Being Awkward and Authentic in the Face of Death

by Tracey Rich

Sitting at the bedside of my ninety-one year old mother in the last days of her life and wanting  desperately to crawl into her arms, or wrap myself around her tiny frame, I tried to hold the empty space that would allow for her dying to be hers--to watch and to wait and to attend to whatever needs might make themselves apparent. The language of death was not one I spoke fluently, although I was witness for my father's passing eleven years earlier.

Already having spoken every word and expressed every thought out loud and silently, I was grateful that my mother and I had always been current in our relationship. The question of love had been settled long ago. Anything I did say was repetition. And yet, a vigil is filled with so much self-reflection that empty space can be an awkward chasm too wide to cross. The living can not tread everywhere the dying must go. 

No matter how we think we know ourselves, the depth of the dying space and time can be confronting.  My mother did not have language left to her. No matter how I understood meditation, or had danced on the head of a pin touching divine light and cosmic reality merging with the matrix, or no matter what I had in felt experience through Yoga, when your mother lies before you taking her last breaths, you wait in suspended animation as a novice at the gate.

You wait as a human being in the presence of the unknown and the unknowable. You wait as the letting go flows out of you no matter how hard you would like to hold on. You wait in humble ineptitude, in simple service, in gratitude to the life that has given you life. And when that final breath  silently slips past you, you wait and wait some more.