Photo credit :http://www.norwalkhosp.org
29 days ago my mother died suddenly. She died during an asthma attack, but from her heart stopping, not from lack of breath. In the last 5-6 years she had been able to manage her asthma with diet, supplements and lifestyle. Only in the last 6 or so weeks of her life did she start to struggle again, to the point that she needed her nebulizer after years of it being stored away. The night before she died she was watching her favorite drama at the theater, The Mysteries put on by a South African director, his name eludes me. The day before she died she booked her ticket with my father for a post retirement trip to Zanzibar. Me and her also compared our knitting projects over skype. It was such an ordinary chat – nothing to prepare me for the phone call from my father the next morning to tell me that my mother had just died.
In many ways my deepest fear has been the loss of a parent. I just could not fathom managing that. My heart has always gone out to friends and aquaintances who have lost a parent/sibling, and I have never known what to say or do. It just seems to be such a huge injustice and I cannot fathom ever getting over such a loss.
Now I am on the other side. I have lost my mother. And while our relationship was far from perfect – it is still a mind boggling, numbing experience to loose your mother.
Now I know what to do when someone looses a loved one. Just acknowledge the death. Be there in an open way. If the recently bereaved want to talk they will, if not they won’t. Don’t push or deny or try and make it all better with some profound utterance of spiritual or philosophical magnitude. Of all the responses I have had around me, the most supportive have been an acknowledgement with an offer to help and a willingness to do whatever it is that is needed in that moment. No one can make it better or make the pain go away. But an acknowledgment goes a long way. The most distressing responses have been profoundly ‘stupid’ condolences about the order of life and heaven an profoundly happy experiences of death and dying. But that is me. A sincere open ness to life beyond death is certainly not out of the question, but I dislike the platitudes.
I learnt so much about my mother as a person. I had always wanted to know more of who she was as a person, as that has eluded me. She was my imperfect mother.
I learned to see her through the eyes of her many friends and colleagues. I saw how profoundly important she was to so many people. I saw a beauty in her life story that has eluded me until this moment of gathering memories in a tribute to her life.
There are two things that I am deeply grateful for. One, is that my mother died at home with my father there. There was a flurry of activity to resuscitate her when the ambulance arrived after my father had tried to save her for 20 minutes. But beyond that brief interlude, my mother was surrounded by the people who loved her. Her husband and a bit later her son (my brother). The woman who came to prepare her for her coffin was a close friend and her piano teacher. At all times she was treated with dignity in her death. That comforts me. It makes me think of homebirthing, and what a blessing is must be to die at home. What a gentle way to go, just as it is a gentle way to arrive. I also found myself wondering who cares for her on the other side. As I received my DS I took on the responsibility for caring for him and helping him make sense of this world. I wonder who plays that role for my mother as she enters into a new experience.
The second thing that I am grateful for is just what a profound experience of love my mother experienced in her life. My father loved her so completely and so wholeheartedly. It makes it easier for me to think of her life when I know how deeply she was loved. It also eases my pain to know that she had time with her grandson. She wanted so badly to be a grandmother, and she did have the experience. At the same time I am heartbroken for my father, for his loss. What an experience to loose your dearly beloved life partner.
I think my deepest regret is that me and my mother never learnt to communicate in a healthy open way. My father shared with me that my mother felt this lack in her life too, and was opening to the idea of working on our communication and touching her sensitive spots in an effort to heal our relationship. That is beyond huge for my mother, and gladdened me. It eases the pain of the imperfections in our relationship.
The hardest thing for me is the loss of my family. I still have my brother and my father – but my family unit is now fragmented. My mother glued us together. We are still a family unit, but our loss is very real. I can only guess that with time it will heal and we will rebuild a new and different family dynamic.
My mother never knew what it was to loose a mother. My maternal grandmother is still alive at 91. My mother died at 62.