I’ve been blessed to sit with each parent while they were preparing to leave this earth. As hard as these experiences are, I consider them sacred. For both, my mom and my dad, death came naturally, but that doesn’t begin to explain the great labor involved. Those of us who chose to be with my mother during those final days chose to make this a sacred labor of love, and a labor of love is always more about birth than death.
I know most of the story of my own birth. I was two weeks early. My mom popped a couple of Ex-Lax pills, a popular laxative at the time, and the next thing she knew, she was in labor and on her way to the hospital.
My mother never went into great detail about the labor surrounding my birth (for which I am eternally grateful), but I know it was a normal labor, which means it took several hours and was painfully difficult. I was leaving one existence to join another.
Dying is that same process. In the labor of dying, we are leaving this existence to join another. For my mother that labor was difficult and painful. But she had been through labor before—her own labor, when she was born into this world, and then again, through the conscious decision and act to bring her children into the world. All labors of love.
My mom has told me that after I was born and when she and my dad brought me home, they both experienced a joy beyond measure that was pre-empted by their unconditional love. The difficulty of her labor and the anxiety of my father meant nothing at all. I was home, and that’s all that mattered. I’m grateful for this little piece of knowledge I know around my own birth.
Now, I also know part of the story of my mother’s birth as she went through the labor of dying. I know my mom’s life partner, my sister, and myself, along with mom’s friends who came to visit made this experience about unconditional love as we ushered her into her new existence, an existence that is much less frail then the one she was leaving. And through our expression of love, and the unconditional love that was there to greet her, I hope and I believe the pain of her new birth was swallowed up in a joy beyond measure. She is home, reunited with her own parents. And in the end of this “frail existence,” that’s all that matters.
Quote: “This Frail Existence” Snow, E. R., & McGranahan, J. (Composers). Hymn: O My Father.