On Grieving: Part 5

The night before my mom died my whole family was sitting on and around her bed, listening to her breathe, and singing every song we knew. And, if you know our family and how we had a bluegrass gospel band for twenty years, you know that’s a whole lot of songs. It was a glorious time, I loved picturing her walking into heaven with the sounds of her children singing. Singing, the thing she taught us to do the best.

We sat there like that for two days, taking turns, listening to every gasping breath, wondering, thinking each one might be the last. Reading, laughing at memories. I braided her beautiful hair for her, the white and gold and black plait laid so pretty across her pillow. It was strange, as a woman heavy-laden with cancer, you would imagine her hair being gone, but it was the one remaining recognizable feature in those last days. We were quiet and sullen, hearts burdened, every moment felt weighed down with sorrow; hoping, for her sake, that it would be soon, and she could go home to rest in the arms of the Father and be done with the ruckus this life had turned out to be for her.

It was late in the evening of Easter Sunday when she started breathing slower. Adam and Emmett were sitting next to her and knew it was getting close. They went to wake Dad, who was getting some rest upstairs, and Audra, Hadley, and I came from the next room. We all sat down by her side, she took maybe two more breaths after we all got there. They were so long between, so long... you’d think she was gone and then... another gasp. Dad said “You can go home, Ruth, you can let go.” My heart broke at what it meant to him to say that aloud.

And then, her last breath. There was silence. I whispered “Oh Mom” to her for the last time, my mind unable to imagine where or what she was now experiencing. What is that first glimpse of eternity like? How beautiful and relieving it must be. She was given the best gift then: freedom and unbridled joy. All those little bits of glorious feelings that we glimpse, they brush against our fingertips, but we can never quite hold onto them.

It was something I had wondered of so often, if I would get a call while I was out and about telling me she was gone, or where I would be when it would end. And then I saw it. It was peaceful. So much more peace than I had ever expected, more peace than I’d ever felt before or since. Utter and complete gratefulness for God’s deliverance from her pain. I picture her next breath after her last being like Gandalf’s in the film the Two Towers when he comes back to life as the white wizard; a huge, life-giving breath, deeper than she’d ever breathed before, eyes wide in surprise and wonder at it. She was gone so crisp and clear. One moment she was breathing in her broken and wasted earthly body, then the next she was gone.

“And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on”

Dad and Hadley prayed and we all sat there in awe. In awe of the sweet relief God blessed us with that night. Thankful that she was free. Free at last of her pain.

“This is not the end, this is not the end of this
We will open our eyes wide, wider
This is not our last, this is not our last breath
We will open our mouths wide, wider”

We sat and talked for a while, waiting for the coroner, laughing a lot at stories and memories, laughing because of the relief, the weight of her suffering slipping off our shoulders. We watched her body be wheeled out of the house in a black bag, I’ll never forget the absurdity of that sight. And then we went to bed.

How do you go to bed after experiencing that? How do you go on to live? Two years now, and I’m still not sure. Death is a part of life for us all, it is, it must be, and yet, it feels so out of place. Like your bed shifting sideways in the night and you can no longer walk around your room from memory but you have to look at everything again and get used to how many steps it is to the door and which angle towards the light switch. Everything is different, yet the same; it’s all the same, it’s you who’s different. And you can’t wrap your head around someone being missing, they’re just gone, it’s the lack of them that you notice, but how do you notice something that’s not there?

Grief moves slow, it creeps and crawls. It hides in the most unsuspecting places; in your afternoon tea; in the fabric tucked away in cupboards; in songs you don’t even know the words to, but you know you heard her sing them. And then people come along who never knew her, and they’ll never get the chance; and you know these little bits hiding in the corners are all you have now, all you get to share of this woman who grew you inside her body, this woman who nurtured you, and taught you boldness, and that it’s ok to cry when you pray to God. I wish it was more than the little bits, I wish I could call her and ask her what to do when my baby won’t sleep through the night, or which flowers to plant around my patio. Or just to be able to introduce her to my son and tell her all the fretting, all the hopelessness we let ourselves sink into was for naught, God had beautiful things planned for us yet.

And that’s the conclusion I come to as I remember the night my mom died and all the grief and sadness that piled high up afterwards. God has beautiful things planned for us yet.