Twenty years ago, on August 11, 1999, I was in bed with my three kids and their dad when the phone rang. I saw that it was my brother and decided to call him back in a short bit, wanting to soak in the sweetness of a family morning - or maybe brace myself as I guessed that the phone call would mark time between my life when I had a dad, and when I no longer did.
Crouched in the grass of our yard a few minutes later, the pain was visceral, primal, yet somehow less debilitating than when I had learned two years before that lung cancer had sunk its teeth into my father's body. At that time, I had experienced the strange sensation of being physically unable to smile, for about a week. Really. I had stood behind the counter of my bakery, serving pastries and unable to will my cheeks to stretch into a smile.
A few weeks later, sitting across a table from my mom, my insides became very still when she told me calmly and strongly that she was not sure she was going to choose to continue to live without my dad. I heard her with my ears, and I heard her with my heart. I knew that I had nothing to say to her that would be true other than that I understood. I understood that there was the possibility that life without him would not be something she wanted. He had been her world, above children, grandchildren, friends, and above herself. I had no words to counteract that; no promise, no offer, no cajoling, and certainly no guilt. I told her that I understood. She nodded.
This was one of these big moments in life, the kind that often comes when we become aware that our "us" is so much less important than someone else. It often happens with our children, and on that day, it happened with my mom. At these moments, we show up stronger than we thought we could, we tap into some resources we did not know we had, and in the process, we get to know a bigger version of ourselves. They are Gifts.
My mom chose to live.
For the next nineteen and a half years, she engaged in a new career, spent time with friends, did a lot of sobbing in her car - "that's just when it happens," she would tell me - and I think, had some happy years. When emphysema started to take more and more room in her days, she managed to remain pretty darn graceful about the process. I hate cigarettes.
A year ago today she, my sister and I got on a conference call, the two of them in Florida and me pacing back and forth in my little yard, up in Washington. A fourth person was added to the call, a hospice nurse coordinator.
Our job was to ask questions, get answers, and then once the lady was off the phone, make a decision about whether hospice was something we wanted to bring into our lives at that point.
My mom had just moved in with my sister, and as we Lavigne women tend to do, we wanted to be intentional about the situation, gather the data, and make things happen.
That call cracked my heart in a way that I can barely explain.
The combination of wearing our "getting s*** done hats" around a topic that terrified each one of us in our own private way while being aware of the significant anniversary date was deeply intimate and yet fraught with a characteristic sense of modesty that prevented us from acknowledging any of it to each other.
My mom was so brave. She handled that call beautifully, and I will never know how it felt inside, for her.
With our out loud voices, we decided together against hospice, while our inner voices agreed silently that there would be time to re-visit the option.
Forty-four days later, all three of us in the same room, we asked for a coordinator to please come see us. My mom now in a wheelchair, having a terrible time breathing and yet her mind in some ways sharper than my sister's and mine, we asked questions again and agreed that they could come back the next day.
Four big days later, I gently removed my mom's oxygen tube and closed her eyes on this lifetime.
Today, as I sit in the calm of my home, I am flooded with the richness of Life. I am grateful for what I like to call "The Mandala," the design of days that sometimes makes no sense from the ground and yet, with a little "from up above" perspective is so full of symmetry and harmony. I am grateful that dates show up to remind us of that - to enroll us in feeling the importance of it all, and also in some ways, its non-importance.
Today is a quiet day, for me. Very little food, very few people. Not because I am sad, but because I am rich. And sometimes when our hearts feel so rich, we need to let the outside be quiet so we may feel them better.
Wherever you are, I wish you a day of Presence and a day of listening for the Gifts.
You are one of them.
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