Last weekend my sister came to visit and we had a private memorial for our mother at our local botanical garden, under the cherry trees – still tightly budded – in the Japanese garden our mother loved. I decided it was time to write down the experience of our mother’s month-long journey unto death. I wanted to share it with my sister to make sure I got it right and that I hadn’t imagined the awesome power of whatever it was going on.
At the nursing home’s December memorial for the residents who had passed away in the last six months, the visiting pastor told us to remember that the follow-up to Christmas and Jesus’s birth is Easter and Jesus’s death and resurrection. That resurrection tells us there is life after death. Believe it or not. And believe it or not, plenty of us Christians find ourselves wondering at times (or a lot of times) if that’s really true, at least for us mortals.
My sister and I were honored to be present watching over many days the gradual withdrawal of life from the human body and its final transformation into a presence we felt fill the corners and empty spaces of the room and then leave like a mist dissipating in the morning sun. At the end, we stood silent, stunned, wondering if two people could imagine the same bizarre, mysterious thing if neither spoke of it. I wanted to write down the experience, to remember it, to save it, to savor it, to find comfort in it, but I wasn’t ready until four months later.
When we write down our stories, how many think to write about their spiritual experiences. How many are brave enough to write them! Many times I’ve heard people talk about these kinds of moments, usually when they think they are safe with others who might believe. Easter is the annual reminder that there is something big and powerful and wonderful out there waiting for us. If you’ve felt it, will you share your story?
Linda, you have me hooked. I want to know more about this mystical event you touch so lightly upon!
I’ve written many times about my mother’s departure in 2000, including a full description in a post on the One Woman’s Day blog. No family member was with her, but the aide described the scene. Mother had barely ingested any food for months and was just short of a coma. She had been unable to communicate for a year or more. The day she died, she seemed unusually alert to this aide when she arrived to bundle Mother off to the lunch room. Mother seemed interested in eating (sipping her nutrient drink) for the first time in months. Suddenly Mother looked up toward the ceiling. A radiant smile spread over her face as she lifted both arms high. Then, she just … left her body.
The most amazing thing is that her left arm had been paralyzed for a couple of years, and she had not reached up for anything in at least that long. Yet she did. She reached up with BOTH HANDS. She smiled. She obviously saw somebody or something. Wooo!
We all so relieved at her passing. She’d been in the nursing home for 44 months, and unable to communicate for so long. This was such a beautiful ending.
I join with you in encouraging people to include spiritual insights and experiences. While I tend to be put off by accounts wrapped in evangelistic preachiness, simple accounts of mystical experiences fascinate me. I suppose this is a twist on the scriptural injunction to “let your actions speak louder than your words”, which fits perfectly with the writers’ injunction to “Show, don’t tell.”
Wow, Sharon, that’s quite a story! My mom was at the end stage of Alzheimer’s and would no longer speak, eat, or drink and slept the entire month, looking more beautiful each day. We knew she could hear us, but she was just happy “sleeping.” One night she talked clearly with my sister – without opening her eyes – like her Alzheimer’s was gone! When she died she just slipped away one of the few times none of us were there. The room was just glowing when we arrived soon after. Totally awesome!
I was at my dad’s bedside when he passed, but I did not experience what you are describing. Perhaps my mom was not waiting with open arms! But when my dad’s sister died in 1969, exactly a week after her father died, she smiled and said “Daddy’s calling me.”
Kim, that’s beautiful and so comforting about your aunt’s passing. Of course most people do just leave this life without anything unusual happening, although hospice nurses would have stories to tell if asked. Near the very end, I asked my mom several times if she had seen her mom and her beloved dad yet, but she never hinted that she had. I was sad she finally left without us there, but obviously she didn’t need us present.
Your account of being with your sister at your mother’s bedside in her final days is beautifully written, as well as this past weekend’s memorial service under the cherry trees. How fitting with your Cherry Blossoms in Twilight memoir.
Thanks, Earl, it is a beautiful memory. Although the cherries weren’t blooming yet due to our prolonged winter (8 inches of snow the next day), that just meant less people around to distract or interrupt. Fortunately the unexpected bunches of kids hunting Easter eggs were in another part of the botanical garden!
Linda, this is beautiful and I really connected with your story.. My Dad had a brainstem stroke and lingered peacefully for 11 days before he slipped away as we surrounded his bedside. He looked so handsome and peaceful, like he was napping. We felt he heard us and felt our presence. It was a sacred time and it gives me consolation.He left us as he had lived, with style and grace. I have the same sense that your Mom’s passing was sacred and beautiful and I hope that is bringing you consolation. I can’t help but feel that you must be so happy you completed “Cherry Blossums in Twilight” I find my father showing up in my memoir a lot. Lovely post. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks, Kathy. Sacred is a good word to describe this – we were graced and felt so honored to be present in the experience. I’m glad your father went so peacefully – it is a lucky blessing to be able to remember someone’s last days as something beautiful.
I fear I might miss that moment; every time I go back to South Africa for a visit, I imagine it’s the last I’ll see my mom. But she’s the one who taught me there’s life after death…thanks to her and her seances that used to get us into trouble with my dad.
Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Belinda. Seances, eh? 🙂 Our hospice nurses told us it is common for people to pass on when their family leaves for lunch or a quick bathroom break, so even those holding vigil may miss the actual passing. If we treat our visits as possibly the last one, then we’ll have loving visits and no regrets. Who knows, maybe your mom will do a “fly by” to you on her way to whatever is out there after life on earth!