30 April 2012

Darshan Part II

My mom died on a Friday. Friday the 13th. She was also born on the 13th but it was a Tuesday. I know this because I looked it up.

She had been largely unconscious for several days leading up to her death. She obviously was not taking fluids or food, but instead lay in the hospital bed that hospice had provided for her set up in our living room. Dad was sleeping next to her on the aerobed at night.

On the morning of that day, Selah and I woke up and went in to say good morning to her, to hold her hand and talk to her. The night before we had put on some Maria Muldaur and sang to her and danced our little dances. I think she liked it. Selah climbed in bed with mom and handed her George. She asked me, "Mommy, is her a baby?" And I said, "Yes, honey. She is just like a baby right now." And really, she was. It had struck me on an absolutely visceral level just how infantile she had become during the last week of her life. The erratic movements she would make or the strange faces and unfocused gaze she would have when we moved her or changed her or bathed her. The helplessness, the prevailing unconsciousness, the innocence. Selah treated her like a baby, tending to her, cooing, tucking in her sheets, being quiet and tender. Selah loves babies. And she loved her grandma.

I can't possibly know what has gone through Selah's mind during this whole time of my mother dying, but she has been incredibly attentive and wise throughout. She was never afraid and never shied away from anything having to do with my mom, all the way up through the moment of her death and even during the wake and funeral. She has been respectful, insightful, tender, kind, funny, and caring. She has absolutely astounded me. I am so grateful for this child.

The rest of the morning of that day was relatively uneventful. We were expecting my grandmother and aunt to arrive around noon, and had a visit from the hospice nurse who helped us to administer pain medication a little more liberally to ensure that she was not in pain. Once grandma and Aunt Julie arrived the home health aide also showed up to bathe mom. Being that I had barely slept the night before I was ordered to take a nap. I obliged, but not before getting the electric company on the phone to handle the dead tree that had fallen on the power lines out in front of our house over the street. As I sat on hold with NStar at the kitchen table with my sister and grandmother, my eyes were drawn to the window. I saw a hawk sitting on a low branch out in the woods directly behind the house. I pointed it out to Gram and Jess and moved onto the back porch to see more closely. At the sound of the back door opening the redtail swooped down to where I couldn't see her anymore. This isn't a usual thing, to be clear. We do have wildlife frequenting the backyard, but it's not like we just have hawks hanging out near the birdfeeder with the finches. It wasn't lost on me.

After an hour or so of my nap I was awoken by my sister who was crying, telling me that mom's breathing had changed and I should get up now. I got up and lumbered out to the living room.

Dad and Grandma sat by the hospital bed, on the side my mom was facing. You turn people who are dying so that the secretions from their throat and lungs don't pool and choke them (and kill them? they're dying?). My sister and I sat facing her back. Grandmother, father, sister, all crying now, and I observing the breath as I was taught to do in the Joan Halifax Roshi book Being With Dying. I gently stroked her upper chest, from middle to shoulder, breathing with her and doing my best to let my deep full breathing slow hers, labored and erratic. The four of us sat with her in this way for half an hour or so, at which point my father got up to resume his culinary therapy and my grandma followed.

My sister stayed on the side of the bed not facing mom, and I moved so I could see her face, still keeping one hand on her chest, letting her know I was there, stroking from heart to shoulder, breathing. Her eyes had been rolled back for some time, at least a day. As I began to explain to my sister that this is what happens as a soul prepares for death, the gaze rolls skyward, I placed my thumb between her eyebrows and gently rubbed her forehead. Left hand on her heart, right thumb tracing a path from eyebrows to hairline, I breathed with her, sat with her, spoke with her... but only for a minute or so. As I did this her eyes began to roll back down from up in her head. I saw this transition begin and my own eyes widened, disbelieving. My grandmother walked into the room and I told her to get my father. As my mother's eyes began to open, she looked into mine and focused. "Hello," I said. 

"It's okay, Mom. You can go now. It's okay." And she did. She heaved out that last death rattle-y breath and was gone. A matter of moments.

I cried, we all cried and said goodbye and told her how much we loved her. I cried with simultaneous joy of being present for and with her during her final days, months, moments. I remained and still am utterly mystified at the realization of knowing that I would help her die and it actually happening. I mean. Come on. I knew it was my role, but didn't know and didn't have an investment in what the outcome would be. But it happened. And I felt blessed, shocked, dumbfounded, my grief utterly sublimated by the unquestionable experience of her moment of death. Everyone I encountered during the wake and funeral looked at me like a kicked puppy, but I couldn't summon the feeling of being that kicked puppy. My sister and I both were too happy for our mother for dying with grace. We were too "right on!" about her spirit leaving her body, about how very much not our bodies we humans actually are. We walked around with tongues of fire over our heads and took refuge in the utter insanity that each of us had experienced together, firsthand.

Be not afraid. Rejoice.

No comments:

Post a Comment