By Elizabeth Zagorski - June 3, 2009
Dying fascinates me. Our energy lives forever, no beginning, no end, just like our Creator's. The soul returns to a place of joy, paradise, love, and home, and our spirit never stops. Spirit is part of the One, the One a part of each of us. But the body must die when the soul is ready to move on. The human body is nothing more than a vehicle of transport and physicality while on this earth. Our commercial, capitalistic "traditions" of putting it in a casket, drenched in chemicals, inside a vault with hundreds of other fellow cadavers, appear to be nothing more than business these days.
Such rituals are done for the living, not the dearly departed. When the time came, I fell with the rest of the bereaved, and wept on my mother's casket. The peace in her sweet face assured me that finally, her body was done; the torture was done; the life here, done. Cate looked like my mom and herself once more.
Since my mother died from vascular dementia almost two years ago, my questions surrounding death are intensified. My mother's ideal death was a "nice, clean heart attack." Sadly, her death was neither nice nor clean. She lingered as dementia patients often do, realizing her lifelong fear of "living" in a nursing home for a little over 18 months.
Nursing homes are full of faces: lost, hopeless, fearful, unaware, or oblivious-just like my mother's. Cate was one of the lucky ones, though. She never forgot me, never forgot that I was hers. I was a lucky daughter. For months, I went to feed her dinner. Then we would walk. I'd push her in a wheelchair through the smelly halls and we'd say hello to the "poor souls," as she called them. When it was warm enough, we sat outside and I tried to stir her memories of wind and leaves and love. Cate knew who she was; knew that she liked vanilla ice cream; and, to my dismay, knew she was in a nursing home. What Cate no longer knew was how to talk or walk or chew.
I wasn't ready for her to die. After several months of deteriorating, she "suffered an ‘event'"-something like a stroke or clot. I sat vigil with siblings and family for hours on end. I slept with her, waking at any sound to be sure she was ok. It was four days later when she passed. Her body stopped breathing, beating, and being. The hardest part of this fine woman's death was seeing her suffer. I was worried that she was afraid.
I loved my mother, and even more importantly, I liked her. We were great friends. She was the kind of mother who knew exactly what to say and when to say it. She didn't meddle. She came over with egg salad and a new bucket each time I moved. And yet I begged God to help her die. I hated what was happening. This death business was inferior somehow. Why was this mother of mine-who had raised 5 children, graduated from college at 42, and loved so many people-enduring such agony?
Even though it took four days for her body to stop, I know that early in that process her soul was freed from the skin and bones. Still, it is the body we see, the body that we relate to as human, the body that feels the pain and suffering. This is the madness of death. This is the bad death. The good death was her soul leaving, returning to her Creator, and reuniting with other dearly departed souls. My father must have been there to rejoice for her death and welcome her to the other side. Cate left the nonsense of this life behind. She was released to be her true self. This is the good death, because she once more knew only the purest and truest Love.
Our family has a pretty good tradition starting. My mother and father both have died in the presence of children and family. What a great way to leave this earth and body behind! The most loved of the loved ones present to attend to every manner of comfort for the dying and for those still living. I slept with my mother her last night on earth. One of my sisters and I squeezed two hospital beds together to cuddle with our Momma. We comforted each other and laughed and again felt the joy of our mother's love. This good death was that she left this earth with her children on her bed, their kisses on her forehead, and the love of her sharing her life.
Elizabeth Zagorski is a 1993 graduate of Youngstown State University with a B.A. in Religious Studies. She is currently pursuing a career in teaching with a focus in middle childhood education.