After a While
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.
29/6/2018 05:39:49 am
What a stunning reflection on life! Thank you for sharing Gayle.
29/6/2018 08:33:56 am
Hi Helen - Thank you for your comment. As you can see, it was a very personal sharing so extra rewarding to know that it meant something to a reader.
1/7/2018 03:48:38 pm
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences you had with and about your mom. “After a While” was just so fitting. Enjoy the rest of your summer in Montana...that particular area is such a beautiful place, and it brings memories to mind of fishing there with my dad!
29/6/2018 05:57:11 am
Thank-you for sharing with us a glimpse into your relationship with your mother and also through this poem you came upon for there is a lot we all can ponder on in it.
29/6/2018 08:35:45 am
Hi Deidre - I'm pleased to hear that it pushed the ponder button for you. 🙂
29/6/2018 06:10:45 am
It is So beautiful Gayle, that you were able to honour your Mother's life in this way. Thank you for sharing❤️
29/6/2018 08:37:20 am
Hi Susan - Yes, we all felt blessed to be together and to be able to honour her with a very lovely and simple ceremony, that was just her style. I said to my brother, "I think mom would have liked it." And his reply was, "She did. She told me so."
29/6/2018 07:39:57 am
I feel so much joy for you and your mother and this poem to me says what a lovely perspective your mother did develop which I'm sure what influenced greatly by you Gayle. Thank you for sharing, it has helped me release more of a lack of relationship I had with my mother 💖
29/6/2018 08:39:59 am
Hi Christine - Yes, it can be difficult when you just "don't connect" with such an important person in your life. It's wonderful to hear that sharing my experience was meaningful to you. Thanks for your comment.
29/6/2018 07:41:55 am
I loved reading this blog. I had to smile reading your mother's concern to die in winter because you would not have warm clothes to come over.
29/6/2018 08:40:33 am
Hi Ingrid - She was such a practical person!!!
29/6/2018 08:02:38 am
Wow Gayle, I love this blog. . I too can relate to the change of 'inner landscape' that a parent's passing leaves. When my father passed over and I was writing my remembrance of him for the service I discovered the qualities he embodied that I had not fully appreciated whilst he was alive. Your mother's poem expresses a divine depth of wisdom that shows she had come to an understanding of herself and life. Thank you for sharing your experience.
29/6/2018 08:42:06 am
Hi Anne - I feel the same in that I learned a lot about my mother through my daughter this past week. She saw qualities that I didn't.
29/6/2018 08:40:56 am
Oh Gayle what a beautiful story, I loved the part about how after about 20 years your mother sort of got over being mad at you for moving away from her. To think that she had held on to this for 20 years! Gosh it showed so well how we can lose so much precious time over things that we have no control over. The poem is gorgeous and so pertinent. Thank you for sharing this with us all.
30/6/2018 12:46:45 am
29/6/2018 05:32:18 pm
Gayle I enjoyed reading about how you and your family honoured your mother's wishes for her end of life. You evidently supported her very much in her final years whenever you visited her. That poem must have helped your mother to accept her situation and to know that at every stage of life we are learning more about ourselves and life.
30/6/2018 12:50:39 am
Thanks Bernie. I agree that we are learning more about ourselves and life with every step we take and this even includes holding the memorial service. It provided all of us with an opportunity to express about our relationship with this woman who held the position of the matriarch (which has now passed on to me!)
30/6/2018 03:27:16 pm
Absolutely beautiful Gayle, and what a gorgeous poem your mother shared ... the joy to feel someone finding their way to acceptance and understanding, and I learned something really important reading this in how I can let go - thank you.
3/7/2018 02:34:43 am
Thanks for your comment, Monica. I'm very touched to think that my mother's passing can show others the way to let go. Because, of course, we have to 'let go' at some point. Better sooner than later, eh!
Esther Auf der Maur
1/7/2018 12:53:59 am
Dear Gayle, thank you so much for sharing your experience and your mother’s poem! I love how prepared she was and her openness to talk about her death way before the event. I feel this preparation helped her to just let go when the moment arrived.
3/7/2018 02:36:15 am
Thank you Esther for pointing this out. I hadn't really connected the dots in that way, but I feel you are right. Her preparation for her passing did contribute to her ability to just 'go' when the time was right.
4/7/2018 06:56:12 pm
Yes, there is a settlement in completing and tying up all loose ends and the practical action does prepare us emotionally as well.Gayle, it is great that your mother was so 'no-nonsense' about death, and so prepare to go – it would have made it easier for the whole family and allowed her to have a gentle passing without the need of an illness or disease to precipitate her.
2/7/2018 06:24:46 am
Thank you Gayle for sharing this intimate journey. As my parents are aging I appreciate this insight. I feel the love and beauty in this blog.
3/7/2018 02:38:06 am
Dear Jade - Yes, we are at that age where our parents are going to move on before too long. And as I said in the blog, it doesn't matter how old they are - or we are - it is a major life event and process to adjust to the loss.
5/7/2018 02:57:20 am
Yes, Sandra, I agree, there is a settlement when you have your affairs in order. I've always felt this but I've never appreciated it more than after my mother's passing, and seeing first hand the effect on her and on those left behind.
8/7/2018 05:24:21 am
This is a beautifully honouring... of relationship, of our right to choose, of the quality we can bring to life even in death. I can feel the acceptance of meeting death wholeheartedly, not leaving “the place untidy” but consciously and with purpose knowing that there is more even if it isn’t known. Thank you for sharing your mother’s poem, also. Very enriching.
8/7/2018 09:08:16 am
Thanks for your comment Peta. I am looking forward to sharing the website LeavingGradefully.co.uk in the next FieryService.com interview because that website is all about 'leaving things tidy' when we pass on.
10/7/2018 05:24:18 am
Thanks Gayle for sharing your mums passing over and your relationship with her. This is something we all have to come to accept and deal with as our parents grow older and something I have been thinking about a lot lately in regards to my parents.
11/7/2018 02:47:43 am
Hello Greg....I love hearing from people who have read this bog and how it has contributed to their own life experience and contemplation. Some of the most important lessons from our parents come as we watch them age, knowing that, if we are lucky, this is something we'll be doing too!
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Gayle Cue loves writing about life, reflecting on every day miracles and pondering on the big picture.
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