On Tuesday morning, around 3:30am, I lost my mother. She had been battling a heart condition and its long reaching implications for 8 years. I was with her in her home at the time. She died peacefully in her sleep.
My mother was one of those kind of women that brought the best out of a person. She was kind, loving and cheerful. She was active even as her health took its toll. It always felt like a privilege to help her in whatever way I could.
Mom was on pain killers that allowed her to sleep the last few days of her life. It left her confused when she woke up. We had to speak in whispers so as not to startle her.
Dad spoke gently to her when she called out. He took her hand and assured her that he was there. It did my heart good to see this because I knew that on the inside, my father was terrified. Death was new to him. He had known many who had died but he had never seen a person die. To experience death first hand in the familiar frame of his wife of 50 years was devastating.
I stayed busy during my visit. I sat with Mom when she seemed to be surfacing. I held her hand and brushed her hair from her forehead. I gave her medicine and helped her sip water from a straw. I cleaned her. I made her as comfortable as I knew how.
I tried to help Dad too. I cooked dinner. I cleaned the house. I took shifts by Mom’s side so he could sleep. Mostly, I listened. My father, a formerly guarded man in conversation with his children, talked a lot. He was lost in an emotional sea. Mom’s death was the riptide that pulled him from the shore.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross describes the 5 stages of grief in her book, On Death and Dying. She describes them as Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. I would add shock to the list. That is what I saw in my father. He was simply in shock.
I had been to deaths before. As an herbalist, I am honored to be invited to attend many of life’s miracles. Death is one of them. It has its own ritual, its own process and its own peace.
I cruised through the first stage of grief. I wept and plunged into silence. The nurse and I washed and dressed my mother’s body after she passed. We combed her hair and spoke gently to her even though we knew she could not hear us any more. I anointed her with lavender essential oil at her forehead, wrists and feet. I pulled the blanket up under her arms as if I was tucking her in for the night.
Then it was my turn to be lost. I just sat there, not knowing if I should cry. If I started, how could I stop? The sea that had claimed my father raged within me as well.
Now I am angry. Not at people. Not at death. I am willing to be angry at annoying computer glitches or email that I lost or the fact that I keep forgetting what time or day it is. I am angry at being lost and powerless in this great, big world of ours. I am angry at being human.
I keep holding my mother’s gentle spirit as a model for my own passage through this time of grief. I keep imagining her voice and when I close my eyes, I can almost feel her fingertips graze the back of my hand. I know this is just my imagination playing tricks with me. At this point, I welcome it. It is how I let my mother guide me through the ocean of grief.