A nun prayed at my mother’s bedside in the still hours of the early morning on Tuesday. Well acquainted with passings, a change in breathing told the traditionally garbed Little Sister of the Poor that the time had come to call in our family. Awakened by that call my sister Patty then quickly spread the word. Soon two sisters, a brother and a sister-in-law had gathered in my mother’s small room.
Mary, my youngest sister, described the next hours as a “special time out of time.” Moments merged with the half light in that sacred space where life and death meet. The breaths my mother took became more infrequent then finally ceased as dawn coloured the Missouri sky. Two more brothers arrived just moments later.
Another sister and I from a far had already found our way back to our homes in Wisconsin and the Yukon on the advice of the nursing staff. They had felt that our mother could possibly have had weeks of life still before her. Pained calls were made to us within minutes of our mother’s death. Word spread through the extended family within hours.
When the chapters of a life are written some events, shared experiences and last words stand out. Three granddaughters had the opportunity to tell her last week of special moments they remembered of their time with her from feeding ducks at a local pond, memories of joyful Christmas gatherings at the family home my mother had been born in 90 years ago, to patiently letting a little girl give her grandma ‘special’ hairdos. One bedside conversation among the siblings focused on each of our favourite foods that she amazingly always prepared on schedule to feed her growing brood. On June 1st, the 66th anniversary of her wedding day, the very petite but now faded dress she wore so long ago was shown to all visitors. She could still tell us its original colour and even where she had purchased it.
My mother said to my sister Mary one day last week, “You have to let go to grab hold.” It was one of the last things she did say to her. Soon afterwards, her energy failing, one or two word responses were all she could muster.
Likely we will all have our own interpretations of the words imparted to my sister. Over the years as our lives unfolded before her, she clearly recognized that her role had changed as well. Was she recalling that to be with us as adults she had to trust us to make our own decisions and just pray that we would make the best ones possible? Or possibly was she reflecting on her own impending death? A fervent Catholic believing in a life after death she could have been telling us that in order to enter into that new life she had to let us and all around her, that she loved so deeply, go.
Her words could have meaning, as well, for a world so fiercely clinging to old ways and worn notions that are despoiling all around us, while at the same time so desperately recognizing the need for fundamental change. We just have to let go, to risk, like she did, and take a hope-filled leap into the unknown.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.