Sunday, March 01, 2009
out of Time
You might have noticed that I disappeared for a while there. I've been struggling with a persistent cold ever since the last week in December. It recurred twice, once in January and once at the end of February, knocking me out for a week each time. Meanwhile I got the news on February 4 that my mother was dying.
It was not a surprise. She has been in a long decline starting in 1999 when she had a major heart attack. She was already suffering from short term memory loss and that progressed into Alzheimers. She lived in a succession of nursing homes and rest homes for the past nine years. In the last few months, she slept most of the time, like an old cat.
My daughter, Shaw, and I rushed down to Ventura and were able to be with her in the hospital for two days. We took shifts and I was with her when she died in the early hours of February 6. Although her death was peaceful, being with her was not easy. I wished I had taken more time to think through how to create a sense of sacred space in the hospital room. I should have talked to my friend, death midwife, Nora Cedarwind, who has made it her life's work to bring dignity and beauty into the dying process.
We were blessed with the presence of a priest who came to give my mother the Anointing of the Sick, after my daughter insisted my mother would want this Catholic ritual. And after my mother died, we were comforted by the services provided by the funeral home and the rituals of the Catholic Church. It was clear both were the result of years and centuries of considering what people need when they are experiencing loss and grief.
Perhaps the most surprising moments during this whole process happened at the cemetery. My sister, who is an engineer, wanted to see how they would lower the coffin into the ground. So after the burial service, we stayed to watch as the cemetery workers with shovels and bulldozer lowered the coffin into the vault and the vault into the ground and then shoveled the dirt back over it. (I wish we had stepped forward at this point to shovel dirt ourselves but we weren't invited to do so and so we didn't.) Then they carefully laid back down the strips of sod they had removed and replaced the headstone (which marks my father's resting place) and laid the big bouquet of flowers on the green grass. It was an amazing end to an intense process, to look back, as we walked towards our rental cars, and see the lilies and roses lying on the green grass.
Although it seems my mother's death should be a sad event, it was not entirely sad. It was also beautiful and disturbing, peaceful and exhausting. Here's a picture of my daughter on the beach that captures a certain sense of grace about our trip: