Many years ago when I first realized mom was going to die because of Alzheimer's, the very thought of her death terrified me. After all, she was my bestfriend as well as my parent, and the idea I would lose her in this way was an unbearable reality. I couldn't imagine what the day would be like when I would wake up and know she was no longer in the world. And worse yet, I feared she would have to endure a slow and lingering "good-bye". I was right.....her journey in this disease lasted 14 years.
When the phone rang last month and I was told mom had pneumonia, I knew in my heart we were facing the end. But was I prepared? True, I had seen death come many times before, but this time it would be different. This time the loss would be my own...and how could I face that? Was I truly ready to let go of both my mother, and my bestfriend? It was a frightening thought.
After all, this wasn't going to be like something out of a movie. There would be no time spent sitting beside her bed reminiscing about our life together. There would be no gentle smiles...no soft good-byes...no lingering glances exchanged before her life flickered out before my eyes....
I couldn't help but wonder, what would it be like....those last final moments? Would she somehow be aware of my presence or would she be so caught between heaven and this earthly hell she would never know I was there? It was a question I had no answer to...but I prayed...oh how I prayed.
Sometimes I found myself asking God to just come down and release her. I assured him it didn't matter if she drifted softly into the good-night without awareness of anyone. Other times I prayed over and over again to be given the privilege of being by her side...stroking her hair...whispering everything I meant to tell her...and never thought to.
When the final call came, I wondered all the way up there...what would I say? How do you condense a lifetime into a short time? What was important to speak of...to remember? What great, momentous thing could I tell her before she left me?
Then my mind switched gears and I began to wonder what she would experience. Would she slip silently from one realm to another? Or would she hover, waiting for me to release her into the hands of God? And would she suffer? Would her last remaining moments be filled with pain and terror? That was my greatest fear....
As my thoughts spun round and round, out of nowhere a memory surfaced in my mind. You see, someone once wrote that death is like a miracle. So, while her body might be leaving, I suddenly knew without doubt she would remain sheltered from it's repercussions. It was the one thought that gave me peace...gave me strength, and with that understanding came the certainty we would remain together, even at the end. And I was right.
From the moment I entered her room and saw her lying there, I knew this connection would never be broken. In fact, it was a knowledge so strong, it seemed to permeated the air. In one flash of a second, the world had ceased to exist and everything narrowed. Nothing was real except this one bed, and this one woman...who had come to say good-bye.
For a moment, I just stood at the edge of her bed, drinking in the sight of her face. Then, like always, I quietly sat down beside her and began to stroke her hair. You see, this had always been our favorite past time. Long after she could no longer respond, whenever I would brush her hair, I could always feel her head burrowing against my hand. This time, there would be no welcoming nudge...but that didn't matter. Nothing mattered to me except the feel of her hair as it flooded over my skin.
For the longest time I simply sat that way. Feeling...absorbing the sensations of mother and daughter together. I let my fingers drift slowly over her face. They lingered, capturing each cherished feature...memorizing each line, each hollow. In truth, I knew these moments would have to last me a life time. So, in this room where the silence was only broken by her erratic breathing, I tried to capture once more to memory, this beautiful gift I had been given from God.
Closing my eyes I began to draw a picture in my mind. I wanted to remember the color of her hair, the texture of her skin, the shade of her eyes. I wanted every nuance, every trace of her...nothing could be left out. But it wouldn't form...nothing would form. It seemed the harder I tried to draw this mental picture, the more illusive it became.
Looking down at her I tried to understand how this could be. I could see this face in my dreams, so why not now? Now, when I needed it the most? It was like I had been shut out and I never felt so alone in my life. Was it that I wasn't trying hard enough? Was death such a poignant moment it sweeps away even the very image the person? I had no answers, just a dark and hollow feeling. And then it began. A sense that defies a description in words. Hesitantly something began to emerge in my mind. But they weren't the features of my mom. Whatever this was, was intangible, ethereal. You see, for one eternal second I felt I had somehow stepped beyond the physical presence of life and death and witnessed something that defies words....it was like I saw my mother's soul.
There, buried deep within this frail shell, was the woman she had always been. I saw the love, the compassion and the spirit, that had refused to die. This glimpse of heaven melted away all the trappings, and it was as if as her body died her spirit gained strength. It didn't matter that no spoken words passed between us because this "gift" was so precious there was no need for final expressions. I knew then, as I know now, I was given a rare fleeting glance of what eternity is like, and I knew my mom would be released into a life we can never imagine.
That's when the tears came. Tears that washed away all the sadness I had felt when I knew she was going to die. I realized that sometimes, when you love someone so very much, you must give up everything...and I did. By giving up her physical presence and releasing her into the hands of God, I was giving her back the life she had lost here on earth.
I let her go because I had to, and I did so with no regrets.... You see, in that moment when heaven was seen in her eyes, I knew my mother wasn't dying, but was being reborn into a life that was nothing like the torture she had endured on this earth.
Leaning down one more time...I said the words she needed to hear...."It's alright mom....go on without me. You know I love you, but it's time for your new life". Fifteen minutes later mom reached out and touched the face of God.....
On the day of her funeral, balloons were released at her grave side. It was very gusty that day, so when the ribbons were finally let go, all but one eagerly caught the wind and soared off into the sky. The one that remained seemed to linger. It hovered, uncertain, almost regretful in the need to leave, but knowing it had to.....
I know without a doubt that balloon was the spirit of my mom and she was leaving me one lasting memory to cling to. Then, when she was certain her message had been understood, off she went... sailing higher and higher, spiraling, dancing, joyful in her freedom...until at last she disappeared, heaven bound into the brightness of eternity.....