Dream as if you’ll live forever live as if you’ll die tomorrow.
Living and dying are issues that are coming up in my home very distinctly. I haven’t shared with many people my personal life situation. But, when my husband and I moved from New Mexico to Washington State in 2013, we brought my mom with us. She was no longer able to manage her affairs, she had lost most of her vision due to a Pituitary Tumor and the related surgeries, and she just basically needed more help. So, the option was to find her a place to live, or move her in with us. I have a complex, complicated, and in the past it has been an often painful relationship, and she and I both saw this as an opportunity to work towards healing our relationship and ourselves. It’s a work in progress in my life, learning to let go of resentments, hurts, and StoryJack my experience day to day.
We had been living in Washington State for about a year when my mother in law was suddenly homeless. It was a no brainer, we had just purchased a home that had a daylight basement with a living room, two bedrooms, and a bathroom, so we moved my mother-in-law into our home. And, soon after moving in with us in October 2014, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with end stage Pancreatic Cancer. Since that time, we have begun the process of living and dying in our home. Death is a hard thing to watch and participate with, but death comes with many gifts. It creates the space to look at how you want to live your life and how you want to die. My mother and my mother-in-law could probably not be more different. My mom is a developing Buddhist and my mother-in-law is conservative Baptist. I fall somewhere in between. Sometime about 15 years ago my mother-in-law was telling me about how terrible Pagans were when I asked what a Pagan was, she said, “Someone who loves nature and sees God in nature.” I apparently, in a fit of being contrary, told my mother-in-law that I was a Pagan. That stuck poorly with my mother-in-law. I was not being compassionate at that dinner years ago. And while I don’t consider myself a Pagan, I do still love nature and I do see God in every leaf, flower, and living thing. My past contrariness has forced me to look at the fact that we are, all four of us, very different. And, there are many gifts that come from learning to let go of judgment, learning to be accepting, and the willingness to work through differences with those we love, it has been deeply powerful.
Dying is, at its heart, the act of letting go. Letting go of the stories we have told ourselves that in the end don’t matter. Letting go of the illusion of control. Letting go of the ideas of what life should be like. Breathing through pain. And, ultimately letting people in, letting them help, letting go of how you think you’re supposed to get love, get help, and learning to accept the love that is around you. God shows up in the people who are there for you in these difficult times. Learning to let go is much harder to do than to say.
As I sit and comfort and watch my mother-in-law struggle with the letting go process of dying it is also a letting go process for me. Not one of us can walk another person’s journey. I can’t make her better, I can’t make the emotional pain go away, and I can’t make her better. She is allowing me to show her love, help her where I can, dispensing morphine, rubbing her back or hair, and just being a loving presence in the space that lets her know she is not alone.
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