On the train home from a day with a dying mother; 26/04/2005
My mother lived in Sydney and at the time was emerging from a serious illness. Her doctors had told us she does not have long to go.
I am on the train, going home from a day with my dying mother, which is a three hour journey. I listen to music while I read. I am listening to John Taverner’s “The Protecting Veil”. Towards the end of the piece there is a section where the music has the richest deepest and most profound harmony.
In the context of today, I hear it as a rich bed of music on which to lay a tired old body, a venerable 90 year old, a dying mother; one whom has given so much and so deserves such rich harmony upon which to rest and slip away.
Could the tears that now appear perhaps moisten the slide and make it smoother?
Could my earlier questions to her about what she thinks might come next have helped her let go a little and just feel the connectedness with those who have gone before and with those who will follow?
Could the gratitude for what she has given us, and through us, others, be the hands that hold and comfort her as she goes, as she slips away on this rich bed of harmonies?
As I listen, the music seems to be the sound equivalent of a bed of rose petals; deep and rich; a fulsome harmony; music which brings forth the tears, the questions and the gratitude; music which is indeed an expression of that connectedness.
I have reached for my notebook and jot down these thoughts as the music changes to the Good Friday music from Parsifal, another piece with connections for me. In this context it is the link with the Holy Grail, the search for which we perhaps all reflect. And can it be that indeed it is found as we become who we are and are at one with those we know and love, and found in the knowing that we have experienced ourselves in love and compassion with them?
Is this indeed the softness and fullness of the harmony, the choir of angels that takes us into the realm of the spiritual, as, no longer tethered to the ground, we expand to encompass the infinity that surrounds us; like a balloon that expands until its wall becomes so thin that it no longer matters and what was inside becomes one with the infinite. Is this indeed what those who went before experienced; those we thought we had lost; now to know that they were always there, part of that infinite spiritual realm? Am I now just experiencing the deep harmony of becoming one with them?
And for those that remain, her going in this way can point us to this aspect of our own being, this aspect of the present moment, of now, and more than now, the knowing, so that we can grasp this connection, this connectedness, long before we cast off the finite and ourselves become one with the infinite; and in doing so find a spiritual dimension of our being, find the harmony that is the process of being love and compassion, of being infinite.
Today I had given her 10 red roses. I wondered what each one might represent as a memory of a special moment of peace, joy or great happiness, but instead I ask her about such things in general. She speaks of riding her horse as a young woman, with their spaniel running ahead, returning and running ahead again. I ask her about thoughts she has about what will happen next. She has not thought about that, she says. “Maybe I will when my time comes”, she says. “Maybe”, I say, “that has something to do with when you are ready”. She nods. We laugh about how tired her old body is, how it labours to function and how she welcomes the relief that tablets and oxygen give her.
I sense the time is drawing near, and wonder whether she is not sure how to do it. And as with many situations faced during her life, she will stew a little, worry about doing it right, and then do it with grace, courage, dignity and style, getting it right as she has done with so many things throughout her life.
The next morning I sit at home and watch the sun rise. There is mist amongst the trees at the bottom of the hill on which our house sits. That mist softly colours the suns rising. I hear in the distance the surf on Seven Mile beach, while close at hand and all around the birdsong of many different birds and the croaking of frogs give me the immediacy of day’s beginning. And here you have it all: the timelessness of the surf, waves caressing the shore as they have done for millions of years, and will continue to do so for millions more, and the immediacy of the birds and small animals, here today, gone tomorrow, next week or next year; and it seems that at this moment I am the bridge between the two; and in my connectedness with others, they become also part of that marvellous continuum: from the timelessness of waves and sunrises to the immediacy of the birds and trees around us and our own breathing.
Even that spot on the continuum changes as day lightens; Those shafts of golden sunlight through the trees, that hint of mist enabling the sun to transform its passage through the morning, its rising this morning made new by the uniqueness of this day and us within it, its rising its timelessness, its transformation of this morning to immediacy; .. and I the bridge.
It seems the birds respond. More join in the morning chorus; whip birds, currawongs, magpies, black cockatoos, galahs and crimson rosellas. A kookaburra is sitting in a nearby tree and is joined by another and they watch me. Their usually raucous song is quite gentle this morning. How poignant is that? We had spoken yesterday, Mum and I, of Kookaburras and our family, and how they had been at Dad’s passing and his burial, and at the grave on every occasion I have visited, and how they had always bought us comfort and memories of him.
I say to them “Go now and be with Betty, hold her hand as she moves on.”
I go again to Sydney that day, to be with her again. I refer to the ten roses. This time ask her which 10 special moments of joy, happiness or peace in her life might be represented by each one of the ten roses.
At first she is not too sure of how to approach this. Then she says “My engagement and my Marriage”. She pauses. Yes, the smile shows she savours them as special times. Now, with confidence, even enthusiasm, she tells me to add the births of each of her seven children. That accounts for nine of the ten roses, I say. The tenth, she tells me, is knowing her Scottish cousin Sheila Macleod. She adds that Sheila’s Norman was also a very special person and it seems that we might need more than 10 roses.
Ten roses; ten special memories.
A hundred roses; a hundred treasured times;
Thousands of roses for thousands of great moments: enough for a thick bed of rose petals on which she can rest while she eases away from her finiteness to the shared infinity beyond.