Monday, January 22, 2007

Death: The Brain vs The Mind

When Mom was dying, we witnessed something that was miraculous. I still can't explain it logically, and not being the religious type, I also can't -- or won't -- explain it in terms of religion. But it was, quite simply, one of the most profound experiences of my life.

Here's what I wrote in my journal as I sat at the foot of Mom's bed on that Wednesday in April, 2004:

4/8/04 12:30 PM
Incredible. You absolutely insisted on having everything OFF – catheter, diaper, nightgown, even blankets. Everything! For a while, we couldn't’t figure it out, but it became apparent that you were determined to lie flat on the bed, in the light shining from the skylight, stark naked.

Then you shared where you are with us:

“It’s peaceful.”
Almost singing: “Where I’m gooooing!”
Helicopter (Hawaii? Alaska? Dad knew and he and Mom agreed…)
“Elisabeth ferien” (about their trip to Germany when Elisabeth was 13! This one made me sob, and I told Omi that Elisabeth is sooo much like her, it means I get to KEEP Omi through Elisabeth. She grimaced and “sobbed,” without a sound, a tear running down her cheek…)
“A lake”
“Floating in there.”
“She’ll be there.”
“Will (we’ll?) be ready.”
“_____ (name?) will be there.”
“I want to geh.” (Trying to get up and go with entire body… legs in cycling or hiking motion.)
And then, she did something she hadn’t done in two days: she opened her eyes and focused – on Dad – and said to him, clear as a bell, “Can you carry me over?”

For days before this happened, Mom couldn't speak or communicate. Then suddenly, and for only a few moments, she completely connected with us, sharing where she was in her journey to "the other side." It was a gift from her to us -- one that obviously took hard work and commitment. I still can't explain what happened, but it will always feel magical to me.

Tonight I read this in TIME magazine's feature on the human brain. I can hardly describe my excitement – yes, excitement! – at reading this. So someone else had experienced a loved one very close to death suddenly “coming back from the edge” to bid farewell to loved ones! And this doctor could confirm that David’s brain had been overtaken with cancer! He absolutely should not have been able to speak coherently to his family – at yet he did! According to Scott Haig, the doctor who wrote that article, David’s MIND took over his diseased brain, and it was his MIND that formed the words and the connections, not his brain.

Absolutely fascinating! If I hadn’t experienced something so similar, I’d be wondering too. And actually, I AM wondering! But in a way, I also love the mystery of it!

As one Hospice worker said when I explained Mom’s sudden and momentary clarity, “No one can really explain it all… some people who expect Jesus to come for them in purple velvet robes seem pretty surprised when it doesn’t happen that way. And some people who expect just to fade away and become dirt are pretty surprised when it doesn’t happen that way either!"

Some people might think this picture is a bit morbid, but I think it’s beautiful. This is Mom and me on that day when she shared her journey with us, just hours before she became “just a shell” and days before her body died.

I didn't sleep well the week that Mom died, so I'm not sure if this was a dream or more of a thought... but I remember wanting to pin a picture of Mom in her younger, more beautiful years, to her nightgown so the people at the mortuary could see who she was before cancer stole her vibrancy. The idea surely came from my kindergarten teacher pinning important notes to our clothes so parents would be sure to see them.

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Betsy said...

What a beautiful, powerful post, Carol! I love the idea of pinning a picture of her to her nightgown.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I too wanted to pin a photo of my mom as a young vibrant woman to her clothes for the doctors and hospice nurses and then morturary to see that she wasn't just this elderly sick woman that they saw.

Similar to your experience, both my mom and dad had a day or so of mental clarity not long before they died.

My dad who had dementia for at least the last year of his life suddenly recognized me and was able to talk with me. I was able to tell him about his great grandson who had just been born and who had been given my dad's name. My dad said 'Wonderful.'

Being with a parent as they die is incredibly sad and incredibly beautiful at the same time. There's so much love and there are so many layers to our relationships with them. They are and aren't the whole world to us all at once.

christina said...

I think that's a beautiful photo of you and your mom. Not morbid at all.

I don't know if we'll ever understand everything that goes on in the mind.

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