The room was still and dark. Though filled with several people, the only sound that could be heard was her breathing. The breathing that we would focus on for the next four days. The breath that was the only thing left to define a life once so full. We counted those breaths. We mimicked those breaths. We peered through the window to watch if they were still with us. If she was still with us.
There was a peacefulness in the quiet of that room. There was a calm that made the place where her life now stood less scary. We were standing in a doorway with her. As she teetered between the two places, one we all are able to share and one we can only imagine, I felt comforted. It was not something to fear. It was not dramatic. It was not ugly. It was gentle and without struggle. The quiet release of life into the space around us. I watched as her spirit lifted and moved about the room. I watched as those around her received her presence.
The moments before death look so similar to the moments after birth. I recalled my own child lying swaddled in her hospital crib. We looked upon her with the greatest of love in our hearts. We watched her breathe. We held her with a gentleness we hoped would ease her into this world, into the life she was about to experience. Now we stood over another loved one, filled with the same love, with the same gentleness, with the same watchful eye. We filled our hearts with the grace to help her travel on, into whatever the next experience may be.
Family members came and went. They sat vigil by her side. They allowed themselves to experience their emotions. They embraced their suffering. They stayed together.
It’s not often in life that we are given the gift of a pause. In that room, there were no obligations. No distractions. Only stillness. Only the sound of the breath.
On the last day I was with her, I sat next to her bed and let my mind quiet. I let my eyes and heart look deeply into the moment. I saw a blue light surrounding her. It moved in waves with the rhythm of her breath, up and down her body, out to her limbs towards the others who loved her and back again. My mother, her daughter, was holding her hand. The words of a Catholic hymn playing on the speaker softly filled the room.
“Gentle woman, quiet light, morning star, so strong and bright.”
As she lifted her hand, a yellow glow remained. She was present with us at that moment. She was not far away. She would never be. The life we know and understand was ending, but the journey was far from over. We were all being given a piece of her spirit, one that we all could allow to live through us. One that would always be with us. My life was changed forever that day. Our moments with each other are a gift. Whether they be hours or years, we have the opportunity to share with each other pieces of ourselves. My grandmother was always giving. Even in her last days, though she was sleeping, I observed her generosity. She allowed us to sit with her, to be still at her bedside and to look upon her in her most vulnerable state. And in that stillness, she acted as a mirror. We were shown our own vulnerability and gentleness. She gave us an opportunity to see and share the great love that is within each of us. The words of the hymn still echo in my head.
“Gentle Mother, peaceful dove, teach us wisdom; teach us love.”
In loving memory of Grace DiTerlizzi July 2, 1932- September 25, 2021