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Life after death.

My sister grabbed my mother's lifeless body. I told her it was time to go. She wouldn't let go; "If I let go, it's going to be real!" I had told her earlier that the body nourishes the soul in this world like the placenta nourishes the baby in the womb. "It's a placenta... Mom let it go, now you need to." She reluctantly let go. "But she is still warm!" "We need to go." "But..."

My sister-in-law asked if my sister and I wanted a few minutes alone. We looked at her and said, "She is your mother just as much as ours; you are our sister." My brother had been called away, but he was with us on the phone. "I thought I was prepared.", he said, "I thought I had said my good-byes." We cried together on the phone. We had all thought we were prepared. But there is, apparently, no preparation for this. What we would give for her to take even one more labored breath. There is no way to describe this feeling... except that it is a feeling that defies description. There is no way to prepare for this, except to prepare to feel unprepared.

We had things to do. First was to call hospice to send a nurse to "make the pronouncement". We didn't want to leave my mother's body alone; the nurse's aid offered to stay with her. (We found out later she had been assigned specially and over-and-above the usual staffing to care for us and my mother.) I called hospice; she'd be over in about 45 minutes. We went to the kitchen/dining room area. I brought out a beer so we could toast "l'chaim" -- "to life". I told them that when the Torah describes the events after Sarah's death, it begins with the words, "This is the life of Sarah". We now needed to move from helping Mom through her transition to remembering and living up to her life.

I had a sudden thought, and I turned to my sister and sister-in-law and said, "I was not always the best son. I didn't always have patience, or speak to Mom respectfully. You weren't always the best daughter-in-law, were you? You weren't always such a good daughter, were you?" We all agreed that we had been lacking many times. "Good", I said, "now we have finished with that part of our mourning. We have admited our shortcomings and are sorry for them. Time to move on; to focus on the positive." I was fiddling with the faucet and all of the sudden a stream of water shot about 10 feet across the room, hitting the refrigerator. We all laughed hard.

The hospice nurse came, confirmed there was no heart beat. We called the mortuary to come pick her up. My brother, who had had power of attorney, had signed all the papers and made all the arrangements. Thank G-d, because none of us were in any shape to make decision; we were just moving and acting according to plan. The man arrived from the mortuary. My sister asked him if he would be gentle; he said he does this a lot, don't worry. Then she asked, "Can we move her to the gurney?" This was unexpected. He agreed. My sister and I worked together to move my mother's body to the gurney, cover it, and strap it down. That was it, the remains were taken.

My sister wanted to sleep in my mother's room, and the aids made up the bed for her with fresh linens. I went to my room and slept for a couple of hours, then got up to pray and finish packing. We had decided that thre would be no memorial service; we were all there was and we had spent the last few days together reminiscing. My niece and nephew took the day off. We drove to the airport together and talked about road trips we had taken with our respective families. We all felt closer than we had in years. Any past hurts forgotten -- unimportant.

The flight home was uneventful; but one noteworthy detail bears telling. I had changed my reservation at the last minute to stay an extra night when I saw that my mother had a little time left in this world. Of course the flight was practically full and I got a middle seat in the rear of the plane. When I checked in they asked me if I would like to move to an aisle. So I was moved from 22B to 12C. More than that, the only empty seat in the plane (I checked) was the middle seat between me and a young lady who didn't speak english. I needed to be alone for a while, and I was granted that.

I am home now. My family is being great. My friends are being great. We are planning a wedding. I wish I had a wise and powerful ending; but I don't. Maybe that is the point, this is the beginning of a new phase in the middle of my life.


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