I wrote this at the end of 2012 for one of my dearest friends. Well, honestly, I wrote it for myself. My mother died 42 years ago. I was in India. Today, St. Patricks Day, is her birthday. While I did not know her well, this is what I would have wished for her.
Her mother hovers near death, so light now she floats six inches above the bed while nestled small and frail so deeply in the sheets.
I am blessed, asked to sit in this room, asked to bring strong arms from which grief can be released. Blessed, trying to anticipate small needs, driving small errands, a presence to offer balance, solid with no weight.
Blessed, in this watching, to see here great beauty.
Two weeks since she fell and shattered bones in hip and neck, a week since she lost consciousness. Four adult children attend with children of their own, a great grandchild due in a month visits via the womb.
“Perhaps mom hangs on to meet her great granddaughter,” someone says.
“I think it would be better if mom meets her before she is born,” says daughter-soon-to-be-grandmother with a smile but not joking, the quickness of her response and the love in this room offers another chance to laugh.
With laughter and warmth they share stories of childhoods where Gaga played her important role, memories brought out and burnished like holiday silver.
So many meals for so many as her own children searched for channels into adulthood, moved back home sometimes with their own kids until fully fledged and swimming on their own. There are many stories.
Running through it all is the common theme: “She made each of us feel like her favorite.”
A grandson reads a book, his grandmother had read it to him, he cannot continue for tears that flow from love and loss. His father sits at mother’s bedside, head resting on one arm, his eyes to the floor while she looks to other vistas.
He caresses his mother’s brow for a long, long time. There is is no measurement for this waiting. He cries, one of his sisters puts her hand on the back of his neck.
The mourning is as natural and accepted the laughter, as the need to go out and get fresh air, to go home for a shower. We attend in shifts. Tears, laughter, errands, waiting, nurses come in every two hours with an opiate to ease her pain.
Until the end each dose eased her breathing for a while, but then seemed to have little effect at all.
A grandson in the Air Force flew home from Arizona, he and his brother stand at her bedside, eyes bright to her. They just stand, holding her hand, no tears, no drama, peace emanates from them. In another world they wore robes and traveled by horse or mule, they are timeless.
Rebel son of rebel dad, long hair creeping from under cap, but pride earned and voice direct to her even as she cannot hear, the love she poured into him pours back to her, from pitcher to cup to pitcher.
The words “I love you” bring from her a smile. They are the words spoken in this room most often.
An Army Sergeant brings his family home from Texas to be here for the services, and uses his leave to be part of this, to help as he can. Soldiers, aviators abound in this family, tough men who do not flinch from their own weeping.
They attend, ageless youth. Baby blankets she made for them, satin edging worn away by their tiny fingers, return to the foot of her bed, warming her now and them now again.
“What will I do, her love was so important to me,” asks a granddaughter, a professional pilot, overwhelmed in this moment by her helplessness.
“I just don’t want to let go of her hand,” responds her mother, who for years absorbed the pain of her mother’s uncertain shuffle to flowers in the garden, worn by years of a long transition.
Daughters together here and now, their tears flow to her in one stream through it all.
Then, a smile, another story, one stands to go to her bed, to hold her cool hands, to feel her feet to be sure they are warm enough as circulation slows.
Over the last days and nights her breath slows, becomes uneven, long pauses cause everyone to stop, to listen, then she gasps as the body’s need of oxygen overwhelms her soul’s desire to flee, the breathing is ragged in her throat, softened only by sponged drops of water.
“There is a door,” she said when she still had a few words left to share, “but I don’t know how to go through it.”
“Daddy waits and will show you the way, your papa waits and will guide you,” her children reply to her stillness. “All those who have passed through will be there.”
Finally, early in the morning her breathing slows even more and grows even more shallow, then just stops. This struggle is over, surrounded by loved ones through it all, not one moment of this departure did she spend alone in this room.
Such a blessing to be here.