Perhaps for the first time in my life I gaze unreservedly at my mom’s face. Ninety-five years worth of wrinkles cannot mask the delicate, beautiful contours of her face, a face my dad loved, a face I’ve known from the day I was born.
Her face changed over the years, I suppose, but so slowly and subtly I didn’t detect it. It was simply the face of my mom.
She bore me into this world with pain and travail, as all do who birth children. She changed my diapers and cleaned up after my sicknesses. She endured my teenage years, and even bought me a set of drums so I could play in a loud rock band in the basement of our small Ohio home.
She used to bowl, and play the harmonica. She made my dad laugh to beat the band.
I thought she was a great cook, until it occurred to me why I was the only student who thought college cafeteria food was outstanding. Before college I’d never tasted green, crisp broccoli. In our home, broccoli was yellow and mushy. I assumed everyone had to eat liver and onions once a week.
Apparently they didn’t teach culinary or homemaking skills in the orphanage in which she was raised, yet she and my dad created a welcoming, nurturing home for us four kids, one of whom was disabled.
Now she stirs from her hospital bed and moans deliriously, “I just want to go to bed.”
I try to assume there is a reason for this slow dying process, but I wonder. It seems our family was more gracious to Radley, our 16-year-old dog, than we are permitted to be with our parents as they come to their end.
Perhaps a natural death is like the natural process of being born, laborious, disorienting, immodest. Maybe death in this realm is synonymous with being born into some other realm.
My thoughts on this matter are not objective or scientific. They are shaped by what my mom and my church taught me. But I pay close attention when all religions of the world find common ground. All see death as a portal to something else, call it heaven or reincarnation or nirvana. Each religion’s image anticipates resolution, growth, and unity as we leave our physical bodies, pass from “this mortal coil,” and are welcomed into a new world.
This feels not only logical and practical, but also deeply true, and not simply because I refuse to yield my demand for justice in a world where some don’t get their 70 or 80 years of life. There’s some piece of who we are which does not depend on our brain waves or our hearts beating. We each have a soul, or a spirit, which transcends time and space.
Maybe that’s some of what the Genesis writer meant in saying humans are created “in the image of God.”
I smiled. Not wanting her to think we’d forgotten her December birthday, I reminded her we’d done so last month at a small party.
Now I wonder if she had a different kind of birth day in mind.
Mom stirs. “I want to go.” Perhaps she means she wants to get back to her apartment. Or perhaps she’s ready to go to whatever is next.
Whatever is next, I am convinced it is good.
Joe’s mother, Corabelle Phelps, died later in the day.