When Death Comes Like the Hungry Bear In Autumn
I am writing this beside my mom’s bed. She is dying and her breath grows quieter and quieter. Her face is like a child’s, soft and without a wrinkle.
I was with her just last week and, four days after I left, her brain stopped knowing how to instruct her body to swallow.
My sister and I hug her and tell her we love her and that we are so proud of her. We tell how beautiful she is and how much she is love. We play her Elvis. We gossip with the hospice nurse about which is better, the Clinique or Lancome free gift with purchase, and then the conversation turns to how we die. I learn many meaningful things from these nurses about life – they have watched death closely. Then Mom’s caregivers come in and fuss over her. I drink green juice and coffee with almond milk. My sister’s dog wanders the halls.
We visit with the daughter and nephew in the room next door. Their mother, Irma, is dying, too. We ’ve gotten to know the other people in memory care and learn their stories. Irma’s grandmother and aunt died of Alzheimer’s too and they are all part of a study to try to understand the genetic component of the disease.
I am feeling so many things in the space of one breath: I feel love taking my mom, like a river she is letting herself go into; such an unending love. I sense she knows she is loved, maybe like never before. I feel relief she will be free from Alzheimer’s and I feel the prelude of her absence, the knowing the life that has been Betty Marie is here now and very soon won’t be. I feel immense gratitude for the care hospice is giving her, my sister, and me… so much, so very much.
I know most of you have been where I am now; sitting with death. I know life will never be the same.
And I know that is okay, too.
How shall we each be open to grief and loss in ways that help us be more alive rather than less? How do we let these passages help us grow instead of stunt us?
These are good questions to live into together.
The title of this post is from Mary Oliver’s amazing poem When Death Comes. If you have never read it, please do. Here is a passage and some other of my favorites.