When Death Becomes Life and Love Conquers All
I couldn’t believe the words that were ringing in my ears as the doctor told us in the presence of our mother that she had 12 to 18 months to live. I looked at my mother’s face and saw her confusion and disbelief and it broke my heart. What was going through her mind and what was she feeling in her body as she looked up at him with tearful eyes? “Did you just say that I am going to die,” she asked? The words pierced my soul and my heart was now solid in my throat as he looked at her and said, “Yes,” in a soft compassionate voice.
There is nothing that can prepare a child of any age to receive this kind of news about her mother. It was the most brutal of words that my body had ever absorbed and I can still feel the trigger of them deep within me as an ache to this day, months after she has passed.
I chose to write this book as a tribute, a thank you to my mom for all the great times and the safe and wonderful memories I was blessed to have as a child growing up. I soon found that the writing of these memories would be my way of healing as I found my way through the devastating preparation that was ahead for all of us.
I cried a lot during the writing of these stories and recollection of days past. I would come home each day from a long day at work, sit down at my computer, and pick up where I had left off the day before. Some days I dreaded the writing as it stirred up a plethora of emotions and I would cry sometimes for hours during my writing. There were evenings when I left this project exhausted from emotion and wondered if I could continue. Tony usually sat across the table from me working on his own projects, encouraging me to breathe and continue. He once said to me, “Debbie, I promise you that one day I will look over at you and those tears will have turned themselves into sweet and silly laughter.” That promise came true as one day just more than halfway through the book, I began to chuckle about a memory of my mom and one of the many jokes she had played on someone. Tony looked at me and smiled. “Did I just hear a chuckle come from you?” he asked. I smiled and, of course, began to tearfully recall the conversation we had previously had about this very moment and here it was. He was my rock through the entire process and helped me every step of the way with the artwork and the publishing of this book. I am so grateful for him and love and appreciate all that he did to make this journey with my mother more sweet and gentle than I could ever have imagined.
I had maybe three weeks left of writing when it was decided that my mom was to enter the hospice journey. I panicked for fear that she was leaving me and there was still so much to say, so many celebrations and hugs to be had. The fear set in as I realized I still had so much more to write to her in the book and now that time was slipping away from both of us. Now I would need to speed up the process and get the book done so I could share it with her. She had no idea that I was creating these memories in book form. I felt as though I had been kicked in the stomach and was gasping for my next breath.
I would have to write faster and still try to pull all the memories and stories together in a mind that was filling with grief and fear of loss and then I remembered in one slight instant, who I really am. The core of my own personal truth resurfaced its authentic self and I knew there would be ample time to finish this creation and share it with her. I did, however, speed up my process of writing and I must say this saddened me a bit as I knew that I would be leaving out many of the things I wanted to recall in the passages of these writings. I continually reminded myself that they were all gently stored in the corners of my mind and my mom was my mirror in time. I found comfort and a sense of peacefulness in this truth and also reminded myself of her beautiful continued journey that would never end, for life never dies it just continues on in another form. She would never really be gone.
I briskly finished the book and then I sat for several days waiting for some light to go on as to what the title would be. Nothing was coming to me and I felt out of place in the reality that I might have trouble describing this work in title form. Then I realized that the title had been in front of me every day, in fact, every day for several years. Back in 2004, I created a nonprofit called The Giving Space. My original idea was that it would be a property, a retreat space for people of all walks of life to come and be with self — a place to embrace the beauty and the solitude and to find a deeper meaning to one’s inner purpose.
The idea lingered for years, in fact my email address was deb@thegivingspace thus in front of me every day as I continued to embrace the idea that this magical place would materialize one day. It was so obvious at that moment that I had to laugh and just thank my mom once again as, yes; she was The Giving Space in my life. Therefore, the title of the book is in honor of her.
I published it with a sense of gratitude and accomplishment knowing that it would mean the world to my mom. As this human experience would have it, my mother took herself out of hospice care nine days after entering it, saying she was just not ready yet, and that was that. So here we are, the book is done, my mom is continuing her journey of life and she continues to amaze us to the last breath. Let me tell you more about that.
That episode with hospice care took place on the first of March, 2013, and my mom continued on as the disease was winning and taking over her tiny body as she became weaker and frailer. We knew from the beginning that this would be the case as my mother decided not to have intervention including alternative medicine. She just wanted to be as she was and go on to her natural ending of this phase of life’s journey and she certainly did it with a measure full of grace and wit. My mom — my hero.
After discontinuing hospice at the dismay and disbelief of her health care providers, she continued to show up for life and keep us all on our toes, laughing and crying but mostly laughing. She would go to the clinic twice a week for blood draws and some necessary blood transfusions, but I know she really went to connect with the nurses and make them laugh. They all loved her so much and truly looked forward to the days that she would arrive for her labs. My mom is one of the funniest people I have ever met. How great is that and she is my mother. You got to love that!
On July 12th my mom reentered hospice and the night before they were to come and set up, she told my sister Laurie and I who were there to spend her final days with her, that this time it was going to be very quick. We looked at each other and knew that she was absolutely in charge as usual and we caught our breath knowing that her beautiful body was about to give in to this task she had so diligently completed, all that she had been to everyone in this lifetime. Those days that followed were embraced with joy, sorrow and gratitude as we watched her slip away from us just as she had planned, quickly.
Saturday we bathed her out of the bed, she wanted her hair washed and styled, which we did with joy and laughter. We took pictures and videos and laughed and cried together. My mom is a hoot. I did her makeup and we propped her up in bed. By this time movement of any kind was so very painful, excruciating at times, so much that it was devastating for us to move her.
Everyone came on this day, all of her children and most of her grandchildren as well as our spouses. We were all present with her and she called each one in one at a time and had her own sweet words of wisdom with you. For those of us out in the living room, we could hear constant laughter and joking coming from the bedroom. We were all astonished at the joy and energy that was coming from her while being in such a fragile state only hours away from her transition.
My three sons were arriving together that Saturday and got a late start, as Marcus had to work later than expected. Mom stayed awake all day waiting for them as I know she was afraid that she might miss them and slip away before getting to chat with them. She had been awake since 9 that morning and it wasn’t until 5 p.m. that my sons arrived. I was so relieved that I met them outside and whisked them into the house. Justin my oldest had a homemade afghan that my daughter-in-law had made for her. As they held hands and touched the knitted throw, their eyes met and filled with tears. They talked, shared and laughed. Marcus and Devonn took their time with her as well and then she said she needed to take a nap.
About 7 p.m. her breathing changed to a shallow occurrence and she was no longer responding to our touch and our calling out to her. I went outside to gather up my family, as we believed that this was her time to depart. We lit candles and had some of her favorite music playing as we gathered around her bed. It was a very somber time for all of us, however, the energy in the room felt very peaceful as my sister and I were on either side of our mother, holding her hands and whispering words of comfort and permission to just let go in her ears… This went on for a couple of hours and it occurred to me, something that she had shared with me days before this moment. She told me that she wasn’t afraid to die but she was very unsettled about leaving my son, Devonn and my brother, Chuck. My brother had lived a life battling drug addictions and mom always stood behind him and supported him when he regressed. Nearing the age of 50, he was still having his setbacks and she was concerned that he would not have a true caring support person like her in his life. As for Devonn, he had been ill since birth and basically had fought his entire life to stay alive, as his illness has no cure. I reassured her that they would both be fine and that our strong family ties would see to that. I could feel that she was still in a place uncertainty with this and now at this moment I realized that she needed permission from the two of them so as to let them go.
I began to talk to her and tell her that we were all here to assist her in the next steps of her journey. I assured her that we were all at peace with her decision to leave this world and that we would continue to love and care for one another. She began to make facial expressions as if she was understanding and allowing my words to take hold of her heart. I called Devonn over and asked him to talk to her and give her permission to be on her way. He had such a sweet uplifting rhythm to his words and I silently wept with his words of comfort and allowing. Chuck came over and released her as well and then I felt her sink into the bed. Laurie and I looked at each other and smiled with wet tearful faces. We continued to hold her hands and spirit just seemed to move through me as we began to speak to her and walk her to the light. I saw her favorite aunt in the light and chuckled as I said, “Mom, Aunt Maymie is here. She’s holding your watch and she says, “It’s about time you got here Myrna.” My mom raised her eyebrows several times as if to imply she was right there in the light with us.
The process that unfolded this night was beautiful and in divine order. We held one another and cried and found some relief that the end of her pain was almost here. What happened next, will blow you away…
At 2:30 a.m. my dad came into my room asking me where my sister was. I told him she was sleeping on the couch and he asked me to get her as my mother was asking for the two of us. I was in a state of shock as I had expected him to say, ‘Debbie your mother has passed.’ This was so not the case. Laurie and I entered her room to find her wide awake and uncomfortable. She was drenched from sweating and all I could think of was that the earlier experience had expended so much of her energy. It occurred to me that during my spirit guided walk with her to the edge and into the light of the other side, she was actually resisting and working hard to stay here.
I looked up at Laurie and we simultaneously looked down at Mom with confusion and tears in our eyes. I began to cry and then began laughing at the same time. I kissed my mom’s hand and asked her to please tell me what was happening. She looked at both of us and said, “I’m here to make you laugh.” And laugh and talk is what we did for the next hour. The rest of the family was out in the living room and I can only imagine what was going through their minds as they had all said their good-byes earlier that night. I opened the door and sitting on the floor was my oldest son Justin holding vigil with a lighted candle praying for his Gma, that’s what he called her. Justin came into the room and pulled up a chair spending the next two and a half hours chatting and laughing with his grandma. A wonderful realization happened as I left the room.
I had been recording my mom as she woke out of what we thought was her transition from 2:30 a.m. With all that was happening, I forgot about the recorder still embracing her words as she and Justin talked for such a beautiful intimate time during the wee hours of the early morning. What she told him, was profound and not of the woman I knew her to be. She had gone to the other side and back and was compelled to share her insight.
She stayed awake until 2:00 p.m. the next day, Sunday. She revisited with everyone as I watched them all hang their heads in confusion. It was bittersweet to have said goodbye in such a peaceful way and to be talking with her once again. It was a hopeless feeling to know that it was going to happen again. My mom said her farewells to all, including me. I told her I would be back on Tuesday morning, as I knew that Laurie was staying with her as well as my brother Chuck. She told me to go and all was good. I said, ‘Mom, I will be back very soon,’ and she continued on, “You don’t need to come back,” as she smiled at me. I knew she meant I had done what I needed to do that night when I walked her to the light when we thought we were letting me go.
I felt uneasy about leaving and free at the same time. On my 3-hour drive home I kept thinking about my mom speaking to me about doing work with the hospice program and it really began to resonate with me. I reminisced and thanked the creator for all that she had meant and been for me as I drove home, somehow knowing that even though my plan was to see her on Tuesday, I had seen her beautiful smiling face for the last time here on earth.
My sweet momma made her transition on Tuesday morning at 11:57. She let her breath out and left with a sense of peace about her in the presence of two of her beautiful children. I got the call as I was leaving work to drive to her side.
This was the most beautiful and serene experience and I thank my mom for walking us through it with her. She made sure that we laughed during the journey that she referred to as preparing for her trip. Little did she know how spectacular this would be…
In Love and Light I thank you, Mom,
All people deserve love, compassion, and dignity at end-of-life. At Minnesota Hospice, we strive to empower people to live life as fully as possible on their terms. Our team is filled with experienced professionals dedicated to walking with you during this part of life’s sacred journey. We provide the highest level of hospice care possible to help people find meaning, purpose, love, and beauty in living before departing life peacefully.