"I realize then, that the hardest part will always be leaving..."
I have been playing this song in my head for the past three weeks. Unable to actually listen to it until today, it has both haunted and healed me, but today it breaks me, into tiny pieces, spread all over the floor, waiting (hoping) to be crumpled upon, so I don't really have to feel, so I don't have to actually think, so my breath doesn't have to be mine. Every lyric, every word, every tremor of speech... it may not be about the same person, but it is of the same theme... "Goodnight, Goodbye"... all I can see now, burned into my brain and the back of my eyes, is my grandmother, laying on her bed, gone. She crossed the veils yesterday morning... her pain is gone, her spirit free...
It has felt like months since the diagnosis... yet, it hasn't even been a month. I knew it would be fast, but "knowing" and actually internalizing the true realization are two completely different emotions. I was naive to think that I knew better, that I knew differently, but I was shut down, engrossed in a pain that I couldn't express, drowning in anger and fear when really, the truth was, I was scared. And now... now she is no longer with us, no longer gasping for breaths that we take so easily for granted; no longer struggling to swallow food that we mindlessly ingest; no longer watching the pained faces of her loved ones staring back at her, having thoughts she never quite shared with us, her own internal process I may always find curious... the same questions plague me as before -- was she scared, was she aware these were her last breaths, did she have regrets, was she lonely... did she feel mindfully ready? It is the last blood mystery, the last of the mysteries that I admit I don't know enough about, that I'm scared to learn more...
I can't breathe with this song playing... it tortures me, but it's hard to say that it tortures me in ways that makes me remember her in a way that I don't want to forget. We gifted each other with a soulful experience that I took for granted in her waking hours. It hit me towards the end of her days. I bottled the anger, stored it for later, and when her diagnosis came, I cracked it open, spreading it around me, like poison, not realizing it was completely fear-based. I didn't want to see it as fear. I didn't care. I needed to process through the hurt, for the less-than-love that I wanted, that I felt, and now, knowing she is gone, it's like the badly spoken "better late than never" that you realize what you had.
It may have not been what I "wanted", and it may have been compared to others unfairly, but she loved me tremendously... all the memories of how she treated me shifted in her finals weeks, I didn't carry the pain, but I was afraid to cradle the memories, it felt like too much responsibility, I didn't want to look at my role in this...
"I'm sorry for all the times
I was selfish and unkind
All these years that I've had with you and this is what I'm left with
With the closing of your eyes
All these things clog up my mind
But the only thing we said was that which mattered most"
I saw my selfishness, too little, too late. I looked at her, laying on that bed, as though she were still sleeping, and I saw what I didn't do... the gift of my daughter, this precious Bodhisattva that brings joy to all she meets, and I didn't share her, not until the very end, because I was hurt, I was angry, and my grandmother didn't have that, she didn't have the final years of her life embraced in this precious beauty because of my unkindness. My karma, my guilt, my fear, my pain. I can't take it back, not here, and a piece of me is forever broken for it.
The last words we said to each other, I didn't even understand. She said something to me, and I tried to translate it in my mind, but I didn't know. I could have asked my mother to translate, to tell me what these last words between us would be, but I didn't, and I kicked myself inside the whole ride home, thinking I would have another chance to find out... but I didn't. In some ways I imagine I didn't need to know so much as need to be there, to hold her hand, to actually tell her, sincerely, that I did love her, to energetically transmit to her that the pain was gone, between us, that I wasn't poisoning the room with it, that I put it on a shelf to examine later, but my own role, not hers, not a past that is no longer here... I think I did that. I hope I did.
I had spoken with Lama Willa and she shared with me a practice the Tibetans do when someone is dying -- to imagine their benefactors above their head, sending the dying person a wish of love. I did that when I was there, when she was still alive, and how it affected me was something I couldn't begin to imagine. That love, given to her by her benefactors, became my love too, once again transmitted through the bloodline, and another layer of pain was healed.
I couldn't speak yesterday when I spoke with the hospice nurse. The emotions hitting me faster than I could contain, I called my spiritual mother to vomit all the words I couldn't say to anyone else about this. I stopped breathing, needing to be reminded to breathe, the breaths were painful...
The living days she had, before the diagnosis, were lonely. She was alone. We made sure of that. We can't take all the blame... I don't want there to be blame... we chose the roles we played, each of us; each of us too stubborn to let go of what had been said, what had been done, content with our decisions, and when we knew she was dying, yes, we put it aside and came to her bedside, but as my father said so matter-of-factly, it was "too little, too late".
I was haunted by that statement of his, turning the mirror, realizing it was true, though. Did it take her dying to bring us to her bedside? Would we have really come otherwise? Would we have held onto our own ego-clinging bullshit? I haven't appreciated her life enough, I haven't appreciated the realization that she is the last living maternal bloodline... I didn't appreciate the stories of my ancestry she could share, the stories of life and love and, yes, even pain that traveled through the blood... I won't ever have those moments again, not in the way I want, beyond the scope of ancestral spirit work, yes, I understand that, but I'm talking about this physical realm, which naturally intermixes the spirit world ("if we allow it" I hear my spirit guides whisper)...
"With the lights still off
I study your frail body
And what all these living days has left you with
With your breath across the room
And my hand upon the door
I realize then, that the hardest part will always be leaving..."
I held her hand, waiting for her to wake up, knowing she was already pronounced hours before, knowing I couldn't get there in time, knowing the last breaths I heard was on the phone in the background, the last sounds I will ever hear her mutter, but awake she didn't...
As my mother held her hand, I cleared her aura, then holding her hand I prayed, prayed to White Tara, over and over. Certainly not the number of mantras suggested, but it was with heart-felt intention that I held that space and simply prayed. Then, she felt gone.
The funeral home came, and we each said our goodbyes. It didn't feel like that would be the very last moment I would see her. It doesn't feel like that was the last moment. Her hands curled, her fingers cold, her body relaxed... I apologized to her, for the pain we both endured, for my selfishness, for not seeing, in my adult years, the actual love that existed.
We left shortly after the funeral home took her away. We're planning to all be there tomorrow, in her home once more, this time without her, to go through her life. Like a small child, I want to throw myself to the ground and say "I don't want to go", because it will be hard to be there, without her there, in her home. But I know I need to go, for her, for my family, for me... to carefully tend to the antiques she lovingly adored all these years; to laugh at the way she used to hide things in little bags everywhere, or the many many tissues that lay crumpled around "just in case" -- a habit I have taken from her as well. We'll share memories, such as the crystal bowl she used to make her famous celery salad, or the memorabilia from the Copley where she once worked...
I have withdrawn from everyone, attempting to hold onto some thread of connection, some thread that reminds me to not dwell in the darkened cavern that is my easy escape. It's not easy, to remember life in the midst of mourning. It's not easy, to have complete gratitude for breath when others have ceased breathing. It's not easy, to cry when the well feels empty, and when your heart tells you you can't cry anymore.
It's hard to imagine that I won't be seeing her face again, to hear her laugh, to hear her sigh or that sound she made when she was surprised by anything... instead, now, it will have to be in my memory, where I cradle those who have crossed over less than a year ago, filling my heart with both joy and pain, the tenderness of my heart is fragile, and, much like my grandmother's collection of porcelain figurines, I feel delicate.
Now, now I look at my daughter and see my grandmother. My grandmother left the legacy of our matriarchal bloodline of our past, my daughter the future who carries it forward... yesterday I was pleased to remember that I captured one more photo of my grandmother, with my daughter, the bridge between the past and future. I am grateful that the last photo I have is one of her smiling, where just hours before she appeared to be on her way to the other side when I said that Nimue would be coming to visit the next day. Her color slowly changed, her eyes slowly opened, and my brother looked relieved when he said that he believed seeing Nimue has given her something to live for. It was a great moment to witness them together, so natural, despite the language barrier, they were there together in love.
Nimue had gone up to my grandmother during the visit, while the hospice nurse was talking to all of us about her meds, and she slipped between us all and went to my grandmother's bed, held her hand and said "I had to come and see you, to say goodbye, before you left to be with the Goddess." I remember the tears filling my heart then, as it does now, and reminded of what my daughter told me yesterday after I told her that my Abuela was gone... "We love her very much, that's what we have to hold in our hearts." -- from the brilliant light of a 4-year-old Bodhisattva.
I feel my first breaths starting to release...