In June of 1991, I was on retreat in Arizona. Somewhere in the openness of the desert, I heard the morning dove sing its sweet song to me again and again. One evening, someone told the story of the morning dove. It was the story of family healing and understanding. I felt the story was being told just for me, and I heard the echo of it in the dove’s song outside the window. A final hope was born inside me that a healing could take place between my mother and me.
I knew that she was dying under the burden of Multiple Sclerosis, and I wanted to connect with her. I reached for the thread of the good things that had gone on before I had severed ties with her. When Kyle had been born four years earlier, she had sewn a lot of blankets and sleepers for him. She’d come to California to see him a couple of times. Our visits had not been strained as long as we kept our focus upon him. Her last visit was when he was about eighteen months old. I was in the depths of mother love for my own child, and it gave me the first opportunity to open the doors to forgiving her. I worked on her tired body energetically, and the magic of true connection filled the room and mesmerized her. Old patterns are hard to break, though, and we slipped back in to our distance.
By the following spring it was clear that her ending was near. My father called all five children to Virginia in April. I arrived a few days before anyone else, and when she saw me, she murmured through the oxygen tent that she knew I would be the first to come to her. As she slipped in to quiet, I spent hours at the foot of her bed sending her energy to help keep her struggling body at peace. It was evident that she was dying, and I wanted her to have a peaceful passing. I wanted to hold her, to soothe her, but anyone’s touch was extremely painful to her. So, as my father sat next to her and gently held her hand, I did what I could by sending energy from across the room.
When my father and I left the hospital on the night of my sisters’ arrival, we were certain that my mother would not make it through the night. When we returned to the house, after everyone else was settled down for the night, my father asked if I had been doing something in the hospital room to help Mom. I told him that I had been sending energy to her. He looked at me with both hope and sadness in his eyes, and said, “Well, keep doing it; it’s helping me, too.” I gathered what I needed and went out to do ceremony for her. I stood out on the deck overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains and asked the Ancestors dwelling there to help her and guide her to her highest good.
I felt great surges of energy dancing and swirling through the hills and hollows. I had awakened the Ancient Ones. I saw them rising out of the land in forms and colors that were incredibly beautiful. When I realized what was happening, I wanted to run and hide from the overwhelming power as it swirled like the Northern Lights around me. It was my doing that they were awakened, though, and I knew I had to stand my ground and ask for their support and blessings on my mother’s behalf. This was the only thing I could do for her.
I am certain it was this energy that allowed her to have some final moments with her other children. We arrived at the hospital the next morning to see her sitting up in bed and very alert. Of course, my sisters thought that I was to blame for the discussions the previous evening about her imminent death, even though the words came from Dad’s mouth. I had not said a word, and yet I was the target of all their negativity. I couldn’t believe that they would bring their old and petty baggage into the sacred space of our mother’s death, but it was there to stay. The youngest of us arrived, and he tried to shift things, to no avail. The discomfort sought its own height and I knew that the best thing for me to do was to leave. I had done what I could do as far as my mother was concerned; she was under the protection and the guidance of the Ancients. I had been able to have a few days with my father, and now he would rely most heavily upon his youngest son.
As she began to slip away again familial need allowed the use of medical intervention against my mother’s wishes, and she was put through a lot of procedures that only kept her from her highest healing. When I was told that she had been put on a respirator, I was angry that her wishes for no medical intervention had not been honored. It was another week before she was finally released from the body that gave her so much pain and frustration. As soon as my younger brother called, I went to my garden to do one last ceremony for her.
When I was finished with the ceremony, I sat with Kyle. He was five years old, and in the best way I could, I explained what had happened: that his gran’ma had left her body to go to the spirit world. He sensed the change, and there was no reason to try to smooth it over for him. We talked for a long time about dying and what it means. He was so very accepting of the need for her to leave her body. He went out in to the garden and did a little ceremony himself.
It took a couple of days for him to start voicing the fear that came to him: if my mother could die, then so could his mother. I honored his feelings and his fears. Someday, I will die. Instead of trying to appease his fear, I talked it all the way through with him. On the level that his five-year-old self could understand, I encouraged him to let go of the fear and accept what was before him in the moment. He learned to ask for what he needed in the moment to soothe his emotions; and, he learned to trust that he will always feel me with him.
This point was proven to him as the energy of my mother’s spirit began to show itself to him. He talked of feeling her with him when he slept at his father’s house. I was happy for Kyle and for my mother: happy that they had an unbroken bond. I was also happy that she was helping me. While she did not come in to my space, she stayed with Kyle when he was away from me. She was filling in the spaces where I could not go. She was supporting both Kyle and me. She was being a good grandmother.
One of the things I believe happens when we die is that we fully and completely understand the people we have known and we feel how we have touched them, in good ways and bad. When Kyle would come home and talk about my mother’s presence with him, it was an affirmation to me that she understood. She understood that she had not been present as a parent for me; so, she was being present for Kyle. I accepted the gesture and thanked her for it.
As the years passed after her death, I began to be able to honor my mother in certain ways. Obviously, I had chosen to have her as a parent, and on some levels, she was a good teacher for me. Perhaps if she had treated me the same way as she did my sisters, I would have ended up with the personality disorders that they have. It was her energy towards me that sent me out to discover what was better. It was her poor parenting of me, her emotional abuses toward me that made me seek every scrap of knowledge I could find about what good parenting really is. It’s what sent me to study child and adolescent psychology. It’s what makes me a vigilant parent. She certainly did help to make me spiritually and emotionally strong.
A couple of very long talks with my aunts helped me to see that what I felt as a child was based in reality and that I was not just feeling the middle child syndrome. At some point, I was able to disassociate the way she treated me from the individual woman she was. I was able to start seeing the world from her perspective. Whatever she was to me as a parent, she was also a dynamic and artistically talented woman. I found that I could respect those parts of her and let my own pain dissolve in to the mists of time.
All I had wanted from her was for her to see me in my own light and not the projection of who she made me out to be. When I walked in to her hospital room and she said that she knew I would be the first to come, it was an acknowledgement that she at least saw the part of me that could be counted on to be present in a time of need. I had been present for the family throughout other times of crisis. I had been strong and done what was needed at the time. She knew I would be there for her, too. Whether or not my mother knew about the energy and the ceremony, I can only assume that she did. When working on that level, all is known.
The summer after she died, when Kyle and I were visiting Dad, I drove to the art center where Mom dedicated a lot of her time. I drove through the winding mountain roads alone and walked out in to the humid, sunny day. The emerald-green hills flowed around me, colors softening into the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. I sat on the bench the family had placed as a memorial to my mother, and heard the soft coo-cooing of a morning dove. My heart sang with the dove as I felt it singing of the relationship between my mother and myself: a relationship that hung around me like the thick Virginia air.
I sat on her memorial bench, watching the sun set. I plucked a few leaves from the tree planted in her honor, and I had my last talk with her. I told her that I hoped she liked what she was seeing from the vantage point she had now, because I am the person I am partly because of her. As I finished, and rose to leave, the morning dove cooed softly, nurturing me as the tears rolled down my cheeks.