Such perfect love and friendship reminds me of my relationship with my mother, Sarah, who always said, “Had I not been your mother, I would have wanted you as my best friend.” She was the “perfect mother sentient being.”
It was May in North Carolina, and the blossoms were falling from the trees. As we left the medical center, Mom asked, “Is it snowing?” as she pulled her sweater closer around her shivering shoulders. She was 83 and dying. Our journey had begun.
She chose to die at home, with me as her hospice worker, and with Dad, a few visiting family members, and minimum home care. From the moment we arrived at home, our roles reversed as she reached her thin arms for me to help her change into her nightgown.
A blur of time passed as she grew increasingly frail. It was only a few weeks – it seemed like days – until we knew the time was near. After a beautiful day together, full of singing and laughter, my mother slipped into a coma. Dad called me in from the couch where I was napping. “Come. Spend your share of time with her.” As he began to leave, I called him back in the room, and we sat on either side of her tiny body. I cleaned the foam from around her mouth and gave her the appropriate medicine while he brushed her hair. Her eyes were shut and her breathing was slow, but I knew she was with us. I began to talk to her. I told her she was an eagle, flying ever higher into the clear light of the sky. I assured her that we loved her, directing her away from fear. I reminded her of my brother who had died three years before. I told her that he was waiting to fly with her and lead her “home.” “Look, Mom, he’s watching you, and he isn’t sick anymore. Fly with him.” I never wondered why I was not pulling her back to me. She had suffered enough. She was tired. I was reminded of a tongue-in-cheek pin my brother had given me years before that read, “Maybe in another life.” She had come to the end of this one. Like Paul Simon’s famous song, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” her time had come to shine. Her body was glowing, and I saw the pure clear light surrounding her like an aura.
She was not breathing, but it took several hours for me to feel her move through me. I felt the intensity of her love move inside my body like a gentle clean breeze of pure bodhichitta.
When they came for my mother, I asked them to wait, don’t cover her face until she was at the threshold of the door. Which threshold of which door? I ask myself this, and I remember our journey together, wing-tip to wing-tip until she was ready to fly on alone.
How was I able to face my deepest fear and let my mother go? I know it took humility, on both our parts, as I washed and cared for her, massaged lotion into her tiny limbs, even hand-fed her favorite foods.
After years of fighting my ego as if it were a charging elephant, I felt my ego dissolve for the sake of another person. I could not be the one “in charge.” There were other people who loved her as much as I do; and, of course, my mother’s own feelings, fears, and needs were above anything else. I see humility as a part of pure love. The ego only keeps us from giving our all, not only to our known loved ones, but to sentient beings everywhere. I am still, six years later, adjusting to the lessons I learned through my mother’s death, and my father’s, six months after hers. I think they’ll both be guiding me and teaching me as I travel on, until we can be together once again.
To His Holiness, I bow in thanks. I see that we are all bound together by “a string of a cloth that is inseparable from life to life.” It is made of love. Is anything stronger?
When my time comes, I pray I remember his words, “Now keep peace of mind…. Now go with an ease of mind.”