by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
Is it Fall, with its darkening days and slow sagging of whatever was growing in the backyard? (Not to mention what’s in the mirror). Or is Peter’s death earlier this month lingering in the heart? Yes, and yes, and because of friends struggling to climb the medical mountain to healing and another crack at hitting old age: whatever, I find thoughts of the end of life are hovering.
Just one of those times, when the veil of Useful Illusion is a little torn and Reality makes a bold appearance, with reminders that security and comfort are unlikely to go on forever. It’s as much the tough struggle preceding the end as it is the death itself – both are worrisome if contemplated. Or if closely witnessed.
But in the weird way of life and death, nothing remains static for long because we who stay behind keep responding to what was, what is, what’s coming. Very often something beautiful comes up through the middle. Something (like a flower) germinated from the connectedness of the crisis-times bursts in to relieve the gloom.
Redemption and Self-acknowledgement: Two of the
flowers of Crisis Connectedness.
There is a divide, between a person struggling to hold on to life and the Companion, believing her/himself firmly entrenched on this side of the gap. Reaching across this, through the will to catch hold of the Other form moments or even one moment, brings redemptive possibilities on both sides. We can express solidarity with touch, sometimes with words. Hanging in, showing up, paying attention can allow a whole fresh flourishing of love.
Secondly, we as Companions, can recognize that we have had a lot of practice in successfully letting go. This I have found to be a life-affirmer. By recalling the times I’ve been able to let a young person be who she/he is, letting go what I wanted for her, let a friend go his own way without (lasting) recrimination or bitterness, each and every time I’ve really forgiven, has been practice for letting life and death be what they are. It’s all the same trip and we grow a little when we drop feelings of helplessness by realizing that we have been worthy in other tests of a similar kind. We can stick this through.
A Personal Case In Point
I’ve selected some passages from 400-page diary written at the time of my mother’s dying of cancer. The diary chronicles coming close and letting go, the teamwork with my sister (a hero), the critical support of friends, and all the dark and the life-giving moments. Ongoing reflection made some sense of the passing days.
The selections here are a little scattergun and pretty self-centred (it’s a diary!) but I hope it’s useful to someone else stuck in the loneliness at the borders of life and death.
A Little About Changes in the Final Weeks of My Mother Dying
The context was thoat our adult relationship had not flourished. The year was 1977. I was 37, she was 74. It started with our mother sent home from hospital to a town in which neither my sister nor I lived, with she and I and a cousin taking turns week by week to be her caregivers. I include the prayers as they turn up in the diary.
(She’s not been sleeping well). I see the extent of her cover-up now, when she tries to hide her physical pain. She has covered things up enormously, hugely…We both then got up, and sat in the kitchen, with just the dim moonlight-effect of the fluorescent over the sink, and talked about her forty-two years working for the Bell Telephone Company. Her intelligence and ingenuity, planning capacity and analytical ability – all were so unappreciated and un-rewarded. How deeply frustrating…She went to bed right after, at 1:30 a.m. Went right to sleep without the usual loud radio on. She was happy tonight. She was heard and seen and appreciated and loved. Oh thank you, God.
I feel as though I’ve been in training for this experience all my life. And that it’s a gateway, the other side of which is me as an adult, becoming who I’m meant to be.
Today I’m trying to breathe in love and breathe out hate. ‘Cause I’m hating Sandra [an old and true friend, still] for the condescension in her view that I’ll be free of my mother when she dies. There’s such denial there of the real degree of freedom I’ve earned and continue to earn while accompanying Mum through her dying.
Today, she shows weary impatience with me…she is isolating herself. How lonely. In the meantime, I stew in helplessness. Except I don’t feel completely that way. It is possible to say, at some point, “ I feel as though you don’t want me here, whereas I see we’re in this together. We’re losing each other. How do we make the most of it?”
Am suffering in a low-key persistent way that hardly lets up…Prolonged digging into my safety and peace until nothing is left but God and Christ and Mary and whatever grace human love drops down to nurture for the moment.
So much gain. So much learning about my love for this woman.
It does go on and on. A few days after the above entry she died peacefully. I was lucky to be there, holding her hand.