My mother passed away last year. One little factual sentence can carry so much weight; make such an impact in your life. My reality is that I lost her when I was 52 years-old. Maybe you think that I should feel lucky to have had her that long, maybe you can sympathize with me for feeling as though I’ve been cheated. It probably depends on when you lost your mother, or IF you’ve lost your mother. As much as we prepare for the inevitability of death, you still can not escape the excruciating pain of losing your mother. I always knew my mother would die; didn’t you? Really, in the ultimate scheme of life, parents should and usually do die before their children. I was even fortunate enough to have six-and-a-half years in which she was fighting lung cancer to give me plenty of notice. No surprises there. When the time came, however, losing her was no easier than if she just walked into the street and was killed by a bus. Most days, that’s what it feels like–just a mess of blood and guts all over.
She wanted to die at home and so that is where we cared for her. We put a hospital bed in the dining room so she could be on the main floor in the center of all the activity. We were all with her when she died, myself along with my father, my sisters and my brother. For weeks, we held her hands, massaged her legs and feet, sang to her, caressed her, lay next to her and held her in our arms. We administered her medications, took care of her personal needs, and did everything we could to ease her physical pain as well as her emotional discomfort. And we drank–a lot–only in the evenings, but we went through so many bottles of wine it would have been embarrassing to put the recycling out curbside! In fact, my mother didn’t miss anything we did, at one point she even told one of the hospice nurses, “they like to drink”! I told her to be quiet lest they think we were neglecting her! Seriously, were we supposed to chaperone her journey to death with nothing to assist us?
Have you ever been with someone when they died? It’s surreal. I’ve given birth to two children–what a glorious moment when a child takes his first breath! In a strange way, it’s similar when someone takes their last breath. When you think about it, it’s just two different points of the spectrum. Entering and exiting. Of course, the birth of a child brings such joy, while death brings such despair. I’m not certain of many things, I will say, however, that I know that we all have souls (for lack of a better word): some “thing” that can not be identified as other body parts can be. We have them whether we recognize them or not. When my mother died, her soul left her body, and her body became nothing but a shell–she shed her withered, weary body as a snake sheds its’ outer skin. One moment she was there, labored breathing, chest heaving, and then nothing–it all left; she left. Astonishing. All the pieces that made this unique human being my mother were gone: her smile, her laugh, her eyes, her voice, vanished with one last breath.
Understandably, at the time I was too overwhelmed with grief to have any other perspective but my personal loss. Now that some time has passed, I can look at the actual moment of her death (and believe me, I’ve relived it over and over) and appreciate the beauty of it and the privilege to have shared it with her. To witness another human leave this world is not very different than witnessing another human enter this world. Both experiences are indescribable and unforgettable.
“Once you lose your mother, nothing is ever the same,” a dear friend whispered in my ear as she hugged me at my mother’s viewing. A fact I am aware of everyday.