Body-Mind-Spirit - Inspiration for Writers, Dreamers, and Seekers of Health & Happiness
Every year, around Thanksgiving, I wish I could hit a fast forward button, skip the month of December, and resume my life on New Year’s Day. It’s not that I don’t like the holidays, but it sometimes makes me feel like a headless chicken—a headless shopping chicken, running amok at the mall. I lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas. I know it’s supposed to be about giving, but searching for gifts in stores or online leaves me cold. It all seems so pointless.
This year my mother had a heart attack on Thanksgiving. When I heard she needed heart surgery, I got on a plane to be by her side. On December 5th she had a quadruple bypass. After the surgery, she spent two weeks in the hospital. My sisters and I stayed with her day and night. It was a stressful, difficult, and challenging time.
And yet, it was also beautiful, filled with unexpected gifts, such as compassion, nurturing, and faith. But the greatest gift was—and is—love. Our love expressed itself in many ways. It infused everything we said and did. We lived those weeks in a state of reverence for life and for each other. It was the most sacred, meaningful holiday season of my life. I never could have imagined the gifts one might find in a hospital room. There was the gift of holding my mother’s hand, stroking her brow, feeding her, singing to her, and reading her stories. There was the gift of her smile, and the gift of recognition in her eyes when, soon after the surgery, I asked, “Mom, do you know who I am?”
“Of course, I do,” she said.
“What’s my name?” I asked. “I want to hear you say it.”
“Bella,” she said.
During her days in intensive care, I prayed, meditated, and chanted in her room. In order to hit the high notes I had to release the tension constricting my chest. I sang an improvised chorus of “Alleluias” and “Amazing Grace.” Soothing my mother soothed me. I understood viscerally how giving really is receiving. Those weren’t just words or an abstract idea—it was a real-life experience.
My sisters and I celebrated when Mom got out of intensive care. But it was nearly impossible for her to walk. While she struggled to put one foot in front of the other, the therapist said, “Inch-by-inch is a cinch; yard-by-yard is really hard.” Words to live by. But it was all too difficult. At 83, her major organs began shutting down.
Later, when she took a turn for the worse and was on a respirator and on dialysis, I told her there were as many people who loved her on the other side as there were here so there was nothing to fear. “Either way,” I said, “whether you chose to live or die, you are surrounded by love. There is nothing but love. It’s everywhere.” These words helped us let go. Surrender is also a gift.
My mother died peacefully, fifteen days after her surgery. The holiday season came and went. There was no family Christmas photo, no holiday parties, no tree-trimming, and precious little shopping, but I exchanged the most valuable gifts of my life this holiday season. My sisters and I had the incredible honor of stepping away from our day-to-day lives to spend holy holiday weeks helping our mother pass from this life into the next. What a journey! What a gift!