Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly. Proverb
It took me moments of climbing up out of a deep sleep to figure out what was making the strange sound. It was 1:15 in the morning and the phone was ringing, my cell phone in the other room. And then as I found my way into consciousness, I knew. I knew before I reached the now silent phone. I knew before I called my brother back. I just knew. Late Sunday evening, two nights ago, my mother died. She died in her sleep, just slipped away with grace and ease into her new adventure. Yesterday, I learned more details. In the afternoon, George Dole, a Swedenborgian minister and a friend of hers since childhood, had visited and his words had been perfectly chosen. “There’s a Fish House Cove waiting for you,” he had said. And she had been awake and had seemed to soak these words in. Later, my brother had stopped in and they had held hands for a long time, and, later still, my cousin, Diana, my mother’s niece, had brushed her hair and read her poems. My mother was ready and I believe that we, her family and friends, were ready also. We’ve been preparing for this. We’ve been letting go incrementally for years. I came upon this writing yesterday, one that I had never typed up until now, one that I wrote after one of my mother’s health scares a few years ago. I knew at the time that it would serve as a visceral reminder to me, a gift for a future day when I really would be saying good-bye to my mother in her body-form:
How easy it is to lose your voice, how it can happen in a flash like it did three weeks ago for my mother. “I feel funny,” she said to her helper on that Thursday morning, and later, after her nap, she couldn’t even say that. She tried to speak. She stumbled over her sounds. Frustration flashed across her face. And, once again, 911 was called, and once again the Phippsburg ambulance rushed its way down to Fish House Cove, and once again, my ninety-one year old mother found herself in Midcoast Hospital, and once again, the CAT scans, the MRI’s, the prognosis, “You’ve had a stroke.”
The next day, here in Michigan, Matt Maki led a group of us at Joy Center in e-Motion, elemental motion, an evening of free-expression music and dance. So, I danced for my mother. No, that’s not true. I danced any worry I had for my mother out of my system. I danced for the sheer joy of foot-stomping, arm-flinging, voice-whooping movement. I danced with Rachel and Beth and Sarah and Matt. I danced for the Kingdom of Faeries, for the Kingdom of Joy-seekers and Noise-makers. I danced for expression and voice. I danced loud and soft and sweaty. I danced my heart out. That’s what I do in e-Motion. I know that sounds vague, non-descriptive, but it’s the truth. My heart pumps its own amazing music and in my sweat-making, foot-stomping quiet-winding-down, I often sense my long-gone-from-his-body father somewhere up high in the Joy Center banners, in the loft, in the air. It’s as though he’s a huge shimmering hug that wraps itself around me, but also very much himself, twinkling eyes, mischievous smile, kindness and fun.
So, this night, three weeks ago, there he was up in the rafters pouring all this shimmering love into me. It was a great feeling, this endless pitcher of love – and there she was, too, my mother. I’ve never sensed my mother before at dance – because my mother, I know where she is, home, in Maine, sprawled out in her easy chair. But, sure enough, I sensed her on this night, with him, up there somewhere in the Joy Center sky. And it felt good, my parents together, loving me – it was a salt-air, sun-kissed breath, picnic-on-the-rocks, feeling. It was that good, and I thought, in that winding-down-dance-moment-of-love that maybe my mother had croaked, that she had lost her voice, had gone off to retrieve it and had found my father as well. And I thought that it would be just fine if my mother had died because I was so filled with this gorgeous bounty of love, so sure of it. And then, as I was thinking this, Bette Midler, in her huge and heartrending way, began to sing through the airwaves of Matt’s CD player, “I think it’s going to rain.” And at that moment – I’m not kidding you, it started to rain. The thunder cracked, the lightning flashed, and now I was pretty sure that it had happened. My mother’s dying.
And that’s what I was expecting as I walked home after the storm, as I picked up the phone, as I listened to my brother’s message. But that wasn’t it at all. Thirty-six hours after losing her voice, after hearing the doctor’s instructions that she would be heading over to Portland for rehab, my mother found it again. She looked right into his eyes and she said in a clear non-croaking voice, “No. No I’m not. I’m not going to rehab. I’m going home.”