The most valuable lesson my mom ever taught me was about life and death!!
Everyone has memories of things their mother tried to instill in them. Things like eating right, saying please and thank you, and always wearing clean underwear. My mom was really good at teaching those public polite things and not so much when it came to boundaries, safety, and how to learn to trust. She often escaped her responsibilities through alcohol, denial and avoidance. However, what she taught me about life and death is the most valuable information I continue to assimilate to this day.
It all started with a visit to my parents’ home. This turned out to be an unusual visit and I have felt its impact for the rest of my life. Before I get into that, though, it is important to understand that my mom was in poor physical health due to a heart condition, high blood pressure, and she was on dialysis three times a week. Another relevant piece of information is that just two weeks prior to this visit I had learned CPR for the first time due to a job requirement.
Just around the time Mom was becoming ill, I started to explore different spiritual belief systems and Eastern philosophies and was introduced to the concepts of reincarnation and karma. Karma simply put, are the lessons our energy existences learn as it returns again and again to the physical plane. These lessons are ultimately learned through our most basic, core issues: love and fear. Each lifetime is built upon successive lifetimes in order to continue forward on the path of growth and understanding. This process is like putting together a puzzle in which each life time is a new piece. Each piece fits together to provide greater understanding as we make the choices that comprise our life.
We choose when to enter this life, some of the other persons we will have around us and when to exit the life. People in our lives are chosen because of what we will either learn from them or teach them. Sometimes these individuals are around us because we have created bonds with them over many lives and they are a part of our cadre. Other times we choose to have others around us based on what we learned and/or experienced in this life time. It is important to review negative relationships and explore our own beliefs that may be reinforced through these connections. There is a difference between types of relationships.
Knowing all of this, off I went to visit my parents. Overall, the visit was stressful because, unknown to me, many karmic lessons were coming full circle. Overall the day went well and it was not until Mom decided to go to bed that all reality as I had known it, changed.
Mom was tired and went up to bed. It was a hot evening and my parents never invested in Central Air in our family home. She called for my dad, asking him to bring her a fan.
Dad went upstairs and to get her a fan. I could hear him carrying the fan to their bedroom and saying something like, I hope this feels better.
Suddenly, I heard my dad calling me in a panicked voice. Mary come here! I was watching a television show and remember thinking, what does he want? I was acting just like a kid again, ignoring my father and just wanting to watch my show. Mary, I hear again, more readily recognizing the sound of fear in his voice. When I got up the stairs I found my mother in the same condition my father had, lying unresponsive on the bed. Her lips were blue and she was motionless. Her eyes were rolled back so only the whites were showing. She had no pulse and was not breathing. After taking her pulse, which there was none, and checking her airway I attempted to start CPR. The bed was too soft so we moved her onto the floor. She remained unresponsive during this time. I told Dad to call 911 and he went downstairs to the kitchen to call for help. As I started CPR, my mind and body went into a completely focused state and I felt extremely awake and alert, aware of everything while also being unaware of the physical reality of time and space that anchored me to this plane of existence.
Dad came running back up the stairs, saying nothing had happened when he dialed 911. I then remembered that in this small community 911 had not yet been established. (I know, it is hard to imagine). I told Dad to call the fire department, ask for the paramedics, and tell them that Mom was having a heart attack and that CPR was in progress. He went back down the stairs as I continued to count compressions and breathe into my mom’s body. I was not afraid. I was focused and hypervigilant. Dad came back upstairs again saying that he could not find the phone number for the fire department in the yellow pages. I told him to look in the front of the white pages. The only time I ever remember seeing my dad so frazzled was when he was cleaning up and running out the door to go to the hospital when my little sister was being born. Meanwhile I was still counting compressions and breathing. He came back up the stairs a third time to tell me that the fire department was on their way and that he was going outside to be sure they found the house.
After Dad went outside, I finished a set of compressions, and checked for a pulse and for breathing, which was not present. Still in this heightened state, I suddenly felt this expansive, intense energy in the room. I immediately recognized the energy that surrounded me was my mom. I remember thinking to myself, “How did all this energy fit into such a small body”? I never really thought of my mom being strong, always succumbing to the pressures of my father, being submissive. I was really overcome by how wise and knowledgeable she actually was, full of understanding. This intense energy filling the room was really her and I suddenly felt light, peaceful, and calm. This energy took away any concerns or fears and all I felt was loved. It was as if suddenly everything made sense, complete with the understanding that all of life, past or present, is connected and has a purpose. This understanding and clarity to not be afraid of the outcome. Somewhere deep inside I knew what to do next in response to those thoughts. I started talking to her, asking her if she had completed all she needed to do in this lifetime. I remembered her pattern of escapism and I questioned whether this was what she wanted. Knowing what to say and what to do somehow came together with no effort on my part. I spoke to her about potential unfinished business and I let her know that the family would miss her, we loved her and if she needed to leave, we would be all right.
Suddenly Mom took a deep breath and she had a pulse! The energy in the room became still again and the enhanced state of being disappeared. She still was not conscious but she continued to breathe on her own as I sat with her while waiting for the paramedics whom soon arrived. After checking her out and hooking her up to the heart monitor, the men lifted her and carried her down the stairs. Just before they started down the stairs, Mom became conscious and her first words to the men were, “What are you doing here?” They rushed her to the hospital as Dad and I followed.
Mom spent some time in the hospital and eventually was released. We did not speak much of the incident but Mom and I had a very different understanding of each other that we had difficulty expressing in words. Our lives were no longer the same. I understood that in all areas of our lives, we have choices, even in death and so there is nothing to fear. Also, we are not responsible for other’s choices. Many people said I had “saved” Mom’s life. I would try to explain what I had learned and that it truly was her choice. Furthermore, if I was responsible for her living, then, if she had died, would I have been responsible for her death?
As I struggled to integrate this understanding of life and death, while dealing with those around me who thought I had a mental breakdown, the “universe” sent me another opportunity to solidify this understanding.
Two weeks after Mom returned home and life again became “normal” I was walking my dog and came upon another life/death situation. As I approached the corner lot in my neighborhood, I saw a man lying in his front yard. I went up to him and he was not breathing and did not have a pulse. I could find no one home to put in the call for help. Once again, I started CPR and spoke to him about choices he could make about his life and death as I had spoken with my mom just weeks earlier. A passing car stopped and I sent the driver to call for help. As I continued to talk to this person on the ground while doing CPR, the awakened state with its intense energy returned. Again, I felt very peaceful and calm and there was no reason for fear. The paramedics arrived and took over. In this case, the man passed away.
I knew that I was no more responsible for his death than I was for Mom’s life. I knew once more that death is nothing to fear and that we have a choice in the matter.
Well, Mom did a great job over the last three months of her life. She made a point to resolve some issues she had tried to escape. A week before her next heart attack, she called and told me how she wanted her funeral to go and where she wanted to be buried. Later I realized it was as if she knew of the impending heart attack and was taking responsibility for the ending details of her life.
I spent the last moments with Mom while she was in a bed in the emergency room. They had her hands tied down because they were going to perform a surgery to install a new site for dialysis because they had damaged the one she had previously used. She was on a respirator, unable to speak and she was crying. Earlier she had told us she did not want to be put on any machines. Because of the urgency of the situation, the hospital staff had put her on the respirator before talking with her family.
Once again I talked with Mom about her choices and what she wanted to do this time. I talked with her about her body giving out on her and how proud I was of her for the growth she had made. I knew she had come to understand that death was not to be feared. I let her know that we would always love her and miss her and that it would be okay if it was time to let go.
Minutes after I left the room, Mom broke away from the restraints and pulled out the respirator tube, causing another heart attack from which she did not recover. It was her choice and she decided it was time to exit. I will always be grateful to her for the experience she provided and how what I learned with her changed the way I approach and live life.
White Water Rafting
I joined three of my friends and went on a white water rafting trip in West Virginia. I had been rafting before and enjoyed my past experiences. It was a two day rafting and camping trip. The first day went really well and the evening dinner, camp fire and camping out was wonderful. We all work up the next morning to the news that the river had risen and what were once 2 and 3 were now 4 and 5. Rapids are rated on levels from one to six. Our guides said we would be alright, it would just be a little rougher. They had us go down the water a way and then move into an eddy on the side to switch out equipment and rafts. Again reassuring us that it would be OK, we headed down the river. Everything was actually going fine, with great effort on our part, until we hit a pocket of rough rapids. We were in a calmer part of the water heading towards the next set of rapids and our guide, Marvin, was providing instructions on how to manage the upcoming pair of rapids that were close together and were levels 4 and 5 consecutively. He told us that it was very important that we stayed in the boat and stayed to the left. The second set of rapids, level 5, was a nine foot water fall and we wanted to stay to the left guiding the raft toward the other side of a rock were the fall was only four foot. He said the raft and us would not be able to make a nine-foot drop. As we started into the first set, level 4 rapids, I suddenly found myself in the water. I was being tossed around and bobbing up and down like a rubber ball.
When I finally popped up long enough to become oriented again I was moving toward the next set of rapids. I attempted to try to swim to the left. Suddenly, without warning, a wave of water came crashing upon me and I found myself under water again being tossed and turned. In these moments of being pushed around by the water everything was moving too fast to think about much except to wait it out.
Popping up again I was facing the opposite direction with the falls behind me and I saw Marvin in the raft, in front of me, yelling and pointing, go to the left! Swim to the left! Just then one of my friends whom had also fallen out of the raft popped up next to me. I said swim to the left, she said, I can’t do this. So I grabbed her life vest and began swimming to the left with her in tow. I tried to head toward the big rock Marvin had described. We were not going to make it as we were pushed forward by the water and coming closer to the falls. I bent my knees and used my legs to push my friend to the left as I then moved to the right. As I drifted towards the right I recalled my high school physics class. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” (Newton) I realized, in that moment, that I would not make it the rock and began to hold onto my knees with my feet out front as we were taught to do if we fell into the water. As I approach the waterfall I remember thinking, “Marvin told us not to do this” and I am not even in a raft. A calm feeling came over me as I understood that there was nothing I could do and let go of any illusion of control I may have thought I had. Over the center of the 9 foot waterfalls I went.
I think I now know what it feels like to be in a washing machine, spinning under the water. It was disorientating and dark. Once I stopped spinning I could not figure out which way was up. Then I remembered that air bubbles always travel to the surface. How I remembered this at that moment I do not know. It’s odd how these bits and pieces of information would pop into my consciousness. So I made some air bubbles, found which way was up, and pointed my head in that direction. As I began floating upward I remember being pleased that I was going to be all right. As I moved upward, I began to see the sun on the surface of the water and popped out. I took a deep breath.
Within seconds I was pulled back down to repeat the motions all over again. Spinning and spinning in darkness. Eventually creating air bubbles, finding up, pointing my head in the right direction and moving upward one more time. My thought was I would soon pop out and this would be over. I once again made it to the surface, took a breath and was pulled under a third time. After going through the same motions, I began to float to the surface. Only this time I had not taken in as deep of a breath. As I began to rise I suddenly felt tightness in my chest and a need to breathe. It was one of the most intense feelings ever. The body saying, I need air. As I fought this natural instinct, I thought to myself, if you breathe in now you will drown. There was an instant of panic as I realized, in that moment, that I could die. I thought, you love being and playing in water, you have always loved the water. Would this be such a bad place to die? These ideas came quickly and I had no concept of time during all this. I then remembered in scuba diving training that if you make tiny bubbles, instead of holding your breath, your lungs actually expand to create more air. I began making tiny bubbles and looked upward for the surface. I felt calm and peaceful. As I looked up I saw tiny rows of light on either side of me heading up toward the surface. Like the sun does sometimes when the light shines off of it creating rays. Suddenly it felt as if I were being propelled out of the water and forward. This time, after popping up, I did not go back under. As another raft came towards me and I saw the fear on the faces of those in the raft it dawned on me that I had not been scared. Their fear helped me to realize how calm I felt. It had been quite peaceful as I made decisions, in my own little world, about what to do.
As the rescue raft grew closer, I heard the guide saying, I thought you were a goner. I started counting, one, two three….twenty-seven, twenty-eight, I did not think you were going to pop up. You know, this is where we lose most people. He then said, as I was hanging onto the rope on the side of the boat, oh come on now, let’s help her in here. I was scooped up into the raft as we then headed for a safer area to rest.
After this experience I made new choices for myself and changed my life. Over some time, I ended a relationship, started a new job, rebuilt relationships with family, and went back to school for a Master’s degree. Even though I have been the type of person, in the past, to take some risks, fear would play into my decision process. I more often now ask, when making a decision, what’s the worst that can happen, you could die. I have found that most choices are not life and death. I have learned not to take life so seriously and at the same time to pay more attention.