My mother passed away a year ago today October 7, 2017. “Passed Away” is a common term used when someone dies. There doesn’t seem to be a definition for who or what is passing away. This is my account of witnessing the passing away.
My mother was 92 when she “passed” and had been in failing health for a few months but mentally still sharp as a tack. She was a strong woman with a strong personality and since I inherited some of those qualities we would clash occasionally. Not enough to strain our relationship but enough that we respected each other’s views when we disagreed.
She was in Hospice for the last few days. There are many things I remember of those days but what remains in my mind is witnessing her personality slipping away the last three days when she stayed in bed, slept most of the day and then stopped responding to us. During that slipping away aspects of her personality began to leave until there was nothing left except her lying empty in bed in silence. My memories of any personality clashes of the past were also passing away and now a year later I cannot find them at all. However, there are many vivid happy memories that will always remain.
While witnessing this gradual removal of the mask of the personality it became clear that we will all have a mask to leave behind. When the mask is gone the naked newborn we once were reappears again empty of any ideas, habits, behaviors or perceptions picked up along the way.
No matter what your beliefs of life after death, I believe I witnessed the mask of her personality pass away leaving a clean slate ready to do whatever it is we do next. This has made me more aware of how the outward personality is only a mask and what hides behind it is what is real. I am grateful and consider this experience her last gift to me.
At this time of year I’m reminded of the time I took my young daughter with me for a quick visit to a funeral home…not really anyone she knew so I didn’t think it would have an impact. On the way home she became tearful and said she didn’t want to die. Not anticipating this at such a young age, I began searching my mind for something I could use to comfort her that she would understand….the Easter story came to mind.
We were not church goers but the preschool had been teaching the Easter story so I knew she would be familiar with it. When I told her about the resurrection and that Jesus really didn’t die but came back again in a different form, I could see the tension in her face leave as she contemplated the whole story. It was enough to comfort her and dissolve some of the fear…after all everyone she trusted was telling the same story.
What this incident reminds me of is the significance of stories for things that are fearful and unexplainable. Some keep the same beliefs throughout their lives and are comforted by them with no desire to change the story line. I have changed my comfort story many times throughout my life….even realizing they are comfort stories can create another story.
With things that are unexplainable, the best we can do is in the form of stories, metaphors or pointers. I can get caught up in arguing the validity of certain stories but at this time of year I am again reminded that it probably doesn’t matter about the content of the story because in the end it’s all about the comfort of the recipient.
The holidays are about over and once again I went past the point of enjoyment into the realm of overwhelmed. Cooking is not my favorite thing so it doesn’t take long for resentment of spending so much time in the kitchen to show up.
This time I spent a lot of that kitchen time thinking of my grandmother, Chana Mae, who was an exceptional cook. She was a young widow in the early 1950’s and took a job as a cook on a large farm cooking for farm hands. The owner let her have some chickens and she became an entrepreneur with a thriving egg business.
My memories this Christmas had to do with her cooking Christmas and other holiday dinners for her family. She had to be a master organizer because everything was made from scratch…including catching the chickens for dinner. Besides a big dinner there were several homemade pies, whipped toppings, cakes and candy. I wondered if she felt overwhelmed…if she resented the time spent in the kitchen. If so she never let on, I always felt it was done out of love and she enjoyed it.
So my memories of Chana Mae in her large farm kitchen carried me through the holidays. I reminded myself that it was my choice to spend time in the kitchen preparing food as gifts. When I attended gatherings where people unpacked their purchased goods to share (some with the store sticker and price still attached) I thought of Chana Mae and how much time, effort and love she put into her gifts of food.
I wish I could be more like my grandmother this time of year but just having the memories of her gifts of love-filled food is enough…..and as every other year after the holidays I say “I’m never doing all that again!”.
It’s been two months since I have posted anything here. I have had several insights that I considered sharing during that time but didn’t take the time to sit down and write. These ideas or insights come like flashes out of nowhere and if I sit down immediately and write…a blog is created. However, most of the time when the flash comes I am involved doing other things and rather than stop what I’m doing I’ll make a mental note that I will write about this very good insight later. I’ve given up trying to figure out where glimpses of insight come from but I know they come as “flashes” while in the present moment.
The problem is that these flashes happen while you’re in the present moment and if they are not written down right away the insight vanishes into the land of past memories. The space where past memories dwell is not suitable ground for a flash insight because it can get absorbed in concepts and filters that were not there during the initial flash.
My daughter and I were listening to songs to play for her upcoming wedding. We were listening to several current songs that were remakes by string quartets. We were listening to songs and thinking of the lyrics wanting the words to be appropriate as well as the music being good. She played a song for me by one of her favorite local groups played by a string quartet and I really liked the melody. I asked about the lyrics and she said she didn’t want me to know because they were “messed up” and not good.
We went on to listen to more songs but kept coming back to the same one. What she said next led me to write this blog. “I wish I could hear the music the way you are hearing it. Now that I’ve heard the words I cannot unhear them.”
I thought about that statement on the way home and realized that the melody was beautiful to me because I didn’t have the words to label it…to conceptualize it…to make a story out of it. I could only just hear the music.
As humans we need to label everything in our awareness in order to communicate what is perceived by our senses. But sometimes it may be best to just enjoy the music without the words to tell the story attached to it. The same could be said for enjoying life……
It’s been a year today since I completed a “sort of” course called Liberation Unleashed. How I found out about it..I don’t remember exactly…..maybe through a long stream of events that started with Eckhart Tolle’s “New Earth”.
The whole idea to me revolves around the Zen concept of the Gateless Gate. It’s based on the notion that we all are looking for a way to find the Gate that will open up the path of peace, happiness with no suffering. We all look for a way to find that Gate and, more importantly, open it. When we finally realize that if there is a Gate at all that it is not locked, has no boundaries and can be freely crossed on either side or passed straight through without the least bit of effort….then we are “enlightened”.
To start the process, you are given a Guide who is a person who has already passed through the Gate so supposedly they will be able to lead you where you need to go. The Guide has only one goal…to help you realize that there is no separate self and never has been. Sounds simple but believe me, it’s far from it. The questions asked are meant to dissolve the thought that there is a separate little person inside your head running the show…..that there is no separate little person that is separate from all other people or things. That perceived separate little person is only a conglomerate of your past conditionings, feelings, your life story and exists in memory only.
If this is the first time you have been exposed to such a concept, it can be very unsettling and not accepted. When something awakens in you and you begin to be interested in this crazy notion, you have started your way to finding the Gateless Gate….which is no Gate at all.