I always tell my friends there are two dates we have no control over: our birthday and our death day. Those dates are totally out of our hands. They are on the record somewhere, though. Because I believe in having no control over those dates, I am certain about how I feel about them. I am happy because I have lived smiling and laughing a long time. And because I have lived productively all these years I see death as a ceremonial passage into the next life.
Sometimes we make death macabre, especially when someone we love dies suddenly in an accident. That type of death was very painful for me when a young male first cousin died in a motorcycle accident. We were particularly close. He left two small children, one named after me. The children must be in their 40s now and I don’t even know what they look like. They migrated to Canada with their mother when they were tots.
But I remember how terrible I felt when he died. He was only 25. I remember his mother’s voice as she saw him at his wake for the first time. I remember not liking the eulogy that an uncle gave, telling myself through my tears, He’s not going to deliver any eulogies for me when I die. He died way ahead of me. Because he had three heart attacks and was paralyzed and unable to walk for a long time, I forgave everything. And strangely enough, I delivered the eulogy at his funeral and did a wonderful job of it. You see, we loved him very much. He also loved us very much but since he had authority over all his nephews and nieces, we often disappointed him when we were growing up. He died when we were grown. We had become adults. I was a grandmother already. Time or aging makes us love more and forgive everything.
Today I’m reading a book titled The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke. It is a memoir about her mother’s passing. Her mother died of cancer in her 50s. Their family knew she would go but they are nevertheless heartbroken and at a loss about how to handle their grief. This book makes me often stop to think of my mother’s passing. Strange, I don’t like to use the word “death” or “dying” together with the words “my mother.” I loved her immensely. She was the only parent I knew. But in the end, I had felt so sorry for her I prayed to God that He take her. When He did I was surprised but grateful. Instead of sobbing, I brought home the urn with her ashes, put it on my porch. I would talk to her whenever I felt like. I wished her well. Then we finally inurned her.
My mother had serious Alzheimer’s Disease. She could no longer talk. She would just scream at me and send me away when I visited her. When she slipped into the level where she screamed all the time, we brought her to the hospital. I had to hire a nurse for her because I could not stay with her. Her reaction to me was horrifying for me. I lived five minutes from the hospital and told the nurse she could call me anytime she needed me. Then I went home and cried and cried for days. That was when I mourned her.
I realize as I read this book that we mourn, we grieve, in our own way, our own time. I mourned for my mother while she was still technically alive but could no longer communicate with anyone. When she went on to the other side I wished her well, a good trip to the next life, a good time with my aunt, her best friend.
My aunt had died a week before. I remember I sat on my bed and talked to my aunt. “Tita,” I said, “you know Mommy is alive but is no longer with us. It breaks my heart to see her looking like a rag doll on her wheelchair. Remember how glamorous she always was? Now she tears all the clothes she wears. She cannot talk straight any more. Please pick her up. Take her with you. You were best friends in this life. Please ask God if you can pick her up. It will be such a favor to her.”
Her nurse at the Alzheimer’s home told me that days before she crossed over she looked like she was always talking and laughing with someone. I knew that was my aunt.
So my mother went quickly and quietly. She was being fed lunch. She dropped her head and stopped breathing. I did not mourn her afterwards. Alzheimer’s had made me do it for a long time before she actually went.
In a way, I am grateful for that.
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