And to Dust Shalt Thou Return

I just merged my mom’s and dad’s ashes, putting them back together in this plane. I know they’re together on the other.

It’s been her wish since he died. It was deeply relieving and healing to do it, painstaking and requiring full presence. They’re sharing a lovely cigar humidor which has been my dad’s solo resting place for 32 years, and I put just a little of each into a small brass aftaba from India that my sister gave me, a symbol of the larger one that held my dad’s ashes in our mom’s house.

She takes up the lion’s share of the box they’re in, and it’s fitting in a way. She was here longer, and we had a more complex journey. It’s weighty now. Mom’s ballast mixing with Dad’s fine dust. Maybe this is how they’re mixed in me, too.

A few years ago, I had an Akashic Channeling from a lovely woman named Jen Eramith, and I asked about my relationship with my parents. The message rang deeply true for me and came at a time when I was undergoing some deep healing around my relationship with my mom. She said that the soul contract with my father was very brief. We were friends, peers, it was light and easy, and when he died, our work together was done.

My mother was another story. Ours was a long and complex relationship spanning many lifetimes, and we had a lot of work to do in this one. This came around the time that I moved 3000 miles away from my mother, to whom I had more or less promised that I would stay close throughout the end of her life. She was already fairly diminished at this time, but still, she was a far stronger presence than she was in the last year.

I remember going to see her and sitting on the floor at her feet. She had one of those automatic lounge chairs that lift up to help the sitter stand. It was where she spent most of her day–all of her day except for meals. I felt such a pain in my heart to tell her that I had been invited by my partner to join her in Washington State. It was something that she had dreaded and referenced frequently. But at this time, when I told her that I wanted to go, she said “Of course, I will miss you, but I understand that you need to go.”

Her blessing was important to me. I knew that I was leaving her as she was entering the last of her days. I continued to call her daily and visited twice a year. I had undergone a healing in our relationship, letting go of the story I had lived with in which my mother was somehow to blame for my discomfort in life. There’s a way, of course, that our stories are both true and untrue. We are born into families and social, economic and cultural situations that shape our experience. We may be a disappointment, an inconvenience, a challenge. And yet, in all but the most extreme circumstances, we are still loved.

My mother grew up under Hitler. She was born in 1929 in Bavaria. She came to consciousness under Hitler, and she embodied the German style of child-rearing that is so well dissected in Alice Miller’s book The Drama of the Gifted Child. She was not one for coddling, cuddling or compliments. It was not her nature.

She gave her love in very tangible ways; she was fierce and she was always working, both in the home and out, to provide for us the best that she could. And yet, the parts of me that needed to be seen through my own lens remained invisible to her, or at least unrecognized.

Longevity is a gift in so many ways. If we live long enough, we mature out of the various stages of our own development to a clarity and wisdom . In my fifties, I found my way onto the path of awakening through what was then called Waking Down in Mutuality. I fell deeply into the wounds of my childhood, which are the doorways to freedom. I fell into various circles of hell-fire experiencing and burning away my attachment to the shadow story of my life. I was a disappointment. I was a freak. I was an outsider. I was unloved.

I don’t remember my mother ever saying that she loved me. Once, early in my spiritual path, I confronted her about his (over the phone–not recommended), and she said “I love you but . . .” at which I cut her off.  “There is no but after that mom.” She was stalwart: “I love you but you’re different.” Back and forth we went. It did not help either of us to feel closer.

As she aged, like me, the shells of her personality fell away. What was left in the last few years was a sweetness, a presence and relaxation with what was. Sometime in the last year, when I said, as I sometimes did at the end of our call, “I love you,” she said “I love you, too.” And once, only a few months ago, when I told her I was coming to see her before Easter, she said it unprompted.  It was pure nectar.

In April of this year, at a workshop with Trillium Awakening teacher Rod Taylor on “The Personal, Interpersonal and Impersonal Dimensions of Love,” I spoke this truth from the core of my being: My mother has always only loved me.

What a great blessing and relief.

When it became clear that she was declining, I flew out to see her the week before Easter. She was already turning away from the world of the living. Two weeks later, we signed her up for hospice care. And two weeks after that, going on my intuition, I flew home to stay with her until her passing. My sister had told her just the day before that I was coming. Hours after I arrived, the facility called to say that she was laboring–shallow breath and apnea. Laboring is my word. The vigil we sat with her from 3:00 Saturday morning until her passing the following Monday at 8:30 am was so like a birth. The long slow waiting for revelation, for transition.

It was a gift and a blessing to be with her, to share those fifty hours with my sister and her. We slept in chairs with our heads on her bed, our hands and arms holding her the best we could. We ate our meals, checked our emails, told stories, talked to nurses and family visitors, cried, slept, watched, waited.

And then, as Yeats said in a different context “A terrible beauty was born.” Her breathing fell into troughs of stillness.  It was only a touch to feel her pulse that would start her up again.  Ten seconds, fifteen, twenty. Touch. Breath.  Then she took one gasp, paused another half a minute, took another one, and that was the end.

I don’t know when I have felt such pure tenderness and compassion as in those fifty hours. I don’t know when I ever touched my mother so much or so lovingly, like a child, both her and me.

It took me sixty years to come to know the dimensions of her love, which are the dimensions of all Love. It is all encompassing, multi-faceted, sometimes painful and sometimes blissful. It is the nature of God, the absolute. There is nothing that is not part of it.

Grief is a natural part of the death process. It comes over us, comes out of us in the face of death’s mystery. It has its own rhythm, its own logic, its own mystical healing powers. It’s a force to be surrendered to. It’s part of the transformation, the ongoing cycle of integration and disintegration that we may see what is ahead of us and embrace it without fear.

She is at rest, and she is at source. She is mingled in the ashes of my father, and mingled in the air. Remember, o man that thou art dust, and to dust shalt thou return.  It’s a useful remembrance. What lives in us is eternal.