imageDedication:
I have many friends that have recently experienced the loss of a parent and others who are facing it in the very near future. It is to them, and to my beloved Mother, that I dedicate this personal walk of faith, in the hope that they may gain some solace.

 

.In the end, during those last two weeks in the Riverside Hospice facility, Mama was too weak to open her eyes or speak; but I talked to her and read Psalms, Song of Songs, Romans 8, and her favorite, the book of Ruth. I played hymns and quietly sang to her. And I held her hand as we listened to the soundtrack of Maria Callas performing “Madame Butterfly”–the very first opera Mama had taken me to see at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh, when I was six. I had found a cache of an eclectic array of music cassettes and CDs in the gorgeously decorated parlor complete with richly opulent Victorian Christmas decorations. It was in the midst of this loveliness that my pastor came out, and my Mom and I shared our last communion together. Breaking bread and sharing the cup, as we had done so many times in church, I was fully well aware that I would never share communion with her again in this lifetime. Another home video stored up forever in my soul! And I am so grateful to God that I had the sacred privilege of walking my Mother home to heaven! It remains the greatest honor I have ever had bestowed upon me.

The gentle, blessedly dedicated hospice staff even helped me bundle Mother up in blankets like a mummy and take her outside one last time, to feel and smell the winter’s crisp, fresh air as I lifted her face up so that the sun’s rays shone down upon her timeless beauty, etched now with the lines of a life lived in service to God and all of His creation. Each line, every furrow and wrinkle adding loving-kindness, patience, wisdom, forbearance, diligence, faith and such character and dignity that her skin glowed like a translucent, ethereal, intangible shrine of a life poured out for others. A relief map of Christ was her beloved face. Moments like these have become memories etched deeply in my heart from those last four months of her illness when I never left her side.

The final day, when Aaron, my baby brother came in to us, he went over to her and lifted open her eyes with his fingers and she looked right at us, her eyes perfectly clear and focused!

It was amazing and I felt so dumb I had not thought to try that myself. She looked right at us and got to see us one last time. Aaron softly said, “There you are.” We smiled tearful smiles, lips quivering with the effort, as we assured her that we were going to take care of each other and that we would be okay. That we knew she had to go.

As Aaron released her eyelids to close, I leaned down and whispered, ” Just look for your little boy in his red, pig sweatsuit, Mama. You’ll see him. And when you do you just run to him and don’t look back! He’s been waiting for you! Tell him I said, ‘Honey!’ ” Aaron and I watched in amazement as we saw her eyes under her lids scan back and forth several times, until they abruptly stopped, her face relaxing. Did she find him? I believe that she did!

When I asked her to convey a message to Scottie, it was not an idle gesture. I was referring to what had become one of our own private little rituals over the years. My other brother, Scottie, was born with Down’s Syndrome. He had passed away ten years earlier from a congenital heart defect. He and I shared a very special love and adoration that had grown between us over the years resulting in our own little inside jokes and routines forged in love. Instead of saying hello or goodbye, we would put our foreheads together, third eyes touching against each other. We would both cup one another’s face with our hands and gazing deeply into one another’s eyes–his sparkling blue, mine dancing green–both filled with a deep, abiding, eternal love; we would smile and at the same time say to each other in unison, dragging the endearment out with artful practice, “Honey!” Then we would just smile big, joy-filled toothy grins full of adoration and love. I don’t even remember how it started, but I recently saw that it is a very ancient greeting and farewell for an ancient tribe of people from several thousand years ago!

~~

In the early, darkened hours of the next morning, everyone had been called to come in because the nurse had told us that Mama was close to the end. Exhausted by our vigil, one-by-one, we had all fallen asleep–in chairs, couches, on the floor.

Then something awakened me. I looked over and a nurse was bent over Mom with her stethoscope over Mama’s heart. She whispered, “I just heard her heart beat a second before you woke.” Nothing moved in the room. The stillness was electric as we waited, eyes locked on one another. Finally, she pulled back, her expression telling me what I could not bear.

And Mother was gone, just like that.

Almost with a jerk, Aaron, my brother, lifted his head, just as I started to stand up and start over to the hospital bed. Then one by one, each one of us woke, one sleepy head after another rising and looking toward her bed without a sound. I truly believe when her spirit left her body, she stopped one last time to kiss us each goodbye.

We stood around her bed and I had been with her night and day, never leaving her side for four entire months except when she was moved into ICU over Thanksgiving. I looked at this incredible, amazing human woman, who was the epitome of strength, dignity, life, and everything lasting and endurable and unconquerable I had ever known . . .and she was just gone! Just like that.

We had been in hospice and I knew the doctors said she was dying, but until that moment, I realized, deep inside of myself, I had not truly believed them. I was stunned as I felt wetness slide down my face. Looking around at so many others I loved so much, I saw the truth of grief and loss etching itself in each face like a mark of passage. And it went through me like my insides had been wrenched out and dropped to the ground.

I remember thinking just, “How?”

How can love and vitality and everything she was not be in that beloved body anymore?

But at the same time the room was so still with the Presence of the Almighty God. So sacred. The holiest moment I have ever experienced besides giving birth to my daughters and seeing a whole new human being come out of my own body. We were in a sanctuary at that moment, not a hospital room. And the Lord, God had filled that place; had come personally to walk my Mother home!

Just like my baby girls had taken their first breath like a holy sacrament; so, now Mother had taken her last breath in the same hushed stillness of a holy communion. And these experiences forever changed who I am and the meaning of life and love and death for me. Yet still, even ten years later, an overwhelming actual physical ache will come upon me and I just want-no! need to hug my mother, even though she has been gone ten years now.

But I feel her. When I’m alone. When I need her most, I sense her presence; feel a tingling like arms wrapped around as if I am being hugged. Sometimes the scent of her surrounds me and on rare awe-inspiring moments, sometimes I can almost see her. Reaching out toward a shimmer in the air, I feel an electricity, an expectancy. And I know she is right there with me!

I know there is life after death. I am visited by love when times are at their hardest. I know if a person opens themselves to spirit, they will know, too. The Bible says that love is stronger than death. And all I can tell you is what I know: It is true.

 

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