Life Blooming on the Border of Death

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 wordsHanging 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.

Feb 14

(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. 

Feb 24

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. 

March 7

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.

March 16

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?”

March 24

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. 

April 17

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.


1 Comment

Filed under A Bigger Circle, Rosemary's entries

One response to “Life Blooming on the Border of Death

  1. Your sister sounds like you. Honest feelings. Thoughtful responses. Today is beautiful. The sun is shining and it’s almost summer. I care about the weather, cause as I get older I constantly worry about falling in the ice and snow. Today will be easy and I shall lol like a cat in the sun on the bench.
    Eat your hearts out you…….non retired people…worker bee’s. HA HA!
    I can only speak for myself (and Lord know’s I do) but when you are concerned about your mobility as one is at this time…weather plays a large part in your concerns. For the above reason’s.
    I remember as a child my dad always seemed to be going to funeral’s. It wasn’t that people were dying in drove’s it’s just that in the 50’s and earlier it was ‘the done thing’ to go to friends; parent’s, cousins, 2nd cousin’s once removed. So it just seemed like a lot.
    Today, mourners (that is if in fact they are) go to the funerals only much closer relationships. Sometimes a representative is sent from work. BLAH!
    Rosie WE are 52% of the population. We are losing physical capacities that we never thought of before. I think we are a bit befuddled.
    So, for those of you who still have all your faculties and your income. I make the sign of the raspberry. (British expression, look it up). We are the majority. We are your future and if we didn’t think a lot about who will be there for us we would be dumb. And we are not.
    Going out to enjoy the sun………….. and contemplate my future. And if perhaps a glass of Chardonnay should land beside me…..why not.

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