ENDINGS AND BLESSINGS:
How my mother’s dying — and my father’s just weeks before — taught me faith in Unseen Love
by Marcia Singer, MSW, CHt
I kissed my mother’s hollow cheek. “Goodbye,” I attempted, feeling older than Mom’s seventy-one years. I was strangely empty, emptied of all resistance and strength, yet full too, filled with hazy, hard-to-identify shadow emotions. My withered mother looked back at me with confused hazel eyes that looked huge against the shrunkenness of her face and meager body. The fatal dance with Alzheimer’s and ALS had worn thin. I was afraid to let the anxious longing in those eyes touch me too deeply as I prepared to leave the nursing home for the safety of the airport. With stoic, strained calm I mustered a reassurance, patting her bony, arthritic hands, releasing them for the last time. I knew I’d never see this wisp of a woman again, this woman who had been my mother for forty-seven years. I waved a last farewell; Mom limply waved back.
It was December second. Dad’s funeral had been the day before, a week after his Thanksgiving exit. We did “give thanks” for his dying; his pain level from the cancer had reached unbearable heights no dosage of morphine could arrest. For months since Mom had been pronounced terminally ill, he had determined to outdo his own pain and outlive Mom, to be sure she was safe and cared for. His heroics awed me, this father I had never been able to be close to. I was relieved to experience his devotion to Mom. It had not been evident to me as a child.
As hard as it had been to have both parents terminally ill at the same time, and living fifteen hundred miles away to boot, their endings did not come without blessings, some of which were quite mystical and precious to me. By means of dreams and other mysterious workings, I was to be prepared for their coffin appearances ahead of time and for participating in their funeral services. A week before daddy died, his mother, my grandmother “Gar” appeared to me in a night dream. In the dream presence of my anxious family members who were gathered under one roof, Gar, who had gone to the other side many years before, lay in a coffin, appearing to be dead. I understood immediately that she was communicating that her soul was not contained by or limited to a fleshly earth body. Then Gar led us to an enormous mural painted with a dazzling array of unearthly colors. I intuited that she was telling me all was well. Nothing to fear here about death.
Soon after, I received the call that Dad had passed over. On the airplane heading home to Kansas for the funeral, although I had not been asked to speak at the service, I daydreamed about doing so. I imagined myself in front of the gatherees, eloquently, courageously pleading with them to open our hearts to ourselves, each other, to Mother Earth while we still had the chance. Awaking from my daydream, I reflected on the unlikelihood of such a performance. It turned out to be in fact, a premonition, for the next day I found myself on the pulpit extemporaneously, my dad’s coffined body to my left. Remembering Gar in the dream, it wasn’t so terrifying now. Being in front of all these people, however, was. My knees knocking, I hoped that whatever would be coming out of my mouth would be acceptable to Daddy, marveling at the persistence of my lifelong fear of displeasing him, as if he could still make pronouncements from his coffin.
Yet there I was, enjoining the audience to link our hearts. My arms, with a strange will of their own, stretched out towards the crowd, and an unknown force sent electrical energies pouring from my hands as I stood there shaking. The power of the moment was amplified by virtue of my having foreseen it in my so-called daydreaming beforehand. I knew this was a “mitzvah,” a blessing.
And so was I prepared for Mom’s funeral as well by unseen forces at work. My inner Guidance had prompted me to sing a popular standard show tune tune at her funeral, although I suspected it wasn’t kosher to do so. But in the final months of my mother’s life, she re-acquired the habit of daily visits to her beloved Steinway. The piano had been a gift to her as a young teen to support her prodigious classical playing and contest winning. In her final weeks, fretting continuously over her increasing disability, her right hand becoming useless, she would take
tremendous delight in having me attempt to play the right hand treble clef note accompaniment to old favorites that I could sing along to. While Dad, confined to a rental hospital cot nearby would doze, she and I would play and sing duets. Such joy it brought her: unable to hold herself in habitual emotional check, like a simple child she would parrot over and over, “Beau…ti…ful…-BEAU…ti…ful!” in loving appreciation of my efforts, appreciation so rarely experienced by me.
The wintery night of my mother’s death, she was in Wichita and I was in Los Angeles lying before a toasty fire in my living room. Drifting off to inner travel, descending over me, hovering just within reach, were the words to the song “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” one of our favorite duets. Just days before I had thought it would be the best to sing at her funeral, but I couldn’t remember all the lyrics. Lo and behold, in the firelight all fell into place, as in my mind, in the ethers, I sang for my Mother.
When I woke the next morning, there was a message on my machine that she’d died quietly that night. I grimly packed my bags for a second time in five short weeks for another difficult farewell. And yet I knew, too, that I had been blessed. SomeOne, someThing, had summoned me to sing for my mother as she was dying: I would sing for her again as she lay coffined two days later, January 2, 1992. Another ending, another blessing.