05 June 2010

Afterwards, Everything is Understood

I'm thinking about a very good friend of mine who lost her wonderful father this weekend.  This post is dedicated to him, and to all those who leave too early, including my mother.

I fell asleep on the floor in my mother's sewing room the night before her memorial.  Sometime during the night, as I crafted the words to speak at her service, I must have rested my head on the pillow I had placed on the floor, vaguely hearing the rumblings of family and neighbors preparing for the next day.  When I woke up early the next morning, I couldn't see, and I pushed myself up, slow panic creeping over me as I ran my fingers over the carpet, searching for my glasses.  Somehow, they must have fallen off, and I didn't want to stand and then step on them.  Frustrated, unable to locate my glasses, I sat up, squinting my eyes and turning my head, hoping that I'd be able to visualize an outline of them reflecting from the morning sunlight.  Nothing.

My mother passed away at 7:43 in the morning on Mother's Day, 2004.  The drive back to Baltimore that day seemed unreal, passing by street vendor after street vendor selling red roses for the day.  Sun was bright.  Car was stifling.  Sleep was behind my eyes after driving 6 hours with my sister to get to my mother and be with her one last time.

A quick question crept through my subconscious that morning of the memorial, how will I read my eulogy without my glasses?  I put my hands flat on either side of me, determined to push myself up and find them, when my left hand slid slightly beneath the stuffed chair, and my fingers brushed over something metallic.  I drew my hand back, then slowly ran my hands, feeling the familiarity and the relief of my glasses.  Neatly folded, placed underneath the stuffed chair, out of reach of my clumsy feet clomping all over the room, which I tend to do when I just wake up.  I probably put them there, sometime in the middle of my sleep-induced tears and crumpling of paper.  I must have.  I must have slipped them off, folded them up properly and made sure to stick them the furthest place under the chair that I possibly could.  I must have.  My mother certainly couldn't have helped guide me to put them away, just as she always had as I was growing up...

So shortly after my mother passed away, though, I was doubting, then believing everything.  During her time in the hospital, after she succumbed from one infection to another following a successful heart transplant, I began to wonder if maybe I was beginning to get a little loopy, or if I was starting to really and actually...believe the things I secretly always thought were usually a part of..fiction.  I wondered if it was the hospital drugs that made my mother somehow sense a little girl by her bed who caressed her hand and tell her she would be okay.  And was it a sleepy morning dream when an old man told my mother things weren't ready just yet?  Both times, It was only me in the room, in the uncomfortable hospital chair by her bed.  Maybe, was it possible, that she was...in between?  I didn't dare acknowledge it, didn't dare speak it, even though it crept up my back and tingled at the back of my neck.  My sister was much more accepting of this, but I was simply afraid.  In between our world, and the next.  I was mad, too, feeling injustice at how young she was, at only sixty short years.  What I do know now, and remember with a sharp intensity, was what everything felt like at that time and for that first year after she passed, which seemed to prick my inner compass when I least expected it, to remind me more assuredly to believe that there was something...afterwards.

It could just be coincidence that different radio stations began to play one specific song that was reminding me of my mother.  Weird, though, since the song was more than a few years old, and no longer really popular.  Maybe it's coincidence that I started to notice things more because I was so sensitive, or to sound kooky, could I be so sensitive now and in tune to an afterlife because someone I loved had just left?

The book, Final Gifts, helped me after she left.  Written by two hospice nurses, Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley, who began to see a trend in their patients who were getting closer and closer to leaving this life to go the next, they found a startling consistency.  Patients oftentimes began to experience and see things that no one else in the room would see, and they believed that they would ultimately make the choice of when they would move on.  Doctors would write it off to the multitude and variety of drugs coursing through the patient's body, but these two women with 20 yeas of experience, felt that they were bearing witness to something different.  Through them, I began to understand how my mother expressed her comfort and her hope in those beautiful moments when she was walking between two worlds.  My faith in this reassured me and helped me to understand all of the undoubtedly weird, unnerving, and most definitely fun, moments when I knew that my mother was with me, and I knew that she was communicating with me.  I felt comforted by this and each page reminded me that no matter how terrible the moment is when your loved one leaves, they unquestionably pass to a different world, where pain isn't felt, and they have left behind their heavy and sick bodies to move into a world that is full with peace.

Remember everything around you when your loved one passes.  Do everything you can to remember the dreams that you have, write them down to help you always remember.  This is their way to communicate, to tell you that they are good, all is well.  When my mother's best friend, Sonia, was in a hospice three years later, my sister and I sat by her bed, the room suddenly became unnaturally quiet.  Throughout the quiet of the still room, the small radio by the bed somehow seemed to be getting just a little bit louder, unseen fingers gently turning the knob.  My mother's song began to play in that room at that exact time.  I don't believe at all in coincidence. She was there, in that room, readying her best friend for the journey to the next world.
I have only slipped away into the next room, I am I and you are you.  Whatever we were to each other, that we still are.  Call me by my old familiar name.  Speak to me in the easy way which you always used.  Play, smile, think of me. All is well. ~Henry Scott Holland
Dedicated to all who have passed and to all who remain to remember the journey.
Please visit www.graceprotzman.com or www.digitalgraces.com for artistic images.

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