On Saturday, August 11, 2018, my mother peacefully, softly and gently drew her last breath. Her heart had been her faithful servant for almost an entire 94 years.
In the final days of her life, I became aware with each passing day that, as her life force weakened, another energy source, far more powerful than her tenuous hold on life, stepped in. As I neared her hospital bedside in the days before she left, the power of love she radiated simply took my breath away. She wasn’t so much slipping from this world, but outpouring a greater love which was drawing her ever closer. There was a joyful presence in her journey of the ultimate surrender. Breath by breath, she consciously participated in the journey of transcendence. An indescribable sense of all embracing, enveloping love emanated from every cell of her being. Undefinable, undeniable… and distinctly palpable.
Her family had gathered by her bed for several hours. Mum, aware that her loved ones were around her, was in a state of deep, restful sleep. I took the opportunity to slip away for a short lunchtime walk to the local market, a place we had spent much time shopping together in my youth. When I came back, my family slowly dispersed one by one. The space emptied.
I stood at the foot of mum’s bed, listening to the duty nurse sharing stories about her young family. Suddenly my mother’s eyes opened wide. She appeared to be staring into the far distance. I excused myself from the conversation and took my place at mum’s bedside, holding her hand, gently stroking her forehead. She turned her eyes and locked them directly on to mine, as though she was considering my very soul. Her gaze was present and clear. Her eyes spoke a million words. “Here I am. I’m ready. It’s time. Let’s do this”.
Mum’s hospital staycations throughout her long lifetime could be counted on the fingers of one hand. It was not as though she was of particularly robust health throughout her life. She battled with agoraphobia, which threatened to imprison her and anxieties which would sometimes overwhelm her. Yet as she grew to know herself better, she became somewhat of an expert in radical self-care and exploring and enjoying solitude. Two hospital births, a hip fracture at 85, a chest infection and pneumonia at 90. This was her fifth hospital visit, and somehow we both knew it would be her last. After being admitted into hospital with a septic infection in her elbow, she asked me not to leave her. I vowed to be present and was determined to keep my word.
Death was not something readily discussed in our household. It is the final frontier. My mother was a child of a century punctuated by man’s inhumanity to man and had witnessed death far too many times to dwell on anything other than survival. It was her firm belief that the only way to create a better world is to live in peace. Having peace of mind became an art form; an art form that easily morphed into escapism. It was an art form which invariably and understandably, denied death. Spirit ,when not embodied, can play tricks on the mind. A body when not inspirited, is easily derailed. Mind, body, spirit. The wholly holy trinity. Visible in form and in action. The presence of all three working in tandem so vital, yet complicated; entangled and so messy for us human beings. Challenging to navigate yet navigate we must. As in life, so in death.
Holding her hand and not taking my eyes away for one moment felt like an honour and a privilege – to be there by her side, reassuring her of my presence. Emily, the nurse, stood behind me gently stroking my back as I caressed Mum’s brow. The words came to me and through me. “It’s okay mummy, you can let go. We will never be apart. You are in my heart and I am in yours. Nothing can ever separate us. Can you see the light and angels around us? Here is Daddy, your Mum, your sisters. They are here beside us, waiting to welcome you”.
The curtain around Mum’s bed in intensive care, her home for the past 14 days, was drawn. The love and light present in this moment extended beyond space and time. The room, normally a hub of activity, fell silent. A golden silence. She appeared to hear and acknowledge my words. Her eyes, wide open, softly started to close. Her breath softened. So slowly that I was not aware she had stopped. I heard Emily’s voice as if from the distance, “stay as long as you like.” I sat holding Mum’s hand transfixed for forty five minutes. Present to the stillness and peace which passes all understanding. Here I was birthed into this world by this beautiful being, returning to love which had brought me forth. The mother and child, child and mother bond is an unbreakable, unshakeable cycle. It was now complete. This moment, this most feared moment throughout all of my life, felt like the most natural part of her life, my life, our interconnected life. Arising from one being, returning to one being. The eternal flame which cannot be extinguished. It felt like we were entering into the Garden of Eden anew…innocent, as worthy as the lamb. Returning to love – one body, one blood.
Two months on and I still find myself in an expansive field of grief and maelstrom of unexpected emotion. Writing about my mother’s death feels a lot like being showered with love time and time again. Being reborn. I feel blessed and honoured to have been present at her transcendence. Where once death was a morbid subject, I understand and appreciate the value of death and realise the importance of being prepared. My focus has shifted subtly from the external landscape and appearances, to my soul, my inner dwelling and resting place. I am focussing on clearing the space and any entanglements or mess I have created consciously or subconsciously. I am dancing to the rhythm of my life and breath, each a wondrous gift.
Preparation is everything. As a mother prepares for the birth of her new arrival, she must appreciate new life is also to appreciate death. Not in a hundred things to do or bucket list way (although playing and having fun on the journey is very important) but more in a hundred ways to be love and to offer love. How can I be a better lover of life and love today, always honouring those I am close to dearly. This is my line of questioning now. I know dying is a sacred ritual, it is meaningful and it brings definition to life. Our exit from this world is every bit as important as our entrance. We honour birth, we honour marriage. It’s time to really honour and celebrate death with every bit of our being.