Sunday, March 23, 2008

An Easter Memory

On Easter morning in 2004, just before the sun rose over the mountain tops, my mother died peacefully in her own bed, surrounded by her husband and her adult children. Until that morning I'd rarely used the word "holy" because it never had a personal meaning for me, though I knew that it referred to something deeply miraculous.

But that morning felt holy to me.

I don't mean to be sacrilegious and my mom was anything but a saint. And the fact that it was Easter -- a holiday that only means bunnies and colored eggs for us -- was merely coincidence. But the experience was as close to holy as I can comprehend.

One week previous, my father had called my brothers and me and told us that "it's time," so without children or spouses we all arrived at my parents' Oregon home. We expected Mom to die within days of the ovarian cancer that had finally riddled her body, but she held on for a full week, during which time she taught me more about grace and tenacity than I'd ever known.

At 4 AM on Easter morning, Dad woke me up from a fitful sleep to tell me that it was time. He said, "If you listen very carefully, you can see how peaceful death can be."

I had just been dreaming (or maybe just sleepily thinking, because I don't think I really slept that week) that I had emulated something my kindergarten teacher did when I was very young: in order to make sure that our parents received our important take-home notices, she'd pin them to the front of our clothes, right over our bellies. I dreamed that I found a photo of Mom when she was most beautiful and pinned it to her nightgown so the people who would deal with her body after death could see how beautiful she'd been and not treat her like a skeletal cancer patient she currently was.

Dad took my hand and led me to the bed where my mother lay almost lifeless in a fetal position.

Her breaths were like a tiny, delicate little bird’s: very shallow, very regular, and very soft, with a faint rhythmic “click” to each breath. She looked totally relaxed. But she didn’t look like my mother. Mom had taken leave two days before when she had shared with us where she was -- floating on a Bavarian lake, flying high above Hawaii, finding her own mother. Over the period of an hour on that Easter morning, she drifted so sweetly and peacefully away, surrounded by her family, and within the glimmer of her favorite Bavarian candle.

After she died, Dad went outside and picked a dogwood flower and placed it on Mom. He commented to me that dogwood flowers only stay totally white for a short time. He was right; in a matter of minutes, dark spots appeared on the tip of each flower. Then we all sat with her. No one cried. It was simply too serene and beautiful, too “holy," to cry. Michael and Dad even took a few pictures. Mom looked beautiful in her white lace gown, under the white lace sheet, with the white dogwood flower on Easter morning as the sun rose.

About two hours after Mom died, a Funeral Alternative couple came to get her. A husband/wife team, they gently told us what would happen. State law requires gloves and a plastic sheet and that she be covered and encased. Previously, I’d thought I couldn’t stay for such a thing, but I would have never considered leaving at that point. They handed me the dogwood while they wrapped her and placed her on the gurney. Then they “zipped her in,” forgetting to replace the flower – which I wanted with her.

So I found my way to her, unwrapping her, and placed the flower on her chest. Then I gave her a kiss and said, “Schlafy, schlafy (my family’s “sleep tight”) one last time.

It's been four years since Mom died. It’s odd to think that she never knew of her youngest grandson, TJ, or of Peter’s girlfriend, Danelle, or of Shasta, or of so many things and people that have become a part of our lives since her death. As the years pass, Mom will have shared less and less of our lives. But she’ll always be a huge part of my own life and I will always miss her. And because she died on Easter morning, which happened to be on April 11th that year, there will always be two days per year (Easter and 4/11) when I have especially poignant memories of her death – and her life!

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Maria said...

Absolutely beautiful writing Carol! Happy Easter!

Anonymous said...

I'll bet your mom would be pleased to read this and to see that her passing was beautiful because of her loving family. You honor her with your love and remembrances.

Jen said...

Beautiful post and tribute, Carol.

She-She C said...

I'm at a loss for words, Carol. May memories of happier times out number the sad. Your strength and love shine in this beautiful tribute.

Goofball said...

That was a very moving post. I am glad you could experience those last days with your mom so conciously, so preciously, so "holy".

I have goosebumps on my arms right now and I didn't even know your mother. What a tribute.

Rositta said...

Beautifully written. My Mom died the day before Mother's Day and that day will never be the same for me. I understand completely how you feel...:)

Renate said...

What a beautiful moving post. My mother passed away from cancer the Wednesday before Easter in 1987. She, too, died at home, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. There was the same sense of peace when she passed. Her last words to me had been "wo sind meine Kinder ". I explained to her that I was there, my brothers (one from Germany and one from Minnesota) were on their way. It was a day after they arrived that she died. I am convinced she hung in there until everyone was by her side.

Carol said...

I believe that she did hold on for the arrival of her other children. This ability to ward off death has actually been proven. Sometimes people choose to go when a loved one leaves the room, if only for a moment.

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