It was one week ago today that my mother left this world to find the peace she had been searching for all her life. Gratefully, I was by her side day and night for the final week of her walk upon this earth, affording us both an incredible gift and a rare opportunity to bond, heal and let go in a way that most are not lucky enough to experience in their own lifetime.
My mom breathed her last breath just a few minutes before 3:00pm on Sunday, September 13, 2009, and after having had an entire week of witnessing the all too quick progression of cancer's attack on her system, I felt more than ready for that final moment. So much so that my best friend and I felt a sense of accomplishment and smiled at one another when we realized she had completed her time with us. I kissed my mom's forehead and congratulated the both of us on her successful transition into the next phase, whatever that may be.
I have to admit that the challenging part was not the death of someone I love, but the daily, hourly, minute by minute uncertainty of when it would come. Mom and I both knew she was dying quickly, so there was no surprise really. It was a matter of finding a way to go through this process as comfortably and peacefully as possible.
Mom had been in the hospital for two weeks already before I received a call on Sunday, Sept 6th, letting me know that mom's condition had grown progressively worse overnight. The nurses thought she only had a few hours left to live. When I walked into her room, I saw a woman I barely recognized from two days prior, a woman who was too incoherent to even know I was there, and all I could do was weep. I was devasted. Friends came to sit with me, hug me, listen to me and let me cry. Fearing I was about to lose my mother at any moment, I crawled into her hospital bed and held her hand throughout the night. I did not sleep at all. How could I? My mind was spinning and the tears were falling. I couldn't keep it together because everything was falling apart.
I thought of all the things that remained undone. The things she had wanted to experience but never would. Things like the slumber party we had planned for the night she'd finally be able to return home, and the one night of dancing she wanted to have with me and all my friends at my favourite place to be, Starlight in uptown Waterloo. I mourned the loss of one last 'I love you', one final conversation, one final hug. It was the most surreal, emotionally charged and overwhelming night of my life.
I have never felt as powerless as I did that night, watching the minutes pass on the clock, knowing that I had zero control over when my mom would die. I was wishing that there was a way to stop time so that I could at least catch up to the devastating reality I was being faced with, but no such luck. Time did not stop, but I was given something even greater.
At 5:00 the next morning I got up out of mom's bed so that the nurse could give her some medication. To my utter joy and amazement, mom came to, sat straight up, saw me standing there and immediately reached out her arms to me for a hug. I have never, ever been happier to see someone in my whole life.
It was now Monday morning and mom was still here with me. We embraced as I cried, and she asked me if she was going to die, to which I replied, 'We're all dying, mom.' That day mom ate like a horse and seemed to be back to her old self. The doctor didn't know what to think. How on earth was she still here? Mom's eyes were bright and she was fully there (albiet a bit high), and she was making jokes with those who came to visit. It had quickly gone from a night of grief to a day of celebration.
As the days passed many of my friends came to visit, sharing laughter and precious moments with my mom and I. People brought food for me each day so that I could remain by her side, and everyone made sure my daughter had all that she needed while I was away.
By Wednesday morning the doctor said there's no way mom would make it through to the next day, so I again braced myself for the inevitable. But after 3 sleepless nights and 3 emotionally draining days, exhaustion was kicking in. I was truly at my breaking point, and yet, we made it through that night as well.
Thursday came and mom was still here. Now the doctor really didn't know what to say. By Friday mom was no longer eating or drinking and could barely communicate. It was suggested by the doctor that we take her off the oxygen to help her pass more quickly and I agreed to this without hesitation. I was told that it wouldn't be long now. Maybe minutes, maybe an hour. Certainly no more than a few.
Twenty-four hours later, mom was still here.
Forty-eight hours later, mom was still here.
It was now Sunday, the third day of mom not eating or drinking, or relying on oxygen to breath.
A full week had passed since I first arrived for my unplanned, week-long hospital room camp out, and by this point the doctors, nurses, my friends and I were more amused than shocked by mom's blatant unwillingness to give in to death. Her close friend, Brian, made the comment that watching her die was like having a fight with her: she always had to have the last word. But being that mom and I are equally stubborn, my response to that was, 'Well if she's going for 7, I'll go for 8!' I am my mother's daughter after all.
On day 7 the doctor wisely stopped suggesting when mom would pass as it was clear that mom was going to be doing things on her own time, even if only to spite us all. The doctor was amazed at the power of such a little woman, especially since mom had 'enough meds in her to sedate a small elephant' as the doctor put it.
Even so, just 2 hours before she passed, mom had enough strength and energy to try to escape her bed for about the hundredth time in 5 days while pushing Brian (a 245 pound man) hard enough to make him lose his balance! Yep, that would be my mother. Feisty, strong and stubborn, and always ready to fight.
THE STORY OF US
On July 11, 2009, when mom found out the cancer had spread to her brain, she finally had the wake up call her soul had been longing for all these years. Things finally began to click for her and her priorities shifted accordingly.
She dropped all the anger, bitterness and resentment that she had carried around inside her for most of her life. She actively sought healing with her daughter and granddaughter, which included a heartfelt letter to me in July. As a result of this, we finally came together and became the kind of family I had longed for all my life. It was a dream come true to have a mom that could encourage, support and commend me. A mom who was happy to be around me. A mom who could tell me how proud she is of the woman I've become, the mother I am to Paige and the work that I do in this world. I finally had a mom I wanted to spend time with, confide in, and make proud.
The icing on the cake was when mom told me that I broke the cycle. I already knew that of course - it was my main goal in life - but to have my mother acknowledge that fact was absolutely incredible. Two months out of 33 years is certainly not a lot, but it was enough to make up for all that wasn't there beforehand.
We had our chance to express, to apologize, to forgive. We made our peace with one another because it was time. And I'm so proud of both of us. So what's not to be happy about?
This is why I choose to celebrate my mom's life and spirit instead of mourning the disintegration of her body.
No funeral, just a fabulous dinner and a night of dancing in honour of this feisty creature. Why not? She may not have been able to complete her list, but there's no reason why I can't take over for her. Let us note that she had wanted a slumber party with me, and she not only got one, she got 7!
She wanted dancing, so I brought the party to her in the form of her favourite oldies station on my daughter's borrowed radio. Mom grooved with most of our guests during her last week, wiggling her body and sometimes even singing along.
She wanted to become a certified DIVA (a mircale in itself) and had even registered for my September DIVA class (which was scheduled to begin the week I was at the hopsital with her), a class that is meant for those who are ready for the next step, with my role being somewhat of a midwife, helping others to transition from the old to the new as painlessly as possible, with immense love, support and guidance along the way. So I'd say that mom got the most in-depth DIVA experience to date.
She also dreamed of me dedicating a book to her some day, and of her life story being published so that others could know the pain of her depression and the depth of her suffering. I can help with the first part, but I cannot help with the second - not in the way she had envisioned at least.
Instead of focusing on the horrid details of her life (and trust me, I know many of them, and they truly are devastating), I choose to focus on on the beauty of a spirit rising above such pain, and the absolute power inherent in all of us, a power so strong that it allowed this once bitter and angry woman to release it all so that she could make ammends and make the most of her remaining days on earth. Way to go, mom!
It is a multi-layered phenomenon, watching and supporting someone you love as they transition from this world to this next, but it doesn't have to be viewed with such sorrow. There is certainly a time for tears, a time for grief, and a time for longing for more, but when all is said and done, you still have those moments you shared, the wisdom you gained and the beauty you created.
After experiencing death first-hand, I truly believe that life and death are equally beautiful, perfectly natural and integral to one another, and am disheartened that our culture views death as something separate, sad, negative and scary. Have we all made ourselves immune to the reality that our bodies will also cease to function some day? Are we that afraid to think about it, talk about it, sit beside it and embrace it?
Death is absolutely natural. Why ignore that fact?
I think it's because as humans we naturally fear what we don't understand. And it's no wonder that we (by living in a culture that values youth, external beauty and life at the exclusion of aging, inner beauty and death) have been raised to fear the one thing none of us are exempt from...
I think that much of the pain we suffer when someone dies, stems from all that remained unsaid, undone, unresolved. So given the fact that mom and I had the chance to resolve things and say what needed to be said, I didn't have that sense of regret, loss or incompleteness that most people would if someone they loved died unexpectedly, without having the chance to make ammends.
I felt a genuine sense of happiness, peace and freedom when I knew my mother had moved on. It was a full circle experience that final week of her life, which is the reason I can feel at peace with our relationship as well as her death.
People have said to me, 'I'm so sorry for your loss', not knowing that I only gained from this experience. What is it that I would have lost exactly? Time with her? We already spent it. More memories together? We had plenty, most of which I'd rather forget. My mother? Are you kidding? She is still here, inside me. Only now we have a fantastic relationship and we never fight.
It wouldn't be true for me to fall into a false nostalgia, thinking only of great moments with mom because to be quite honest, up until July of this year there weren't that many. My intention is not to dishonour her or negate her role in my life. I'm just telling it like it is.
Mom did the very best she could with what she had been given. We're all doing the best we can by the light we have to see by. And I truly believe I was meant to be part of that family, that dysfunction, those struggles, in order to gain the strength, wisdom, experience and clarity necessary to effectively help and guide others through their own darkness. In a sense, my mom is the reason I am so good at the work that I do. And that I can be grateful for.
For those of us who have had painful relationships with our parents, we need to give ourselves permission to see and feel things differently than those who came from families that were more in tact. We need to find the gift of the particular family our soul chose to learn from. And we need to leave the victim role behind and use the adversity as it was meant to be used: for our own growth and increased self-awareness.
Not every family is connected, and not every parent-child relationship is a positive one. So what? When the blind is leading the blind, what else can you expect?
Your role is not to judge those who cannot see. Your job is to be the one who can.
In my family, I chose to be awake. Of course it was painful but it was necessary. How else was I going to give my daughter and I the life we deserved? If I simply accepted what I was given, what I was told, what someone else thought I should think, say do or be, then I'd still be where I was, repeating the same things that never worked in the first place.
I rocked the boat and risked it all, but it was more than worth it. When I look at my daughter I see a young lady who is secure in who she is, a being who is happy, centered, compassionate and kind, and a mini me who has the ability to think for herself and the permission to act on her own truth. What could be better than that?
I am extremely grateful that mom and I were finally able to come together as a family before it was too late, and I feel so honoured to have been her caretaker during her final week of life.
People are commending me on my strength, yet I could not have offered mom as much as I did had I not been fully supported by those who love me. I did not endure that week alone, even when it was only me in the room. I was continually surrounded by a circle of kindred spirits (both friends and family) who offered themselves selflessly to this event. The universe perfectly orchestrated every player so that all of my true needs, as well as my mother's, were taken care of at every moment.
Nothing, not even my mom's passing, can reduce or steal the blessed week we shared as her body prepared for death and her soul prepared for its ultimate freedom.
I received one of the greatest gifts of my life while living with my mom during her final week, and I wouldn't trade any bit of it. I believe that there are no mistakes or missed chances. I believe that no matter where you are at any given moment, that that is exactly where you're meant to be.
And I believe that whomever is in your life right now, in the room with you right now, in your heart right now, well, that is as it as it's meant to be as well. The universe loves to put people together for everyone's highest good.
Mom and I came together so effortlessly at the end because it was what both of our souls needed in order to be free from the pain, the resentment, the anger, the past. We let it all go, together, and that is something to celebrate. Hooray for us!
I will end with a short dialogue that mom and I shared before she passed. She did not speak much during her final days, but she managed to say this to me
Mom: I love peace. Do you love peace?
Me: Yes I do.
Mom: Did you find it?
Me: Yes I did.
Mom: I didn't.
Me: You will.
And she did.
LOWANA PAGE RICHARDSON (1953-2009)
First unionized female bricklayer in North America.
Devoted Dog Groomer.
Mother to one awesome human.
Grandmother to one equally awesome human.
A stubborn and feisty soul who finally found her peace on September 13, 2009.
*The actual obituary I wrote for my mom in the KW Record
With love and immense gratitude for every moment shared, lived and remembered,
LOVE READING MY HEART?
Your financial high five means so much.
Read more here.