Being the Daughter, Not the Chaplain

 Photo credit, Chris Cooper, January 2017.

Photo credit, Chris Cooper, January 2017.

The day comes when you are the daughter, not the chaplain. You are grateful for your experiences and for the lessons other daughters and sons have taught you when you walked beside them. Relieved that you invited families to trust the journeys of their loved ones and to practice self-care, so that you too can hear the echo of your own words as you sit and watch your mother meander from this world toward the next. Well, maybe meander is too gentle. More like fits and starts. More like watching the twilight approach then reverse back toward daylight—unsettled, unsure.

I have been with many people as they approached the end of their life journey. It has prepared me well for the physical decline my mother is now experiencing. I am even aware she may struggle to let go before peace settles upon her like a Northwest fog. I know the words to say to release her. Know how to talk to my children and my family, her friends, my friends. I can even accept help. I feel calm when I am with her. And I am still sad. I am watching my mother in the final days of her life.

When my father died thirty-two years ago, it was a phone call, a drive to the hospital, a kiss to his cooling, sallow-color cheek. Death was swift. Grief an unfamiliar, new territory. I was young. Life moved forward with no resources for grief, but then I didn’t know I needed any. Back then there weren’t many anyway.

My work the last few years has fully immersed me in dying, death, grief. The gift: it heightens living, life, joy—odd as that may sound. Now when my mother wakens and connects she says “you are a good girl. I’m so lucky to have you.” I think, “I am lucky to be here.” I understand this is sacred ground. I am not afraid. Her hospice team is compassionate in their care and in looking out for our family. The assisted living staff members adore her and are doing all they can to meet her needs. We are companions on her journey, but it is her journey. A day? Or two? A week? As I have said to many others in the past “there are no crystal balls to give exact times.”

The moon will be full tomorrow. The second full moon in a month-a blue moon. And a blood moon. And a super moon. And a lunar eclipse. Something magical about how it all comes together. A mystical pull into another world. Yet my son won’t be able to visit until the next day. My wish would be for her to wait. I let her know he is coming. I have witnessed the “waiting” for a special person at other's bedsides.

My dreams the last few nights reflect a loss of control. As comfortable as I feel around dying, these dreams seem to be reminding me that this dying is not in my control. I may desire certain outcomes. Wish for a particular timing, but, again, it is not my journey. I am not in control. That part I want to forget. Writing this is a good reminder (and writing is one of my ways of coping.) My journey is to just be present with my mom…and myself, in this sacred time knowing that “time” has become fluid as water over rocks.

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What has being with others as they approached the end of life taught you? When you think about being with someone who is dying, what emotions come to the surface? Do you have any fears? How do you grieve when someone close to you dies?

 
We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same body.
— Mary Oliver
 
 Mom & I, Sept 2016.

Mom & I, Sept 2016.