I’ve discovered in the past few weeks that there are things I thought I’d never be able to do, but that that I can and did accomplish. There are things I never considered in my life, and some I can manage but some I cannot. And there are things I thought I could handle that just break me down.
Three weeks ago, my cat died. I’ve been afraid of a pet dying on me since consciously recognizing their mortality. What do you do when an animal dies in your arms? How do you manage to check that they’re still alive? Will I be afraid to hold them when they are dead? What about the last hours when things are clearly going to happen? I was surprised with myself that none of these concerns ever entered my mind. There was no fear for myself or disgust at what I may see. It was all love. Love and hope and the prayer that I could provide my little buddy with all he deserved. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I could do it all.
Things I never considered have arisen this week. I’ve thought about the passing of my mother and the processes around it for a while now. I believed I had thought things through, but when it became clear that her death was imminent, when conversations about plans began, I realized there were so many aspects I hadn’t considered. Granted, there was a much larger group of people handling this particular situation, and I was certainly not an important player, but there were discussions to have and questions to answer. What about her obituary? How will the pandemic affect the proceedings? Meals? Readings? Songs? There were so many details I had never even thought about.
One of the things I’m decidedly not good at is shopping for and choosing an outfit for my mother to be buried in. To say I was irrational in the moment is probably the kindest way to describe my behavior. My sister tried to choose something which I could not bring myself to support because, and get this, it seemed itchy. Because that makes a lot of sense. I didn’t voice a lot of concerns around outfits we looked at because I recognized how irrational I was being, but these types of thoughts kept occurring. I asked myself all sorts of silent questions about if things would be comfortable, warm enough, or have a place for her to put a tissue. I knew they didn’t make sense but that didn’t make them any less real. I was concerned about the length of dresses and when told “it’s ok; no one will see her bottom half in the casket,” I could not articulate that it didn’t matter because her legs would be cold and we needed to give her a blanket and she wouldn’t have worn something shorter anyway. I was being ridiculous and I knew it. Not good at this part. My poor sister.
I had never asked myself if I could hold my dying mother’s hand, kiss her forehead, speak to her to provide comfort. I would have thought I’d be too afraid, and that’s why I avoided the questions. It turns out that these things were surprisingly easy. When I first saw my mother in her final days, I had a solid ten seconds of shock and paralyzing fear. Paralyzing. Fear. Then, I was there. I was able to read and pray and talk to Mom with ease. There were lots of things I said that were for me, I realize. I apologized for things I see as my shortcomings. I reminded her of amazing stories she was a part of and told her things about my daily she didn’t know. I want to believe it was comforting to her, despite being relatively certain she was not really with me. Unfortunately yet freely, I admit there are things about those days that I could have happily lived my life without ever knowing, but those feelings are about me and not about Mom, so unhelpful.
I’m currently home in PA and sort of biding my time until we can leave for NJ again. I’m anxious to be among the plans and have the ability to do something. Being away gives me too much time to think. Thinking about what I couldn’t do, even when asked, is disappointing. I’m frustrated by the things I’ve discovered as shortcomings. At the same time, I’m angry with myself either when I brood or when I don’t. I’m glad Mom has left her body. I’m relieved for her to be with my dad again. This is the time that is the most challenging for those left behind. As a clever man once wrote and a wise one reminded me: “Dying is easy, living is harder.”
The next few days will prove to be more of the same types of discoveries, I am sure. I will test my capacity for compassion, patience, and for forgiveness. I will feel intense anxiety at being at the height of all of my emotions, and then dealing with something that I personally find exceptionally challenging at the best of times. I will also have moments of incredible joy, and I hope I am present enough to recognize them when they occur.
Dying is a test to all of us. My hopes for myself are that I am able to keep in mind the person who is the reason for all of the events in the next few days rather than considering my own needs. What I feel and want for my own self are not really important right now. I hope that I can be able to honor my mother in the events surrounding her death. I also hope that she doesn’t even bother seeing what I do because she’s just too full of peace and joy to care.