59. DANCING WITH DEATH – July 13th.

Excerpt from “My Lovedance”

Mom, Kyra and me, Mother’s Day, 2008

At this point I truly wished I felt more confident about this path I’m on with Mom. It was easier when she was here. I could take her pulse and reassure myself that all was well.

She’s been gone two weeks and I haven’t heard from her. She’s in transition from my care to theirs, but since we began working together at Full Circle Family Health, not a week had passed that I hadn’t heard Mom’s voice, received a text, an email, a Facebook post – something.

Guess I’m being prepared for the inevitable. It’s easy to talk. The walk is much, much harder.

One sunny afternoon in late March we were out in the courtyard, enjoying family, food, and music, so I invited Mom to dance. She has always been an amazing dancer. She even danced on American Bandstand in the fifties. Some of my earliest memories are dancing in the living room with my mother, my baby sisters doing their best to keep up.

Fifty years later, I held my mother in my arms and we danced. Even through a wave of nausea that day, she kept dancing. Not even cancer could keep her from feeling the music. Mom’s the one who taught me that life is a dance. And I now see that the dance never really ends.

JULY 13th
The time has come to say goodbye. Mom is near the end. Like a shooting star whose light is ever so bright, Mom burnt through our lives and our hearts.

Helping her pack in April for her trip to visit my sisters, I found a box shoved under the guest bed. In the poor light, I thought it read “Maria’s Dude Box”. Mom laughed, “that’s my dead box!”

In 2005, Mom joined the Neptune Society. Thank goodness she opted for the travel plan, since she became a gypsy in her last few months.

After a month in Utah, Mom finally landed in Texas. She will take her final breath in my youngest sister’s beautiful home. After setting up in-home hospice, I write this on the plane from Houston, coming back to mail out Mom’s box. Then I’ll return to help release her so she can pass in peace.

The first few weeks after she left, we had no contact. I missed her terribly. She did not answer my calls releasing me perhaps. So I spent my time searching the Internet for clips of her dancing on American Bandstand. And I found her.

In 2002 I was invited as endocrine advisor for Great Smokies Labs (now known as Genova) to review a new cell metabolism test. Everyone else brought their spouses to the lavish dinner aboard the Queen Mary. I brought Mom.

The CEO asked me to help the group of West Coast doctors understand how the new test could be used in our clinical practice. While I was in the midst of my explanation, the CEO could not keep his eyes off Mom. Suddenly, he pointed at her and exclaimed.

“You’re Maria from American Bandstand! I rushed home every day after school to watch you dance!”

I searched through several Bandstand clips before I saw my mom’s signature dance move. I replayed it over and over. Yep! That’s my Mom! Steve thought so too, but just to be sure, I showed it to Mom.

Sitting on my sister’s couch next to Mom, we watched the clip. She immediately started naming the dancers including her cousin and friend. And of course, herself. Watching my sister’s face the moment she recognized Mom was precious.

Mom told me that my grandparents didn’t approve of her going to North Philly. It was rough. After school, they took a bus from South Philly, then a monorail train, and waited with the “regs” at Pops soda shop to be called on stage. Mom said the “good dancers” always got called with the “regs” (the regular bandstand dancers). Of course, she always got called.

She acts like it was nothing. “I was embarrassed when that CEO recognized me. He became a doctor and my claim to fame is a dancer on American Bandstand!”

Not your only claim to fame, Mom. No, there are thousands of Full Circle Family Health patients who will never forget how you made them feel like family. There are hundreds of people who you served and cared for in your community. There are dozens of young women you taught as a Girl Scout leader. There are nine grandchildren, two great grandchildren, three grand son-in-laws, one granddaughter-in-law to be, three son-in-laws, and three other daughters who you loved and mothered fiercely, passionately, thoroughly.

And there’s me, your eldest daughter. I could have never become the nurse practitioner, the mother, the wife, the friend, the woman I am without you teaching me how to dance through all of life’s transitions.
Especially this, our last dance on earth.

It’s hard to let your loved one go. My youngest sister an RN was quite capable of starting hospice. She just needed permission. She needed me to say it’s time. The twins, still struggling in denial of the fact that our mother is dying, were encouraging her to do more. But neither of us nurse practitioner sisters were there when Mom started going downhill. I told my youngest sister that I trusted her to be our eyes, our ears, our hands. I trusted her nursing instinct. And she was right. Mom’s liver is failing now.

Both my youngest sister and I married our high school sweethearts. Before Mom got sick, my sister and her husband booked a 30th anniversary trip to Italy. Mom insists that they go. “Don’t change your whole life for me!” My sister’s afraid to go and leave Mom with the non-medical twin, the one most afraid of death. So I’m flying back to Houston on Friday and I’ll stay until my sister returns eleven days later. She thanked me for making her feel safe. I hope I can help the twins make peace with this. Mom hopes so too.

And Mom promised to wait for me.

I am forever grateful for the past 17 years I was able to work side by side with Mom. We laughed, we cried, we argued, we hugged. We always kissed so long. Never goodbye.

No matter how many miles away she is, I feel her. I don’t believe this will change when she releases her body. Mom will always be with me, always a part of me.

I spent Sunday afternoon calling all the relatives. Mom hasn’t been able to answer their calls for a couple of weeks now. Her best friend and her cousin bemoaned not coming to see her. “But you did see her. When she was well last year.” Mom was divinely guided. She went back to Philly last summer and had a great time with her childhood friends and cousins. If she knew it was “good bye”, she might not have been as free to enjoy the precious moment of Now.

Unfortunately, Mom’s not ready. Her body is done, but her spirit is strong. She wanted to hold another great-grandbaby. The hospice chaplain reassured her that she will, before anyone else. She will hold each and every one of the babies to come.

I pray to be able to help her be at peace.

Just as she birthed me into this world, I am privileged to midwife her into the spirit world.

Life is sweet and sweeter yet when you’re dancing with death. And we’re enjoying every step with Mom!

Death is not an ending; it’s a beginning of a new way of being.

Editor’s Note: And so Concludes this four part journey into life and death entwined.

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