January 7, 2015

Learning Presence in the Face of My Mother’s Death.

holding hands

“I just need a hug. Things are pretty bad here, Lauren.”

I delete the message and a reservoir of tears find their way to my heavy eyelids. I want to pretend that things with my mom aren’t hard, that we don’t have a tenuous, sometimes outright conflictual relationship.

I want to be at home with my husband and our dog and pretend that this is the only life I know, that the past doesn’t show up, that I am not fearful or sad when the vulnerability of my mother’s message hits my beating heart and runs familiar circuits throughout my body.

I return the call and leave a message. I receive nothing in return.

We are approaching the full lunar eclipse in October. It is a big moon that will act as a book-end towards this time of shorter days, colder air, real deep-down-soul-healing, heart-opening, laying prostrate in prayer season. It is both a healing and telling moon. I still haven’t heard from my mom when by the time that it arrives.

I spend two days calling various hospitals to find where my mom might be with no success.

Friday night she tells us where we can find her. She is in the hospital just north. We will go on Sunday, when we aren’t on call, when I feel strong enough, when I stop feeling so angry that she has kept herself from us. The elevator takes us to an empty hallway under construction. We twist and we turn through its maze as we inhale the fumes of fresh plaster and off-white paint. Signs begin to appear telling us that we are on the cancer unit.

There is a cure. You will survive.

I don’t know if I will survive this, though.

I don’t want to lose another parent.

Her small frame is consumed by her hospital robe and tubes. I know that she is going to tell us that she is dying. The cancer has spread from her lungs to her spinal cord, liver and adrenal glands. She will later develop spinal fractures as a result of cancer eating her bone marrow. She asks a nurse that she trusts to sit with us as she explains.

She has until Christmas, or one year, or 1 in 200, or 30 percent something or…it’s all just odds the doctor says. The chemotherapy will help prolong her time with us but there is no cure and she is terminal. This disease is in its most progressive stage and I want to slaughter it while delicately loving her.

She speaks between shallow breaths and tells me that she is sorry.

I tell her that I am sorry too.

And we hold each other.

There are days that I forget that she is dying. I feel angry, depleted, frustrated, and resentful. I am sick of talking about cancer. I am sick of going to the cancer unit. I don’t smile as much as I had the day before I received her message: “I just need a hug. Things are pretty bad here, Lauren.”

I cry at the dentist office when he asks me “How are you?” as a greeting. I cry at Wal-Mart because I am at Wal-Mart buying my mom a foam mattress top under florescent lighting in the same aisle with a frustrate husband and a tired wife who are looking for a twin XL mattress cover for their child in college. I cry when I eat, I cry when I laugh, and I cry when I see my husband on our weekend visits.

I just cry.

I learn to observe these tears and this sadness rather than judge them. I learn to be present to my mom’s life and death.

My mother tells me about how she went to look at the moon when she was in the hospital that night in October. By this time she knew that she had terminal cancer. She tells me that she walked to the end of that desolate hallway under construction to see the big red moon. She reminds me that we shared that same sky that night.

What cancer brings, for me, is surrender. I mean knock-down, drag-out, nothing is in your control, the world is moving, love yourself kind of surrender. We spend much of our lives running from one corner to the other looking for that something that will gently pacify the need to be recognized and healed. To fill the emptiness inside the pit of our belly. We find, in these corners, there still remains the sweet and gentle voice saying “I just need a hug.” We surrender, hands to our heart, and embark on the scariest experience of learning to forgive, to be forgiven and find love deep down inside of our roots.

This is healing.

The Winter Solstice arrives and my mom and I go for a walk under the full moon. Her hands shake and her ankles swell but we continue to move slowly move forward on illuminated streets.

I know that this lunar energy will see us through before she goes.

I surrender, hands to my heart and learn to be with the stars.


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Author: Lauren Hall

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Erik Söderström at Flickr 


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