Generosity’s Last Breath

My topic of Generosity started out with a critical look at balance and how the most generous thing I can do for myself, is to work on creating it.  Because I have so often swung dramatically from one side to the other, my goal was to find a way to moderate how far my pendulum would go, before realizing a correction is needed.  Or….to put it a different way….to stop burning out.

So, for this week, Generosity with US, I have a chance to reflect on how Generosity flows toward my closest family and friends.   I am picking up the theme of balance, hopefully to further my grasp on this delicate concept.

I have not been able to connect Mum to this topic of Generosity yet.  Why, you ask?  I know this does not come as a surprise, but she was an imperfect woman.  Her faults do not disappear simply because she vacated her earthly life quicker than expected.  Dying young, does not automatically make one a saint.

It is heartbreaking to admit, but I would not describe Mum as Generous, at least not in a way that is starting to matter most to me.

Yes, she stayed up late sewing Halloween costumes for me and my brother and got up early to bake biscuits Sunday morning.

Yes, she paid for and drove us to every activity, handing me $20 bills anytime we went to the mall (perhaps that was more of a bribe to remain happier longer, before begging her to leave).

Yes, she brokered my living arrangements for college….mediated with border guards trying to deny me access to the U.S….

But I do not remember hearing her say, “I love you”.

22 years of being my Mum and I have no recollection of that phrase coming out of her mouth.  I joked about the only signs of actual love between us was when I pounced on her like a puppy,  licking her face, and she returned the favour by pinching my bottom.  I assume because I always felt like she loved me, the words did not seem to be missing.

When I try to remember hearing any affectionate words from Mum, I am transported back in time, to the day she drew her last breath.  Her brain was shutting down after the stubborn tumour continued to outgrow surgery,  aggressive drugs, and multiple prayers, causing her to slip in and out of consciousness.  In the days previous to this, she intuitively made a point to individually speak to each family member.  I have no idea what she wanted to say to her austere parents, her loyal twin sister, her tender brother, her rekindled husband, or her grounded son….but she kept requesting, so each subsequent participant came to her side, while I waited to be next.

I dreaded it.  I fervently denied from the onset of her diagnosis, that she was sick….weak.  How could she be?  She was the strongest, most capable, and intelligent woman I knew.  I supported her declaration of complete healing, which kept a smile on her face and a laugh in her heart.  She would get better!

My ‘talk’ never happened.  Before I had a chance to sit and be guided by her one final time….perhaps the only time I may have actually welcomed her advising….the swelling on her brain had become too great for her to open her eyes or speak.  She would occasionally squeeze my hand, showing she was still somewhere in there.  By the time the flurry of hospital workers making her comfortable, and close friends saying good-bye had gone, we finally had our moment to sit alone.  All she could do by then, was raise her finger in the air, waving it as though she was cautioning me against something.  All I could respond with was, OK Mum, I hear you.  OK Mum, I know.  OK Mum, We are alright.  OK Mum, rest now. 

If it had not occurred to me up until that moment, that this cancer was going to kill her, it flooded over me in full force then.   I felt she could not go just yet, there being much left unsaid and much more left unlived, but I needed to somehow make this easier for her….so I put on a brave face, lowered my head, and told God….

….He could take her.

I sobbed in anger.  I did not know this lady well enough yet, to call her friend.  I did not show appreciation for the things she said and did to help me become a healthy adult.  I felt jilted at losing my chance to say how sorry I was for any mean looks I gave her, for my frustrated tone when she wanted to convey something to me, and for being downright unpleasant in the morning.

As my tears dried, and Mum’s hand rested down along her side again, peace came over me.  She was sleeping.

        Resting

She was tired.  She fought hard.  Worked immeasurably hard in her life.  Sleep is good.

My Dad and brother joined me in her room.  We were talking quietly to each other, listening to Mum’s raspy breath through the oxygen tubing feeding her dying brain.

        Sitting

        Waiting

        Worrying

        Reminiscing….occasionally laughing

Without an obvious signal, the room shifted.  It seemed to tilt angularly, in strange and gentle, warming waves….and I suddenly felt like someone was watching us from above….listening to our conversation and looking at our faces with deep love.  When I became aware of what I was sensing, my attention quickly snapped to Mum’s chest, which had stopped rising and falling, her breath no longer audible.

        Gone

I ran to the nurses station to tell them she had stopped breathing.  They followed calmly and confirmed her lungs had quit.   I called out to my Aunt, who responded, “Oh no, not yet.  So soon….so soon”.  I could not understand why a medical team was not rushing in with carts and machines, like seen on TV….why no one was trying to save her life, make her breathe again….then a nurse took her hand, compassionately looked at her puffy, pale face and said, “Well, dear.  That’s a beautiful way to go.”

        Breath gone

        Life gone

This is why these 52 Weeks have been so vital.  I have not been trying to recreate my Mum’s life or become her.  I want to take the things she modelled in the short time I had to know her, and use them in the most beneficial way possible.  I do not want to get to the end of my time without my children hearing a permanent imprint of my voice on repeat:

I love you.  I am proud of you.

I want to keep trying to connect with my family even when the prickly thorns of personality come out.  I want to keep extended my olive branches even though it feels uncomfortable or vulnerable.  I will continue trying to be gracious enough to handle my children’s youthful barbs, and brave enough to listen.  I think I have given to my family as much as Mum did….with my time, money and creativity, in order to help them pursue what they love.  But I have also exceeded her modelling by breast feeding, homeschooling, teaching them music and coaching their sports; this was all done in an effort to engage with them all I could, every chance I could AND make myself emotionally available for whatever relationship they might seek from me.

This has not always felt balanced.  I has been riddled with upheavals and hurdles, stumbles and restarts.  There have been critics and adversaries sabotaging along the way.  I have swayed dramatically to achieve any semblance of a middle ground, which continues to allude and tease, that it even exists. Maybe a true middle ground does not exist.  Maybe it cannot.

Perhaps it is better to release this notion of holding firm to a steady line and instead absorb the shifting waves as they swell and recede….seeing the beauty and fun in an ocean of change.  As more family members are added to our brood, and friends become dearer to my heart, my scope gets larger….my sights go further….I see the end of the tunnel that will beckon us all one day.  But before that last breath, I must Generously do these few things Mum was not fully able to express….

     Accept Differences

     Build Bridges

     Affirm Dreams

     Adore US Completely

You are ALL my truest loves, and will always be, in this life and the next.

AJ