Death as the Great Stop Sign

img_20180619_185601944517720.jpg     Attachment to stuff is one thing; attachment to people is something all together different and much more complex. We all have our roles in the family system. My mother was the second eldest of her siblings, the keeper of the important family belongings, as well as the moral thread that was woven generations ago before she was even born. She took this role seriously. She felt it was her duty to teach us how to be better humans and she had an undeniable impact on us and her community.

In May of this year, at the age of 81, she left us and her responsibilities behind. It was fast and shocking to us all. She wasn’t in great health, but she also wasn’t on death’s doorstep. She had plenty of aches and pains and unexplained body issues. But her spirit was strong and determined. She was profoundly disappointed in the state of world affairs and carried her fear of the future around with her everywhere. Life in general had become a struggle.

On Good Friday she had a stroke. Within weeks she lost her ability to speak coherently. Her thoughts became jumbled and frustrating, and eventually she stopped trying to communicate verbally. She has always been a fearful person, but now she could not express those fears, so we had to read her facial expressions and body language. We all got a crash course in empathy, like it or not.

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Six weeks after the stroke, she took her last breath, peacefully, at home, surrounded by all her angels and family members. When a person dies, those closest to them realize how important they were, and what a big hole they left. My mother was described as the “hub of the wheel,” both of her family and in her church. She was a driving force in many people’s journeys toward happiness and self-awareness. She was always ready to listen and offer advice. She cared. But she lost herself in that caring. She ignored her own needs and focused on everyone else as if her life depended on it.

Finally, in those last few days, as her body shut down, she seemed to find her way back to her deepest self. Her face relaxed, her skin softened, her eyes looked beyond what was in front of her. She became less interested in what was happening here on Earth. I imagine she spent most of her last days praying, talking to God, and waiting to be reunited with her loved ones.

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The last week of her life, we sat with her and watched as she gracefully raised her hands up into the air, as if she could see the cloud-lined pathway into Heaven. She had angels and butterflies all over her house—paintings, ceramic statues, wind chimes, pins and pendants, and hundreds of cards with pictures of delicate winged creatures : angels and fairies and butterflies. They represented freedom and new life to her. We made sure to put as many of these symbolic images near her bed as we could so she would be comforted. In the end, they all came alive and welcomed her into her version of Heaven. Finally, the suffering was over. No more fear. No more worries. No more danger. She was finally free of her attachments to this world.

And we were left with our unfinished thoughts and conversations, and with a house full of memories and things. As her life on this earth came to an end, our journey through what was left of her had just begun.

*****

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