Just about a year ago, I started a long drive from Corvallis, Oregon to Temecula, California. It was a trip with a very unique purpose. I was going to be with my mom while she passed on.
It was still pitch black at four in the morning when I started my drive in the car rental. The night prior, I had gone through my old CD collection in the garage that I hadn’t touched in years. I knew though that I’d need some good tunes for this long solo drive.
I randomly selected a Death Cab for Cutie album to test out the CD player the night prior. That ended up being the first album of the drive.
A line from the third to the last song on the album, What Sarah Said, popped out at me.
“Love is watching someone die.”
That line became etched in my mind, as I continued to drive in the dark and reflect upon the weeks ahead of me.
I spent the next 2.5 weeks in the hot southern California summer. Mostly though, I was inside the air conditioned house on the couch next to my mom’s home hospital bed.
The early days were spent conversing with her as much as she was willing and able. We watched some of her television shows. Most were game shows, and she got me kind of liking the Hallmark Christmas movies.
We went through old photos, and she shared details about her younger days as was triggered by the photos. I made sure to take notes. Many of the stories had been referenced before, but in the past it had always felt there’d be more time in the future when I could hear those stories again. Not so in this instance.
She told me the details she wanted for her celebration of life. She let me know the songs she wanted played. There should be a taco truck. It would be a celebration–not a funeral.
I’d get her liquid of choice or a cup of ice, or I’d help her sit when she needed to vomit. I’d try to help her decide which med to take that might give her some relief.
From the time of waking up in the morning until about 3 or 4 in the afternoon, I’d be on that couch. Around 3 or 4, I’d take a break and head out to the local natural health food store to get a kombucha or a smoothie. In the early evening I’d go for a run, or on a couple of occasions, I joined a team to play a bit of soccer. Then, it was back to the couch until it was time to go to bed.
A few days after being there, the conversations started to decrease. My mom started sleeping a lot more. She started drinking a lot less.
My routine remained pretty much the same. However, the TV shows decreased.
One particular TV show stood out to me and felt significant. My mom had introduced me to the Showtime series The Affair, which was half way into its fourth season. We had watched an episode when I first arrived. However, when the next week’s episode rolled around, she had no interest.
A character in the show had just been given a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. I could see how my mom would not have an interest in seeing that process reflected back to her on the show. Also, it didn’t make sense for her to continue to watch a show when she wouldn’t get to see how the season would play out. There were five more weeks of episodes. She didn’t have five more weeks.
As I sat there for hours at a time, the line that etched itself into my mind back during my initial drive would pop back into my consciousness. It felt very helpless at times just sitting there while she slept. Well, I was reading or working on my computer, but I was doing nothing to help her. Or, that’s how it felt at least. That significance of that line made perfect sense to me though as I sat there and reassured me that I was where I needed to be.
How perfect was it that I received that message at the start of this journey. It’s what got me through my time there. I was showing my mom love simply by witnessing her process of passing on. It felt the least I could do, as I knew without any ounce of doubt that she would have been there if the tables had been turned.
Not only do I feel that I showed her love in this time, I was also given a priceless gift.
Time slowed in those 2.5 weeks that I took away from my life with my husband and kids to be with her. It’s like a portal had opened, and I was susceptible to the powerful wisdom that comes at the end of one’s life. Clarity came to me about the meaning and importance of our lives. What really matters was so very clear.
I’d experience moments where I’d feel overwhelmed with gratitude. Not gratitude that my mom would no longer physically be with me. That, I could not change. By this time, I had come to the stage of acceptance in the grief process. I felt gratitude because despite being one of the most challenging periods of my life, I had never felt so genuinely supported.
The outpouring of offers of support was far more abundant than what was needed. However, the feeling of support is what made the difference. I think I previously felt somewhat solitary on this path of life. Going it alone was my approach to life. However, in such a time, feeling on a deep level that there is this cloud of support to catch you if you fall gave me a sense of gratitude so great that it would bring me to tears if I thought too long about it.
The thing about gratitude though is that when you start to feel it greatly on the level of the soul, you can start to feel gratitude for everything. I began to look back on the events of my mom’s and my lives, and the things that once evoked feelings of anger, sadness, and/or frustration instead evoked feelings of gratitude. While those events were not perfect, I felt gratitude for the imperfections.
After about two weeks with my mom, I made the decision that I would return home the next Saturday, which was in a few days. While I had thought that I wanted to be there when she passed, I had a suspicion that she was waiting to pass until after we left.
At four in the morning that Saturday, my brother and I individually said our goodbyes before starting our two-day drive back to Oregon. Although my mom hadn’t said anything in days, she squeezed my hand hard, while I sobbed, and said very clearly and definitively, “stay strong, girl!”.
In that moment, I knew she was okay, and she wanted me to be the same. Those three words communicated a deep message to me about my mom’s desires for me and how she wanted me to emerge from this profound life experience.
My brother and I made it back to Oregon on Sunday afternoon. My mom passed on Monday morning. She wouldn’t have wanted us to find out the news when we were driving. That was my mom, always thinking about her children.
Thirteen days later, I watched the season finale of The Affair. In the first half of the episode, I hear the instrumental tune of a familiar song, What Sarah Said. “No way!”, I thought. I just kind of shrugged it off though and kept watching.
By the end of the episode, I was short of breath as I sobbed. The episode ends with the partner of the character with terminal pancreatic cancer walking out of his hospital room to What Sarah Said. She walks out onto the hospital roof as the song gets louder, and she looks onto the horizon as the camera frames her face to the line, “Love is watching someone die. So who’s gonna to watch you die.”
The tears that came at the episode were the hardest tears I cried. The show and the song were too connected to my experience of the prior month to be mere coincidence. When I heard that song, almost exactly a month prior, it was like a very pointed message that shaped the experience I had during this profound time. The fact that this song, one that is not too commonly known, had such prominence in the meaning of the episode of a show that also had significance during this prior time pushed me over the edge.
It all felt too magical. It’s one of those stories that we can brush off to chance, and my rational, logical mind would have done so if I wasn’t in this space that allows for the otherworldliness to enter and be seen. It was too deliberate to be anything but intentional.
This was the beginning for me for a greater awareness of something beyond what we can rationally explain. In the past year, experiences like this have become a normal occurrence. Serendipitous meetings, conversations, and discoveries have guided this past year that helped shape the decision and path to begin this journey.
It’s like the curtain has been thrown back. I’ve experienced what is possible. Sitting there in those 2.5 weeks, experiencing what love is, allowed me to be receptive to a greater knowing that has continued to grow.
I still often get teary when I stop to think about my mom. However, her passing on has not paralyzed my life like I thought would happen. To the contrary, my life has gotten much richer.
In one of our last conversations, she seemed a bit worried about what happened once she passed. With confidence, I reassured that she would remain with us. She’d visit us as a hummingbird. It wasn’t a platitude to help her feel better. It came from a place of knowing.
I’ve since had many magical visits from hummingbirds.
While we may think more time with our loved ones is what we want and need, 2.5 weeks of being with my mom while she passed on was the greatest gift to me.
Wanting to change the outcome of our loved one’s fate can make us feel that just being there is not enough. However, it’s enough.
Love is watching someone die.