01 January 2009

Mother’s and Daughters… a Mother’s Passing


Mothers and Daughters... A Mother's Passing
Me, My Mother and My Daughter, Natasha
I can't go, I told myself. I can't face this...
My mother died in early December. She was 91 years old, living in a nursing home and slipping rapidly into dementia. On a late Wednesday afternoon, she was taken to the hospital with an infection that had came on quite suddenly. The doctors felt that without intervention, which she had made clear she did not want, she would die. Still, when I got the call, my first inclination was, I can't go to the hospital. Not tonight. Long Island is too far away and I am exhausted. I was exhausted. It all brought up too much "stuff" around my mother and our very difficult relationship.

Changing my mind....
I told my sister, I would come in the morning. My sister accepted my decision, but I knew she needed me. I heard it in her voice. I called her back and said I was coming. My husband offered to drive me to the hospital, but I insisted it would be better for him to stay home with the dogs... so we didn't have to worry about them. And I knew this was a time for me, my sister and my mother...

I drove to Long Island... at least no traffic on the bridge and Long Island Expressway at 11 o'clock at night! I no sooner walked into the ER and saw my mother and sister than I was relieved to be there... When I had last spoken to my sister, she told me that Mom seemed to be in pain and was having difficulty breathing; but the doctor had given her oxygen and morphine and she seemed calm. My sister and I stayed with our mother for several hours. By the time we left, she was very peaceful.

Sometimes the angel comes...
 I stayed with my sister that night and we returned to hospital the next morning and stayed with her all day. Not long after we arrived, a Catholic chaplain named Michael appeared and asked if he could do anything for us. And we began to talk, and he was amazing... totally ecumenical, with a gentle and profound peace and ability to be with us on our journey. Although all three of us came from different spiritual traditions, we talked for hours about life, death, our experiences of divinity and the human and soul journey of life. We even talked about the Divine Feminine, a subject most important to me of late.

In the midst of this intense being together and sharing around the hospital bed of my dying mother, I realized, he was really working hard... and I mean this in the most powerful and loving way. Although the range of our conversation was far reaching, I saw how he kept on bringing the conversation back to my mother and to us, to her life, our mourning, her passing and our healing. He was shining the light on love and release, and on supporting our emotional and our spiritual journeys.

My heart yearned for freedom to let go the human drama and simply love my mother.
Suddenly I found myself crawling into bed with my mother and lying beside her and stroking her and telling her how much I loved her and how I know she tried her best, and stroking her and kissing her and calling her "mommy, mommy" and "Evie, Evie." I felt so close and filled with love. I was both a child loving mommy unconditionally and an adult whose heart yearned for freedom to let go the human drama and simply love my mother.

It was around this time, as the circle between my mother, my sister and I deepened, that she began to squeeze the our hands. My sister and I were both holding a hand, and each time we tried to let go, she squeezed us. As if to say, "Stay." And so we did.

After a while, I asked Michael if he could say a prayer. We all joined hands and my sister and I were holding onto my mother and he spoke so movingly. It was as if he knew our lives. And then, not long afterwards, he left. My sister and I spent some peaceful hours with my mother, holding her hands, talking, telling stories and remembering.

One sister stays, one sister leaves...
My sister returned to be with Mom the next day. I decided to go to a silent meditation retreat that she and I had both signed up for. I knew it was the right thing for me to go and she knew it was the right thing for her to be with our mother. We each honored the other's decision. I am so glad I went. Although I had felt at peace with my mother and free of the negativity that had hounded me for so many long years... the retreat was a gift for which I will be forever grateful. At first it was the peace of silence that nurtured me and the freedom from having to do anything or even speak to anyone. Then, around 7 on Friday night, my sister called to say that Mom had passed. Although my sister had been with her most of the day, as so often happened, my mother needed to pass when no one else was there.

I told one of the leaders of the retreat that my mother had just passed and that she was very old (91) and ill and it was a relief. I said she had gone in peace. She asked me what I needed and I said, if it was appropriate, a prayer with the group. She asked me my mother's name, how many children and grandchildren she had, and then said she would feel what was right. We hugged and I sat down.

"May her memory be a joy to everyone who knew her."
I did not know if she was going to say anything, but she did. In such an incredibly loving way. She talked of a woman named Evelyn who had just passed. That she was the mother of one of the retreatants. Evelyn, she said, had three children and seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren. And then she said, "May her memory be a joy to everyone who knew her."

My first thought was, wow, fat chance. But my heart quickly came to the fore. Yes, I thought. There was pain and so much manipulation and misunderstanding. But there was also love. And she did love us as best she could. She loved to laugh and always talked about being happy... Let's just be happy, she would say to me. It was something I wanted also, to be happy with my mother. Yet all too often, that happiness vanished before it had a chance to take hold. Yet, I began to think, yes, there were happy times. So many of them. There were times when we laughed ourselves silly. There were times when we had wonderful conversations. When we shopped and gossiped and had lunch together. When my children we small and I called upon her. Yes, many times...

I thought too, that she was brave. She struggled for her voice at a time when it wasn't so easy for a woman to find a voice. She had a difficult marriage, but in her late fifties, at my urging, she went back to school and fell in love with philosophy and other subjects. She wrote papers that she showed me and she loved, loved, loved her professors. She had a hungry mind and she had worked so hard to make sure she, who had had one semester of college, would see her children graduate from college. After my father died, she pursued her love of travel with a group of widowed women. (My father steadfastly refused to travel.) They went to Elderhostels to travel and learn. She went to Canada and studied about Canadian tribes and tribal culture. She went to Italy. She fulfilled some of her dreams. She managed well without my father... theirs had been a very traditional marriage. He wouldn't allow her to work. He was the head of the family...

If I had lived my mother's life...
These thoughts went through my mind during the retreat and then, on Saturday, one the retreat leaders was talking about compassion and the Loving Kindness mediation that is part of the Buddhist tradition. I have to admit it was hard for me to listen attentively... I was very very tired and slept a lot. But suddenly I heard her ask us to think of a very difficult person in our lives, a person who had injured us, a person who we find it hard to forgive and she said, "If you had lived the life this person lived, if you walked in their shoes, might you not do the very same things they did?" Which is not, she reminded us, to take away from our hurt. It is a reminder that we are all humans trying to so hard to live life given our woundings, our inheritances and our karma.

I, of course, thought of my mother and the years of mother/daughter conflicts. There was so many, so very many that at times I thought she was little more than a festering wound in my life. But here I am, me, and I rather like myself as I get older. I like who I am growing up to be! Some of this is in spite of Mom and some of it is because of Mom.

About a month or so ago, I had gone to see her. She sometimes knew me then and sometimes didn't. I wasn't sure she knew me that day and the woman who cared for had wheeled her out, to walk with me to my car. And I said to my mother, "Do you know who I am?" And I smiled.

What was all the anger about?
She laughed. "Of course, I know you. At least now I do. You're Emmy." And then she grew quite. She looked away. I thought she was gone, but she looked up and said with great sadness. "What was all the anger about? I don't know anymore. It was such a waste." And then she began to cry.

My mother was not a woman who cried readily.

Ditto, Evie.. What was all that anger about? It was such a waste. You tried, Evie, you tried your best given the shoes you walked in. Safe journey, Mommy. Be well. Be in peace.
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3 comments:

  1. Oh, Emily, such a poignant message. I'm so sorry about your mom passing. I'm glad you could find peace. My thoughts are with you.

    Hope to be at the creativity circles in Feb. March and April, as I am back in NY for winter/early spring.

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  2. My condolences on the passing of your mom. Such a poignant piece of writing.

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  3. Thank you for sharing your poignant and bittersweet message Emily. Your introspection and spirituality are evident and heartwarming. God Bless.

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