My pace was smooth and measured. I matched my breath to my footfalls. Breath—we all breathe the same air. How does air quality not concern us all? In. Out. Toward center—my interior. Questions arise. What is my responsibility? Long stretch of path on the outer edge—my exterior. How do I join with others? And so it went as I considered the resource of air. And then my feet pressed to the ground. Earth. Our forests. And images of my beloved ocean. Water. Air, earth, water. Three of the vital elements for our lives, all our lives, in order to be sustained.
Autumn is present again in the Pacific NW where I reside. It was generous in allowing summer to take an encore bow and the first week was warm after an initial spat of rain. But cool nights, the need to grab a jacket when heading out, and sound of tires rolling against wet pavement is our autumn norm and droplets of rain wind down the window panes as I write this. I find comfort in the repetition of the four distinct seasons where I live, though no two are identical from year to year. Cyclical yet linear. Moving in a wide sweep. Inhales and exhales. Inching forward through this “thing” we have named time. It is this and more.
Marking milestones were important when my children were growing up…With death and the journey with grief that follows, milestones are less defined and certainly not celebrated, with the exception of various cultures/beliefs that have maintained traditions around remembering the dead and supporting the bereaved.
Five months ago. That was my last blog post. Two days before my mother died. I haven’t had the emotional energy to share and process online what has been fermenting in my mind, my heart. Yes, brief Instagram™ posts have popped out, but they are snippets of my internal landscape. Today is my first attempt to take my small, personal experience and offer what has been unfolding—to let you know that your personal experiences matter. That your grief matters.
I didn’t expect her journey to last this long. But it has. Three weeks have passed since the heart “event” that tipped the scales in favor of dying “sooner” versus living “longer.” Three weeks of decline with brief rallies. From spending her days in her chair, engaging with company between long naps and eating small meals, to being bed bound. She spends the hours in deep sleep, sometimes restless, no longer outwardly responding to my voice. I accept after each visit it may be the last time I experience her warm skin against mine. But no phone call awakens me in the wee hours...
She is tiptoeing toward Death as she would a vaguely familiar lover. And Death gently reaches out to her, rubbing her feet, her hands, leaving them cold. Death strokes her cheek with a soft, open palm. At first she leans in, like a cat accepting the caress. Then she pulls away, not ready to fall into these arms. Her eyes open and look into mine and she says, “My darling girl.”
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 journey 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.