And so the sun faded on another day and my sisters and daughters and I continued to sit with my mother as she breathed slowly, drifting in and out of wakefulness and sleep.
At a particularly awakened moment, she told us about her five brothers who loved to dance. I told her that the four who are no longer with us would be waiting for her on the other side, dancing with two of her sisters, telling jokes and drinking wine and smoking Gitanes. “They’ll throw such a party for you mom.”
And she smiled and I scrolled through my ITunes and found a Charles Aznavour song she knew and as it played, the five of us danced to his voice crooning and my mother lay propped up in her bed smiling. For a moment her eyes sparkled with joy and when we stopped turning around and around and swaying our arms, she laughed and clapped her hands and whispered, “Oh my dancing girls.”
And then, she fell back to sleep.
She has been mostly sleeping since that moment of joy last night. My eldest daughter, Alexis, remained throughout the night at her bedside, curled up on the easy chair in the corner, keeping watch. And my breath catches in my chest when I think of what a gift she has given my mother, and what a gift this special time we are all sharing in is for both my daughters. For all of us.
By this morning mom had fallen into a deep sleep, stirring only briefly when the nurse comes in.
Waking her is difficult now. And still, if she does open her eyes, she says, as if disappointed, “I’m still here?”
And we smile and touch her crippled hands and tell her it’s okay to go, whenever she’s ready.
We do not know when the time will come and so, we continue to sit with her in the numinous light of what Angeles Arrien calls ‘The Gold Gate’ in her book, “The Second Half of Life. Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom.” We all come in through the Silver Gate and we all go out through the Gold Gate, she writes. There are many gates in between…
This is the gate of surrender, faith and acceptance. It invites us to befriend the death of our physical form and accept that holding on to attachments is not necessary.
I am learning to befriend the death of my mother’s physical form. To accept its journey here on earth is nearing its end. To surrender to her will and faith and to not begrudge this time of her departure.
I am learning to live in the grace of this waiting time, this vigil, this holding space for her to cross over with our arms full of love gently holding her up. To accept that this death is part of my life because her gift is this life I breathe into every day.
I do not know how many breaths my mother has left to take. In the grace of watching her take each breath, I am learning to embrace the ephemeral and ethereal nature of all life. It is a slow walk home to what lays beyond what I can see and know and feel. In its mystery and its majesty, I breathe deeply into the mystical moments we get to share in my mother’s final journey and say a prayer of gratitude.
In the photo above my mother is about sixteen years old. She is the girl sitting in the front, on the left, with the shorter hair.