January 7, 2014

The Last Gift. ~ Colleen Hohenstein

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

~ Albert Camus


It’s been 22 days since my mom passed away from lung cancer.

My mom gave me so very much, but I was the one to give her the last gift. On a Tuesday afternoon, there came a call. Death was no longer creeping towards my Mom’s wasted body—it was galloping relentlessly.

I was not surprised.

Our expectations for a gradual decline weren’t to be; this was merciless destruction.

Did I practice yoga Wednesday morning? I feel certain I did, but I have no recollection. Some moments from this time are crystal clear, but many more are fuzzy at best. Physically I was present, but completely disjointed and off-kilter.

For 24 hours I waffled between staying at home and driving two and a half hours to visit my Mom. You see, we had said our goodbyes already. I knew she was proud of me and loved me, and she knew how much I loved her. Our last conversation was special. That is how I wanted to remember her.

But as much as I fought it, I knew I had to go back.

Pulling out my big girl panties, I steeled myself for the dreaded drive. I can tell you everything that happened that day—my morning yoga practice, being upset I had lost a favorite earring, the music I listened to in the car, and the crisp apple I munched along the way. I remember the tears I cried intermittently as I passed mile marker after mile marker.

I walked into a war-zone.

The tension oozed out of the house, assaulting me on the sidewalk before I ever entered. One look at my oldest sister and I knew why I was here.

Have you ever seen that fragile look of somebody hanging on by a thread? Someone who looks like they might shatter if you touched them? That was my sister.

After the briefest of hugs, I headed straight to my Mom. Walking into her room, I sat and held her hand gently for a moment. From deep within a cocoon built of morphine, Mom’s body relaxed a bit. I told her I had some things to take care of—that my sister really needed someone to put her into a quiet place so she could rest.

With those words, Mom seemed to relax a bit more.

Taking care of my promise, I led my sister into a quiet spot in the house and settled her into a restorative yoga pose. Once again I walked back into the sick room. Holding Mom’s fragile hand, I took a deep breath and began.

I told her that we were all going to be okay. I walked through the extensive litany of our family, reminding her that everyone had someone to love, and who loved them. None of us would be alone without her.

To my mother, who had always hated being an only child, that was everything. I told her it was okay to let go, that she didn’t have to hold on to this body that no longer served her. There was no outward sign that she heard me, but two hours later my Mom died. I knew why I had come back, our last conversation was my early Christmas gift to her.

This is where I am these days: most days I am okay.

On these days my practice is not stiff—at least compared to the average American – but it is full of work and effort. I muddle through my day a bit aimlessly. I manage grocery shopping, staying in touch with friends, and interacting with my husband and kids.

I feel disconnected.

Other days my sense of loss is almost palpable, but my practice is easier. On the same days I acknowledge part of me is missing, I feel everything. I feel the tips of my fingers, wholly alive, in my hesitant attempts at holding handstand. I feel the ache in my heart, resisting in deep backbends, but at the same time releasing grief. And every asana becomes a voice for this indescribable sadness.

It is a funny thing of ours, this body of ours that cannot lie even as we lie to ourselves.

I did not want her to leave us. It took more Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender to God) than I knew I had. I don’t believe God creates individual tests for each of us, I dearly hope he is busier with other things like watching over tiny babies and inspiring people to walk on bridges, not jump off them.

But if this were a test, it would be a test of faith. Do I truly believe summer is invincible? My mother, the gardener, from a family of Mid-Western farmers, she knew. There can only be a summer if you first have a winter and a spring. I thought I was giving her a gift, but in true motherly fashion, it was really all about me.

It was a chance to find my own faith in summer and surrender to the seasons.

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Assistant Editor: Brenna Fischer/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: glindsay65/Flickr Creative Commons


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