In loving Memory of my precious mother, Marie.

I am writing this blog on a beautiful sunny afternoon out in the back garden. It is now 10 days since my lovely Mum passed away. The title on the notice read “The death has occurred of Marie Herbert” – who knew that just 7 words could convey so much.

A very challenging Decade

My mother’s passing was not a shock in the sense that we had never expected her to make it to July 8th 2021, and yet she did, against all the odds. Mum had an accident in January 2012. She fell down the stairs. The medics told us that she had a pulmonary embolism that may have resulted in a loss of consciousness at the top of the stairs. That seems likely as she fully surrendered into that fall, sustaining a fractured skull and multiple contusions that caused bleeding and swelling inside her brain. She ended up on life support and came very close to passing away back then. However, she was taken off the ventilator and a tracheotomy was performed and subsequently a PEG (Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy) tube was fitted to enable feeding. A neuro-surgeon in Beaumount hospital told me that they couldn’t tell what the outcome would be – she might make a good recovery but worst case scenario would be that she would end up in a nursing home confined to a wheelchair with “no functional capability”. Unfortunately, the latter was the outcome for Mum.

Cognitive Decline

The last nine and a half years were extremely tough for my mother and for our family. Even though she had severe brain damage, she knew us in the beginning but over time that recognition left her, as everything began to deteriorate (but in the slowest possible way). If any of you have experienced loved ones go through dementia or alzheimers, you will know how painful it is to watch cognitive decline. PEG feeding pumps nutrients into the body, so the body just continues doing its thing, day in, day out. My mother was very strong physically, and it has been just remarkable to witness what her body was capable of enduring over the last decade.

Slipping into Peace

Last week we went to Wexford for a few days and I got a call from the nursing home early in the morning on Thursday telling me that Mum had taken a bad “turn” over night and that we should come in as soon as possible. My Dad made it within a few minutes and we packed up and were back in Dublin within a few hours. Thankfully we made it in time and were able to spend that last day with her. She was from a big family so all of her siblings got to say goodbye. I felt she could hear us and she seemed very relaxed. Dad and I were with her when she passed away so peacefully just before 11pm that night. That was my first time to witness someone take their last breath. We could see her moving closer and closer to taking her final inhalation and exhalation and eventually she just slipped away. It felt like such a blessing and a privilege to be there with her – to witness the sense of peace that descended on the room as her essence moved out of her little broken body.

There is no protocol for dying – no ‘one-size-fits-all’, nor is there one for how to keep a dying person company to the end, but somehow support came from all directions. The staff in the nursing home were amazing – they displayed such empathy when they told us they were going to disconnect all the feeding that morning and let nature take its course as they felt this was the kindest thing to do. We bought beautiful pink roses and put them by her bedside (the image in this blog is a photo of one of these roses that I took home with me from her room after she passed). We played soft music. I asked for some essential oils and the nurse cut some lavender from the garden next to her window and put it on Mum’s pillow.

A wonderful woman named Gilíosa (an Irish name that translates as servant of the Lord) had given my mother weekly healing sessions over the years – Mum could speak but it was hard to understand her most of the time – one day she said to Gilíosa “I know you want to work with me soul to soul”. Gilíosa said she was absolutely stunned but it just shows that there is more at play than we often realise. Gilíosa happened to be working the day of Mum’s passing and she was a wonderful support, as she has trained in working with the dying. She did a beautiful healing session for Mum inviting her to let go, surrender and release into the process of dying. She used frankincense which would have been used in many ancient traditions as death approached because of its association with the divine. It was thought that it assisted the person in making the transition from life to death.

The transition to Death

In many ways the transition reminded me of giving birth – a rebirth if you like - but a very beautiful, gentle one. This time the energy and prana was moving upwards rather than downwards. It is no surprise then that for many, the feet go cold as the person moves closer to death. It seemed in my mother’s case that as the hours passed, the energy was almost stuck at her throat. Gilíosa had mentioned to me earlier in the day that the vibration of music can sometimes help that to shift, so we put on some very soothing choral music (with some very high notes) and as if by magic, there was a big change. Within minutes, Mum passed away with a track playing in the background called “Sleep” (by Eric Whitacre – Voces 8).

In deepest Gratitude

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to my Mother – for bringing me and my brother into this world and without her, my beautiful daughter and my nieces and nephew would not be here either. I am thankful for all the years when love, laughter and support prevailed and in a strange way, I’m even grateful for the painful experiences – as they helped us all to build strength and resilience, and I hope more softness and compassion.At her funeral service, we celebrated her life. Her eulogy recounted her overwhelming love of family, her kindness and generosity, her big heart, and her sense of fun. I’m grateful that I got to spend so many happy years with her and that Grace had the good fortune to have her as the “nana” she knew, for almost five years.As I write this now, I feel a deep sense of peace that has not left me since Mum passed – a sense that things are exactly as they should be. When I think of her now, I see her smiling and happy, finally free.


Letting go of Fear

I have read that as the brain has a limited capacity to sense physical pain, at a certain point, it becomes oblivious to it. (1) Thus during death, it is believed that people do not suffer from physical pain as much as they experience psychological pain. Just as we have discovered ways to prepare the expectant mother to have a safe birth and minimise the pain of labour, it makes total sense to learn techniques to help cast off the body without fear and pain when the time comes. Yet in our society we don’t embrace death as they did in ancient cultures. Instead, we grow to fear it. An expectant mother is encouraged to put together a birth plan. Why are we not encouraged to sit down and prepare a death plan? Once done, it’s another layer of confusion removed – a movement towards greater clarity. I remember some years ago, a student told us that she was practicing Yoga so that she could die well – she was young, fit and healthy but had witnessed her own mother struggle with the dying process.

The Power of the Universe

My own personal practices (both Yoga and Ayurvedic practices) have been invaluable in helping me navigate not only the last few days but also the ups and downs of the last decade. My hope is that as well as helping me to live in alignment, these practices will also support me in letting go and surrendering to death when that time comes too.  I will play my part and continue to practice, learn and hopefully grow and the rest is up to a power inconceivably greater than I, a power that I believe is always there for us all, supporting us through the challenges of both living and dying. All we have to do is become present to every experience, accept things exactly as they are and stop resisting and fighting against the Universe, because the Universe ALWAYS wins!

I know how little I know, and I am in total awe of that universal force that gives life and takes it away. It feels now like my mother has finally returned home, and yet I feel closer to her than I have ever done before. My lovely, precious Mum will always be in my heart – may she rest in peace.

I will end now by sharing a poem by Henry Scott Holland that I read at Mum’s funeral service. (Thank you Costanza for sending it on to me).

Death is Nothing at All

Death is nothing at all.It does not count.I have only slipped away into the next room.Nothing has happened.

Everything remains exactly as it was.I am I, and you are you,and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

Call me by the old familiar name.Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.Put no difference into your tone.Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.

Life means all that it ever meant.It is the same as it ever was.There is absolute and unbroken continuity.What is this death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?I am but waiting for you, for an interval,somewhere very near,just round the corner.

All is well.Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.One brief moment and all will be as it was before.How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

By Henry Scott-Holland

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