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« Monday Musings: The Unfolding River | Main | Monday Musings: On Death »

Flowering Fridays: The Unfolding Mystery

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.” — Rachel Carson

It has been a week since I sat in the hospital room with my mom, holding her hand and sitting within a circle of a dozen people who all knew and loved my mom and held her in love as her soul passed on from her body.

I arrived early that morning, so I could spend some time alone with Mom before others arrived.

I talked to Mom. I told her I loved her. I told her that she was surrounded by love and angels and that her father would be there waiting to welcome her home.

I sang to her a bit ("Day by Day," "The Rainbow Connection," anything I could remember). I don't have a particularly good voice, but I love to sing and singing comforted me.

I fingered the rose quartz bracelet I had bought at Whole Foods the night before. I sat quietly beside her, reading Anne Lamott's Grace (Eventually), which I had read to her when I visited in October, back when she was sometimes alert and responsive.

Hospice arrived, and they are like angels on earth. They answered our questions with calm, concern and clarity. Amanda, the social worker, listened to me as I babbled on about all that was coming up for me and what my concerns were.

My brother and sister arrived. My grandmother and Uncle Bill and some of my mom's friends came up to the hospital to say goodbye.

Her friends told me stories of my mom, of the women in AA whom she drove to meetings, of the women she let sleep on her couch, of how my mom listened for hours on the phone to their troubles, of how she drove over at 2 a.m. to bring calamine lotion to Erin, nine-months pregnant with poison ivy on her ankles, so itchy and unable to reach down to scratch. I heard how proud she was of her kids, how much she loved Grace.

Then, more friends arrived — Mary, Donna, Karen, Margie — those who would be with us keeping vigil until Mom passed.

Hospice had been adjusting Mom's medications all day to ease her out of the medically induced coma she was in and onto drugs like morphine that would keep her comfortable as she passed.

We held a prayer circle with a spiritual counselor from hospice. And my stepfather, a former seminarian who has been a pastoral care counselor and led us through some prayers.

He read a passage from John 14:1-6 that so spoke to me that I requested the priest read it at the funeral.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."

Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."

By late afternoon, mom was off the paralytic medicine. She was not conscious, though, even off the medicine, but she was calm and peaceful.

It was then time. We gave those who wanted it time alone with mom, and then we all gathered in a semicircle around her bed.

I sat in a chair beside her, holding her hand. My sister and brother on the other side, holding her.

My mom's friend Mary read "The Serenity Prayer" to my mom one last time. My mom had been sober for 12 years, and Alcoholics Anonymous and this prayer were her lifeblood.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
— Reinhold Niebuhr

Then ventilator was then turned off, oxygen was placed over Mom's trachea-tube opening.

She puffed a few breaths before settling into quiet, ever-slowing breathing.

And for a few moments we sat in silence, some of us crying.

Then I said that I wanted to sing. And so we sang "Amazing Grace" (rather poorly but with feeling).

We said Our Fathers and Hail Marys. I sang a couple refrains of a song based on a Native American saying that I love:

When you born, you cry and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.

Then cellphone of my sister's boyfriend played a ringtone that sounded like the phone was powering off. And we all laughed, relieved for a release from the tension and the crying. (I felt it was a reminder from Mom to remember to laugh, too. My mom loved to laugh.)

And a few quiet moments later (just 25 minutes after the ventilator was turned off) my mom stopped breathing completely.

To me it looked like there was a hazy white light all around and above my mom in those final moments. Was it her spirit leaving? or the angels carrying her off?

I left the room to call Michael, my grandmother, my Uncle Bill, feeling mostly love, gratitude and peace.

All I could think was what a gift it was to be there with my mom and how glad I was to have had time these past few months to be with her, to tell her I loved her, that I was glad she was my mom and that I was sorry for the times I judged her and withdrew.

I had brought some lavender essential oil. After we had all had the chance to be with Mom and with what had transpired, we drew some warm water in a basin and added the lavender.

And the women gathered there washed my mom's body in lavender oil. It was one of the most sacred rituals I have ever experienced.

Afterwards, we packed up my mom's hospital room, the pictures, the music CDs and get-well cards.

Around 9 p.m., the funeral home came and covered my mom in sheet, put her into the body bag and wheeled her away.

I cannot describe the sweet feeling of love, peace and beauty that hung in the room through all of it.

I can only describe it as feeling like God was there with us, every step of the way.

I felt held in that space, and I like to think that my mom was held in that space too as she left her body which had been through so much since August 7.

It seems weird to say, but Friday, November 20, the day my mom passed, was truly one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

It was filled with awe, love, sacredness and the sweet glimpse of mystery in most profound form.

Mystery permeated the day for me. The mystery of life, of death, of each person. It was as beautiful and mysterious to me as seeing a flower bloom.

I couldn't help but feel there was a much larger force at work in the world, and that in my sleeping state of life, I miss out on the mysterious unfolding that is always going on.

Mysterious as in I don't know what makes the flowers bloom, or how a seed knows how to surrender to its blooming.

I only know these mysteries exist everywhere, and these mysteries, while hidden, also are the gateways to connecting with the Divine nature of life and the Divine love that is always loving us every step of our journey.

I like to think of this experience as one of my mother's last earthly gifts of love to me. Her gift of giving me the chance to be one of the ultimate mysteries in such a conscious and meaningful way.

I feel that my petals have unfolded a bit wider from this experience. That through my mom's death I have the chance to live life differently.

Thank you, Mom. I love you.

And I love the unfolding mystery that life is.

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Reader Comments (8)

What a beautiful post! You have so beautifully and lovingly honoured your mom's passing into the next world. I hardly know what to say after reading it, but I wanted you to know that this post will stay with me for a long time.

November 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeather Plett

Thank you for sharing this...thank you, thank you, thank you.

November 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSwirly

Thank you for sharing this beautiful experience. I too felt the incredible honour of assisting my mother in her passing and the amazing presence of love and peace that surrounded us.

Blessings to you at this time Shannon.

November 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKate I

Darling woman...
This is so completely, and utterly beautiful, loving and sacred.
Thank you so deeply for sharing it.
So much love, and rainbow blessings to you and your whole, exquisite family.

November 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGoddess Leonie

Thank you. Blessings, Blessings, Blessings

November 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commentergrace

What a lovely day and a beautiful description. As always, you have a gift with words. It took me back to my father's passing. Though I was unable to be there at the exact time, the days I spent with him before were some of my most touching moments. For me, bittersweet.

December 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJamie Durner

Wishing that love and wisdom serve as your wings these next few weeks.

Peace. Always, always remember the joys,


December 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDianne Hofmann


I appreciated what you wrote and shared about your mother. It sounds like the experience of witnessing her birth into her next life was sad, sacred and beautiful. We are glad you got to be there with her and complete your earthly time with her. She will always be with you in spirit until the end of time. I do admire anyone that changes their life through AA, it is such a powerful transformation. You, Michael and Grace are in our thoughts.
Marylyn & Mark

December 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMarylyn and Mark

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