren’t we singing glorious Hallelujahs every single moment for that which we still have with us?
There is laughter here too, between the worlds. At 3 a.m. Mom smacked me awake to ask, “Is it morning enough yet? I have work to get done.” I was so startled in my mid-sleep dream time! She made me get up, turn on the light and make a “To Do” list. “Walk all the way around campus. Make an appointment with the eye doctor. Call Lanie.” She wanted to know why the little blond German boy was looking at her strangely and why there were three little Russian boys waiting for her. Of course, it makes sense that heaven would be an international place and that children would be the ones hosting my mother as she arrives.
Just now, Mom said, “I should get my shoes on. Where are we going? I have to pack my suitcase. It’s a beautiful place. I hear a voice. It’s really bright here in the sky. I think it’s John of God’s labyrinth.” When I cried some more, she once again asked me if I needed an allergy pill.
I am holding these quiet moments alone with my dear mother so tenderly. I can’t remember ever having had time with her like this. My mother is a busy woman who never slows down, a woman who always needed to control life and perseverate about details. Her days were always full of activity—fun, playful, celebratory activities—but busyness nonetheless. I don’t think my mother has been silent in my presence since I was a breastfeeding baby. She never just let me hold her in my arms without words. There was always so much beauty unspoken in between the words, but it was hard to access that unspoken ineffable numinous space that lives between a mother and her first born—until now.
I feel just a twinge of guilt at how much easier it feels to love her all the way in this space of sacred, between-the-worlds silence. There are no barriers to the waterfall of my love for her washing all the way over us both, without the need for mind talk or planning or activity. I don’t think that my mother has ever been able to receive my love the way she is now. It pains me to think she could possibly have ever doubted how much she is cherished.
At 5 a.m., she woke me up crying. I asked if she was in pain, and she shook her head. Without opening her eyes, tears streaming down her face, she said, “I hope they don’t forget me here.” I told her that was impossible, that we are goners for her—full as we are of joyful memories.
We have all given her permission to go. She knows we will be OK without her. We’ve got each other, and we can do hard things with great love.
My daughter just woke up and crawled in bed with me. My mother stirred just enough to let my little girl slip into her arms. And so . . . we rest. And wait.
We will never, ever forget you, dear Mama.
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