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WORDS FROM FRIENDS

AFTER DEATH

Mae Elizabeth Van Zwol Kruis--graduation from nursing school

Less than a month ago, my mother died. She was four days away from her 100th birthday when she walked on. I was grateful to be one of two people to walk with her. Many friends sent condolences online and in the mail. They expressed sympathy for my loss, and some said they knew it had often been a difficult relationship, and then they tried to redeem it with their words. The truth is that the loss happened more than a half century ago. Her dying was less a loss, more a reckoning. Ours had been a bond of unease, nevertheless a bond––one we both tried at different times over the years to repair. I had thought that I would simply be relieved when her death came. That I would feel little or nothing. Because we both wanted something better, a couple of years ago, we were able to speak some heartfelt words and then to cry together. Things were easier between us after that, though not what I would call whole. So after death, when those who knew my mother in a different light spoke of what a wonderful person she was, I felt perplexed. I wanted to see what they had seen, to love the woman they had loved.
 
I've attended a number of life passages—the joy of babies making their entry onto the planet, the awe of walking with people for the last steps of their journey on Earth. I always feel so honored when a soul chooses me to be present at their leave-taking, and being with my mother was no different in that respect. It was also so much bigger than I'd imagined it would be. Hers was by far the gentlest, most peaceful dying I've witnessed.
 
During the time I cared for her and saw her pass over, I was deeply aware of her, not as my mother, but as a fellow human being. Most of what I felt was compassion—particularly when she seemed to have some awareness of what was happening to her but could only communicate by blinking her eyes when asked a question. We couldn't know if we were asking the right questions. Then at the last, she went into a deep sleep and didn't wake up again.
 
My niece Naomi and I were together with her when she left, and I was so glad of that. It was when I said to Naomi, shortly after my mother's last breath, "Just imagine who she might be seeing right now—Trudy" (my sister who died at the age of 9). "Grandpa" (Naomi's grandfather, my father)—that I was surprised to be overcome by tears. A little later, I actually sobbed when my youngest brother, who was closest with my mother all his life, came in, and we held each other. Then I was crying for his loss.
 
There are small tasks to be done after someone dies, and these tasks take on the meaning of making the death round. I waited for people to come and take the medical equipment away; I signed their pad to say, This is finished; I took leftover supplies to donate to the facility where our mother had lived; I brought from there the two dozen red roses her cousins had sent for the birthday that wasn't to be and put them in water; I brought her clothing to Goodwill; I helped my sister-in-law with the distribution of her jewelry and received the turqoise and silver bracelet, pendant, and ring I remembered as the only ornaments my mother had when I was a child; I went out on the land with Naomi to find the rock that will be Mom's gravestone and visited my father's grave where her ashes will be interred; finally, I wrote her obituary. All these things brought roundness to her passing.
 
Back at home I wrote some letters and addressed them to My Mother in Heaven (not that I believe Heaven is a physical place, but I have seen and heard evidence of life after death). In those letters I told my mother things I never felt I could tell her in life. And I cried as I came to the realization deep within me that she had loved me all along. I don't just say this: I truly felt she had loved me in all the  ways she could. And I grieved that I hadn't been able to love her better. But just as she had, I loved her in all the ways I could. Then came the greatest revelation. She had been transformed, and as a result, I, too, was transformed.

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