November 12, 2010
It’s still dark outside and the stars are absolutely incredible. One of the benefits of not having street lights. On a clear night when the stars are out and shining it’s a pretty spectacular show out of our bathroom window. So I bundled up and went in the backyard and had a few quiet moments gazing at the stars. And talking to my Mom just a little bit.
On our coffee table in the living room I’ve displayed a beautiful woven bowl that was part of my Grandfather’s collection of Native American Indian treasures. One of the items I brought home from Mom’s after she died. It’s full of mini photo albums and a couple of antique or vintage books. Two of the photo books have an emblem on the front of them. They are old. I imagine my Mom bought them as gifts and so they must be about 48 years old to be exact. The emblem is an acronym, S.O.G. with P.I.P. – inside the photo books it is revealed, Silly Old Grandma with Pictures in Purse. Mom bought these for my Miss Duty, Dad’s Mom, and Grandpeggy, Mom’s Mom. I don’t know exactly who decided how the Gandmas would be referred to. But “Miss Duty” was a Southern woman and Grandpeggy, I suspect, was not ready to be called GrandMA when I was born. Nonetheless, they both had these little books. I was Miss Duty’s third grandchild, Grandpeggy’s first. I love those silly little books. I love that my Mom bought them. I love looking at the photos that she chose to give them, the ones that would be used to explain how and who their kids and Grandkids were. They are little brag books from a very long time ago.
I went to see “my therapist” this week. Years ago I finally found THE therapist for me. A woman, that I am comfortable with and very confident in. She is not only educated to do what she does, but she is wise. I trust her judgment. And I instantly feel better, safer in the world, just by walking in her office. It felt like it was time to start talking to her about what happened when Mom died and what is happening. I don’t see her regularly, just when I need to.
Right before I went to stay with my Mom for the last time, not knowing this, we did talk about if my Mom started to go, things I could do to help her. Susan was a guide for me in this way, much as the Hospice nurse who was on night call in the middle of the night during my Mom’s last days was and Kath, who knew all too well what was happening. I needed information, direction and advice. Susan is knowledgeable and seems to be a believer in Tibetan Buddhism. And part of the practice of Tibetan Buddhism, or maybe Buddhism in general, is the idea that you can prepare for a good death. Not just by living a good life, but there is a practice in literally learning to die well.
I’m reading up a little bit this morning… http://www.buddhanet.net/deathtib.htm . This web site tells me that there are Three Roots to be aware of as far as death is concerned…
1) DEATH IS CERTAIN; 2) THE TIME OF DEATH IS UNCERTAIN; 3) THE ONLY THING THAT CAN HELP US AT THE TIME OF DEATH IS OUR MENTAL/SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT.
It is explained that traditionally, in Buddhist countries, one is also encouraged to go to a cemetery or burial ground to contemplate death and become familiar with this inevitable event. I’m sure this is meant in general terms, but it brings back our little pilgrimage to San Diego with my Mom. Which, as it turned out, was only about 6 weeks at most before she died. This is what happened…
Mom’s second husband, John, had died about 9 years ago. Before his death, they had bought plots down in San Diego right after Mom’s Dad died. Anyway, I think it was heavy on John’s mind that he did not want to leave Mom to handle all of these arrangements alone. So they bought two plots near a lovely little lake in a nice cemetery in San Diego. When John passed away one of the challenges was getting his urn, which came with the plot fee. Well, Mom lived about two hours from the cemetery and they wouldn’t mail the urn, of course. So when she knew her death was eminent, she wanted to go to the cemetery, visit John, and get her urn so we would have it. I teased her a lot about it. I told her no one could accuse her of not being organized. She wanted everything in order. I know she was worried about us being able to handle this. She was worried, as Mom would be, to leave us in such pain, alone, to figure this all out. It is really touching in many ways.
Now, you might have to know my Mom to appreciate the humor in this, but there is part of me that vacillates between thinking it was just a Mother’s love and concern to try to arrange everything, as much as possible, ahead of time, to lessen our burden. It also occurs to me that she would be very concerned that we would somehow F*** it up as well. She wasn’t one to be able to let go and have the faith or confidence that someone else could handle these things just fine. Especially when that “someone else” was her offspring, whom she has watched screw up all manner of things over the last 48 years.
Just the same, little did Mom know, but we were practicing a Tibetan Buddhism tradition and together, readying ourselves for her death. We visited John’s gravesite. We went in the mausoleum and found our great grandfather’s tomb and those of both his wives.
It was strange being there together, knowing that it wouldn’t be long until we had to return without Mom, or with her in a different way. We wandered around the grounds. I taped part of our conversations. We took a few pictures. It brought back a lot of memories of John’s service and his passing. Nine years ago. And I remembered so vividly the day of John’s service, going into the business offices with Mom, my best friend Kevin by my side, and sitting next to Mom while she filled out her paperwork. And I thought, oh my gosh, this is where I will come when Mom dies. It was the strangest feeling of having this information. Of knowing the place we would all end up when Mom died. So much of death is unknown. The why, when and how. But on this day I realized I would know the ultimate “where.”
Excerpts on Tibetan Beliefs on Death:
Because the death process is so important, it is best not to disturb the dying person with noise or shows of emotion. Expressing attachment and clinging to the dying person can disturb the mind and therefore the death process, so it is more helpful to mentally let the person go, to encourage them to move on to the next life without fear. It is important not to deny death or to push it away, just to be with the dying person as fully and openly as possible, trying to have an open and deep sharing of the person's fear, pain, joy, love, etc.
A few people helped guide and encourage me in this direction to help Mom. Encouraging me to voice my love and support of Mom. To praise her for being a good Mom, for 48 years. She did a good job, her work was done and letting her know it was okay for her to move on, to let go. I also did this by remembering and telling her joyful stories and memories of our life together. She would listen sometimes and then she would be distracted with her process. But I saw her smile here and there and watched a tear roll down her cheek one day when I wasn’t sure if she could hear or process what I was saying. This encouraged me to keep talking to her. This is helpful information for loved ones as one of the hardest parts of being with someone during their death is your feeling of utter helplessness. But we are not helpless. We have an important role to play to support someone nearing the end of their life. I could not help myself from crying at times, I hope this simply showed her as much as I was letting her go, I loved her so much and would miss her. I think better to let yourself cry than not be open enough, for fear you might get emotional. We’re strong enough to handle it.
More Tibetan beliefs… It is believed that if the consciousness leaves the body of the dead person through the crown or from a higher part of the body, it is likely to result in a good type of rebirth. For this reason, when a person dies it is believed that the first part of the body that should be touched is the crown. The crown is located about eight finger widths (of the person being measured) back from the (original) hairline. To rub or tap this area or gently pull the crown hair after a person dies is regarded as very beneficial and may well help the person to obtain a higher rebirth.
Susan encouraged me to rub the top of Mom’s head, her crown, as she was dying. I told this to Mom about two weeks before she died. She smiled. I stroked her hair and rubbed the top of her head often as I was with her in those last days. And I talked to her, “Remember to go through your head Mom.” She had beautiful soft, thick silver hair and I just stroked it and massaged her scalp and told her when she was ready, she could go.
More… when a person is dying, their mind becomes much more subtle, and they are more open to receiving mental messages from those people close to them. So silent communication and prayer can be very helpful. It is not necessary to talk much. The dying person can be encouraged to let go into the light, into God's love etc. (again, this can be verbal or mental). At the time of death (clear light stage) the consciousness (very subtle mind) leaves the body and the person takes the body of an intermediate state of being. They are in the form that they will take in their next life (some texts say the previous life), but in a subtle rather than a gross form.
There was a lot of prayer happening around Mom’s bed and around our world of family and friends in her last days. Many, many people were thinking of and checking in on Mom. When Mom and I were alone I was often softly humming and singing. It was a song that was stuck in my head ever since she told me it was her favorite a week before. More than the greatest love the world has known, This is the love I give to you alone.. I even had it on my iPod, the version by Nat King Cole. One evening I turned the music at a low level and put an ear bud in her ear. I wanted to see her smile, but she just lay there peacefully. About a half hour before she died I whispered in her ear that I wanted her to go dance on a cloud with John to her favorite song and I sang a few versus to her for the last time.
More from the Tibetans… it can take up to forty-nine days to find a suitable place of rebirth. This rebirth is propelled by karma and is uncontrolled. In effect the karma of the intermediate state being matches that of its future parents. The intermediate state being has the illusory appearance of its future parents copulating. It is drawn to this place by the force of attraction to its parent of the opposite sex, and it is this desire that causes the consciousness of the intermediate state being to enter the fertilized ovum. This happens at or near the time of conception and the new life has begun.
Now this is where Faith, yes, capital F, gets the best of me. This is particularly specific and that can, for some reason, make me a little nervous when it comes to religion. But I like the idea that I have until the 14th of this month to still help send my Mom off to her next adventure. So for now, I’m going to go with this. I don’t like the idea that she will be someone else. As much as I do have a belief in reincarnation. But my earthly, small, selfish human person still wants my Mom to be my Mom. Even if she is not here physically, that her spirit self is still my Mother. I know, this is all so esoteric, and weird for me to even be voicing this I suppose. But that’s what’s rolling around in my head. The 14th is Sunday, today is Friday. I think I would like to write my Mom a letter. And I think I should take that letter to the beach and read it to her. My beach, up the street and have a little ritual for myself and my Mom.
And this little Tibetan gem …whether or not it is advisable to donate one's organs after dying. The usual answer given by the Tibetan lamas to this question is that if the wish to donate one's organs is done with the motivation of compassion, then any disturbance to the death process that this causes is far outweighed by the positive karma that one is creating by this act of giving. It is another way in which one can die with a positive and compassionate mind.
Wow, I am amazed to find this information. When Mom passed away we did make a decision to donate her organs to science. This was not a transplant situation, it was for scientific study. And we hope, to aid in some way esearch for pancreatic cancer. The disease that took Mom’s life. We had to make a quick and unexpected decision in this regard. We were given the option when the mortuary representative showed up; just two hours after Mom had died. Making the decision seemed fairly straight forward. Something positive might come of it. Mom would like the idea, we hoped, of contributing positively in a way that might help others not have to suffer what she had. Mom and I had, had such a conversation about cancer research not long before her death, but not about her donating her body to science. A week later when the paperwork was done and the mortuary told me she was “on her way” – meaning her body was being flown to Denver, where the lab was, I had second thoughts. Thinking of the disruption to my Mother’s remains upset me. She was alone. I know this is silly. It goes against what I truly believe to be true, which is at the moment my Mother died, her body was just biology. It had served its purpose and the essence of my Mother was no longer dwelling in her body. She was free. But still, there is a small part of me that doesn’t like the idea of her frail, vulnerable body being transported in a box in some cargo plane. Of course, it is better not to think of the details. I like the idea though that our motivation was pure in our decision to donate Mom’s remains. That we made that decision together as her children and it was with great compassion, which I do hope outweighs any disruption to her death process that may have come as a result. It was her last contribution. And that was who she was, she loved to be of service.
Well, I think that’s enough for today.