Mama had nine children. I am the youngest, and I have often felt a deep sense of gratitude that she surrendered her life to this process so many times. I see it as no small miracle that I even exist in the world. And that my seven children exist.
Mama was always the first person I would call when I went into labor. She and Daddy slept with their shoes at the foot of the bed so they could rush over to my house, usually in the middle of the night, and take care of all my little ones while I went to the hospital. I always loved calling her when the baby was finally born and the hard work was over. She understood exactly what I was feeling and even more… She shared my joy as a woman, a Mama, and a Grandma. She would say to me, “Oh, I know you are so relieved. I am so happy for you, Mackenzie.” I could hear the smile in her beautiful, singular, unique-in-this-world voice. We talked about how the moment after the baby is born is
in the whole
There is no relief like it. She said that she remembered waking up the day after having a baby, thinking she was still pregnant, and all of the sudden remembering she was already done and the baby was born. And how happy she was to be on the other side.
Standing at the bedside of my beautiful, dying Mother, I could not help but notice how like birth death can be. Her husband and children surrounded her like nurses and midwives. We attended her needs and tried to make her as comfortable as possible–a sip of water, a word of encouragement, whispered prayers. We watched for the signs of labor progressing–the changes in her breathing, the deep and intense focus on an inner struggle, the changing expressions of her beautiful, rapidly-aging face. We sang hymns around her bedside as she actively labored.
Over the years, I have had many conversations about birth with Mama. I asked her if she was ever afraid. She said that in labor, she always tried to be calm because she knew if she was afraid, the baby would be afraid. I know she didn’t want us to be afraid of death. Just as she didn’t want us to be afraid of birth. That is why, with God’s grace, she walked this whole difficult road with such beauty, composure, love, and tenderness. She was showing us that there is nothing to fear in death. She knew if she was afraid, we would be afraid, too.
I remembered those words while I stood beside her, watching her walk bravely through the valley of the shadow of death. Her calm was a comfort to us. Even in dying, she was showing us how to live with selfless love and grace.
When I would come home from the hospital, new baby in my arms, Mama was always there to welcome me home. She had taken care of my children, somehow managed to do my laundry and clean my kitchen and left me with a hot meal for dinner. She would say, “I know you are so glad to be home.” And then she would tell me that she always thought the hardest part of having a baby was leaving all of her children behind when she had to go to the hospital.
She didn’t want to leave us. I know this is why she hung on so long through such intense suffering. She needed to know we were settled, that we were going to be ok. I know that she was thinking this the last year of her life. She knew how we would all miss her. How our lives would never be the same without her. She, who had always tried to make our lives as simple, as free from sadness and pain as possible, would be the one whose passing would leave a lasting impression upon us.
We stood around her, singing praise songs, laughing and crying, speaking love over her life, remembering our lives with her aloud so that she could hopefully hear us from wherever deep inside herself she might be.
I imagined her laying in a bed like this, thirty-eight years ago, when her body was young and strong, but wracked with a parallel all-consuming helplessness of laboring through transition. Where all of her focus was on staying alive and making it through the long and hard delivery that brought about my birth.
Our sweet Mama. She opened her eyes and we all gathered around her, quietly, lovingly, through tears cheering her on. It was the crowning, the ring of fire where the soul exits the body. It was as if her body was the mother, her spirit the child that was born into new life. The passing of her soul from this world to everlasting life was such a holy birth.
I felt a surge of relief when she died. Not unlike the relief I have felt when giving birth. It was a great ocean-wave of gratitude to God that the hard work was over. I sat on the floor and wept and praised God for his mercy, thanking him that she was free from the suffering of this life. It was like the relief of birth but without the fullness of joy.
We could only experience the great relief that her suffering was over. But how alive she must have felt. How free from the cares of this world. How beautiful to feel love in which there is no fear or sadness or even a tinge of sorrow. Where there is no bitter, only sweet. Where the love of a mother becomes complete–the work of her life completely done. The joy was on the other side. Full joy. Complete joy. Everlasting.
I will always be grateful to my Mother, who walked out a sweet life of faith, never once wavering. She walked me through death as she walked me through birth and through life–with great love, gentleness, and courage. This is the lasting impression her passing has made on me.
I know she is so relieved. And though my heart aches to see her again in this world, I am so glad that she is home.