Saturday, December 6, 2014

Six Months In: Thoughts About Active Dying

"Life has many mysteries, but there is nothing comparable to death"
Tomorrow marks sixth months since my mother's death. The six month mark is especially difficult for spouses, so I'll be checking in on dad. For me, it hasn't been that rough (yet), because I've been so focused on other issues. But, that grieving timeline does affect me; otherwise, I wouldn't have woken with a start the other night thinking I had forgotten to flush mom's biliary catheter.

Those last three days before mom's death were breathtaking for me. The last coherent thing she did before she settled into her hospital bed in the living room for the last time was to pick out her urn. She dressed herself (with a little help), and held court with the funeral directors for about two hours. Then, she returned to her nightclothes and settled in for what appeared to be a 24-hour coma.

But, perhaps it wasn't a coma after all. I'm still learning about "active dying," or the end our "life in form," and how dying is a very active part of our lives. Death Cafe shared an interesting article this morning on Facebook, and I was thrilled to read the information contained in this piece about active dying. This article didn't focus on the usual 'list' of "are they dying yet" tips. Instead, this article speaks from a space that is both spiritual and physical. The third paragraph caught my attention immediately:
Often the time of death is preceded by an apparent coma, in which many things happen below conscious awareness. It is a great challenge to develop the spiritual guidance and inspiration, the vision and knowledge that can speak of the peace in surrender, and guide each other there.
Oh, that paragraph took me back to that moment six months ago, when I knew that mom heard everything that was going on around her. Although she seemed 'dead to the world,' she was active inside...her body was rapidly breaking down, and her mind was somewhere I couldn't touch. But, I knew she was still with me. She validated my assumption by becoming more communicative the day before she died, and by affirming she heard everything by answering some of my questions.

The article leans into Buddhism, and my mother was a deeply devout Christian. But, she often listened to my brother's Buddhist thoughts on spirituality, and she liked them. I think she would have enjoyed this article in another space and time, including its focus on metaphysical changes. Yes, metaphysical...the author is answering the questions, "what is ultimately there," and "what it is like."

If I take this article to heart, however, I'd have to laugh at the efforts that dad and I made to open the doors for her to hear the birds and to talk to her about the imaginary rabbits and turtles that we saw in the yard. According to the article, mom really wasn't aware of our efforts at the end...
During the period of the near-death reflex, the mind-body also experiences the release of beta-endorphins and other neuropeptides. The inner experience is a profound relaxation of the entire body, so profound that any awareness of the outside world disappears.
Ah, so. Dad and I were playing out those roles for ourselves. That's fine, too.

I know that I never would have remembered the information in this article while mom was alive. I was too concerned with her moment-to-moment living conditions. But now, looking back at those three days before her actual death, this article speaks to me like no other words have to this point.

For that revelation, I'm grateful.