The death of a loved one is always a marker. It marks the passage of time. It often marks the end of an era, usually a change in outer circumstances, and often a less obvious but powerful change in our inner landscape, especially if the death is one of our parents. It doesn’t matter how old they were or how old we are, when our parent passes on it gives us pause to reflect on our life, our relationship with them and how that relationship has affected us.
My mother passed over last November, she was a few weeks short of being ninety years of age and she had been saying for the last couple of years that she was ready to go. My family and I are all grateful that she went quickly and gracefully, at home, sitting up talking, drinking a glass of water – and then, suddenly, she was gone. Thankfully there was no end of life trauma, no ambulances, no hospitals, no nursing homes.
My mother and I were very different and we had a hard time understanding each other. But one of the things I have really appreciated about her in the final years of her life was that she wanted everything sorted out before she died. While she was still mobile and agile of mind, she insisted that my brother and I go with her to a lawyer and get the legal documents written up, her will, a power of attorney, and an enduring guardian appointment. She kept a living will on her refrigerator saying she did not want to be resuscitated. She had even written her own obituary (possibly so we wouldn’t forget to mention the things that were important to her!) We had talked about her passing. She didn’t want a funeral because all of her friends had already passed before her. She was concerned that if she died in the winter (she lived in North America) that it would be difficult for me to come back because I didn’t have warm enough clothing and she figured I had forgotten how to drive on icy roads. I reckon she was right!
I moved, with my husband and children, to Australia thirty years ago. My parents were very distressed by our decision to move so far away. But we were committed to making an adventure out of life and so there was no looking back for us. I did the best I could to stay in touch with my parents and to keep them connected to our new life. I wrote long letters in the beginning, then I bought them a fax machine so they could have instant letters. Years later I tried to get my mother on-line but she wouldn’t adapt to the 21stcentury.
She spent the first twenty years after we left being mad at me for moving. I came back every few years for a visit. But as you can imagine, with her being mad at me, it wasn’t always a lot of fun to be together. Fortunately, she lived long enough that she eventually accepted that I had moved and wasn’t coming back and so she (sort of) got over being mad at me and the last ten years of her life we came to understand each other perhaps better than we ever had.
My mother and I had talked about death. We had already been through many deaths in our family so it wasn’t like she was going to be the first! We discussed that if she did pass over in the winter, we would wait and have the memorial service in the spring when I could come and enjoy springtime in the Rocky Mountains and stay at the cabin for the summer.
So here it is June, the end of the northern spring and beginning of summer. A few nights before the memorial service, my daughter and I were looking through a box of my mother’s things that my brother had set aside for us. We found this poem that my mother had copied into a notebook I had given her. As I read it, I realised that it was my mother’s journey, that she had made it through and had come to a place of acceptance, a place of letting go of her hurt and disappointment, a place of expansion within herself so she could meet her end without resistance.
So six months after her passing, on a fine sunny solstice day, our small family gathered at the cemetery to intern her ashes at the foot of my father’s grave, and I read this poem, for her, for me, for everyone who has had to learn these lessons.
After a While
by Veronica A Shoffstall
After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security.
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts,
And presents aren’t promises,
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child.
And learn to build all your roads on today,
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,
And futures have a way of falling down in midflight.
And after a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure,
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth.
And you learn and learn…
With every goodbye, you learn.
Gayle Cue loves writing about life, reflecting on every day miracles and pondering on the big picture.
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