Saturday, November 8, 2008
A Matter of Perspective
Some events in life help us focus, help provide us perspective. Our trip provided many. Some were huge: crossing the continental divide; Alison's MS and her response to it; reaching the Atlantic. Some were more subtle: seeing the reaction of the kids as a blue heron slowly lifted from a roadside stream; listening to the wind as a storm approached; watching the road stretch to the horizon in eastern Montana, straight and flat and constant.
I think that the trip help me deal with another huge event. Last week, on October 31st, my Mom died. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer about two months ago.
About two weeks before she died I flew back to Iowa to be with her for what we both knew, but was left unspoken: this would be the last time I would see her alive. We spoke of the mundane (the weather), the profound (she insisted she would give me a sign from the "other side" -- which I haven't seen yet!), and the practical (she was worried about what would happen to her absentee ballot if she died before the election. She got quite the laugh when I told her it would only count as half a vote). She also spoke about what she wanted for her funeral service. Always a strong woman, she wanted to take as much of that burden off my Dad and the family as possible. Her strength, I think, comes in part from her Irish ancestry (100% and she was proud of it!).
My younger sister and I sat with her and took notes as she told us about everything from the clothes she wanted to be buried in to music to be played at the funeral service. The music included "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" playing in the funeral chapel just before the procession left for the cemetery and "Danny Boy" to be played on the flute by my niece at her graveside.
Before I left to return to Walla Walla my Mom could tell that I was worried about not seeing her again. She told me that she would let me know when it was really time to worry. "I don't have an expiration date stamped on me yet!" It was less than two weeks later that I got a call on my cell phone. Barely able to catch her breath and in a weak voice my Mom said "It's time to come home." A day and a half later she died.
Whatever else sets us as human beings apart, we all share this: we're born, we live, and we die. It is what we do with the "we live" part that matters.