Life and Death

Life. Death.Living. Dead. Are these words with opposite meaning? Are these conditions end points on the same line? Are they different expressions of a human experience? In March of this year National Geographic published an article about the cultural attitudes towards death in a village in Indonesia. It stated that  ” For Torajans, death isn’t the abrupt, final, severing event of the West. Instead, death is just one step in the long,gradually unfolding process.” The bodies of loved ones are often preserved for months or years with the loved one remaining part of the family. People continue to talk and bring food to the deceased.  A month after reading this piece my own mother passed away. How would I deal with her passing?  How would I embrace her spirit? Would I view her as a deceased body, a part of the past? Or would I keep her alive and present like the warmth of the sun or the gentle breeze of spring? As a daughter, to know my mother is to know myself. The more I evaluate and honor my mother the more I understand where I came from and where I am going. My life did not begin on the day I was born. My mother’s life did not end on the day she died.

” I don’t know when the right time will be to bury Ma’s ashes” my father says to me. He has my mother’s ashes in a beautiful urn my sister picked out. The urn is red and elegant and fits in nicely with the Asian theme in the guest room. My father goes into the tranquil room, touches the urn, says a prayer. He tells me he feels close to her. This is his nightly ritual. Each morning he says good morning to the framed picture he keeps on the dining room table. He loves her smile. ” I expect her to laugh or to say something to me.” He laughs and shakes his head. I know he thinks he is half crazy for thinking this way. I think it’s beautiful. I tell him of my own ritual. I look out the window each morning. I see the shrine of Mother Mary, the bird houses, the wind spinner, the trees, nature abounding. “Good morning, Ma!” I know she is there in spirit with the birds in the cool shade. My father tells me he doesn’t feel she is really gone. He tells me how he can’t be sad or sit around crying. ” I can’t believe I was married to the most beautiful woman for 64 years.” My father’s love of life and gratitude lift my spirit.

Last week was my mother’s birthday. We went out for lunch. We walked by the water. We, as always, talked about my mother. We laughed. We reminisced. I left a cupcake by my mother’s framed photograph.  “Don’t forget to sing happy birthday to Ma” I reminded him. Like the Torajans, we continue to celebrate, to commemorate, to hold dear those we love. Whatever has a beginning has an end. Whatever has no beginning has no end.

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Telling my mother’s story

A few weeks ago I was listening to a local radio show which has personal stories that reflect the greater human experience. I thought about my own experience over the past few months visiting my elderly parents and witnessing my mother’s steady decline. I grabbed my iPad and started writing and the tears streamed down my face. I hit the send button. It was carthartic. I was happily surprised when I received a response from the radio program host stating my essay was accepted for reading and broadcast. This would be a great tribute to my parents. I was hoping that the nature of the essay would fast track it for Mother’s Day. I would be able to play the podcast for my mother. I was contacted for a schedule date. April 25 would be perfect! Just 2 weeks before Mother’s Day.

My mother spent most of April in the hospital. She had lots of visitors. We all knew this routine of hospitalization,rehab, home then repeat was a good indicator of my mother’s failing health. I think she had nine lives. She kept rebounding. She had such a joy of life. April 24 I was at work. I got the call from my sister, then the doctor, then my spouse. It was time to start the vigil. I left work to sit with my family and say goodbye to the most loving mother. April 25 @ 0245 my mother had her final breath.

Obviously I postponed my appointment for the reading of the essay. A couple of weeks later, I rescheduled. I asked myself why I wanted to do this. Why do I need to do this? Why do I need to tell my mother’s story?

I was walking in my neighborhhood and stopped to talk to a neighbor. I informed her of my mother’s passing. She shared her story with me about her own loss a few years ago. We were happy to remember our mothers and our interactions with them. It felt good.

I returned to work 2 1/2 weeks after my mother died. A coworker stopped to offer her condolences. She told me how she followed my mother’s progress on facebook and loved the pictures I posted. She told me of her experience as her own mother passed last year. We shared a connection. We became part of the same club. We were unified.

I realize this is why I want to share my mother’s story. No one will ask How is your dead mother? But as daughters we want to tell the world. We want to say this is where I came from. This is who I am. This is the greatness I can become. Here is her smile. Here is her laughter. Here is the goodness she has left for the world. Here is my mother’s story.