Honoring the Sacred Journey
When my mother became terminally ill a few years ago, I was devastated. Even though I had worked in hospice and knew that rather than being a morbid place full of fear, it was in fact the most beautiful peaceful environment, in which the sanctity of transition from this world was a very profound experience – this knowledge didn’t seem to help much in facing my mother’s death. The truth was that I was terrified of losing her and not having that loving connection in my life. The death of a parent is so painful, because we lose our core sense of family and this often makes us feel as though we are orphaned.
I wanted to prepare myself to be with my mother in a fully conscious way and engage with her fully in the process of her transition. This was a deep, sacred and profound experience, with times of joy, deep sadness, incredible insights and interactions with altered states of consciousness. It proved to be a journey of discovery and growth, full of many precious moments.
As my mother’s condition deteriorated, one of the things she could no longer do was to take walks with me. All through the years that my children were growing up, this was one of the things we most enjoyed doing together. So, one day, I said to her, “I know you can’t physically come with me, but I’m going to take you psychically with me every morning, when I take the dog out. All you have to do, is to try and connect with me.” Her face lit up at the idea, so every day that’s what I did. I would describe where we were and what we had seen, what the weather was like, and all the things of interest that we encountered along the way. In this way, my mother was able to use her imagination to transcend the fact that she could no longer walk or see well. I know this precious time brought us both comfort and moments of happiness every day, as I could feel the strong sense of connection that I know she shared.
I also knew how important it was to be fully present with my mother and to listen to everything she experienced. A dying person is in an altered state of consciousness, as they start to detach and separate from this world. If we are willing to let go of our fear and accompany them on their sacred journey, we can become privy to glimpsing a possible realm of existence that exists way beyond our perceived concepts of time, space and logic.
As my mother became weaker, visitors from other realms started to make their presence felt around her in the six weeks prior to her death. One morning, she woke up very excited and animated and wanted to tell me about the people who had come to her the night before; she recognized them as being departed family members, although some of them she didn’t know. She said, “They were all urging me to leave with them, because they are going to take me to a wonderful place that has the most beautiful garden.” These entities continued to appear during the nights that followed, and my mother remained happily contented to recount their visits. One morning, I said to her, “You are free to go with them at any time.” She replied, “No, I’m not quite ready yet.”
My family tended to believe that my mother was just suffering from delusions or dementia, and brushed off these interactions. However, I knew of many cases of end-of-life or deathbed visions that have been well documented and seem to occur when a person is approaching death and a psychic sensitivity is activated that enables such a state of non-ordinary consciousness to manifest. Deceased family members or religious figures often appear at this time, in order to accompany the dying person in their transition. So, rather than patronize her, I would validate and encourage my mother to describe these comforting experiences.
In the final hours before my mother’s death, I gathered all the things that meant the most to her, such as photos of the family, candles, a rosary and a bunch of pink roses from her beloved garden and placed them around her bedside. She was deeply unconscious and many people believe that in this state the brain does not register any form of consciousness, but this may only be our limited perception and it is very important to communicate with the person just as if they can hear everything you say. My family gathered around my mother and as the evening wore on and it became dark, a peaceful presence entered the room. We sat together stroking her arms and holding her hands, and we talked to her and about her. We reminisced about the past, and all the things we remembered and had shared together. We were in a deep sacred space where time and the outside world had no meaning. Later on, my brother had to leave for a while, and my son needed a breath of fresh air. I was alone with my mother and I told her once more how much we all loved her, and that she had been a wonderful wife, mother, and grandmother, and that it was now alright for her to leave, even though we would miss her dreadfully. Two minutes later, she took her final breath and passed peacefully away.
That night, I lay fitfully dozing in my parent’s house and I awoke fully around 4:00 a.m. In the room that I was sleeping in, my mother had placed a head-and-shoulders porcelain image of the Virgin Mary, holding the baby Jesus in her arms, with her face turned towards the side. This icon had always been there, as long as I remember. As I looked over to the wall, a glowing light filled the area where the image was hanging. Slowly, the light expanded to fill up most of the room, as the features of Mary slowly turned into the features of my mother’s face. I stared at it for quite a while, and then the light began to fade and the image reverted back to normal. I knew this was a sign of my mother’s presence and that she was still with us, because she had always felt close to Mary, and being a loving mother and grandmother had been the most important thing in her life. My mother’s dying process was such a profound experience that it changed my life forever.
Annamaria Hemingway has written a book of modern-day parables that help people comes to terms with death and appreciate the preciousness of life. Practicing Conscious Living and Dying: Stories of the Eternal Continuum of Consciousness will be published by o-books in the early part of next year.