When a person is making a difficult decision, wavering in the process between options, someone is apt to say, "It's not set in stone." What they mean is, change is still possible; it's not final. Well, this is final, set in stone. This reality will never change or go away. I saw it today, again, and could hardly believe it was my mother's name before my eyes. She is gone.
It wasn't like my mother died abruptly. She lived well for 18 months after her liver cancer diagnosis. And even when she opted out of chemo, she had another ten months with a lot of good days. Until she fell. It was no one's fault, just one of those things that happen. She was in the landscaped area outside of her room, watering the hibiscus I'd given her for Mother's Day three months earlier. And checking on the other shrubs and flowers that were planted there, bending down to smell a bloom…Her broken shoulder never mended; her body was no longer in healing mode.
Slowly she began to fade. She was leaving me for six months, bit by bit. As Christmas approached, she was no longer answering her phone, not even her precious cell phone on which we had talked for hours and hours, through the years. (Our family plan was designed to accommodate unlimited minutes for the two of us!) Now, I had to check with nursing staff to see how she was doing or drive the two hours for a visit. Which I tried to do regularly but which on some level would never have been enough to quiet the voices in my head. But I did what I could, given that I wasn't yet in the empty nest stage of life, given that I'm a home school mom, given that I'm married to a pastor, given that I'd wonderfully become a grandma.
In February, she drifted farther from the shore, and we knew it wouldn't be long. That last week, we kept vigil by day, slept at my aunt's house each night.
My mother was a very private woman, and one of the nurses took me aside earlier that week and said, "I don't think she's going to die when you’re here. I've seen this before, she will wait."
Eventually I made peace with that scenario when I remember the scripture she had us read/quote over and over again, from Psalm 23…"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me…" And I knew she wasn't alone after all.
It was different than I would have chosen, but I wasn't dying. It was one of many lessons I've been learning along this journey in grief and death and letting go.
Lessons Learned in Grief
With nearly two years advance warning, one would think it possible to prepare for death. But one would be wrong. It's the most surreal feeling in the world, and I've found I can't think my way through it to any kind of healthy place.
I just have to own it and feel it and walk through whatever comes, because …
Unlike a backpacking trip, preparation is minimal for the journey of grief…other than living well in the present moment, which no one does perfectly. I don't think it's possible to "prepare" oneself in order to minimize the depth of the pain.
Sometimes it feels like my grief path meanders through foreign country where no one speaks my language. I'm hesitant to talk if it seems like people have no idea what I'm saying or meaning.
The destination for every grief journey may be the same – a healthy, peaceful acceptance of a new reality – but I think the route is different every time for every person. Ironically, even though grief is a journey undertaken by every single person alive, most of us find we have to trek alone.
More tomorrow... Hummin' B.