A Mother's Teaching
On April 20th my mother’s animating spirit left her body. What happened next? I must admit, I don’t know for certain. I have a felt sense about it. What I can speak about with certainty is the impact her death had on me: The grief is unfathomable, releasing many ancient fears and sorrows and joys and freedoms, shattering the innocent certainty about anything.
I had the great good fortune to spend the night with my mother in the hospital, the night before she died, and I believe I witnessed a series of mini-deaths, mini letting go’s. She knew me the way only a mother can, but during those hours we were not mother and daughter – we were Light reflecting Light. She gave me the gift of being by her bedside through these most sublime moments of her human life. As terrifying and heartbreaking as it was at the time, it has been the most profound blessing I have ever received.
Over the course of the next weeks and months I hope to unpack a little more, what death teaches us about evolution. If you’ve experienced a death in your immediate family, perhaps you have also experienced how death of a loved one creates an immediate and total reprioritization of our lives? This reprioritization is the work of evolution. If you’ve experienced sitting with a dying person, you may know, first hand, the incomparable teaching death is. Deepening into this teaching is also the work of evolution.
In the days leading up to her death, my 88-yr-old mother, devotional Catholic that she is, engaged the Paschal mystery to the fullest. As she practiced remembering the story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, it seems to me she was in fact grappling viscerally with her own death and eternal life in spirit.
It began on Holy Thursday during a short-lived warm spell in New Haven, with an outing into the garden behind the skilled nursing facility where she lived, where fruit trees in blossom heralded the hope of springtime. There she and my sister encountered a “joyful bird” splashing in a bird bath. She would remember that joyful bird over the coming days as she went through the anticipatory grief that sometimes accompanies the process of the body shutting down. That bird’s blessing was a touchstone for her – an anchor for her spirit that would allow her to let go of her mortal life, incomparably rich in story, magnificent in its joys and sorrows.
In retrospect I now understand she was in an active dying process throughout that Easter time. She fell on the Tuesday morning after Easter, broke her pelvis, and within 34 hours she released into spirit.
I wrote a death haiku to commemorate my mother’s passing, and to give me a touchstone through the grief:
haiku for Elizabeth
beneath the blossoms
the bright bird’s spirited waltz
splashes light around
May our letting go be easy.
May death’s teachings fall on fertile ground, quickening our evolution.
May we anchor more deeply in spirit with each passing day.
May Love become our orienting compass.
May we enjoy ourselves as we splash light around.