Today is about stepping back. It is about letting my mom go. It is about my mom stepping forward. It is about trust. And faith.
When I awoke from a short nap on my mom’s couch, I heard the “death rattle” from her bedroom. We had been warned in advance by the hospice nurse, who assured us that our mom would not be in pain, that it was much worse for the family than for the patient. Forewarned is forearmed. My mantra for the day became, “she’s not in pain.” Over and over, I repeated these words in my head. Over and over, I looked at my mom, I held her hand, I touched her forehead. She did not seem distressed. Her rail became white noise to me. Nothing more.
Later that morning, my Cantor – who for years had been (and continues to be) my spiritual guide – appeared at my mom’s door. She came to comfort us, to tend to my mom’s pastoral needs, to bring God into the room. We prayed and we sang. My Cantor explained softly and sweetly to my mom what she was going to recite a Vidui on my mom’s behalf – a deathbed confessional prayer, to be said by the dying person, if able, or by someone else if that person was unable. As we sat there listening, my mom’s breath suddenly ceased. We looked at each other, catching our collective breath. Would this be the moment my mom let go? Alas, it was not meant to be. She began breathing again, and we all exhaled. My Cantor finished the Vidui, and we sat together in awe of God, of my mom, and of life’s tenacity.
My siblings watched over my mom later that day, while I napped. I realized, on awakening, that I needed to pray. I needed God. I needed the comfort of Shabbat (it was Friday evening). I asked my partner to drive me to synagogue. Before I left, I gently said to my mom, “I’m going to services, Mama. If you need to go before I get back, it’s OK. If not, I’ll see you in a little while.” I kissed her, and I left, not knowing if she would be alive when I returned.
This Shabbat service was profoundly transcendent for me. I prayed with an intensity many notches above my usual level. I prayed for my mom, my siblings, my daughter, and for me. I prayed to know how to be at this most holy of times, to help my mom through this last part of her journey. In the midst of my prayers, I suddenly understood that it was no longer about me. I, who had been my mother’s fierce advocate and companion, had to step back and out of the picture. This was now my mom’s journey, to be made alone. I had to create space for her to do it. The realization stunned me in its simplicity and pure truth. I felt as if God had spoken to me.
When I returned, my mom was still on her journey. I kissed her and told her I was back. My sister and brother left to get some rest, and my mom and I were together again. And not. I began to tell her what I had discovered during my prayers, and her breathing shifted. It sounded agitated, and I worried that I had upset her. My mom’s caregiver told me that my mom wasn’t upset – she was trying to answer me. At that moment, I knew conversation wasn’t what my mom needed any longer. I told her I was going to sit in the other room for a bit, but I would come back in soon. I listened for a calmer breathing pattern, and when I heard it, I again sat next to her bed, close to her, but silent. I wrote what I would have said to her. About all we had been through over the past years, about how much I loved her, about how much I had learned from her, and how grateful I was to be her daughter.
I ended with the following, which expresses so perfectly how I felt at that moment in time:
In these past few years, we have moved so far beyond our early connection. I don’t know any other mother and daughter who have shared more than you and I. I am so grateful for you. I am so awed by you. I love you so much. Now, and for the rest of my life. Until we meet again…our souls, our ever-punning souls, our singing, harmonizing souls…to share whatever our future connection will be. Until then, I hold you in my heart. Until then, my songs will be dedicated to you. Until then, I will love you and remember you, and us, and our connection, and the change you have made in this world.
Thank you for giving me life, thank you for sharing yours with me, thank you for allowing me in on such a deep and intimate level as we have gone on this journey together. And thank you for letting me sit here with you, as it comes to its end. I have loved it. I have treasured it. And I will always remember it. Go in peace, my Mama. Go in peace.