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Location: Midwest, United States

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

At Dying

Saturday will mark my Mother’s 94th birthday. Imagine that. She was born into a world so utterly different from the world as it is today. There were no cars in her village, horses and cobbler-made shoes served just fine. The streets were rutted dirt, the same dirt that constituted the floor in her peasant’s cottage. Her home had no running water, no electricity, no time- or energy-saving appliances. There was no furnace and no air conditioner.

She was born in Lithuania before the “War to End All Wars.” A mere two decades later, she suffered through…and survived…the Second World War. Her life’s path has taken so many twists and turns, I could hardly begin to recount them. Along the way, she fell in love with a man whom she loved until he drew his last breath…and long after. Along the way, she gave birth to a daughter and a son.

She has come to the end of her odyssey.

Monday morning seemed to signal the end. Her blood pressure had dropped precipitously. Her limbs were blue with cold. I found her lying in bed, struggling for every breath. I could not tell if she were sleeping or comatose.

I arrived, again, at her bedside yesterday morning. Her blood pressure had risen a bit. She was awake but incoherent. I sat down in the chair beside her bed, and began to stroke her head gently.

Her eyes were open but she could not speak. You may recall, Dear Reader, that I had earlier mentioned that, in recent months, I seemed to scare her. She had forgotten who I am. Not today. Today was very, very different. She turned her face to mine. I kissed her forehead and her cheek. She seemed to smile. I held her chilled fingers within my warm hand. Mustering what little strength she had, she pulled my hand towards her lips and kissed it. I lifted her hand to my lips and kissed it in return. I bent my head towards hers and kissed her lips. She relaxed and smiled again.

And so we spent the morning together. I caressed her head, her cheek, her arms and hands. I kissed her again and again and again and again. Words weren’t necessary. She was in a place far beyond words.

Only a touch and a kiss could reach her now.

I had propped myself on one elbow, my hands enveloping her hands, my head bent close to her head. And there we stayed. For hours.

Every now and then, she struggled to lift her head. I was confused.
I could not tell what she wanted. The dying have needs of their own. I would kiss her and soothe her, and she would relax again.

With one free hand, she fumbled with the buttons on my shirt. Her skeletal fingers were in agitated motion. She slipped her hand inside my shirt, and placed her fingers on my heart. And there we stayed, a dying mother and her graying son. Hand in hand, head to head, lips to lips, and hand on heart, we remained locked together.

From the corner of my eye, I’d notice nursing home staff tiptoeing to the door to peek inside. No one disturbed us, but many came to watch. So many of their wards spend their final days alone, unnoticed and unloved, bereft of family or friends. It’s so easy to turn one’s face from death...too this “modern” world of ours.

The Spiritual Counselor came to visit. Word had spread, I guess, of our long good-bye. She is a fine woman. She and I had met and talked on previous occasions. She sat at the end of the bed, and simply watched. I would not...could not...stop kissing and caressing and comforting my Mother. She sat and watched a while, then gently asked a few questions about my mother’s life. I began to recount a few particulars: how my mother was raised by an illiterate peasant widow, but went on to matriculate with a doctorate at a time when women simply did not do that. How my parents first met on a theater stage, how they came to love, how they starved and suffered, how they struggled to raise a family in a new country. I told her that the incoherent woman lying in my arms was once fluent in eight languages. I told her about the woman who had once toured Europe as a classically trained actress, who lost her family…lost everything…in the War, who had raised two children with a loving husband and no other resources but sweat and tears. All the while, I showered kisses and caresses on what remained of a fascinating, and noble, human being.

You do her honor by remembering her” she said. Oh, she was SO wrong. I was the one who was honored to be in my Mother’s embrace. We agreed to meet again today, with the chaplain this time, for the Last Rite. She took her leave and left us in our embrace.

Several hours had gone by, and I felt sharp pain shooting through the arm that had propped me all the while as I showered love on my Mother. I fervently hoped the pain I felt was her pain leaving her tortured body to enter into mine. I wanted to take on all the pain inside of her, to absorb all the agonies, the toils, the heartaches, and the tears she had suffered. She was my Mother. She had created me, brought me into this world, and had sacrificed all so that I might thrive. I wanted to hurt so that she would not. I wanted her to feel free at last. I wanted her to soar, unburdened, into the Great Unknown, somehow knowing in her soul that her son revered her.

She fell into a deep, deep sleep. I took my leave. I felt blessed today.

I felt truly blessed.

* * *

Postscript: My Mother spent her birthday in a coma.


Blogger soul_rebel said...

Beauty and honesty are rarely blended this well, my sympathies.

Wed Jul 12, 02:37:00 AM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Thank you...really. I cried a river of tears writing this.

Wed Jul 12, 02:41:00 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Thank you for this gift, Jon.

I will ask for your mother to included in the intentions tonight when we chant the Heart Sutra after zazen.

Wed Jul 12, 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Jonas said...

"I will ask for your mother to be included in the intentions tonight when we chant the Heart Sutra after zazen."

My dear friend, I'm ignorant regarding Buddhist practices but, these two words, Heart Sutra, seem to fill me with warmth and peace. Thank you so very much.

Wed Jul 12, 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger Ariel said...

What an amazing woman. May she, and you, find peace.

Wed Jul 12, 06:51:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Thank you, Ariel. She truly was amazing, as was my father. I'm just a pale imitation of both.

Wed Jul 12, 07:58:00 PM  

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