Recently my mother was taken to the hospital. She is 89. The doctors thought she had pneumonia, but it turned out she had taken too much of one of her medicines and had come severely dehydrated. I had not seen her for about six months. Until then I had been, or tried to be, the dutiful daughter, caring, yearning to make her life better I think in the desperate hope that she would turn finally into the soft, loving, accepting mother who filled my fantasies. But last July, the tensions between us had become so stressful that my health was being affected and I decided I had to make a long overdue separation. It was difficult. I wasnt sure I could resolve my issues with her before she died. I did not know if I would ever see her again.
At first, when I heard she was in the hospital, I felt little emotion. Both my sister and brother, who are very supportive of this separation, assured me I didnt have to go see her. They would take care of her. But the following afternoon, I found myself driving to the hospital. I was not a decision I consciously made. My car, it seemed, was driving me there.
I walked into her hospital room, heart pounding. She was sleeping and as I walked by the foot of her bed, my fingers reached out to tickle her toes. No response. As I stood by her side, I gently tickled the palm of her hand.
She opened her eyes, focused and then looked at me in disbelief that quickly turned to wonder. Youre here! she said softly. Emmy
I leaned over and kissed her. Her cheek was soft and warm. I sat beside her and held her hand. Although she was “not there” all the time, she was for a lot of the time, and her joy at seeing me was lovely. We chatted and laughed. Then, totally unprompted, she announced, I cant change, you know.
Yes, I know, I said. But I can change. Im working on changes within me.
She nodded and fell silent. It was a comfortable silence and, again, unprompted, she said, I read what you sent me.
Recently, I had sent her some pages from my new website, Creative Soul Works. I sent it along with a photograph of myself and my dog, Phoebe.
Did you like them? I asked, knowing, amazingly, that I would feel comfortable even if she were critical.
She said, I had to read the pages a few times, and Im not certain I understood it all, but I liked them. She was quiet again, and after a few moments said, “This spiritual part has always been in you and isn’t it interesting that it is now coming out in such a fashion.
Wow! That was amazing for her. No judgmental criticism!
Then a chaplain came into the room. He asked if he could sit with us a while. We said, yes, of course. My mother began talking, not making apparent sense, but I knew what she meant. She was talking about a woman where she lives who held Friday night spiritual gatherings and my mother always loved going. The woman is dying of cancer and my mother misses her.
After a while, the chaplain asked if he could say a prayer. He and I stood by my mother’s bed and he held both our hands and I held my mother’s hand, said a lovely prayer and left. It was lovely, unexpected, mysterious and perfect. I left her soon after feeling content and safe being my mother’s daughter for the first time in a very, very, very long time.
That night I spent time in and out of sleep thinking about end of life and passing over. Wednesday, I woke up early and went walking with Phoebe along a trail through the marsh near us. It was a bright, cold morning. Glorious. The sun sparkled on the thin covering of new ice, the first of the season. I was lost in the beauty of the morning. Nature embraced me. Nature in its denuded, brown beauty. Trees reaching to the brilliant blue sky in prayer. Me and my beautiful puppy dog and the marsh and the ice and the sun and the birds and thoughts of my mother and the beauty of age and even the majesty of death.
All this swirled in my mind as Phoebe and I walked through the marsh. And it seemed to me the trees and air were whispering poetry into my ear. This came to me:
Guardians of Light
hear my sorrow.
Guardians of Death
soothe my soul.
The frozen marsh is a starfield
of December sun.
I fall into the Mystery
where questions are shackles
and the ancient memory of tress
When I returned to my car I knew I had to go see my mother again. She was sleeping when I got there, curled up like a baby, white blanket tucked high about her neck. I sat beside her on the bed and nudged her into waking. She blinked and stared vacantly at me.
“Who I am?” I asked.
She smiled and said, “Emily.” Then added, “Where did you come from?”
“A walk with Phoebe. It’s beautiful out.”
She drifted back to sleep.
“Wake up,” I nudged her again. “Come on.” I tickled her.
She laughed and opened her eyes.
“Do you still know who I am?” I asked.
“Of course!” She looked at me as if I were crazy.
We talked a bit. She rambled. I asked her if she had seen any angels.
She said, “No, but some men where chasing her all night thought the woods in Larchmont.”
I asked her if she has seen my father or her mother?
“They’re dead,” she said.
“I know. But maybe they’ll come visit if you want them.”
“Daddy can protect you from the men chasing you,” I said.
She drifted back to sleep.
I nudged her again. “I wrote a poem,” I said. “Do you want to hear it?”
“Sure,” she said.
“Okay, listen…” I read the poem. When I finished, I thought she had fallen asleep. I leaned over and whispered, “Did you hear the poem? Should I read it again?”
“Read it again,” she said. She listened, silent a few moments and said, “I understand the poem. I think you’re telling me not to be afraid of death.”
I smiled. She smiled. “Have you seen any angels?” I asked again.
She sighed. “I’m sleepy.”
I leaned over and kissed her soft skin. “Sleep,” I said.
“Are you coming back?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ll be back.”