When my Mother was born on the 11th November 1918 people were dancing in the streets and celebrating. This was the day the First World War ended and there was peace on Earth for the first time in years. My Mother was bestowed names to represent the significance of that day – Olive Leslie Peace.
After my Mother died on 19th October 2010 (she would have been 95 today) I wrote about my experience of being with her as she slipped away and my subsequent grief.
I needed a way to understand more about what happened and more about who I was in relationship to that. I needed to express myself, feel more whole, more connected, and to understand what I was feeling, and so I sat down at my computer and started writing and my story appeared on the page.
The life you create for yourself – you know the one – the one where you are happy and full of joy,
is your very own story/journey to your very own self-fulfilment. But you are responsible for creating that life for yourself. No question about it. So how do you do that? By finding satisfying outlets for your abilities and interests – by being more!
I became more of who I was when I wrote about my Mother, because I got out what was inside, in a form that I enjoyed. I discovered aspects of myself when I wrote that story – the biggest one was that writing for me is very satisfying. Yes, it was a form of joy to write it and is even more joy to re-read and remember time and time again. So today, on Remembrance Day, I thought I would share that writing with you.
You can do it too. You too can be more by expressing your feelings and thoughts about an aspect of your life. Maybe you could write a paragraph or two about it. Or your preference might be to write a poem about it. Or write a song, or simply create some music about it. Draw the story, dance the story, paint the story, photo montage the story. At the end of it you will be changed and there will be more of you to and in the story.
This is my story and the telling of it has been like a balm for my heart.
My mother died on the 19th October 2010. She was ninety one and I was sixty three. I was with her as she slipped gently away and my last words to her were ‘Thank you.’
Mum was in a nursing home because Dad could not look after her. Her needs were more than he could manage. Daily bathing, daily medications, daily meals. Daily entertainment. All too much for him at 90. While Mum had memory loss and confusion she was still as smart as ever and could beat me at Scrabble fair and square. She understood, but the confusion rattled her understanding and she hated that. She was frail, tiny and sweet. All the staff loved her because she was so gentle, kind and had good old fashioned manners. She was Stage 2 diabetic, and two years prior had a minor heart attack. On a day to day basis she was congenial, chatty and wanted to go home to be closer to her family. All of her children lived a long way away from her and our visits were planned. Her being at home would not have made any difference to the frequency of our visits, but this she could not understand.
She had a stroke on the evening of the 18th October. I got up early on the 19th and drove for five hours and was there by nine thirty am. Dad and another brother were there and my sister arrived four hours later. Mum was comfortable but unconscious.
I held her hand, we all did, and I let her know she could let go, that she had done enough.
Her breathing was quick and short. Her eyes were closed, but one time I could swear I saw a tiny tear in the corner of one of them. I said the Lord’s Prayer to her and read her some uplifting religious sayings from a little book she had. I had no idea whether she heard me or not, but I felt she would have liked it as she had such a profound faith and love of Jesus. A little after 4.20 pm her breathing suddenly changed – it deepened and lengthened. My sister and I knew. Dad came to her bedside, he on one side, me on the other. My brother and sister were at the end of the bed. Another brother was still on his way and would not make it there in time. Another brother was overseas. For him it was the middle of the night.
As she drew her last breath I sensed her soul lifting up and out of her body through her chest, shoulders and head. Through my tears I found myself weeping, and saying, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you’. She had taken her last breath and was gone, at peace. I stood watching over her to see if one more breath would come, but it didn’t. That was it. I waited for a minute or so while we all cried and then I reached for the nurse’s buzzer and pressed it.
In the very moment my mother’s soul left her body I knew that you can only take with you what is in your heart. All my life I have heard the expression ‘you can’t take it with you’ referring to money and possessions. In the moment Mum died I lived this expression’s true meaning. I knew. You can’t.
I vowed in that moment that if all I could take was what was in my heart then it would only contain love. What else was there? What else was required? Nothing. I was to ponder on this many times after she died and have come to accept that the heart carries things that are not so good and these too will travel with me when I die, if I don’t get rid of them beforehand.
As always with me, and perhaps with many people, synchronicity played its hand to reinforce this. Not long after, when I was back home, I was watching a docudrama about a nun who had become a prisoner of war. When challenged by one of her friends as to why she was praying for her captors, the Nun said ‘because I do not want to die with hate in my heart.’ I was shown that it is the entire contents of the heart that goes, not just the love. This started me on a journey of trying to live a better life and eradicating the hate by whatever means I could muster. Having seen Mum go I do not, like the Nun, want to die with hate in my heart either. I did not quite know how I was going to do this but I resolved to have the intention to do so. That was the least I could do, and the best.
Mum died at 4.25 pm. We were with her until the doctor arrived at 9.30 pm to pronounce her dead. Those five hours were a gift for our family to be all together, and we sat and talked and waited and watched her now lifeless body and it felt strange, very strange. The full extent of my mother dying did not hit me until that night, in the darkness of Mum and Dad’s home, and mere words seem useless to try to describe the experience of that night. In my mind I was going over how could it be that she was alive and now she was dead? What force was there that caused this to happen? Where was she? Her physical body was by now at the funeral directors, but she still felt warm to my sensibilities. Yet she was dead. No, her soul was alive, that did not die. I knew that part of her was there and I knew she was with me while I was trying to make sense of it all. But, she was gone and I would never be able to give her a cuddle again. (Of course I have many times, in my heart’s loving imagination and that is just as good.) My heart physically hurt. I felt that she was part of a bigger plan and that death is part of life. However my head as well as my heart hurt trying to figure this out, but I was aware of these thoughts. I spent hours that night simply thinking along these lines and going over and over again what happened as she died, her soul lifting up and out, me saying thank you (which was as much a surprise to me as to anyone I think). Why didn’t I say, I love you? Now I think ‘thank you’ was perfect.
My experiences around my mother’s passing have been entirely without precedent in my life. My father is still alive as are all my siblings. I have been fortunate to have lasted all these years without ever knowing this pain and this grief. In amongst all this sorrow there have been moments where I have had a strong sense of joy and upliftment. These come from feeling my mother so very close to me and to a strange but beautiful sense of life everlasting. I viewed her body two days after she died. She wasn’t there. Feelings of being closer to her now in death than in life have surfaced and feel as right to me as my morning toast and Vegemite. I have asked myself ‘how can this be?’ Strange, never before felt feelings bubbling up within a strong framework of constancy, completeness, wisdom and eternity. Feelings that surely I am not the only one to have come to befriend.
About a week after I had been home, when the funeral was all over and I was trying to get back to normal I was in my bedroom weeping. Weeping over her. I heard her say, ‘You told me to let go, now you let go!” In that moment I realized something inexplicable, something akin to truth. Who was saying this? If it was her she was still alive and loving me with the same care and tenderness I tried to give her in her last hours. I could let go and resolved to do so.
I have been walking my spiritual path consciously since 1996. I believe in reincarnation of the soul. I believe beings from the spirit realm are always around us. So I believe when I hear these words from my mother it was her. And that means she is still alive! Alive to all life, not just in the shell of a body which the soul uses to carry out its purposes. And that brings me comfort.
No one could have told me about the feelings and growth that come with experiencing a beloved’s death. Having gone through it I believe no one ever can. It is an experience so completely unique, how can anyone else ever know what we are going through? They cannot.
In my grief I grasped for solace from where ever I thought I could get it. I talked incessantly about Mum to friends. I felt like a thief because I thought it was so hard for my friends to give me what I needed and I needed to take it desperately. I took it from my husband, in his listening. From my friends, in their listening. Now, I know they gave freely and saw no theft of any kind when I wanted to talk. My pain was so severe I wanted to capture the attention of anyone who would be by my side while I expressed how I felt about my mother and about the strange feelings that were arising on the experience of death. I thank those beautiful souls who sat and listened and encouraged me with a simple ‘go on’. From their response I now know how to do it for another, when that time comes as it surely will.
If I was going through this, this inexplicable pain and questioning of life, surely others were too. How many did talk, did take? How many didn’t? How many thought they were all alone, like I did? So alone. How many wept in silence and felt that unbearable ache in the heart that the mind said, “you just have to go through it” and the body silently said, “but I don’t know how to do it?” How many?
Two months after Mum died I was invited to attend a memorial service where people who had lost loved ones during the year could come and honour and reflect on the life of their beloved. As I sat with the other eighty or so at the service I had a new and profoundly deep and exquisite knowing that death was just but one part of the fabric of life and also I was not alone at all.