I read your fine, intimate recollection with feelings of recognition and empathy. My mother’s final week of life and her death in April 2010, were in some ways quite similar to your mother’s transition.
My sister and I were ill prepared for the sadness and drama of Mom’s departure at age 93, nor for the difficulty of encouraging her to let go, although it was time. Hospice workers told us she would leave soon, and we believed them. She hadn’t spoken in days, nor opened her eyes. And so we watched her waxen face, hoping she’d hear us and know we meant to be of comfort. If we could ease her passing it might answer our own near desperate need to DO SOMETHING—before it was too late. We hovered by her bed, loving, determined to surmount our inadequacy. She had never voiced thoughts about her own death, which informed us that the subject was not to be broached. But we thought she seemed anxious, although she’d had end-of-life doses of morphine and was assuredly not in pain.
We come from a family of talkers and sensed that Mom, always garrulous herself, would not have wanted us to just sit there as silent observers. Instead of risking emotional talk, we reminded her we were there by singing her old favorite songs—in shaky harmony no less. Like standup performers who’ve run out of joke material, we chatted, groped for subject matter, recalling family adventures and funny incidents. We talked to her of times past and of the future, of grandchildren who were with us in spirit and would miss her sorely. Of her great granddaughter, born the day Mom turned 90. Her only response was feeble—the semblance of a frown. She was not sleeping. This was not restful repose.
Then something clicked as I observed Mom’s subtle reaction to bird song playing softly on a nature CD she had always loved. Next to family, her greatest joy was The Great Outdoors. I suddenly knew how to reach her: I would construct and urge her to follow me on a guided visualization. I squeezed Mom’s hand and told her to hear my words and to come with me to a peaceful place where surprises awaited her. This brought the first response from her in days! Had she just been totally bored and put off by the whole hovering-dying scenario? Perhaps she was just waiting for someone to take charge of her final adventure. Boldly I invited my sister to come with us as I counseled Mom to follow my voice–follow ME—and not to lag behind. Surprise! She nodded as I told her to listen closely to my words, as we began a “walk” to a secret, wonderful place.
It was a day perfect for wearing soft cotton summer dresses and for going barefoot, and we were perfectly comfortable, as we descended a staircase made of smooth worn stones and passed through a vine-covered gate. We discovered a fragrant apple orchard, where, seated on blankets, with picnic baskets (to my own growing surprise as the story weaver / fellow traveler) were all of Mom’s family of origin, young and healthy and radiantly smiling their welcome. Evelyn, Dorothy, Clifford, Rose, Fred, Bob (the beloved six siblings who all pre-deceased her) and of course Cliff and Elma, her parents. John her husband (my dad–looking so youthful, so strong ) leapt up with a grin and arms outstretched. The kid brothers called her name and welcomed their sister. How was it that her childhood boyfriend Frank was there as well, jostling in a friendly manner with John, for her attention? The gathering seemed complete, with Helen the last to arrive. I stood aside, unnoticed, and positively amazed at the gathering I had convened. The characters will often run away with an author’s story, it seems, but even knowing this, I was amazed and brought to tears by the direction this plot had taken.
As I saw and described the scene, never for a moment stopping, Mom’s eyes darted back and forth under closed lids, as though she were watching a film. She seemed relaxed but attentive. After several days where Haldol and morphine had left her face and her body slack, both my sister and I now felt her weakly squeeze our hands. I told her we would come back later, to visit with her “after the picnic”. To our astonishment, she tried to wet her lips, then said faintly but clearly, “Thanks for everything. Love.” This, from a woman who although a proud and devoted wife, mother, grandmother, had never, ever used the “L-Word” aloud, was a surprise. We didn’t know until she died the next day that she would never speak again. Perhaps going to that picnic was the stimulus she needed to find to voice those words. I needed to find that place too.
More details about “Entering the Blue Stone.”