I had missed the text. My friend Sonja has been sitting vigil with her aged mother for months. Every day, all day, taking only brief breaks to go home for a shower. She slept at the hospice, watched her mother closely.
Was there when Edna woke up. Was there when Edna asked for her own mother, now long dead. Was there when the nurses at the hospice gently turned her tiny, disappearing body over gently to change her, gently sponge her down.
Was there when her mother no longer ate. No longer drank water.
She was there when a family member suggested a feeding tube. She refused. It broke her heart. But she refused. Her mother was on her way. Slowly, surely. Like tiny kitten’s paws her mother’s breaths left footprints in the room as Sonja watched at her bedside. Tears rolled down her face.
Home. Then back again. Weeks on end. Months.
Sonja’s life had come to a complete halt while she helped her mother complete her life. Each day she sat in silence, watching for any sign.
Yesterday her mother closed her eyes. Took in three deep breaths. Let them out. Sonja breathed in her mother’s final breaths of air, and Edna was gone.
Sonja was right there.
She was exhausted, drained.
“I thought I would be scared,” Sonja told me a few moments ago. “But it was very peaceful.”
The entire staff, after having draped a flag over her mother’s tiny body (she was an Army widow), walked with Sonja as she accompanied her mother’s body. All of them had loved Edna, for good reason.
A few days ago Sonja had told me that her mother hadn’t eaten for days. That it was likely very close. I told her that my mother often looked out through my eyes. I could feel her inside me. I laugh her laugh. She hasn’t gone anywhere. While neither Sonja nor I have a daughter ourselves, we hold the torch our mothers have passed to us.
Sonja also holds her mother’s last breaths.
The most sacred work is done, standing witness, holding the vigil, and ensuring that her mother was safe, warm, loved and supported. She had permission to go.
She has, but not far. The torch is in Sonja’s hands now, a little trembly, a little awkward. But she’s one of the strongest women I know.
Just like her mom.
There is no greater gift than to be present at a passing, and no greater love than a child who has the courage to stand watch.
Edna’s seasons are over, and Sonja’s are just beginning. She’s in good hands: the hands that helped her mother die with grace.