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a loving release

As our visit in Austin with mom was coming to a close, I was able to sit with her one last time. She was much more withdrawn from what was going on around her now, seemed mostly focused inward. Her speech was slurred some and she coughed often. She was not able to walk on her own anymore and was sleeping more often during the day. I sat next to her and held her hand. Touch and space was more what we shared now. She looked up at me and smiled and then looked beyond my shoulder, as if there were someone there. It was puzzling to see her do this and smile in the process. I looked over my shoulder and saw nothing. When I asked her what she was looking at, she said her father. That he and her mother, who had both passed when I was very young, were around her now, talking to her. I didn’t quite grasp what that meant. My experiences were increasingly pushing me way beyond my edges now and this was definitely one of those moments. I decided to go with what mom was saying in that moment and let go of my need to understand.

Mom turned her attention back to me and spoke softly. She said that she did not feel she had any unfinished business and she felt at peace. With herself, her loved ones, and her life. Her words warmed my heart and I knew she was ready to leave, I just didn’t know when. Each of my kids spent time talking to mom one on one and then we said goodbye. Maybe until the next time, maybe forever. I wasn’t quite sure.

Before I left the house, I went looking for the pamphlet that Hospice had left that explained the dying process, something I had never observed so closely before. Suddenly I was more interested. And there it was under a heading ‘disorientation.’ When close to dying, a person often becomes ‘confused, may see and converse with loved ones who have died before them.’ On some level, I was fascinated by the intricacies of life and these details of the process of life ending. On another, my heart grew heavy and almost felt like it was on fire, radiating out in all directions, knowing that my goodbyes would come to an end soon.

Back home, I tried to move through my day and stay busy with focusing on my children’s needs and work. I was mostly kidding myself. I would start one thing and then end up doing something totally different, almost as if I had ‘lost’ a moment of time in the transition. Something that seemed to keep me somewhat focused was regular exercise, both in the gym and at the park on the trails. During my daily phone calls with mom, I would check in on how she felt, and what was important to her. I could feel her smile as she shared that her minister had come to her house to carry out a private Easter service for her, since she was not able to make it to church anymore. I shared that while I really wanted to come back to see her, I knew in my heart it was more important for her to have time with dad. Mom agreed. Then she talked again about her life and summed it up to having never fully relaxed, ever. She said she never just sat around and read or painted, solely focused on what she was doing. While she did those things, she was always thinking of something else at the same time. Or she would interrupt her quiet time to go help others in need. Mom shared that while she had the time now to just be still, it was somewhat foreign to her and made her uncomfortable.

Several weeks went by. The heaviness in my heart was becoming a permanent fixture and the physical manifestations of my pain continued with leg cramps and feeling nauseous. I felt a moment of peace and joy when I heard what mom shared one day. She sounded weak and her speech was slurred but I could still understand her words. She shared that the brightest part of her day now was when dad rubbed her feet before bed each night. It was such incredible validation for me of the choice I had made, to create space for mom and dad to share their deep love. While it was hard for mom to talk, I could almost feel her smile when she spoke of dad rubbing her feet and I knew she was able to actually feel his enduring love for her. It made me smile. As we hung up, mom also shared that she had let go of all negative emotion and felt totally full of peace.

As Mother’s Day approached, I knew time was running out quickly and I would need to go to Austin soon. I chose to spend mother’s day with my children and go to Austin for Dad’s birthday, a few days after. I was still trying to keep a semblance of focus on work and was expected to be in Monterrey for an important leadership event the day after mother’s day. With mixed feelings, I boarded a plane headed west. As I landed in California, I knew in my heart I would not be there long. After talking with my sisters, I learned why. Evidently dad had shared something openly during mother’s day brunch. He told mom in front of my sisters that she was the love of his life, and that while he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, he knew it was time for her to go. And that she could leave with his deep love and full blessing. So very touching and sweet. And then it hit me. Something else I had read in the Hospice pamphlet. That sometimes our loved ones wait until they are ‘released’ before being fully read to die. Dad had just released her. It was now time for me to drop everything and fly to Austin.

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gifts from the heart

My day of respite from the fog of grief lasted two days, a much needed break especially for my body. The sadness and grief had been manifesting in my body as headaches, nausea and leg cramps. Interesting that my two good days coincided with two good days for mom. She was upbeat and in good spirits. Funny how connected our body can become with those we love.

The next day the tears were back, welling up in my eyes and hard to control. Mom’s two days of feeling good changed quickly. Her sodium levels were dangerously low and blood pressure still erratic and high. She was back in bed and able to be open about how bad she felt. As we talked, mom commented on how amazed she was that I could remain so positive with all I had been through. It was difficult to be able to really explain how to her. In talking about how with her, I realized that I had merely made a choice to face the pain and live through it. Move forward one step at a time. I had other choices for sure, masking the pain or going crazy, literally. Maybe it was my two children who depended on me for strength and guidance that kept me going and led me to this choice. Maybe my growing ability to trust my faith was also a reason, feeling in my heart that even when I could not see through the fog, I knew whatever was happening was all for me. Just had to be patient some times for the clarity to be revealed.

At the end of March, mom decided to stop taking her blood pressure medicine since it was not working. And once again, she had strength. She was able to go outside and walk down the street, to the big tree in the middle of the road, about 3 houses away. Dad was convinced she had ‘turned the corner’. I was supportive of his positive outlook even while I felt this tug inside- kind of like a yo-yo. Mom experienced really good days and really tough, low days. The rollercoaster continued to change direction quickly and the emotions followed. The low days came back strong with a vengeance. As we moved into April, her headaches were increasing so much and with the low sodium levels, Dad became very worried and took her to the emergency room on April 1. When the doctor came in, Mom told him she was ‘not supposed to be there’. She told the doctor she ‘felt like she should already be dead and something was keeping her here’. Probably shocking for the doctor to hear and even more so to dad. Mom spent the day in the emergency room while they stabilized her. She would not let them run any tests on her so they gave her fluids. We did learn that the lung tumors were likely depleting the sodium in her body, and may eventually cause a heart attack. When she told me about the experience later, mom said she was trying to shut down her body, she really didn’t want to live in the state she was in. She was done. Mom actually believed that her mind was strong enough to shut down her body. She never ceased to amaze me with her expansive beliefs, even now. I listened intently, yet didn’t quite comprehend. A part of me had a feeling of wanting to help her, I just didn’t know how.

Dad was finally able to convince mom to let Hospice come help. Mom wanted to stay at home and Hospice would be able to help her feel more comfortable and manage the pain better. This news was a confirmation that her time to leave was really near. While I knew it was coming, it was shocking nonetheless, the pain in my heart increased and cut deep to my core. I knew it was time to take my children to see her, to say goodbye in person.

We traveled to Austin in early April. It was hard to see her in such a frail state. I realized that in her current state, she was not able to walk down to the lake anymore, something she cherished. Mom had followed Dad to several different cities and states during their 55 year marriage and she had always said she would get to pick where they retired. Her choice was to retire on a lake. As I reflected on this, a thought popped in my head. I could take the lake to her. Really? Well sort of. I realized I could in a way and took a plastic tub down to the lake and filled it with water, sand and shells. I carried it back up the many stairs to the house. Not sure how I managed to do that but something was giving me strength. I think my sisters thought I had lost my mind. When I brought it to her and placed each foot in the water, her eyes lit up so brightly and she seemed to feel peace. It was as if she was imagining standing in the lake while feeling it lap at her feet. It brought me such joy in my heart that I could grant her this moment in time, a break from the pain.

Feeling the well of grief trying to break out and needing support, I reached out to my friend Corinne. I asked her to go on an errand with me. It was healing to have her support and feel the deep pain for a little while, in a place I didn’t feel the need to be strong. We talked through the situation and the signs of the end approaching quickly. I was struggling to figure out how to help mom feel loved every day even though I could not be with her. I had read about the healing power of certain crystals and had decided to make her a necklace. Corinne and I went to the bead store and I found what I was after. A deep purple amethyst crystal and two smaller rose quartz crystals, mom’s favorite colors- pink and purple. I strung all three together on a pink piece of leather with the amethyst in the middle and the rose quartz on either side. Later when I brought it to mom and tied it around her neck, her face lit up again. Her joy was beaming from the inside, almost as if the light was shining straight out from her heart.

As we sat together, I could see mom visibly relax. She closed her eyes, yet still had a grin on her face. When she opened her eyes again, she shared how calming the necklace was, how she felt more settled with it on. We then moved to a discussion about her time on earth being short. Dad had asked a few weeks previously for each of us to write an obituary. While the thought was quite sad on some level, I felt prepared mostly, as mom had shared so much in the months preceding April about her life. There was one more thing I wanted to know, in her own words. So I asked. I wanted to know how she wanted to be remembered, what she would say about her life. Mom said that ‘she gave all the time and love, and it was so easy for her to give. But so very hard to receive.’ It gave me peace to give a little gift from my heart back to her, with the lake water and necklace. In that moment, I felt in my heart that my gifts from the heart had made a difference.