Friday, June 12, 2009

Death Uninterrupted ~ Lolla's Lesson...

To start, today, I want to share with you a passage from one of my most favorite, treasured books. It is a book of tiny chapters, some only half a page long, sometimes a whole page. It is by the amazing Pierre Delattre, part of the Beat Generation, now still a writer and painter with a gallery in New Mexico. The name of the book is Episodes: Allen Ginsberg, Charles de Gaulle, Richard Brautigan, and the Dalai Lama Meet In The Pages Of This Wild Distillation of Bohemian Life. This post is an homage to a great man, and a book that has made me laugh and cry and learn more than I ever knew I needed to know. The passage I am going to quote for you is about the death of his dog Lolla, which I have been here reading at the time of my mother's near passing. Lolla was his dog, and she has taught us all, through Pierre, a deeper, more profound knowledge of death, and the journey we must walk alone...

To Pierre, To Lolla, to my Mother...

"After my dog Lolla was poisoned by strychnine a second time, she didn't seem to want to go through the agony of the long recovery again. I was keeping her bedded down near the fireplace. But every time I went into another room she would get up and drag her body into the backyard, lying down under the peach tree and somehow covering herself with dead leaves. I'd go out, brush her off, pick her up, and carry her back to where it was warm. One time I returned from talking on the phone to find that she had made it only as far as the steps into the garden, where she collapsed. I decided not to try to save her anymore. I carried her out to the peach tree and lay her down. She let me know that she didn't want me to stay too close to her. She didn't want to be touched or talked to. She just wanted me nearby. So I sat on the steps and watched while she wiggled into the leaves, a maneuver she seemed to know by instinct. When her body was entirely covered, except for her snout -- which as pointing directly at the late afternoon sun shining there on her from over the fence -- she lay quietly alert. Just as the sun set, she gave off a shudder that took away the leaves. I saw a pale silver glow surround her. The glow lasted for about 15 minutes, faded away, and left her body quite dead. I dug a grave there under the tree. From Lolla I learned once again that dying is a solitary act of enormous spiritual concentration that should not be disturbed by our tears and words of grief or consolation. The best we can do for dying creatures, human or animal, is to let them connect somehow with the earth and then guard them so that they can die uninterrupted."

I read the above passage by Delattre and tears ran down my cheeks and I couldn't breathe. That I would pick this book up after some time and it would open to that passage. You see, my mother has been in the hospital for the last few weeks, and her dearest wish has been to go home. My Aunt Babe, her younger sister, cleaned the whole place until it shone, and Tuesday my mother went home. I know that she went home to die.

My mother's family, that generation of Irish Catholics (and many others I'm sure, this is simply what I grew up with, what I know...) didn't let their people die in hospitals and nursing homes. They brought them home and loved them into death. Being close, reverent, tending to needs, and letting the dying one rest. I was there when my beloved grandmother died. I just missed her passage because I had a new baby at home I had to go home and nurse. Shortly after my grandmother passed, I got the call that she had gone. I had been there for hours and hours. Something told me then that she didn't want me there when she died, just as I know my mother wants to die at home. She has a nurse practitioner in 8 hours a day, which she really didn't want but that's the only way they would let her out. Now she is home, and the rest will take it's natural course.

I was trained as a lay midwife to work with a doctor who did homebirths. I would examine the mother, sit with her until the doctor arrived, giving him reports along the way if he was in the middle of another delivery, and on the odd chance he didn't make it, we were trained to "catch" the baby. I had two babies at home and at my 2nd child's birth both my mother and my husband's were there to see their grandchild born. 3 year old Jenny sat on the end of the bed watching. It felt like the Nativity. And unto us a child was born.

I sit her wondering when it all changed, when birth and death became institutionalized and homecare, surrounded by your loved ones and your familiar things, drifted into the mists making way for a clinical process that leaves you just a name and number on a chart. I know that there are very wonderful and caring hospital personnel, but it is not like being at home. Something very precious was lost when we gradually drifted from one way of being to another.

Now I know full well that many a birth and death need to be in the hospital for medical issues that cannot be handled at home, but where it is possible, I believe it should be, surrounding the new mother with babe at her breast, or the dying one, about to walk through the passage from one world to the next. It should be a precious Holy act. The new little one comes through the tunnel into the world, and the dying one goes through the tunnel to a world we cannot, yet, know. The beginning and end of life, the two great mysteries.

And so Pierre bent to Lolla's wishes and witnessed a beautiful, natural, instinctual death. We all deserve that, the death of our own choosing. My mother has gone home to spend her final days in her home, amongst her familiar things, with her family surrounding her and yet giving her space, allowing her the silence she needs and must have to ready herself for the walk through the tunnel into the light. No matter what your belief system, none of us can really know what is on the other side of that tunnel, just as none of us can remember, once we have exited the womb into the world, and the veil of forgetfulness drops, what life was like before our birth. Some young children have an amazing recollection of time in and before the womb, but most adults write it off as fantasy. We should listen more closely.

I cannot carry my mother out under a tree and cover her with leaves. But she will be in her own familiar bed covered with the sheets and blankets she has known, with all of the objects surrounding her that are full of memories, and perhaps when that stillness and that glow come, those around her will have to grace to honor it in silence, and allow her a safe and peaceful passage to the unknown world beyond.

I am about to call my mother to check on her. I do not know how many more times I will be able to do that. She is sleeping most of the time now. She is gathering the leaves around her. It is very close to the time of her journey.


PinkLady said...

Mother Maitri, I can feel your pain. It's hard enough to lose someone we know... much much harder when this involves someone we have loved all our life.

You are doing the right thing by spending as much time as you can while she is still with you. I'm sure this means a lot to her and your efforts to make her happy during the last few years/months/days have not gone unnoticed.

Take comfort in the fact that her next journey will be a better happier and more peaceful one. She is on her way to experiencing eternal bliss.

God bless!


Jan from BetterSpines said...

Thank you for sharing such powerful emotions. Your mother is obviously loved, and will move on in that love when she is ready. Describing the death of Lolla certainly shows, as you say, that the dying do not need our grieving or our tears, just our presence and support.
And you are so right about how we have depersonalised both death and birth by institutionalising them.

Glynis said...

I think that is a thought to hold onto Maitri, your mother, comfy, snuggled in her own bed. Safe and serene.

Maitri Libellule said...

Thank you all so much. Your kind, gentle, supportive words mean the world to me.

All good blessings to each of you...


DJ said...

Thank you so much for sharing Lolla's story with us. I have always wished my father was at home when he died. The hospital he died in was 5 hours away and none of us could get there in time. He died alone. I'm so glad that your mother will be wrapped in the warmth and love of her own bed. Peace to you, Maitri.

Lily Arbee said...

Hi Maitri, I read it all. You will be blessed for taking care of your mum. She will feel at peace at home with you around her.

You wrote with full of emotion, I can understand that, 'cause I was in your situation before with my late mum.

Take care,
God bless you always,

Grace said...

Lovely. How good that your family understands what your mother needs and is able to give it to her.

Jenny Fletcher said...

Maitri - I wanted to share this with you. My Mum passed away in 2003. She had a stroke or a heart attack and was found collapsed by her cleaning lady.

She died a week later, having never recovered consciousness. The weekend before she had had a fall and didn't tell me immediately. She said she didn't want to bother me and felt fine. The last time I spoke to her on the phone, was the night before she had her collapse and was taken into hospital.

I miss her terribly yet I know I am being selfish because she had had years of chronic pain with rheumatoid arthritis and was housebound.

Last month I sat and watched the horse racing at Royal Ascot which we used to watch together on TV and enjoy all the fashions. I swear I could hear her voice saying which outfits she liked. And when I'm in the kitchen cooking something from the collection of recipe books and clippings she left me, I can feel her there, even though she never saw this house.

Be happy and grateful that you can be with your Mum right up to the end and say all the things that you want to. When you aren't with her in these next weeks and think of something you want to say, write it down and share it with her. That way hopefully you will have no regrets about things that went unsaid. Blessings to you both.

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