The Tao of Birth and Death
Updated: Apr 29
~a daughter's musings
I had seen birth and death, but thought they were different. ~TS Eliot in The Journey Of The Magi
Saturday, December 31, 2022
It is 7 pm on New Year’s Eve, and I have wheeled my mom out in her wheelchair to sit on her patio to watch the neighborhood fireworks. We saw them through the living room window and came out to get a better view. We are sitting companionably together waiting for the sparks of beauty in the sky and hearing loud booms that echo off of the neighbor’s metal garage. Because of the echoes, we are not sure of the direction of the intermittent blasts. They are not coming from the lightshow we see in the northeast.
Mom is alert and enjoying this simple pleasure, as I am aware of the sacredness of this moment. A short while later, she is ready for bed, and I relax alone watching a movie. Grief and gratitude are co-mingling like fraternal twins sitting on my lap.
Wednesday, January 4, 2023
Around 7 AM on this crisp, blue-sky morning, I receive a call from my mom’s caregiver asking for assistance. The caregiver had slid mom gently to the floor when she had attempted to stand, but could not.
I wake my man-son and we walk to the house next-door where my mom has lived alone for the last 14 years. Since July 2022, she has had constant companionship after a fall hallmarked the need for 24/7 care.
Mom is a positive, radiant person, but this morning she is frightened. So I encourage her to say prayers that she has known since her youth — — the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary — — ones that she could recite without effort, like the muscle memory of riding a bike. While she embraces this suggestion, my son and I strategize ways to get her off of the floor and land on the idea of pressing a sheet beneath her so that we can more easily lift her onto the bed.
Fortuitously about two weeks before, my son had dismantled her king-size bed, storing the headboard in the attic and tucking the mattress and box spring in the adjacent caregiver bedroom. The medical supply company installed a fully electric hospital bed on that same afternoon.
So on this morning, it is onto a hospital bed that we place my mom and then help her up to sitting. After giving her time to catch her breath, my son transfers her to a wheelchair, wheels her to the living room, and I squat and pivot her to her lift chair.
Friday, January 6, 2023
Today the hospice nurse arrives to explain the benefits of hospice care and admit my mom to their services. The information is not new to me, having served as a hospice social worker, chaplain, and volunteer coordinator for a combined eight years. My sweet mama is in a daze, though, trying to stay present for this baffling event.
She who is centered in the Tao, can go where she wishes, without danger. She perceives the universal harmony, even amid great pain, because she has found peace in her heart. ~Tao Te Ching, 35
Saturday, January 7, 2023
My caregiving shift at my mom’s began last night at 8 pm. She was in bed sleeping when I arrived, awoke at midnight with a wet pull-up, and after being changed and cleaned, promptly fell back asleep. When she awakens at 9 am, I bathe and dress her and get her ready to receive a special visit from my man-son. This process takes about an hour. She looks beautiful and hopeful.
Her grandson arrives bearing filet mignon and potatoes to prepare. He cooks the meat to perfection at the doneness of medium rare — my mom’s favorite. This meal is his Christmas present to her, an act of service and experience that he wants to create for her. It is accompanied by my older son’s offering of a flower bouquet, which he has scheduled to arrive weekly.
I wheel Mumsy (her grandmother name) into the kitchen to be part of the process of fellowship and enticing aromas. We gather around her kitchen table and she chooses to be served on her TV tray for ease, then receives his gifted meal with enthusiasm, relish, and gratitude.
Afterward, we transfer mom to her lift-chair, and she tires quickly. My man-son visits with her while I de-clutter her bedroom and organize it to be a welcoming place of refuge for her. She chooses to recline and nap in her lift-chair, however, because she is averse to being transferred twice and undergoing the stress of a diaper change. So, we let her be.
Hours later she awakens and allows me to move and clean her. When I go to my home next door to collect my mail, I tarry longer than she expects because I receive a phone call from a cousin inquiring about my mom’s status. Upon my return, I am greeted by my mom’s troubled expression and her sweet, anxious words, “I was so worried about you.” I receive her care and concern in these precious days as a balm for my weeping heart.
My mom is aware of her own decline and checks in with me now to verify when she is hallucinating. She looks at her hands and asks, “You don’t see that, do you?” I answer with a compassionate gaze, “No mom, I don’t see anything.” At her bedtime this evening — an early 6:30 pm — she asks me to tell one of her caregivers, “Goodbye,” and that she loves her, as well as requesting that I relay to my sons that she loves them and wants them to come and visit her. These petitions are prompted by her own thought that she may not awaken again.
Sunday, January 8, 2023
At 6:45 am my mom wakes up, and I hear her rustling around in her bed. When I peek in on her, she says a bright almost childlike, “Good morning!” We visit pleasantly as I bathe and dress her, getting her ready for my aunt and uncle (my dad’s only sibling) to visit her later this morning. Her alertness does not endure, however, because she panics whenever the caregiver (who came to relieve me) and I are pulling up her undergarments and pants as she stands holding a rail near her toilet. When fear grips her, I have noticed that it is like a light switch turning off her senses. We wheel her and transfer her to her lift-chair, but her brightness is gone. By the evening, she is all but vacant.
Monday, January 9, 2023
On this cool and cloudy morning, the caregiver summons me to help her with the transfers. When I am leaving after fulfilling those tasks, I tell my mom that I love her, and she says, “Thank you, my darling daughter."
You say, “Goodbye,” and I say, “Hello, hello, hello.” I don’t know why you say, “Goodbye,” I say, “Hello, hello, hello.” I don’t know why you say, “Goodbye,” I say, “Hello.” ~Paul McCartney
My mom is unconsciously preparing for her birth into new life, and so she is being forced to release the existence she knows. We call this death. Sometimes it is a gradual transition like a 20-hour labor, as in the case of my dad 34 years ago. He struggled for two years with renal cell cancer before he let go and allowed himself to be born again.
And now with my mom, her slow demise is giving her the opportunity to savor the people, abilities, and experiences that she loves and to detach from them with gratitude, one by one. Well, she doesn’t see it that way right at this moment, but maybe through grace she will. The alternative is a cesarean section when there is no time in the birth canal, but perhaps still a tunnel of light. This was the experience of my husband, who was here one moment, then vanished from view — a motorcycle crash into eternity four months ago.
The means of our entry/departure is not so compelling as the fact that we cannot distinguish between an ending and a beginning. They are one and the same. Very soon my mom will say, “Goodbye,” to me as, perhaps, she receives a hearty, “Hello,” from my husband in a realm we earthlings cannot perceive. The eye is but one detector of reality, which does not allow us to see the full picture. Consider radio waves, quanta, and colors unobserved by human vision. They are hidden from view, but no less present. Ponder the light of a star that is technically reaching us from the past. Life is a mystery.
So my mind takes comfort in this infinite, fractal moment where birth and death are ideas relegated only to a physical existence, while warm tears wet my cheeks as they flow copiously from my broken heart.
Now hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what one already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. ~Romans 8:24–25
May your mind be peaceful and calm, may your body be relaxed and comfortable, and may your heart be filled with love.
Thank you for reading.
Blessings and gratitude, Ani