On Losing A Parent

My mother is dying. I have only written that phrase a few times, and sometimes I say it out loud. I’m trying to get used to it. 15 familiar letters that assemble at one level into an incomprehensible notion.

Thing is, it’s supposed to be totally natural for parents to die when children become adults. It’s been happening since to beginning of time. We get to enjoy them for different lengths of time. I’ve been lucky to be 48 and still have both, getting to know them as people, really interesting wonderful people outside their role as parent.

But now my mother is dying. And quite honestly, when I’m not in a rational centered space of mind, there’s nothing that feels natural or familiar or OK about it.

My mother is reconciled with her fate. A couple of years ago she said aging really sucks as her body showed its increasing limitations as the illness progressed, interfering with her beloved bicycle rides, canoe trips and hikes. Now at 81, my mother said she’s not afraid of dying, but she will really miss nature.

There was an unexpected window of energy that allowed her to enjoy cottage life in Muskoka for a precious week this month. It was with profound awareness that I could witness her inhaling perhaps what would become her last experiences of time in nature.

The gifts kept on coming in the form of a campfire, crackling and smoky in the evening dusk; a full moon rising over and shining across a quiet lake; morning mist on the water weaving mysterious white wisps of cloud hinting at a place just beyond, waiting. My mother got to see her children swim and relax, her grandchild fish and learn fire building skills. She walked barefoot on the moist cool grass. She felt the sun and breeze on her skin.

And with renewed appetite she revisited the fundamental pleasures of eating- pralines and cream ice cream and butter tarts whenever she wanted, BLT sandwiches, pancakes and syrup, BBQ chicken sausages, and ripe mango slivers.

It was only while talking for hours on end with a very old friend, who flew in from the east coast to see my parents, that I realized just how privileged I am to know and understand what is happening. Upon reflection I know 6 people who in the last year lost parents unexpectedly, and some, inconceivably, without having the chance to say good-bye.

This brings me to the heart of this writing. It’s important, and perhaps even critical for me, and hopefully my mother, to express how I feel while she’s conscious and contactful. I was calm for a long time about the unfolding. And then a couple of weeks ago a thought bubbled up from deep inside me that countered that smooth surface. I am going to miss her.

While living in the moment for all these months it seems I didn’t project too far ahead. Fortunately, this truth inside me, glimpsing the void her absence would create, came up and out. After a while, I was restored to my calmer place. I decided that the next time I felt it rise, I would tell her, and I did. I asked if it was OK to tell her I'm going to really miss her, and she said yes. Fortunately we have a handy candor in our communication that we can rely on at a time where niceties and inhibition, in my opinion, are a waste of time.

Courage is called for at every turn, to actually follow what your heart is guiding you to do, no matter how risky. Assuming that she knows how I feel was not acceptable to me. I wanted the words out in the open like a testament and celebration of my love for her and her love for me and the delicious, complicated, messy, fantastic life we’ve shared.

My whole work with Aziza is about self-expression, about the healing inherent in self-expression and it is at this poignant time that I am receiving the indisputable confirmation of that truth at a personal level.

Expressing inner truth in some way is as necessary to our soul as oxygen is to our body. What’s particularly healing is to be witnessed with compassion, generosity and understanding as I was for those hours with my friend, as thoughts spilled out- not all of them nice.

There’s something in the gentle flowing of self-expression that can make such a life experience intensely rich, whether it be my time with my mother, or as I continue self-care by communicating my feelings elsewhere.

My hope is that this writing encourages a positive flow from the natural impulse to openly share feelings when the time feels right.

For those of you who are at a loss as to what to do to help your loved ones through, whether they be family or friend, be assured listening with loving ears is all that’s required to make an enormous difference.



Click here to read Laila's experience of miracles while being away from home when her mother passed away.

Click here to read the eulogy Laila wrote honouring this extraordinary woman.

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