Saturday, 3 March 2018

Part 3: will the circle be unbroken– a mother's final labour

Part 3 of 3

This time when I return to New Zealand, I return to the second chapter of loss for the year. 

A beautiful reprieve initially happens as my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter accompany me home on a previously planned journey-- how we were able to end up on the same flight is another miracle. 

There's a beautiful uplift in us all during this trip. We watch my three year old granddaughter frolic and interact with all of the animals and play in the sea. 

My daughter's birthday is celebrated by us witnessing our horse giving birth in our front yard. 

Mom is buoyed by their visit. But three weeks later we are left with an emptier feeling house and a huge gap in our hearts.

Returning a couple weeks after Max's death we are taken straight  to a high place on the property where Mom, my husband & son held a memorial for Max. The lilies that were pinned to a pole had rebloomed after once dying off. No water & dry wind prevailing. Mom wanted photos there holding Max's funeral card
Mom repeats on the regular that a mother should never outlive her child-- a mantra I have heard throughout her life.

I'm having to hide myself away more than I like because I just can't let her see my raw grief. She's so fragile and tender and any time we start to talk about Max we tend to break down. I'm feeling very protective of her and very aware of her fragility.

Mom begins a very mindful decline and it becomes very apparent that it has nothing to do with an underlying blood condition, myodysplasia syndrome, that she gets blood for monthly. Her blood levels hold their own, but she slowly declines. 

She gets a bug in April that has her thinking she is leaving the planet and shares that if she has to feel like this she wants Max to hold the door open for her and pull her through. She never quite recovers from that bug.

In June or July she again experiences a bug and this time is weak enough that we feel it best to get her a walker and a beside commode for night time. Her appetite is waning and she is sleeping more and more,  sometimes going back to bed shortly after arising and having breakfast.
a few weeks before her crossing having just showered & had a massage & haircut. she always had to have the lipstick on if the camera came out
We eventually question whether her grief has turned to depression and she agrees with her MD to try a low dose antidepressant but after six weeks there is no change except that her condition further wanes. She stops that med. There are times that she announces that she is ready to get on the train to "go home." A couple of times she has me tape good-byes for the family.

It's a guessing game when one is almost 95 what is age related, illness related, grief related, end of life related. In hindsight? She was continually vacillating from January to October whether she wanted to keep her feet on the planet or whether she wanted to go join Max.
shortly before her crossing over with my son who adores her & husband who cares for her so gracefully: she loved & appreciated them so
Finally, in October, I reluctantly went to a silent mindfulness retreat that I'd had planned. She was in that space where she could live for months the way she was or there could be a rapid turn. 

My husband and she both wanted me to go for my own self-care. They promised I would be contacted if she took a turn. 

My entire time at the retreat I basked in the silence. It had so been a situation of "there are no words" and finally I was in a space where that was what was expected: no words.  

When I'd gone to get mom supplies at the medical store just in case things turned quickly while I was gone and my husband would have these items-- bed covers and the like, I met this very sweet woman working there. She had just walked her best friend home the previous week. She said, ask your angels to gather her angels and surround her and aide her in this transition when it is the right time.

Not eloquent in angel speak, I did find that my retreat found me centred around the preparation of walking my mother home and admittedly I was so dreading it. 

I did not want to see my precious mama suffer. 

Walking Max home had been an immense privilege but it also so very heart wrenching; it was hard beautiful work. 

The thing is, we do not know what the end is going to look like and it is so important to stay in the moment and not let our minds go to the guessing; I worked hard at that. 

I found myself sneaking out of my cabin to pee at night and looking up at the immense expanse of starlight, opening to billions of galaxies and mystery, silently calling to Max and his army of whomever– angels, family, fellow travellers–please please assemble the teams and help me do this the best way possible. Help me meet mom at a place of grace and respect and do this piece right. 

I didn't hear from home so was hoping all was well. When I could get service on my phone I pulled over and spoke to my husband asking how she was. Worse he replied. Weak. Not well. She's waiting for you. Why didn't you call for me???? She wasn't there yet and she didn't want me to, she's waiting for you. 

I arrive home and walk into her room and she is sitting on the edge of her bed, "Look at you sitting there. You look great." She looks at me through anguished eyes. "This is it. I'm dying now.

She informed me that she could not have another night like the previous one where she had dreamed of being in hell all night, "I wasn't actually in hell, but I was seeing it. Why in the world would God give me that dream?" I convinced her that, if anything, He was showing her what she would miss, "That's what I thought. That makes me feel better.

Yet she still decidedly declared that this was the beginning of her dying.

Therein marks the beginning of a 27 hour labour to her reaching the other side. During her dying process she used terminology I'd never heard from her– "crossing over" and "other side." She was totally plugged in so I reckon it is the Truth and I use that terminology more and more myself. 

Firstly, we made a very eloquent good-bye video where she lists for three minutes the loved ones she is addressing and then very beautifully gives her good-bye and it ends with her looking straight into the camera and blowing three kisses.

From there she narrates the entire process, just like a mother in labour for her first born might do. 

"Why in the world, when you are this close, can you not just cross over? Why does it have to take so long?" 

Mom does 95 years of life feel like it has flown by? NO it feels like it has dragged and dragged and dragged. I can't help but giggle in surprise and she smirks back.

There was clearly something in her thinking or hoping that if she willed her crossing over hard enough, it would be done.

She hadn't eaten much in the last few days. She still accepted water from me but didn't want anything to eat. She had adult pants on but wasn't soiling them or needing to go to the toilet. 

We talked about other people she'd known who see relatives when it is their time to cross over, she wondered if she would. We expressed our joy that we had been open with each other and neither felt like we had any unfinished business; we felt at peace with our relationship. 

I apologised, again, if she had found me emotionally unavailable at times during my journey with Max. She lamented, again, about putting her children through the childhood she had and I continued to reassure her that she had done the absolute best she could in her circumstances. 

Later, otherwise incoherent, she yelled out my daughter's name, "Rachel! Tell them all that I'm sorry." Based on the continuing theme of her lamenting that part of life during her last months, I knew she was wanting her to relay that apology to my brothers and me. 

After a dose of medicine the MD has prescribed for uncomfortable nausea she reported as a good patient would, "I am very comfortable. I feel no pain. I feel very peaceful." 

Halfway into the journey, her lucidity faded and she began calling an occasional, "Mama . . . ." The first time I asked her if she saw her mama, my grandma, if she was there to help her cross over. She answered yes.

At one point she called Mama, attempting to get up and out of bed, throwing one leg over the side. I said, "Mama said you could rest," and she flung herself back with a palpable sense of relief. 

She loved it when I rubbed her hair, her back, lightly traced her arm. I would crawl in bed with her for hours to rub on her. She made it clear early in the journey that she appreciated that closeness and touch so I made sure that she felt it until the end.

Her minister came about six hours before she died and sang to her and prayed with her as she lay on her side. I know she heard her. 

Up until close to the end I could get a subtle response that told me she could hear me. So I praised her loving and her mothering and her doing the best possible job she could do at living. I reminded her that Jesus (she was a very religious and faithful Christian) and Max and her family were waiting for her. 

I said only good things and sent her only good feelings. I wanted her to feel only positive energy as she left this earth-plane. 

There was a time I felt a shift. I called my husband (a retired MD) and my son in to say their good-byes. They showered her with love. My husband whispered before he left the room, I think it will still be a while.

I turned her on her back to position her comfortably so when she passed she would be in that position. There was a pillow under her knees and each arm. She recently would say, "This bed just feels like heaven, I just don't want to come out of it." I wanted her to feel that heaven.

Then I felt her pulse. It was thready. I tried her blood pressure. It wasn't registering. 

I called my husband in. Her breaths were very far apart and there was an exhale and the most gloriously relaxed and beautiful full face smile came over her (mind you that is far and away from the expression she had been holding). My husband called my son. That smiled stayed long enough for me to contemplate getting a photo for my family and I redirected myself and told myself to be in the moment, even though now I wish I had a record of that smile to share with family; I'll never forget it.

Then the strangest thing happened that I'd never seen before in all the deaths I've witnessed. She took a drastic inhale and at that time her chin jutted straight up, her mouth shot open and her tongue was very decidedly curled with the tip touching her upper palette. That was held and then there was a final exhale with relaxed facial muscles and we knew the crossing over had completed.

A month or so prior I had gone to our local Death Cafe and there had been a man there who said he'd spent years working closely with Buddhist monks who did much work surrounding death. He said, they say when the tongue curls up and goes to the roof of the mouth, that's when the spirit leaves the body. How wild is that? I'd never heard of that or seen it before. Ever. And then it's exactly what my mother exhibits shortly thereafter. 

Make no mistake, my husband and I both saw her gorgeous smile as a victorious arrival. If I had to put words to the look on her face it would be, "There you are!!!! I knew I'd get to see you. How could I doubt this. I've arrived. This is amazing. I'm here. Rest easy and know I'm victorious."

The response was so beautiful even my husband's initial response was, "Give Max a hug for us!" I was rallying as if she'd just finished her first marathon or birthed a baby, "Well done mom. Look you've done it. You are there. I'm so proud of you. You worked so hard. Give everyone our love."

It was an indescribable dying process really.

Throughout the labouring process I was astounded at how many of mom's mannerisms mimicked Max's during the dying process. The way she postured with her hands behind her head, the grooming around her face and hair, even scratching her nose and drawing a bit of blood in the process. 

These movements were all so similar to what I observed with Max and I had been amazed that even while so close to death he was still attending to smoothing his hair out or rubbing an ear or his nose. 

As I sunk into that I then realised that so much of the entire dying process had echoed Max's, but on fast forward. His six days that I observed were condensed into 27 hours and it was because of that experience that I was fully aware of when mom was shifting into the great goodbye. 

Mind you, I've sat with other dying people before and every experience is different so in hindsight I wondered if Max had helped orchestrate a transition that would at least feel recently familiar to me to ease the process. 

Like Max, we kept mom with us for three days never leaving her side. She looked gorgeous. Without make up her face filled with colour after death rather than looking pale. It was amazing. Of course I had her in curlers the first night and immediately put her cherished lipstick on her. 

We had a very sweet service for her as she lay on her bed surrounded by flowers and a plaque "You are My Sunshine" that was her love anthem to us all. 

holding her favourite flowers from our garden. red was her favourite colour
At one point before her service a dear friend was sitting with her while I got ready and urgently called me into the room, "Becky look at this." All around her room there were small little rainbows dancing on the walls. Yes, there was a crystal hanging from her stained glass "guardian angel" on the full length window, but we'd never seen this phenomenon before. 

The one time she'd seen a rainbow from the crystal she had excitedly told me about it because it was under the collage of photos of Max and she was convinced it was him; it was in the shape of a cross and she had always seen rainbows as a hello from Max since his death so I know I would have heard about it if she'd seen this previously.

I have no doubt this was mom's way of saying hello and thank you. Like Max, she and I had promised to stay in touch. "I hope I can figure out how" were her last words on the subject during her dying process but it had been a frequently revisited promise since my father's death in 1983. 

Therein with mom as well, I have a list "yay long" of little signs I feel strongly that she has sent. I feel her and smell her frequently.

Mom was picked up on the third afternoon in an American Cadillac hearse that we followed to the crematorium as we played "You are My Sunshine" and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" on the drive. 

Mind you there are absolutely heart wrenching bits in these stories too. 

I can still get bowled over looking at photos of Max during the trying times. 

The wailing as I picked lavender fronds to tuck in with my mother for her cremation. 

The visceral sensation that she was the child and I was the mother as she called out "mama?" and the reverence of realising in the bitter end we all reach for the beloved mother. 

To walk another home is not the work of the weak but the work of committed women(humans). 

Work that has been done for time immemorial– just as the labouring of coming into this world was tended to by the same women.

Looking back, it was my father's death 35 years ago that taught our family to love even bigger. Since the day he died our family became more expressive with our love and aware that life will end, but our love will live on. To that end, my dad's death gifted us with the ability to love a bit braver and a bit stronger, during the joys and the difficult hours.

Take this, but a skeleton of my experience, with the knowing that time had to pass to get to a place where I would not have to write down absolutely every detail because each one is so very significant and a piece of my loves that I feared losing. 

At the time of this writing, I've had time to live with these experiences and remember and honour and I am okay with the sin of omission for this purpose. 

The connection continues. 

The learning continues.

The love continues. 

A rainbow over Max's family in our front garden during their recent visit. A double. The photo doesn't do it justice; the biggest and brightest we've ever seen. We look at each other knowingly, "Thanks Max. Thanks Mom."

my gorgeous mama 
Thank you for sharing these sacred journeys with me. 

You can follow the project The Death Dialogues by clicking on these coloured words. 

Join me as we hear others' stories.

I saw this yesterday for the first time-- it so resonates when thinking of mom's smile just before her spirit left her body.

No comments:

Post a Comment