I recently said goodbye to my mother-in-law. It wasn’t goodbye see you next week, it was goodbye see you on the other side. The amazing thing about this final farewell was the courage, peacefulness and even humour that my mother-in-law Margaret had while making the transition.
We all know death is the ultimate journey which follows life. We also know that one day we will all embark on this passage from physical to non-physical existence. The transformation from life to death is one of the biggest leaps into the unknown we will take in our earthly lives. Going from single to married, married couple to parenthood, parenthood to empty nest, married couple to divorced couple, married to widowed, renter to home owner are all possible transitions we make in our lives, and yes, many of these transitions lead us into an unknown future, but none of them are quite as mysterious as the final voyage we take. When we finally shed the shell that keeps us grounded in this physical life it must be the most awesome transformation we’ll ever make, but when that time comes how will we face that ultimate moment?
Many people we have known and loved have passed on. Unfortunately some have been taken away too young in tragic accidents or from diseases which saw their lives end too soon. In many of these instances especially accidents, there was not time to face the journey which lies ahead, no preparation – alive one moment, gone the next. That type of death is certainly tragic for those of us left behind and the feeling of loss and unfairness may stay with us forever. I am not going to talk about or begin to explore the depths of death due to a tragic circumstance here, or the loss of a child in the vibrancy of their youth, but more focus on the natural transition of a life well-lived ready to go to the next level of consciousness.
Which brings up a big question. Are we ever ready? Life is such a strong force that the spirit to go on compels us forward every day. The older people we see hobbling in the street or laying in a bed withering away are still holding on to the will to live. When I see seventy and eighty year old people who seem to have boundless energy I am in awe, when I see ninety plus year old people crippled and looking like their life is over, but it obviously isn’t, I am also in a different way, in awe. What drives those who seemingly have no quality of life to soldier on grasping at the straws of breath that separate us from the unknown journey? It is an amazing gift we have in our bodies and the will to live is strong, but when it is our time, how do we know? When do we give over to that final breath which transforms us from the living person we know as ourselves right now to the ethereal essence of our unknown selves which awaits? It is a profound question and one that has inspired many a book, movie, and dare I say even religion.
To die well is to have lived even better. To prepare for the final day, that ultimate moment we will all face one day, is to live well, be fulfilled, face our fears, make those daring moves, live and breathe so much life into each and every hour to feel as though each moment may be our last. I know it is a cliche, but how often do we forget to, ‘Live like there is no tomorrow’? The reality is that there may not be. Death takes us by surprise sometimes, even if it is the death of someone who is 83 years old, as was Margaret.
Margaret was one of those 83 year old people you would meet and be in awe of her energy. She taught yoga up until a few months before she passed away. She rode her bicycle to the beach hut to look at the sea in the months before her death. She organised transition town meetings, sang in a choir, raised vegetables on her allotment, visited us and her grandchildren in the south of France at least twice a year where she took long walks, helped in the garden and even chanced using the outdoor shower and composting toilet looking out into the woods behind our house. Was she perfect? No. Did she have her fears and insecurities? Of course. She was human, but like the words in one of the songs she chose to be played at her final life celebration says, “Regrets, I’ve had a few but then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption. I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway, and more, much more than this, I did it my way.” Do we all do it truly our way? When we face that final curtain then maybe we’ll know. Will we be ready and willing to take that step into the unknown? When our life flashes in front of our eyes will we have regrets, but too few to mention? That is the tricky part.
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but sitting in the room with Margaret, my wife, kids, brother and sister-in-laws and their kids to hear Margaret say, “My job is done, I am ready, but always remember love and forgiveness,” was powerful and humbling at the same time. She looked out beaming with as much energy her weakened body could muster at her family assembled there, only three days after she had to make the transition from a woman ready to fight what was ailing her to get back to her life, to someone who had to come to terms with the diagnosis that her physical body was now ready to go.
My kids and everyone in the room that final weekend of Margaret’s physical life were given the ultimate gift, to be so close to a woman in the final stage of her earthly voyage, facing it without fear and even some humour as when she thought she was going to leave us at four in the afternoon on Sunday and we sat tearfully and silent waiting for her final breath. Then her eyes pinged open at five with a glint in her mischievous eyes and she looked around and said, “I’m late!” The gift she gave us was life. A life to be able to make mistakes, have some regrets, be human, have frustrations, but to realise in those final moments that love and forgiveness is what is essential, and there was no inkling of fear in her eyes that were slowly losing their bright spark.
Yes, for those of us left behind there is a hole in the fabric of our lives. It is different than a wound in our flesh, for flesh heals over naturally, but fabric doesn’t. The beauty of fabric though is that we can choose how to patch it. Margaret gave us those tools in the final days of her life. The healing of our inner beings began with her acceptance and giving of her final thoughts to love and forgiveness. The gap she left with her physical presence being gone forever though will have to be filled creatively by us. We’ll do it because that is life, we all move on. We’ll take another page out of Margaret’s book though, her love of quilting will help us through. The mending process will not just be a bringing together of the two sides of the tear to slowly start sewing them together leaving an ugly scar in the fabric of our wonderful lives. No, we will take a beautiful piece of cloth, we shall place it over the tear, and cut it into the shape of the transformative butterfly, the vibrant colours will stitch by stitch be fixed to the fabric in loving memory of all that was Margaret. The gap will never disappear, it will be right there under the wonderful patchwork butterfly, it will be part of the larger tapestry of all our interwoven lives, and undoubtedly by the time I take my last breath that fabric will be a lovely patchwork with many butterflies, all covering the numerous small rips and tears that this physical life will inevitably bring my way.
Thank you Margaret for adding to the patchwork of all our lives, thank you for the wonderful parting gift in that small hospital room with your family by your side. Thank you for the blood that courses through my wife, children and future generation’s bodies. May your love of life and the fighting spirit that you needed to have over the sometimes tough journey your 83 years took you on live on in our family and all those you touched in that long, wonderful adventure. A fond, “See you again,” from all of us still in our earthly bodies still taking this wonderful voyage that you have now left behind.
Love and peace, (and of course forgiveness) S-I-L Joe