As my mother lay dying, I asked her where I could find her. It was a difficult question for me to ask. It was one of many challenging conversations we would have over the last month of her life, but of all of the hard questions, this was the question I needed an answer to. I could not fathom a world without my mother in it. I had never even considered a motherless existence, yet I was now facing it. So, I had to know where I could find her once she left her body.
She answered, "in the water, always in the water." I nodded slowly, trying not to spill the welling tears, and whispered, "ok."
I sat with my mother for the last time in the darkness, right before dawn. It was eerie sitting in a room with my mother, knowing she was no longer there. She was gone; only the vessel that housed her remained.
The hauntingly beautiful violins of Bach filled the room as I sat frozen in my grief. My body was trembling, my soul lost and numb, as I listened to the music that accompanied my mother into her next life.
My husband walked into the room, went straight to my mother, kissed her forehead, and whispered goodbye through tears. At that moment, I witnessed perfection. The love of my life and the one who brought me life locked in a moment of deep sadness and profound beauty. I will forever be grateful he showed my lost soul the way. As I sat trembling, lost, numb, unsure of how to move forward. My husband's tenderness guided my first tenuous steps toward acceptance.
I kissed my mother on the forehead, rubbed frankincense on her scalp, and whispered I love you, releasing her to the ether and all of its mysteries.
Weeks later, my husband asked me what I had been so scared of. I was afraid of losing my mother. Losing my mother was unthinkable because I didn't know how to be in a world without a mother. Losing my mother was admitting we were all losing our mothers. As a mother, I couldn't fathom losing my children. I couldn't fathom leaving my children motherless. In losing my mother, I had to face my mortality and realize I would one day lose my children, and they would lose me.
During my mother's illness, I clung to hope, and I embarked on a journey of hope and healing. I integrated a slew of spiritual practices into my life, and I never quite found what I was looking for, perhaps because it didn't exist.
As my friend gently commented, I was looking for a spiritual bypass. Using any resource I could grasp as a way out. I believed I could meditate my way off the highway of life. If I could do enough, I could avoid going through the darkness. I eventually realized there is no spiritual bypass. The only way forward is through. It finally dawned on me that all the tools I gathered were for getting me through, not for getting me out.
Grief is, at times, much more bearable than I expected and, at the same time, so completely unbearable. Like the tide, it ebbs and flows and comes and goes and circles back. Someone asked me if the stages of grief were accurate, and in my experience, they aren't necessarily stages. You don't graduate from one to another; they seem to cycle. I can feel anger, devastation, denial, acceptance, and joy all on the same day. Often within the same five minutes. The devastation is complete. The heartbreak is total. The loss is infinite, and yet, somehow, we go on.
We laugh, forget, remember, cry, yet our broken hearts keep beating, our devastated souls find comfort, and our ragged breath finds a new rhythm. We live on though we see the world through a different lens. We can see the broken and the beautiful. We find there is space for all of our emotions. We no longer cling so fervently, we acknowledge, and we accept.
As death came to my mother, she was afraid of leaving her children. She could not bear it. Yet, she bore it. Her death taught me that, at times, life is unbearable, yet we must bear it. That is the lesson we should pass to our children. Life is a paradox - both bearable and unbearable - painful and joyful. It is the feeling of conflicting emotions simultaneously and embracing the discomfort.
It's sitting in a waiting room filled with cancer patients wanting to be anywhere else yet knowing you would never be anywhere else. It's the longing for your child to remain right there, suspended in time and space, never to grow old, coupled with the anxiety that they're stuck, not hitting milestones, not growing, not thriving. It is the fear of death coming to you and the boredom of waiting for death to arrive.
Life is not black and white. It's a blend. In the blend is where we find the beauty. The blending is where we find the color. It's where our emotions meet and where we find the good stuff. Magic happens both in the mundane and the mess. It happens in the blending of gratitude into anger, joy into pain, frustration into forgiveness. The beauty of existence is that emotions can be experienced simultaneously and at the intersection of emotion is where authenticity lives.
As I watched my mother die, I was a swirl of emotions and colors. I encompassed love, trauma, bravery, and fear. For the first time in a long time, I was a full expression of what it means to be human. I was messy. I was real. I was finally in my truth.
My mother is gone, but she lives. She has no voice, yet she speaks to me. I long to ask her questions, and she finds a way to answer me. She uses dolphins as her emissaries to comfort me when I am sad. I hear her as she whispers in the wind, be free, be fearless, live. I have lost her but have found her. My grief is unbearable, yet I bear it. Her death taught me that, at times, life is unbearable, yet we must bear it.
Over the weekend, my children released their "Sugar" to the waves of the Caribbean Sea, and I smiled. She's in the water.
That is where I'll find her.